DISCLOSURE: For this blog series, It is my heart to step into the lives of some very special people and share a glimpse of their world. I have found that we can all learn how to better love others through the power of story. During this series I will ask some very personal and often difficult questions.The answers are exactly their words. I am so grateful and humbly overwhelmed for the honesty and the trust these people have shown me. All I ask in return is that if anyone in this series touches you, encourages you or influences you in any way, that you would share and let us know. They are heroes to me!
This interview was hard for me. I didn’t even know the questions to really ask. Johnny’s answers were so raw that I almost felt like I was right in the middle of the war as he explained his answers. I learned so much and I know it took guts to be so brutally honest. I am grateful that he opened up and shared with me. I have always appreciated Johnny and Shauna for who they are, but I left their home with a deeper level of appreciation. Please share your thoughts and thanks to encourage Johnny.
ANSWER: I was in the Marines for 8 years. I served from high school until I was 26 years old. I am 31 years old now.
QUESTION: Were you married while in the Marines?
QUESTION: Did you ever go to war?
ANSWER: Yes. I served in Iraq.
QUESTION: What was the hardest part?
ANSWER: Not knowing when I would get to come back home or if I would even come back.
QUESTION: Did the days you were in Iraq sometimes drag by?
ANSWER: War is hours of boredom punctuated by moments of shear terror.
QUESTION: How did you pass the time on the boring days?
ANSWER: I read, filled sand bags, volunteered to go on patrol, and helped my buddies.
QUESTION: I feel like there are perceptions (right or wrong) that there is an environment of “what happens there stays there.” Is that true?
ANSWER: There were drugs, alcohol, pornography…..sinful stuff. I think some people had to do stuff to keep from going crazy…whether right or wrong.
QUESTION: What did you miss the most?
ANSWER: I missed hanging out with my buddies at home, not worrying about who was going to die, who was going to attack, or always being tense. I missed relaxing.
QUESTION: What was your proudest moment to be a Marine?
ANSWER: I have two. My 1st was graduating from Parris Island and my 2nd was coming home from war.
QUESTION: What was your least proudest moment to be a Marine?
ANSWER: Truthfully it had nothing to do with my service. It was when I visited The Book Depository and read that Lee Harvey Oswald (being a Marine) used his shooting skills to kill the president.
QUESTION: What were the worst things you saw at war?
ANSWER: Its a tie between hurt kids and watching my buddy die. He died saving my life. I had been shot in my SAPI plate and it caused me to fall down. My buddy pulled me to shelter and got hit. He died shortly after in a safe place.
QUESTION: Did you shoot anybody/ kill anybody?
ANSWER: 13 to be exact.
QUESTION: So do you count and keep up with that?
ANSWER: I never intended to. You just don’t forget.
QUESTION: Do you remember faces?
ANSWER: Some of them. Not all of them.
QUESTION: Do you ever think of those faces?
ANSWER: All the time. I have nightmares every single night. The nightmare changes but it centers around people I lost….good guys or bad guys.
QUESTION: Would you do it again?
ANSWER: Yeah. I miss it. I can’t explain it. Knowing that you are part of something huge with big purpose is unbelievable. It is the camaraderie.
QUESTION: What was your scariest moment?
ANSWER: Most think it would be that you had it in your head that you were going to die. That is when I actually had the most peace. It’s weird. Nothing else mattered in those moments. Watching my buddies in the same situation was harder. It felt like I was letting them down.
QUESTION: Did you every really sleep?
ANSWER: No! You wake up all the time and sleep very lightly. You usually sleep with your weapon by your side or in your hand.
QUESTION: Were your 8 years up and that is why you came home?
ANWER: No. My tour was over. I fulfilled the remainder of my obligation state side.
QUESTION: Do you have any scars to remind you?
ANSWER: No. I was hit 3 times and each time my body armor defeated the rounds.
QUESTION: What is the greatest trigger now that takes you back there?
ANSWER: Wow there are so many. Loud noises and big crowds are major ones. Too many people to keep an eye on in a big crowd is hard for me. If I am asleep, Shauna has to wake me up at my feet so that she is out of the way and I can see her face. I wake up ready to fight due to the nightmares.
QUESTION: I would imagine watching current day Military, it is so different. What are your thoughts about those serving now?
ANSWER: It is actually better now.
QUESTION: Really? I hear they don’t have enough weapons now or ammo.
