FORT DRUM, New York (Reuters) - The following are condensed interviews with two U.S. soldiers, one who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. The interviews conducted at or near Fort Drum military base in New York state in April.
SGT. DAVID FRANCIS, 26, FROM WAKEFIELD, KANSAS, served in Afghanistan in 2003 and then was deployed twice to Iraq. He was shot in the arm in an ambush in Afghanistan and spent two months in Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He has not recovered full movement of his hand and can not feel his fingertips but otherwise has made a full recovery.
“I deployed six months after I got back from Walter Reed. I never had to change my job, I’m still doing my same job.
“For me personally it gets harder because now I have a kid. I’ve missed probably half my daughter’s life with deployment and training. She’s five.
“The first time, she was just born, the second time she knew I was gone but didn’t really understand it. The third time she started crying when I left.
“Now pretty much every day she asks me if I’m going to Iraq. I pretty much tell her ‘No, no, I’ll definitely tell you when I am.’ She also knows my brother is in Iraq.
“My parents are used to it because my dad is retired military. It’s tough for him because he knows what it’s like.
“It is hard on the wife, she’s used to have control of everything while I’m gone. She’s in charge of pretty much everything now, paying the bills, so we got in arguments about that... You’ve just got to remember they’re your family member and not one of your soldiers, so you can’t just yell at them.
“I had fun. I love deploying. It sucks that you leave your family but I love it. Everyone likes to do their job. Once you get there everyone starts complaining about the deployment, but everyone likes to deploy.
“I think it was a lot harder for the first-time deployers.
“It’s kind of hard for (my wife) because I got shot so she knows what happens, but I don’t tell her anything that happens. I don’t tell her day by day, I don’t tell her any of the negative stuff. But they find out through the gossip world.”
* ERIC JOHNSON, 20, FROM SPRINGFIELD, MISSOURI, asked to be moved to a different brigade so that he could deploy to Iraq last year. Since he returned in November 2007 he has suffered flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety.
“Sometimes I feel like I joined the army and I wanted to do what was right, I wanted to keep my family safe, I wanted to make my family proud, you know? And I know what I did when I was in Iraq would not have made my family proud.
“It was the little things that made the biggest difference.
“We did these operations, all the locals bring the livestock and their animals and we vaccinate them. My platoon, we passed out soccer balls to the kids. The kids are running around with soccer balls. And (the U.S. soldiers), they’d get the ball and either pop the ball with a knife or punt it into a river.
“We completely destroy what the little kid had.
“That may seem small to a lot of people, but that’s really detrimental, that’s what breeds the hate.
“I could do good things my entire life and then one bad thing, people would remember the bad thing. That’s how it was there. We could do these good things but when it comes down to it, the only times they remember are when you were yelling at them and throwing them on the ground.
“Now (at Fort Drum) I sleep next to the window. As soon as that first chunk of snow hit the ground (falling off the roof in the winter), I jumped out of the bed, I was panicked. All I hear is mortars, I’m waiting for the siren to go off.
“Even though I can tell myself 100 times ‘It’s just snow, it’s just snow, it’s just snow,’ when I lay down and close my eyes I don’t see snow. I don’t even smell the cool air of New York, I smell the dirty dust. All I can think of is ‘I wonder if it’s going to hit our trailer next.’
“I see a psychologist but she can’t prescribe medication. She’s a wonderful, wonderful lady who’s helped me out immensely. It took a while for me to work up the will to go.
“The stigma that the army puts on mental health — ‘We all saw the same thing you did, there’s nothing wrong with you, you can handle it, you’re too weak, you need to get stronger, just deal with it’ — that’s their mentality.
“One of the members of my platoon was doing something but in the most backwards, screwed up way I’d ever seen it done. I stepped in and said ‘This is the right and efficient way to do this.’ But he ignored me so I said it a little louder.
“He said ‘I’m not going to listen to someone that has to go to mental health to solve their problems.’”
Reporting by Claudia Parsons; Editing by Eddie Evans