What I’ve Learned from Combat Veterans

COMBAT

Over the last 10 years I’ve talked to hundreds of people who have returned from deployments and even combat deployments. I found that they all say similar things if they were in the rear and similar things if they get shot at.

I have never deployed and not by choice, my sole job in the military has been to deploy reservists all over the world. This gives me a unique perspective, a chance to look objectively at what vets have told me over the years. Out of respect for Combat Vets, I know I can never speak for them but my job as a Hospital Corpsman has always been to lend a kind and understanding ear to what these guys have had to deal with.

Here it is.

Life is fleeting

 

You spend 9 months in Afghanistan and you miss your daughters first steps. You come home, she’s almost 2 years old and doesn’t know you. Life is fleeting.

You spend years on and off deployment you miss major events in your kids lives and you can’t get that time back. Life is fleeting.

One second you’re talking to your buddy about his family life and the next he’s dead. AK-47 round took off his head. Life is fleeting.

Combat vets are no-nonsense because they understand how precious time is and this is why they can have a hard time relating to civilians. Guys like Jocko Wilink know what really matters and learned it in the most brutal way possible: In war.

 

Your problems are not problems

 

When you understand that there are people in the world that would kill to live like a poor person in America. You’ll realize that most of your problems are luxuries people would love to have. Imagine places where women and children are neither seen nor heard. People so poor that they have houses made of trash and mud.

 

Imagine 130 degree heat with 80% humidity

Imagine having to dig a hole so you can take a shit.

Imagine being on edge for hours because you are being shot at.

Imagine trying to stabilize your buddy because he got shot in the chest.

Your buddy  is taken back to the BAS where breathes his last breath and dies from blood loss.

All I’m asking is: Do you really have it that bad?

The Unknown Door

 

A Marine Master Sargent (E-9) told me he was in charge of a company that collectively had 2 Navy Cross recipients (highest honor in military next to MOH) …

FALLUJAH, IRAQ YEAR: 2003

 

A squad of marines is led by then Gunnery Sargent John Doe.

They get ready to clear a building in the heat of the fight for Fallujah, the bloodiest battle of the campaign. Pure chaos and urban warfare.

Point man goes in and is killed instantly and several others are killed. One takes a bullet to the face and lives, he receives the Navy Cross.

Point man receives the Navy Cross post-humously.

They had no idea what was behind the door but that didn’t stop them from going in. No hesitation, even in the face of death.

Hesitation would have killed everyone in that squad.

They did not hesitate kicking in that door so what are you waiting for? I know you have your own doors to kick-in.

Learn how to negotiate

 

Always always always befriend the locals. You need allies, never willfully make enemies.

The difference between life and death can come down to locals diming out Taliban fighters.

Alot of times our troops display good will towards the locals to build relationships and network. They have needs, we have a mission. We help them, they help us, thats the way of the world.

Help people get what they want and they’ll feel obliged to help you get what you want.

 

Relationships die or wilt away

 

Most marriages do not survive deployment. Spouses get horny and cheat, steal money, forge divorce documents, you name it.

If your relationship wasn’t solid before the deployment then its in pieces when you get back.

For many guys its the only support structure they had and poof its gone.

Dear John letters are real and guys have ended their lives over them.

I’ll go out on a limb and say most combat vets I’ve known are or have been divorced. Sometimes divorced within months of returning from deployment.

Pick your spouse wisely, if she isn’t loyal to you, forget it. She won’t last a minute while you’re gone.

 

No one is cool under fire

 

Fight or flight is a real thing…with a twist:

Fight, Flight or Freeze

Everyone gets an adrenaline rush when their shooting and getting shot at.

The worst thing you can do is FREEZE. You freeze and either you die or someone else does.

Another Hospital Corpsman who was deployed to Afghan with the Marines told me this some years ago:

“We were in a fire-fight and this kid froze scared to death and he let one of his marines die. For the rest of the deployment the marines beat his ass everyday.”

This leads me to…

 

Combat separates men from boys

 

Combat Vets exist on a different plane. They’ve seen hell first hand and this makes or breaks a person.

Some never return home alive, others are never the same again from injuries and PTSD. Still others become incredible military leaders and go on to be the most successful of people.

I know plenty of people that got out of the military after deployment, 4 years and done. Some stay for 20 and longer.

