19 | Avalos
I'm from back fifty yards. My care. Had been blasted off me. My helmet was blasted off me and my weapon had broken into three parts. Landfall was destroyed. I'm initially called his when you enlist and take the oath of service, you take the oath by yourself. But you don't take it on your own the oath implicates, not only your family and friends, but also your future spouse and children, it implicates people you haven't met yet. And in the case of a distant enemy people. You may never meet when a soldier swears to defend the country in constitution from all enemies. There's no way to know how they'll be asked to answer that promise. And that is what makes it a courageous vow when Brian avenues joined the army in his mid twenties. He was on his own. But by the time he left struggling with the after-effects of traumatic brain injury. He would have to make use of a support system that spread well beyond the other soldiers with whom he served when I I woke up, and I I realize what was going on. I. Asked my dad one hundred times what's going on. What what happened, and he would tell me, and I break down crying ago, maybe a little bit Cami. What the hell's going on here? What happened and is she before tell me again, I'd break down crying. And that was probably the heart. The hardest thing for my parents and Kimmy is at they had to break my heart a good number times in short amount of time. When I came back. What is true bravery? What makes a hero the hero tested by the worries of what's happening at home, thousands of miles away and the reality of what you're facing here. And now when your life is in danger every second and it's either killed or be killed from wondering and incongruity media. This is Anthony Russo. And this. Is war? You know, what's not smart using your relatives to fill in at work while you look for staff, but you know, what is smart going to ZipRecruiter dot com slash. This is ward hire the right person. Ziprecruiter, doesn't depend on candidates finding you. It finds them for you. It's powerful matching. Technology scans thousands of resumes identifies people with the right skills education and experience for your job. And actively invites them to apply. So you get qualified candidates fast. That's ZipRecruiter is rated number one by employers in the US this rating comes from hiring sites on trust pilot with over one thousand reviews and right now, my listeners can try ZipRecruiter for free at this exclusive web address ZipRecruiter dot com slash this is war. That's ZipRecruiter dot com slash this is war. Ziprecruiter dot com slash this is war. Ziprecruiter, the smartest way to hire. It isn't much of a secret that serving in the military can fast track the soldier into law enforcement for people who feel like they're called to serve in that capacity. A stint in the military makes perfect sense. You learn to stay fit to use weapons and to keep a cool. Head under pressure for Brian Avalos. It kind of a no brainer. Avalos had wanted to be a cop since he was a kid his father had served as a marine in Vietnam. So for much of his adolescence and into his teenage years have a loose planned on joining the marines serving four years and then becoming a cop. But when it came time to graduate from high school, he discovered that he'd miscalculated so I left school and everyone graduate. I left a random jobs at I didn't see myself going here with so I decided that if I wanted to correct the mistakes that I made prior now is the time I actually went back to an adult school. So I got my GED or anything. So we kind of. Cool. Yes. Avalos realized he had wasted five years knocking around and generally not doing much with himself after taking a hard look at where his life was going compared to how it could have gone if he had just made the effort he enlisted in the army with an eye on becoming an MP, even though it looked as if the war was winding down Avalos hoped. He still could get in on the action. If he couldn't at least he would have a trade that he could be proud of. He would learn the ins and outs of policing and then apply them once his contract with the army was over by the time. He was most of the way through basic training, though that perception had begun to change you see growing up and threw all his dead end jobs, and even when he was in the adult high school, no one counted on him, and he didn't count on anyone. But that's not how it works in the army. It's taxing on the mind, and that I make a wrong step and good fucking get myself killed or worse. My buddies didn't ex- me killed even though I was older at the time. It's still a lot to take in. Okay. I'm training to go to war. I joined an in a time of war. So I knew very well. I'm gonna I'm gonna go to war, but still the fact of training to do it training to kill or possibly die. It's a ways on your little bit that that feeling of life is either can be taken real quick taken away from you taking away from someone else by two thousand and ten the protocol for training MP's had shifted early in the war MP still were being trained, primarily in garrison patrolling with combat training, not quite as an afterthought, but certainly not emphasized prior to the war on terror MP's focused primarily on being police officers and army bases by the time. Avalos started his MP training the focus had shifted to combat and as it came to an end he was excited about the prospect of going in fighting in Afghanistan. So imagine his surprise when he instead. Ted was shipped to Germany to be a garrison Cup. More surprising still was that. That was where he encountered his first fatality of the war. We're all the MP station, and we get a phone call that there was a dead soldier in the basement. He was hanging from the basement. So I'm I'm still pretty new so we're fly we fly over their final whereas at run downstairs, and I still see to this day. There's the wife neighbors. There was Khalil right around there. I don't know. There's there's pipes running everywhere this old World War Two barracks. So it's all really old and not necessarily a up-to-date type stuff. And there's a dog leash wrapped around their coming down guys hanging from it hanging from fucking rafters. It took me a second. I was like oh shit. Okay. So with officer the more we brought them down. We started doing anything. We could do to try to bring them back. We're doing chest compressions airway of all to no avail. I mean, the fucking the guy died he was he was long dead working pointlessly to support the pretense that a dead soldier wasn't a loss. Cause seeing the after-effects of combat the wounded as well as the soldiers who had ended their lives didn't dissuade Avalos that he had chosen the right path. He was dating another soldier Kim who had a son Anthony from a previous relationship, and they were starting to think about building a life together in the army rather than using it as a stepping-stone he saw that he could make a life in the army as an MP that he could make a life in Germany or really anywhere. He and Kim and Anthony could be transferred together, but deciding whether to make a career of the service or to use it as access to a better life after the army was a separate thing altogether from his desire to at least get into the fight to have his chance at war. So when a sister company returned from their deployment in Iraq and began gearing up to deploy to Afghantistan Avalos asks for. Transfer. So there I am about two years into the army now, and I'm like shipping I joined to go to war. I'm sure as hell not these guys go again when I've met I haven't been once yet at all. So I talked to some of the leadership my drill sergeant who was in basic was in our company, he showed our company. Komo's before that were at a welcoming get together for the news older come in. And there's there's just aren't Walker. He actually went to him to say, hey, I wanted to play with you guys. Can we see about changing and changing my orders? So I can go with you guys. And he held me on we switched it over. So I went from a garrison MP all of a sudden going to be going to comment on that his former drill sergeant would actively help him transition into a combat role. Only served to focus Avalos determination, Kim already had done a tour rocker self so she understood his need to get into combat. His mother was a little less sanguine about it. But what he hadn't told? Either of them was that he wasn't afraid of dying in combat being maimed or permanently disabled in combat though that was a thought he just couldn't bear before it, deployed birthing Intel will, you know, I'd I'd rather check out fucked up. I remember telling my mom mom. Don't worry. Don't worry. I'll be fine. I have a better chance of comeback. Just find there. I have more of a chance of getting killed on car accident than that than getting getting killed over there. Don't worry we find in fact, as he prepared to deploy getting killed was the last thing on Avalos mind. His father was an infantryman in Vietnam. And though he didn't talk about it much. He was clearly proud of his combat decorations. What wait on the younger Avalon was the notion that he might not get his chance to earn his own combat badge? And I knew that I could never get it wasn't I need to because they'd have that job. I couldn't get that. But I wanted a cab. I wanted to combat action badge and my squad leader. He who was a ranger that switched his jobs from infantryman to a cop. He had this the and I told him was like ace armory at some point. I want that little black dress to I want to know that we've done something here by the time they landed in Afghanistan in April of two thousand and eleven Brian Avalos would have more chances to get a combat badge than he ever could have imagined. You know, what's not smart job sites that overwhelm you with tons of the wrong resumes. But you know, what is smart ZipRecruiter dot com slash this is war. Unlike other job sites. Ziprecruiter, doesn't wait for the right candidates to find you ZipRecruiter finds them for you. It's powerful matching. Technology scans thousands of resumes identifies people with the right skills education and experience for your job. And actively invites them to apply. So you get qualified candidates fast. No, more sorting through the wrong resumes. No more waiting for the right candidates to apply. It's no wonder ZipRecruiter is rated number one by employers in the US. This rating comes from hiring sites on trust pilot with over one thousand reviews and right now, my listeners can try ZipRecruiter for free at this exclusive web address ZipRecruiter dot com slash this is war. That's