My PTSD Is My Own
By Eddie Lazzari
Two short years after the tragic events of September 11th, I received my deployment orders to Iraq, and so began my journey; one that would change me. This change is eternal, and one that may refine me, but a change that I work so hard to prevent from defining me.
We immediately began training for our mission, an easy one, (on paper at least).
During Operation Iraqi Freedom II in March 2004, 1st Brigade Combat Team was headed to Eastern Baghdad, Sadr City, and its surrounding burrows. My unit, C-Troop 10th Cav. Recon Troop, was to serve as our Brigades Quick Reactionary Force and maintain 24/7 coverage and protection of an 8-mile stretch of road affectionately known as “IED Alley.” IED stands for “Improvised Explosive Device.” I would not be doing this title justice without emphasizing the word “Improvised”.
IEDs come in many shapes, sizes, and applications, and as you can imagine, this wide range of uses resulted in varying degrees of damage, injury, and well…..fear. I often think back on my deployment and recall some of the scariest moments were those of dark uncertainty.
Cruising down IED Ally at 50 miles per hour in my Hummvee at 02:30 in the morning, pitch black, no headlights, using only the narrow periscope view of my Night Vision Goggles. Wondering… waiting….. anticipating the attack. My senses were heightened to the point of feeling what was coming. This part of combat is the most difficult to explain to anyone who has never been there. It is truly something you have to experience firsthand to really appreciate.
April 4th, 2004 is known to those of us who were there as “Black Sunday.” Islamic Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, an Iraqi Islamic political leader, called for a Jihad (a war or struggle against unbelievers) throughout the entire country of Iraq. This kicked off eighty straight days of sustained direct contact with the enemy, that is, if you could figure out who the enemy was. Our Brigade lost 8 soldiers and more than 40 wounded in this initial attack on that day.
Less than a week later, on April 10th, I lost my first soldier, SPC Justin Johnson, to an IED while on patrol. Over the next 11 months, our troop of 70 soldiers would experience upwards of a 70% casualty rate, both wounded and killed in action. Our troop would also experience more than 3,500 documented forms of enemy contact from IED’s, small arms fire engagements, RPG attacks, suicide bombings, and car bombs.
Upon returning home, these changes started to creep in and find homes in my mind and psyche, beginning to fester like an infected, gangrenous wound. My wife and family commented on my changes, and often asked what was wrong with me. In my frustration ,I demanded that they tell me exactly what these changes were because I was determined to reverse them and “be normal” again.
The response was always the same, “I don’t know, you’re just different”. Armed with nothing and no target to aim at, I was at a loss for what to do, or how to do it. Simple things in my previous life would become unsurmountable mountains now.
Some of my behavior was unavoidable:
• Driving down the road and panicking when I’d see an empty box on the shoulder.
• Jumping out of my skin, locked frozen in my own body at the sound of a loud unexpected noise.
• Crowded places made me sweat and my heart felt like it was pounding out of my chest .
• 4th of July fireworks with my family? Forget it!
The smell of burning tires, or gunpowder would instantly transport me back to the moment of holding my soldier’s lifeless body in my arms as he gazed through me with his open empty blue eyes. He was in a better place, I knew, but that fact did not absolve the responsibility I had to him as his Squad Leader. It was my job, my responsibility, to keep him safe and bring him home to his family. I failed in that task, and would fail again before it was over.
My service is one that I am extremely proud of, and I would not change for the world. However, the way that combat changed me is something I wish I could shed. I would never ask to forget, as this would be in direct conflict with my beliefs, value of always honoring those who sacrificed more than I, and for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. I have learned to own PTSD and make it my own.
Eddie Lazzari served 10-years active duty in the Army from 1996–2005 as a 13F Forward Observer, eventually obtaining the rank of Staff Sgt. He is married to his beautiful wife, Heather, and has two children, Tyler, 20, and Hannah, 14. He currently runs a podcast, “Change Your POV,” found at changeyourpov.com.