John Fleegel

John Fleegel

2018-07-18T03:21:59-05:00

This is my story. I’ll start from the beginning.

I joined the Marine Corps in 2004 and ended up in 3rd Battalion 8th Marines. My
first deployment was in January 2005 to Fallujah, Iraq. We were living outside the
city in a small town called Karma. We set up a small two platoon-sized patrol base
and three observation points throughout the small city and one on the border of
Fallujah propper, the rest of the city was one of the few places in the area
miraculously still untouched.

The war started for me one month into that first delpolyment on February 21st 2005.
I was in a convoy en route back from a hostile area when the vehicle I was riding in
was hit by an IED. Thirteen of us sustained moderate to severe injuries, were
treated, and got back into the fight. One didn’t make it home.

3/8 got home took 45 days off and started the workup for another trip to Iraq, but
this time we were headed to Ramadi. Fallujah was hard but Ramadi was an entirely
different animal. The higher operational tempo and nature of our mission there made
for some stressful moments. I remember telling my girlfriend (now wife)”this place
is not so bad” while Dan Rather was on the TV in the background diming me out,
announcing Ramadi as the most dangerous place on earth.

My third deployment took me on the 22nd MEU. This consisted of copious amounts of
drinking followed by weeks to months of nothingness with some training and
humanitarian missions thrown in there. Looking back I can see that this was the
first time PTSD reared its head for me although I didn’t see it at the time.

Fast forward to 2008. I had my DD214 in hand by April and was moving to a new
city/state by December. I was doing well, or so I thought. I was getting my VA
claim in order, enjoying a new city living the newlywed life. We had jobs, were
working on friends everything was great.

Then sometime after the new year everything shattered. Even now I’m not sure what
triggered it, but something inside me gave way. We had been out at the bars that
night. Was it the alcohol that brought up memories from somewhere locked away?
Whatever it was it broke me. I became depressed, hopelessly and utterly broken. I
became a recluse. I had soul crushing anxiety all the time for seemingly no
reason. My wife would have to coax me out to see friends only for me to hardly
engage. The worst part was that I had no idea why I was so depressed. I refused to
believe that I was weak enough to have PTSD.

This went on for almost two years. I searched for ways to make sense of everything.
I considered re-enlisting, joining another branch, all of these were non-starters.
I watched deployment videos trying to regain some of the feelings I had when I
thought I was invincible. I even found the video the insurgents took when they blew
up my vehicle.

All of this just pushed me further into my depression. I was with my wife, but I
was alone. Then I started getting phone calls.

My friends were dying. It seemed like every couple of weeks I would get a phone
call about another one of my friends dying. They were succumbing to their demons.
These brave men, my brothers whom I fought next too, who I bled with, who we
promised to do everything to make it home together, were taking their own lives.

Late one night I got a call from a brother. One of our own was in a hospital near
me. He had made an attempt on his life but was saved by some concerned friends at
college. I made the hour long drive in 40 minutes and told the desk nurse I was a
direct relative. When I walked into the room I saw a man I served with, fought
with, bled with. I saw a broken man. Just like me.

After this experience, things started to change a little bit. I started to realize
that I was not the only one dealing with this. I started to reach out to my
brothers. After a few months and a few reconnections I had what I call an epiphany.
It was more of a realization. I have PTSD.

This was the start of my recovery. When I finally let myself accept what was wrong
with me I found hope. PTSD is manageable. It gave me an “enemy” to fight. I
started to exercise and lose some of the fat I’d accumulated over the past two
years. I started looking for jobs with my particular infantry skill set. I was
back on track and starting to feel better. I found a contracting job, and it fit
the bill.

I was still too overweight to get the job so I started an extreme regiment of diet
and exercise. I accomplished my weight loss and fitness goals in a few short months.
I made contact with the company, interviewed, and landed a spot.

The day before I intended to sign the contract tragedy struck. While out
celebrating my goal achievements and job landing I rolled my ankle on some
cobblestone and destroyed my leg along with any chance of contracting. I had a high
ankle fracture with a 180-degree rotation of my foot. It was gross. I was sure
that I was going to slip back into my depression, but for some reason, I didn’t.
Things got better. I landed a very good sales job in which I excelled. I attended
school and applied the discipline learned during my time in the Corps to a dual
major. I nailed the Dean’s list every semester. All of this has led me to where I
am today. I’m outgoing, I regularly socialise, and love my job.

My story might sound dark and depressing (except the end). It was but all of those
phone calls from my friends no matter what the news gave me crucial contact. They
were checking up on me. Looking back I see that I clung to that contact, it fueled
me and made me feel not alone.

Most of all the reason I am number 23 is my wife. She was with me 100% of the way
guiding me through even the darkest of times. Forcing me to interact with society
even though I was resistant. She knew who I was before the war and she was slowly
piecing me back together after. I leaned hard on her; she was the guiding light
that made self-harm unimaginable. She continued (and still does to this day) to
believe in me and help me be a better version of myself.

If readers take in only one thing from my story, I hope that it is the fact that
you’re never alone. Your brothers are always with you, your family, and friends are
with you. They may never understand what it is you are going through but they don’t
have to, they can still be your anchor.

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