Attached is a letter written by Iraqi Freedom army veteran, Andrew Payne, who was a guest on my talk show, KNCO Insight on March 25th. I was able to share only about 10 percent of the letter while I interview Andy on the air, along with Dr. Page Brown from Welcome Home Vets. You can hear the show on the podcast section of our website. But here is the letter from Andrew Payne.
A soldier’s call from home
I want to tell you a story. No fluffy bunnies and puppies here, sorry. I served 1 year in Iraq in
2004. My experiences there have left incomprehensible and permanent damage to my outlook
and view on the world. Not to mention my morals and my own soul. War is hell. No easier way
to put it. It would be nice to just live peacefully, but others don’t. so there is war.
Let me give you a rundown of a day in the warzone.
1) Wake up, if you are lucky
2) Eat already prepared food
3) Use baby wipes to shower with
4) Dodge bullets and incoming mortar attacks
5) Defend yourself, fellow soldiers, and comerades
6) Don’t die!
Sounds pretty simple huh? It is… sorta. That’s life in a warzone. NOTHING else matters other
than those 6 things… and I mean nothing. The grip on what your life was before deployment
slowly slips away and replaced by the most intense action movie ever made. Except its real, and
constant. Ay in, day out, same thing.. boom boom boom… run. Shoot. Dive. Hide. Hunt.
Always alert. Stay alive, drink water, Ewww there’s white @#$% floating in my unopened water
Everything is dirty. You spend countless hours in a constant state of paranoia about your
surroundings. See, war has a tendancey to make people do hellish things that go against the
morals of humanity. I don’t care if you are looking at a man, woman, or child. You have to be
prepared, ready, and willing to take a life. For no other reason that just because they pointed a
gun at you. At home, somebody really pisses you off. So what do you do? You go beat em up, or
smash their car in. In war, someone just gets too close in a vehicle and they get removed from the
road by either vehicle or ammunition. At home someone steals from you, you call the cops and
they get arrested. You see, things are OVERLY simple in a war environment. EVERYTHING
that you have been taught in school is now invalid. There is no hugging and saying sorry. There
are no timeouts. You either live to go home, or you leave your family with nothing but a
memory. Cut and dry. Black and white. It doesn’t take long for a person to become numb to the
rigors of combat and war. There is a point to where that 1k yard stare is a real thing. I guess
basically there is a mental and moral shift that you have to acquire in order to stay alive and keep
your fellow soldiers alive. It’s you or them. Simple. And understandably so. These are skills you
NEED in order to stay alive. Stay alert, stay alive! That’s what they always say. Sleep snuggling
your rifle with one eye open and your boots unlaced but on and your flack jack right in reach.
When you live next to an airport, how long does it take before they sounds from the airport kinda
fall in the background. You get used to it. Same with the paranoia and chaos and stress of the
war zone. Im sorry if I am doing no justice to the actual gravity of the situation out there.
Now let’s take that soldier home. Let’s keep him safe from all the chaos and dangers of a
warzone. Let’s put them back with their families and friends and people who probably can’t even
pronounce most of the cities that these soldiers have been in. when you are leaving the country
there is a line you have to go into and wait your turn to get asked a bunch of questions about
your mental state. If you answer yes to any of them you just signed yourself up for a whole slew of
hassle and headaches… oh yea by the way, your not going home either. Your going to a
psychiatric evaluation. Are you going to willfully admit that you have a problem living with the
experiences you had or do you even know that the experiences you have had in the warzone
have made such an impact on your psychy that it just feels normal, Lets me tell you NOTHING
IS NORMAL ABOUT LIFE IN A WAR ZONE. When I came home I was beyond scared to
leave Iraq., I was mortified. I was more scared of my 1 year old girl than I was of an insurgent
jumping out wall on post. Or a civilian mob overrunning
one post and coming at your door, or
flying in a chinook and getting shot at with numerous motivators to leave that area post haste
during my deployment, or the many many many many many numerous close calls and very bad
experiences. I had the illusion that I was going to come home. Put the war and my experiences
behind me. Not at first. I remember being told I slept for 3 days when I came home. I don’t
remember that, but I guess I slept through it or something. I struggled to find where I fit in. I
thought that I would use my military training into the civilian sector. Only to realize that I had to
start over from scratch … again! Wtf! I spent 4 and a half years of my life risking it all to better
myself and my family. Instead I learned that everything that I have been taught in the military
doesn’t really translate into the civilian sector. So I used my G.I. bill to learn a trade. I excelled at
it actually. I chose a field that I truly thought I had a passion for. Now comes the part where
things start to become real.