ZipRecruiter dot com slash t h I s. I S W A R ZipRecruiter dot com slash this is war. Ziprecruiter, the smartest way to hire. Even when you're soldier in a war zone. There is a particularity to your first combat experience. It's been described as being shaken awake from does an emergency. When the shooting starts, you have a sense of what's going on. But the full realization is half a step behind, and there's no way to overcome that training will only get you to respond in the half. Second after you realize you're under fire before that you're on your own after it, though, it never happens. Again. The first time you take fire like the first time, you're blown up by permanently removes the confusion associated with a new experience from the equation. And it's probably just as well. We're kind of lost driving somewhere. I don't know where we're going, but we get lost. We turned around. We're we're going off road all of a sudden. And you you see shots these these these tracers coming at you. And your kind of like, am I see what I think I'm senior is this really happening and before. Are you can really realize what you're what you're doing? Or what you're seeing your automatically calling things up on the radio talking to your gunners on position area. Where's that? And then there's there's Ethel we had fifty Cal. He's just letting loose on fifteen. That's a sound. Never forget the fifty just humming above you. It's a bad as fucking weapon. The thought that follows the realization that combat has started isn't about how you're going to do. Those thoughts are for before you don't worry about safety or even about retaliation in a personal way. You let go of your own wants and worries and let muscle memory that automatic response. You've been practicing daily since you first set foot into basic training be your guide. So RPG gets fired. And it goes in front of my truck and behind the truck in front of us. It goes in between us and it hits a UP truck and detonates on the truck. So our medic jumps out a truck and stars bus now hold on to take care of the guys to care, the Afghan police, so we all immediately. Put down suppressive fire for him and cover him. And he was pretty banged up. He was he was pretty fucked up at the time. I look back there. And he's bloody. He's surprising night. Michigan body parts. Anybody looks out of it. So we've got we've got the Afghan. We gotta UP in the back of our truck are medic on the working on the stuff we break on our taking. We're going back to take this guy back to the hospital. The Afghan soldier was going to live and actually wasn't in awful shape. After he recovered, he returned to thank the MP's for helping save his life in the immediate aftermath of the battle though. Once they were safely back in the cop. The soldiers took stock swapping stories in coming to terms with the fact that over the course of a few hours there combat training went from hypothetical to practical. And with it came the confidence that's born of seeing just how well your training has served you and maybe a little something to pin on your uniform. We are kind of sitting. Talking and stuff and decompressing what we just we just went through when we all just went through am. I squire looks me goes. Hey, Ovallis, a little black thing. You just got it today. And I'm like, well, pretty cool. Yes. I was pretty excited. But. I don't know little Dino. We'd beginning a lot more. Eventually it was kind of more just a fucking get the get a monkey off our back. And okay now now we've experienced we know what's out there. We know what to do with it. We know how to handle for next time. So it was it was it was good that we got done with. We knew we can handle from then on knowing you can handle something and wanting to handle it are two totally different things that attack was just the first and what would be a regular day to day aspect of life on patrol in Afghanistan. And this spring turned into summer, it only got more intense by two thousand eleven the Taliban had a pretty good idea of how to harass US forces. They would try and pick off small parts of patrols and instead of engaging in firefights afterwards. They would disappear leaving the quick response forces running out to battle only to find the dead and wounded in destroyed vehicles. You know, it's frustrating. The fact that that they can see us. They know what they're gonna do. They they're they're watching us from. Who knows how far out and then they they attack. But you never see you never see a person. Really there's nothing really ever. Explain I can ever use to explain or even want to explain watching someone be blown up and blood pieces. It's a it's not something that is easy to even think about you. Just learn how quickly how quickly life can be taken away from anybody. I dunno on July fifth two thousand eleven staff. Sergeant Joshua a Throckmorton specialist, Jordan, see, Shuman and specialists Preston j suitor were killed by an ide-. But when he left his part of the QR f- responding to the explosion Avalos had no idea what he was going to find as they approached the wreckage he recognized it was one of his companies detachments, and he knew it was bad. He didn't find out how bad until later, and we found out who it was. And there was no contact to be done at the. Time everyone kind of broken