Monday, March 03, 2014

Turning the tide

Twelve and a half years ago I got up to go to work just like every other day. In the car from Parsippany, NJ to Harrison, NJ. On a PATH train from there to the World Trade Center. Every day from 1999 through most of 2001 was the same. One morning it all changed. You all know the story, by now, of my morning of September 11, 2001. You're all familiar with how my family was affected and the loss. I've talked more than enough about that day to last most of you a lifetime.

Just under 2 years later, I left for Basic Military Training which began another adventure in my life. It was the start of over 3,000 days of active uniformed service in the United States Air Force. It shaped and guided me. It grew me as a person, as a man, as a professional and as an American. It showed me focus, drive, determination and integrity. September of 2003 came and went unnoticed because I was still in the training pipeline and adjusting to military life. In April 2004 I arrived at my first duty station, Shaw AFB in South Carolina. In August of that year, my mood changed and my performance slipped. The next anniversary was creeping up and it was the first time I was away and not preoccupied (I was just doing my USAF job every day). I was directed to speak with someone about it. I was nearly separated from the Air Force after being diagnosed with 9/11 PTSD. I was to be medically discharged. Luckily, other than a month or so before and after the anniversary I was mostly fine and a top performer. I had several people show support for me and was allowed to continue to serve, under care until leadership was sure I was healthy.

Year after year the anniversary would creep up and I would turn off my phone, take the day off and barricade myself in my home. It was a day long balancing act between the overstimulation of the media and depths of silent despair. I'd watch all I could until I couldn't bear anymore and then shut down until the silence was deafening... and repeat. Sometimes I chose a more spiritual route. Distilled spirits were the choice.

And so began the the habit of slinking into obscurity for 24 hours. The weight of the day grew heavier each year instead of healing with time. Being away from friends, family, and those who simply understood the geography of the area made me feel like the only one in my world. I'd share stories with pseudo-anonymity and never directly with people (e.g. blogs and soundbites).

Year after year 9/11 would come up and I'd pull the covers over my head. Year after year I let it terrify me. Year after year we'd step into the ring and I'd forfeit the fight. I let it beat me for 12 anniversaries.

That. Ends. Now.

I'm home. I'm near. I see the near-completed Freedom Tower (or whatever the hell it's called) every day. I no longer have to cower in the shadows from this monster all alone. Quick aside, no disrespect to anyone who was there for me in South Carolina or Mississippi; you all gave me sympathy, but the strength is in the empathy.

This year I'm back with an army of support and steeled resolve that this ominous monster just isn't ready for. It's time you take that terror and hit the bricks. Me, my family, my friends and my company are coming for you. We are going to band together and raise money to give it to those who put it all on the line every day. We're gonna run through Manhattan on September 28th; and we're gonna end right there at ground zero. I miss the skyline and I always will. I miss my Uncle Tommy and I always will. Nothing changes there. But I refuse to crumble every September. Never again.

Anyone is welcome to join me along the way. If you want to join the team or donate to the team you can follow this link - If you want to run with us, stay tuned for more. Or you can come out and cheer us on. Or you can just leave a message to let us know you're crossing your fingers.

This has been a long climb from the darkest corners of my memory. I do appreciate everyone's support. Some call/email/text. Some offer to spend the day with me. Some want to hear stories and learn. You've all helped. Returning to the source was the last piece of the puzzle to really begin the fight to overcome this. And now it's time.