I am a Marine Combat Vet

 

I am a Marine Combat Veteran, served four years active duty, two of those years in Iraq (3 tours)  and the other two in training preparing to go. I joined the Marine Corps in 2003 at the age of 17, left one week after graduation from high school and had no other goal in my life but to be a Marine and retire as one.

I enjoyed most of my time in the service but as always there are challenges and difficulties everywhere you go, no matter what you do in life. I learned a lot of skills, met some great people and built bonds that can never be destroyed. Iraq was an experience. I enjoyed being in a different culture, a new land and seeing life outside of America. One can appreciate the beauty even in the midst of chaos. Being in Iraq opened my eyes to a lot of things. 

Death, does not escape any of us and in Iraq you see it on a constant basis, to the point where the notion of it doesn’t even affect you. Living life not knowing when your last breath was or when you would be disfigured is something that can happen to any soldier, anywhere, but put yourself in an environment that greatly increases the chances and it changes you inside. I’ve seen a lot of my brothers die or get injured, which easily could have or should have been me. The thoughts that run through your mind are maddening, question after question, wishing that it was you at times instead of them. 

I told myself to leave home at home so you can get back to it, but then when I did get back it was not home but a messed up foreign land to me and many others. The war continues in my mind, just a new battlefield.

Since I’ve gotten out of the military life has been a struggle, I suppose. Not knowing what to do because the one thing I wanted to do was over for me, my choice but nonetheless over. Job after job I just became angrier. This daily routine of nonsense began to drive me insane. I felt like I was dying inside. I missed Iraq and the chaos. Eventually I became homeless, several times while working! Played with some drugs, the alcohol continued until I decided to change internally but the external remained the same.

Being homeless and down eventually forced me into the VA Hospital for a few months for treatment. I then ended up at the VACT Errera Community Care Center in two of their programs - Community Reintegration Program (CRP) and the Critical Time Intervention (CTI) Program. These programs focus on building off your strengths and developing new effective coping skills which lead to a more independent healthy life.

After MANY therapists, I got some answers, which consisted of depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc. While in CTI, with the help of my wonderful clinician Julie A, I found my own apartment and now could finally settle in one place. I started school and have been working on figuring out this thing called life. Having my own apartment for the first time ever gives me a space to be me and feel comfortable in something I created. I have my solitude and can focus on the things to better my future. It is still taking some getting used to but I’m sure it will happen.

Michael K. Johnson

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