Winter 2014 Powerful Voice Winner Jay Hagstrom
Jay Hagstrom, a student of Molly Badrawy at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, New Hampshire, read and responded to the YES! Magazine article, "Heal the Warrior, Heal the Country," by Dr. Edward Tick, a story about the many veterans he sees physically and emotionally wounded from serving in the war, and how we, as community members, can help these warriors heal.
Writing prompt: Imagine what it's like to serve in a war. Write a letter to a veteran—fictitious or someone you know. Whether or not you agree with U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, how might you welcome this soldier home, and express your support for the transition this soldier faces as he or she returns to civilian life?
by Jay Hagstrom
An imagined letter to be sent to a fellow soldier.
Though we have never met before, we have a connection that many will never truly understand. I was a Marine reservist with the 25th Headquarters Unit located at Fort Devens. I signed up for the Marines my junior year of high school and went to boot camp a week after graduating. I deployed to Iraq in 2010 with the 325th Infantry Unit. We were in the Anbar Province of Iraq near Hit and Ramadi. Our main mission was to close down the TQ base and transport all of the personnel and gear back to our base. It did not feel like we were doing much to help with the war, and that made it hard for me when I returned home.
Post traumatic stress disorder can be a scary thing for a soldier to think about, particularly when you consider the effect it might have on your career in the military. Military members are known for being tough and fearless so having to admit that you need help can be a hard thing to deal with. In the YES! Magazine article, “Heal the Warrior, Heal the Country,” by Ed Tick, Walt, a veteran of Vietnam, tried to ignore his problems and it almost completely ruined his life. I personally did not experience any traumatic events while deployed. The worst that happened to my unit was someone shooting off a mortar while we were sleeping. We heard the whistle as it got closer and louder, but it detonated a few hundred feet away and no more were fired after that. I’m not sure what you saw or what your mission was, but you are the best person to determine if you need help or not.
Something you need to understand is that going to war does not just affect you. When you are training and deployed, your life is completely different than you are used to, especially as a reservist. While you are training and getting ready, your family is home trying to continue their lives as usual without you. Most of the time, when you are really into training, time will fly by, but back home time is different. When I left for my deployment my daughter was two. I came home right before her third birthday. I thought that her being so young would be helpful because she wouldn’t understand what was going on or where I was. When I returned, our family participated in a program with my daughter at the VA, and I learned my perceptions were completely wrong. She was scared and was afraid I wouldn’t return. Although I did return, one thing does continue nagging at me.
There was a problem that was deep in the back of my mind that I tried to ignore, but I knew I had to deal with it to truly be happy. It’s a crazy thought for someone who has not served to try to understand; I felt like I was not a true veteran. There were guys in the unit with me who had deployed during the push into Fallujah and had been in combat and fire fights—all the things we trained for. Yet my deployment was nothing like that and I did not feel satisfied that I had done enough to honor the men and women who had died fighting in the same war I was cleaning up. I tried to talk to family about it and they thought I was being ignorant. They were glad I never had to shoot my rifle. Of course, I am not saying I wanted to be in a firefight, or experience what an IED going off is like, but I wanted to feel like I did something honorable. I have never completely gotten over this issue and I’m not sure I ever will, but writing this letter to you and telling you my story gives me some peace, so maybe this is a start. Think about these things when you are coming home. Make sure you take care of yourself and your family when you return home.
Jay Hagstrom is a first year, full-time, student at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, NH, pursuing a B.S in Management. Jay works full-time as an Engineering Technician at EMD Millipore in Jaffrey, NH, and is married with two children. Although spare moments are hard to come by, Jay enjoys spending time with his family and golfing. Jay served in the United States Marine Corps Reserves for 8 years, deploying to Iraq in 2009 and returning in spring 2010.
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