Iraq in Black & White : Photos/Essay by Michael Ortiz


Cheers to The Valiant Dead

A cold, unyielding and paralyzing fear can trickle down your neck and engulf your spine to overwhelm you with indecision and internal chaos. It is the actions you take at this point that portray you in that unflattering light most of us avoid. These choices and the people you affect are the only memories you can hope to take with you when you pass. How you react to this fear is undetermined, so you have to own it and seed a positive experience. For me, losing the people I love is terrifying, and in combat, losing my friends by an unseen enemy can unsettle an anger in me with a gullet forever parched and longing. My transgressions and accomplishments used to be the only aspects of myself I would address whenever I felt introspective. As I continue on to these devastating brushes with fear, I can only watch as I change for the better, or worse.

The first time I came home from a long absence, I noticed that the smells had changed and the colors seemed more vivid. After I had enough rest, I realized; I was the one who had changed and seemed dull. Nothing would ever taste quite the same and sounds would never carry the same depth as they used to. In November; I had returned home from fifteen months of hell on earth, feet sore, skin worn, and emotion misplaced. It was cold in Kentucky when we landed. Fort Campbell never looked so gloomily beautiful. I was tired and starving, yet in seconds, my tears welled up and the scorched soles of my feet rushed me over to my overwrought mother. I knew the son she once sent away never came home per se, instead I did, a shell of a man. I always wondered how hard I would have laughed if she asked, “ How did it go?” “Did you have fun?” As we drove away to annihilate the first Big Mac we spotted, I looked back at the airplane that brought me home, full of sand-covered seats, wishing we could have left this new “me” behind. It was just the rush of enjoyment and relief that harbored my pain. I never fully understood how much the extra recognitive baggage I carried with me weighed.

It is too easy to slump into a deep dejection from this experience, but not fair to the friends I made and the good times I had, even with those who never made it home. There was Steven Christofferson, a small, determined man and a good friend. Then there was Adam Kohlhaas, my best friend, nothing more and never less. Both Steven and Adam were killed in action during an attack in northern Iraq on a dusty April morning. Sorry, it seems too easy to focus on the affliction. Every time I try to forget, I remember Steven’s mangled body, or Adam’s fading breath as we hopelessly struggled to revive him. I thought that in the moments after the helicopters snatched them from us it would be done with and I would never feel this gaping, deep and painful sadness. Fear had an effect on me that I could not recognize right away. I always had too much pride to allow proper sensibility. When this much emotion needed to be processed, I just filed it away with the lesser of my issues, like not shaving or leaving the toilet seat up. I have had my entire life to create a void in my subconscious. Now I have these calamitous memories to repress and with great success… at first, I did.

Lo and behold, I could not help but feel guilt and remorse, anger and sadness whenever I relive that day, even now. You see, that day started off innocently enough, although it never entirely ended for some of us. We had a mission in a nearly desolate sector of the desert to clean house and simmer down any potential threats to the safety of allied military forces in our area. Naturally, none of us really cared about some crude village full of goats and dried up farmland. However, there was always that chance we might see some action and that always seemed to get our blood pumping something fierce. So we suited up and strapped down to drive out south to this barren oasis. We arrived early in the day to find some questionable males attempting to elude us in our stealthy 17-ton armored vehicles, so we swiftly questioned and detained them. With “enemies of the state” in our trucks and the rest of the day ahead of us, we headed east toward the main road to sneak up on some more goats and small children. Silence, then an explosion with such a force I could not react quickly enough to catch my footing and turn to see that one of our trucks was engulfed in smoke and dust.

There was not even time for a full sentence when I jumped out of the truck and ran toward the dust. Out of the smoke came the driver of the tossed truck, distraught and crying for help, he settled at the rear of another vehicle. I made it to the first body I could see, Steven, and he was the furthest from everything, surrounded by tons of twisted metal and kicked up sand. He rested there, eyes opened, dead and honestly, that is all I really care to recall. Almost immediately I ran into our platoon sergeant, limping out of the smoke and leaning on the truck. It seemed he had been severely wounded on one entire side of his body, so I walked him over to sit and had the driver tend to his wounds. Then I rushed over to help with an interpreter whose calves were torn from his legs. Even our medic, hemorrhaging and fingers broken, still tried to help with the wounded until we had to relocate him to a safer area. I stopped, turned and saw that

Adam was laying about fifteen feet from me; so I rushed over, leaving the interpreter with his handler. I slid my hand under Adam’s head to only feel fragments of sand and blood. All I can really choose to remember is trying to find a sign, if any at all, that he was alive. Adam’s lip would quiver, his chest would rise, and the attack helicopters, that could not land, hovered over us teasing with hope. Never in my life have I ever wanted someone to just say one word to me than when I cradled Adam in my hands. Fear birthed a new value to me that was not worth the cost. Time slowed as we carried him to the helicopter and felt the wind scrape our backs as it took off with the injured, and Adam. Then there was a silence; it was the most painful silence ever heard and I could not scream loud enough to extinguish it. Adam died; Steven was bagged and tagged along with the interpreter. There were ceremonies and condolences whispered. Then we prepared for the next ten months of our deployment. It was fear that created the silence that day. The same fear kept us alive the rest of our time there.

