This is a new story but familiar tale.
“On the plane coming home from Iraq we were all laughing and cutting up. We talked about girls, about getting drunk and staying together for the rest of our lives. Things didn’t turn out that way. Once we returned to Fort Carson, there were suicides, soldiers mustered out for marginal infractions and many guys just went wild. They selected me for sniper school but after considering my options, I chose not to re-enlist. To be honest, I didn’t want to go back to Iraq. I’d seen enough killing. I’ll say this, I’m only 23-years-old, and even I know the wolf is at our front door, not over there, but right here in our own backyards. I can’t figure out where my country is headed and I worry about that. But I am at peace with things. I read the Bible every day. That is my strength.”
Joe Roden voiced those words almost three years ago, in the May 22, 2013 edition of A Veteran’s Story. Fate brought us together again in early January, 2016, three days after Joe moved back to his old stomping grounds around Newton and Rockdale Counties.
Battles don’t end on the battlefield.
This is an update of a young veteran, his tough transition from combat to citizen, or as the title of an older Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western alleges, ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.’
There are only two “good” things about war: a lasting brotherhood and coming home alive and intact. But the “bad” stays with you in daily life: flashbacks and nightmares. Some veterans readjust without problems, others struggle for years to defeat their demons, yet many never adapt and survive as best they can with the “ugly” psychological consequences of war, death and the battlefield quest to stay alive. Roden fought the good fight, in Iraq and at home, and today stands triumphant after both battles.
On employment opportunities: “I worked in security for a short time as a body guard, a job I considered an extremity of Iraq. My nature now is to maintain vigilance, and working as a body guard helped me keep that vigilance. From there I traveled to Missouri after coming to grips with where I was as a man and as a human being and how my soul had some black things on it. I wanted to once again fight the good fight, here, and in the next realm. What we do here makes us what we are in the after world, that’s why I try to be a warrior here.”
The Missouri experience: “I met Robert Garrett. He runs Soldiers of the Cross, a rehab ranch for veterans with PTSD. At this juncture I was still taking meds from the VA. The meds helped me transition from anxiety to good clarity, I was able to focus on reading and staying calm for long periods of time.”
On one mission to a control base in Indiana: “Robert introduced me to another Iraq veteran who served as a tanker in Iraq at the same time I was there pounding dirt and sand. We hit it off. He was a recovering addict. I’ve had my issues, so the bond was strong. On the outside he gave the appearance of being okay, but there wasn’t enough people-support to break through to him. So he returned to the drug culture, and that kind of life can destroy a family.”
A call from Arizona: “After returning to Soldiers of the Cross I got a call from a combat brother in Tucson. He’d just gotten out of prison. We decided to make a fresh start in Arizona. I moved in with him and we both maintained sobriety.
We helped each other as brothers. He did all the right things to get off probation, worked two jobs and remained clean. I became a licensed bounty hunter. I packed a Glock and Taurus semi-automatic but bounty hunting didn’t pay the bills so I moonlighted as a nightclub bouncer. My buddy got off probation and moved back to California. Now he’s getting married. It was a good experience for me, it was just us, as brothers, doing what we needed to do.”
Back in Missouri: “Once again I was back at the rehab ranch with Robert Garrett. I worked diligently on my spiritual life. Then we received a call from Indiana. My tanker buddy had overdosed and passed away, so we drove back to Indiana to do what we could for his wife and child, and to attend the funeral. That trip started a new life for me, and a struggle to deflect negative situations. I’m walking the straight and narrow and did not have the time to worry about what people think; I only had time for decisive action to help a family.”
Joe Roden’s new family: “In the military it’s almost like a fear to look at another man’s wife because you know there’s sanctity there, plus the struggle to readjust. This is what’s happening to younger veterans, the struggle to be normal once again. I was asked to watch over the family, his wife, Nikki, and her 3 year old son, Camden. I slept in the barn next door and kept a watch for any suspicious activity since the husband had questionable ‘acquaintances’. That turned out okay, but the extended family had difficulty accepting the truth about his death and even took all the negativism to the funeral. Without going into details, it was not a pleasant experience. Nikki and her son were treated with disrespect and asked not to attend the funeral. I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to take Nikki and her son out of such a negative environment. Nikki and I discussed the situation and decided we both needed a fresh start. She agreed to come with me to Georgia.”
A dog named Scout: “We stopped in a small town in Tennessee. That’s where my dog, Scout, went out like a warrior. He was the first thing I loved after getting back from Iraq. Scout showed me I could feel my heart and vibrations of love.
Well, right in the middle of a wedding he somehow killed a cat and ran through the middle aisle with the dead cat, all covered in blood. He ruined the wedding and somebody shot him in the head. That’s how he went out, a dog chasing a cat, he went out like a real scout; dogs chase cats just like humans chase freedom.”
Home in Georgia: “Nikki and I are now engaged, and Camden is doing fine. This is an extraordinary thing, this is life. Some make it, some do not, but this is my life, and this is what I’m doing. We’ve been looking for property in the Blue Ridge Mountain area near Ellijay. We want a log cabin, a couple of acres, and a wood burning stove. I plan to flip it, buy houses, sell or rent them. I’m the entrepreneur-type, no desk job for me.”
Final comments: “I could mention experiences in Iraq, I’d even thought about going to Syria to fight against ISIS, but America and our freedoms here on the home front need protection. Our Constitution, our way of life, our faiths, our freedom, is the sword that can conquer the toughest of enemies. I want your readers to know it’s time to make some thorny but important decisions, this is reality, don’t accept what you don’t like, this is our country and we are in trouble. Get up, stand up, and speak up.”
“Thanks for the interview, sir; I felt a real brotherhood during our talk.”
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or aveteransstory.us.