By: John Schrey, Help For Our Heroes Alumnus, Transformations BHT
We sat crouched down behind the three-foot-high mud wall about 150 yards from our objective. Every few seconds we would hear an enemy round snap overhead. I looked at Sgt. Richbourg and said, “Yo, we really gotta do this Big Dog?” It was a rhetorical question because I knew damn well we did. There were close to 100 Marines waiting behind us to breach this wall so they could assault what we had dubbed “Taliban HQ” and turning back wasn’t an option. We heard the mortars fire which was going to provide our smoke and concealment to make the 150 yard run to the breach site and now we just were waiting for the order. “Engineers Up!” said the Captain and off we went without hesitation. We got to the wall, placed the charge, and blew the wall out without taking any causalities. For this, we were each awarded the Medal of Valor, which to this day I have a great sense of pride for. To say this was done without fear and strictly out of bravery and valor would be a lie. Those characteristics were definitely present but they were accompanied by tremendous fear and trepidation. The fact of the matter is, I could not possibly face those 100 men if I didn’t make that run. In other words, I was willing to die before I was seen as a coward.
I tell that story for some context but it’s the last sentence I want to focus on because somewhere along the way my ideas about what was “cowardly” and what was “manly” got messed up. You see, overseas there was no time to admit fear, no time to talk about your feelings or emotions. You just need to focus on the mission. So I learned to just flip the switch and literally feel nothing. The problem was when combat was over, and it was time to go home, the switch got stuck. Furthermore, to admit to having struggles with emotions and feelings was usually looked at as being weak, and as I stated before, I would’ve died before that happened. That brings me to why I’m writing this; because I WAS dying. I was so afraid of facing my own thoughts and asking for help that I was literally willing to die first. Except for this time, I would die homeless, alone, and addicted to heroin and cocaine, not with valor and bravery on the battlefield.
Let me be very clear; this will not apply to everyone. Hell, it may not apply to anyone, and that’s ok because at the end of the day it feels good to be able to say this shit out loud with no fear and trepidation of looking soft or cowardly. A dude told me once when he was speaking to a group of young men, “John, I’m speaking to the young guy in the back of the room that has no clue what he’s in for.” So that’s what I’m doing with this writing, I’m speaking to that Sgt. Schrey that is just getting out of the Marine Corps with his beautiful wife and daughter waiting at home; the same Sgt. Schrey who needs to find the purpose in life and calm his racing thoughts but doesn’t want to look weak for asking for help. Maybe, just maybe he’ll read this and save his family the agony of watching him go from the top of the mountain to the bottom of a ditch.
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