Transitions from War, from combat to active living

Mike Ergo was a Marine rifleman with 1st Battalion, 8th Marines from 2001-2005 and deployed to Iraq twice. Coming home from combat was rough. His body returned, but his mind and spirit were still in Fallujah for many years. … Triathlons, trail running, and endurance challenges like GORUCK have help him to overcome the sadness, anger, fear, and anxiety that are a part of PTSD.

The Biggest Race of My Life by Mike Ergo

“Lindsey Schmidt from Ironman’s PR firm reached out a few months ago to say they heard my story. Ironman wanted to get me on a cool, new veteran podcast to talk about why I race. It would be a chance to talk about the Marines on my jersey that keep me moving towards the finish line. I agreed to do the interview.  I wrote an eBook  about the Mind, Body, and Spirit. Finally, a chance to talk to a larger audience about a great way to deal with PTSD!

1927897_52180045766_8469_nMike Ergo is on the left

The interview started out great (listen to it here). We talked about how I went into the Marine Corps, ditched the band and joined the infantry, and shipped out to Iraq. He asked me what house-to-house fighting was like in Fallujah. Chaps was there in 2007 and has walked the streets of the former Baath Party hub. And of course, we chatted about how triathlon has helped me deal with the demons of PTSD and turn it into something positive. So Chaps throws the verbal jab and I take the bait.” …

This post is continued on Mike’s Blog Transitions from War from combat to active living – Reconnecting with Mind, Body, and Spirit

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Lloyd Lofthouse, the host of The Soulful Veteran, is a former U.S. Marine (1965 – 1968), Vietnam Veteran (1966), retired public school teacher, journalist, and award winning author.

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Heavily Armed on the 4th of July

On the evening before the 4th of July this year someone set off some M80s or Cherry bombs, and it sounded like my house was the target. After slipping from window to window and carefully looking out, I left the house and checked the perimeter of my property looking for any signs of damage. While I was out staying in the shadows, there was no one in sight. The street was empty, and I didn’t find any damage or evidence of the explosives I’d heard that rattled my windows.

I went back inside, locked up, and later that night, when I left my home office after 8:00 pm, I took my loaded shogun with me to the family room where I watched a DVD.

All the noisy, flashy fireworks are a perfect cover for criminals and crazies to act, and that’s why on July 4th, I’m ready to fight. I slipped a large canister of pepper spray in my shirt pocket, hid a loaded pistol under a pillow and carried the shotgun to the family room with me to continue watching that DVD I started the night before.

With the 4th of July explosions popping off lighting the sky, every 10 minutes, I put the DVD on hold and slipped from room to room to peak out windows and make sure nothing suspicious was going on outside.  Even though there were plenty of explosions and flashy fireworks in the distance, I never saw anyone outside of the house, on the street, or across the street, but I stayed alert and ready anyway. To most combat vets with PTSD, when you relax and think everything is okay, that’s when the shit will hit the fan so you never relax.

Each window and door in my house has four locks. The last two locks can only be activated inside the house. No key will unlock them from outside. In fact, the workers that installed the new windows soon after I bought the house told me that one of my self-made locks was called a Deadman, because the simple, homemade device made it difficult for firemen to get in the house to save me.

I still remember my reply. “The threat of dying in a house fire doesn’t cause me to lose sleep. But the thought of some punk breaking into my house and me not being ready because I didn’t hear them does. If I know it is easy for someone to get inside my house without hearing them, I will be awake all night listening to every sound. I wanted to make sure that anyone breaking into my house had to make a lot of noise to do it and alert me. If a fire breaks out and kills me, too bad.”  I think that way because of the odds of a fire vs. a break-in.

According to FEMA, in 2010 there were 362,100 residential fires in the United States while there are about 131 million housing units.  That means the odds of my house catching fire are about a quarter of one percent.  But according to A Secure Life.com, “Data from the FBI 2012 crime report shows that we can expect one in every thirty-six homes in the United States to be burglarized this year (every year).”  Those odds are more than 3-percent or 12x the risk of a house fire.

I’m a combat vet. I live with the fight or flight response of PTSD, and I have no intention to run away. That leaves me with one choice, to fight. If someone breaks in my house while I’m home, one of us is going to die and I plan on it not being me.

