“Balancing your money is the key to having enough.”
– Elizabeth Warren
So how can you figure out how much money is coming in and how much is going out?
Check this out. The first step is to keep track of everything you spend money on, from car payments to cappuccino. Once you’ve done this for at least two weeks, you’ll have a good idea of what your total monthly expenses are.
Then subtract the total from your monthly income. If you get a negative number, you’re spending more than you’re taking in. And you need to make some changes. You also need to distinguish between what you want- and what you can afford.
Balancing the Budget
The first thing I did with my first bookkeeping client (myself) I made an Excel Spreadsheet and I said, ‘Okay, this is the amount of money I’m getting. And these are the expenses that I’m going to anticipate.” I decided with my new business I wanted to save $10,000 in my new first year. To reach that goal, I knew I’d have to try to keep my weekly expenditures to a certain amount. But the problem is it’s tough to anticipate expenses. It’s not like you’re spending the same amount every week. I know every “penny has to have a purpose.”
I started my first civilian job, and I was buying a $4.00 cappuccino, and a $2.00 bottle of water every day. I was quickly spending $1,000 a year on water, which you can get for free, and nearly $2,300 on coffee. I switched to black coffee for $1.50 and bought a travel mug for water from the sink.
I have a budget for myself, and I just don’t go beyond what I can. Obviously, I would like to have certain things that I probably can’t have.
Some Rules for the Road
You want to spend no more than 20% of your monthly take-home pay on debt payments. Pay no more than a third of your take-home pay on housing costs. You want to save 10% of your take-home pay.
20% for debt payments
30% for rent
10% for savingsThat’s the goal, and if you can do more, then do more.
Choosing a Bank
To help me manage my money, I looked for a bank. There were plenty to choose from, both online and traditional, with a broad range of services… and charges.
When looking for a place that will handle my money, I look at it just like I’m looking for a wife. I looked at my banking habits and choose an institution that meets the things that were important to me, just like when I go out on a date.
What I was looking for was interest rate and maybe any kind of benefits or bonuses. The first goal was to pay off the student loans. And to do that, I wanted to take my paycheck and put it into an account where I was getting a good interest rate. I found USAA Federal Savings Bank. Their online banking was easy, they were a military-specific company, and they gave me great competitive rates. I found a good savings account and checking account that are tied together. I have banked with them for over 20 years.
A bank account is a good place to start your financial life. You want to find a bank that doesn’t charge you to keep a checking account there with a low minimum
USAA is perfect for my major financial decisions. But I also choose a local bank to handle my local business. I’m old-fashioned. I don’t want to deposit my money, my cash into a machine every time. I want to hand it to someone and get her name, so if it doesn’t enter my account, I can come back and say, “Janice, I have a problem, can you help me?”
What To Look For in a Bank: ATMs near your work or home
Most checking accounts come with an ATM card or a debit card that allows you to access the cash you deposit into your account. Like a credit card, you can use a debit card to make purchases, but you’re not borrowing money from a bank or a credit card company. You’re just withdrawing it from your own bank account. But be careful not to spend more money than you have in your account. If you do, it’s like bouncing a check. And the bank is likely to charge you a big overdraft fee.
What To Look For in a Bank: Pay attention to fees and compare interest rates on savings accounts.
The biggest thing that trips people up with banks is the fees. There are fees for having too low of a balance. There are fees for using too many checks.
So that’s what you want to look for: an institution that is going to charge you the least amount of money to have a relationship with them.
Even if you’ve got the best bank in the world, it’s still going to be up to you to manage your money wisely. Priorities lead to prosperity. If you put your priorities first, then you will prosper.
Separate needs from wants.
Create a spending plan.
Pick the right bank for you.
I work hard to keep my financial act together, but I know there are plenty of ways to mess up. For instance, any time you spend more than you take in, you’re probably making up the difference by going into debt.
“But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” – Psalm 86:15 (NIV)
I am a writer. My job is to tell stories. What follows is the best story I will ever write and my favorite story to tell.
A Thank You
Thank you, mom and dad, for being excellent parents and letting me always know I was loved. Thank you, Muna. You are my wife and my life. My love for you grows daily. You led me to the Lord every day by your example of faith and love.
This past year has been the most wonderful of my life- and the best is yet to come. Thank you, Steve Bruhn, for leading me to Christ and providing the best example of what a Christian man can be. Thank you Jerry Glesmann for being the best big brother, I could ever have. Our daily talks provide encouragement, love, and faith. You truly are the bravest and kindest man I have ever known.
Thank you to all my friends and family who read my daily diatribes. These posts are an expression of appreciation, gratitude, and meaningfulness. You have shared your spiritual insights, faith, and good advice. God bless you and thank you for letting me share my story.
This post started trying to explain my faith. I wanted to share a few simple thoughts on my life and how turning it over to Jesus has helped me. I did my best to capture the message God laid on my heart.
I hope to share three messages with you. Number one is my love and joy for God and the hope and inspiration I found in accepting the salvation of Jesus Christ. Number two, I wanted to share the excitement and benefits following Jesus Christ has done for my life. Number three, I want to tell you how my walk with God has helped me through some very difficult times, even as my memory and health seem to be getting worse and not better.
This post is really about how God has eased my journey through life. I am not a Bible scholar or even a good Bible student, but I did want to share with you a story I felt is my best story. I believe God wants me to share this story. I have felt His Presence as I have written.
There are times as I write I felt the total love of Jesus, my eyes filled with tears and I had to stop writing. Other times I was overcome with sadness, shame, guilt and I lost my bearings, and I had to stop writing. The only thing that was constant and consistent as I wrote was my feeling of God’s presence, love, and understanding. This is how I feel every day of my life after giving it to Jesus Christ.
A Declaration of Dependence
On July 4, 2016, I am part of a tour group visiting Normandy. We are here 72 years after D-Day. Our tour guide today is Rudy. He is a local Frenchman who spent a decade living in Minnesota. His English is better than mine.
Normandy looks like the coast of Oregon. It has ancient trees, mossy growth, a rocky coastline with craggy cliffs, with a constant rain that makes everything damp all the time. Rudy takes us to the Normandy D-Day Museum.
It’s the beginning of July the weather, and the weather is miserable. It’s cold with clouds, drizzle and sometimes hard rain. By mid-morning, we are all rain-soaked.
The Americans had a tough mission on D-Day. The Germans are an experienced army. They’ve conquered have of Europe and won battles against the Allies in Africa, Italy, and Russia between 1942 and 1944. The Germans are dug-in. They’ve been preparing months.
On Omaha Beach, there is a 100-foot bluff overlooking the beach at Pointe du Hoc. The Germans placed concrete gun emplacements on the hilltops. These fortifications make it tough for American naval gunfire to reach the German defenders. The Germans plotted every square inch of the beach. They cover every square foot with obstacles, mines, artillery and machine gun fire.
On that windswept beach, on July 4, 2016, I was “born again.” Unlike most spiritual conversions, mine was not dramatic. The change in me was quiet, almost boring. To me, it was a simple thing. I had found God. And, most important, God had found me.
There was no flashing lights or clanging of bells. Something was missing in my life and now had been replaced with the Lord. This was not an earth-shattering moment of ecstasy just a warm, solid feeling of complete confidence that God was in my life.
