|Posted on April 7, 2015 at 7:35 PM||comments (0)|
Atlanta International airport is a major hub for airlines and the US military. The airport is dotted with soldiers and scared kids who are on there way
to the biggest wake up call of their lives. I was easily identifiable, I had my US Army bag, short hair cut and thick folder full of papers that I was to
hand over once I got to Basic Training. My marching orders were to find the big clock in the middle of the airport and wait there until a bus arrived to
take us to Fort Benning.
I had nothing but time to kill when I arrived at the clock tower and started to get to know some of the guys. Some were idealistic, some had nothing
else better to do and the majority seemed to be blissfully ignorant of the ambush that lay ahead for them. To my surprise, the flight to Georgia was
the first time some of these guys had flown on an airplane. This was one of the first signs that this experience would be much different than my
upper middle class upbringing.
Young privates who just graduated from Basic Training walked up to us “newbies” with a cocky swagger to partially give us advice and partially to
gloat. I was envious of each one of them. They were done with Basic and could now go fight the war. I was afraid that the war would end before I
could take part in it.
As the designated pick up time inched closer, I went to the pay phone to call my girlfriend (now wife) one last time. Her voice sounded dead as if
she had lost all hope. I thought that would be the last time we talked. Throughout the whole process she threatened to break up with me if I joined. I
called her bluff, but I thought she might act on her threat in my absence. I couldn’t blame her if she did; she was an attractive 22-year-old living in
Boston. I was a 22-year-old playing Army; surely there were better prospects out there for her.
The bus pulled up to the airport at midnight and we quickly filed onto it. The recent Basic Training graduates emphasized to us that we needed to
try and get as much sleep as we possibly could on the ride from Atlanta to Columbus. I wanted to heed their advice, however, sleep was elusive.
The thought of what lay ahead for me was too much to think about.
When we arrived at Fort Benning, a Drill Sergeant stepped onto the bus and ordered us all off. We scurried off of the bus as fast as we could,
hoping to not anger our new masters. The Drill Sergeant yelled at us to form up and once we had un-clustered ourselves, we stood still in the cold
Georgia night while he read us the rules and regulations. Once he was done, we filed inside and took seats on hard wooden benches. My illusions
of getting any food or sleep that night were shattered.
This was our final amnesty period. If we were in possession of any kind of contraband, this was our last chance to get rid of it. The nervous energy
being emitted by our sorry looking rag tag outfit was palpable. Young recruits quickly lined up with their backpacks, eager to absolve themselves of
any wrongdoing. If someone had something that they thought might be remotely “contraband” they handed it over to the Drill Sergeant who stood
above a trashcan. The Drill Sergeant was an African American man with a Southern accent. He was unabashedly Christian and continuously let us
know this while he decided what recruits could and could not keep.
Halfway through this ritual, Ken Benson (names have been changed), a prior professional MMA fighter, walked up to the amnesty trashcan. Ken
had a plethora of books with him ranging from the Bible (he was a Christian), a book on Muslim Culture and a book on how to maximize your
eating for performance. As Ken began to unload his book bag a white Drill Sergeant walked over to the amnesty bin with a Monster Energy Drink in
his hand and hate in his eyes. He tore into Ken and wanted to know why he had the book about Muslim culture. At this point everyone in the hall
silently rejoiced that they were not Ken. He tried his best to answer the question saying, “I figured that since we are training to fight in Muslim
countries I should know as much as I can about their cultures and traditions.” If the white Drill Sergeant was angry before, Ken’s response made
him even angrier. In a loud and booming voice, the white Drill Sergeant let us know that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan “had nothing to do with
religion.” I realized that no matter what Ken said, the white Drill Sergeant would have taken an opposite stance and tore his explanation apart.
However, in that moment I could tell that the white Drill Sergeant believed in what he said and I realized that the next five years might be longer
than I thought .
