The Other One Percent: Our Vets

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Mikey Piro, a two-time veteran of Iraq diagnosed with PTSD in 2006, has an excellent little blog called PTSD Survivor Daily through which he processes his post-war struggles. I met him at West Point and chatted late into the night. We hope to be launching a podcast soon, and Mikey will be one of my first guests. A soldier is supposed to be as courageous as this West Point grad from Long Island. But not as gob-smackingly candid about the reality of what we as a nation did to the tiny percentage of us who fought unwinnable wars, while we merely fought about them. Never in the history of human warfare has a nation demanded so much for so long from so few. From a recent post:

In combat we were always provided something to release our emotions or frustrations. Missions and free time let us discharge not only our weapons, but our pent up frustrations. Yelling, shooting, driving, crying, walking and many other releases were all at our disposal.  They were standard issue. In the staccato of combat, a rhythm existed where we could gauge and guess when we needed to pull the release valve.

However, as a civilian, life is so unpredictable by comparison that we as Veterans have a hard time adapting to a continual set of challenges at irregular and less predictable intervals. We miss the neat bookends our tours provided us to bracket the ups and downs combat threw at us. At home the issues build up and we don’t have the markers set to know when to release.

He points to an earlier post about “the pressure that builds from within our core”:

Last week, I met a woman standing in line at a Starbucks.  As I stood waiting for my coffee, I showed her one of my tweets about “#caffeination.”  We got to talking about twitter (@mikeypiro in case you didn’t know) and the conversation led to sitting and talking about our respective professions.  We pulled up a set of chairs in a quiet corner of an outdoor café.  The conversation led down many paths but we talked about the Iraq deployment, job hunting as a new civilian, and my PTSD recovery path.

As I explored the loss of my Soldiers I broke down in the court yard in front of this total stranger.  She was extremely polite and shared a story of her own as I gained my composure.  The conversation for me was very exciting in that this total stranger out of the kindness of her heart was willing to listen.  I felt I could open up to her on a number of topics, so I did not let the previous anxiety of crying get in the way.  Talk about an In Vivo exposure!  Normally, medicine helps me keep those tears in check.  Alas, I was on the tail end of my cycle and I have found that holding tears back is more exhausting than just letting them go.

You can follow his writing here, with posts including “The Myths of #PTSD recovery: A survivors’ perspective” and “Superheroes have issues too: The #Avengers and #PTSD symptoms“.  In this post, he recalls one of many traumatic moments in Iraq:

The first KIA [killed in action] was a little ways up the road.  He had bullet holes from head to toe and was in a large pool of thick red blood.

(Did I mention we didn’t have body bags?  Oh yeah, that.  We ran out a few months back and were forced to use tarps…)

The few ground troops got with the HQ guy, wrapped up the first KIA, and put him on the back of the truck.

The second KIA was a little farther up the road.  He was a big man.  Had to be two hundred and fifty pounds.  He was hunched over and also lying in his own pool of blood.

[Quick Aside]

Under the laws of the Geneva convention (I am paraphrasing here) , once you engage an enemy and they are wounded and you take their weapon, they are now an enemy combatant and subject to medical treatment and POW status.  You own them.

Back to business

We roll the giant man over to get him ready to put on the tarp only instead of being dead, he starts screaming, moaning and gurgling.

Like many times in combat, the initial report was wrong.

He was not going to live.  One third of his head was missing.  The horror is of this realism of war is still with me to this day.

I wanted nothing more than to finish him.  It would be easy, just cap him.

So there I was, new XO, with everyone looking at me.

What did I do?

I turned to the medic and said, “I don’t care if you have to scoop his brains back in his head.  Put a bandage on him; we are taking him the to the aid station.”

It was the beginning of a very long day.

In a very long war.

(Photo from Piro’s Instagram account)