That by trusting God and accepting Jesus Christ as my Savior, my life would be better and fuller. My life changed for the better that day. I have strived every day since to be worthy of that great gift.
I don’t know much, but what I learned that day changed my life. I was sorry for the things I had done and sorry enough to do something about it. I feel God gave me a “new start.” My past was forgiven, my present secured and my future guaranteed.
I try to pray three times a day. In the morning, at night, and once somewhere in the middle of the day. The middle one is my saying thanks for all the great things in my life and for help with all the things I don’t understand. There’s a lot of that.
When I really need the Lord in a hurry, I use a little mantra I learned to get me in touch with God, “Lord, please see in me, and be in me.”
I pray this prayer before I write something. I clasp my hands and say, “Lord, make me useful to myself and help me to remember that until I am, I can’t be helpful to others. Help me to remember that you are my creator. I am what you made- sometimes the thumb on your hand, sometimes the tongue in your mouth. Make me a vessel which is dedicated to your service. Thank you, Lord, for your many blessings. Amen.”
Easing my Burden
Even in the tragedy, God has given me hope and love. His love has given me a promise of a better tomorrow, eternal peace, and everlasting life. Faith has given me a reason to stay up late at night and get up early in the morning.
I still feel grief and sorrow. Occasionally I still suffer from depression. But now my pain and feelings of sadness are different, lighter and far less devastating. A void existed in my life that God has filled. I’m not talking about joining a church or finding religion. I’m talking about living a life filled with peace and happiness.
Muna and I joined a great, Bible-based church and we try to keep God first place in our lives. I still struggle in my personal life, but prayer, faith, and love for God have made my life better. I am the best version of myself I have ever been because of Jesus Christ.
Thank you for letting me share my story. God bless you, all.
“Good things happen to those who hustle.” – Anais Nin
“Embrace the hustle and the struggle of chasing a dream that will give you financial freedom.” – Muna Oto
I started a new business yesterday called “Battle Ground Bookkeeping Solutions.” I started my business for three reasons:
I have an “eagle-eye” for numbers and details.
I love helping people achieve their dreams.
I wanted to work from home.
I wanted to run a “side hustle” without quitting my day job as a writer. Writing is what I am passionate about, but it doesn’t always pay the bills.
When most people consider launching a new business, they imagine quitting their full-time jobs to risk it all. For some entrepreneurs that works. You also risk abandoning financial stability and possible bankruptcy.
More than 50 percent of new startups fail before the four-year mark. The risk-it-all mindset is often too much, too soon. So sticking with a traditional job while you grow a business idea is a safe and viable option. I am all for taking a complete leap of faith by quitting a job you hate to do what you love, but why do it if you don’t have to?
I love writing for a living, but I wanted to build something else. Something I’ve learned about over the past few years is how to make and manage money.
A Reality Check
I am a disabled veteran. One morning, in Afghanistan my world literally exploded. I was hit by a 500-pound roadside bomb. It destroyed the vehicle I was in and killed three of my buddies. I hit my head three times in the explosion and rollover. Having Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is like a stroke on steroids. I had a ringside seat to my destruction. Over the next eight years, I watched as my brain functions shut down one by one: motion, speech, self-awareness… and worst of my all my memory.
I was amazed to find myself alive. I spent eight years recovering my ability to think, walk and talk. I never dreamed I would become a spokesperson for recovery. I came back from my brain injury stronger than before. In my case, although the explosion damaged the left side of her brain, my recovery unleashed a torrent of creative energy from my right side. I started to write about what happened to me.
A New Normal
Over the past eight years, I struggled with my brain injury and chronic pain. It’s hard to work in a conventional job due to my memory problems and physical limitations. Besides my brain injury, I have two herniated discs in my back, labral tears in my right shoulder and hip pain. I am in constant, chronic pain.
I needed a job where I could work from home and earn a living. A home bookkeeping business was perfect. I am not a CPA but have had helped a dozen friends with business, financial and tax advice. I wanted to start and grow, and my own successful business. Now I can do it and get paid for it.
I think being an internet entrepreneur is a great new way to break into the new, non-traditional economy. Helping people with their money plays a big part in creating freedom with their lives.
How It Works
With a virtual bookkeeping business that I run from home, I can earn a part- or full-time income. The program I signed up for teaches me how to make a net profit per client.
Average client work will take 3-4 hours a month for this style of the client. This means an hourly equivalent of more than $60.00. The internet is a great equalizer, enabler and provides leverage for home-based businesses.
My new business is based on a virtual bookkeeping business model. It tosses all the old rules of a traditional bookkeeping business. I am not at the beck and call of my clients. My business model allows me to stay-at-home, work flexible office hours, and most important- focus on my writing.
There are some traditional obligations such as communicating with clients and sending emails. But this can be done during the workday. The bulk of the work is 100% flexible.
There is a huge trend within different industries to outsource human resource functions. This includes payroll, tax consulting and financial services. My business is a micro-business- a firm of fewer than five employees. I am the only employee or owner my business will ever have. One partner is one partner too many.
I have no prior experience with bookkeeping. The only taxes I’ve ever done are my own. I read about this business model in Entrepreneur Magazine.
I found a successful training model. I paid an initial start-up fee to enroll in their training program. I started yesterday. I am building my business from the ground up with this simple business model.
Every business requires bookkeeping. It’s not a hard sell to potential clients. It will take a lot of hard work, especially on the front end. I know my hard work will pay off in spades as I create the life of my dreams: a near-complete freedom and flexibility to work from home while I write.
The business model is a “turn-key program.” I am learning three things:
How to run my business an effective, efficient and professional manner.
How to draw clients, even though I know next to nothing about sales and marketing.
I am an excellent proofreader and editor as a writer. I know I can tune my “eagle-eye” from letters into numbers. Starting a side hustle isn’t for everyone. I know that I won’t get it right the first time around. I have to remember three things in starting any new endeavor:
Faith- in yourself and the idea.
Patience- staying organized and get things done.
Perseverance- you learn by making mistakes, the trick is to apply what you learn.
Over the next few months, I will tell you everything I know about business, financial statements, getting and keeping clients and running a successful business.
The writing is coming along. I am reading two to three books a week. I hope you enjoy these book reviews. They are my attempts to talk about and understand what I read. In high school and college, I trudged through English class, but I never paid attention. I am trying to make up for that now. I am rereading all the books I passed over.
After eighteen years of schooling, I found out I had a deficient vocabulary. I knew to be a good writer I had to steep myself in great writers. I am not just reading for entertainment (although it is great fun!). I am reading to find the key to open the door to make me a better writer.
Good writers are disciplined readers. After I read, I write. I follow a schedule of reading for two hours and writing for two to four hours every day. Writing is a craft. I must be a craftsman who hones that skill every day. There is an adage that to write well, you have to write badly for a long time. I still write badly, but I am trying desperately to get better. Here is how Hemingway started.
“A Moveable Feast” is a memoir by Ernest Hemingway. It was published after he died in 1961.
The book is about Hemingway living in Paris with his first wife Hadley and their young son in the 1920s. “A Moveable Feast” is twenty-eight essays about Hemingway’s life in Paris with the “Lost Generation.” After World War I, Paris became a mecca for American artists and intellectuals.
