This came in via email, with permission to post. Shannon P. Meehan is running for the state legislature in the 163rd district. I'm not sure this op-ed will help him in the race but it's an important subject for all of us to think about.
Since the recent end to US combat operations in Iraq , I have been thinking a great deal about what this means to soldiers that fought in this war. I wonder how the journey will be for all these soldiers trying to find the way home. It has prompted me to write the following:
Today marks a special anniversary for me. September 22nd, 2007. I was an Army officer, leading my platoon through the city of Baqubah , when my foot caught a trip wire and detonated an IED just three yards behind me. Though the blast left me with both physical and cognitive injuries, I survived.
Today, September 22nd, 2010, I woke in my bed, lying with my wife and eight-month old son. It is exactly three years since the blast, and it is almost a year since my medical retirement from service. In that time, from the rehabilitation in Texas to the trek back to Pennsylvania , I have not yet found my way home. The war has stayed with me. The Iraqi families we saved. The ones I failed. I carry the memory of those killed, both US and Iraqi. I lie here with my family and wonder why my life was spared three years ago. I question if my life was worth the lives of those we lost, and those I took.
Just three months prior to my injury, I called an artillery strike on an IED factory in pursuit of enemy forces. After the strike, I learned there was an innocent family inside the house I had just destroyed. Though we had followed protocol, a tragedy occurred. The event devastated us, and I spiraled into a deep depression. To this day, I am haunted by my actions, fully realizing that my own suffering is insignificant compared to the real tragedy. I cannot imagine the terror that family must have felt moments before the mortars struck, tearing life from earth. I cannot imagine it, but I often try.
Now, staring out our bedroom window, I wonder how any of us can ever leave this war. Recognizing the Iraqi family I destroyed will forever live in the silence I called down upon them, I at least hope my voice rising out of that terrible silence can help bring us home.
I imagine we all must find our own way. For me, I have learned that sharing my story has helped to heal me. Speaking honestly about my experiences has allowed me to make sense of them and flesh out much of what was just beneath the surface. I first shared the stories with my family, and now I share them across the country.
By sharing, I see the understanding it has lent others. People can see the challenges soldiers face, not only on the frontlines, but also on the home front. They can see the hardships both our families at home and the Iraqi families must endure.
I have seen the connection it has made with other veterans. It has shown many of them that it is okay to confess their pains. Whether it is through sharing with many or just a few simple whispers to one’s spouse, soldiers should tell their stories however they can, and we should be waiting to hear them.
I remember meeting one veteran after a radio show in Virginia . He had been listening to the broadcast, and drove to the station to meet me. He thanked me for sharing and immediately went into his own experience from Vietnam . He too had been responsible for civilian casualties. As he explained, he began to tremble. I could see pain just behind his tearing eyes. The tragedy was still raw inside him, lying just beneath his surface. I asked him if he had ever shared this story before, and he had not. For over 35 years he had remained silent, not even telling his wife, but he now felt he could.
In such stories I find some redemption, and a way home. But for the first time, on this difficult anniversary, I have found another reason.
Still in bed, I see that my son has opened his eyes. I watch as he squirms and giggles. I cannot help but smile. In him, through all the guilt inside me, I see a reason to return. With just a smile, he overwhelms the ringing in my ears, the pains that remain in my body, and the sadness that once consumed me. He shows me that beyond the thin air between me and Iraq on this day – a place I lingered much too often – life goes on. Behind his eyes I see this life, and in his life I see that flash of light that can show me the way home.
By: Shannon P. Meehan
Captain Shannon P. Meehan (Ret.) was a leader of a tank platoon for the 1st Cavalry Division of the U.S. Army. He is the author of "Beyond Duty," written with Roger Thompson, a chronicle of his experiences in Iraq .
Captain Shannon P. Meehan (Ret.) was a leader of a tank platoon for the storied 1st Cavalry Division of the U. S. Army. He graduated from VMI with distinction, having also studied at Oxford University, and earned the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and an Army Commendation for Valor, among other honors while serving in Iraq. He is the author of “Beyond Duty,” written with Roger Thompson, which chronicles his experiences in Iraq. Through speaking engagements across the country, Meehan has become a spokesperson for veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder.