July 16th 2010, the day my life was changed forever. At this time, we were half way through our deployment. The day started off like any other normal day in Afghanistan. At 0500 we would be up getting ready for the day. By 0600 we were at the chow hall eating breakfast. Justus and I would always sit there and chat while we drank some coffee. Justus Bartelt was my Staff Sergeant and the SNOIC, Staff Noncommissioned Officer in Charge, for Marine Corps Regimental Combat Team 2. Justus was one of the few that walked the walk instead of just talking the talk. He actually didn’t have to talk much at all due to our squad knew what he wanted done and would do anything to complete the tasks given. We were lucky to have a leader like him.
At 0730 our squad would meet up in the briefing tent to see our missions for the day. This particular Friday was going to be a night mission. Our squad was assigned to escort a unit across a danger zone to another FOB, Forward Operating Base. As we are
prepping for the mission, the OIC, Officer in Charge, came in and told me I would have to stay back for this mission. Justus would be taking my place because the Radio Operator that usually manned the Command Center was sick. Justus would always man the radio but he had to have a radio operator there with him in the case his radio had an issue. I knew what was required of Justus’s job so they swapped the two of us for the mission.
The convoy was getting ready to depart. I remember telling Justus not to mess up my radios. We did all our COMM checks and the convoy left off at 1930. I never in my life could have imagined what would happen next. Every hour we would get COMM checks. At 0130 the convoy wouldn’t respond to me. Thinking nothing of it, I waited patiently until 0230, still nothing. Finally, at 0300 I received a transmission from another Marine asking us to open the gates. I ran outside to see what the commotion was about to find out Justus had been shot. He was hit two times in the chest, his sapi plates protected him from that. He also was hit under his arm when he went to fire back. That round went through his rib cage and out the other side, straight through his heart.
I was not only heartbroken because he was a great friend of mine and my leader/mentor. For a couple years I felt his death was my fault. In my eyes, he was in my seat. MY SEAT, where I should have been sitting. He was shot where I should have been standing when I would have gotten out. Before seeking help from the Base Chaplin, I had felt that it was me who was supposed to die. To this day I still struggle with the loss of my friend and mentor. I, like many other Combat Veterans, have PTSD. I am a father, husband, brother, son, etc. I am here for a reason. Life goes on without the ones we lose. It is tough but we survive.
My point I would like to get across with this is that you can never judge a book by its cover. You never know what someone has gone through and the struggles they are currently go through. They say 11-20 percent of Veterans suffer PTSD. Statistics aren’t always correct because they don’t consider the ones sitting at home not saying anything about what they are going through. Veterans are not the only people who can have PTSD. If you know someone who has PTSD, make sure they are being helped and are in the right mind. Say something before it’s too late.
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