Thursday, April 10, 2014

Stories Series Episode #3: A Dog Named Lewis

Brandon Turnbull
10, April 2014

We are honored to share the story of Brandon Turnbull and Rex, a military dog he came in contact with during his deployment, Brandon's difficulties readjusting after returning home, and how a dog named Lewis is the reason he's alive today. Thank you, Brandon, for sharing your story with us. 

We only had Rex with us for one mission, we were pulling QRF (quick relief force) in the Balad Ruiz area just north of Baqubah in the Diyala providence during the elections. Our tour was from 2009-2010 with Attack Company 5th Battalion 20th Infantry Regiment 3rd Stryker Brigade 2nd ID, the Army's first Stryker Brigade. 

I honestly don't have some amazing story where Rex physically saved my life, but I can tell you because of his handler and that dog, they were inevitably the reason I got my own dog upon returning home from Iraq. 

We lost two of our stellar soldiers from our company one night in early September and that memory hurt me for a long time. I was home for almost 9 months, and lost everything because lack of able to pay bills. I got into alcohol and became addicted to prescribed drugs like Xanax to cope with the emotional pain, it was mind numbing. I finally started to lose a grip on reality and contemplated suicide multiple times. It almost became a daily thought. 

That's when a good close friend of mine went and picked my dog Lewis up for me for my 25th birthday (he's adopted but don't tell him). He's honestly the best thing that ever happened to me. He's not just my best friend but he's my son. He kept me fighting, he never gave up on me, I never let him down, he always supports me no matter what I'm going through in life, he always has my back and he will always love me. 

My dog is the reason I'm alive today. He not a registered service dog but he's the answer to my PTSD and everyone sees that, he goes everywhere with me and never leaves my side. So I guess really the impact that Rex left me ended up saving my life in the long run. They say everything happens for a reason, I'm just glad I got to meet Rex because it resulted in me finding my soulmate and my best friend and if I didn't have that I don't know where I'd be, if even alive today.

I joined in 2007 as a 19 Kilo tanker. I was the platoon guide through our basic training/AIT at Fort Knox. After basic I got sent to the army’s first Stryker brigade under Attack company 5th Battalion 20th Infantry regiment 2nd Infantry Division. I was a team leader from the time I was a PFC. I received a DUI in Washington State for a .09 in a .08 legal state limit, about a month before our deployment. I plead guilty to deploy with my soldiers and delay my sentence until I returned.

September 2009 came around we’re a couple months into our deployment. We were on QRF (quick reaction force) on FOB Warhorse in Iraq when we get mortared. I was the senior gunner in our LT’s vehicle. We roll outside the wire, and we lost communications in the palm groves so they called out our secondary QRF. One of their vehicles drove off the side of a blown up bridge and KIA two of our soldiers. Some had to pull security while others had to rescue the other soldiers from the vehicle. 

I remember hearing their call signs over the radio and how silent everything instantly was. Even down on the ground it seemed like the world paused while we were already mourning inside. I couldn't even bring myself to so see them honorably sent off the base in black hawk home to their families. I sat in my room and cried night after night for months, which eventually turned to years. 

Upon returning home from Iraq as Sgt Turnbull I was generally discharged for my DUI from prior to my deployment. I returned home in April 2011 a broken changed man and severely depressed. I instantly went on a 4 month drinking binge where I drank every single day and popped a 1000 MG Vicodin or a 2 MG Xanax for up to nine months. Eventually I lost all will and motivation to live because I was so depressed. I always blamed myself and wished it was me instead of them. It even got to the point where I would dry fire my glock .45 against my temple just to see what it would feel like to be free of the world. 

That’s when a friend of mine got me my dog Lewis, a puppy mill rescue. He completely changed my life. Since Lewis, I have stopped drinking and consuming drugs. I got offered a job in Columbus, Georgia to be a laborer for a road construction company out of Detroit to do work on Fort Benning. I ended up returning back to Detroit and became apart of the Michigan Laborers union. I’ve spent over 2 years here with Lewis putting in new runways at the Metro Airport. Detroit is a beautiful and amazing city. Lewis has been here with me every step of the way. 

He’s been like a son to me or a companion, he’s never left my side, and as single male I’m happy living out here with Lewis knowing we are making it together surviving and no matter what we’ve been through nothing can stop us from accomplishing goals in life. He saved my life. I realized my dog had a soul and as awkward as it sounds it matches mine, it’s like we were meant to be together. Everything happens for a reason and people can change, life is beautiful.

