Sean deployed to Kunar province, Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009 with 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment. During that time he and his squad were engaged in almost daily firefights with the Taliban. After returning home from Afghanistan, he dealt with the effects of combat stress. He discusses the impact of the war on him and offers some lessons for future soldiers and civilians.
Interview conducted on July 25, 2015 over the phone
Present: Richard Hayden and Sean Bedingfield
Transcribed by Richard Hayden
Richard Hayden: What is your full name?
Sean Bedingfield : Sean Patrick Bedingfield.
RH: What branch of the military did you serve in and what years?
SB: I was in the United States Army and that was from 2006 to 2012.
RH: What was your rank when you got out?
SB: I was an E5, Sergeant.
RH: What was your MOS?
SB: 11B [pronounced eleven Bravo] infantry.
RH: What was your unit?
SB: First Battalion, Twenty-Sixth infantry regiment.
RH: What was your company?
SB: It was Charlie Company during deployment.
RH: What motivated you to join the military?
SB: Lots of my family members were in the military so it was really a no-brainer. Then 9/11 happened so it was pretty galvanizing. So I made sure that I followed through.
RH: Why did you pick the branch of the service that you did?
SB: It was in my family. My mom was in the Army and my dad was in the Army. A couple of my uncles were in the Army.
RH: What did your parents do in the Army?
SB: My mom was a MP and my dad was in the band.
RH: OK. Good to go. Why did you pick the MOS that you did?
SB: I believe it was kind of a no-brainer. I didn’t want to be a pencil pusher. The infantry was the place to be for me.
RH: How did your family feel about your decision?
SB: They were very supportive of it. It’s not like there was a lot that they could do about it. [laughs]
RH: Where were you on September 11th?
SB: I was living in Rhode Island at the time. I watched everything happen. I was watching the news as it happened.
RH: What are some of your specific memories of that day?
SB: Disbelief. Just watching the video playback and the news that was reporting it just, it looked like it was fake.
RH: Were you in high school at the time?
SB: Yes. I believe I was in home school at the time.
RH: Let’s go ahead and let’s talk about when you joined the Army. Where did you go to boot camp?
SB: Fort Benning, Georgia.
RH: What was boot camp like?
SB: It was a good time. It was tough but not as tough as I thought it was going to be. As soon as you realize it’s kind of a game then you can really enjoy it.
RH: What was the first night of boot camp like?
SB: Actually, I spent it terrified thinking that somebody was going to figure out that the next day was my birthday. [laughs]
RH: OK. Good to go. What was your follow up training like?
SB: Are you referring to AIT?
RH: Yes. After boot camp.
SB: Infantry has an OSUT – One Station Unit Training. We integrate basic training with kind of an AIT. It’s all just one training session.
RH: How long from start to finish?
SB: I think it was, it ran from September to December so it was about three months.
RH: During AIT what are some of the things that they taught you to prepare you for being an infantryman?
SB: We learned base operations which is basically the bread and butter of any infantry unit – moving under contact, basic battle drills, and we humped a lot of weight.
RH: In the Army for infantry, is there just one classification or are there numerous classifications? Is there a Machine Gunner? Rifleman? How does that break down?
SB: There used to be multiple and in the early 90s they cleaned up. They integrated different MOSs into 11B and 11C. 11B was your basic rifle infantryman and 11C was your Mortarman.
RH: Do you feel like your training prepared you for deploying?
SB: I don’t really know how to answer that. Probably no level of training could have been done to get ready for where we were going.
RH: OK. Let me put it like this. Did you feel that the training that you did receive, was it adequate enough without the experience component? Does that make sense?
SB: I mean, any amount of training that you get is going to be like a tool in your toolbox. As long as you have the basic principles of patrolling and whatnot, as long as you have those down you can basically mold those to any situation that you find yourself in. I guess it was adequate for making sure that we had the training that we needed to have the basic concepts of how to employ ourselves in our job.
RH: Where in the US were you stationed when you deployed?
SB: I was stationed in Fort Hood, Texas.
RH: What was Fort Hood like?
SB: It was a fuckfest, for us at least. We did a lot of training out there on the ranges. We spent a lot of time under the heat out there. So [laughs] it wasn’t very enjoyable.
RH: What were the locals like?
SB: I think the locals by that point had been just so, I don’t want to say fed up with military people but they weren’t exactly enchanted.
