My name is Travis Williams and this is my story...
I have lived in Montana since I was 6 years old. I graduated high school from Helena Capital in 2002 and shortly thereafter joined the Marine Corps. I guess I was attracted to the challenge, so I decided to test myself against their standards. I found I was able to adapt to the rigors of the Marine lifestyle quite readily. This was strange due to the fact that in high school I was completely opposite of every ideal they could throw my way. I found a sense of direction in the Marine Corps.
When I returned to Montana, I checked into my reserve unit in Billings. In August of 03 I enrolled at the University of Montana and attended classes between my monthly drills. In December of 2004, 9 Marines including myself received orders to activate with Lima Co. 3rd Battalion 25th Marines out of Columbus, Ohio.
We met up with our new unit in 29 Palms, California on January 5th 2005. We spent 2 months getting acquainted and training with Lima Co. before we left for Iraq. By the time we stepped on the plane, we were analogous to a family. We said our goodbyes and headed into the unknown.
Upon arrival in Kuwait we were informed that we were going to Iraq's now infamous Al Anbar province. Our home base was Haditha Dam which was guarded by the Azerbaijanis. They ran the security so that we would be able to conduct mobile operations throughout Iraq's largest province.
Our battle rhythm was demanding to say the least. We were 180 strong patrolling and clearing an area half the size of the country. My first major firefight was a two hour siege of the town of New Ubaydi, Iraq. This town lies near the Syrian border where we were always sure to find resistance. During two hours of door to door fighting we had moved two blocks into the city. My platoon already had 5 casualties and the platoon adjacent had lost 8. This was my first taste of what war really was. It was most definitely unlike anything I had ever experienced, but it still felt exhilarating, never have I felt so alive and scared at the same time.
After experiencing the sights, smells, and sounds of battle and its aftermath, my emotions seemed to dull or shutdown. I later learned that this was a defense mechanism that allowed me to continue to operate in a combat zone. To the best of my knowledge, every marine seemed to experience this in one form or another.
By our 2 month mark, we had all been engaged and fancied ourselves combat veterans. Everyone had either lost a friend or seen one carried away in a Medevac. We faced IED's, mortar rounds, rockets, and small arms fire on a repetitive daily basis. Soon it was becoming hard to distinguish the real enemy, those we fought or those who made us fight. This double fronted battle only strengthened our small unit fraternity. Eventually, we recognized that someone on our side was continually putting us in harms way. We came to trust only each other and the outside world became irrelevant. We fought for each other not national policy or the ideals of democracy. Little did we know that this was only the beginning.
In August 2005 our Battalion lost 24 marines in about 10 days. 13 of them were from our company. On Aug 1st a team of our snipers were compromised and all 6 of them killed. On August 3rd we headed into the city of Barwanna, which was about eight miles from our dam to recover the weapons of our fallen comrades. While entering the city, one of our troop transport vehicles or "tracks" as we call them was hit by a massive improvised explosive device (IED). To date it was the largest I had seen, I knew whoever was in that vehicle was probably dead. As I ran closer I realized that it was my squad that was in the track. In that moment, I truly understood the meaning of loneliness. In one fell swoop, the only family I had known for 6 months was taken from me. The bonds tempered by the fire of battle exceed those of any other. I felt alone and beached in a world I no longer wanted to be a part of.
After a couple hours we were ordered to continue with the mission as though nothing had happened. By noon you could already see the videos of the explosion on Al Jazeera. We stayed out for another week before they let us go back to the dam. I lost my appetite, and I most certainly did not sleep. It only got worse from there.
We still had another month of operations ahead of us. I had become very indifferent as to whether I lived or not. The battalion flew in a team of psychologists for us to speak with. During the middle of the first meeting, one doctor had fallen asleep. This only reiterated the belief that all we had was each other. That incident left me absolutely bitter to anyone that was not part of our unit.
When we arrived home it seemed surreal. I felt more out of place here than I did in Iraq. I isolated myself from friends and family and dwelled in my emptiness. In November of 05 I went to Ohio to meet the families of those I called my brothers. The experience was second only in terms of difficulty to accepting the loss of my best friends. I was drunk and angry and the only person I could blame was myself. I was certainly on the beaten path of destruction.
Upon my return to Missoula I received a phone call from Deb McBee, a veteran's service officer from the Military Order of the Purple Heart. She had read an article about what had happened to my squad and recommended I see someone at the VA clinic. I took her advice and enrolled for medical services. My VA physician referred me to David Anderson, the veteran's liaison for Western Montana Mental Health Clinic.
Dave made an immediate impression on me as someone who had experienced the atrocities of war first hand. He served with 1st Battalion 9th Marines, the most engaged unit in the history of the Marine Corps. If I had a glimmer of hope it definitely came from this man. He only works with true combat vets so I was honored when he offered to help me out.
About 8 months later I received a disability rating of 50 percent for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the VA. Shortly thereafter I was discharged from the Marine Corps. With a rating of that size I was eligible for the VOC rehab program so I decided to pursue it. With Dave's help I changed my major to PRE MED and I am currently pursuing that field. I still see Dave on a weekly basis, and his wisdom has been paramount in terms of my recovery.
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