I always assumed good people go to a better place when they die, and the lesser go to some version of hell. Well, I doubt it matters what we do if everyone is going to die at some point, right? If I was going to find a purpose in what men like Adam and Steven died for, maybe I could sleep at night, but even sleepless, I reap this blessing; The fear that once ruled over me subsided and although the memories etch at my heart, it means I get to keep these men alive. Sometimes the hard choices are easy because we ignore the possibility of other options. No one ever “finds themselves,”What you really mean to ask is what it is everyone else wants you to be. “The brave die never, though they sleep in dust, Their courage nerves a thousand living men”. (Minot J. Savage).


Above : Iraqi Child with SGT Adam Kohlhaas and SGT Steven Christofferson – KIA Bayji, Iraq 2008

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What is driving you?


by Michael Ortiz

How much of what you say and do is vastly derived from the expectations of others? Besides the basic social requirements to interact, what leads you into the moments you feel least like yourself? Now the ultimate question is, do you mind?

  • Two ways to look at it:
  1. Accept it and continue on with your life – This option is for those of you who have found it comforting to interact and relate to people through positive influence and reaction. The idea being that you contribute as much of your own ideas as you receive. There is nothing wrong with letting people and ideas influence your character and thought process as long as the ideas and actions that are raised in response by you are your own.
  2. Contest it and attempt to derive original thoughts by being completely abstract and critical about everything. It sounds complicated but I believe it to be very simple: Try to understand what the people around you are doing on any conceivable level, this is for you meticulous people out there. Criticize and question every thought and idea until you can comfortably grasp it’s effect on you and the people around you. Just be warned that when you complicate even the smallest situation it becomes a bit of a strain, not only on your responses and interactions but on your overall emotional state.
  • When under pressure you revert back to a very primitive response; isolation, over-reaction, violence, depression, calmness and a few other simple, yet complicated emotional responses.
  • The next time you find yourself under pressure, record your reactions and emotions in detail and let the entire episode pass before analyzing the results. After a few times compare the data and attempt to isolate the emotions and reactions you are not happy with and the emotional responses and actions you wish you could have expressed. Then the next time you find yourself in a similar situation, attempt to express them in a healthy manner that does not harm yourself or others.
  • I am not a psychologist I just wanted to share what has worked for me in the past. Maybe with some small bit of this exercise you can lessen the level of stress in your life.

Iraq: It took my best friend


The nightmares and the short fits of flashbacks rip at my sternum and keep me up tonight. The vivid memories of a mission long passed rush through my mind recklessly. I ask myself each day if there was more I could have done to save them, to prevent the pain and sadness. On this day in april of 2008 in Iraq I lost the one best friend I ever had in this world and a very dear friend also (Sgt. Adam Kohlhaas and Sgt Steven Christofferson Killed In Action). I was there for every terrifying moment, every gruesome realization and every haunting smell and feeling.

Sgt Adam J. Kohlhaas and Sgt Steven Christofferson with Iraqi Child KIA, April 21st, 2008, Bayji, Iraq

The one feeling I have been battling with for the past few years is guilt and shame. The guilt was for my lack of action although I did everything I could humanly, possibly do, I felt like I could have done more for some reason, as if I was some kind of field surgeon when all I was an infantry soldier.

The shame was very similar, in that I felt loathsome of myself for not being there for Adam and Steven. I remember ever faint attempt to revive him and every grain of sand on adams face. I remember the glazed expression on Steven’s face when I found him dead, reaching out for the sky as he laid , torn in half on this lonely road in Iraq. The shame that it should have been me and the guilt that it also still should have been me still drives me into deep depressions that would have, without my loved ones, killed me years ago in a few failed attempts at redemption.