RH: What was the pre-deployment training like?
SB: We had about a year and a half of training time and after a year of that we found out where we were going to go so we kind of switched gears towards a goal. It was pretty tough. We capped it off with what they called a capstone which was a twenty-six mile road march.
RH: Are there maybe any significant events or anything that you remember specifically about that training that sticks out to you?
SB: I mean, we had a lot of trigger time. I think that’s probably a really good emphasis to put on what we had prior to deploying just because you don’t really get a lot of that now. We had a lot of trigger time and we put a lot of bullets down range.
RH: Did you have a lot of mechanized training with the Army or did you work with tanks at all? What was that like?
SB: Our unit was designated as light infantry so everything we did was specifically light focused and dismounted.
RH: OK. Good to go. Did you serve in Iraq, Afghanistan or both?
RH: How many times did you deploy?
SB: Just once.
RH: What was the date of that deployment?
SB: It started June of ’08 and it went to July of ’09 I believe.
RH: Where in Afghanistan did you deploy to?
SB: We were in the Kunar province in Afghanistan in RCE.
RH: What was the mission of your unit?
SB: [laughs] It’s kind of hard to say because it seemed like a lot of what we did was just hold ground. I guess our main mission was to be in place because we were on the Pakistani border. So we were in place there to kind of stop the flow of troops coming across the Pakistani border. In other words, we were there to be a hard target for them to run into before they got out into the rest of Afghanistan.
RH: Were these Taliban fighters that were coming over the border?
RH: OK. What specifically was your job within that unit?
SB: I started out as a machine gun crew leader.
RH: What kind of guns? .50 caliber?
SB: No. 240.
RH: What do you remember most about deploying to Afghanistan for the first time?
SB: Probably the first thing that struck me were the conditions. They were what they call “Spartan living.” [laughs]
RH: Spartan living on your part or Spartan living on the Afghans’ part?
SB: Oh, on our part. Afghans always live Spartan. [laughs]
RH: [laughs] Were you on a fire base or what?
SB: It was originally designated as a vehicle patrol base that was set up. I think it got the designation of a combat outpost later on.
RH: Can you describe your AO and are there any parts of it that were particularly memorable?
SB: Our AO was basically, we were in sort of a valley called the (14:00) Dawegal Valley. So we were there basically sitting in the valley, the valley floor, with three different ridgelines surrounding us. Everything was just mountains. [laughs]
RH: Did you go off on patrol and, if so, how often?
SB: We had about thirty guys on the outpost so we’d rotate two different squads to do patrols. You’d do a patrol every other day because we needed to have guys at the outpost to pull security on the towers that we had set up.
RH: So these were all dismounted patrols, correct?
RH: Did you go out for twelve hours at a time? Sixteen hours at a time? How long were the actual patrols?
SB: Twelve to sixteen hours.
RH: What were some of the notable events that occurred during your deployment?
SB: I mean, do we have guidelines here? [laughs]
RH: Just anything that you feel was a notable event that you’re comfortable with and would like to share.
SB: We had a few incidents that were, at least for me particularly, because I almost got blown up. They shot 102mm rockets at us but they couldn’t take things out. A lot of guys out there, there was a lot of incidents because we were doing three or four firefights a day. We were taking contact. It all just kind of merged together into one real fast day.
RH: What were your interactions with the local Afghans like? Were they hostile? Were they friendly?
SB: The local Afghans wanted humanitarian aid stuff from us. They wanted blankets and all that kind of stuff. So to our faces they were friendly but we had an interpreter and he had an Icom scanner so we could listen to the Taliban audio transmission. We knew they were coming down out of the mountains and they were shooting at us all day. Living in the town, we would get hit by the townspeople in the town surrounding us.
RH: So I guess, overall, it was a very hostile environment then, is that correct?
SB: Yes. [laughs] You could say that.
RH: What do you remember most about the soldiers that you served with in Afghanistan?
SB: It’s kind of hard to pick one thing. I guess once we go into a groove, everybody did a really good job. I guess you kind of have to be that way in that type of environment or really bad things happen.
RH: Alright. Let me see. Let me ask you this. What was the most challenging period of your deployment: the beginning, the middle or the end?
SB: I took leave three months in that way some of my guys could get the leave dates that they wanted so I went the rest of that deployment after those three months without any kind of break or anything. It was kind of non-stop. There was nothing to really break it up.
