Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Blown Up [Guest Blogger]

**Quick note from Sarah, the blog owner**
I invited my dear friend to post this entry today because his story needs to be heard, as far too many stories of our wounded soldiers aren't.  However, this post will contain a very frank recalling of wartime situations and, as such, may be disturbing to sensitive readers or inappropriate for children.

Hello, Red! readers.  My name is Jack Jarrell.  Some of you have seen me mentioned in other of Sarah's posts.  For any readers who have never heard of me and would like the background on how Sarah and I met, this link will take you to her post on that very topic.  In fact, that "how we met" story would eventually become the end of the story I'm going to tell here today.

Before I begin, let me say that I don't spend much time writing.  My words aren't as pretty and my grammar isn't as perfect as Sarah's.  She offered to edit this for me but I told her I'd rather it be all me so pardon what i'm sure will be my numerous errors here.  Also understand that when I talk about my military days I tend to "swear like a sailor" so there'll be some of that in here too.

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I joined the Marine Corps in October of 1994 as most of my fellow high school graduating class was starting college.  After spending 13 weeks climbing mountains at boot camp, I went on a 7 year tour of the world on the Grunt Travel plan.  I saw MCB Kaneohe (HI), Camp Fuji (Japan), the USMC Mountain Warfare Training Center (CA), Camp Lejeune (NC), and Camp Pendleton (CA).  By 25, I was a fairly average Sgt.  I worked my ass off following orders from those whose stripes outnumbered or outshined mine.  I marched and mustered when I was told to march or muster.  I could run my 3 miles in under 18 minutes every time without warning or prep time.  I was promoted a very little bit ahead of schedule, but this was nothing remarkable among those of us who gave our all to the job.

I was at Pendleton on Sept. 11, 2001 and by January 2002 my crew and I found ourselves implanted among the mountain villages of Afghanistan.  Among the locals were folks who welcomed us (although these were few), folks who hated us, folks who feared us, and folks who shot at us...and all to often we didn't know who was who.  To put it bluntly, that place sucked.  I was among the early arrivals living with those bare essentials they trained us with back in boot camp.  It's not the sort of working vacation I'd recommend.

After the first few months, things more or less settled into a tense routine.  We slept in shifts, grew accustomed to having sand and dust and and bugs everywhere, and we patrolled in whatever direction or field or village we were sent to.  On November 21 we received orders to check out some abandoned-looking man-made caves that a helo patrol had discovered dug into a crop of mountains a few km from our location.  We drove into the village and met up with a supposedly-reliable local who had agreed to show us how to access the caves.

About half way up the narrow streets of the village the roads became steep and then too narrow for the humvees to squeeze between the houses so continued out on foot up toward the caves, a few of which were coming into sight by this time.  The village was quiet with only a few men and older boys lurking against the corners of some houses, any women and children having been stowed away indoors and out of sight.

I was discussing some plans with my Corporal so I didn't actually see the bullets slice through our local guide but I looked back in time to see him fall to the ground, gone before he landed.  The heavy winds had carried away the sounds of gunfire and in an instant I realized that we didn't know where the shots had come from.  We immediately raced out of the open pathway and toward the shelter of the buildings.

The last thing I remember solidly was stepping into the shaded corner of a nearby house.  And then nothing.  From there on my memory exists only in flashes and becomes fuzzy and dreamlike like a bad war movie.  I remember feeling wet all over.  I remember calling out to my crew but the wind carried my words away as fast as I spoke them, so fast even I didn't hear what I said.  I remember faces appearing above mine.  They were talking but their words floated away.  The sky was very blue that day but I don't know why that particular thought kept resurfacing in my mind.  My legs kept trying to get up and continue up toward the caves but the rest of my body wouldn't cooperate.  I remember a lot of bouncing and then the slam of a door and more bouncing.  I remember shutting my eyes against the sand stirred up by the wind of the silent propellors.  I remember getting annoyed at the feeling of being wet.  Something sharp pierced my shoulder near my neck and then everything was dark and quiet and still.

The next series of flashes of memory were all very different.  Everytime I regained awareness I was in a dimly-lit room.  I could twitch but I couldn't move.  I would cry out for help but there was no sound.  Within moments a masked person would appear over my face and the world would fade back to black.  My forced sleep was filled with unidentifiable terror and I would startle awake all over again.  I lost count of how many times I had to relive this maddening cycle.  Over time I gave up screaming having realized that my captors would only send me back into my own mind again if I continued screaming, and my mind was a scarier place than reality.  When I would occasionally awaken I stopped even opening my eyes.  I strained to listen for any sounds around me in effort to figure a way to escape.  But there was never any sound.  Never anything but absolute silence.

Eventually I did wake up and immediately wished I hadnt.  The first few times I was only awake for a few minutes before the pain would become bad enough to steal my consciousness away from me again.  I became aware of people moving around me and tried to grab onto one of them only to find that my arms would not act upon my efforts.  I began to come to terms with my situation.  I tried to prepare my mind for the torture i was sure would be forthcoming.  I remembered back to my training everything we had been taught about never givning away information to the enemy.  Even though I could not control my body I knew that I had to control my mind.  It was all I had left.

Time passed.  I never grew hungry or thirsty.  I never needed to pee.  I slept too often.  I was always in an almost-dawn level of dim light..  All those things that I might have used to count the passing of time, lost their meaning.

I just wanted a resolution.  If you're going to kill me just do it allready.  If you want to torture me just get on with it.  The silence and inactivity was slowly breaking me down.  I was sure that was part of their strategy.  Drive me insane and then get whatever they wanted from me.  I got angry.  Damnit I hated this!  All my training had not prepared me to be so unable to control my most basic functions.  What brand of torture was this?  My captors were certainly more patient than I had been told to expect.

