Author: Joshua Fleming
Hi, my name is Joshua Fleming. And I am currently working programs and therapy related to numerous life-change events that have happened to me over the past eight years. Right now, I am at Sojourners working on my recovery, where I have been for about two months now. I chose to stay a little longer, and I am set to graduate now on May 28th. After many attempts and decisions to leave programs, this is the first long term program that I am going to graduate from. Now that I am where I am today (getting help and addressing deep and personal things that happened to me) I am beginning to recognize and acknowledge how much certain events in the army that caused PTSD changed my life in many drastic ways.
Life Before Service
Growing up in the suburbs of Northeastern Kentucky life was pretty simple for me. I came from a very loving and compassionate family. I was raised in the church. I was involved with church groups. I volunteered doing outreach for the underprivileged and the homeless even at a very young age. A few of my passions were I was a classically trained pianist, and was a member of the all state choir all the way through high school.
I remember my young adult life being very hands on and driven by everything I did. My parents showed nothing but the utmost interest and attendance in everything that I participated in. You might say, and a lot of people do, that I grew up in “God’s Country”. The sale of alcohol was illegal and I never came across drugs or anything of the sort. Being raised in Flemingsburg, Ky I consider it a blessing in all accounts. I remember my cousin was a CSM in Ft. Knox, Kentucky and I looked up to him and seen him as someone I wanted to be when I got older.
Life During Military Service
At the age of 20 I enlisted in the Regular US Army. I graduated Basic Training and Infantry school in Fort Benning, GA in 2006. I remember it’s one of my most distinguished feelings I ever had. I had always felt like I belonged in society but nothing like being a brother in arms. I had a lot of positive core beliefs and respect for others but the army taught me how to amplify those beliefs and I began to be able to “Remove myself from the equation” what I mean by this is that I became a very selfless person. Someone I was proud of.
I was then sent to Ft. Drum, NY after a short leave to become part of the 10th Mountain Division. Everything was going amazing there at first. I had finally found my calling and belonged to something so much more important than just myself.
All of these feelings and beliefs were soon to change in a very unsettling and horrible way quickly though. A few of the other soldiers in my company persuaded me to go out with them one night to a gay bar off post because they wanted to engage in drinking and said they knew they would be allowed to do that there. While at this bar apparently one of the other soldiers that I was with allegedly saw me kissing a guy at the bar.
The following morning I was called into the company commanders office where I was asked why I was at a gay bar and in a very coerced way asked if I was gay. His name was Cpt L. I remember how scared and nervous I was to answer these questions. I felt as if no matter if I was to disclose my sexuality this was a time when the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy” was in affect. My next response could change the way my chain of command and other soldiers profiled me forever. At this point I felt all sense of security and safeness lost. I can’t remember how I answered that, but that isn’t important, because he already knew the answer.
The weeks and months following, things changed for me in a very negative way. I was ostracized by the other soldiers and my life felt like it was falling apart. I noticed that the way other soldiers talked to me and their measures already being taken from other squad leaders, advising their soldiers to stay away from me. I was isolated and ripped away mentally from my platoon and my brothers. I was isolated. Stationed 500 miles away from home away from family and friends, and now being profiled and isolated by the guys I lived and served with.
The whole chain of command were hard on me from the team leader to the company 1sg. They would single me out and smoke me for hours physically and keep me in the sand pit by myself on a regular basis, leaving me there sometimes until 1 a.m., knowing that I had to get up at 4 a.m. for the first formation and pt.
The mental torture and being “singled out” for a single incident at a bar didn’t stop there. I thought if I kept going, and thought “maybe this is a test” that they do to people to prove their worth. If I kept going to show how important the army meant to me, and my brothers meant to me, they would accept me one day and I would be part of the platoon again, with my brothers.
I put up with the torture. It wasn’t a test though, it never got better. The physical “correctness” and verbal abuse and hate on a daily basis got even much worse. I got really depressed. I had no one to go to. I was 20 years old, and I as scared and didn’t understand what was going on or why it had to happen to me.
This lead up to an event that happened in the barracks. This was when 2 man 1 room barracks were still in commision. My roommate was never there, but we shared adjoining bathroom with the guys next door to us. I never had a problem with soldiers trying to get into my room.
However, one night Cpl S., a team leader in my platoon, kept banging on my door to let him in. I knew he was extremely intoxicated, so I told him to go to bed and I denied him entry. He continued this for an hour in the hallway, but my door remained locked. As a reminder, I was already isolated from everyone at this point, and I was an “outsider” solder all because of an accusation from an event at a bar. I still believe to this day that if Cpt L. would have let it go like he did with the other three soldiers that were with me that night, my enlistment of hell would never existed.