contact. It's kinda surreal you're sitting there. I remember when we were still in in bog room, and I was bullshitting with wish human. We're just talking bullshit in in all of a sudden there I am at his wakened. He's not with us anymore. You started to think about what they're leaving behind? Sorry throckmorton. He was relatively new to to our company before we deployed. So I didn't know about him. I knew he was married and had kids. I knew Shuman I didn't I didn't know him. Well, or I knew him well enough, and I knew he was married with with a new with the new baby. And then a suitor he was with a younger guy. He was still a kid. There's three guys that are younger that not not fucking deserved a die yet, not not deserve to have their life ended their way too young to be gone. And I just I hope that their their children. Have a good upbringing and have a have a positive life. Not not a day goes by that. I don't think about those three and the sacrifice that they gave to us issues was a hard day for us suitor had been married in March just before they deployed to Afghantistan when someone's deployed, you know, that communications can be spotty. But for people in uniform, there's an additional knowledge to live with every time. There's a communications blackout which connotes an injury or death. All kim. Could do was hope that it wasn't Brian and wait to see whether she was right for his part Avalos, just try to keep his mind focused on his work and on staying alive you quickly. Remember how how precious life is? And how quickly it can be going. It's it's fast. And all of a sudden, you're back at it. And you can't you can't dwell on it too much because that's only gonna hurt yourself and other guys with you. So you got get back to work. And it's probably better that way that you don't have a whole lot of time to sit there into well and be sad and depressed and use. To work. They're always on your mind. And they're they're always in the back of your head and just praying to God that you don't become the the next one that's going to meet them mid tour. Leave couldn't have come at a better time for avalanches after five months of fighting losing his buddies and participating in what he often saw as the pointless exercise of training, Afghan police, most of whom didn't seem thrill to participate. It was good to get home. Avalos did his best to leave Afghanistan behind and had at least a little luck. But shaking off a war isn't something one does over the course of a long weekend. It was beautiful you to spend time with with normal people again and not be worried about where everything is. And we're you're fucking shit is and the guy over there is trying to kill you. And there's a bomb in the street. But of course, it's still going on the back of your head. Like fuck. Where's my weapon at you? Wake up. Okay. Where's it at? No, it's it's still there over here. Now driving you're looking and scanning the area since Avalos had a general idea when his mid tour leave started he and Kim and coordinated so they could meet in California. It had been a long five months for her especially since she was privy to the blackouts. But since you wasn't next of kin not on the list of people who would be contacted in case of an emergency. She very much was looking forward to seeing that he was safe with her own is there were a couple of travel delays. But eventually they were able to spend what would turn out to be the shortest two weeks of their lives. Together. The beach is one of her favorite places to be. So I took her to gorgeous, southern California beach, and we went to a lifeguard tower life, good tower, number eight talking's watching the water watching the sun, go down and stuff and. I can't stand up and kind of stretching I kinda go in front of her and kneel down, you know, go to bring the Kim you maybe man in the world and be my wife. Pain. Yes. She goes. Maybe. As she said it she started smiling. Of course, I will. I was like, oh, you gear a big hug. So I was I loved her gave her a kiss and she actually went back to Germany the following day. So we got to spend I don't know what twelve hours together as an engaged couple. And then she was on a plane to go to Germany. I was still in the states one more day. And then I was going. ESPN? It was one of the last memories Avalos would have before waking up in the hospital. He doesn't have any strong memories of boarding the plane to Afghanistan landing there or catching up with his platoon. There are snippets. But that's where his pre injury life ended as far as he can recall, the two months that followed have been almost completely erased by his injury. But he remembers getting gauged, which is a genuine piece of good luck. The story about the most pivotal moment in his life, though, the day that changed his life's direction permanently is something. He only heard about. It's a story told second hand with commentary. I love Dollar Shave Club has everything I need to look feel and smell my best. What I love even more is the fact that I never have to go to a store. That's because one the delivers everything I need right to my door and to keep me. Fully stocked up on what I use. So I don't run out. Here's how it works. Dollar Shave Club has everything you need to get ready. No matter what you're getting ready for. 