Time continued to slip away from me.  Weeks?  Months?  I was fairly certain it could not have been years.

some time later upon awakening I discovered the room to be bright enough to actually see my surroundings for the first time.  I was in a stark bare hospital room surrounded by curtains and that realization hit me like a brick wall.  Had I been here the whole time or had I been rescued or returned or traded?  It was still silent but I was determined to keep my eyes open until I saw another human being.  I needed to know who had custody of me.  I wondereed who or what might be on the other side of the curtains.  A masked head appeared through the curtains and we locked eyes.  The head disappeared quickly and I was alone again.

Moments later a different masked head appeared through the curtain.  We locked eyes.  I asked 'where am I?' and the person attached to the head came fully into my curtained area.  It was a woman and she was dressed in a uniform.  United States.  Air Force.  Officer.  Doctor.  For the first time since all of this I was overcome with relief and started to cry uncontrollably.  The doctor reached for a phone on the other side of the curtain and silently talked to someone on the other end of the line.  When my crying slacked off she turned her attention back to me and started talking to me.  I could hear a slight hum of her voice but it sounded like she was whispering under water.  It was completely unintelligible.  I strained to hear her staring at her lips for some hint of something I could understand.


I decided to try my own voice.  My throat burned but I managed what I thought was a whisper.  I couldn't hear myself speaking but she apparently could.  "Where am I?"

She held up a finger to say 'hang on a minute' and then disappeared out through the curtain.

When she returned she was carrying a small white dry erase board.  She wrote something onto it that I couldn't see and then she spoke out loud.  When I didn't reply she turned the board around.  It said "Can you hear me?"

I shook my head and whispered "No.  Why can't I hear?"

She wrote on the board again.  "You've been injured.  You're in a hospital.  Ramstein."

I was in Germany!

Again she wrote.  "I've sent for someone to explain things to you.  I'll be back shortly to discuss your condition.  I know you have other questions first."

I nodded.  "Ok."

It was only a few minutes before the curtain opened again and they wheeled in my Gunnery Sergeant.  His left leg was gone below the knee, and there was only a knot of bandages where his left hand should have been.  The left side of his head was bandaged and all his hair was gone.  I felt a strange mix of shock at seeing him injured and relief at simply seeing a familiar face.  The tears came uninvited again

Gunny sat quietly by my bedside as the unwelcome emotions worked through me.  Eventually I was able to calm down.  The doctor had left.  Gunny and I were alone with the marker board inside my curtains.

Over the next hour I learned that our guide had been marked a traitor by his village for helping us.  When they knew we were coming, all the women and children had been moved into the caves to be used as human shields for the ammo dumps being hidden there, in case we had made it through the village and into the caves.  The houses nearest the roadsides had all been rigged with explosives, remotely detonated when any of us had gotten within blast range.  16 members of our patrol had survived including me and Gunny.  3 of us were here at Ramstein, 2 had been sent back stateside already.  The other 11 of them had been mostly uninjured, only cuts and bruises, and had been attached to another unit and were still over there.  The rest had died, some immediately and some in the time since as a result of injuries.

Gunny himself had insisted on calling my family.  They had of course already been notified but they were glad to hear form someone who actually knew me.  My mom had ordered him, as only a Brazilian mãe can, to get me home to her alive.  He smiled as he recounted the conversation with my mother.

When the doctor returned she was surprised to see Gunny still sitting with me.  She fussed and he looked sheepish.  He had apparently been told not to stay long and she ordered him immediately back to bed.  A corpsman came to take him back.

The doctor slowly addressed my medical situation.  I was severely burned in some places, and had lots of broken bones in various places from being thrown by the blast.  My throat and lungs were singed but I had never lost my ability to breathe on my own.  Most upsetting was what I had already mostly figured out on my own.  My hearing had been severely impacted and the doctor said she wasn't sure how much I would regain or if I would regain any at all.  She said I had been in the hospital for 16 days and she thought I should be able to be shipped stateside in a few weeks more.

A few days after Christmas I was flown "home" to the Naval hospital in San Diego, only a 45 minute drive from my parents.  My mom, dad, brother, and sister were already at the hospital waiting for me when I arrived and there were tears flowing freely from all of us as they hugged me.  Over the weeks, I was blessed to have family so close by.  My brother took a leave of absence from his job and moved back into my parents' house temporarily, vowing to accompany me to every single physical therapy session, and he did just that.  He pushed me and although I hated it, it was just what I needed.  He'd have made an excellent drill instructor.

At the end of January I met Sarah and found the best friend I have ever known.  She has patience and compassion and a certain tenacious grit that makes her the most amazing woman I have ever known.  She and my mother are cut from the same cloth.  She cared for me even when I was more bandaged-mummy than man, and her care has never lessened.

As I healed the hums of voices around me slowly faded away and I have been left with no hearing.  It has been a strange experience to adjust to a silent world after 25 years of having excellent hearing.  My "favorite music" is frozen in time since I will never hear another song.

But I've been lucky.  The military paid for my education.  The Department of Defense hired me after I finished college and they didn't care that I was technically disabled.  I've learned to do everything I did before.  I've made new friends and found an even better job.  I have gotten to move to Japan for work and here I am able to take advantage of all kinds of technological Japanese advances designed to assist the deaf.

These days I travel everywhere with my dog Shelby.  She is my ears.

I wake up ever day thankful for the life I have and thankful to have a life at all.  I am thankful for every thing in my life, every person, every experience.  I will never forget the sacrifice of my friends who were lost on that day.  Those men, along with the local guide who tried to help us, will be forever in my thoughts and have my unending respect.

I certainly would never though I'd be able to come out on the positive side of having been "Blown Up."

Always remember to be thankful for even the smallest blessings.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

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