The book is full of nostalgic detail of what it’s like to be poor, happy and learning the craft of being a writer. Hemingway has daily conversations with literary greats like Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford. All these famous writers forever changed the topography of literature.
“A Moveable Feast” is a “payback” book. Hemingway stabs many dead friends in the back throughout the book. He has no qualms with saying what he really thinks of other artists. Hemingway punishes those who loved him.
Gertrude Stein gave him invaluable support, affection, and advice. She taught him how to revise and rework his stories. Stein was a Jewish lesbian who lived openly with her wife, Alice Toklas. Hemingway goes out of his way to paint Stein as a vindictive woman who looked like a peasant. A cruel picture of a woman he made the godmother of his oldest son.
Hemingway writes nasty things about his dead friend F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald wrote “The Great Gatsby,” a book considered to by many literary critics to be “The Great American Novel.” Fitzgerald edited Hemingway’s manuscripts, encouraged him and got his publisher at Scribner’s to take on the unknown young writer. Hemingway repays Fitzgerald by writing about him as a weak, alcoholic. Hemingway says Fitzgerald was dominated by his wife Zelda, who ruined him.
Hemingway wrote the book when he was a successful and famous writer. He is writing about a young man, who is not yet successful, who was a struggling writer, who is happy and in love with his wife. Hemingway was blown up as an ambulance driver in World War I. Hemingway was a big game hunter in Africa, a deep sea fisherman in Cuba and a war correspondent in World War II.
Hemingway lived with intensity. He did everything at double or triple speed. He prematurely aged. Hemingway went from a movie star handsome young writer to an old man with a white beard in only a few years. In all those adventures he was never as happy as he was in Paris with Hadley learning how to be a writer.
“A Moveable Feast” is a beautiful read and a marvelous fable. Hemingway’s preface to the book states it may be read as fiction if the reader wants to. Hemingway says fiction sometimes sheds light on the truth.
Hemingway reinvents his past with him as the hero. He writes that he and Hadley were penniless. They lived in a squalid room over a sawmill at the rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs. He leaves out the fact that they lived off Hadley’s trust fund.
Hemingway wrote “A Moveable Feast” in the 1950s. Hemingway’s journals from the 1920s provided the material. The final draft of the memoir was written when he was sick. Hemingway was paranoid and at times delusional.
Hemingway reconstructs his youth in Paris from 1921 to 1925. The book centers on his first marriage to Hadley Richardson and his development as a writer. Each of the twenty plus chapters are stand-alone works. The stories are from different periods in Hemingway’s life in Paris. They are not a linear approach to his experiences.
At the end of the memoir, Hemingway has an affair with Pauline Pfeiffer, who becomes his second wife. When Hemingway begins the affair, it marks a new era in his life in Paris. It is the end of the happy period in his life and an end to the book.
The book is written in a simple style. Hemingway talks about the weather, the boulevards and the different places he lived.
“A Moveable Feast” really is about writing. There are great lessons into the insight of Hemingway’s writer’s brain. He understands the fragility of the balance of writing simply with honesty. Hemingway writes about writing and life. The joy of doing it right and the sadness of getting it wrong, both in life and in writing.
Hemingway is a man looking back on the past with sorrow, anger, and regret. Throughout the book, he has the discipline to never mention the present. “A Moveable Feast” is a dazzling portrait of 1920s Paris. It offers firsthand insight into Hemingway’s development as a writer.
I love Marines. They are America’s Spartan warriors. They are always ready to do battle. They are closet idealists and pessimists.
Marines have an intense feeling of identity. They have almost a mystical connection of belonging to an elite fighting force of almost invincible warriors.
Some of this attitude comes from their brutal and efficient training. Another part of that comes from their deep confidence and pride in their mission and leaders.
There is no better friend and no worse enemy than a U.S. Marine.
Lewis “Chesty” Puller, Sr.
No Marine has commanded more respect and admiration than General Lewis “Chesty” Puller. His bulldog face, his barrel chest, gruff voice and common touch made him the epitome of a Marine combat officer.
His long, distinguished career made him a legend. He was the most decorated Marine in history. He was a descendant of Robert E. Lee and a cousin to George S. Patton.
In a forty year career, he rose from buck private to general. He fought in five wars. On five separate occasions, he was awarded the Navy Cross- a military honor second only to the Medal of Honor.
Chesty Puller was a Marine’s Marine. The men under his command idolized him. He is a legend in the Marine Corps the way babe Ruth exemplifies baseball or the way Yeats stands for the melancholy Irish.
Being his only son would be hard.
Lewis B. Puller, Jr.
Lewis B. Puller Jr. was a sensitive and intelligent man. He is a gripping writer who tells you about his tragic ordeal after Vietnam in his autobiography “Fortunate Son.”
Puller’s story is a difficult book to read because of the subject matter, but it is wonderful at the prose level. It tells a harsh and forbidding story that made me think about the larger themes of his book.
Puller’s story sounded so much to me like my own story- only bigger, more intense and much more tragic.
His book is an autobiography, a record of the life of a wounded Marine. His writing is haunting, devastating and his story lingers with you long after his book and life have ended.
His book explores his suffering. His telling of that pain is sincere and brutal. He makes you have sympathy for him. His redeeming quality is his optimism and absolute refusal to give up.
Puller’s thoughtfulness and undiminished patriotism and his heroic battle against injury, alcohol, and depression provide a genuinely moving human drama.
He wanted to reclaim his life despite losing half of his body on a booby trap in Vietnam. He endured years of surgery and rehabilitation, alcoholism and a feeling that he had let himself and his father down.
Puller’s book has the blood-red glare of anger and bitterness. But his story had hope, the glow of morning sunlight of a promising new day. His chronicle was moving and powerful.
Puller writes with simplicity and candor, with touches of spontaneous humor. His outcry of agony and isolation is harrowing. It leaves the reader overwhelmed with wonder at the torture a human being can absorb this side of madness.
Puller makes you bear witness to his pain, rage, and bitterness. Puller had come so far, only to end his own life in the end. His death baffled and disappointed me.
I wanted to explore some themes from the book.
Father and Son Relationships
Puller’s relationship with his father Chesty dominates his life. Chesty was a loving father. Chesty was nearly fifty years old when Puller was born.
Puller wants to make his father proud. He writes about the unspoken assumptions of responsibility of being Chesty’s only son and heir to his father’s heroic legacy. Almost every decision he makes in his early life is in reaction to his father’s legacy.
Chesty was proud when his only son went off to Vietnam as a Marine Infantry Officer. Puller returned three months later as one of the most grievously wounded men of the Vietnam War.
Puller’s greatest contribution to literature is the exploration of the value of human life. Puller constantly wonders how he will continue to “live” and “to function” and most importantly “to contribute and serve” even after the loss of both legs and most of his hands.
Even after a horrific trauma Puller still wants to serve and help his fellow man. His physical loss did not diminish the value of his life to society.
Puller made a conscious choice to do a lot with his life after Vietnam: 1. He became a lawyer. 2. He helped to organize and build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. 3. He ran for Congress. 4. He served on clemency board that helped thousands of fugitive draft dodgers return to the U.S. from Canada- his feelings on this issue is one of the best parts of the book.
Puller’s story provided hope and a long overdue appreciation for Vietnam veterans. His story inspired thousands of wounded veterans from his war in Vietnam to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Vietnam.
