My name is Jay Erwin and I served honorably in the 82nd Airborne Division and with 2nd Ranger Battalion. I’m very new to blogging and with this opportunity I plan to highlight my road to recovery after being severely wounded while serving in Iraq. I’m also going to share some of the many changes I noticed in myself as I became a battle tested United States Army Airborne Ranger. I want to thank Karl Monger and GallantFew, Inc. for this opportunity.
I kissed my mother and sisters goodbye on January 4th, 2004 at the age of 19 to begin my journey fighting in a war I knew little about. I didnt need to know anymore than to see the Twin Towers fall in 2001 as a senior in high school. That event was enough to put me at war and that was all the fuel I needed to fight for our nations freedom. When I arrived at Ft. Benning, Georgia my life went from caring about myself to caring about those that were training to fight alongside me. A quality I wasn’t used to coming from a single parent household of 3 kids. My mother worked extremely hard to provide for me and my 2 sisters. Growing up in that situation helped me establish independence and a work ethic at a young age. Another quality that would help me become part of a fighting force of less than 2% of the American population during war on 2 battle fronts. I believe that these characteristics would help me become more battlefield effective and also help keep me alive. I was a witty kid with a big mouth and sometimes spoke my opinion a little too much. I found myself cracking jokes to pass the time and never really took much very seriously. School was easy to me but I only did enough to get by, which sometimes gave others the wrong impression. I usually had the concentration of a 5 year old and could make just about anyone around me smile. This was my mentality and characteristics before I left for the military, an area that I noticed change dramatically after I became a battle tested young man.
My Uncle was an enlisted tanker in the Gulf War in the 90’s and was commissioned as a helicopter pilot and flew an Apache during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. I just recently found out that he was awarded 2 Bronze Stars and 2 Air Medals for Valor since serving in Iraq. His dad was in the Korean War and his dad was in World War II. I was very young at the time my uncle was in the Gulf War but old enough to know he was a hero. I envied my uncle growing up and thought it would be admirable to be an “Army Man.” This admiration lead me to curiosity after I witnessed the coward acts of 9/11. I promised my mom I would spend one year in college and then make my decision to join the military after I “challenged” myself in college. I made a 3.0 my first year at Kansas State University and could have went on to get my degree but I felt a need to serve something higher than myself. I felt spoiled sitting in a dorm room with 3 hot meals and a fluffly pillow paid for by Sally Mae. This may sound strange to some but I didnt deserve that treatment. I hadnt done anything to earn the right to sit on my ass and watch CNN as the guys drove into Baghdad. I wanted in on the action. So I enlisted in the delayed entry program during the summer of 2003 and made my decision I would stay one more semester in college until I shipped off in January of 2004.
Basic training taught me alot about the camaraderie of the Army and the basic survival skills I needed to survive in combat. But like most instances in my life I was hungry for more.
I volunteered for airborne school while I was in basic training and then volunteered for the Ranger Indoctrination Program. This is where I started to see my true colors. Once I in processed into 2nd Ranger Battalion everything got more intense, even the smokings. It seemed like getting smoked was part of my day for about 2-3 straight months. The new private treatment was arduous and sometimes a little frustrating at times. I was good with being the new guy but something about every other Ranger there that had been at war made me take my job seriously. I wanted to prove to them that I had what it takes so that I wasn’t looked at as the weak link. Finding a reason to be in battle for some is not easy. For me it was the rush of the unknown. Sometimes knowing too much in the military can make you start to war game what may or may not happen in a good or bad situation.. I always tried to keep my mind in almost a purgatory sense where I could keep my thoughts from racing. Staying focused was key but keeping my mind from playing tricks on me was most important. The unknown, usually how bad the shit hit the fan or how many bad guys were going to engage you at any given time gave me the rush I wanted. My first raid on a terrorist training camp gave the unknown a real face that became recognizable to me. I found myself hearing bullets zip past my face cracking as they passed and noticed that every person to my left and right was running towards the sound of gunfire. This to me was right where I wanted to be. Finding my solitude in the face of danger is something that I noticed I became comfortable with, really I had no choice. I always prepared myself as if we were going to head out and not make it home the day we planned. Usually carrying so much stuff that I felt like I was carrying more than other guys. I usually was, I was a mortar-man; a mortar tube and 6 rounds split between 2 guys made for a heavy load. This did not include my body armor, 7 loaded magazines, my M-4 carbine, water, Mitch(helmet) and snacks. But for me, this was very normal. I slept when I could, usually during the day and did PT during the evening hours. Once the nighttime came, the bad guys were out. So we had to be one step ahead of our enemy. In 2005 the Iraqi populace had a 2000 curfew and couldnt be back on the streets until 0500 the next morning. Anyone on the streets during that time was subject to be searched or shot. Most of the time the people out after the curfew were bad guys. This made it easier for our ROE but still not easy. Our equipment gave us the edge during the night but our training was some of the best the Army could offer. We mastered battle drills during the day and then mastered them during the night. I felt that I was trained for any circumstance. Luckily no one was killed on my first rotation. We did about 1000 missions in 3 months. That is a lot of work in a short period of time. I felt the whole trip was just like drinking a red bull. Once you get the wings you soar but coming down was a bitch.
After I returned home from my first deployment, I noticed that I could not sleep as sound as I used to before I deployed. Loud unexpected noises made me jump and I began to notice that I scanned a crowd with my head on a swivel looking for possible threats. I also noticed that I sat in the corner or closest to the door in a restaurant with my back towards the wall facing the majority of the crowd. I noticed that I was more serious about everything. Sometimes my seriousness was mistaken for me being a jerk but I was so used to trying to survive and thrive during chaos that there was zero tolerance for bullshit. It wasnt until I made it home on leave that these changes were made obvious to me. My mom started to notice that I didnt smile as much as I used to and asked me if I was okay. I got an attitude at first because In my mind, how dare someone ask me if I was okay when I was just fighting for my life less than a month prior. But I talked to her and gave her the run down of how physically exhausting a 3 month deployment in my line work can be. Once I felt she got a warm and fuzzy I noticed how serious she looked at me. I will never forget how intent she was in that conversation. She looked at me like I wasn’t the same person, like I had done something to hurt her. In that moment I really started to notice how much I had changed. That moment was an example of the many moments that men and women face after they return home to there families from the battlefield. I was glad I had that conversation with my mother because I started to realize that I viewed my life a little differently than before. I cherished the small things, the hot meals my mom made, the Iced Tea in the evenings with my sisters. The very comforts of life that this spoiled world is so used to I was thankful for them. I was very sincere in every action I made. I wanted everyone around me to know that I loved them and how much they have impacted my life and how grateful I was for them. This was the most interesting period of time during my many changes because I began to see how much I cherished the life I was given. I did not hesitate to tell anyone how good they looked in a new shirt or how they seem happy. I would comment on instances with my sisters that meant a lot to me, the fine moments of growing up together. The love we had for each other and how they were truly my buddies. I found that I had a passion to give to others and to help them see what the purpose of my life really meant to me.
I was trained for war but I was not trained to come home from war. I went from a place where when you wanted something you started pointing your gun at people. And I returned to my home where I was raised that violence wasn’t the answer and to balance the two extremes was not an as easy task. I was uneasy at first and almost scared to come home but once I saw that I was going to live each day and there were no threats I became comfortable enough to be there. But in the back of my mind, I knew that I was heading back to war and the odds weren’t going to be in my favor.
I know its a long introduction but I wanted to give everyone an idea of how I was before I went to war and then returning home. I hope that you keep reading! There will be more to come. God bless!