The white Drill Sergeant stormed off, probably to smoke a cigarette, leaving the African American Drill Sergeant to deal with Ken and the group of
terrified recruits. The African American Drill Sergeant then proceeded to lecture Ken in a fatherly tone, letting him know that the only book he
needed was the Bible. To illustrate his points, the Drill Sergeant thumbed through the Bible and read passages allowed. Within the first few hours
of being in the Army I was exposed to three common themes that I became accustomed to: the religious zealot, the anti-intellectual and the fear that
mother Army can place in the hearts of young men to do the right thing.
|Posted on March 30, 2015 at 7:10 PM||comments (0)|
This is a picture of my father and I at the Albany MEPS the day I shipped out for Basic Training.
The following is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of my rough draft. The chapter is titled Deciding to Join
When I first started college in 2002 I wanted to go to OCS after graduation. However during this time, the 18 X-Ray program became popular. By
signing an 18 X-Ray contract, I could guarantee myself a chance to go to Special Forces Selection . I would have to enlist rather than go to OCS
and the chances of me earning the fabled Green Beret were about 10-15%. Despite these odds, the Special Forces appealed to me due to their
specialization in un-conventional warfare. Green Berets are deployed in situations in which knowing the culture, customs and language of the
people is just as, if not more important than the weapons you carry. When the Special Forces first started during WWII as the Office of Strategic
Services, the ideal man they were looking for was a, “PhD. that can win a bar fight.”
After carefully thinking about which path to take, I decided that I wanted to be a Green Beret. I had read books, talked to numerous people, thought
and prayed about it. The ability to be apart of an elite unit that emphasized intellectualism just as much as it emphasized tactics, appealed to me.
Once I had made the decision, my mind was made up and nothing could convince me otherwise.
On March 7, 2007 it was time for me to head to Infantry Basic Training. While I sat in the Albany International Airport, waiting for my flight to Atlanta,
the gravity of the situation hit me. Nothing would be the same again. My girlfriend (now wife) was probably going to break up with me. I was going
to miss so much in my friends and families lives. I had no clue what my future held for me, except that it led to Iraq or Afghanistan.
At 22 years old, I was a former two-time captain of my college football team and on my way to begin Special Forces training. Despite my seemingly
tough exterior, I was still a kid and scared. I began crying un-controllably in the airport. I was faced with the toughest decision of my life up until
that point; do I take the easy road or the hard road, do I get on the plane or not? My mind told me not to, but my heart and gut told me that I needed
to. I knew that once I stepped onto the plane I was inviting myself into a lifestyle of pain, misery and uncertainty. But as President Regan said, I had
a “rendezvous with destiny” and it began with Infantry Basic Training at Fort Benning, Georgia.
|Posted on June 8, 2014 at 4:45 PM||comments (0)|
My school MIT Sloan has a program called the Yarn in which students have a chance to talk for 10 minutes and share a story. I shared my story of being wounded in AFG. Special thanks to my classmates that run the Yarn, I had a great time sharing my story. Here is the link to it.
|Posted on June 8, 2014 at 4:35 PM||comments (0)|
After I was wounded I nver thought that I would be able to ski again. I was so certain of this that I gave my skis away. After thousands of hours of phyiscal therapy and with help of numerous people I was finally able to ski again. This was all made by possible through God, family, friends, medical and physical terapy staff of the 1st Special Forces Group and Stride Adaptive Sports. My first day back on the mountain was captured in this documentary about adaptive sports. Below is the link for the documentary, I am feautured from 15:20 to 18:30.
|Posted on December 25, 2013 at 5:15 AM||comments (0)|
Below is a link to the video of my Veterans Day Speech at my alma mater, Union College. Enjoy and let me know what you think. I can be reached at email@example.com or via the Wounded by War Facebook page.
