May 1, 2014
Two student veterans spoke about their war experiences to a crowd of more than 40 people Monday night. Though they both went over seas as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, their stories are very different.
Sean MacMillen, a graduate student studying clinical mental health counseling, was first commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1996 after graduating from LHU with a degree in geology.
Over 12 years, MacMillen served three combat tours in Afghanistan and held numerous leadership positions including infantry officer, platoon leader and battalion executive officer.
MacMillen said that war is in his blood. His father served in Vietnam and his grandfather served in World War II.
At first, MacMillen felt that being in the infantry was the “cool job.” He got to “blow stuff up” and jump out of airplanes.
“It was fun for a while, until I found myself in Afghanistan and people were shooting back at me,” he said.
When MacMillen came back, he said he had a hard time readjusting to civilian life.
“I used to know what to wear every day,” he said. “I knew the schedule.”
Due to the stress of integration as well as PTSD and “survivor’s guilt,” MacMillen said he turned to drinking.
“I crawled into a bottle of Jack Daniels and stayed there a long time,” he said.
After his family left him, he realized he needed to do something. MacMillen joined a 12-step program for veterans and started seeing a counselor.
“I had to deal with those feeling things,” he said. “Once I learned how to do that, life was good. I can trust again.”
David Scarpelli, a member of the PA Army National Guard and treasurer of the sociology club, served in Afghanistan in from 2007-2008 as platoon security force.
His jobs ranged from rebuilding roads that connected villages to training police forces. The indigenous people had different responses to the soldiers, depending on where they went.
The troops would get negative reactions in areas under threat of the Taliban, or in areas so remote the people hadn’t seen soldiers since the Russians in the Cold War.
In some areas, the U.S. military had negatively affected the people.
“War is not above mistakes,” said Scarpelli.
Scarpelli stated the military matures people very quickly.
“They go in with these preconceived ideas… They get in their first firefight and they’re singin’ a different toon,” he said. “It’s not fun and games. It’s not Call of Duty.”
Something else he realized is that Americans are not as culturally aware as they often think they are. He went on to explain what it was like to be working alongside those in the Middle East.
“We’re all human. We spent more time chillin’ and eating with Afghans than fighting them,” he said. “But, yes, we did get into some fights.”
Photo courtesy of wellsaidcabot.com