Monday, November 24, 2008

To Hell And Back Again

To Hell And Back Again

Go To Original

Angie first came forward to tell her story in any interview for the documentary series 'In Their Boots.' The short film that resulted from that interview is called 'Angie's Story' and can be seen at www.intheirboots.org.

I was an 18-year old, fresh out of high school, with an M16 and camouflage paint smeared on my face, excited, a little naïve at just what I had gotten myself into.

No one told me that eleven years later, I'd be tired, very broken, isolated, and damaged goods. Yes, I was assaulted and harassed while serving my country. No one warned me that joining the Army made me twice as likely to be sexually assaulted than my civilian counterparts. That's not what I was signing up for.

I come from a family where military service makes you a man (or a woman, in my case). Both grandparents served in the Army Air Corps in World War II and my father dreamed of being in the Navy. Plans changed for him when I was born and he broke his leg in a motorcycle accident. I wanted to travel to crazy places few people have ever heard of or even knew existed. I wanted to meet those people I would see in National Geographic commercials or the World Almanac my grandfather would show me when I was little. Most of all, I wanted to get out of St. Louis and experience life on this irresistible planet.

I wanted to declare my independence to everyone I knew, so I shaved my head and signed the dotted line. A little rebellious I guess, but I liked the excitement of it all!

I had been a born leader, tough as a brick shithouse, and could knock boys over when I played soccer with them in the neighborhood. I played all the sports, ran faster than most guys and could outwit anyone with their intellectual theories. Especially the Catholic Republican in my Advanced English class senior year who would debate with me on issues such as abortion, the death penalty, and who would be President of the United States first, him or I.

In 1997, my senior year, GI Jane came out. I watched it the night before I left for the Army and dreamed of being just like Demi Moore, just as tough as the guys. I was ready, willing, and able to do anything a "man" could do.

Eleven years later, I wound up 2100 miles from home, staying in a homeless veterans shelter, attending a three month Renew Program for women veterans who have experienced Military Sexual Trauma with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. There were only five women in my group who were willing to face all the pain of their past to come out feeling better on the other side. Who says women aren't strong?

There, I met Amanda Spain, producer of "In Their Boots," an online documentary series
showing the struggles of Iraq and Afghanistan vets when we come home. They are apolitical, and funded by a grant from the Iraq Afghanistan Deployment Impact fund (IADIF) and produced by Brave New Foundation under Robert Greenwald.

She asked me if I'd be willing to share my story with those that were willing to listen. Apprehensive, and shocked that someone finally cared enough to listen, I hesitatingly agreed.

It was the first time, ever, to share my story, from beginning to end.

One night in South Korea, I went out with some friends to the "Ville" which is all the little hole-in-the-wall bars and restaurants right outside the gates of Camp Carroll, Waegwan, South Korea. It was a dark, spring night and I had to work the next morning at 0730 hours to complete my yearly Common Tasks Training with the unit. I went out for an hour or so, only had one small drink, as being drunk was not my cup of tea at the time. I went to leave an hour later and someone had stolen my keys. Nervous, I walked through the gate with a male, non-commissioned officer I had seen around but didn't know very well. We are taught to respect and trust the NCO's and I had no reason not to. You are not allowed in South Korea to walk through the streets alone as it is with Armed Forces Policy in most places overseas. My roommate was not in our room so I decided to stay in the NCO's room down the hall to wait for her to come home. I checked several times throughout the night but no answer from my roommate.

The male asks me four times to have sex with him and I say no all four times. First, I tell him I don't know him, then I tell him I have a boyfriend in Germany, then I tell him again I don't know him. The final time, I tell him I am on my period and NO! Next thing I remember is my naked body being violently thrown all over the bed and I am unable to scream or stop it. I don't know, to this day, if I was drugged or hit over the head.

I remember hearing his roommate, just on the other side of the room and I am trying to scream, but nothing comes out. It is as if I am out of my body watching from across the room and can do absolutely nothing to get back in my body and fight him off.

I wake up the next morning twenty minutes late for my 0730 formation. Shaken, not quite sure what happened that night I am standing naked in the bathroom and cannot unwedge the tampon that is shoved all the way up.

My Platoon Leader asks me what's wrong and did I drink too much the night before, he smells my breath and concedes that that's not it, but what is it? I don't even know.

Three days later, I get flashes and cold chills as I am standing in the office and see him. My body knew what happened before I did. Somehow, I am told, the body remembers. My hands are shaking and sweaty and now it's all clear. It's too late for a rape kit, I had to tell someone.

I talk to my Platoon Sergeant, the man I respected the most. He told me that in the military when there is a rape trial they will blame it on me and make it look like I was asking for it. They would say I drank too much, I was a party girl. They would make up lies and I would be on trial, not the NCO. As I am a naïve 21-year old who trusts her leaders, I go along with his plan to just "live with it." My Platoon Sergeant told me the only thing that would happen to him would be that his rank would be knocked down one level, he would be transferred back to the States and I would have to live the rest of my life with it. So I stuff it way down inside and begin my new way of coping with it, binge drinking on the weekends.

