The first thought I had about no longer wearing the uniform was the overwhelming sense of what am I going to do, what now? That is often one of the biggest reasons we choose to hit the re-up button and hang around for a little bit of cash and devote another 4-6 years when we are vastly approaching the end of our enlistment or obligation for the O’s. I remember it like it was yesterday. I had been fighting for about a year and a half to get medically cleared to get back on flight status; however, I was not being truthful about getting better. Rather I was compartmentalizing my symptoms and checking all the boxes to show that I was good and ready to be cleared. I had been an enlisted aviator in AFSOC for 7 years and there was not a chance in hell I was about to become a non-er (non flyer/non-mission essential) no damn way. Everyone holds a position in the military that in the grand scheme is relevant and of some significance, but for me it was the potential to go from the tip of the spear to the damn shaft. Get pissed about that fact, It doesn’t bother me that I felt like I contributed more to the mission by intervening and ending a TIC (troops in contact ) incident, then someone else maintaining the chlorine level at Saddam’s pool at balad or ran the projector at the deid’s movie theatre. Just my opinion, and everyone is entitled to their own. My simple mantra was that I was either going to continue to fly or I was going to pull chocks and take off the uniform. Well, I had been assigned to the group tactics office and flew a desk from Sept 2012-Dec 2013. All the while enjoying a quasi-break from being on the hook for alert and being deployed and TDY 70-90% of the year. All the bullshit finally caught up to me and I remember driving home after a staff meeting and just felt the anxiety begin to drown me. I was living with a buddy and my wife was visiting and I remember walking in taking off my boots and then becoming catatonic essentially. Completely paralyzed and unable to speak. They called 911 and after a few hours 8 test and a massive headache from the nitroglycerin (in case I was having a heart attack) I was released with a massive anxiety attack.
I woke up early the next morning and walked outside to my truck; as I stood there I just asked myself “why am I doing this anymore?” I couldn’t answer it and that’s when I knew I was on the downhill side of my career and the end would begin to appear quicker than I could have imagined. I went to the flight docs that day and looked at my doc and said stop trying to get the waiver for me to get back on flight status. I’m done, my issues have gotten worse and I just can’t do this anymore. He looked up at me with a smile and said I’m really glad you came to that realization, because you were never going to get a MAJCOM level waiver with your conditions, but because of those conditions we wanted you to come to the conclusion and not just tell you that it was over. I walked out of the clinic that day knowing I’d never have another check ride again. That unbeknownst to me, I’d in fact already had my finny flight (last flight). Wow, and just like that I was no longer a special mission’s aviator. Holy shit, now what?
The next 6 months were the most miserable months of my life. I was stuck in the purgatory of pending separation/medical retirement. I had an additional duty first sergeant who had no concept of how to help me and chose rather to lead me along with all these guaranteed scenarios that led to me going home to my family, only to be consistently told that’s not going to work either. The unit leadership stripped my clearances because (well I have no idea) but it’s hard to work in a secure office when you no longer have any clearances. I was pushed out to some meaningless job, that had no leadership because it was ran by civilians and furthermore no one to answer to. I played their new game for about a month and finally said to hell with it. Walked in one day and said I’m out processing and you won’t see me for a few weeks. They didn’t care, so I sat at the house for weeks waking up late morning eating soup, binge watching my roommate’s 5 TB hard-drive of movies and series, and drinking from brunch until my roommate came home from work. (I’d stop drinking about 1400 so I could get a sobering nap in and be sober enough to engage in a conversation with him when he got home around 1630) On top of the excessive drinking I was using my medication to try and kill my pain that I wasn’t addressing by taking copious amounts to put me to sleep. Downward spiral officially had begun. I couldn’t figure out what in the hell was going on; all I knew was I was so damn miserable and I missed my wife and kids who had moved back home in anticipation of my impending separation. But, we are not good enough at calling each other’s bluff in the military. I missed 4 months of work before I finally had enough. I’d call the first shirt every day to check on the status of my separation, he tried but he had no damn idea how to get me out. I finally showed up to the group building (where I worked but also the 0-6 group commander and group Chief E-9) in civies, unshaved, hair way out of regs and half drunk. Just happened to run into my squadron CO while I was there and he asked how the separation was going, to which I responded it ain’t SIR. In the military you have one of two different types of commanders: The toe the line and screw the crew commander; or the hard ass but takes care of his people commander. This one was the company man. Didn’t give a damn about his people, just his next promotion. I was at his 0-5 promotion and it was amazing how no one showed up because he was such a pretentious prick. For some reason, I guess he was feeling charitable and grabbed me by the shoulder and led me to the group chief’s office. Oh shit was my thought I’m in fucking civilian clothes with a half ass beard and hair that was way out of regs. Let’s call the Commander JK; JK walks straight into the group chief’s office and says Chief I need you to help out my SSgt. Chief turned around in his chair and I had the biggest sigh of relief; turns out the new group chief was a gunner from AC-130’s that I had deployed with. Chief RS looks at me says tell me what is going on SSGT, at this point my CO had left; Chief says close the door and really tell me what’s going on. I did and began to poor out my pain to him, all the way back to when the symptoms started. Chief looks up and says give me 5 business days I’ll have you a date of separation. Finally, I could begin to plan what I was going to do next, when my family could be whole again, when I could be a husband and father again. March 3, 2014 I would be as we called it a 1 Alpha civilian. I got home on terminal leave Feb 1 2014. My body came home Feb 1 2014; my mind and my thought process have never fully come home. So my question once again, now what? Where do you go from here? Just like the when all my symptoms started, I felt the same feeling of where am I? I’ve never been in this place before in my life. Where’s my mission? Where are my brothers and sisters? Where am I, rather who the hell am I? Who the hell came home?
The process I truly believe was one of many circumstances that I believe pushed my mindset away from situation. I know that sounds confusing, but not once while on active duty did my mental health professionals ever remotely mention Post Traumatic Stress. Rather generalized anxiety was my diagnosis. I will elaborate on the actual process of separating in another post, but I just wanted to get a synopsis on the beginning of my uniform wearing, wing earning, combat engaged, definition of myself began and how it came to be redefined.