Dear Kenny: Arkansas veteran shares his story of struggle with PTSD

Veterans Voices

Often times when service members return home from war, they return to a life that is suddenly so foreign to them.

Unable to cope with what they’ve seen or experienced many suffer with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

Michael Springer is one of them. His survivor’s guilt led him down a dark path filled with drugs and thoughts of suicide. Now, 16 years after what he called ‘the worst day of his life,’ he is putting pen to paper, finding closure and the faith he needed to not only forgive himself, but to help others.

Dear Kenny,

It’s taken me a long time to write this letter and a long time to address what has happened.

My dad, a retired Master Sgt. of the U.S. Army told me before I went to combat, he said son you are going to go to combat and come back and think everyone has changed, but in reality it will be you that has changed. Looking back now I came to realize I wouldn’t fully understand this until I returned.

I remember when we began training for the deployment, I was assigned to be on the personal security team for our battalion commander. I was assigned to the turret gunner position. I remember I was so upset I wanted to be a dismount where the action was. Then you were assigned to our squad, at which time you said you would take the turret gunner position. That decision is something I struggle with every day.

April 25, 2004 was a day that would change my view of this world and alter my way of thinking forever. Our personal security team was hit with a I.E.D. It was the biggest explosion I had ever seen. You were killed instantly. You were only 31 years old. It was by far the worst day of my life. Upon my return, I found myself in an awkward dark place. I felt completely out of place with no direction and no purpose with my life.

As crazy as it may seem, I just wanted to go back to combat — that was where everything made sense. I felt all alone and left with my thoughts. I have a huge amount of survivor’s guilt. I can remember saying to myself that that was supposed to be me. I remember asking GOD why, why did you spare my life and take his? You were a great soldier and a great family man. So instead of looking to God for answers, I turned to drugs. And for the next 13 years, instead of fighting this problem, I managed to fully separate myself from GOD and become fully numb to any and all feelings.

For the longest time, I refused to open up and address my issues. The VA said I had PTSD, but I absolutely refused to believe it. My pride told me that I was an infantryman and I knew going into this what my job would entail. So, I would go back in forth with drugs for several more years. At this time I was homeless, I had pushed away anyone who cared about me. I lost my family, friends and all my self-respect. I really didn’t want to live anymore.

I started talking with God and getting right with him. I can remember telling God that I cannot do this on my own, and for the first time I started asking for help. I was so ashamed of myself. The thought of you taking that turret gunner position and paying the ultimate sacrifice when I felt it should have been me, then to come home and waste my life in drugs; I was not doing you any justice.

On July 20, 2018, was the last day I did meth. I didn’t know what God had in store for me, but I did know with every fiber of my being I didn’t want to go back to that life.

On December 10, 2019, I went back to the VA in the PTSD program, and this time I broke down and got real with myself and laid it all out there. Then so began the rebuilding process. Today I will tell you PTSD is very real.

Kenny, I want to tell you today that I love you, that you are a hero and a true warrior. I want to thank you for your service to our great country.

Today I can look at myself in the mirror and not be ashamed of the person I see. I am living a life that you would be proud of. I now have had the awesome privilege to be joined with the We are the 22, a non-profit dedicated to combatting veteran suicide. Being a member of the We are the 22 gives me the opportunity to help and give back. I only hope to be the person I needed when I was at my worst.

Today I am happily married and a productive member of society. There is not a day that goes by I don’t think about that day on April 25, 2004. We all miss you and love you. Bravo Bulldogs for life.                        

With much love and respect,

Michael Dane Springer

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports anywhere from 11 to 20 out of every 100 veterans experience PTSD.

We Are the 22 is an Arkansas-based non-profit dedicated to helping veterans cope with the challenges they face and combating the epidemic of veteran suicide. For more information on We Are the 22, visit their Facebook page.

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