“When I was a child in upstate New York, I would play “army” having an affinity for the military. Very few in my family had served, and I became the first Marine in my family to join. I was eighteen years old right out of high school. The push-back was intense. Everyone thought I was crazy. I enlisted during peace time in 2000, and none could fathom what would happen the following year. Sitting on phone watch as a young Marine when the planes collided; I remember a sergeant in the room telling me, “get ready — we’re going to war.” At Camp Lejeune, we immediately transitioned into a lockdown. We anticipated an attack as one of the largest military bases on the east coast. While we didn’t know what was going to happen, we did know we would end up being deployed. For just over a year we trained hard, and it wasn’t surprising when we geared up for war with Iraq. We left in January 2003 and landed in Kuwait preparing to fight. Iraq was hell for a short time. An invasion based on speed. We were under constant attack. They pushed us to the limit; very little sleep making it difficult to recall exactly what happened. As an M88 Hercules crewman, we split Iraq up the center, and outside intense small arms fire, a typical day was pulling out mired vehicles and repairing tanks to keep them fighting. Though our column extended a hundred kilometers, I was positioned just behind the tanks sharing their engagements. Sharing the risk. Many of us lost friends, I personally lost a kindred spirit, lieutenant Brian McPhillips….a man of great dedication and singular vision. The war became real when we saw the gurneys.
I returned home in mid-2003 and never saw Iraq again. Accepting an honorable discharge in 2004, I believed I had left combat behind me. The effects weren’t immediate during my transition, but I started to notice them over time. I started to shut myself off and turned to the bottle. I bought a secluded cabin in the woods of upstate New York and began to write. I had seen quite a few counselors while at the VA who encouraged me, and found an inspiring therapist named Andy whom I really connected with. When he left the VA to start his own practice, I contacted Headstrong to see if I could get placed in the program. Now I’m seeing Andy regularly through Headstrong. His office is much more confidential and, most importantly, NOT institutional like the VA. I am more free to speak my mind outside the VA and that’s huge. After I was able to kick my alcoholism and depression through treatment, I felt like I was able to find my voice through writing. It became became an outlet for me. When I would do EMDR treatments, it would bring up garbage from the past which I would then be able to tap into and write about. In a way, Headstrong helped me write “Taking Baghdad;” the culmination of sixteen years of passion, thought, and maturity. I wrote it because I wanted my children to know what I went through, and just maybe it would help provide some clarity on the military experience. The journey ends addressing PTSD and why it’s important to open up. It’s a war memoir, but also military history, it is strategy, tactics, prayers and even poetry. Since then, I’ve had many veterans reach out and let me know that it’s helped them tremendously. I think that’s all any of us want at the end of the day — not to be alone. With the blessings of God I have turned a bad experience into a positive one; opening up this tender region of my life to help my brothers and sisters.”
To purchase Aaron’s book “Taking Baghdad: Victory in Iraq with the US Marines” please visit: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1633937917/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_ZL2KEb08G62DS