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So what are you waiting for get your starter set for just five dollars now at dollarshaveclub dot com slash this is war, that's dollarshaveclub dot com slash? This is war dollarshaveclub dot com slash. This is war. Avalos returned to Afghantistan with vision for himself and the future. He hadn't really ever had before. No longer particularly interested in using the army as a stepping-stone he'd begun the process for becoming a detective in the MP's investigating felonies by or against army personnel. He and Kim would get married remain in the army and travel wherever they needed. He was confident in himself and in his future and anxious to get right back to work. He speculates. That's why he volunteered to lead a patrol on that day, August thirty first two thousand eleven we're told that a is in X location. Now, we had been in this area before and we knew with this shitty area, and it was really tied to drive through and just sucked. I was still a specialist, but I become a full team leader all the leaders got together. And we talked about the best way to to get there. It was my gun Ethel myself and Briscoe behind me, my other Gunnar prescrip-. Behind me. I elected for us to be up up on point day. I was trying to send a statement. I could handle this. I can take care of my guys that I was being a team leader that I handle this challenge. So I liked it from for my guys take point. So we're walking we're walking, and it was a command wire. So let me someone was watching us and they hit the button and the blast off today. Still it's odd to think about someone choosing to detonate him. It's a very personal completely dispassionate decision. All at once, the Taliban fighter didn't wanna kill Brian Avalos per se, but he definitely wanted to kill one specific guy in his line of sight. There was no use waiting for the next group of soldiers because it was quite possible. Avalos would discover the command wire if it got much closer the bomb was planted on the left side of the narrow road and Avalos took the worst of it. I'm thrown back fifty yards being kind to me. I was I landed. Muddy area. I want to say it was it was shit river. My vest had been blasted off me. My helmet was blasted off me and my weapon had broken into three into three parts. I'm initially called up his KIA my buddy lanning, call me of visit has KIA. And then he saw me moving in kind of struggling to breathe in girl girl, and I don't know Ethel. I've seen pictures of pretty bloody Briscoe behind me. He got the concussion of it that really got him and shook his brain up. But thankfully, I took it the worst. I'm just happy that I took the brunt of it, and the others you guys didn't I just know that I'm glad it was me and not them. This isn't Pravada or cliche of the we hear things like it all the time. But put yourself in his shoes. Avalos knows exactly what he went through to recover the difficulties. He still has years after the explosion that he still will have for the rest of his life oppose that with the. That brash and fresh back from RR enjoying a new leadership role and the promise of a married life to follow. You insist that you're fired team take the lead and survive, the attack unscathed how much more difficult would it have been to shoulder the burden of that decision to watch your guys blown to pieces or to see them? Go through the painful frustrating rehab, you had to endure just to learn to make yourself understood again or to worry about a young fiance who committed to marry a man who intended to make a life out of soldiering pain can be a lot easier to take than guilt today. Have a Lowe's jokes that the only time he got to fire his weapon during battle was when he squeezed the trigger after being detonated had it not been him. He would have done more than that the load myself Ethel gain, our medic doc O'Brien into one another truck and third dry is back to the Asian. We just came from. He's got to perform a emergency tracheotomy on me. He tells Ethel to hold my head. Home hold his head and he cuts my neck, and I've talked about it. And he said that fucking mess them a little bit that I can understand it's kind of fun creepy. So now my neck that I tried to I try to take myself out and just did a horrible job and failed. It's important to remember that Avalos said he didn't want to come back fucked up that he believed death would be better than permanent injuries like scarring, missing parts or a TB. I that screws with the way you process words. But if there is a common theme among people who have made the effort to overcome the struggles that are tied to living through the traumas of war. It's that no one understands their capacity for pain and recovery until they successfully endured it the same. Of course, could be said for the families back in Germany, Kim had no idea that the blackout was for Avalos since she wasn't next of kin Brian's parents were notified, but she wasn't. In fact, his parents had a sign a waiver just to get her visiting privileges. She rushed home as fast as she could upon arriving. She. Discovered that in addition to significant physical injuries Brian had severe brain damage, and it wasn't cleared. I if or how much he would come back from it. So I wake up and I realized that. I can't see him I left. I I can't