Once I have learned my skills and starting applying them into the real world, things started to get
difficult and I couldn’t understand why. I spent most of my days walking around the shop like a
fuse with a lit match just waiting to touch. I was volatile, overly aggressive in my dealings with the
general populace and my family. For the life of me I could not figure out how the entire country
has changed so much since I was gone. But it didn’t. I changed. I changed so much that I had
almost completely lost my identity and a lot of my sanity. Not too long after this my wife divorced
me after losing my job due my inability to handle the stress of life in general. Soldier on! That’s
what you are taught. Keep going. That’s what soldiers do… overcome the obstacles and
persevere. That’s great! In the military. Not so much at home. To push through the memories
and nightmares and visions and torments of things that you would love to forget. I wound up
losing my two kids, my wife, my home, basically my life. Left with nothing more than an empty
shell of a man that just could not figure out what the hell was going on. Since then I have had
numorous failed attempts at relationships and jobs
It took a very good friend of mine to almost literally give me shaken baby syndrome to go to the
va and get some help. I had no clue at the things that have changed inside my soul. No clue of
how my current outlooks and views on life in general didn’t jive so well with the civilian world. I
used to love to talk about my war experiences with people who ask. Hey! They asked, that means
they are wanting to know. Well… oddly enough by the time I was done telling some stories they
either had a completely different outlook about me, and not in a good way, or they cried and ran
away. I learned that people ask because they are curious, but they do not want to know the truth.
The truth sucks. The truth haunts you for the rest of your days on this planet.
So during the past ten years I have lost many friends, jobs, relationships and hairs on my head.
Yes that’s why I never go out the house without my cover on (hat for you civilian people). It’s
taken me ten years and two of those in therapy and group sessions to realize how much I have
changed, and what exactly changed within myself. Unable to hold down a job. Now it’s not
exactly because I’m a terrible worker, I do great work! I work my ass off till the stress sets in. then
I shut down, or become volatile towards my coworkers and even my work friends. I have walked
off numerous jobs just so that I wouldn’t have to go to prison for lashing out in a SEVERELY
uncalled for manner of dealing with a situation. You see. People who have not been into a
warzone get angry. Ok, well, everyone gets angry. But a person who has not been inside that
environment gets angry and may throw mean words, or maybe even fists. But that’s it. Generally
speaking of course. Now a war vet that suffers from P.T.S.D (post traumatic stress disorder)
doesn’t have that ability to negotiate a proper action to fit the situation. We are not trained to
talk big and maybe throw some punches. We are trained to do one thing and one thing only
when it comes to being attacked. Remove the threat. I’ve had to force myself just to walk away
because I know if I give in I WILL end up in prison. This is not how this country is run here.
So what do I say to those returning men and women. Military or civilian contractor. Please take
some time and evaluate the facts. Sit back and look inside yourself and ask yourself, is this
something that you would expect from a 3 year old kid? Is this a behavior that you would want to
show your mom or grandmother? At this point I realized that I do not fit in here anymore. I shut
down. Shut the outside world away and hid from it to protect it from me. That’s no way to live
Currently I am aiding in the startup of a program (official name to be determined) based here in
grass valley through the welcome home vets program. This program is being designed for
returning soldiers and even those that have been home for a while to learn just how different the
lifestyles are from before and after. To help both the physically and also the emotionally
returning home soldiers put some grasp on the things that most standard Americans take for
granted. It took a lifetime to learn these skills and basic core values. It took the military their
amount of time to turn them into soldiers. The military trained you for battle, but who trained
you for home and civility? Who trained you to return home and go back to the world you used to
How do you rationalize the irrational? To make judgments against our own deep personal
nature. To be ok with the sick and twisted world we live in. and to relish in its evils that follow in
the wakes of demons. How does one become comfortable with getting their fourth point of
contact shown to them daily. Or getting shot at while airborne, worse off shot down just for being
in their soil.
How do you impersonalize the personal.
These are questions I ask myself sometimes. These are questions I think everyone who either has
a loved one who served, or are someone that has returned from the warzone and are having a
hard time with things, but you just can’t figure out what it is, other than everyone else. Getting
shot at is a very personal thing. That is someone trying to remove you from your spouse, kids,
parents, family, friends, joys, ambitions. How do you keep that impersonal? Does the school bully
ever really get a lot of hugs? Ummmm I’ll let you think about that answer.
So now that I have spent my time trying to act like I know what im talking about, I will let you in
on something. I lost my place in life through my experiences both abroad and after returning
home. Its my goal to make sure that someone else doesn’t have to go through ten plus years of
losing family, jobs, money, homes, but most importantly sanity, then that is what I will spend my
time doing. If my ptsd hinders me from being able to come back home from Iraq, then maybe
helping bring other soldiers home will. I never left Iraq. I randomly vacation to the now and
present, but I always return to my home inside my head in Baghdad. Maybe my job is to bring
them back with me. Or follow them home.
NOTE: To find out more about Welcome Home Vets and Project Reboot, go to welcomehomevets.org