Puller dared to go on after a savage wound where he lost half his body. He was grief-stricken and angry about the loss of his legs and hands, but he did something heroic by choosing to live.
I think Puller displayed the same steely courage of his father in the face of adversity.
There is a Greek ideal of “kleos”- the glory that comes from a warrior performing a heroic deed, often at the cost of his own life. Marines embody the ideal of “kleos”-self-service and sacrifice.
Pullers felt he made an honorable sacrifice for an unworthy cause. He felt cheated that his great sacrifice was never appreciated and written off by the indifferent public as meaningless.
For years after his physical “recovery” strangers, friends, and acquaintances were “put off” and “uncomfortable” by looking at Puller’s mangled body. This was a constant reminder to Puller how people felt about him and Vietnam.
This is truly a soldier’s greatest fear- for your sacrifice to be unappreciated and forgotten. A soldier can and will endure any hardship as long as he thinks the cause is worth it.
This was the real reason for Puller’s pain. Puller felt he had been tricked into throwing his life away for an uncaring country.
Puller’s second pain was emotional. He was the “fortunate son” of a legendary hero. Puller admired and deeply loved his father. For Puller, there was no other path than to become a Marine.
His wounds cut his military career short. Puller feels he let himself and his father down. His sense of disappointment and sorrow of what might have been haunts the book.
Puller’s grisly physical and traumatic emotional injuries were almost too large to be overcome in a single lifetime. In the end, Puller commits suicide. By that act, he became another casualty of the Vietnam War.
Puller’s book gave me hope. He struggled to find a new point of view which supports his “new” life and the sacrifices he made inspired me. Puller taught me to live beyond my injuries and my past.
Ironically, Puller’s closest he gets to peace is when he was recovering from another bout of alcoholism. While in Alcoholics Anonymous he sees that life is paradoxical. To be happy human beings must often learn to live with two contrasting viewpoints, to make a compromise of what we feel and what we think.
Puller is a fantastic writer. His voice is engaging and honest. It was a privilege to get inside the mind of such an intelligent, sensitive and caring man. He makes it easy to read about tough subjects (death, trauma, and depression).
His prose clear, accurate and most importantly honest. Puller never shies away from telling us about his life, the reasoning behind his actions, even the parts he is not proud of. His unflinching honesty gives the book authenticity and credibility.
I know what it is like to be the son of a powerful and legendary man. My father was a decorated war hero. My relationship with my dad and his early death has dominated my life, the same way it did Puller.
Nearly every decision I made in my life, either consciously or subconsciously, was a reaction to my father’s legacy. Like many dutiful sons, I only wanted to make my dad proud, the same as Puller.
I was blessed. As I got older, I realized there was no one was keeping score. All the decisions I made in my life, were mine and mine alone. My father loved me and was proud of me. He told me so many times.
I know that my father would have been proud of me no matter what I did with my life. I think he would have been most proud that I try to be a good husband and provider for my family.
My dad would have been very proud that I became a writer because it made me happy. He would have adored my wife, Muna.
Lewis B. Puller Jr.’s book taught me the value of a human life. That no matter what has happened to us we choose what our lives become by the choices we make. Our lives are the sum of the decisions we make.
I prayed for Puller after reading this amazing book. His story gave me a balm for my pain and some much-needed closure.
Thank you, Mr. Puller and God bless you. Your service and sacrifice inspired me to write more and to try harder. I hope you finally found the peace that eluded you in life.
I want to tell you about the greatest gift my mom ever gave me.
My mom is a great reader. She passed her love of books on to me. My mom taught me to read when I was four years old.
OAK PARK, IL- July 1979
When I was four years old, my mom took me to the most exciting place in the world. Every Saturday we would walk to the Oak Park Public Library. I had no idea the Oak Park Public Library was only two miles from where Ernest Hemingway was born.
When I was five years old, my dad bought a stack of old Spider-Man comic books. I was hooked. Both my parents encouraged reading.
I love libraries. In a library, you have a wonderful ambiance. All those stacks of books are new friends waiting to be met. Stephen King is up there watching you. John Masters is waiting for you to pick him up. A library is a great place to read and learn.
Discovering Hemingway– STUART, FL- August 1990
In high school money was tight. I tried to educate myself by going to the library every weekend. I stumbled across Hemingway by accident. Hemingway was never “required reading” in my high school.
A buddy told me there was a lot of sex in ‘A Farewell to Arms’ (he lied). The story grabbed me. I thought there must be a mistake. Hemingway used simple words in short sentences. The book was easy-to-read. Hemingway painted a picture with words. It was the opposite of what my teachers told me.
I’d had crushes on girls but had never fallen in love with a writer. I read every Hemingway book I could get my hands on. Hemingway was the “bad boy” of literature. He wrote about love, bullfighting, deep sea fishing and big game hunting. At fifteen-years-old, all I understood was that he was easy to read.
I read and re-read his novels, his war correspondence, and short stories. I learned something new each time.
In the Army- FORT KNOX, KY- April 2003
When I was in the Army, the first thing I did was to find the post library and the local library. Within a month of arriving at Fort Knox, KY or Fort Polk, LA or wherever I knew every library within fifty miles.
Everything I needed to know I learned from books in libraries. Each library book collection is unique. Each new library was a new friend waiting to be discovered.
At War- FOB DANGER and FOB LIBERTY, IRAQ- July 2005/ FOB TOMBSTONE, AFGHANISTAN- August 2008/ CAMP MOREHEAD, AFGHANISTAN- January 2011
In each of the places I was stationed overseas, there was a Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR). The MWR was a place that gave away free coffee, bottled water, and sometimes sandwiches. Most soldiers remember the MWR for their internet services. I remember the MWR for its stacks and stacks of free books.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the MWR had reading rooms made out of plywood. On the walls of the reading room were five shelf bookcases crammed full of used paperback and hardcover books. Soldiers and the Family Readiness Groups (FRG) donated these books.
I would head over to the Green Beans coffee shop, get a cup of black coffee, sit down on a red ratty old couch and read a book. Soldiers surrounded me playing pool, using a ping-pong table and a dartboard. I am alone, at home, with my book.
When I graduated from high school, there was no money for an education. I made my own homemade education by reading. I was lucky to get a scholarship to go to Kemper Military Junior College. In college, I discovered beer and girls, but I kept reading. Kemper had a fantastic old library
I was fascinated by knowledge and what I was learning. I read books about everything from history, religion, places, and people. My mom taught me something powerful when she taught me how to read: all you have to do is to want to learn.
Teaching me how to read and to love books was the greatest gift my mom ever gave me.
I am addicted to Gilmore Girls. It’s like Alcoholics Anonymous. Step one is admitting you have a problem. Well, I have a problem, a big problem. Let me start at the sad beginning.
In 2001, when the show was in its second season, I was a recent college graduate, doing a tour in Korea. I caught the show in re-runs on the Armed Forces Network. It was an exciting time, but scary too. Throughout midnight drills that took us to the Demilitarized Zone of North Korea, my new job as an Infantry Rifle Platoon Leader, Gilmore Girls (GG) was there. A little slice of normal America for a lonely soldier, far from home.
