Facing Fear

There comes a point in everybody’s life when they are faced with a fear – and a decision of what to do about it. We’re all afraid of something.

I want to share another brief journal entry with you about fear. From mid-November, 2004, about actions at the castle, Tal’Afar:

“I was on the far side of the road when I heard a burst of machine gun fire. ‘Mac’ and I had just met in the middle and were talking, when we heard it. We went running towards the Strykers, as a hail of AK 47 fire began to erupt from the Police station…So I ran over to the drop off to see what was going on there. Now, the back side of the police station looks like this- there is a building, and a parking lot. Then there is about eight feet of ground, and a one and a half foot concrete ‘wall’ that stands before the edge of the drop off. So I ran up, and saw several Police officers crouching as best they could behind the wall, along with ‘Mac’ who was kneeling down, scanning, and two of my guys who were on the far edge with another cop.

The cops ere shooting in bursts as just about everything, and nothing. When they let up, there would be a few seconds of silence, and then we would hear not-so-distant cracks. There was no doubt, someone was shooting at us…So it was very odd for me to crouch down by this wall, heart racing at the though that I have been running towards where all this fire is coming from. (as I wouldn’t be able to imagine- it reminded me of a time long ago when my buddies and I were playing Paintball. I sat in a bush, listening to the paintball weapons pop off ahead of me somewhere, my friend headed out- and then he turned to me and said ‘are you coming?’ and I asked him where he was going, and he replied simply ‘wherever the shooting is’. This is what I have become. Transformed from the youth teenager [sic] who feared ‘getting called out’,or shot, so he sat in paintball, to the man who runs towards the firefight, in order to assess the situation and check on my men).

I was pretty much exposed, but there was no other way to try and see where the rounds were coming from, and only a few had impacted at the very top of the police station. Others either overshot into the sky, or hit the hillside. The gunfire exchanged for about ten minuets or so before it died down. There was also a large plume of smoke from not too far off into the East side of the city, of which the Police claimed it to be a VBIED. So I ran back to the truck and radioed in the exchange of bullets, the possible man with the RPG and the possible VBIED”

I remember playing paintball a few times with my friends in high school and being scared as hell to get hit. Why? Well, it was going to hurt for one – that’s just a truth that comes with the territory. But I think it was more so that I had wanted to join the Army, and to me mentally I was playing just like this was some wartime scenario. When I was sixteen that was about the closest you could really get. And if I got hit in the game, and I got ‘out’ that was essentially equating to getting shot – and being dead.

I was really afraid of that. Afraid that in a minute of activity in the woods, I could be shot down and if it were real, my lifelong childhood dream would be over. I wouldn’t be the bad-ass I thought I was (or could be) in my mind.

Fear. Ask any one of my friends – I always wanted to play paintball base defense. Sit. Hide. To not face the fact that I had to go out in the woods and look for someone else actively trying to shoot me (albeit with paint). So I wouldn’t get hit.

I recall that instance at the castle in Tal’Afar distinctly. It was because I recall some internal feeling that this was combat and very real – and scary – but I was running to the sound of the gunfire. I had men on the line being shot at and exchanging fire with the enemy. And my place was there – with them. I didn’t even take a second to think about it. I just did it.

I left FaceBook in early 2009 because the woman who became my ex-wife was a very jealous and controlling person. I was just off active duty and now in the PA Guard, and wrestling with the fact that I had got out and felt like a quitter. I had not really acknowledged my PTSD yet. I started dating a woman, and she hated the Army. It began a very bad time for me and my life.

It was amazing how her anger affected me. I was afraid of her. She used that fear as a weapon over me – and I succumbed to it. She did not like that I had female friends (she felt that just invited invitations for me to cheat on her – which I never did). Then she didn’t like that I had any friends at all (I might like them more than I liked her). So I dropped from FaceBook as a way to avoid the fear she held over me, and she got what she wanted – me totally isolated from everyone but her.

And when we separated and ultimately got divorced I thought about returning to FaceBook but I was afraid. I was afraid that the people who were my FaceBook ‘friends’ back then – mostly Soldiers and comrades from the Army – wouldn’t like me. Not every single one of my men liked me – there are few leaders who are universally loved. I made a lot of mistakes, and I made bad calls here and there and I know they know that. I was afraid to think about these things again. I was afraid of their opinion of me.

But I had no fear starting this blog. And I had no fear writing about PTSD and some of the more intimate parts of my progress with it. And I have confronted a lot of demons and things I wrestle with from my deployments. So, why am I afraid of my brothers in arms? Why am I afraid of anyone’s opinion of me?

Because it was me, being afraid of my own opinion of myself. And using them as an excuse. I didn’t want to face myself. I love my guys. I am proud to have done my best to take care of each and every one of them [whether you thought so or not, men]. They took care of me. My time in service, the decisions I made and the mistakes I made, and any problem I encountered has made me who I am. It is me. They are are part of me.

So, in the words of a good friend, I decided to face those fears – to “just tackle that shit.” And with that, I make my unceremonious return to FaceBook. Not to obsess over it and update it 24/7 – but just to be there. For my old friends, for my guys, and for me.

About anotherwarriorpoet

Mathew Bocian served as a Captain in the United States Army with the Stryker Brigade and was deployed to Mosul and Tal'Afar in 2004 - 2005, and to Baghdad for The Surge in 2007 - 2008. He left the Army in 2012 and now uses his poetry as a way to heal from the traumas of war, while attempting to express to readers the realities of war. He is the recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, and holds a master's from the Graduate School for Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.
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1 Response to Facing Fear

  1. The Lady says:

    Glad you decided to face your fears and reconnect with your old friends.
    Reading your post reminds me of the time I played paintball with my friends. My favourite thing to do? Hide and be the sniper. I think I have really good aim. During that time I always wondered how something as playful as this can actually transcend to a grimmer reality of war. What would I be like if faced with “the real thing”?
    After seeing what’s happening in the world now and all the crap in Syria, it makes me so upset that I think I want to just pick up arms and go join in. Despite knowing how terrible all of it is and how war really gets to you – not just physically but mentally as well. Thank you for sharing all of this. God bless.


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