This is my story, I hope its ok.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Stories Series Episode #2: What Haunts Me

CJ Heim
1 April, 2014

It was June 4, 2005 when I made a decision that has haunted me for years.  As usual my squad was on site at Al-Nasir Police Station on Route Bravo.  Route Bravo was a divided road with two lanes of traffic on each side of the concrete divider.  Nasir was a dangerous station as it was deep in the city and was the lowest building around.  However, the real danger at Nasir was getting in and out of the station.  The parking area was completely enclosed and could only be accessed by a sliding door in the front right of the station.  The parking area had covered areas to the left and rear and was full of Iraqi Police vehicles.  The only way to get the armored trucks inside the parking area was to stop traffic on Route Bravo and back the vehicles in the station.  This street was always packed with cars and people as it was an access point to the Sadr City Market. 
By June, I had done this a thousand times and became comfortable with the danger level.  As always, my vehicle was the lead vehicle.  I would have my driver and gunner mount up in the vehicle while I would walk out in the middle of traffic to halt the flow.  Most of the time I would not even need to raise my weapon to stop the vehicles. On this day in June that was a different story.  The first two lanes of traffic stopped immediately so I continued across the concrete divider and into the other two lanes.  As I looked to the right, traffic began to stop except for one vehicle.  I raised my hand and shouted “Awgalf”, the Arabic word for stop.  The vehicle kept coming.  I raised my weapon and again shouted “Awgalf” but still the vehicle kept coming.  I switched my selector level from safe to semi and heard the metallic click.  I can still feel my heart beating out of my chest as I slide my finger over the trigger.  The vehicle kept coming.

The seconds that passed seemed like hours.  I aimed at the driver’s windshield and gently pulled the trigger to the rear.  I don’t remember hearing the weapon fire.  The only thing I remember is the metallic click the weapon made when I released the trigger.  Before I even looked down the barrel of my weapon at what had just occurred my mind caught up with my body.  Something felt off about what had happened.  I knew subconsciously that my mind made a decision my body could not.  It was as if my body was in the fog of war and only knew how to react.  At the same time my mind was clear and was still able to act upon the morals buried deep inside me.  There was something very different about this incident, I just didn’t yet know what I would soon find out.  I looked at the vehicle down the barrel of my weapon and it had veered off onto the sidewalk stopping in the middle of pedestrian traffic.  By this time my squad leader was standing next to me and we moved out with a fire team to do damage control as the crowd flocked around the vehicle.  I was the first to see what had happened.  The driver of the vehicle was a small boy.  I didn’t have to wait for the interrupter to tell me what had happened as I could already see.  The boy could not reach the brake pedal and that is why he could not have stopped.  My round was off target as it was a child and not an adult driving the vehicle. 
This event still gets to me, if it wasn’t a boy in the truck but a man with a truck full of explosives and I didn’t take the shot, me and my men would be dead.  If it was a six year old boy who couldn’t reach the brake pedal and I did take the shot, I just killed an innocent young boy.  I cannot answer why my shot was off.  I also cannot justify why I waited so long to pull the trigger.  I should have had enough time to fire a shot into the grill before the windshield but I hesitated.  This hesitation could have caused me my life or the men in my squad their life.  I still constantly think about it.  There are other days that haunt me in my down time and in my sleep but I will not subject you to all of my horrors.

           In my years since deployment I have struggled with how to handle some of the things that haunted me. I wanted to share what has worked for me in the hopes that someone else would read this and maybe it could work for them. The method I used was writing out the scenario that haunted me including every detail. I would right the scenario much like a movie script as capturing every detail was not an issue for me. As I closed my eyes the movie began and I could remember it like it was yesterday. This is not easy to do and I understand that but once you get through it the healing process can begin. Once you have written your story do some relaxation technique. I have an excellent 15 minute CD that relaxes my entire body and mind. The next part is the hard part and for me I used someone I trusted to help me. I would place a large rubber band on my wrist. Then I would read the story aloud to the other person in the room. The other person’s job was to watch my reaction and listen to the tone of voice. Once it started to become where I was getting aroused the other person would snap the rubber band on my hand. This immediately stopped my thoughts of the story. However, I would have to do the relaxation exercise to bring me back to reality. After the first few times I was able to practice this on my own. This was a long process but it has allowed me to control my thoughts instead of the thoughts controlling me. I will never be able to forget my experiences but I can put them in the closet and close the door. I chose when the door opens now. I will admit at times the door surprises me but I used some of the tools I have learned to put it back into the closet.