By AW2 Veteran Brandon Deal
As a Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I had to endure the same struggles that many of my brethren who may read this did. I started my tour in Samarra, Iraq (FOB McKinzie) and ended my tour in Balad, Iraq (FOB Paliwoda). As a Field Artillery Radar Operator, there were many situations that I had to make some pretty tough decisions in a pretty short amount of time.
A large part of my job consisted of my monitoring two different radio nets to have a good sense of awareness. If I happened to hear that one of our elements were under fire, it would, more often than not, fall on me to call up the secondary fire that they were taking. As a matter of fact, the only times that I didn’t call up the contact was when my radar wasn’t looking in the area the fire was received. There were many times I heard things over that radio that I wish I could forget.
While deployed, I was forced to do unorthodox PT because of the constant mortar rounds that were being lobbed at us. It wasn’t until I returned from Iraq that I realized how devastating that really was. A combination of the heavy lifting that is associated with my job, being in an area under constant secondary attack forcing us to wear our gear even inside the wire, and the alternative PT regiment resulted in some serious injuries that I had no idea of.
When I returned from Iraq, I was utilized in many capacities. I was assigned to 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery, 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division at Ft. Riley. At the time, Hamilton’s Own was being used as a training battalion for MIT teams. I was promoted to SGT (E-5) not long after returning and was sent to another unit on Ft. Riley. Upon being sent to that unit, I had more duties than I thought possible. Not long after my inter-postal transfer I started having pains in my lower back and down through my legs. It got to a point where my legs would go into a state of temporary paralysis and it scared me.
I went to the Troop Clinic and told them what was happening and was treated as if I wasn’t telling the truth about what I was experiencing. I was given a two week profile and told to come back to see the doctor. The funny thing was that the profile only said “No Run, Jump, or March.” A lot of good that did, because it didn’t say anything about push-ups or sit-ups. Because these were omitted from the profile, I still had to do PT. When I came back to see the doctor, x-rays were taken and he saw that I had a serious injury in my lower back: it was broken.
Much to my dismay, it set off a chain of events that landed me in a Warrior Transition Battalion with three lower back surgeries under my belt, finally diagnosed correctly with PTSD, the knowledge that I had osteoarthritis throughout my spine, bone growth protruding into nerves in my neck, and much more. In February of 2009 I retired from the Army, enrolled in college, and started attending job fairs. I wanted (and still do) to get my degree in computer science.
After a couple of months, I got a call from a representative at a Department of Defense contractor that deals with everything from welding parts together to aerospace technologies. The company has a sector dedicated to working solely with disabled Veterans. I was told that the company would like to interview me for a position on a program designing a new type of unmanned aerial vehicle. I took the interview (as if I would turn it down) and that set in another chain of events that has led me to where I am now. I am currently working on a project that works hand-in-hand with a branch of the military and I am loving my job! I never thought that at 24, I would be working for a major corporation doing what I love.
I have told you of some hard roads that I have had to take. Along those hard roads there were so many bumps and pot-holes that I couldn’t begin to tell you. If this makes it to anyone’s eyes, I’m sure that each of you have a similar story. I wrote this not just for others, but it is therapeutic for me to get some of these words on “paper” and out of my head. Because of current OPSEC, there are many things that I’ve left out, but anyone that’s been in my shoes can probably fill in the blanks. I don’t even think I can talk about the blanks.
These roads have been hard over the past few years, but now I’m in a place that there is smooth paving, good scenery, and peace of mind. I hope that someone will get to read this story and that my success thus far will inspire someone. I want anyone who reads this to know that, though things WILL get tough, if you keep looking at the end of that tunnel, you will come into the light eventually. That light is not just an optical illusion—and always keep your eye on it so as to not lose touch with your goals.
Thank you for anyone who reads this. It means so much to me to get off my chest. Please leave something of a comment so that I may know if any of my words have touched someone.