The Afghanistan Veteran Project: From the Fire: An Account of War by Damian Jungermann

About a week ago the project was contacted by a the non for profit organization Martial Arts Community of Veterans (MACV) looking for some support raising awareness for their cause.  The organization focuses on helping veterans who are diagnosed with PTSD and operational stress injuries specifically through the study and practice of Jiu Jitsu.  I think this is a great cause and something that more veterans should look into.  I highly suggest that you take the time to check out some of the work they have been doing and give them some love or inquire how you can be a part or learn from what they have been doing.  You can check them out here:

Through our connection we have started to meet some outstanding veterans who are looking to share their story.  Damian Jungermann, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician, has deployed on several deployments to Afghanistan in many harrowing situations.  Overcoming the horrors and stress he experienced during tour Damian is a testament towards the work that is being done by MACV.  Through their work he has regained his life and we are proud to bring you his account.  Please take the time to read it and show him some support!

I suppose I will share the experience that really changed how I approached my missions.  I was on a night time village clearance with an Army SF ODA.  It was our second mission partnering with the Afghan commandoes.  The first had gone off without a hitch, which worried me.  We were doing these missions in a notoriously difficult part of Kandahar province called Panjwai.  We inserted off of a CH-47 with the Commando element and made our way to the compound we had decided to hit first.  After making our way through the dense marijuana field and grape rows, I placed an explosive charge on the wall and blew a hole large enough to breach the compound.  Unfortunately it did not lead into the compound and we were now relegated to using the doorway.  Our Afghan Commando engineers cleared the doorway of any explosive hazards.  Then I went up, kneeled in the doorway and cleared it quickly.  I found no signs of any IED hazards.  We made entry after I called it good.  After most of us had made entry and were inside the compound, there was a large explosion.  And for all of you who have heard an IED go off, it's sometimes hard to know where it happened initially.  Especially at night.  It turns out that the last two Afghan commandos had initiated an IED in the doorway that I had cleared.  I tried making my way back to get them.  Once we managed to get them inside we saw how bad the damage was.  One had lost both legs and one arm.  The other had blast injuries to his face and hand.  He would live. The triple amputee was begging us to kill him.  We attempted to medevac him by helicopter but by the time they arrived, he had passed away from his massive injuries.  His teammates wrapped him in a blanket and we brought the body back with us when we were extracted. It was my second IED strike I'd been involved in in the first 6 weeks I was in country.  At first light I made my way back to the doorway to investigate. The blast hole was exactly where I'd been kneeling just a couple of hours earlier.  How the fuck did I not function this thing.  What the fuck had happened?  There was little evidence to gather that helped me paint a picture.  This was still early in my first combat deployment in fall of 2010.  I had a lot to learn and it was this mission where I knew I had to change how I did this job.  I had to develop new ways to do our job.  I made it through 8 months of that deployment and did two more deployments to Afghanistan in the two subsequent years.  The last I was doing the same mission with the Commandos in Kandahar once again.  I have an incredible amount of respect for the Afghans who fought with us and a lot of love for the country of Afghanistan.  It is a tragically beautiful place and culture.  That mission haunts me every night.  I replay it daily and wonder how I missed that.  What could I have done differently so that didn't happen.  And I am sure I'll continue to go over that and see that Afghan's face and hear him moaning in pain.  That sound is always the same.  Every time I've been around someone who has stepped on an IED, there is that moment of silence after that blast, and then the moaning starts.  It's most definitely a sound I don't want to hear again.  

The Afghanistan Veteran Project: From the Fire: An Account of War by Luke Martin

As the project has grown so have our ambitions...Its time to bring some new soldiers into the fold and make this project an international project!  I'm super excited about this one, Luke is a super humble guy but he absolutely deserves the recognition for everything he has done.  His story truly speaks to the reality of war and the bonds that our military family create.  Please take the time to time to read Luke's story.  Specialist Luke Martin served in Afghanistan from May 2007 - August 2008 as part of Task Force Fury.

My name is Luke Martin. I was a Specialist with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, 1/503rd, C Co, 3rd Platoon (PL). My job was as a Forward Observer (FO) for my Infantry platoon. A job that was crucial in the fight, it was to provide the Artillery with the location of the enemy. I was in the US Army for 4 years. I was with the same unit the whole time and only went to Afghanistan once from May of 2007 to August of 2008, a 15 month deployment. For the most part we did missions our whole time there, a few breaks for refit but for the most part we were out of the wire for 300 of the 400+ days in country. We saw a lot of fighting, death, poverty, hate, appreciation, and disgust. We would look into the eyes of some men in a village and be able to tell that they would be fighting us later on. It truly was the strangest place I had ever been. 

My team mate Robbie Neary, from Illinois, and I were the 3rd PL FO's. He was one of those guys that could do anything, complete any task, and learn anything types. We hated each other when we first met, and I think that was why we were put together, some kind of character building test.  After getting into country we quickly became inseparable. It's hard to get shot at, and choose to not like one another. Over that year and three months we went through just about anything that two friends could in that desolate environment. We would set up targets along our routes, make the Fire Support op orders for what ever mission was going on that day, watch movies or play video games in our down time, eat chow and go over our job books. Well, after we made it home, all the way through a long, adventurous tour, Robbie went to Ranger School, and I started the process of getting out of the army to come home. He ended up getting out a bit after I did, within a day of being home he flipped the car he was driving and died. 

This is where my true battle began. I had no clue how to handle such a devastating blow. He was my best friend and teammate. We went everywhere together. I understood that Afghanistan was War. And as the saying goes, War Is Hell. I knew that the killing, fighting, shooting, rockets, mortars, and all the other stuff we had to deal with, was War. For the most part, I loved it. I loved the feeling of getting the quick reaction force call to roll out and help with the fight. I loved getting on a helicopter to get dropped some place in the middle of the night.  Walk down riverbeds tripping over everything because our night vision sucked. But a car accident? After all of the things we had been through I couldn’t accept that a car accident could be a cause of death. How was that fair to take such a great man in that way?

I lost it. I wanted to die. I couldn't get back into the fight fast enough and I knew that I would never be doing the things I had once done again.  I drank till I blacked out every night. If I had ran out of beer or liquor before I fell asleep I hopped in my jeep and drove to buy more. Sometimes just hoping I was going fast enough that if I hit a telephone pole it would be enough to kill me. Long nights of staring at my Smith and Wesson .40 cal wondering if I had the guts to kill myself. It was the constant question in my mind not of if I would kill myself but when. All of the drinking got me out of shape. All of the self-loathing turned me lazy and un-ambitious.

I was stuck in this hatred for myself, for not doing more. Not taking those steps to stay in the army, maybe me being there would have saved my best friends life. I kept thinking that I gave up on my team and myself. Perhaps if I had gone back for another deployment I would have felt better about myself, or maybe if I had tried out for something else that it would change how I feel now. But what-ifs get you killed. What-ifs take from what I did, I did sign my life for my country.  Had I died in combat, or if I die at 99 years of age with my wife by my side, I am going to remember that I went to a country that had no hope for help.  I went over with one of the best Units in the US Army and fought and made the difference we could. One tour isn't much at all. I'll never say that I did as much as I wish, but dammit Robbie, we did it, we survived, and I will never forget the fight. My fight’s not over, my life is a gift again and I am happy I brought the fight to their land, instead of letting it come this great land.