really move my left my left arm. My backers I broke every bone in my left arm from the hand hand up shrapnel went through my I pro and cut the cord from an item brain I had broken my back, and I I had three compression Rogers. My back my spleen punctured and had a bunch of chipped teeth. See this is hard to say I had to make the choice to have my cut out an equally believe it's called because whatever was was in my was killing it. And they told me that they're worried that that disease will transfer my other my other. I my good eye and killed is. Well, so it's kind of a tough decision. But it wasn't easy decision. Okay. Let's let's cut the fucking dead eye out then and I'll say the say the good I have to have one either gonna know is. I wanted to surgery to have my I fucking removed still weird to say when I even though it's fucking seven years pass. Now, how could it not be weird to say very few of us ever have to utter sentences. Like, so I told them to cut my eye out more than that Avalos would spend the next few weeks relearning over and over from Kim and his parents that he was back stateside after being blown up. You can appreciate the urge to surrender over his two years of rehabilitation he had to find new ways of making himself. Understood and remastering basic tactics for walking as well as for conversation throughout the earliest parts of it. He worried about his relationship with Kim who had to go back to Germany to continue her own tour just as he hadn't signed up with the intention of enduring severe injury. Neither had she consented to marry a man whose injuries would be long term. And at the time where I'm predictable. Of course, Kim was in the army just like he was with the same os in the same attitude. The pair decided to have a double proxy wedding. He from his rehabilitation in Palo Alto, California. And she from her duty station in Germany once it was official. They both could be deployed together at Avalos new assignment at the warrior transition battalion in fort Lewis. He genuinely thought he would be able to reintegrate into the service and still hoped to be an investigator for the military police, but it didn't take too long to realize that his injuries would prevent that. What? Besides the obvious stuff the eye and the arm. The TV is would actually got me out of the army one hundred percents is by now from that. I know that I am different by when I talk, and I'm I stumble over words in mumble words, my brain is going so fast that it will come out quick enough. I can't slow down to talk normal easily. Understood. And that's that's a that's an ongoing learning experience itself. Right. There is how to handle. A situation what we can do to make things different or better, even as he tried to stay in. He knew it was a lost cause. And eventually he relented and left. The army Avalos was really uncertain about his future. He felt alone and more than a little out of sorts. But he was fortunate enough to be married to a soldier with no patience for self pity or for surrender. She doesn't let me use any of my injuries or my use anything excuse she older responsible and holds me accountable for all of my shit, which is good. Thank God, doesn't doesn't baby me or allow me to fuck cry about wine. Cryan she challenged me every day to be a better person and think I think are for that so much. I can never be the person she deserves and she. For the for the amount of she's done for me. I can never pay her back. She's helped me so much believable time. And again, we're reminded that we have no idea what we really would do given particular situations. We know what the president us wants for the future us. But by the time, we get to the future. We've changed enough to know that those two things aren't always the same adults eventually got into law enforcement has a corrections officer he's happy in his work. But the real victory is in his family. I think God that I didn't check out the day that did come back home. I left some things over there. But I wasn't I wasn't. I wasn't ready to be done with life. I had a lot of shit. Still ahead of me that I wanted to do and. I thank thank God. It wasn't killed at day before he went to war. Brian Avalos didn't understand how deeply he would need his family support. He didn't envision a life with kids or a spouse who is too tough to let him quit. It wasn't a future. He would have selected because he didn't know it was possible or even vailable to him. Nothing happened the way thought it would. But Avalos okay with that he understands that we all need support. The real challenge is enduring what it takes to recognize that fact. Next time on this is war. All I'm doing is running from body to body doing what I can. I do have the sense to roll the obviously dead over on their belly. So that I know not to go back to them. Are you a combat veteran or do, you know one with a story to tell reach out to us at stories at this is war dot com with your dates and branches service as well as a brief description of the experience that you would like to share if you like the show you can help support us by visiting our sponsors or by leaving a five star review wherever you're listening right now. This is war was written by me, Anthony Russo and produced by incongruity media, executive producer Hernan Lopez for wondering.