The hell exploded that night though. Because Cpl S. could not gain access to my room, he asked the soldiers in the room connected to mine if he could use their bathroom. This was just a ploy so that he could gain unlawful and access to my only safe place I thought I had there.
What happened next is something even 8 years later still sends me into an emotional shut down. I was asleep at this point, but awoke to my pants being down and Cpl S. performing oral sex on me. I threw myself off the top bunk and ran into the hallway for help. Help didn’t come though, I was mocked and the CQ guard thought it was just funny.
I was scared. The mental, months long torture and hell had entered into the only place I thought I was safe. I wasn’t even safe in my own bed and with my door locked.
As soon as my team leaders arrived, I embarrassingly, and at the same time terrifiedly, told them what had happened. Cpl S. was a Combat veteran though. I was only a state side training solder. So… I had no respect from the command. CID was called to our barracks. It was locked down and they done a full investigation of my room. Cpl S. was discharged but was told he had a good reenlistment code.
Even after all of this, after accusations from my chain of command on my sexuality, and even after the investigations, hell continued for me. Things still stayed the same for me. I didn’t have time to process all of what happened. I was picked up and taken to my evaluations for trauma, but I was still in shock. At this point in my state of mind, I was in an endless and viscous cycle of hell that had no light at the end of the tunnel, where there was nowhere I felt safe. I hated myself. I felt like it was going to continue getting worse before it got better.
I just knew deep down that if I was going to live, I had to leave. So, I caught a cab and jumped on a greyhound and went home. I was given discharge and put me in jail for 30 days. They sent me to my court hearing out of uniform and in handcuffs. For wanting to escape the mental hell I was in.
Life Since the PTSD Event
Since these events took place in the military I can tell you the driven, motivated person I was before I joined the army and the person I am today because of these horrible and demonizing things has turned me into a individual today who is an unrecognizable individual. Not only do my family and loved ones feel like they lost the Joshua they remember, but I don’t even know who I am anymore.
I can tell you that when I was performing piano recitals and solo ensemble competitions on university campuses at the age of 15, my dreams for my future self were not to be a broken 31 year old with complete detachment from myself and others.
I not only experienced these traumatic events in 2006, I experience this event every single day of my life. I have involuntary, recurrent, and intrusive memories of this event and it has made me feel extremely hopeless. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever recover from the “Hell” that I lived in those months of anguish. It’s like a tape playing over and over in my mind. I have horrible dreams and nightmares every night. The nights I don’t have these nightmares are the nights I can’t even turn my brain off long enough to sleep at all.
Avoidance and deflection from anything to do with reminders and triggers has been my, if you would call it, “coping tool”. I avoid talking or bringing up these events with anyone not because of the sense of embarrassment, shame that’s when the and guilt but because I can’t even process the feelings, memories and thoughts associated with what happened. My persistent negative beliefs about others and the world around me have left me to not being able to trust anyone and I have deprived myself from the world. I constantly feel detached and estranged from everyone around me. My inability to experience positive emotions and behaviors leaves me feeling like I am alone and that nobody understands me. I have reckless and self-destructive behaviors because, at the time, it seems like a way to avoid all the bad thoughts and feelings I have. But then just adds to my life in even a more negative way leading me again feeling even more hopeless.
My relationship with my family is strained to say the least because that’s when the feelings of shame and embarrassment come into play. I wound up unemployed, on probation for DUI since 2013, homeless, and eventually sleeping in parking lots. Struggling every day trying to find meaning. I began wondering if it may be easier to just give up and end it all and take my own life. This was the turning point for me, and I made a phone call that lead me into the treatment I am in now.
I have been transferred to the Veterans Court of the City of Hamilton Municipal Court where I have huge support from Judge Gattermeyer. I am working with the Veterans Service Commission and Veterans Outreach Specialist.
Although I am gaining ground on my substance abuse recovery, and I am remaining clean and sober and taking things one day at a time, deep down I still have doubts about my extreme PTSD. I still feel hopeless, and wonder if even after I recover from the ‘aftermath’ of the PTSD, what lies ahead in in regards to PTSD? I wonder if this will be a demon that will permanently continue to drag me down for the rest of my life. I didn’t ask for this to happen to me. I have been stuck with a horrible quality of life that leaves me feeling “can it” or “is it possible” that I will ever find a sense of self worth ever again.
Thank you for reading my story,
A Broken Prior Soldier