RH: So would you say that that nine month or so stretch afterwards was the most challenging?
SB: Yes. Definitely.
RH: As you gained more experience, did you change at all and, if so, how?
SB: Well, obviously we got better at fighting the fight since we were doing it so much. At a certain point most people just stopped caring. At first you’re really super concerned about getting shot and it seems like a really terrible thing. You see people get shot and then after a certain point you’re just like, “whatever. What’s gonna happen is gonna happen.” You get kind of just, it’s a novelty being in a firefight but at a certain point we had been in so many firefights it got old after a while and you stopped giving a shit.
RH: How did the soldiers in your squad change? Did they change similarly?
SB: Yes. I think everybody just kind of got run down and super, super weary. I mean, when you’re doing maybe four hours of sleep a night and the rest of your days were spent humping up a mountain or in a firefight it really takes a toll, I guess, mentally and physically. So you definitely see the OPTEMPO taking its toll.
RH: What was the most challenging non-combat aspect of deploying?
SB: It would probably be keeping your head screwed on right. I mean, they had us on mefloquine, the malaria drug. So you’re physically exhausted from climbing mountains and whatnot and not getting a lot of sleep at night and then you take these malaria pills, you start not being able to tell what’s real and what’s not.
RH: This kind of touches on some of the stuff I already asked but did you have any transformative or significant events that informed your deployment? Specifically, did you have anything that maybe helped you to grow as a soldier?
SB: I guess growing as a soldier particularly, my squad leader, he was shot in the hooch that we were sleeping when we got attacked one time. And stepping up and taking more of a leadership role in the squad after he was gone, it’s just one of those transformative growing experiences.
RH: Alright. Good to go. If you could describe deploying to somebody that is maybe going to be reading about this fifty or sixty years from now, how would you describe it?
SB: I think I could sum it all up as just madness and chaos. I mean, just because of my personal experience of where we were at, trying to keep your head screwed on right and the conditions that we were in, the pills that I was taking mixed with the constant firefights, people getting sent home messed up. For a while there I was literally kind of out of my mind. [laughs] It was pretty much madness and chaos.
RH: Anything that I left out before we move on to post-deployment?
SB: Umm, are you looking for particular stories?
RH: Yes. What are some of the memorable stories that you have?
SB: There’s a ton, actually.
RH: Go ahead. I have plenty of time, man. So go ahead and tell them.
SB: OK. One morning we had these wooden huts which we were sleeping in that basically the engineers would come in and build and they usually came with roofs on them. Ours had been hit by rockets one or two times so there really wasn’t much left of the roof. Our platoon Sergeant had us go out and take off what was left of the roof so we could build a new roof at seven o’clock in the morning – usually when we were taking contact. So there we are on top of the roof at seven o’clock in the morning, something went off to the side and our fixer who was up here with us decides to act like Tarzan and starts screaming and beating his chest. Not five or ten seconds later, they started opening fire while we were on the roof.
There were two holes to get down into the hooch with some amount of safety. I wouldn’t say that it was safe because our squad leader, that’s where he got shot. One person had gone through a hole on the other side of the roof. I was standing next to our fixer and he was, [laughs] he wasn’t quite sure how to get down because he thought it was too high so he was scared to jump down even though we were being shot at. I was going to jump off the side of the roof and it was a ten or twelve foot jump. We had already dumped all of that wood off to the side so it wasn’t really an option. So I had to kind of push him through the hole and then dive through the hold headfirst which was like an eight or nine foot drop. But one of my buddies was there and he kind of caught me and turned me around.
I land, I’ve got all my gear on, I grab my rifle. We start running to one of our towers. I call it a tower but it’s really just an elevated fighting position. A lot of people think towers – big, giant concrete bunkers in Iraq – but we’re talking sandbags and ash board. So as we’re in a little alleyway next to one of our hooches, a recoilless rocket comes in and goes off probably two feet elevated and four feet to the right of me on top of the roof of our hooch. I was completely on my ass, I don’t really know what’s going on. I just know that there’s dirt – I turn around and there’s wood. I kind of crawl out of that area. Later on we went and we found the tail of the round. It had gone through three or four layers of sandbags inside of a plastic tote across the hooch and it took out one of the supporting beams in the middle of the hooch and it ended up just sitting there in the corner. I think that was probably one of the more memorable experiences.
