Five years after founding The Gratitude Campaign, I've received over 10,500 e-mails, and 1,500 comments on YouTube. It seems that there is a lot to talk about with regard to gratitude for those who serve; not the least of which is the ever present challenge of understanding how to keep the politics out of it. Hopefully this blog will give us an opportunity for some rational, reasonable, and respectful discussion. I hope you'll join us...

~Scott Truitt, FOUNDER


Monday, November 29, 2010

On How My Friend Kevin Died -- Part 2

Like many Service Personnel who return home after serving in combat, Kevin found that he could no longer relate to his wife that he was so connected to prior to combat. I don’t know all of the details of their relationship, nor would it be my place to share them if I did. Suffice it to say that their marriage was one more casualty of that roadside bombing in Iraq.

Kevin was very open and honest about the fact that he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He opened up to me (and to anyone who would listen) about the nightmares; the flashbacks; averaging two to three hours of sleep per night; the fears of IED’s (Improvised Explosive Devices) even on the Washington State highways that he’d driven for years; the imbalances in his body as a result of the numerous medications he was encouraged to take; the ineffectiveness of multiple rounds of inpatient treatment programs; and to add insult to injury, the limitations that having TBI and PTSD put on his career options within the military that he had dedicated his entire adult life to.

As is all too often the case, the treatment that Kevin was receiving for his TBI and PTSD was inadequate to address the problem. So Kevin, like many others in his shoes, began medicating himself with alcohol just to be able to survive from day to day. And while he was fully aware that this was not a productive solution to the problem, it was the only solution that provided the comfort he needed. And the other solutions being offered to him weren’t working. Proportional to the PTSD that it was intended to dampen, his drinking was severe.

The shortest, simplest answer to the question, “How did my Hero, Master Sergeant Kevin Johnson die?” is that he drank himself to death. His liver failed, and essentially poisoned his blood. Kevin spent his final days in a hospital bed, surrounded by his family, waiting for the peace of death.

There are those who will say that by being so brutally honest here, I am dishonoring Kevin’s memory. I understand that, and I respect that. The conclusion that I’ve come to, along with Kevin’s family, is that to the contrary it is a testament to Kevin’s love for his fellow human beings that he would want people to know how he died. He would want people to learn from his experience, so that nobody would again have to endure what he endured. He would want people to understand that not every casualty of war dies in battle. For many, the injuries suffered in war do not leave a visible scar. But rather they sit beneath the surface, killing the Service Person slowly, methodically, perhaps years after the battle… and further injuring their loved ones along with them.

My friend Kevin was killed in Iraq in May of 2004. He died in a hospital in Seattle in November of 2010.

Monday, November 22, 2010

On How My Friend Kevin Died - Part 1

If you are like me, the first thought that ran through your mind when you heard the news that my dear friend Master Sergeant Kevin Johnson died is, “How? What happened?” Kevin was only 45 years old. He should have had a lot of years left in him. Even if you didn’t know him you can see from his photo, or from his image in our video that he was too young to die.

I’m going to attempt to tell you how he died, as best I can, because I believe that Kevin would want people to know the truth of how he died as much as he would want us to know how he lived. Kevin was an example for others in every sense that he could be – both positive and negative. He showed us how we should be, by being an example to follow, and by showing us our own failures.

For those who didn’t know Kevin, a little background history:

Kevin joined the Army at age 17 and served for 27 years. He was an athlete, history buff, compulsive reader, and teacher. He served on every continent other than Antarctica. He was a Medic. And, in addition to personally saving hundreds of lives in several different combat zones, he also trained other medics who saved thousands more. He is the recipient of over 20 awards and medals, including one for the liberation of Kuwait in the first Gulf War that he gave to me as a gift; which speaks to his generosity and caring for others. Even in his final months of life he volunteered at a shelter, and helped his neighbor’s move, despite wearing a leg brace and barely being able to walk. Kevin was always more concerned for others than he was for himself. He is a hero in every sense of the word, although he would never agree with me on that.

In May of 2004, while serving in Iraq (again), Kevin’s HUMV was hit by a roadside bomb while on a mission to assess the medical needs of the local population to see how the Army could help. The explosion killed one of his best friends, Jeffrey Shaver, and Kevin suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI), sending him home. Kevin would spend the remainder of his life struggling with the guilt of surviving that blast, believing that he should have been the one to be killed rather than Jeff, and wishing that he could go back to Iraq to finish out his tour beside his fellow Soldiers.

Kevin’s TBI caused him severe memory loss – to the extent that he would often have to enter his driving destination into his GPS navigation system any time he drove. Not because he didn’t remember the way, but to ensure that he didn’t forget where he was going. He couldn’t remember much of his service. And when his psychiatrist helped him to bring much of it back through hypnosis, it was like being hit with every bad experience he’d had in his entire life all at once.

Unlike many Veterans who refuse to speak of their experiences in war, Kevin was willing to share with me some of the things he witnessed and experienced in his service in at least three combat zones that I am aware of. Horrific things. Things that no human being should see or endure. Things that I can’t bring myself to share here. Kevin had much to reconcile when those memories came back to him.

The rest of the story next week...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

MSG Kevin Johnson

I had a rather lengthy blog that I was going to post today. I was just putting the final touches on it when I received an e-mail informing me of some very sad news.

Master Sergeant Kevin Johnson, who appears in our video, passed away last night.

I've written before about Heroes. Kevin is my hero. He was an ordinary guy who did extraordinary things. He was humble, mild, gracious, polite, caring, fun, understanding... and I will miss him terribly.

Please join me in a moment of reflection and empathy for Kevin and his loved ones. And please, honor his memory and his service.