My mind felt fractured, like shavings of wood gathered about the feet of a sawhorse. It seemed I had lost the ability to form full sentences and make coherent sense. At least that’s what registered on the faces of my family. They stared at me with wide eyes, their mouths dropped open. I would close my eyes and try to focus. “Come on, concentrate. Spit it out already!”
Then, in a flash my mind would make a connection in our conversation, and then in an equally rapid burst of excitement I’d begin talking about something else. Thankfully, I have a good family. They never spoke of it to me directly, but years later I learned there had been some concern for my wellbeing.
It’s fitting I suppose given that I’d never been one to take care of myself in any aspect of wellness. Don’t be a sissy, Freeman. You can do this! Push a little further. Remember what they told you: You can do more, with less. You can go further and faster, on little food and less sleep.
That’s a lie I bought with my whole being. It’s not something someone on the verge of a nervous breakdown should ever tell themselves, but I did. Even when it became obvious to my leadership, my friends, family, and myself, I kept trying to ‘fix’ my mind. Not once did I recognize the fact that somethings are outside the scope of my capabilities.
When I finally reached my breaking point, somewhere near the middle of my second deployment, I chalked it up to ‘burnout.’ I’ll take some leave. My mind needs a few days away from the war and all the training I did prior to leaving.
It wasn’t the war that destroyed my mind, nor was it the soldiers that I yelled at daily. Sure, there were infractions that I attempted to correct, but there was always a better way. I wasn’t able at that time to see it, but I did what I thought right at the time.
So, if it wasn’t the war and it wasn’t my soldiers, what led me into this state of brokenness?
I’d say stress was the main culprit, but I had no peace. Things were moving quick when I arrived in Germany, and once our orders for deployment came in, life would hit breakneck speed. I’d left a heavy reconnaissance unit in Texas during my first deployment. Without a further thought, I waived my right to stabilization for 90 days, and left on the first thing smoking for Germany. The change will do us good. I’m sure it will take some time for me to get deployed again. Besides, I couldn’t wait to arrive in Europe. I’d heard all the stories about how great life was there, how serving in the European theater wasn’t a bad gig, and how you never ran out of things to do. I was excited; so was my family.
And for a while, it was everything I dreamt of. There seemed to be a fest every weekend, and I made several new friends within the unit and base. However, for all the good, stress visited me on day one. I had never served in an aviation unit before. “Don’t worry about it, bro. Wherever you go, they’ll train you up,” I was told by several people. While this wasn’t a direct lie, they’d forgotten to mention the beratement and straight-out hatred some folks had for incoming personnel.
I would soon find out.
On 05 August 2005, I arrived at Storck Barracks in Illesheim, Germany. We’d arrived in Frankfurt earlier in the day and was processed into the country. After a quick check of my orders, my family and I was led to a bus stop. We waited for what seemed like hours for our bus to arrive. When it arrived, we rode for hours to our base that sat in Southern Bayern.
Allow me to clarify something. I served with some of the absolute best and brightest in the entire Army, and with that being true, so is the opposite. I count myself in the latter. In Germany, not only was I the ‘new guy’, but I was also an untrained ‘new guy’. To make matters worse, not long after my arrival I joined the Non-Commissioned Officers Corp.
So, after two weeks of German Headstart, a program designed to ease the ‘culture shock’ of living in a foreign country, I arrived at my unit a newly minted sergeant with zero experience in the field I’m expected to train soldiers in.
Yeah, I’d say stress played a major role in the fractured state of my mind.
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