It wasn’t always this way. I was married for forty years and to protect my wife and family from the flashbacks, caused by the combat memories that followed me home from the war, I kept my firearms locked away and lost a lot of sleep. Now that I’m on my own, the weapons are out when I’m home, and I sleep better knowing the house is sealed – something I had no control over when I was married. What is a vet to do when the wife can’t sleep unless she leaves the bedroom window open, and she sometimes wakes up and leaves the house on hot nights to get some cool air, but forgets to lock the front door when she returns?

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Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran, retired public school teacher, journalist, and award winning author.

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Megan Leavey and her dog Rex, Semper Fi – Once a Marine, Always a Marine

I saw a film today, Wednesday June 14, 2017, based on the true story of a U.S. Marine and her dog.  While watching the film, I was with her every step of her journey. The first part of the film shows a young American that has lost her way due to the death of a close friend. Her family is dysfunctional and poor just like mine was. I identified with her reason for joining the Marines and that decision straightened her life out like it did for me.  When she reached boot camp and I watched her expression and body language as the DI’s tore into her and the other recruits. I laughed because that was me in 1965 at MCRD. Leavey went through boot camp at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

When Megan is asked in the film why she joined, she said, “To get away from my life.” I couldn’t have said it better.

But after book camp, she was still struggling to find a balance in her life, and that got her in trouble leading her to the shit detail that introduced her to the Marine Corps infantry bomb dog program and Rex.

The battle scenes in Iraq were intense, and I was there with her every step of the way.

After she leaves the Marine Corps, she finds herself lost again until she takes up the struggle to adopt and save the life of Sergeant Rex, her combat dog, who had been retired and was scheduled for euthanasia.

After Vietnam (1966) and the Marines (1968), it took me years to find that balance. It’s not an easy journey.

Since it isn’t a secret that she was reunited with Rex, who taught her what love is, I’m going to admit that my eyes got misty while watching this part of the film. If you see the film, I suggest that you take some tissues.

Megan Leavey grew up in Valley Cottage, New York. She enlisted in the Marines in 2003 and after boot camp was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, where she was paired with military working dog Rex. They served together on two deployments in Iraq. They were first deployed to Fallujah in 2005, and then to Ramadi in 2006, where they were both wounded by an improvised explosive device. Leavey was awarded the Purple Heart and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with a “V” device denoting heroism in combat.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran, retired public school teacher, journalist, and award winning author.

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A Clear and Present Danger to the Republic

As a U.S. Marine, I came back from the Vietnam War in 1966, and PTSD followed me home like an evil, second shadow, and that PTSD conspired to wreck my life and drove me close to suicide a number of times. There was no support for combat vets with PTSD until the 1980s. Before then, we were mostly alone.

In the last decade the mental health support from the VA has helped me to manage my PTSD instead of letting it dominate me, but last week I heard from a reliable anonymous source within the VA that a transition team from the Trump administration has already visited the VA and told the top leadership they were planning to privatize the VA.

From what I heard it wasn’t “if”; it was “when” and “soon”.

A former old friend, we’ve known each other for about 60 years since we were children, already triumphantly explained in an e-mail soon after the election, right before I blocked him from sending me any more of his crap, that the VA was going to be closed, everyone that works there fired, and every vet would get a voucher of about $8,500 annually to pay for medical insurance in the private sector. This former old friend is also a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam vet that relies on the VA for his medical care, but he is also a fundamentalist, evangelical Christian, tea-party sympathizer, and libertarian thinker who listens to and believes many of the same misleading sources Littlefingers, who he voted for, relies on for his allegedly smart thinking.

The VA leadership told Trump’s transition team that the VA couldn’t be privatized easily, just because Littlefingers snapped his fingers expecting total obedience (my words, not theirs).  It would take an act of Congress and even then it would be complicated, because the VA is funded by both mandatory (more than half) and discretionary spending. The mandatory part is based on previous legislation passed by previous presidents and Congresses going back to the beginning of the VA all the way to 1811 when the federal government (and most of the Founding Fathers were still alive) authorized the first medical facility for veterans, and in 1917 when the US entered World War I, and Congress established a new system of veterans benefits, including programs for disability compensation, insurance for service personal and veterans and vocational rehabilitation for the disability.

For Littlefingers to legally erase the VA, or any element of the federal government, the Republican dominated Congress would have to cooperate and support him every step-of-the-way.

And last week, the Koch brothers, ALEC, tea-party people dominated Republican Party in Congress took a step that clearly signals they are ready to do just that.