Every deployment is different and different for different people.

If a man can succeed in combat and conquers his fear of mortality and regret. There’s no force on Earth that can touch him.

 

Show your Brothers undying loyalty

 

Even after he’s dead.

I know a Corpsman that wears a bracelet with his deceased Marines names on it. Not a day goes by when he doesn’t think of them.

When you’re in the desert, its really just you and the guys around you.

You live with those guys, joke with them, shit with them, console them, and fight with them.

That never goes away. When the bullets and rockets fly, you aren’t fighting for your country anymore, but for the man thats right next to you.

The man with a Mother

A wife

2 kids and a newborn

and team of loyal brothers around him.

Its a bond closer than family and you might be the last face he ever sees.

Years back I was invited over to a Marines house and while he was cleaning out his garage he showed me a photo of a young Marine.

Me: Who’s he?

Him: a friend of mine who died in Iraq.

Later…

Me: What’s combat like?

Him:….its hell.

I could tell while he held the picture in his hands he was holding back tears for his dear departed brother and friend.

EPILOGUE

 

I love and appreciate all vets and especially those who been in the mouth of hell. You will always have my ultimate respect. You are the real heroes.

If you meet a vet returning from deployment. Ask him how he’s adjusting, ask him how his family is doing.

Don’t just blindly thank him for his service. Try to understand the price he had to pay to come home alive and help him in some small way get readjusted to his regular life.

You want combat vets to be the next class of politicians, CEO’s, Business owners, and ass-kickers?

Then simply lend them a welcoming hand and understanding ear and listen to them.

They have a lot to say.

Sincerely,

Marcus Harris

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7 comments… add one
  • Ej Mar 4, 2017

    Thought provoking

  • Johnny Lionseed Mar 5, 2017

    I used to sell Jewelry in a military town. I once met a veteran who had been sitting in a HUMVEE when it ran over an IED (This was before the big MRAPs and such, maybe 2009? I’m fuzzy on the date).

    A lot of guys were hurt, he was incredibly injured, but managed to drag himself to a safe position and suppress until they got evac’d.

    When I met this guy he was using a cane, his moved very slowly, had no real control over his right arm, and told me about how he’d hit his head. The army had done everything they could for him, but that he had shock pains every day randomly hit him as nerves misfired from the lasting trauma.

    He told me about how he had migraines every day and that even strong prescription drugs didn’t eliminate them, that he chose the pain and a clear head over being high and in pain.

    The man barely functioned as a human being anymore. It was heart breaking.

    I shook this man’s hand and said, “Sir, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.”

    He looked at me and said, “Hey man, just doing my job. It’s no problem, really.”

    In that moment I understood all of Christianity, sacrifice, and love. I swear I broke down in tears.

    No problem? Here’s a man who can hardly function, who would be in pain for the rest of his life, who was physically disfigured, and who only had cursory control of his body. And he looked me dead in the eyes and said that his struggle was “no problem”. And meant it.

    This man took a beating, withstood a brutality that would crush most into paste, and he did it because “it was just his job”, a job he volunteered for, a job I couldn’t volunteer for.

    “No problem”, he said.

    Don’t just blindly thank him for his service. Try to understand the price he had to pay to come home alive and help him in some small way get readjusted to his regular life.

  • Chris Majeski Mar 5, 2017

    Powerful article.
    My grandfather was 11th Armored division in Patton’s 3rd Army in WW II. I’ve always returned to his experiences every time I think my life is “tough”.
    Keep up the good work

  • Greg Chisholm Mar 8, 2017

    This is awesome Marcus. Next level. I think you should write up more about vets. I’m curious to know if their experiences have changed over the last 10 years? Also, is one theater rougher than the other: Iraq v. Afghanistan?

    • Marcus Harris Mar 12, 2017

      Hey thanks Greg!

      I can write another post about how things have changed in the last 10 years, the military was knee deep in combat 10 years ago, totally different environment. OPTEMPO today isn’t near what it was then.

      Each theater has a different wrinkle but the core human factor is always the same. Combat deployments from Vietnam, Afghanistan, or wherever are similar in the way combat stretches the human psyche. Each country has a certain language and culture that must be adapted to in order to succeed. Different terrain, different enemies, same human factor.

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