Its been seven years now since I was injured…

What had been entire companies back home were compressed into platoons for deployment; we knew our own platoons, and were used to looking at the others as friendly rivals. But in our own platoon, we were much closer. Danny Lee had been my buddy since I first enlisted; older, but a few months more time in. That was actually normal, since I joined at sixteen. He had more rank than me, because he had the amazing ability not to call people morons to their face, no matter how much they deserved it. But when the superiors started crushing down on him, men with more rank but less time and experience, demanding he “get his troops in line”, he lost control, lost respect.

The two “professional butt-kissers” (I’m cleaning this up since this is a family-friendly site) that replaced him were more interested in their careers than their men; the opposite of what a NCO should be, and so the platoon suffered. Men got 4 hours of sleep a day, IF they were lucky. By order of the company commander, PT was done daily because our scores weren’t better than the office POGs who were given time off from duty to work out in the gym. Our guys were made to run and do push-ups in the noon-day heat. Our mission cycle had us done after breakfast closed, PT during lunch hours, mission meetings instead of diner; if we were lucky, the base we’d go to had a midnight mess. Otherwise, it was junk-food for the only meal we’d get that day. Seven days a week. Any complaint was met with the usual contempt and insulting disgust. All the rude comments you hear in the movies? Not only did we NCO’s hear them as we passed our issues up the chain, we were ordered to pass the hate down the line as well. Even our mail was screwed with; only bad news was delivered anything close to “on time”. I had studied this before; this was almost exactly the same treatment shown to American POW’s by the North Koreans during that war. Except that this was done to us by our own side. And, quite predictably, we were breaking down.

Four months in, the men had been pushed beyond exhaustion: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And the [lack of] “leadership” simply got worse. Injured men were ordered to continue doing PT, even though it was aggravating their injuries to the point of permanent crippling. Injured men were sent “outside the wire”, out into hostile areas with loaded weapons, while on opiates and other mind-altering medications that, by law, should have had them on light duty if not bed-ridden, while their broken limbs were still in cast. It’s unfair to say men were “falling asleep” on duty; a more accurate description would be that they were passing out from exhaustion, suffering black-outs, or as boxers put it “standing KO” often.

I don’t know exactly what happened that night. I’ve built a narrative for the accident based off what I was told, but I don’t remember. Apparently we slid on wet road, slicked from leaked diesel fuel, and hit a concrete wall.

I remember waking up. I thought I’d fallen asleep. I couldn’t feel my arm, and my head hurt, and our platoon sergeant yammering, like the idiotic worthless moron he was, wasn’t making it any better. Then feeling came back to the arm, and I knew it was gonna suck. But priority was checking on my two guys. Turns out they were fine, that was a load off. By then, I could feel how much blood was flowing out of my arm, and how fast, and I knew I needed some help. After that, things got hazy; I was trying to stay in light shock, to block the pain, and that screws with everything. I do remember most of the talking I did was to calm down my driver, and convince him I was fine, and it wasn’t his fault, and trying to keep him from feeling guilty or being too scarred from this.

I got to Walter Reed a few days later. I know I was in Germany less than 12 hours, because I slept but there wasn’t a meal, but actual time? No clue. Too many pain meds to tell. I found out that it was a good thing I asked one of the guys in my platoon to call my wife and tell her I was ok; the Army never notified her I was injured. Found out later my unit in Iraq never notified anyone that I was injured. While I was recovering, I tried to do things to keep in shape; work out, weapons qualification….basic infantry stuff. I was told by the hospital staff that I was injured, and not allowed, and why did I think I even could? So I told them of my unit, and was called a liar, that the Army couldn’t do that, that no officer would break so many laws doing such things, blah blah blah. Seven years later, I’m still hearing how my unit couldn’t have done those things; couldn’t have pushed men beyond the point of breaking; could not have willingly destroyed the bodies and mind of so many good men just because a few contemptible filth wanted ribbons and medals.

They are the ones that told me I had a head injury because I couldn’t walk or talk right, and a had a few other problems. But when I asked, “Ok, how do we fix it?” Suddenly I was a malingerer, making it up. I asked that my physical therapy be pushed as hard as possible; the “experts” complained I was trying to keep myself from recovering. I did as they recommended; they complained I wasn’t trying hard enough. My case manager was my biggest enemy, always convinced I was wrong and against the Army; she hated that my only goal was to recover enough to get back to my unit, back to Iraq.

I’ve always felt guilty. I could have stayed; I’ve fought with worse (but not by much, I’ll admit).  I was debating, as I sat in that Hummer, if I wanted to keep going. I could have pushed through. I’ll always regret not being there to protect my brothers.

David Gilliam
David Gillam is a medically retired Army Sergeant that served a long and distinguished career in the Indiana Army National Guard. He served two tours in Iraq, was injured in Baghdad, and spent several months in rehabilitation at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington DC. He has several degrees from Indiana University in many different areas of study.

David is married to his wonderful wife and caregiver, Anna, and has tremendous knowledge of the Veterans Administration. He is a valuable asset to the FreedomSystem team.