I have a streaming service subscription. Unlike the popular streaming services so many of us are familiar with, the rules for this service are different: The terms of agreement are lifelong, and there is no opportunity to cancel. And this streaming service allows new content based entirely on my previous viewing habits.
No one notified me when my subscription started. The service developed content, recorded shows, and created my playlist without my knowledge. How does that happen, you ask? I guess I focused so hard on the daily grind in my life at the time that I didn’t notice when it began deducting payment from my account.
I became aware of the streaming service when content began without me pressing play.
Sitting on the crumpled couch in the damp office of the police station. The sweet smell of chai, old coffee, and sweat hung in the air. The warm sun crept through the sandbags that long ago replaced the shattered panes of the window. My head in my hands as I listened to emotionless voices on the radio coordinating security for the recovery and starting the hunt for those responsible. Charlie Company has lost so much.
The muffled sound of an explosion and the sharp report of a .50 cal close by broke through the stagnant air of the police station. My head shot out of my hands, the radios went silent, time stopped as I hoped the silence would be broken once again by the emotionless voices.
“She’s dead!” someone screamed through the speakers and filled the air with dread. “We have to evacuate the casualties!”
We have to go. Do we have their location? Yes. Route Absolute? Yes.
Navigating through the everyday traffic of people going about their daily routines. Holy shit, does anyone know there is a war going on down the street?
We moved north through the traffic circle onto Route Absolute. The hustle and bustle of daily routines evaporates around us. The voices on the radio now are full of emotion, anger, and fear. I glance forward and see all four of their vehicles coming toward us. Good. We have everyone. What happened to her? Wait. One of those is Alpha Company’s? My mind feverishly tries to process why the Alpha Company commander is one of our vehicles.
And then I see it.
Off in the distance, a lone vehicle. Why is there still a vehicle … and then I know. It’s one of ours. She is still in it.
We have to get her home.
We race back to Apache. She’s behind us now. Her body is still in the lone vehicle, the vehicle hooked up to ours.
A radio transmission makes its way through the importance filter in my mind. “Contact, IED.” One of our patrols responding to replace the security has just hit an IED. Alpha Company is there and reports they are evacuating all the wounded and the vehicle, and are headed to Apache. Thank you, 1st Sgt. Jeffrey McKinney.
We have to get her home.
We turn off Route Absolute and are right back in the hustle and bustle of the people going about their daily routines. They know there is war going on down the street. We push them aside as we navigate through the indifference of the population.
As we turned into the gate at Apache, the lone vehicle got stuck. I opened the door to the lone vehicle. It was so quiet inside the truck. Her little hands in her lap, covered in soot, fingers still clenched tight in surprise and anger. I expected her to help me turn the wheel, the determination I remember from a short time ago, my mind unable to process that she is gone.
The lone vehicle is empty now. She has been taken and placed along with her seven brothers to begin their journey home. They should have already been home. We all should have that day. Twelve months my ass.
He brought me a hose. The warm water slowly fell to the ground, turning the sand around my boots to mud. After reaching into his pocket, he handed me a crumpled bag. No words were spoken. I looked into his eyes and could see the understanding of pain, just a nod of his head and his hand on his heart. We were from two different worlds, but at that moment, we were the same.
My streaming service has some unique features. I am not allowed to choose when the content plays. The content plays based on something I read, a smell, a sight, a sound, or a thought. The content plays at the most inopportune times: when I drive in the car, talk with my children, spend time with my wife, in the middle of the night, early in the morning, at a sporting event, at work, and especially when I am alone. The only thing I am confident about with this streaming service is that I don’t think it will ever truly end.
I know what you are thinking.
Call customer service, dumbass!
Customer service for this streaming service has been challenging, to say the least. When I first subscribed, there wasn’t a well-established support staff, and seeking out customer service was frowned upon. No need for me to call customer service. Who calls customer service anyway? I decided to deal with the random shuffle of content on my own.
Award-Winning Journalism in Your Inbox
I started my own troubleshooting process. Maybe if I turn down the volume with this 100-proof remedy, the content won’t be so loud? Maybe if I try this activity to recreate the streaming content, it will pause for a little while?
It seemed to get a little better. The content became blurry, quieter. Sometimes, if I used a remedy over and over again, I could turn off the streaming content for extended periods of time. Customer service my ass, I got this. (My troubleshooting skills rocked!)
My wife and kids had a different point of view: They sure didn’t appreciate my troubleshooting skills. My remedies also turned off my involvement in their daily lives. I was physically with them, but the healthy, happy, and engaged husband and father they once knew was absent. I focused so much on troubleshooting the symptoms with my own remedies, activities, and tools that I lost sight of the actual problem. My wife wanted to help me find a better way to troubleshoot, even suggesting I call customer service. Pull over and ask for directions. … You are lost!
I guess it was time to admit defeat, swallow my stubborn pride, and contact customer service. But first I needed to focus on a new daily grind in my life. …
Then my streaming service added new content.
Sitting on the brand-new office chair in the bright, sun-filled office of the MP station. Outside, I can hear the deep bass of someone’s radio in a car they can’t afford echoing as they drive by. The smell of fresh coffee throughout the building. The operations radio plays quietly in the background as patrols communicate their daily law enforcement mission. I’m home. I’m safe.
Mindlessly working through requests for MPs to provide traffic control and military working dog certification schedules, and complaints from sergeants major and field-grade officers that the MPs disrespected them when they got a ticket for driving 30 MPH over the speed limit in a school zone. Preparing for the next mind-numbing meeting.
“Shots fired! Shots fired! Officer down!”