RH: Good to go. Any more stories?
SB: Oh yeah. [laughs] Let’s see. One day we were getting set to do a two or three day patrol inside a valley called Shuryek. The LT had called it. We spent all of our 60mm mortar rounds that we humped up there with us which probably wasn’t a great idea because [laughs] they heard it all and they got all their guys out, guys who were exiting out of the valley down a switchback road. We got ambushed and engaged from two different ridgelines and I was able to get me and the guys that I was with onto the other side of the switchback road because they were shooting from above us and across the valley. There wasn’t a lot of cover to be had. [laughs] So I take this as my opportunity finally to finally fire my LAW that I had been carrying for like three months. I pull it out of my bag, I clear my back blast area, look at my squad leader, it’s good to go, I shoot it…LAW’s a dud.
So we return fire with our rifles but one of our squads who was up on the switchback road above us, they thought they were taking contact and getting ambushed from below as well. So they, [laughs] (30:00) pitch their frags down. Everybody was safe. I just remember watching the frags go off about fifteen feet from me and wondering how could this happen? That’s not really illegal, that’s just kind of an incident that happened. But we ended up, there were some gun trucks up the road so we ended up getting extracted from that.
Another one, probably one of the most memorable ones, it was the last two weeks of our deployment. Our company commander wanted to do a company con op in a valley called Chakadara. They had gotten intel that they guy who had planned the Wanat assault was there and we were going to go in there and catch him. So we’re going in there with complete Charlie Company – three infantry platoons – and we get set up at the exfil point of where we’re going to get out at. The two platoons from my company ended up being placed on a ridgeline behind us and we had had to go into a dog leg of a valley there so basically that made them functionally useless if we had taken contact on the other side down.
It’s midnight thirty and they pick up Icom chat about the Taliban are in the area. They know that we’re coming and they know what road we’re on and whatnot. So I’m mad at this obvious leak in intel which I’m not going to point at the Afghan National Army guys that were included on this operation but we waited a half hour to step off. We march probably about two klicks, three and a half klicks up and a few klicks in this dog leg of this valley accompanied by a platoon of Afghan National Army guys. We get set up across the river in the valley with our two platoons and supporting over watch behind us who were out of effective range to engage anything on the other side of the valley. As soon as we get set up in our little patrol base and we send the ANA element out to do some field detection. Our second squad, these two Taliban guys with weapons engage us.
Little did we know, the Taliban strength in that valley was way bigger than any of the intel report that was sent. [laughs] So as soon as they engage the Taliban dudes, all hell broke loose. It was about 0400 [spoken as zero four] in the morning when that firefight started kicking off. My squad, we were just across the river set up in a little base-type area and we fought a protracted firefight that whole morning. Guys were running up, Taliban guys, were just running up the river. They pulled out an RPG and shot it at us. They just fired at our position. We shot a lot of guys and one of our squad leaders, they picked him off. He got a chunk of the RPG through his leg and it kind of just took a big chunk out of his calf muscle. He and an ANA guy was shot and had to get MEDEVACed in the middle of this firefight. We’re calling in Apaches and kiowas and any kind of air support that we could get so that we could get them extracted out.
We had an extra team come in and drop a GBU, a GBU landed on an open mine, along the direct long ridgeline. All the trails from the mine got blown up by the GBU so they landed in the middle of our little patrol base that we had set up. One of my 203 gunners almost got crushed by a rock. Eventually we got everybody, the medical guys, extracted. We went back up and got the ANA guys out of there. They didn’t detain the guy that we were looking for so it was like, OK, the whole plan has kind of gone to shit so let’s get everybody out of here before things get worse.
So my squad took up the lead on the exfil after that, out of the dog leg of that valley, so we could avoid our second squad taking any more casualties from the RPG fire that was coming down. Apparently they were smarter than we gave them credit for because they kept an RPG with the same squad and we had a bunch of guys take some shrapnel. We were walking out of there with a train of walking wounded.
At the point we were trying to exfil, we didn’t have any more Apaches or anybody on station so there was really no effective way to suppress them and we couldn’t get support by any of the trucks. So we kind of just had to hunker down in the middle of our exfil inside of some buildings until we could get more air support on station and we could actually get extracted because they were just hammering us with RPGs. We spent a good half hour waiting for air support to come back. But, to their credit, the Apache pilots were running until they almost had literally had no fuel to get back left. Those dudes really did an amazing job. They really stuck their necks out there.
