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Jan 12

Combat

Combat

Combat

On 17 January 1991, the United States started an extensive aerial bombing campaign in Iraq, changing the name of Operation Desert Shield to Operation Desert Storm.

Combat troops were on the ground blazing their way towards Kuwait City. The U.S. was at war which meant so was I, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was surreal, growing up my entire life wanting to serve my country and now when the crap hit the fan, I was serving time for disservice to my country. This was the second time I missed out on combat. I wasn’t a warmonger, and I had no desire to go to a foreign land and get shot or anything. It’s just that I dreamed of being a soldier and serving when duty called.

Unfortunately because of my selfishness, immaturity and stupidity, I was about as far from being a soldier that anyone could be. Having the status of deserter meant that I ran from my responsibilities. There was no turning back now, I was reduced to watching the whole thing unfold from the walls of an Army prison on a little two dimensional screen. Once again all the military experts had their opinions and comments. They would talk about how the war would be won if they were in charge, or criticize the way the Generals were commanding the troops.

But the most interesting discussions came from the inmates who converted to Islam while inside the walls. Several times there were statements like “Saddam Hussein is my homeboy.” If these guys hadn’t gotten locked up, they wouldn’t be cheering him on. They would have been right over there being shot at by their “brothers.” To this day, I’m surprised that these guys were never retaliated against. I think the only thing that was keeping it from happening was the inevitable trip to the hole if there were any issues. Even heated discussions were a red flag for the guards. That stuff got shut down quickly to avoid any incidents.

Even though everyone in Fort Leavenworth was an inmate, they all were military and were still very patriotic. So many people were excited by the rumor about reinstatement to their respective branch of service. I think everyone was thinking things were going to go down like the old Lee Marvin movie, The Dirty Dozen. I was assured by my counselor that they were only rumors. No inmates would be going to combat.

Some of the Cadre went though. A Sergeant First Class who was one of our supervisors in the dining facility was deployed to Iraq. When he came back he had pictures of the “Highway of Death” to Baghdad. Burned up tanks and trucks littering the sides of the road. Two of the pictures were kind of disturbing. One was of an Iraqi soldier that had been blown up and so some of his body parts were not in the right place. The other picture was of an Iraqi soldier sitting in a burned up vehicle. At first it looked as if he was still driving it, but he was completely charred to a black remnant of a human being. He was frozen in time. It was strange to look at because I had never seen anything like it before.

Later in the war, I watched a sobering report on the news. In an incident of friendly fire near the the Saudi-Iraqi border, a U.S. Bradley Fighting Vehicle (Bradley) and an M113 Armored Personnel Carrier (M113) were destroyed by two Hellfire missiles fired from a U.S. Apache helicopter killing two U.S. soldiers and injuring six others. The soldiers were Cavalry Scouts and a reminder that, had I gone to war, this could have been me. Since I had been a Cavalry Scout, I could have ended up in this same situation. (Middleton, Jeffrey Thomas, SGT) (Talley, Robert D. PV1)

All my life I wanted to be a soldier, and now we were at war. The struggle of feeling like I had let my country down, by not being able to stand by my fellow soldiers, was brutal. The guilt and shame I felt for running away made me feel like such a coward. I would do anything to go back in time and right the wrongs, erase them or make the mistakes that haunted me go away. I couldn’t do anything to fix or reverse them. At the same time, I don’t know if I could have handled some of what I was seeing. Maybe it’s best that I never went to combat. The war that waged within me was between patriotism, shame and regret and yet at the same time I was glad that it wasn’t me on the highway of death or inside of a burning vehicle dying at the hands of one of my brothers-in-arms.

Truthfully, I didn’t really have any brothers-in-arms anymore. All the soldiers I hung out with and called my friends were either, out of the Army now, or were convicted of the same crimes as me. I did hear that Eddie Gaines and Vann had both been released from Fort Riley. They were there because they had shorter sentences. Fort Leavenworth was for inmates who had been sentenced to five or more years. Once I found out they were out, I called both of them.

Eddie had gone back to Georgia and got a job at a Krogers grocery store. Vann went back to Alexandria, Louisiana for a while and later moved to the West Coast to pursue a professional rock climbing hobby. It was so good to hear their voices. They were so very familiar sounding, but yet there was something different. It had been over a year since I had seen them both and I think they both knew that we were all moving on to different paths. There was a distance in their voices. At this point I wasn’t sure if I would ever hear from them again.

Next week, this place was more dangerous than I realized and another escape….

Combat (Click To Tweet) 

To this day, I still struggle with the fact that I have a dishonorable discharge. I wrote about how I have been able to deal with it all these years later.

Read about it here.

If this is your first time reading my true life story and would like to start at the beginning click this title. The Fort Leavenworth Story

  • Steven Tessler

    I know you feel bad but remember you’re life has changed for the better!!

    My ship was actually in the Red Sea when we launched planes into Iraq. Guess where I was?? Sleeping soundly in my rack.

    My family was worried sick about me out there. I got to sleep in late every Sunday.

    I want you to know you’re an amazing person that made a mistake. You’ve asked forgiveness and you’ve been forgiven by your Lord and Savior.

    Keep telling your story!! You are changing lives by telling it!!

    • David Mike

      Yes, it is hard to go back and stir up the feelings again. It is necessary though to get to the redemptive part of the story. Thank you!

  • I remember 1/17/91.. I was at the recruitment office on my 19th birthday, a friday 1/18 ready to leave college and sign up to go to war. I was told to go back to school I would serve better there. This would be my 2nd of 3 attempts to enlist. I remember it like it was yesterday. Keep it up brother!

    • David Mike

      Hopefully you are at peace with not serving. I know there has to be a reason and maybe one day you will find out. I appreciate you!

  • I think we’ve all felt that way to some extent. A lesson I’ve had to learn is that you’re failures don’t define you, how you respond to them does. I think it’s pretty apparent you’ve responded the right way. Keep up the good work!

    • David Mike

      Thanks for your kind words. It is awesome that we don’t have to be defined by our past. No one could live with all that guilt!

  • The changes you made really improve the story in this post. I love that we can see the world, and the war, through your eyes here. What a conflict that must have caused you as you sat in prison.

    As for your writing, you are improving with each post. There is so much emotional impact to your writing and that helps make the story more powerful.

    • David Mike

      Thanks for all your help! I appreciate the literary assistance. I probably should have payed more attention in school. Writing is hard, but it’s rewarding.

  • My experience was a little different but I WANTED out and prayed about it – daily – doubt I am alone there. The difference was I got out less than a year before the invasion began – I still struggle with the guilt of letting my friends, country and self down. In fact, I feel/felt like a quitter. It takes a lot for me to talk about my time in – just last week someone asked me and I changed the subject – 25 years and it still hurts – but I use those feelings for when I want to quit now.
    Keep telling your story my friend – your change is showing someone that they can change.

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