Lorelai Gilmore, a sexy single-mom, raises her witty teenage daughter Rory in the postcard-pretty town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut. The town is a half-hour’s drive from Hartford. Stars Hollow is a tiny village with a cast of colorful characters, including its own official troubadour.
Lorelai had conviction, pluck and an incredible work ethic. She was raising her daughter on her own. Lorelai had gotten pregnant so young (16 years old), and got her life together with grace and grit. Yes, Lorelai struggled, but she and her daughter Rory had a deep bond that made them more like sisters than mother and daughter.
Rory was a good, reliable, dogged girl. I loved watching the mother-daughter take on life’s difficulties and beat them together. GG with its fast-talking, peculiar, pretend world of the small-town of Star’s Hollow, helped teach me new life lessons each week.
The classic title sequence featured songwriter Carole King and her daughter, Louise Groffin, singing a duet called “Where You Lead.” The song is a tribute to the mother-daughter connection at the heart of GG. The song was not only irresistibly catchy (a fun sing-along), but also set the tone for each episode. It reminded me each week about the unique nature of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore’s oath to take on the world together.
Reading Like Rory
Rory was a bookworm, and the show featured 300+ books! I loved how GG leaned on the intellectual side by throwing out references to literary works and classic and contemporary pop culture fads. Every time I watch an episode, even if it’s for the 12th time, I pick up something new. It’s like going to a fun college for free!
I rediscovered Gilmore Girls on Netflix last year. I got my TV ready with coffee and pop-tarts (a GG favorite snack) I knew this was going to be a bumpy ride. I binged watched all seven seasons in two weeks. One episode would end, and before I knew I would be knee deep in the next episode. I already know how the seasons play out, it doesn’t matter. I know I’m going to be exhausted the following day, again, it doesn’t matter. I am a GG addict, and I love it.
I tried to quit cold turkey. I might as well as tried to fly. It was impossible. So strong was the grip of the addiction that I canceled rare evening plans of wonderful dinner plans with old friends. Luckily, my wife is not a GG enabler.
I tried to come up with plausible excuses for dodging these outings to get another fix. I would procrastinate, telling myself one more episode was all I needed. In reality, I passed up a chance to right a grave wrong by watching another fantastic episode.
I’d sneak downstairs after my wife went to bed for thirty minutes of wonderful of another GG adventure. I had to know what was going to happen in Stars Hollow, you know?
Then last year the most wonderful thing that could happen to an addict, I got a new drug, a return trip to beloved Stars Hollow. I cranked up the first episode of the recent bonus season of a Netflix reboot – “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.” Two days later it was over, and I’m left a bereft man. I feel like I lost a limb or a close friend. Yes, I have a Gilmore Girl’s addiction.
By the time I finished A Year in the Life, I had refused to believe the characters in GG were not real people. Stars Hollow, Connecticut was a real place, full of wonderful people whose lives centered on the delightful dynamic duo of a sexy, single mom and her wonderful, witty daughter.
“We can swing by Stars Hollow and get breakfast at Luke’s,” I mused to Muna, she only shook her head. Of course, she had no idea what I was talking about. Lucky for me because she’d probably have had me put on some kind of scary GG detox program.
I want to give you some helpful information by talking about PTSD, TBI, and depression. I have all three. In the last six months, I have made tremendous strides to take my life back.
I know a lot of friends and family members who have these issues. Hopefully, reading about them and sharing what I’ve learned will help those suffering.
My goals in this emails to be as honest as I can. Some of these issues are deeply personal and embarrassing, but If it helps only one person, it will all be worth it.
The Black Cloud
I have an amazing life. I have a wife who loves me. I teach the future leaders of the army on my weekend drills. I write for a living, something I love to do.
Despite all these wonderful things I live with depression. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by overly negative feelings and thoughts.
Sometimes something brings it on like the loss of a loved one or a friend. Sometimes nothing whatsoever brings it on, and a black cloud will form on the horizon of a happy day.
Living with depression is disabling and awful. All the pleasure is sucked out things I love to do. I start to leak confidence and become blind to the good things in my life.
I become forgetful. I can’t keep track of my finances, or remember simple appointments because I am overwhelmed by feelings of self-loathing and a loss of self-confidence.
I become a stranger to friends, family and myself. I tell people I am doing well. In reality, I can’t bear to clean the house or simply do the dishes.
The worst thing is I lose all my compassion and become selfish. I feel like a useless, ugly, stupid blob. In this state I become unpredictable, afraid and lazy.
I miss the old me full of energy, brimming with confidence.
Over time I see glimpses of my old self. It becomes harder and harder to get up the in the morning and face the day.
The worst part is how I see myself. I feel like a bad person, a rotten, selfish human being.
I feel like I fell down a black hole. I quit taking care of myself and forget to bath and eat. I feel like I will be stuck here forever.
I lost track of time, each moment feels like forever. I’m completely alone on Depression Island. I am isolated, trapped and nothing will ever be the same again.
It becomes harder and harder to get out this frame of mind, to see any hope.
I am Italian and Catholic- we do guilt, not suicide.
I do know why people kill themselves when they feel this way. It is draining and leaves you so tired you don’t want to go on. You feel once you’re gone you don’t have to feel these negative feelings anymore.
At some point, I decide to fight back. I am determined to be strong and I remind myself I live through this. I usually do something fun to let my feelings flow.
I learned this state of mind has nothing to do with willpower or attitude. It’s like being bald or short. It is what it is.
I have tried all sorts of remedies to relieve my depression: yoga, running, hiking, behavioral, cognitive therapy, regression therapy, group therapy, religion, and meditation.
Some helped, and some made no difference at all.
Sometimes a good night’s sleep was helpful. Sometimes I stay stuck in the hole for a few days. I realized this last time I needed some professional help.
What I learned
Some depression is hereditary like male pattern baldness or brown eyes. I was probably born this way with a temperament towards depression. I think it has very little to do my experiences in the military.
It’s a well-known fact that some families have a disposition toward depression. I am reminded of the “Hemingway curse.” Ernest, his father, his brother, his sister, and granddaughter all killed themselves after suffering from severe manic-depression.
Part of it may be a chemical imbalance in my brain.
The brain is a magnificent organ. It is the command and control of your body.
The brain is very soft. It is the texture of soft butter. Only thin layers of fluid-filled membranes cushion the brain from an impact.
The brain sits in the skull- a hard helmet of bone that protects the brain. The head is full of bony ridges and sharp points. When you hit your head, the brain hits these hard places. These blows cause Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
My real problems began about a few months after I got home from the last tour in Afghanistan in 2012. I started to slip into a parallel world for minutes at a time. Instantly, I was back in Afghanistan, sometimes Iraq, but mostly Afghanistan.
Sometimes it was in dreams, other times it was when I was awake in flashbacks. I had the same feelings and sensations I felt there. It seemed very real.
Once in a while, I would replay the explosion that killed Bruno. Other times it was stuff that happened in Iraq. I would snap back to a former reality during a deployment and exist in it for a period of time.
The war for all the things wrong with it became the defining experience of my life. There I was loved and had a purpose. I took part in the adventure of my generation.
I started to write down what was happening. It was a repetition that became a compulsion. I began to understand that my flashbacks were an overwhelming need to repeat the experience, to resolve it.