Once we finally got support back on station, we were able to get that final leg out from that dog leg and link up with this other company that they were supporting from the exfil, running two guys down the road at a time, getting two guys down the road at a time. By this point it was already two in the afternoon. We had spent, literally, from 0400 until 1400 in a firefight. It was just a trail of walking wounded just trying to get out. It was probably one of the most horrible situations that we got ourselves into.
RH: So how did you eventually get out?
SB: We got Apaches back on station and then kiowas came to support them as well and they lit more than a few Taliban dudes while they were suppressing and covering our exfil. They really bailed us out. Without any air support that day we would have been, I don’t even know. We wouldn’t have been walking out of there. But the intel reports after the fact said that we killed a ton of Taliban guys out there. I don’t know the number but one of the guys included was the Taliban commander that was responsible for the Wanat attack.
RH: Alright. Any other significant stories?
SB: I’d say that when we were first getting there, we were supposed to be going to the Wanat outpost and the attack on Wanat had actually happened while we were in Bagram waiting to go out to Kunar. So when we got that news and we heard nine guys dead and almost everybody was wounded, it went from being like, “aww yeah! We’re here to do some awesome stuff,” to, “holy shit! What are we getting into?”
RH: Any more before we move onto post-deployment?
SB: I think that covers all the good fighting stuff, I guess.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Can you talk a little bit about your immediate post-deployment experiences after you got home?
SB: Ah, lots of alcohol. It was so much. I remember the second day that we got back I went with my wife to go see one of the Terminator movies that had just come out. We were sitting in there watching and it was the first time I had ever experienced any kind of PTSD I guess – at least post-deployment kind of PTSD. Because they had a part in that movie where they fired a .50 cal. And it was just crazy firing a .50 cal and I kind of freaked out. [laughs] I lost my shit a little bit.
So I was in the barracks because we were in Fort Knox after we got back and my wife wasn’t there. She had only spent a few weeks there and pretty much everybody, we just drank and drank and drank a lot more.
RH: Did the soldiers around you change after the deployment and, if so, how?
SB: Everybody was a lot more, I want to say, jaded. I guess kind of world weary. Everybody had definitely grown up. When we started out, we were really young. When we got back there was a drastic difference. We were a lot more mature.
RH: Let me ask you a question only if you’re comfortable. If you’re not comfortable answering this it’s no problem at all. You said you had some PTSD experiences. Again, only if you’re comfortable answering this, how did that affect your life afterwards?
SB: Long-term or short-term?
RH: Let’s start short-term and then. Yes. Let’s start short-term because we’re going to get into that post-military stuff so short-term.
SB: Short-term, it made us drink a lot. We were all drinking. You came back from some of the hardest fighting that had been done in this war. By that time we had taken a lot of casualties and we were all just kind of left there sitting and thinking, “what are we doing here? There’s more work to be done. Why are we back here? We’re just sitting here with no purpose.” You know, here’s some free time. Go enjoy it. But when it came from living every day having purpose, direction, a job to do – if we’re not there, somebody else is doing it there for us – that didn’t sit well with a lot of people. Me personally as well. I couldn’t justify just sitting there getting drunk while we had guys out there hunkering down on Kunar province where we just came from and there was still work to be done. So it made it really difficult to, I guess, justify that free time which led us to thinking about it more. [laughs]
RH: How long was it between when you got back from Afghanistan and got out of the Army?
SB: Two years, I think.
RH: After you got out, did you go back home?
RH: OK. How has your military experience shaped your life since you got out?
SB: Well I got out, I was medically retired so I really didn’t choose to leave. I didn’t really have an option so I guess it kind of set me up for failure. That kind of transition coming into the civilian world, I didn’t have any purpose or direction. They spout you that line, “oh! Go get better. You’re medically retiring.” What the hell am I supposed to do with that? I can’t do what I love doing and now you’re telling me that’s never going to change? You can’t go back to that so go find something.
RH: Alright. What are some of the things that you’ve done to maybe to kind of help cope or ease the situation, if at all?
SB: I don’t leave the house much. It can be very overwhelming and super stressful to be in places that aren’t familiar, especially when you’re hyper alert. It’s just too much to process and the brain just kind of overloads. I just freak out and break down. So I try and avoid situations like that. At the same time you have to try and expose yourself to it which is not a great process.
RH: Have you worked with the VA at all or used any VA services?
SB: I went through them for my disability stuff. I go through them for my medical stuff but that’s really a no go.
RH: Have you joined any veterans-related organizations?
SB: Yes, technically. I’m with the IAVA and I am a Wounded Warrior Project alumnus, whatever the hell that means. I don’t know what you really get out of that. I’m a member of the VFW.
RH: Do you still communicate with anybody from your unit?
SB: Yeah. Oh yeah. All the time. Well, especially a lot more recently. We had an incident where one of our guys that deployed with us, he overdosed. I guess it really kind of framed that necessity to make sure we talk to each other.
RH: Do you have anybody locally or is it all through facebook and e-mail?
SB: It’s all pretty much facebook.
RH: OK. Do you work with any veterans locally?
SB: No. Not a lot. It’s a rural area so it’s almost an hour and a half to Boston, an hour and a half to Manchester. It’s in one of those spots where to really get out is a huge hurdle because you have to go to large urban areas or places like that.
RH: So I have a couple of spiritual questions. Has deploying affected you spiritually and, if so, how?
SB: It does but not in the way you would expect. I mean, I was raised Catholic so while you’re there I guess people kind of embrace religion a lot more. I know I personally it happened with some people but everything that I got out of it, I looked at the Muslim religion and the way that a lot of these people were uneducated and the educated ones were using the Koran and their religion to kind of manipulate and influence people.
We had one incident, I’ll never forget it until the day I die. These people’s lack of education and their utter belief in the Muslim religion led them to kind of cast out a six-year-old girl in our valley. She was retarded, I think she was mentally disabled, but the locals believed that she had demons. Nobody would help her. She lived on whatever she could find in the burn pit. We’d give her food but nobody would help this little girl. She had demons. For people of other faiths and the fact that my religion is totally right and there’s this demon thing and their lack of education led them to not help this girl. She was an orphan.
So it was Christmas 2008 and one of the local boys had brought the girl to our base. She was having a fever and he didn’t know what to do so he brought her to us. We took her in and brought her to the aid station. We’re trying to get an IV in her and trying to take her temperature. She was freezing. She was literally shitting all over herself. And she was dying. And these people, they wouldn’t help her. They wouldn’t allow us a MEDEVAC for her because she wasn’t an Afghan National Army person or anything like that. So we had to try and send her to one of the local hospitals and nobody would take her and we weren’t given authorization to do it ourselves. We found out a week later that she had died.
I guess seeing that level of ignorance, lack of education, people who were extreme in their belief or their religion – believing in the fact that a little girl has a demon – seeing that kill a child, I just can’t justify tolerating people’s ignorance in their religion and their judgment.
RH: Has deploying changed your perception of life and death and, if so, how?
SB: I guess it kind of has. Watching people get shot, not dying, but they ended up alright. I took the casing of a .50 cal API round in my leg so I kind of got a taste of the whole being shot thing myself and I guess it made me think that it’s not that terrible. The chances of you dying from getting shot? Probably not. So the whole life and death thing, I guess I’m not as scared of getting shot because, pretty much, you’ll be alright unless you get shot in the head. Then you’re screwed for the most part.
RH: Alright. We’re going to switch gears a little bit. What’s the happiest memory of the entire time you served? This could be from the moment you started boot camp until the moment you got out.
SB: The whole time I served?
RH: Yes. The whole time you served.
SB: It was probably one point during my deployment. One of my buddies had been shot in the back and we weren’t sure how he was doing. We didn’t hear a lot about him and I headed out on leave and I ended up back in Bagram waiting to get a plane to Kuwait. Out of nowhere, in walks my buddy who had been shot in the back into the transit tent. I just recall never being happier to see one of those sorry bastards ever, ever in my life. That was probably one of the most.
RH: What, if anything, do you miss about the military?
SB: You miss everybody. You miss your people. It’s your family. Just that connection, it is literally indescribable until you don’t have it anymore. So I miss my guys.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Toughest question of the entire interview, what was the best MRE?
SB: Oof. I don’t know. There’s so much. I have to say, we had – are we talking from the regular menu?
