Fallen Soldiers March®

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Fallen Soldiers March® 501 (c) (3) non-profit

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Fallen Soldiers March®

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Fallen Soldiers March®

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A 501 (c) (3) Non-Profit Dedicated to
Providing Biblical Counseling,
Service Dogs, and Veteran Advocacy

Surviving Going to a Dark Place

Surviving Going to a Dark Place

By Bill Long, SFC U.S. ARMY, Retired

In the summer of 2011, I was placed on PCS orders to Fort Riley, Kansas, to the only light infantry brigade there at the time. This was my time to go serve as a platoon sergeant. Those of you who know about this pivotal moment in your career know it’s a blessing and a curse to be held responsible for the lives of so many men. I moved there with dread already in my head because after ten years of active duty service I had never been in the line infantry . . . ever. That is a rare thing in itself.

Deployment

Once I arrived and got settled in, I was given the opportunity to lead a platoon in Charlie Company 2-16 IN Regt, 2nd Platoon. The Brigade Command Sergeant Major told me I had my work cut out for me, as this was the worst platoon in the brigade, probably in the entire installation. This news added more fuel to my depression about being there in the first place, but I snapped out of it as soon as I met my platoon.

We trained harder, longer, and better than any other platoon. It was not all easy as I had to fire all the squad leaders who had been there when I arrived for a variety of reasons I won’t get into. We were training to deploy to Afghanistan in 2012 for a nine-month deployment. I loved deploying and was excited to lead my men into combat and bring them all home alive and well to their families.

My wife at the time got pregnant with our third child before we deployed and had to mentally prepare for that fact that I may not be able to go home for the birth (which turned out to be the case). My wife didn’t know what the gender was but I wanted to know so the doctor printed the picture off and put it in an envelope for my wife to send to me. She did so and told me not to tell anyone—that only I could know. When I received the letter, to my surprise and extreme excitement I found out we were going to have our first son. So on deployment, like most every other soldier, I had the stress of wondering how the baby, as well as my wife and two daughters, was doing.

We were deployed to Ghazni Providence, Afghanistan, to a company COP called Four Corners. It was a bad place to be, but I wanted to enjoy the challenge and bring the boys home.
The unit we replaced stayed for a day to give us the laydown of the area. They said they didn’t go outside a three-kilometer bubble they dubbed their safe zone. When I asked the platoon sergeant why, he said because they got into fights if they got outside that zone—also lots of IEDs.

I mentally made note of this and waited for them to leave. I developed a plan in my head about how to take the fight to the enemy in this area. I was extremely blessed to have a great 1SG and a company commander who was pleased with the results of my work with the platoon. Before leaving we were the best platoon in the division. I also got a brand-new platoon leader two months before we deployed who actually shut up and listened to me, which is rare these days in the military.

I made a plan for going to the places on the map that terrain-wise would make sense considering the location of the enemy. I briefed my commander, asking for permission to run my patrols where I saw fit and run my own intelligence to constantly find the enemy and change the area. He gave me the okay.

On our very first mission we were dismounted, and the back of the patrol was hit by a near ambush. I thought, Great! Day one and my new PL is in a near ambush. But he listened to me and we fought on to win the day with no casualties on our side. The confidence and motivation of my soldiers went through the roof as most of them had never even been deployed, let alone experienced a near ambush.

As the months went on, my pursuit to fight increased. I was there for a reason—to free the oppressed and allow the Afghans to live a “normal” life.
I lifted weights a lot and drank coffee, protein shakes, and near beer every day—rarely any water. The driver of my MRAP made sure I had two cases of near beer in the truck at all times. Life was great . . . or so I thought.

As the months went on, many of my married soldiers were getting divorced and developing other personal problems. We joked about who had the most divorces, most kills, most IEDs found, most captured enemy . . . and the list went on because we truly did all those things.

At one point I told myself I would have to go to a very dark place if I was going to be able to sustain that type of fighting every day. I vowed to myself I would be more vicious than the enemy and so would my guys. I unintentionally pulled them into my mind-set but wanted them to understand we were lucky no one had been hurt.

The birth of my first son came and I got blessed with the Internet actually working that night. I watched my son being born on Skype from my mother-in-law’s phone. It was two a.m. and I was all alone in the Internet room crying tears of joy. His birth turned my vision even darker than before putting more pressure on how I would or should act as a father and more pressure on making it home, because now I had a son in addition to my two amazing daughters who would look up to me.

The time came to redeploy home—all in one piece, zero injuries, and zero casualties. This was important to me as I had told many parents I would take care of their sons. This was also a huge milestone for me because after four years of fighting from Iraq to Afghanistan I had never lost a soldier or even experienced an injury. This in itself is rare and made me incredibly proud of my boys because of how far they had grown in such a short time.

Home Again

When we got home, I didn’t have my near beer and began to drink actual beer almost nightly because I had developed the habit during deployment. This was a point when I should have stopped and reflected on my mental health, but I didn’t.

I began drinking until I passed out every day. I would drink throughout the workday and no one would say anything because I was still producing the best soldiers in the division even though I was technically drunk. My feelings of anger and rage continued to grow, seemingly without my knowledge. I had a very rough childhood—that is a story in itself—but I began to doubt myself on everything and at the same time I felt like nothing could stop me from doing whatever I wanted to do. I had a real ego-driven mind-set. Before I knew it, I cheated on my wife with her best friend—and at that time my wife was pregnant again with our fourth kid. I got caught. My wife took me back and I swore I’d never do it again. However, I didn’t stop drinking and I continued to cheat. I managed to hide the cheating from my wife and began drinking even more. I was spiraling out of control with no end in sight.