ANSWER: That has always been the case.
QUESTION: Do you trust the media?
ANSWER: Not at all! They are bent one way or another. They all have an agenda and they are pushing it regardless of the truth.
QUESTION: So, where do you get truth?
ANSWER: I spent enough time serving that I can sniff out some BS.
QUIESTON: I know you have PTSD. In your words what does that really mean?
ANSWER: It is different for every single person who is diagnosed with PTSD. War is not the only cause. That is the only one people usually think of. My PTSD is self inflicted. I dwell on the past and the hurt. I have a hard time seeing the good in the here and now.
QUESTION: I would imagine you don’t want to remember most of it?
ANSWER: No, I don’t. Not at all.
QUESTION: How does that come into play as a Christian?
ANSWER: It is ultimately caving into the deceiver’s voice more than the Truth. I have a very hard time tuning out the voice that reminds me of the past. I know that is not who I am called to be. I have trouble accepting grace.
QUESTION: What does the worst day of Johnny with PTSD look like?
ANSWER: Angry. Sad. Defensive. Unpleasant human. Very tempted to dive head first into a bottle. Depressed beyond belief.
QUESTION: How many of those days would you say you have in a month?
ANSWER: I feel it every day but it varies in degrees of intensity. Some days are better than others.
QUESTION: Is there ever a good day where you don’t think about it?
ANSWER: No, but there are good days. I have never felt joy, peace or happiness like the days before I was a combat veteran.
QUESTION: What advice would you give a new Marine?
ANSWER: There is so much to say. If he or she was going into combat, I would tell them to remember their own humanity and to remember that every other person is human too.
I decided to ask his wife, Shauna a few question.
QUESTION: Where in the timeline did you marry Johnny?
ANSWER: He was out and done.
QUESTION: As you listen to him answer these questions, did you see glimpses of PTSD when dating?
ANSWER: Oh, well yeah! We dealt with a lot of things when we got married.
QUESTION: Basically you married into this?
ANSWER: Yes. I loved him. I am a fighter and a fixer so I thought I could handle it. I didn’t realize it was long term. I was going to go after it with him.
QUESTION: So is it better or worse?
ANSWER: In this moment it is good. He is aware and gets help or takes his medicine. Then there are days that he resist anything. On those days I think I could handle him better being at war vs. living like this.
QUESTION: When you spot the spiral what do you do that works?
ANSWER: I call the people he has given me permission to speak freely to. There are only a few.
QUESTION: What does one of those bad days look like?
ANSWER: Not speaking. Isolated. Anger and unkind words.
QUESTION: How do you respond to that?
ANSWER: I am a fighter. I tend to push back and prod for answers. It helps to search for answers and understanding.
QUESTION: How many days are those really bad days?
ANSWER: About 4 a year.
QUESTION: In this day and time, husbands and wives quit when it gets tough. Why do you stay?
ANSWER: Good question. There are a lot of reasons. I love him. I know he loves me. I worry if he would be ok without me. I know God put us together.
QUESTION: How does all this affect your relationship with Christ?
ANSWER: I think some days I wonder why He thought so much of me and other days I am grateful. I believe we will have a story to tell that gives God glory. There are others who have bigger issues than us. There are men and women in facilities or institutions. We have a story.
QUESTION: What would you say to spouses of someone getting ready to go into the Military?
ANSWER: Start getting help beforehand. Johnny didn’t start really talking for about 6 years.
QUESTION TO BOTH OF YOU: Does your country take care of you after all your serving?
ANSWER: The VA is overwhelmed but there are great programs out there that aren’t VA or they are ones the VA partners with. You have to go after the help and look for it.
QUESTION: How do you think people without faith deal with all of this?
JOHNNY: I have no idea at all and it makes me sick to think about it. The only reason I am here today and married to this awesome woman is due to God. You can’t heal without knowing the Healer. You can mask it or numb it, but you can’t really work on healing.
QUESTION: Is there anything you would want people to know?
JOHNNY: I would be in a better place today if I had taken my relationship with Christ more seriously then. I would have been much better equipped to handle the trauma and therefore be in a better place today as I handle my healing. I am in a much better place today even with the struggles.
SHAUNA: You don’t have to forget, but you have to forgive.
JOHNNY: My hope comes from knowing God is going to use all of this for a purpose. I love seeing the good that is coming from it. I can now see hurt coming a lot further away and just maybe I can help someone.