|Posted on November 8, 2013 at 9:05 PM||comments (0)|
Sorry for the radio silence as of lately, getting out of the army, moving across the country, starting school and having the new baby have not allowed me many oppurtunities to write. In December when the term ends, I will get back to writing. In the mean time I will be speaking at my alma mater Unio College in Schenectady, NY on Veterans Day at 7 PM. The talk will be held in Memorial Hall. Thank you for all of your continued support. Below is a link for the information about the talk
|Posted on September 25, 2013 at 7:05 PM||comments (0)|
For 55 minutes on September 25, 2011 I thought that each passing minute could be my last. In an instant everything changed, a promising life full off hope and optimism seemed like it would come to an end at a mere 27 years old. I thought that I would never see my wife, parents, brothers, or friends again. Then I realized that I would never have a family of my own and would never be able to right the wrongs of my past. 55 minutes was the amount of time that elapsed between getting shot and being on the operating table at a field hospital in NW Afghanistan. It was a transformative 55 minutes that has stayed with me since that fateful day.
Today marks two years since I was wounded and I still possess the same amazement that I am alive today as I did when I woke up from an induced coma in Germany three days after being shot. The road has been unbearable and heart wrenching at times, however, I have never forgotten the thoughts and feelings from those 55 minutes. The past two years have been shaped by those 55 minutes. What once seemed impossible two years ago is now my reality. My wife is pregnant with our first child (she is 5 days over due!), my health is improving daily and I am working towards my MBA at the MIT-Sloan School of Management. Every day is an amazing experience full of new opportunities and promise. Every morning when I wake up, feel like I am the luckiest man on the planet.
Live every day, hour, and moment like it is your last. Tell your family you love them, set yourself on a path to achieve your goals and right the wrongs of your past. Most importantly, remember how lucky you are to be alive. I could not have made it to this point without the help of so many people. Communities, organizations and people raised up to support my family and I in our time of need. I would like to thank God for giving me hope when I thought there was none, my wife for putting up with the pain and suffering, my mother, father, brothers and extended family, my friends, 1st Special Forces Group (specifically 1316 and A. Co. 3/1), the USSOCOM Care Coalition-Jim Adcock, the Green Beret Foundation, Special Operations Warrior Foundation, the Sentinels of Freedom Scholarship, the town of Stillwater, NY, Union College, La Salle Institute, and the crew at THOR 3-Jared, Grant, Hunter, Anja, LTC Jovag, Major Lesher, and others too numerous to count. God Bless
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Do not forget to like Wounded by War of Facebook.
|Posted on August 19, 2013 at 7:30 PM||comments (0)|
After two weeks at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) I was flown to Madigan Army Medical Center (MAMC) and stayed there for only three days. Even though getting shot was a terrible experience, there were (and still are) many positives. At each hospital there was an outpouring of support from visitors, mail, e-mail and Facebook messages. Friends, family and colleagues showed me that they were behind me in my recovery. My care was excellent at each hospital; however, I think that my nurses were always happy to see me go.
At Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) I questioned my nurses at every turn. If they said I could not do something, I wanted to know why. This became so frustrating to one nurse that she decided to ask me a series of easy questions that she knew that I would get right. After answering all of the questions correctly she said, “so you seem to know everything, why don’t you take over your own care?” To which I replied, “well sweetheart I did go to Union College and you went to Quinnipiac, so of course I am going to question everything you say.” (Union College is a small college in upstate NY while Quinnipiac University is a small university located in CT. Both schools are rivals.). I also routinely told the nurses that “ I am a Green Beret and I am going to do whatever the fuck I want, whenever I want.” Surprisingly, this did not go over very well.
At BAMC I also informed my nurses that I was a Green Beret and therefore that meant that I was going to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. The nurses nodded their heads to placate me because they knew there was nothing I could do. The nurses did however take me seriously when I threatened to pull my feeding tube out. It was dangling from my nose and irritating me to no end. I did not see any reason to still have it in and asked/demanded to have it taken out. When I was told no, I threatened to rip the tube out unless I was given a good reason why I still needed it. When the nurses explained to me why it was still in, I relaxed a bit. It was a painful experience when it was finally removed. I was also sad to see my catheter go. I am probably one of the only people in the world that actually enjoyed having a catheter. Never having to get up and go to the bathroom was great.