New York Magazine reports, “The GOP Just Gave Congress the Power to Cut the (annual) Salaries of Individual Civil Servants to $1 … and the budget of any individual federal programs right down to zero.

“They executed this attack on the independence of the civil service by reviving an obscure provision enacted by Congress in 1876: The Holman Rule, named after the Indiana congressman who devised it, empowers any member of Congress to submit an amendment to an appropriations bill that targets the funding of a specific government program or employee.” …

“It remains unclear how aggressively Republicans will use the Holman Rule, which inspired some opposition within their own ranks. …”

But it is clearly obvious to me that the Trump administration and the Koch dominated GOP plans to roll the U.S. back to a time right after Abraham Lincoln’s Civil War (1861 – 1865), back to the Jim Crow era of racial discrimination and injustice, back to a time when there was no income tax, and the federal government was weak, very weak, when it came to protecting the people and the environment from racists, liars, frauds and con-men like Littlefingers Donald Trump, who will never be my President, and back to a time when there was little to no job protection and more than 40 percent of Americans lived in poverty.

And instead of creating jobs, Littlefingers will soon be in a position, with possible support from the GOP dominated Congress to get rid of and/or bully most if not all of the 2.8 million civil servants that work for the federal government with a legal threat to legislate many of them into poverty.

The VA, for instance, employs almost 345,000 people at hundreds of VA medical facilities, clinics, and benefit offices across the country. They are mostly civil servants and few working Americans can survive on $1 a year.

This is what “draining the swamp” really means to Littlefingers, with a long history of contempt and obvious hate for the law and anyone with more power than he has, and soon he will be the most powerful person in the world with help from Russia. Littlefingers is clearly the Kremlin’s President of the United States, a clear-and-present danger.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran, journalist, and award winning author.

His second novel is the award winning historical-fiction love story and suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he didn’t commit, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence, or he will never go home again.

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The Ignorance of Donald Trump on Display with another Foolish Twitter Rant as he insults a U.S. Marine

Donald J. Trump went on another Twitter rampage after the Democratic National Convention ended, and in one Tweet he said, “General John Allen, who I never met but spoke against me last night, failed badly in his fight against ISIS. His record = BAD #Never Hillary”.

This is another example of how ignorant and foolish Donald Trump is.

How could General John Allen (click link to discover Allen’s accomplishments) fail badly in a fight he never fought? Although he served in Iraq, he never had command of the Multi-National Forces West, and he retired from active duty more than a year before the Islamic State of ISIS and/or ISIL was established.

Who is General John Allen? CNN reported, “Allen graduated with honors from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1976, and has racked up a long and distinguished list of accomplishments both on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq as well as an attempted role as peacemaker to one of the longest and most intractable conflicts in the Middle East.”

General John Allen commanded the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan from July 18, 2011 to February 10, 2013, and then he retired from active service after having served the United States as a U.S. Marine for 37 years — something the Donald has never done because during the Vietnam war, Trump managed to avoid being drafted with several deferments. Read all about it in Was Trump a ‘draft dodger’?

In fact, in June 2014, Aljazeera reported, “Sunni rebels declared new ‘Islamic caliphate’. Armed group ISIL changed name to Islamic State, and says its empire extends from Iraq to Syria’s Aleppo.”

ISIS has operated out of Iraq & Syria since 1990 under several different names and did not appear in Afghanistan until 2015 about two years after General Allen retired from active duty.

Do we really want a president who is this ignorant and libels and slanders people without knowing what he is talking about? Donald Trump is a liar. Donald Trump is a loser. Donald Trump is a fraud. Donald Trump has a thin skin. Donald Trump is a coward and a bully. Donald Trump is a small man no matter what size his body parts are.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

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Lofthouse’s first novel was the award winning historical fiction My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. His second novel was the award winning thriller Running with the Enemy followed by his award winning memoir Crazy is Normal.

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A Semper Fi Hero in Orlando

What would Donald Trump say about an American citizen called Imran Yousuf if all he heard for the first time was this young man’s name in connection to the night club massacre in Orlando, Florida?

The odds are that The Donald would think that Yousuf was from the Middle East, a Muslim and a danger to all Americans and then say it without fact checking. After all, soon after the Orlando nightclub massacre, Trump was demanding a ban on all Muslim travel to the U.S. before the FBI released any verified information on the shooter and his motives. The Donald didn’t waste any time to demonize an entire religion of 1.6 billion people in his campaign full of hate, racism, lies and deception in his race to become President of the United States.