I finally got some help from ASAP from the Army’s alcohol program, but it wasn’t clicking. There was something no one could put their finger on. I had five DUI arrests, went through bankruptcy, wrecked a Corvette, and was forced to medically retire because of my unpredictability with my work performance and level of drunkenness. My wife divorced me, so I lost her and my four kids—along with number five, who hadn’t even been born yet.

A Freefall into More Darkness

I was a wreck and I knew it, but I continued on with the same lifestyle until I got out of the military in March 2018. Once out, I became homeless, living in a hotel for several months. I was drinking my money away but still somehow managed to have a girlfriend. She was a drug and alcohol counselor but had never dealt with or seen an alcoholic this bad.
In the span of four months after retiring I was in and out of the hospital eight times for trying to quit drinking or because I had no money to drink and was having serious alcohol withdrawals. Most don’t know it, but alcoholic withdrawals are the only type of withdrawals you can die from. I died in the ambulance on two separate occasions and that did nothing but fuel me more in thinking I was invincible when in fact I was crumbling to my lowest point yet.
Around June 2018 a friend recommended I go to treatment at a PTSD facility in Houston, Texas, called Camp Hope. After a month of listening to me denying I needed to go, my girlfriend said she was done, and I had to leave the hotel room she and her daughter had moved into with me.
I had nowhere to go. My kids were six hours away from me and my family was twenty hours away, so I gave in and went to Texas on July 21, 2018. I spent five months there all day every day getting classes and counseling for the trauma I had from my childhood. This program was different as it was taught and run by combat vets for combat vets. It seemed to really get me back on track mentally—and sober.

A Process of Recovery

When I left the program and moved back to Georgia, my beautiful and amazing girlfriend was still with me and we moved in together. I had a few relapses with alcohol and was even thrown in jail for a week for fighting with the cops. I still needed more— something was missing. My girlfriend talked to some vet friends of mine who were running a non-profit called Battle Forged Nation. The president of BFN, Todd Svenson, contacted Jim Retzke, who is the president of another charitable organization called Fallen Soldiers March. They have a Certified Biblical Counseling Network of people who help soldiers with PTSD and provide service dogs for veterans.

I have many friends Todd knows and served with as well, but I had never met Todd. He even goes to our church. One or two calls were made, and they asked if I was interested in biblical counseling through Fallen Soldiers March. I had been rebuilding my relationship with God since going to Texas because I wanted to and knew I needed to. I agreed to take on the counseling, knowing if the counselor and I didn’t seem to mesh, I could get out as soon as I wanted to.

Dr. Frank Beeman was my counselor. We met once a week for sixty to ninety minutes over Skype. I was already doing morning routines of reading the Bible, writing in a gratitude journal, and praying daily but this extra boost I was getting in my work toward building my solid foundation with God was really making a difference. I could feel it and my counselor could tell a difference each week.

The improvement wasn’t because he spoke to me a particular way or because of what he said, but I think it was how he adapted to understanding what made me tick. He was able to get deep thoughts into my head that I was starting to understand as I was still recovering from my mental breakdown from losing everything and my rough childhood.

Biblical Counseling

After six months of weekly counseling with “Doc” I made a public confession of faith in Jesus and was re-baptized on July 21, 2019—exactly one year to the day from when I had left for Texas. Then the next day my girlfriend mentally accepted that this was the new day Bill would change his life. I married my her on that day and she even participated in some of my counseling sessions with me.

By this point I had meet Todd at church and he even came to the wedding. My new wife was always on my side, unlike my ex-wife who, in her defense, didn’t know how to handle my issues and was just looking out for the well-being of my kids.

My wife says she saw something in me the first day we met—that I’m different. She sees something she can’t pinpoint that is special in me. I prefer to say I’m just a regular guy these days. Now I have lost nearly all my inflated ego and the overwhelming amount of pride is back in a healthy position. I have mentally experiencing success coming back out of that dark place I had put myself in way back in 2012. For seven years I was in a dark, dark place, but with the help and love of my new wife and a few very close brothers-in-arms I got back on track.

Even more important than the unbelievable amount of help we received from my friends throughout this past two years, I owe everything to only one person and that is God. My relationship with God is the most important thing in my life to me, yes even more important than my wife, because God gives me instant peace when things are going wrong and when they are right. As long as my relationship with God grows daily, I will continue to succeed in this new life after retirement.

The help “Doc” gave me with his extra attention and understanding helped me come this far. Now I have a full-time job making great money. I have a loving, endlessly caring wife and six beautiful, handsome, and highly intelligent children who love me with their entire hearts. I don’t think I have had that much love in my entire life.

Jesus, the Real Answer

With God’s guidance and my listening, I overcame suicidal thoughts, alcoholism, depression, anxiety . . . and the list goes on. It boils down to love. Love others and take daily moments to reflect on being grateful for the things you have in your life. Those positive thoughts and habits worked for me and I know can work for anyone else who’s willing to stop trying to control the outcome of their life and let Jesus show you the way to His Love.

 

 


 
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This entry was posted on Thursday, March 12th, 2020 at 12:08 pm and is filed under Featured, Newsletter. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.



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