By the time I had arrived at MAMC I was more attuned to my surroundings and on a lower dosage of pain medicine. My fits of rage and snarky comments had mostly subsided and I enjoyed the steady stream of visitors from the 1st Special Forces Group. At this point I had been in different hospitals for over three weeks and could not stand being in a hospital any longer. In the three weeks, I lost 30 pounds. I had gone from a strapping Green Beret to an emaciated person that I could barely recognize in the mirror. I was not allowed to eat or drink foods due to the massive trauma to my stomach. After I was shot and my medics were working on me, I asked for some water and they said no. This started an excruciating period of my life in which I did not eat or drink for over 8 days. Not eating was easy, but not drinking was one of the worst feelings I experienced in my life. I was properly “hydrated” through IV fluids but it did not compare to actually drinking fluids. In my drug induced state I was worried that I was going to die of dehydration. I fantasized about being able to drink fluids and eat something. I will never forget the day that I was cleared to eat and drink again. I ordered a huge meal and a cold Gatorade, I emphasized that I wanted the Gatorade to be extra cold. When the lemon-lime Gatorade hit my lips I was practically euphoric. After downing the bottle I moved onto my large breakfast. I ordered an omelet with home fries, toast, bacon, yogurt and fruit. I ate the yogurt and nothing else; my eyes were bigger than my stomach. After the Gatorade and Yogurt, I felt like I ate a Thanksgiving dinner. This was the new norm for a long time. If I ate too much I became ill and would often regurgitate my meal.
MAMC was my last hospital stop for a few months. Leaving this place was a large step towards recovery but my challenges were only beginning. Please leave a comment below or on the Wounded by War Facebook page. In the next article I will talk about my first day of physical therapy. I can be reached at email@example.com
|Posted on July 17, 2013 at 7:20 PM||comments (0)|
If you have not been keeping up with the blog I recommend that you read these stories before this one. 1)“Take the First Step” 2)“Emotional Healing” 3)“Deciding to Overcome” Read. Enjoy (hopefully). Share. Comment.
Besides my occasional visits from Fred the Elf, I had many other interesting things happen to me while I was at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC). At one point I had to have my stomach dressing changed, allowing me to see inside of my stomach. Normally, this would have freaked me out (and been quite painful), but a healthy dose of Morphine made this a fun experience. There was also the problem of going to the bathroom, and I do not mean urinating. I went to the bathroom for the last time on September 24; I was shot on September 25 and finally went to the bathroom again about two weeks later on October 7. After having two weeks of waste build up inside me, I was practically euphoric when it all came out. When I finally relieved myself, it was one of the most relieving experiences of my life, no pun intended.
My wife and I were also faced with a big dilemma while I was at BAMC. My wife Kim is one the smartest and driven persons I know and also fanatically loyal to me. She gave up a lot of things in life to be with me. To make “us” work, she followed me around the country only to have me be gone the majority of the time. She is an incredibly strong women and a large reason why my recovery was so successful. The way Kim dealt with my deployments and time away from home was to make herself incredibly busy. When I was shot she did not intend for me to be home and packed her schedule accordingly. When we arrived at Fort Lewis in 2009, she started working on her second master’s degree (her first degree was in clinical research from Boston University and her second is in nursing from Pacific Lutheran University). Also, before I was shot, she applied for a full-time nursing job that she would be able to do while she finished up school full-time (I told you she likes to be busy, a full time job and a full time masters). She got the job and was supposed to start right after I had been shot. While at BAMC she stated that she was going to turn the job down to take care of me and be with me. My mother, father, my brothers and I tried to convince her to take the job. We said how great of an opportunity it was and how much it would help out the family. Then we laid out a care plan for me. My mother would stay in Texas and become my care advocate and when I was flown back to Fort Lewis, my brother Trevor would come live with us and help us out. After a month, my brother Nolan would switch out with Trevor and help out. It took a long time to convince her, but we finally did.
