The first major obvious sign post was when my mom died, I was in Afghanistan. I knew she was sick but I didn’t know she was going to pass so quickly. I was stuck at an air base at an undisclosed location somewhere in the Middle East. I broke down in the middle of the Pax Terminal. It wasn’t a pretty site.
I’ve spent over two years of my life deployed. Some times living in a glorified cardboard box. The first time was almost fun. Some time around number four is was no longer fun. My mom died during number five. One year I deployed three times, twice to places I’ve never heard of. Places you couldn’t find on a map.
It was after number five that I started to drink heavily, very heavily. It was an easy road to follow, downhill most of the way. Everyone on flying status drinks. Some of us just drank a bit more than the others. I never realized I was the one.
Even when I wasn’t deployed I was away from home. The state side missions were worse in many ways. Most of them were medi-vac or HR missions. The HR, Human Remains, were tough. I lost count of how many HR missions I’ve been on. Taxi the plane into position. Shut down every thing. Silence. No power cart. Nothing. The Honor Guard walks up the ramp in the back of the plane. They pick up the casket. Walk slowly off the plane to a waiting hearse. Taps starts playing as the coffin is removed from the plane. The quiet is broken. American flag draped over the casket. The flag is folded, then presented to the spouse or parent. We might spend the night or we might continue on to our next destination. The plane always had more than one pax, most were still breathing. Fly a few more hours, drop an injured troop off for specialized care. It didn’t matter. It was depressing.
After the engines were shut down and the plane was put to bed we broke out “Little Buddy”, a red and white Colman Cooler. The youngest crew-member was responsible for Little Buddy. They had to ensure that it was still cold at the end of the flying day. Most of us had our little helpers waiting for us in Little Buddy. For some of us it was a beer, for others whiskey. Me, I had my Cruisin Rum. I discovered Crusin on the island of St. Croix. My personal paradise, both the rum and the island.
I crashed after a few years of very dark times. The VA diagnosed me with anxiety, chemical dependency, depression and PTSD. There are still some dark days but nothing like they were during that period. There are still road signs. For the most part they are much easier to read today.