I was replaying the movie in my head to get a satisfactory ending. I just couldn’t let go of it. I was living both a nightmare and a dream. This was PTSD.
TBI is a physical injury. PTSD is the mental injury. The combination of PTSD, TBI, and depression is a “perfect storm.” Symptoms of the three can be overpowering and destructive. Sometimes they overlap.
The rate of PTSD is much higher in veterans who have a brain injury.
In 2005, I was blown up in a small explosion in Iraq where I hit the side of my head. It knocked me out for a minute or two. It was not that severe. It was early in the war.
Three years later I hit my forehead on the steering wheel in the initial explosion that killed Bruno. I hit the side of my head on the door, and the roof of the truck as the truck blew apart and into the air. I was knocked out for 10 minutes. I woke up and passed out twice before Jerry rescued me.
Surviving an Explosion
An explosion does horrible, violent things to the human body. A blast wave is like being hit with a tsunami, then an instant later you are pulled back into the ocean to drown. This all happens in an instant.
A complex pressure causes the explosion. A wall of heat, pressure, and sound hits you at over 700 miles per hour. The blast wave passes through your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Air filled organs like your lungs, and gastrointestinal track lose all oxygen. A fraction of a second later, debris and fragments fly through the air.
I hit the steering wheel with my forehead, the roof, and cab of my truck. I hit my head three times in less than five seconds. Each hit was like getting whacked with a baseball bat. I had major problems.
I smacked my forehead where my prefrontal cortex (PFC) is. The PFC is the part of the brain handles decision-making, planning and impulse control mixed in with depression and TBI. I was a perfect cocktail for a disaster.
My brain injury gave me a lot of problems in the years after the accident.
I can tell you from personal experience, having issues mentally like impulsiveness or memory problems is not lack of willpower or a bad attitude.
Compulsiveness is not about rigid people who are over controlling. Understanding and optimizing your brain is sometimes the missing link to being successful in getting better.
A Brain Injury
My problems came from a brain injury. There was no “getting over it” with willpower or a positive mental outlook. A high-performance car doesn’t run with a busted engine, and a cripple can’t walk with a spinal injury.
When the command and control center of the body is injured, everything else is broken.
I had no patience over trivial things like waiting in line or being struck in traffic. I was anxious or frigidity. I couldn’t talk about happened without getting angry.
I was dealing with the physical and mental scars of war. Things had changed while I was away. I lived in four places in two years unable to settle down.
I knew I had to understand what happened to get better.
The Human Brain
The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. It is made of billions and billions of nerve cells. It is estimated there are more nerve cells in the brain than stars in the known galaxy.
A single piece of brain tissue the size of a grain of sand contains a hundred thousand nerve cells. These nerve cells make up your personality, character, and intelligence. It’s what makes us who we are.
Dopamine, the pleasure and motivation brain chemical, and serotonin, the happy and anti-worry chemical, help with anxiety, depression and obsessive thinking. When there’s too much or too little of these chemicals between connections with nerve cells, things get out of whack.
Anti-depressants get things back on track. They can help to regulate, generate and control the flow of chemicals in the brain. I have seen them help some patients and hurt others.
The brain and body connection is amazing. In Iraq, after my buddy Phil died, I started to lose my hair. After getting blown up in Afghanistan what was left of my hair turned white, and I had an unhealthy skin tone.
In three months after getting home, I put on 20 pounds. The mountain of physical and emotional stress took a negative toll.
When you have chronic physical and emotional pain life is a struggle mix in depression, and life can become unbearable. Everything gets mixed up and seen through the prism of pain and jumbled thoughts.
Pain, both physical and emotional, is a very personal thing. Pain is a monument to wartime trauma. Pain makes you divide time into two parts: before the pain and after.
Bruno died in September, I went to my buddy Bruno’s funeral in October- where I told his loving parents how their brave son died, while I lived- and I watched Phil’s murderer be acquitted in December.
In the last three months of 2008 I aged ten years.
From that day on I grew weary and worn out. The experiences drove me like a stolen car. I was run too far, too fast and never maintained. I was broken.
My own combat experience is what baseball players call a “cup of coffee.” It’s a slang term for a minor player getting in one game of major league of baseball.
I saw enough combat for a “cup of coffee.” I’ve been shot at and mortared but never anything serious. A few frantic, scared seconds with a couple of rounds. It was over before it started.
My issues came from PTSD and TBI. It wasn’t about the duration of the experience, but the intensity. My problems were chronic pain, flashbacks, nightmares, and depression.
My worst symptoms were memory problems. Negative thoughts and images lived in my subconscious.
I would be having a normal day and a damaging thought or image would invade my brain. I’d forget where I was and what I was doing. It was ruining my life.
Last fall, with the love and support of my wife Muna, I decided to get professional help.
Over the past couple of years, but more so in the past 6 months, I really had some problems- physically (knee/shoulder/back pain and balance issues), mentally (lack of sleep, memory and concentration issues), and emotionally (withdrawing, loss of interest in formerly fun activities).
My issues snuck up on me. They were cumulative. Being a soldier is a hard life. Physically, mentally and emotionally it can be draining. The physical pounding of over 20 years in the army started to add up.
My real problems were sleep issues. At first, I didn’t see it. Over the years, five hours turned into four hours turned into three hours and 45 minutes.
Good health begins with a good night’s sleep.
Having chronic pain, with PTSD, TBI and sleep issues is like living in a dumpy third world country with a strange language and unfamiliar culture- everything is hard and crappy.
It was ruining my life. Mix in all the fun of anxiety and depression, and you have a perfect cocktail that drained my well-being. All of it makes you feel worn out and far too old.
In the past five months, I did one-on-one and group therapy. I started eating right, taking fish oil and vitamins, exercising for 30 minutes a day, sleeping for at least 6 hours a night and got better at handling the stress in my life.
I feel younger, clearer and vibrant. The best thing I did was start to write again. It’s what I love to do most. I get joy to help others. I can’t draw, so I write.
It is important to re-enter the world when you feel strong. I feel like I can cope and work through life’s surprises.
Depression is tricky. It can be a one-time event or it can be a long haul, lasting days or months. Either way, you’ll have to wrestle with it or hide it when you have to. Sometimes being positive makes you end up feeling positive.
Getting through depression and my other issues is a big struggle. It’s a victory when you start to come of out it. It’s like winning a title bout.
You may be a little battered and bruised but you’ve learned a few things about yourself and maybe you can help others because who have been there.
Slowly things change. Little things start to have meaning again. You survive a little at a time. Things gradually start to get easier. Maybe you’ll want to help others. Maybe you’ll even learn to love parts of yourself.
I hope this posts helps by talking about these problems. It helped by writing about my struggles with PTSD, depression and TBI. Maybe you’ll have some tools for when it shows up again.
This post is for Veterans who have concerns about memory problems. I will talk about how PTSD has influenced my memory and thinking. This post is not a substitution for an evaluation by a healthcare professional. It’s just a simple man’s struggle to come to terms with his own issues.
My Own Experience
One morning, my world exploded, literally. In the weeks following my IED accident in 2008, I realized I had a ringside seat to my own destruction. Over the years I’ve watched my brain functions change one by one: emotions, speech, memory, self-awareness…
With this change went my old self, my self-confidence, and my memories. Amazed to find myself alive, I’ve spent the next nine years learning to cope and recover my ability to think, walk and talk. The IED blast was like having a stroke on steroids.
