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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans Day 2012

Here we are, another Veterans Day, a day to remember those who have served in the past, those that have placed their lives on the line in foreign land, for country, and for freedom.  The significance of this day, personally, resides in the fact that I returned to my "home of record" from deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom on this very day in 2006.  It was the end of what would be the biggest accomplishment of my professional career, and may forever be just that, never being outdone again. 

I was invited to be a guest speaker following the Veterans Day parade in Bloomsburg, PA yesterday, November 10, 2012.  Honestly, I was hesitant, mainly because I suck at speaking in public.  That isn't may be a harsh judgement of myself, but, it is simply the truth.  However, I felt I had to accept, not to prove anything to myself, but simply because thoughts of my grandfather (POW in WWII) and all the veterans that have come before me, who am I to refuse such a privileged request, who am I to say no when offered such an honor.  I said yes.  So yesterday I reported to the Fire Hall in Bloomsburg with my wife, kids, and mother in tow. 

I had planned what I was going to say, had it all written down.  I was going to run through a brief introduction, tell where I am from, when I joined the Army, where I had served, etc.  I was then going to talk about the near epidemic plaguing the military now, behavioral health disorders, what I feel we can do to help move towards resolving these issues.  Then of course get into what the military has done for me, what it has given me in my life.  That was the plan, that isn't what happened, but that was the plan.

What happened when I arrived was a culmination of emotions that were unbearable for me to control, especially in front of all the grizzled vets that were present.  As soon as the veterans started to make their way in from the end of the parade I could already tell that I was going to have issues.  I started to have tears well up in my eyes, simply with the thought of what many of these men lived through years ago.  As my family and I were standing waiting for remaining individuals from the parade to roll in we spoke to a gentleman named Mr. Ed Livsey.  He was a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam Wars.  He would end up playing the national anthem on the clarinet before I spoke, but at this moment he was telling us how he learned to play the clarinet, but never knew how to read music.  He would just need to hear the music one time and he could play it as though he was reading it from a sheet of music.  Pretty amazing, but as he was talking, he spoke of his wife and then of his service.  He stated he went to Vietnam and never saw any action there, then starting to well up with emotion he stated that he saw horrible things and good friends die in Korea all rolling out through a quivering voice while tears appeared in his eyes and rolled down his cheeks.  He is 81 years old.  A prime example of why service is so important to me, men like this.

So, as pleasant as my visit with Mr. Livsey was, it increased my emotional anxiety, dramatically, I knew I was going to have trouble getting through my short talk.  So, after the invocation, Pledge of Allegiance, National Anthem, I was called to the microphone as the "guest speaker."  Honestly, I probably left a lot to be desired by the dozens of people gathered and awaiting their lunch.  I never pulled my written speech from my pocket.  I simply went up there, said who I was, mentioned my book, then could barely get anything else comprehensible out before thanking everyone and walking off.  It didn't last very long, my wife said I did fine (but what else would she say?), but I have no clue today what I said, none idea what so ever.  I would loose my composure every time I looked at my wife, she would be wiping away tears, then I would break down with emotion, voice cracking, tears forming, then compose myself again.  It is all a blur.  We stayed and ate lunch, it was a nice meal, I also spoke to several other individuals, veterans, and spouses of veterans.  All pleasant, but I wish I would have got some pictures with some of the elder vets.  That is my only regret, along with giving such a poor speech, but like I told my wife afterwards - I just have to live with it, regardless of how good, or bad it may have been.

Below is what my game plan was for the guest speaker spot, just notes to keep me on track (not edited).  Next time, I am pulling it out of my pocket.  Just need to make sure there is a next time.

