During my eleven and a half years in the US Army Reserve, I deployed three times to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. After each deployment, I had varying issues. Trying to cope with the loss of friends and the realities of war, I was also trying to find myself wearing my other uniform as a citizen soldier. Active duty soldiers may only have to transition once; but I had to on four separate occasions, three times after combat. No one wants to admit they have problems, and I was no different, hiding in meaningless jobs and countless hours lost in bars.
After my third tour, I took an assignment training soldiers deploying to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa. I will not say I found my time in combat comforting, but I knew what my job was. I was well-trained and had years of expertise. Ensuring soldiers were prepared for combat was a way for me to stay in the fight. I had started dating my wife before I took this assignment, and she supported me whole-heartedly. Then, while training for a PT test, I suffered a knee injury and was unable to continue on this assignment.
I came back home to a woman who loved me unconditionally but could not recognize the man she fell in love with. During recovery from knee surgery, I became severely symptomatic with PTSD and was diagnosed with injuries to both shoulders and my other knee, which also would require surgery. I became so depressed I was barely functioning. I was a combat soldier staring down the end of my military career.
I went back to school in the fall of 2009 and found success there, but that is all I could focus on. My wife nearly left me, and it made me realize I had many things to be thankful for. She had seen me through several psychiatric inpatient stays, two surgeries, and two months away at a PTSD clinic. She is the glue that has held our family together, my rock, the reason I am still alive. While life still has its rough patches, she and my daughter are why I haven’t given up. I can’t give up. They are what I have to live for.
James Casey served in the United States Army Reserve and is a Mission Continues Fellow Alumnus. He lives in St. Louis, MO with his wife Rachel and daughter Lucille.