PTSD and Memory
PTSD “IS” a Memory Problem. The good news is we can do something about it. This is how PTSD influences memory and thinking.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a reaction to traumatic or very stressful situations. For veterans, it’s mostly associated with combat and overseas deployments. PTSD has been described as a “survival response in overdrive.” There are a number of features to this emotional response that can interfere with memory:
1. Feature: Reliving Bad Experiences.
Effect on Memory: Your mind is preoccupied with the past, so you pay less attention to what is happening right now.
2. Feature: Avoiding things that trigger bad memories.
Effect on Memory: You are focused on keeping out of danger rather than thinking about what people are saying or what is happening.
3. Feature: Being easily startled, or “on edge” all the time.
Effect on Memory: You are not able to be in the “here and now.” Your brain produces chemicals that make it harder to lay down new memories or experience joy.
Veterans with PTSD and their spouses often say they “zone out.” I misplace items, and I often forget what people tell me. I am still able to do day-to-day tasks, but some days this is very challenging.
Memory is complicated. Learning new things requires three steps:
1. Taking in new information. Sometimes we are not even aware we are doing it or not.
2. Filing that new information. Processing the new information to use as a later time.
3. Recalling the information. Retrieving the new information at the right time.
I can tell you memory is never perfect. None of us remembers everything that happened, even a short time ago. I can usually remember the most important and dramatic details. Memory problems can happen in ANY of the three steps. Being distracted and stressed out makes it harder to do all of them. PTSD often gets in the way of the first step.
For me, my symptoms of PTSD can act like a filter that comes and goes- at times only allowing me to take in bits of the information. At other times information comes flooding in that I would rather block out. Strong emotions can interfere with memory. PTSD affects my memory indirectly, by interfering with my sleep.
An abacus is a counting frame. It’s a calculating tool used by merchants, traders, and clerks in the ancient world. Beads slide on wires to make calculations.
Imagine the beads on the abacus is your memory. Imagine there are 10 beads on wire strings. 5 beads for short-term memory and 5 beads for long-term memory. After my last IED explosion, I have 8 beads for long-term memory and 2 small beads for short-term memory.
I am an autodidact. In the past ten years on my own, without teachers and professors, I’ve learned military history, business management, computer programming, and three other languages. I read two to three books a week. I’ve gone to school, but only to learn more. I can choose a subject, study it and learn a lot of stuff in a short amount of time. I can recall the information almost at will. Sounds impressive, I am sure.
This sounds impressive until you realize the circuits of my short-term memory is fried. I have problems sleeping because my mind never turns off. I dream, I struggle and I get frustrated. I don’t know or how my memory works that way. I’ve worn the same t-shirt three days in a row and not realized it. I’ve had the same three conversations with my wife on the same, not realizing we talked about the same thing two other times. I have no concept of time. I have trouble with social nuances.
My memory is wonderful and awful at the same time.
What To Do?
These are ways that I’ve worked to improve my memory and thinking abilities to make my quality of life better:
1. Focus on the here and now. Recognize that bad things happened, but it doesn’t have to be the focus of your life.
2. Pace Yourself. I don’t take on too much anymore. This is the real reason I am retiring from the Army.
1. I live and die by my calendar. It’s annoying, but I have to write everything down.
2. I take regular breaks when I feel I am getting stressed.
3. I only do one thing at a time. If you don’t do something well, you’ll only do it again.
3. Get enough sleep. Sleep is nature’s medicine. I strive for seven hours a night.
I love the Saturday Night Live Character Stuart Smalley. Like Stuart- I am a caring nurturer, a member of several 12-step programs, but not a licensed therapist. This is my experience and my experience alone.
It took me a long time to realize I needed help. It wasn’t until I was living with my wife, I realized I was in trouble. She was a mirror and reflected my behavior back at me, telling me what I was doing and why.
My wife made sure she had my attention before we started conversations. She noticed when I distressed or preoccupied. With her love and support, I got my PTSD treated and worked with a Speech Pathologist on some coping skills to improve my memory.
I did my best to capture the spirit and essence of Bruno. Such a great man deserved a stirring tribute. Everyone who knew Bruno loved him. I hope you guys enjoy it. Bruno is missed greatly, thought of often and loved always.
I served in Afghanistan in 2008 on an Oregon Army National Guard Embedded Training Team, sent to mentor the Afghan National Army. It was in the company of this remarkable group of men I had some of the most memorable experiences of my life. The links we forged from our time there will bind us together forever. But for me, one event stands out above all others.
On September 20, 2008, a convoy hit a massive Improvised Explosive Device (IED). The explosion flung the 37,000-pound vehicle 20 feet into the air, and it slid 70 feet. Three good men died that day. One of them was my friend Bruno.
In Captain Bruno G. DeSolenni, we see the best of a generation that has served with distinction for more than a decade and a half of war. I was proud to call Bruno my friend, and I am so grateful to have been part of the team I served on in Afghanistan.
Why Men Go to War
For almost two centuries the nobility, the devotion and the selflessness of those who defend America and protect liberty by going to war has never been a matter of debate. A lot of the time we use the word “hero” is to describe the young people who volunteer to go to war.
My father, a decorated veteran of Korea and Vietnam, said, “Real heroes die in war. What more can you give than your life?” Maybe he was right. I don’t know. I finally came to understand why he was so uncomfortable being called a hero. Heroes are something we create, something we need.
It’s a way for us to understand what’s almost incomprehensible and tragic, of how people could sacrifice so much for freedom, but for my dad and his friends, the risks they took, the wounds they suffered, they did that really for one reason: their buddies.
Patriotism or duty never inspire men’s performance in combat. What stirs brave men to action is a feeling of loyalty to their buddies they are facing hardship with. The brutality of war mixed with the tight constraints of military life allows them to feel love and tenderness towards each other.
Noted war correspondent named Tim Hetherington once said, “War is the only opportunity men have in society to love each other unconditionally.” Risking your life to save the life of another is the definitive and a sometimes final act of that love. It’s the ultimate expression of what they have for each other. That bond is a promise made among brothers that allow men to serve and die together with no fear, and most of all with no regrets, facing those times with courage and professionalism.
Over time there is nothing you wouldn’t for the members of your team who you deploy with. The team becomes your family. The bonding has to do with the intensity of the experience. It is the warrior calling: Life and Death along with Love and Violence. Brave men may have fought for their country, but they died for their friends. The greatest hero I have known with this warrior ethic was Captain Bruno G. DeSolenni.
Bruno the Man
Bruno was born to lead. He started out as an Army recruit who pushed himself to his limits, both physically and mentally, to earn the title Officer, United States Army. Bruno was an Infantry Leader who, on his tour in Iraq, was called the “best Platoon Leader” by the men he led because they loved him for his spirit and fearlessness.
When I first met Bruno in January 2008, he was a Lieutenant in the Oregon National Guard. He was a short, strong-looking man with piercing blue eyes and jet-black hair. He was about to do his third deployment in six years. Bruno was known in his Battalion, 1st of the 186th Infantry as a legendary leader. As I served with him in Afghanistan, I found him to be an instinctive warrior from the cradle to the grave.