This left my mother as my care advocate and made for some funny situations. Right before Kim left she noticed a pressure ulcer on my tailbone. This required ointment to be applied on the spot every few hours. When Kim left, my mother inherited this job. Every night before bed she would say, “Kevin I have to put the ointment on your butt.” She also inherited the sponge bath job. One night I jokingly asked her if she thought that she would ever have to do this for her 27-year-old son.
Coincidentally, there were also two other soldiers from the 1st Special Forces Group at BAMC. These two soldiers had been injured almost a year before me and were doing rehabilitation at the Center for the Intrepid (CFI), located next door to BAMC. The two were severely wounded from an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). They visited my family and I daily, making sure that we had everything that we needed. Due to their experiences, they were well versed in the situation that I was in and advised me accordingly. These two men served as an inspiration for me during my recovery, not only because of how much they overcame, but also for how much they helped me. My family and I were touched by the kindness they displayed toward us. Their friendship and inspiration extended past the hospital and into rehabilitation. One day I said to one of them, “Thank you for everything you did for my family and I, I will never be able to re-pay you for what you did.” The soldier replied, “I was just helping out a fellow wounded soldier, I guarantee that you will have the same opportunity to help out a fellow wounded soldier.” I took these words to heart and decided that I not only wanted to rehabilitate myself but also help and inspire others in the process. Unfortunately, he was right, there was/is no shortage of wounded soldiers that need/needed help in their recovery. This decision served many purposes and was an integral part of my recovery. Little did I know, by helping out other soldiers, I was helping myself out also. As I delve deeper into my story, I will talk more and more about this topic.
In addition to this article, I have also started a “Tough Decisions, Humor, and Inspiration” discussion forum. Via the discussion forum, comments below, or Facebook page please talk about a time that you had to make a tough decision, the sacrifices you had to make and why you made the decision. Also, please talk about a time that you received inspiration/advice that you took to heart and changed your life. This is the link to the Wounded by War Facebook page. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
|Posted on July 3, 2013 at 6:30 PM||comments (0)|
Lying in the hospital bed at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) in San Antonio, Texas I realized that this situation could go one of two ways; good or bad. I was terrified of becoming a cliché, a statistic, a guy who everyone said, “that Kevin Flike, he had everything in life going for him until he got shot.” I had seen other wounded soldiers and heard all of the stories; I knew what “bad” meant. I could become addicted to my pain meds, I could not do my physical therapy, I could feel sorry for myself, I could ruin my wife’s life, I could become the statistic/cliché that I so desperately did not want to become. I also knew what “good” meant. I could do my physical therapy, get off of my pain meds quickly, become a better person/husband/brother/son by overcoming all of the obstacles placed in front of me and inspire people in the process. This was the easiest choice I have ever made in my life. This was going to turn out good, no matter what happened, no matter how many obstacles had to be overcome, no matter what, this situation was going to turn out good. However, as soon as I made this decision, my resolve was tested.
Within two days of being at BAMC, the physical therapist wanted me to walk with the assistance of a walker. Our goal was to walk to the room’s door and back (a total of 20 feet). Keep in mind that the only physical activity that I had performed in a week’s time frame was sitting up in bed in Germany. I was haggard from the intense emotional experience, lack of sleep, jet lag, confusion, and pain. I still had my beard and long hair and had not bathed since I had been shot a week prior (Before I was shot I had been running around for over 10 hours in body armor and equipment that had not been cleaned in two years. The temperature was also around 100 degrees and I had been rolling around in animal pens and dirt. Needless to say, I was pretty ripe at this point). When I sat up in bed, I almost threw up. When I stood up I felt like I had 500 pounds on my back. The whole time the physical therapist held onto me in case I fell.