I am where I am thanks to the moments after their deaths and the years that followed were my time to mold my life into the blessing it is now: A wife, a home, a loving family, and all the help the VA hospital can give. They are alway in my heart and I will make sure to continue the best I can with my life to make them proud of me. All my love goes to their parents and sibling on this day of remembrance and honor. With this quote I leave you and thank you for your time. ” The brave die never, though they sleep in dust: Their courage nerves a thousand living men” (Minot J Savage)

Insomnia Remedy – Photo & Tips


  • My Traumatic Brain Injury Occupational Therapist gave me a helpful speech that I would love to share with all of you nocturnal insomniacs here. I hope this routine helps and if you want to tweak it feel free to. Disclaimer – I am not a doctor or therapist and you should consult your own physician before trying anything period. Thanks

When you feel like your eyes could not get any heavier and your chest slowly falls and rises with each slow, passing breath you take there comes a moment of pure natural intoxication and relaxation. At this point you should take in a full breath and fill every cubic millimeter inside your lungs and then slowly release your breath with a narrow near-whislte for about 20 seconds. Repeat this 10 times. The next step is to select each of your major muscle groups and tighten those muscles for 15 seconds as hard as you can without strain and then release slowly until relaxation. By this point you should be passing into a deep and wonderful slumber. You are welcome. 

  • PS : Try and play in the background some relaxing nature soundtracks, not music because the lyrics and instruments can distract you.

Warrior Poet: don’t criticize what you can’t understand


20120123-114639.jpg
Sgt. Adam Kohlhaas & Sgt. Steven Christofferson KIA Bayji, Iraq APR/21/2008

For them:

All along the eastern shore
Some of these kids make me feel poor
And every time I try to leave
The flag pulls so hard on my sleeve
Bullets rain down from the sky
Never knew I could sink so high
Blind and guilty is my name
Honest men put me to shame
Those we save are far and few
Not enough to be thanked by you
Give me purpose give me strength
God is listening for short lengths
When I pass let it be heard
All we thought of was one word
Mother mother hear my cry
When these people ask me why
Blood and tears both pour out now
Trying to feel but don’t know how
This fight has gone on for too long
It’s time to stop this unsung song
I leave my thoughts to you now
I ask forgiveness and you ask how
Don’t forget the ones who died
They will linger by my side
And when you ask about their lives
I recall their last short cries
These men these soldiers these strong few
Died hard and brave and true
– Michael X Ortiz

A day at war – PTSD by Michael X. Ortiz


Sgt. Adam Kohlhaas, Sgt. Steven Christofferson

Cheers to The Valiant Dead

A cold, unyielding and paralyzing fear can trickle down your neck and engulf your spine to overwhelm you with indecision and internal chaos. It is the actions you take at this point that portray you in that unflattering light most of us avoid. These choices and the people you affect are the only memories you can hope to take with you when you pass. How you react to this fear is undetermined, so you have to own it and seed a positive experience. For me, losing the people I love is terrifying, and in combat, losing my friends by an unseen enemy can unsettle an anger in me with a gullet forever parched and longing. My transgressions and accomplishments used to be the only aspects of myself I would address whenever I felt introspective. As I continue on to these devastating brushes with fear, I can only watch as I change for the better, or worse.

The first time I came home from a long absence, I noticed that the smells had changed and the colors seemed more vivid. After I had enough rest, I realized; I was the one who had changed and seemed dull. Nothing would ever taste quite the same and sounds would never carry the same depth as they used to. In November; I had returned home from fifteen months of hell on earth, feet sore, skin worn, and emotion misplaced. It was cold in Kentucky when we landed. Fort Campbell never looked so gloomily beautiful. I was tired and starving, yet in seconds, my tears welled up and the scorched soles of my feet rushed me over to my overwrought mother. I knew the son she once sent away never came home per se, instead I did, a shell of a man. I always wondered how hard I would have laughed if she asked, “ How did it go?” “Did you have fun?” As we drove away to annihilate the first Big Mac we spotted, I looked back at the airplane that brought me home, full of sand-covered seats, wishing we could have left this new “me” behind. It was just the rush of enjoyment and relief that harbored my pain. I never fully understood how much the extra recognitive baggage I carried with me weighed.

It is too easy to slump into a deep dejection from this experience, but not fair to the friends I made and the good times I had, even with those who never made it home. There was Steven Christofferson, a small, determined man and a good friend. Then there was Adam Kohlhaas, my best friend, nothing more and never less. Both Steven and Adam were killed in action during an attack in northern Iraq on a dusty April morning.  Sorry, it seems too easy to focus on the affliction. Every time I try to forget, I remember Steven’s mangled body, or Adam’s fading breath as we hopelessly struggled to revive him. I thought that in the moments after the helicopters snatched them from us it would be done with and I would never feel this gaping, deep and painful sadness. Fear had an effect on me that I could not recognize right away. I always had too much pride to allow proper sensibility. When this much emotion needed to be processed, I just filed it away with the lesser of my issues, like not shaving or leaving the toilet seat up. I have had my entire life to create a void in my subconscious. Now I have these calamitous memories to repress and with great success… at first, I did.