To sum it up, I’ll turn to Jennifer Williams who reported on Vox.com that “Donald Trump’s speech scared me as an American Muslim. It should scare you, too.”

I think The Donald should scare every American, because to me The Donald is the Bogeyman in the flesh. The Bogeyman is a common allusion to a mythical creature in many cultures used by adults to frighten children into good behavior. This mythical creature is no longer a myth. The Donald is real, and parents now have a real person to frighten their children with. Parents can now say, “If you don’t behave, The Donald will come for you in the night, and he will demonize and bash you on TV in front of the entire world.”

I want to introduce you to the real Imran Yousef, a former U.S. Marine and Afghan veteran with a first and last name that sounds like he could be from the Middle East and a Muslim.  Click this link to discover more about Imran:  The Marine Corps Times says, “Marine Vet’s quick actions saved dozens of lives during Orlando nightclub shooting.”

What name sounds more Middle Eastern and Muslim – Imran Yousuf or Omar Mateen? Before you answer that question did you know that Omar is not only an Arabic name but is also of Hebrew (Jewish) origin, but Imran only has Arabic roots – yet CBS reports Imran Yousuf is a 25 year-old Hindu?

That led me to ask another question: Is The Bible More violent Than the Quran? The answer to that question will probably surprise most people who read it. In 2010, NPR ran a story to answer this question and referred to a study by religion historian Philip Jenkins who decided to compare the brutality quotient of the Quran and the Bible.

For readers who don’t have the patience and/or time to click the previous link and discover the entire answer, here is one short quote from Philip Jenkins: “Much to my surprise,” he said, “the Islamic scriptures in the Quran were actually far less bloody and less violent than those in the Bible.” Violence in the Quran, he and other say, is largely a defense against attack.

Semper Fi is Latin and it means Always Faithful.

According to CNN, there are almost 500 Muslims and 86 Hindus serving in the U.S. Marines, and if you are curious for more facts and truth, here is a link to a story about U.S. Muslim Serviceman who Have Died in the Service of Our Country.

Send a message to Donald Trump to delete his mouth, and make sure to vote in November but not for him.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran, journalist and award-winning author.

His second novel is the award winning love story and suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he didn’t do while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

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Kill Shot: a Walk in the Park

This is a work of fiction based on the experiences of its author, Robbie Rea, a qualified sniper, who served in the U.S. Marines for four years before joining special forces and training as a medic. He fought in the Middle East as a Green Beret. His forthcoming completed memoir is called “Next Mission”.

Guest Post by Robbie Rea

I walked in the park with my grandkids and smiled as I watched them run ahead and hide behind a tree. They thought I couldn’t see them and I played along until they ran up behind me and yelled, “Argh!” Playing along, I jump and then fell over like I was so scared that I passed out. All four of them climbed on top of me saying, “We got you papa! We got you!”

As I lay there wrestling with the little ones, I see Lisa smiling down at me. The sun shines behind her head illuminating the blonde hair around her beautiful face. She looks like an angel.

Suddenly everything went black as I felt my left wrist vibrating.

As I clicked the button on the side of the watch to stop the vibration, all of my senses fed my brain information so I could figure out where I was. My nose was the first sense to alert me of the familiar musty smell of dirty clothes, body odor and farts in the sleeping bag. My ears then picked up the sounds of snoring and other breathing sound of people sleeping. My skin simultaneously felt the sleeping bag that surrounded me and the tight stretched canvas cot that I lay on. Now I knew that I was back in Afghanistan. That forsaken area of combat that I often compared to hell.

I had been dreaming, and I want nothing more than to go back to my dream and stay there.

Once dressed, I make my way to the team room to prepare for battle. I check all my gear and make sure nothing will cause me problems during today’s mission. It was 3 a.m.local time.

As I checked the gear and got ready I thought of my family back home in Clarksville, TN. Comparing what I was doing now in contrast to preparing my kids lunches while they ate breakfast and then get their backpacks with homework into the car so I could drive them to school. On the rare occasions that I was home I’d insist on driving them to school instead of having them take the bus as usual. This allowed me to spend more quality time with them that I learned to appreciate more after each deployment.

The next step is to sound proof everything metal with black electrical tape so anything metal won’t touch anything else and make a clicking or clanging sound.

When all of the gear is prepared, the team puts everything on and then jumps up and down to make sure that nothing will make enough sound for anyone to hear if they are less than 30 feet away.