Every step that I took was arduous. I could not put any pressure on my left leg because of my hip fracture. Every foot felt like a mile. It took all of my energy and courage to muster up the strength to keep picking up the walker and inching forward. When I made it to the door I could not believe that I had to walk 10 feet back to my bed. During my recovery I was faced with this challenge many times; fight through the pain and exhaustion or quit. I knew that it was not going to get any easier and if I quit now then I would quit in the future. If I quit then I was not only letting myself down, but also my wife, family, fellow soldiers who gave their lives and everyone who believed in me. I took a few deep breaths, turned around and headed back to my bed. I was covered in sweat and breathing like I had just ran a marathon. The decision to walk the ten feet back to my bed set the tone for my recovery and how things were going to be.
That afternoon, I was so fed up with my beard that I shaved it off with a plastic, disposable razor. This was an incredibly in-effective way to shave a beard and for anyone looking to shave their beard, I do not recommend this way. After I shaved, my wife gave me my first bath in a week. It was the most amazing bathing experience of my life. As my wife wiped me down, I just knew that everything was going to be OK. Later that night I had a visit from a good friend, Fred the Elf. For a couple of nights I thought that an Elf named Fred was visiting me and keeping me company. He was a mischievous elf that advised me to not listen to my nurses because Fred told me that they did not know what they were talking about. Fred also told me that I needed to listen to a particular teammate of mine more often. Luckily or unluckily, depending on how you look at it, after lowering my pain meds a bit, Fred stopped visiting me.
The next day I walked 100 feet and the day after that 500. Within 4 days I progressed to three workouts a day. It did not matter how much pain I was in or how tired I was. Before breakfast, lunch and dinner I drank a cup of coffee and started my workout. My mother and/or father and/or wife would follow me around the halls of the hospital while I trudged along with my walker. They carried water for me and every so often I would stop to take a breath and drink some water. Sometimes I thought I was going to throw up or pass out. I made sure to look at all the soldiers during my rounds. There were some soldiers as young as 19 who were missing both legs. The last leg of my journey always brought me past the burn unit. Seeing soldiers whose injuries who were worse off than mine reminded me how lucky I was.
When I finished the walk around my floor, I would sit down for about ten minutes so that I could catch my breath. Then I would go to my bed, which also doubled as my gym. Occupational therapy tied thera-bands to my bed so I could work out my upper body. They also placed a contraption that looked like a jungle gym above my bed. The purpose of the contraption was to help me move around my bed. However, I mostly used it to do body weight rows. On more than one occasion I snapped the rubber thera-bands off of my bed and immediately got on the intercom and requested replacements. I only took one day off and that was because I had my fifth surgery to clean out my stomach and close my stomach cavity.
I am a firm believer that a battle is won or lost before anyone ever steps foot on the battlefield. The preparation and attitude of the participants determines the outcome before two opposing forces meet. I have applied this principal to all aspects of my life. When I played sports I knew that the game was won or lost before it was played. Football season was not until the fall, but in January I was winning games in the weight room. I approached my recovery in the same manner. The small steps taken at BAMC set the tone for my recovery. When I eventually get to play with my kids in the front yard it will be because I began and won the battle early and often. When doctors told me a prognosis I never accepted it because they did not know who I was. They did not know that they were dealing with the most determined patient that they had ever seen. If a doctor told me 10 I did 20, if they said 50% I said 75%.
I would be remiss to not mention the following. This determination to succeed no matter what was a gift from God that was fostered and developed by my parents, brothers, wife, extended family and community. Everyone is given innate abilities from God, but they truly burgeon with the help of those around you. If it were not for the influences in my life that helped to foster my work ethic, I would have failed at my recovery.
For further discussion on this topic I have started a “Deciding to Overcome” discussion forum. Please comment in the forum, below or on the Wounded by War Facebook page about a time when you “Decided to Overcome”, the challenges you faced and why you made the decision to overcome. I can be reached at email@example.com