·        Terry Cropf, born and raised in Danville, just down the river
·       Spent my childhood running the streets around the Memorial Park in Danville, grew up a block east on Bloom Street, in the home my parents still live
·        16 years of service in the US Army, or Army National Guard
o   enlistment began in January 1997 – basic training, advanced individual training
o   Korea for a year as a combat medic assigned to 1st of the 9th Infantry, Camp Hovey, (PCS) permanent change of station
o   Dugway Proving Ground, the best kept secret in the Army, a biological and chemical test facility in the west desert of Utah.  It was in Utah I met my wife, my future family, and decided I should leave the active Army
o   ETS (End/expiration term of service) - took a civilian Department of the Army position as an EMT/Occupational Health Technician in January 2001
·        September 11th – Re-enlisted in the Utah Army National Guard – love what the National Guard has to offer – unit stability
·        As a member of the Utah Army National Guard I spent approximately 45 days working security for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games, a couple weeks in Nicaragua as part of New Horizons 2005, a humanitarian mission to build schools and provide medical services, and then the honor of serving my country in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005 to 2006.  Three months of pre-deployment training at Fort Bliss, Texas, and Dona Ana and McGregor Ranges, New Mexico.  Then a 12 month deployment as the NCOIC of the Troop Medical Clinic at Convoy Support Center Scania, a small rest, refuel, and refit camp along MSR Tampa between Tallil in southern Iraq and the capital city of Baghdad. 
o   During this deployment I kept a journal, that journal became the foundation I built my first novel around – Combat Support – The True Burden of Sacrifice.  This is not a war story, but a story of service.  It is a comprehensive reflection of my life leading up to and through my service in Iraq.  A reflection of both good and bad choices, a look into the combat support role my unit, specifically my small team, played in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and my view of what simply is the True Burden of Sacrifice.  Which is larger than the individual, and encompasses the entire support system of the individual service member.
·        I returned from Iraq, to my hometown of Danville, transitioning to Physician Assistant school in Williamsport to further my educational goals and civilian and military careers.
·        During this time I transitioned to the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, serving in the 109th Field Artillery in Wilkes-Barre prior to ending my enlistment and beginning my commissioned career as the battalion physician assistant for the 3rd of the 103rd Armor Regiment, now located in Danville.
·        One of the main drivers of the book was my personal struggle emotionally when returning from Iraq.  I wasn’t suffering from PTSD, there was some bad stuff over there, but I have seen worse in the nearly three years I have worked as a neurosurgery PA at Geisinger in Danville, more pain, more suffering, and much more death.  But what I suffered from was a significant adjustment disorder, leaving a place I where I had become so comfortable, everything had become so routine, I had my mission, my fellow soldiers, and little else to be worried about.  I discuss this all in the book, how upon returning I became someone to this day I do not recognize, a person that I honestly can say I despise.  In the moment however, I didn’t realize any of this, and from this I learned a valuable lesson.  That is to listen to the ones who have been there for me, in the good times and the bad, and understand that they can see things from the outside that I am oblivious to on the inside. 
·        Mental, emotional and behavioral disorders have become an epidemic in our small community, this great fraternity we share. 
o   Recent Reports:
§  Suicides
§  Estimated BH
·        How to improve on these issues
o   I call it Prepare, Persevere, and Pursue
§  Prepare, both on an individual basis and leaders preparing their troops more effectively not just on battle drills and the necessary psychomotor skills to navigate the battlefield, but also the emotional conditioning needed to prepare for all aspects of a combat or combat support deployment
§  Persevere, because life is not easy, it wasn’t meant to be.  If it was we all would be living lives where service to country would not be a priority.  But this is what we have chosen, or this is what chosen us.  And the life of a service member will never be easy for the individual or family
§  Pursue the needed help when life spins out of control and you lose grip of what is most important to you.  When you get knocked down and are in the darkest of moments in life – reach for those that have been there for you, your fellow service members, family, or the educated behavioral health providers that now form an Army of professionals that want to tame this current epidemic plaguing our brothers and sisters.
·        What else service to country has taught me
o   Respect – it is not necessarily something you deserve, but certainly is something you earn – earn by showing the same respect to others that you expect in return
o   Overcome hardship – because what we see in the small picture that is the vacuum of our lives, is just that, small in the big picture of this world we live in.  Regardless how bad our lives may seem at any given moment, we are almost guaranteed that someone in this world is suffering worse
o   The realization that the sky is the limit when it comes to what can be accomplished with a little team work – it speaks volumes and goes a very, very, long way
o   Finally – to take ownership of my actions whether good or bad, and to stand and face all challenges head on
·        In closing
o   Thank you for your time and attention
o   Honored to be here among true heroes and your families
o   Thanks you and your families for your collective and individual sacrifice

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