Save A Warrior graduates, Jay Waldo and Adam Magers, pose for a picture following the 3-month long Battle of Sadr City.

Save A Warrior graduates, Jay Waldo and Adam Magers, pose for a picture following the 3-month long Battle of Sadr City.

First off, let me start off by saying that it isn’t that I don’t want to watch American Sniper. It’s just that I know better. If you’ve seen American Sniper, you can probably gather that war, and it’s aftermath, are no joke. I fought in the Battle of Sadr City, which is where Navy SEAL Sniper, Chris Kyle, tallied a vast majority of his confirmed kills. I served there as an “IED (Improvised Explosive Device) Hunter” and my platoon’s medic. Since coming home, even the most simple or harmless of stress-inducing situations have made life difficult for me… I couldn’t even watch Game 7 of the World Series, with my favorite team on the field, because the anxiety was overwhelming. Watching a war movie, where the climax focuses on a battle I actually fought in, would likely provoke a panic attack and result in many sleepless nights.

I hesitated to even write this post, for fear of what demons might be awoken as I sift through memories that I have already laid to rest. In this situation, I have decided that it is something I must do, because my message has a purpose: to inspire you to take action.

It seems that everyone is talking about this movie. It has sparked controversy among the public and among the Warrior community, for reasons ranging from the political story that was neglected, to whether or not the story itself was accurate. In the wake of the film’s release, a Rolling Stone article bashes Clint Eastwood for avoiding the politics behind the war in Iraq, while it mocks the portrayal of Chris Kyle as a “killing machine with a heart of gold.” Warriors and others are criticizing Chris Kyle, making accusations that he was a liar.

It is unfortunate that so many are missing the point.

Regardless of how factually accurate or inaccurate the movie is, the story is still more or less true… and it isn’t only true of Chris Kyle. It is the true story of countless salty, selfless, hardworking, genuinely good-natured, battle-fighting Warriors who spent months and years of their lives in the combat zone for the sake of service to others. It is also the story of the price that we have all paid, and continue to pay each day, as we live with the memories of war.

War truly is hell, and from what I can gather, it seems that American Sniper has done a remarkable job of capturing that. I know several people who have said that they almost walked out of the theatre on numerous occasions because there were parts that were difficult to watch.

Imagine what it would be like to live in moments like the ones that you saw on film. My first week in Iraq, I watched a civilian die due to gunshot wounds to the chest, neck, and head that were a result of a freak accident. It was a result of what they call the fog of war. I’ll never get those images out of my mind. Later that week, I experienced combat for the first time, surviving my first of many ambushes on Route Grizzlies bordering Sadr City. Because of those nights, a flash in the darkness will never seem innocent to me.

As my year in Baghdad went on, I survived more ambushes than I can count, IED strikes on my vehicle, the most intense firefights you can imagine, and the lob bomb attack you can see below (WARNING for Combat Veterans: I encourage you NOT to watch this video. It may trigger you). I actually experienced the fights that you see portrayed in American Sniper, including a major battle where my platoon-mates (including Save A Warrior’s, Jay Waldo) were engaged by “Mustafa,” the notorious Jaysh al Mahdi sniper who is a part of this film.  By the way, in regards to Sadr City's infamous sniper, Chris Kyle never claimed to kill him and stated that he never even saw him. However, after a major firefight where the sniper was engaging my platoon and our M-1 escorts, the sniper never attacked US or Iraqi forces again, leading most involved in the Battle to believe he died in that fight… enough war stories. I digress.

 

Lob-Bomb attack at JSS Tharwa 1, aka JSS Sadr City on April 28, 2008.