Six months later, I reenlisted to stay in four more years and signed up for Europe. September 11th happens and I know Europe will be the first to deploy when war breaks out. We all knew it was coming. I will leave a part of myself in Korea.

A year and a half later, May 6, 2003, I am driving in a convoy from Kuwait to Baghdad. My family is watching it all back home on CNN and they have no idea.

I already had pain in me from the assault and now I am being exposed to the horrors of war. No front lines for women, my ass. Baghdad is the front line. No, I didn't have to kill anyone, but the fear of thinking today could be my last, either from running over an IED, small arms fire from a sniper, a grenade being thrown from the overpasses or the fact that my Tactical Signal Unit has no armored plates in our flak jackets like the contractors get.

I hear stories of soldiers killing themselves in port-a-potties, crazy Iraqis blowing themselves up and what happened the day before in the "Underpass of Death" outside a market we frequent on our way to the Green Zone for supply pickup three times a week.

I am having panic attacks daily, nightmares, flashbacks, all things I don't find out the names for until I get back to Germany. I kept a journal of me losing my mind. Fevers, diarrhea, vomiting, bloody noses, losing 48 pounds in two months.

Supply lines are not steady yet and we get 1 liter of water a day and the temperature is 130 degrees in the shade. I am falling apart.

My Command will not send me back to get medical treatment as I am "mission essential." Finally, I get orders to Fort Lewis, Washington as there is some loophole somewhere that says you can not be overseas more than 3 years straight. I get medevac'd two weeks early for medical treatment.

When I arrive back at Landstuhl Hospital in Germany, they run every test possible to see why I lost all that weight, as I am now a withering 103 pounds. No one asks me if it could be emotional or combat induced.

After seeing a fellow soldier from my unit, who now had staples from his chest to his genitals, I lose it and walk myself to psychiatry. I still tried to hold it all in, only telling the Major that every time I hear a door slam I think it is a gunshot. Be strong, I tell myself, I am tough I can handle this.

I get to Fort Lewis a month later to find out my new unit is being deployed in two months, I am going back to Baghdad.

Two weeks into redeployment, I get double ear infections, a fever, and chills. I am ordered by the Medical Staff to report to Mental Health section as when they see my pulse rate is 140 beats per minute and my blood pressure is through the roof, I am having a panic attack, and can't hide it anymore. Their stupid machines caught me covering it up.

I walk to Mental Health and explode. Holding nothing back the Triage Doctor tells me I am not allowed to be around weapons as I am now a danger to myself. I am non-deployable and will be medically boarded out of the Army.

I am angry, confused, the Army is my life. I am a Sergeant, my soldiers need me and I need them. I just wanted help, I didn't want to be discharged. I had served 7 years and wanted to retire from the Army.

The day I was medically retired, I laid on the couch all day knowing my life was over. I was 25 years old. I went from war hero to piece of shit in one day. I was depressed, couldn't sleep, and my husband, also an Iraq vet, didn't know how to help me or what was even wrong. Little did we know, we both had PTSD, for different reasons, but nonetheless, we waged our own war against each other in the same house.

The next two years are fogged from my use of prescription drugs to numb myself. I didn't want to feel anything. I wish I had died in Iraq. At least the deceased aren't suffering. I am trapped in my mind reliving over and over the rape and the war. I am not sure if I am even alive.

My husband finally gives up on me a year later and tells me to move back home, that I need my family to help me because he can't get through to me. I am addicted to numbing my pain with anything that will stop it, even for a minute a day.

The year of 2006, I attempt suicide more times than I can count. I argue with God to just take me. I trap myself in my house and push my family away. I am ready to die. After four months of feeling myself die on the inside, I finally check in for the fourth and final time to get clean and sober and tell them everything. If this doesn't work, I decide, I am jumping off the tallest building in St. Louis.

I have now been in recovery for drug addiction and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for two years. I have not attempted suicide once in that period of time. I am more proud of that than my military service. I have given up on organized religion to help me answer the questions my mind has posed, like, "Why me?" The pure part in the deepest part of my soul, which knows none of this was ever my fault, and didn't deserve any of it, has kept me alive. I can say that there must be a God that has saved me from a hell which I created in my own mind, and given me a second chance at living one day at a time. It has been a very slow crawl back, and I am just getting started. I still cannot trust, I still cannot sleep, I still have awful memories, nightmares and imaginings of things so horrible I cannot say them here.

But I do have hope and a dog that has helped me cope. I have courage that things will get a little easier every day and that someday, the wounds of rape and war will be healed inside me.

There are thousands just like me, women and men, veterans who signed up to serve their country and were raped, tortured, harassed, and raped again by their command.

When I enlisted in the Army I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. My oath did not end upon discharge. I want to help other men and women veterans get the support that they need and know there is hope that we can get better. We must not give up. We must band together and make sure this doesn't happen to our sons and daughters.

No comments: