Good morning, everyone! It is just after six a.m. here but it is fairly normal for my family and I to be up before 7 a.m. on the weekend. During the week I wake up for work at 5:30 a.m. and today was just the same, without the alarm clock. Since I’m up and motivated I thought I would share with you an inspirational story one of my coworkers recently shared via Facebook. The story of Sergeant Elizabeth Marks is one that I did not know before and like retired Marine Sergeant Kirstie Ennis, Sergeant Marks also continues a physical fitness intensive regime in spite of her injuries. I am impressed and motivated by the determination of both these women in the face of such great odds and in the past few weeks have worked on incorporating fitness back in my life. I let that aspect of my wellbeing suffer greatly while I was working full-time and also working on my graduate degree.
I think one of the most powerful messages shared was her choice to wear the 22Kill ring in honor of her friend who committed suicide. While suicide victims are not just limited to individuals who serve (or served in the military) this profession, like other high stress employment fields, has a higher percentage of suicides compared to the civilian population and this percentage is higher for both men and women who serve(d). Even Marks’ physically small but powerful gesture represents a continuing effort to bring awareness to suicide prevention. Other organizations such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention are also ensuring work continues to help save lives.
Another message I wanted to share with you today was about the careful construction of Sergeant Marks’ leg tattoo. I thought it was beautiful the ESPN article discussed at length her choices for the design and the meaning behind those symbols. I have many peers who have service-related tattoos and the ones that commemorate fallen peers and pride of service are among the ones that catch my eye the most. Finding the right tattoo artist to craft those messages is something that I think many veterans can relate to and is worth the effort (and money).
I don’t believe I’ve spoken before about the tattoo piece I will have done later this year that commemorates my time at Camp Blue Diamond. I made the appointment for this tattoo about a year ago. Justin Nordine, who owns The Raw Canvas in Grand Junction, Colorado, is who I chose based on his watercolor work. The more I thought about his style the more I realized there wasn’t another single American tattoo artist whose work I came across that made me feel he or she was capable enough of conveying the complex emotions associated with my deployment. When I was explaining to one of our work studies how I am trying to find a balance between not only light and dark, but also feminine and masculine perception I thought more about the challenge this desire creates for the tattoo artist. I think the only thing I am hesitant to include is the color red because red is powerful in many ways that other colors are not especially for its representation of blood. The photographs below (copied from his website) are a small representation of his amazing skill set however I highly encourage you all to check out his Instagram page if you are on Instagram.
What a month! It’s not over yet but it has been busier and more stressful, complete with more opportunities and challenges. My nervousness over how fireworks would make me feel morphed into a bigger stress response than I imagined. As a result, I have logged my chest pains to keep track of them for an upcoming appointment with a cardiologist. Looking back, the 14 days of chest pains just gets exhausting. Thankfully, they are not all day long but once I do have an episode I do worry if I’ll have another attack during that day. While I have been extremely reluctant to seek medical assistance/further diagnosis about my chest pains the reality is after eleven years of suffering through them, sometimes I cannot manage them effectively on my own. I do find it difficult to carve out sufficient exercise time which keeps them in check. Separately, the sensation of these pains has changed over the years and I know that issue alone is pretty significant to go back to seek medical advice and assistance.
During the Fourth of July, I found it possible to avoid most of the fireworks. My husband and I went to the Keg for a late dinner and walked over to the movie theater in the San Tan mall. Unfortunately, some very overzealous individuals started shooting off fireworks before it was even 9 o’clock. I had some high hopes we could miss the fireworks that night in its entirety but not so much. Although I will be flattening the conversation significantly, being around fireworks does not upset me so much because it reminds me of the constant danger I was in while serving in Iraq. That sucks but it wasn’t the worst thing. It is a struggle because it is a reminder of the worst mortar attack we had which killed my officer. The sound of that attack is something that is seared in my memory more than any other one event. It is a struggle because I know I survived that attack and while so many of us knew Captain Brock we couldn’t save him. The Quick Response Force couldn’t save him. The Medevac crew couldn’t save him. We all–his Marine family–were powerless against an indirect weapon and the rest of us came home.
My daughter asked me recently why I didn’t die in Iraq. She asked this question of me after seeing the Eyes of Freedom memorial while I attended the WAVES conference (Western Association of Veterans Education Specialists) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I had no answer for her other than that I was fortunate. Even then, it’s not a full answer. I was moved to the night shift in December of 2004. As such, I was at my barracks the day Captain Brock was hit outside our work. That day, it could have been almost anyone who worked in that building or it could have been no one. I was at my home talking to my grandmother on the phone and the blast was something that was easily felt from my location. It made the most terrifying sound of all the mortar impacts we took.
I know other war veterans understand why carrying survivors’ guilt is hard. We have the rest of our lives to carry the burden of those who didn’t make it home. Our existence, our homecoming, is tinged with the reminder we were granted years deprived of our peers. We will think of the accomplishments they didn’t get to enjoy; we will think of the children they didn’t have; and we will think of the fact their families will never be the same.