I didn’t know Bruno in Iraq, but I think of his service in Afghanistan as the finest hour in his career as a Soldier. He showed himself to be an outstanding commander: clear, decisive, forceful, inspiring on several occasions personally brave.
Bruno never seemed in doubt about the reason he was on this deployment. He was totally committed, he served with outstanding professionalism and a crazy sense of humor. In front of the men he led, both Afghan and American, his resolution never faltered.
Sense of Humor and Kindness
As I got to know Bruno I came to like him more and more. Bruno was emotional and sentimental beneath his easygoing, tough guy exterior. One of the best things about him was he never feared emotion, never dreaded any commitment of spirit. He was never helpless to translate the murmurings of his heart into words. Bruno always spoke his mind.
One day he came strolling into our hut at Camp Dubs, right outside of Kabul. Wearing nothing but a towel, he said, “How does it feel, Dom, to come from a race of men who once ruled the earth, who brought order to the Mediterranean world in an empire called Rome?”
Striking a bodybuilder pose with his arm flexed. Bruno flashed me his lopsided grin and said, “The both of us are Italian, but I come from the part of Rome, where men were masters of the universe, while you came from the part that evolved into the guys rolling dough and eating pizza!” He laughed and grabbed me into a headlock. For Bruno shows of emotion were always a form of martial art. It was never with a verbal expression.
You could always tell Bruno loved others, and deeply. You could see in the way he listened to other people’s problems, the way he was attentive to other’s needs. It really came out in how he would get physically close to wrestle you or punch you in the arm after a kind ribbing.
This was Bruno’s way of showing affection without being seen as “too emotional,”- his words. Besides demonstrating bravery in the face of enemy fire, he was kind to those who served with him. Being Bruno’s comrade-in-arms always seemed to demand something more of yourself because he encouraged all those around him.
The Sacrifice of Volunteering
By volunteering for a deployment, a soldier does it with the knowledge that by embarking on this adventure they know they may die. Bruno knew that duty and love to one’s country demand certain things, certain responsibilities.
But this is something more. Bruno’s volunteering was not only answering the call of duty. I always thought such commitment was truly “above and beyond.” Bruno understood this better than anyone.
I have known several young men who have died for their country. They are our country’s best, the nation’s sons, who answered the call of service to defend this country in a time of war.
They answered what Theodore Roosevelt described as “the trumpet call,” which he said, “Is the most inspiring of all sounds, because it summons men to spurn all ease and self-indulgence and bids them forth to the field where they must dare and do and die at need.”
Bruno answered that trumpet call, as did every member of our team. Bruno came to represent that extra measure of courage and determination to be at the very tip of the spear in America’s wars.
In Bruno’s case, that meant leaving a loving family and prosperous job to join the Oregon Army National Guard to become an Officer, where he quickly earned the respect and trust of his fellow soldiers. This is no small feat among that brotherhood of arms where so many men are veterans of multiple combat tours.
Whenever a particularly challenging mission came up, Bruno would be the first to volunteer. At just 32 years old, Bruno was the embodiment of that special breed of warrior that he had long aspired to become, a grizzled combat veteran who cared more for others than himself.
Every human impulse would tell someone to turn away, especially after a harrowing tour in Iraq in 2004-05. He could have stayed home. But when his friends needed him, Bruno was always there. Instead of staying, this young Captain, my friend, a 32-year-old man with his whole life ahead of him, did something extraordinary.
Bruno volunteered to go with a team of his friends to a faraway land, live and fight in an alien culture because he knew he was needed. His skills as a soldier would allow other men to live. In the end, he did just that.
Bruno’s exceptional qualities – his intellect, curiosity, agility, and determination – were in demand and on display during his two combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Along with his legendary athleticism, Bruno had a real affinity for learning about cultures and history.
Bruno quickly picked up the nuances of the culture while in Afghanistan and, because he was honest and learned their culture. He developed a bond with the Afghan National Army soldiers he was mentoring; they respected and trusted this young American.
Even as Bruno was winning the confidence of the Afghan Soldiers he mentored, he never stopped being a warrior. That is why on the morning of September 20, 2008, Bruno volunteered to be a gunner on a routine convoy. An Improvised Explosive Device destroyed the vehicle he was in and killed him instantly. I am sure even if he had known the outcome of that day I know that he would have put the lives of his brothers in arms – Afghan and American – ahead of his own, it was just the way Bruno was.
Mourning his Passing
At his funeral, his deeds and incredible life were celebrated. I remembered a conversation we had on our way home to see our families one more time before we left for Afghanistan in March 2008, Bruno said, “People can tell me whatever they want about going over there, I’ll listen… but I’m just a middleman here, representing all those who have sacrificed and served in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Bruno’s modesty, humility, together with his valor, indeed set him apart.
Though Bruno would call himself, and I quote “average,” he was exceptional. Even among his fellow warriors he so graciously extolled when talking about his teammates.
In his sacrifice, Bruno has become a living example, a reminder to America that there are heroes—modern heroes that live and walk amongst us. Heroes like Bruno who are still fighting and dying to protect us every day as he did.
Bruno as a Leader
I have served with many great leaders, but Bruno was among one of the most inspirational field commanders I have ever known. His enthusiasm and “can do” spirit was infectious. Bruno was an uncommonly talented leader that, led by personal and physical example in everything he did.
The Roman Military historian Tacitus said; “In valor, there is hope.” With Bruno’s passing, he has become a symbol of that hope. That is why we bestow the honor on those rare individuals who’ve already proven their ability to bear such burdens for the sake of our country and call them “heroes.”
Bruno’s valor and ultimate sacrifice offer enduring hope for the future of our nation. Pericles’ speech to the families of the Athenian war dead, in which he said, “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” His story is certainly interwoven with mine.
Today and in the years to come, we may find peace and some comfort in knowing that Bruno gave his life doing what he loved — protecting his friends and defending his country. His family gave a son, brother, and uncle to America and America is forever in their debt. We are reminded that behind every American who wears our nation’s uniform stands a family who serves with them. And behind every American who lays down their life for our country is a family who mourns them, and honors them, for the rest of their lives.
Bruno’s legacy endures in the service of his teammates – his brothers-in-arms who served with him, bled with him and fought with him. Those brave men embody the spirit that guides our troops in Afghanistan every day – the courage, the resolve, the relentless focus on their mission: to break the momentum of the Taliban insurgency and to build the capacity of Afghans to defend themselves.
Bruno endures in the Afghans that he trained, and he befriended. In valleys and villages half a world away, they remember him – the American who respected their culture and who helped them defend their country. We honor him most by living our lives to the fullest, and I suspect Bruno would be especially proud to know he had a nephew named after him.
I’ll close with my favorite line from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”: “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.” Bruno is now known to history as one of those valiant. His name, and his story, belongs to the ages.
May God bless this brave young man. And may God grant peace of heart and soul to his loving his family and to the men who have served with this brave American. Bruno is missed.
Mark Browning, a good friend of mine and Bruno’s, wrote this about Bruno and read it at his Memorial Service in Kandahar two days after he was killed:
“He is a hero, a champion, a gift from God. His good nature and genuine care for others was infectious and spread not only to our team, but other nations, including the Afghans, the British and the Danish. Everybody loved Bruno. He was a force of nature.”