Wait. What did I just hear? I slowly get up from my new office chair and walk over to the radio in the corner of the office and turn up the volume. “Did you hear that?” I ask a coworker.
Not looking up, he says, “Hear what?”
The radio now fills the office. “Shots fired! Shots fired! Officer down!” An MP desk sergeant pokes his head in the office and announces to no one in particular that we are getting reports of multiple shooters and multiple casualties at the Soldier Readiness Processing site (SRP).
I’m not in Iraq anymore. I am home. This doesn’t happen here.
I announce, to no one in particular, that we need to close the installation to all outbound traffic.
I’m driving in a patrol car, by myself, lights on, to the processing site. I am about halfway there when my common sense kicks in and I realize I am driving to an active shooter site in a marked vehicle with flashing lights, and I have no vest and no weapon.
I really didn’t think this one through.
As I approach the site, I see several patrol and emergency vehicles parked along the road. I see several soldiers crouched behind the concrete divider between the new SRP site and the old SRP site. I am home, right?
I leave the vehicle running and move to the concrete barrier, painfully aware that I left a few important things back at the MP station. There appears to be no more gunfire, and several civilian police officers and MPs surround two SRP buildings. I also see a makeshift triage area set up between two of the buildings.
There was a makeshift triage setup. This is a MASCAL event. Am I home?
I move from the barrier and run up the hill. As I come to the top of the hill, I see a lone gunshot victim lying on his stomach. Shackles tightly around his blood-stained hands. The sickly wheeze of a man gasping desperately to take in the last moments of life. He did this?
Two days later, I finally go home. I look down at my boots, see the stains for the first time, and remember the pools and puddles of humanity I shuffled through in the previous days. The stains were quickly removed, but beneath the surface remain an immovable mark on my soul.
I finally got ahold of someone at customer service (I was put on hold for 24 months). I had a laundry list of issues and complaints that I wanted to share about my subscription. I was eager to discuss the challenges of my streaming services with a representative. Unfortunately, the representative only had a set of specific troubleshooting remedies for me to attempt. “Try this twice a day, once in the morning, and once in the evening. Discontinue your personal remedies, and then call me back in six months.”
It was that easy? I thought customer service must know something I didn’t—six months isn’t that long. Heck, it took me a few years just to call customer service. I tried the twice-a-day magic remedy suggested by the customer service representative. The content was still blurry, but it grew louder, and I no longer had the ability to turn it off for any length of time. The content woke me up in the middle of the night, it played when I tried to sleep, and, most importantly, my wife was really getting tired of it.
Thanks a lot, customer service. I am going to call you back for sure this time and I am going to ask for a manager! (My inner Karen.)
First I needed to focus on a new daily grind in my life—another distraction. Another bit of business.
My streaming service added new content, this time scenes from Afghanistan.
At this point you must be thinking, This guy is an idiot. There is NO WAY I would put up with this. You would never join a lifelong streaming service with no ability to cancel. You wouldn’t allow this streaming service to treat you like that. You would post about the streaming service on social media, protest at the streaming service’s headquarters, demand someone be held accountable for the actions of the streaming service. You would say you support me but not those who are responsible for the streaming service.
Some of you have probably already figured it out.
My streaming service is me. My streaming service plays my shows. My shows are Baghdad before and during the surge, the Fort Hood shooting, and Afghanistan. Each has numerous seasons and episodes.
I chose to experience these shows, but I never imagined they would impact me the way they have.
I finally got off my ass and found the help and medical care I so desperately needed. It took me nearly six years after my first deployment to Iraq to finally admit to myself that I had some issues. Six years is a long time, but there is never a wrong time to go—I went and it has made a positive impact in my life.
It wasn’t easy. The mental health provider didn’t slap me on the head and scream, “Be healed!” I didn’t magically go back to who I was before that first deployment.
That person no longer exists.
I am OK with that. My wife, on the other hand, might slightly disagree. I didn’t share with her the challenges and struggles I was dealing with until it was almost too late. I am so lucky to have had that type of support throughout all of this. She rocks and has been by my side every step of the way. There is someone in your life who wants to help you through this; let them!
Seeking mental health helped me answer so many questions that plagued my everyday existence. Some of those answers required me to look in the mirror and be brutally honest with myself. It’s not a fun experience, but it’s a necessary one.
Early on in my career, I saw mental health challenges as a weakness, and it was to the detriment of those I led. I focused on the mission, and I buried my own emotions. I was emotionless, like a robot.
Not proud of it but I needed to admit that truth.
I also learned some new fun facts about myself: I had been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. By a doctor. It was in my medical records. It had been there for two years. But the doctor who made the diagnosis failed to bring me in on the secret.
Thanks, customer service!
Most of you already know that military and V.A. mental health services are hit or miss. But if you want help, it’s out there. It will take some work. You’ll need to find the person, service, or environment that works for you—where you feel comfortable.
I still have my subscription. It’s not that bad anymore. I can usually control the content and even prevent it from starting if I know something or someone is about to hit play. My wife helps control the stream, too.
I know—I know I should have asked her to help me when the shows first started to play, but as I have clearly demonstrated, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer.
There are plenty of other shows out there. Some chose to experience them and many others don’t get a say in the matter.
Our Journalism Depends on Your Support
Some of you watch these shows. You have seen them on the news, read about them on social media. But as the war in Afghanistan winds down, that streaming media will appear less often In the daily news.
Although the shows have been canceled, many of us don’t have the ability to press stop—to stop watching and find something new.
Our subscriptions are forever. But you’ve got the remote control.
Don’t wait. I promise customer service can and will help you.