 

My point is, war is much worse than the uncomfortable scenes you witness in American Sniper. No movie can capture the terror that rips through your body in a major fight or the horrible feeling of having an IED explode on your vehicle. A film can’t capture how tired you feel after running on four hours of sleep a day, wearing 50 pounds of gear, living off of cigarettes and MREs, and dealing with the mental torture of combat. It’s worse than what I can describe or explain, which is one reason you should consider seeing the movie. It will, in a small way, help you to relate to what we have experienced and hopefully close the enormous gap between those who have experienced war and those who haven’t. Closing this gap is critical, because all people must understand and respect the seriousness of the horror of war, because if we fail to acknowledge it we cannot prevent future wars, nor the unbelievable damage it causes on all sides. If you don't walk away from this film hating war and the suffering that results from it, I encourage you to reflect more on how you might feel if you or your family members were the ones experiencing it. We cannot continue to exist as a society that takes war lightly.

When I came home, I didn’t even know who I was anymore. Part of me died in Baghdad’s Sadr City and I came home realizing that something new, and even a little scary, had been born inside of me.

The first year back in the States was rough. I was just picking up the broken pieces, looking at them, and dropping them again. I couldn’t figure out how to reassemble what was left. At the beginning of my second year back home, the last ramparts of my old self completely crumbled and were lost. I tried to regain my life for months, but there was no possibility of resurrecting the old me. I tried everything: all of the anti-depressants the VA could throw at me and a variety of different types of therapy. I became suicidal, not believing that there was any possibility for healing. Even the most horrifying moments of war could not compare to the hell I was experiencing at that point in my life. I can’t even describe how close I was to being lost.

Thankfully, a close friend and a family member taught me how to pursue a new path: a spiritual one, where I began to see my struggles in a different light. Over about eight painful months, I started to see that despite my pain, I might be able to salvage a life that was worth living. Perhaps I couldn’t reassemble the broken pieces into what they used to be, but I realized that I could take the broken pieces and create a mosaic… perhaps something that was even better than what I started with before the war.

My new spiritual path proved to be far more desirable than the alternative: a drug-induced hollow life without meaning, but it was still difficult. I still experienced panic attacks regularly and was not able to do things that typical people do.

Jay and Adam in 2014, after they began their new path as healers.

Jay and Adam in 2014, after they began their new path as healers.

Six years after coming home I was introduced to Save A Warrior, which is without a doubt, the best solution for Warriors who are trying to recover after going to war. This organization has served hundreds of Warriors with Post Traumatic Stress, many of which experience suicidal ideation, but NONE of them have resorted to suicide after completing the program. If you want to know more about Save A Warrior, just take a look around the website.

For me, Save A Warrior has provided me with meaning, purpose, and long-term healing. I am feeling better now than I have for years, which I can attribute to a regular meditation practice that started at Save A Warrior. Numerous studies have shown that meditation can literally heal the brain, but the efforts to make meditation the central piece of recovery for Warriors is almost non-existent. This is a tragedy in itself, considering that it is the only medically proven solution to heal the brain from psychological trauma. Save A Warrior has also helped me to finally come to terms with my painful past, which is allowing me to shift my focus into a new battle: the fight for the lives of my fellow Warriors who are suffering.

Right now, there are 800,000 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans who are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). In comparison, 530,000 Vietnam Veterans were treated for PTS, and over 150,000 have committed suicide. Today, 22 Warriors will take their own lives and 8,000 will die by suicide this year. What we’re witnessing is an absolute epidemic of suicides. I rarely get on Facebook without finding out that another Warrior has taken his/her own life. It is beyond tragic, but I am hoping that this film will inspire people to do something about it.

If the film American Sniper struck you, touched your heart, and made you feel uneasy, then please don’t neglect those feelings. Let them move you into action, because what you witnessed is a reality, and it isn’t a reality that can be ignored without severe consequences. There is a suicide epidemic that is a result of these wars, but together, we can help put an end to it. In terms of dealing with Post Traumatic Stress, there is no equal to Save A Warrior. There are a lot of other programs out there, but most offer relief, which is only temporary. The reason that Save A Warrior is making such a profound difference is because it is combining and synthesizing a number of different approaches that are scientifically proven to increase resiliency. This program has THE answer to help save lives and create a long-term opportunity for healing. Please consider supporting this wonderful organization, knowing that you will make a difference in the lives of the Warriors who have sacrificed so much in service to others.