RH: [laughs] Any one.
SB: OK. We got our hands on some winter freeze dried rations and they had a sweet and sour pork. You put some hot water in there, let it sit, best MRE I’ve ever had. Ho-lee shit!
RH: [laughs] Good to go. What was the best chow hall in Afghanistan and the best chow hall stateside?
SB: So in Afghanistan, as I was heading out on leave, the guys who got to stay at Bagram, they had a DFAC there that was nothing but barbeque food. I must have eaten five pounds when I was on my way out. [laughs] They had this whole mess of barbeque food at this DFAC. They had ribs, burgers. It was all amazing. And then stateside, when we got to Fort Knox they had a pretty good setup there with their DFAC. I’m not sure how their first one was but the DFAC that we had at our Brigade at Fort Knox was pretty damn good.
RH: Alright. Good to go. I have the last couple of questions. If you could communicate something to young soldiers who will be fighting the wars of the future, what would it be?
SB: It’d have to be just look at your heritage. Our battalion – holy shit! The stuff that they had done in the past in World War II, Vietnam, truly just amazing stories of the accomplishments that they achieved. And going back – when I was an NCO teaching my guys that, “look at what these guys have done. This is going to give you something to look up to. Prove yourselves in the eyes of those that came before you.” Look at your heritage and those that came before you and look at what they did. When you start feeling like, “aww, things are shitty,” or “I’m sucking,” look back on those and say, you know, “harden the fuck up.” The guys that came before you came away in a not so easy manner. So look back at your heritage and try and live up to it.
RH: Alright. Good to go. If you could communicate something to soldiers who may be dealing with PTSD or some other combat stresses in their future, what are some of the suggestions you would give to them to help them get through it?
SB: Absolutely the first and foremost is you have to break the stigma. You have to get help. I understand that it’s kind of hard to get past that hurdle of stigma that they put out there as a mental health issue. It took me just absolutely breaking down before I realized how bad it was and how much I needed help. You have to break the stigma and know that it’s OK to get help.
The second thing I would say is don’t take those fucking pills that they try and shove down your throat. It’s gonna kill you.
RH: If you could say something to civilians who may have zero experience with this, what would you like to say to them about PTSD and combat stress?
SB: We’re not dangerous. Despite what the media will tell you, the horror stories that I hear, guys with PTSD are more of a danger to themselves than anybody else. The people that don’t understand or have relations with the military will look and say, “oh, this guy has PTSD. He’s crazy and dangerous.” And they’ll try and paint us that way but it’s absolutely not the truth.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Is there anything that I left out that you would like to address?
SB: I’ve been blown up so many times I can’t even remember everything that happened to me. [laughs] But I think we covered it all.
RH: Alright. Good to go. My last question is, what specific accomplishment are you most proud of during your service?
SB: I was awarded an Army Com with a valor device and it was for an incident where my squad leader had gotten shot. Gimme a sec. I think I’m most proud of digging deep that day, doing what I had to do. He had gotten shot and we were just waking up in the hooch and this was two or three months into the deployment. We were still kind of fresh and the amount of contact we were taking, the stuff that they were shooting at us that day was absolutely insanity. One of my buddies took some shrapnel in his arm. He was in shock. We had him on the floor and we had to go get doc so I remember putting on my gear, going to the door and you could see the bullets. All of them were just landing on the stairs and I hesitated for a second. I was like, “holy shit! What the fuck am I going to do?” And I breathed for a second, I jumped out – I just jumped out the door – started running to the aid station.
Some of this had to get told to me because I don’t remember all of it but I got the medic. I took his rifle because mine was still in the hooch. Everything was crazy – we were scrambling – and I went out on the HLZ and I started shooting. I drew their fire that they were aiming at me so it wouldn’t hit doc as he was trying to render aid to my squad leader. I did that for about five minutes, ducking in and ducking out behind the aid station, until they had moved him. And then once he was clear of the aid station and doc dispatched and left, I went up to our tower to direct the fire of the Mark 19 to known target reference points from where they usually shoot from.
So I’d say I’m probably, I know most people don’t shoot for awards and that’s not what I was out for that day but that I’d say, probably, that was probably my proudest moment.
RH: Alright. Anything else?
SB: Not that I can think of.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Thank you very much!
SB: Yeah. No problem brother!