 

Lo and behold, I could not help but feel guilt and remorse, anger and sadness whenever I relive that day, even now. You see, that day started off innocently enough, although it never entirely ended for some of us. We had a mission in a nearly desolate sector of the desert to clean house and simmer down any potential threats to the safety of allied military forces in our area. Naturally, none of us really cared about some crude village full of goats and dried up farmland. However, there was always that chance we might see some action and that always seemed to get our blood pumping something fierce. So we suited up and strapped down to drive out south to this barren oasis. We arrived early in the day to find some questionable males attempting to elude us in our stealthy 17-ton armored vehicles, so we swiftly questioned and detained them. With “enemies of the state” in our trucks and the rest of the day ahead of us, we headed east toward the main road to sneak up on some more goats and small children. Silence, then an explosion with such a force I could not react quickly enough to catch my footing and turn to see that one of our trucks was engulfed in smoke and dust.

There was not even time for a full sentence when I jumped out of the truck and ran toward the dust. Out of the smoke came the driver of the tossed truck, distraught and crying for help, he settled at the rear of another vehicle. I made it to the first body I could see, Steven, and he was the furthest from everything, surrounded by tons of twisted metal and kicked up sand. He rested there, eyes opened, dead and honestly, that is all I really care to recall. Almost immediately I ran into our platoon sergeant, limping out of the smoke and leaning on the truck. It seemed he had been severely wounded on one entire side of his body, so I walked him over to sit and had the driver tend to his wounds. Then I rushed over to help with an interpreter whose calves were torn from his legs. Even our medic, hemorrhaging and fingers broken, still tried to help with the wounded until we had to relocate him to a safer area. I stopped, turned and saw that

Adam was laying about fifteen feet from me; so I rushed over, leaving the interpreter with his handler. I slid my hand under Adam’s head to only feel fragments of sand and blood. All I can really choose to remember is trying to find a sign, if any at all, that he was alive. Adam’s lip would quiver, his chest would rise, and the attack helicopters, that could not land, hovered over us teasing with hope. Never in my life have I ever wanted someone to just say one word to me than when I cradled Adam in my hands. Fear birthed a new value to me that was not worth the cost. Time slowed as we carried him to the helicopter and felt the wind scrape our backs as it took off with the injured, and Adam. Then there was a silence; it was the most painful silence ever heard and I could not scream loud enough to extinguish it. Adam died; Steven was bagged and tagged along with the interpreter. There were ceremonies and condolences whispered. Then we prepared for the next ten months of our deployment. It was fear that created the silence that day. The same fear kept us alive the rest of our time there.

I always assumed good people go to a better place when they die, and the lesser go to some version of hell. Well, I doubt it matters what we do if everyone is going to die at some point, right? If I was going to find a purpose in what men like Adam and Steven died for, maybe I could sleep at night, but even sleepless, I reap this blessing; The fear that once ruled over me subsided and although the memories etch at my heart, it means I get to keep these men alive. Sometimes the hard choices are easy because we ignore the possibility of other options. No one ever “finds themselves,”What you really mean to ask is what it is everyone else wants you to be.  “The brave die never, though they sleep in dust, Their courage nerves a thousand living men”. (Minot J. Savage).

A day at war – PTSD by Michael X. Ortiz


Sgt. Adam Kohlhaas, Sgt. Steven Christofferson

Cheers to The Valiant Dead

A cold, unyielding and paralyzing fear can trickle down your neck and engulf your spine to overwhelm you with indecision and internal chaos. It is the actions you take at this point that portray you in that unflattering light most of us avoid. These choices and the people you affect are the only memories you can hope to take with you when you pass. How you react to this fear is undetermined, so you have to own it and seed a positive experience. For me, losing the people I love is terrifying, and in combat, losing my friends by an unseen enemy can unsettle an anger in me with a gullet forever parched and longing. My transgressions and accomplishments used to be the only aspects of myself I would address whenever I felt introspective. As I continue on to these devastating brushes with fear, I can only watch as I change for the better, or worse.