The last step in preparation was to take a ziplock bag and cut it down the sides so I could slip it over the receiver of my rifle. I would then tape up the sides to seal the metal parts to keep them safe from the sand and dust. As I did this and remembered putting sandwiches for my kids in the same ziplock bags, I wondered if it was time to transition so I could be home more often.

Then I remember why I am here. To prevent the bad people of the world from ever making it to my home and spreading their evil ways and robbing us of our freedom.

The sound of the intercom snap me back to reality as it announced our helicopter ride would be ready in five minutes.

My team on this day consists of myself and only three others for security.

As we made our way to the helicopter landing pad we checked each other’s gear one last time.

As we approach the helicopter, we heard the loud whining sound of the blades and felt the downdraft of hot air pushing against us.

As the Blackhawk lifted into the desert air the adrenaline kicked in and I took a deep breath to try to remain calm. Now is the time to slowly push back any thoughts or feelings from home. I had to numb myself to any human feelings and become the cold deadly warrior that was needed to get the job done.

The helicopter dropped us at our checkpoint and we began the 12 mile hike to our attack point. With every step that took me closer to our target, I mentally hardened myself more and more knowing that what I was about to do could have no feeling and no remorse. Only the calculated and well-trained deadly movements of a warrior was needed at this point.

As we approached our final destination, one of the security men stayed behind to protect us from any attack coming from that direction as the three of us proceeded forward just over the hilltop in front of us.

As we came to the peak of the hilltop, we lowered our bodies to crawl the rest of the way. Crawling, the sand worked its way into my clothes and body. The sun was just starting to creep up and the sky began to slowly change from black to purple.

Reaching my final point, I prepared for my task. Every movement from here on would be very slow and deliberate so if anyone below was looking, they would not pick up any movement.

It took about 40 minutes to prepare the hide site and now I slowly slid the sniper rifle from its case. Once in place, I positioned myself behind the .50 caliber rifle, flipped the sight covers off, and looked down range towards the target area.

The convoy quickly moved down the dirt road to the compound 2,000 meters away. The small military contingent positioned themselves so they would be ready when the general arrived. Their positioning confirmed that I was in the correct spot to make the shot.

As the convoy got closer and I knew that I was about to end someone’s life, I began to think about him as a human being. Was he a father? A brother? A husband? A son? Would his family mourn him? How many people would be at his funeral? I didn’t know this man, but I knew what my orders were. The picture of his face was burned into my memory as I’d studied his picture for hours.

Just before the vehicle came to a halt, the general emerged from his tent in full dress uniform. He walked toward the black Range Rover and waited for the door to open. I also waited with the crosshairs of my sights resting on the general’s chest.

The door to the vehicle opened and a man in robes exited. The general approached the man and gave him and hug and kiss on each cheek.

As my finger squeezed the trigger I thought momentarily of my children and grandchildren and of Lisa. There was a brief moment of hesitation and then the flooding thoughts of 9/11, the twin towers, Americans dead and naked being dragged through the streets.

BANG!

The bullet was on its way. I waited to see the red mist as the round went through the Arab benefactor and the general he was providing money and weapons to kill Americans.

I saw their lifeless bodies spilt in half and drop to the ground. Then the sound of the large sniper rifle reached the target and everyone there dropped to the ground.

I was always amazed at how people react when a sniper bullet hits its target and they all freeze in disbelief to what they see but then they always react when the sound of what happened registers to them.

Everything up to this point was in slow motion and everything from this point forward would be as fast as I could move.

Years of training took over as I put the rifle back into its case and quickly broke down the hide position. Then I quickly crawled up and over the hilltop and after getting safely over the other side, my two flanking security guards and I broke into a full out run.

Our rear security was already on the radio confirming our ride home.

We ran for 2 miles nonstop until we reached our extraction point and boarded the Blackhawk.

On the ride back to base, I heard the others telling the crew what had just happened. They were all laughing and high fiving each other. I sat there thinking about my grandkids and Lisa playing in the park knowing that they were still safe at home because two more terrorists were now out of business.

Only then did a smile slowly slip across my face.

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Lloyd Lofthouse, the host of this blog, who is not the author of this guest post, is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran, journalist and award winning author. If you enjoyed reading Robbie’s short story, keep an eye out for his revealing and shocking memoir, Next Mission. The book is scheduled for release later this year.

Lloyd’s second novel is the award winning love story and suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he didn’t do while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

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