The first time I came home from a long absence, I noticed that the smells had changed and the colors seemed more vivid. After I had enough rest, I realized; I was the one who had changed and seemed dull. Nothing would ever taste quite the same and sounds would never carry the same depth as they used to. In November; I had returned home from fifteen months of hell on earth, feet sore, skin worn, and emotion misplaced. It was cold in Kentucky when we landed. Fort Campbell never looked so gloomily beautiful. I was tired and starving, yet in seconds, my tears welled up and the scorched soles of my feet rushed me over to my overwrought mother. I knew the son she once sent away never came home per se, instead I did, a shell of a man. I always wondered how hard I would have laughed if she asked, “ How did it go?” “Did you have fun?” As we drove away to annihilate the first Big Mac we spotted, I looked back at the airplane that brought me home, full of sand-covered seats, wishing we could have left this new “me” behind. It was just the rush of enjoyment and relief that harbored my pain. I never fully understood how much the extra recognitive baggage I carried with me weighed.

It is too easy to slump into a deep dejection from this experience, but not fair to the friends I made and the good times I had, even with those who never made it home. There was Steven Christofferson, a small, determined man and a good friend. Then there was Adam Kohlhaas, my best friend, nothing more and never less. Both Steven and Adam were killed in action during an attack in northern Iraq on a dusty April morning.  Sorry, it seems too easy to focus on the affliction. Every time I try to forget, I remember Steven’s mangled body, or Adam’s fading breath as we hopelessly struggled to revive him. I thought that in the moments after the helicopters snatched them from us it would be done with and I would never feel this gaping, deep and painful sadness. Fear had an effect on me that I could not recognize right away. I always had too much pride to allow proper sensibility. When this much emotion needed to be processed, I just filed it away with the lesser of my issues, like not shaving or leaving the toilet seat up. I have had my entire life to create a void in my subconscious. Now I have these calamitous memories to repress and with great success… at first, I did.

Lo and behold, I could not help but feel guilt and remorse, anger and sadness whenever I relive that day, even now. You see, that day started off innocently enough, although it never entirely ended for some of us. We had a mission in a nearly desolate sector of the desert to clean house and simmer down any potential threats to the safety of allied military forces in our area. Naturally, none of us really cared about some crude village full of goats and dried up farmland. However, there was always that chance we might see some action and that always seemed to get our blood pumping something fierce. So we suited up and strapped down to drive out south to this barren oasis. We arrived early in the day to find some questionable males attempting to elude us in our stealthy 17-ton armored vehicles, so we swiftly questioned and detained them. With “enemies of the state” in our trucks and the rest of the day ahead of us, we headed east toward the main road to sneak up on some more goats and small children. Silence, then an explosion with such a force I could not react quickly enough to catch my footing and turn to see that one of our trucks was engulfed in smoke and dust.

There was not even time for a full sentence when I jumped out of the truck and ran toward the dust. Out of the smoke came the driver of the tossed truck, distraught and crying for help, he settled at the rear of another vehicle. I made it to the first body I could see, Steven, and he was the furthest from everything, surrounded by tons of twisted metal and kicked up sand. He rested there, eyes opened, dead and honestly, that is all I really care to recall. Almost immediately I ran into our platoon sergeant, limping out of the smoke and leaning on the truck. It seemed he had been severely wounded on one entire side of his body, so I walked him over to sit and had the driver tend to his wounds. Then I rushed over to help with an interpreter whose calves were torn from his legs. Even our medic, hemorrhaging and fingers broken, still tried to help with the wounded until we had to relocate him to a safer area. I stopped, turned and saw that

Adam was laying about fifteen feet from me; so I rushed over, leaving the interpreter with his handler. I slid my hand under Adam’s head to only feel fragments of sand and blood. All I can really choose to remember is trying to find a sign, if any at all, that he was alive. Adam’s lip would quiver, his chest would rise, and the attack helicopters, that could not land, hovered over us teasing with hope. Never in my life have I ever wanted someone to just say one word to me than when I cradled Adam in my hands. Fear birthed a new value to me that was not worth the cost. Time slowed as we carried him to the helicopter and felt the wind scrape our backs as it took off with the injured, and Adam. Then there was a silence; it was the most painful silence ever heard and I could not scream loud enough to extinguish it. Adam died; Steven was bagged and tagged along with the interpreter. There were ceremonies and condolences whispered. Then we prepared for the next ten months of our deployment. It was fear that created the silence that day. The same fear kept us alive the rest of our time there.

I always assumed good people go to a better place when they die, and the lesser go to some version of hell. Well, I doubt it matters what we do if everyone is going to die at some point, right? If I was going to find a purpose in what men like Adam and Steven died for, maybe I could sleep at night, but even sleepless, I reap this blessing; The fear that once ruled over me subsided and although the memories etch at my heart, it means I get to keep these men alive. Sometimes the hard choices are easy because we ignore the possibility of other options. No one ever “finds themselves,”What you really mean to ask is what it is everyone else wants you to be.  “The brave die never, though they sleep in dust, Their courage nerves a thousand living men”. (Minot J. Savage).