The city of Mosul sits on the west bank of the Tigris River in Iraq at the northern tip of the “Sunni Triangle.” As the second largest city in Iraq, Mosul is roughly the area of Newport News, Virginia, but in 2004 had a population greater than Philadelphia. Much had changed in Mosul by the time Joe Post first set foot in the city in 2007.
“The craziest thing I saw was on my first mission. We were constantly targeted, especially during the first six months,” says Joe, and spares most of the details of how an occupied bus exploded before his eyes. “The smell makes it real. You’ve never smelled such a God-awful smell. Just thinking about it makes me want to gag.”
The recall of the sounds, sights, and smells of war are something Joe lives with every day.
“I grew up in a family where most of the men served. That had a lot to do with why I joined the military,” says Joe, who spent four years in the U.S. Army as a combat engineer.
But he wasn’t that kid who went straight from high school graduation to boot camp. It took him a while to enlist. The construction-minded Joe went to Pennsylvania College of Technology after high school and then to Millersville to obtain a management degree. But the call of the armed forces was too strong and in 2005, at age 25, he joined the Army.
“For me, being older was a big benefit. I had seen things. I had a lot of the kid stuff out of my system at that point,” says Joe. “It was a good opportunity, too. I got a pretty good signing bonus. They paid my student loans.”
As a college graduate, he was immediately advanced to the rate of E4, giving him a little more credibility than other boots. He went to Fort Leonard Wood for basic training and his first duty station was Fort Hood, Texas, where he arrived in 2006.
“Basically, we were training up to go to Iraq,” recalls Joe. He was part of the 20,000 plus troops sent to Iraq as part of President George W. Bush’s surge strategy. “At the time when I was in Mosul, that was the hot spot. We had no idea where we were going and where we were going was by far the worst spot in the war. It was pretty nasty.”
Joe was part of a route clearance team sent in to clear IEDs (improvised explosive devices, a term made household during the War in Afghanistan) and its evolution, the EFP (explosively formed penetrator). EFPs explode and form an armorpiercing projectile and often kill the attacked vehicle’s crew with the blast’s heat.
“We would find IEDs and sometimes they were taken for intel and other times they were blown in place. That was the lion’s share of my mission set when I was over there,” says Joe, whose missions discovered an average of four IEDs. “Most of the time (devices) were finding you. In an urban area, whenever everyone starts leaving, that’s a good indication something is going to happen… the shops start closing their windows and their doors.
“War is one of those things where you don’t really know unless you’ve done it. And I hate saying that because it minimizes things that other people go through. You don’t really know when you go through it. It’s when you come back.”
Once Joe was back home, he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which manifests in panic attacks and hypervigilance. He still doesn’t do well with fireworks, but he is making progress with his PTSD. Talking about his experience and empathizing with others is helpful. He drives for a living, so a lot of his working day and free time involves listening to podcasts. It was only a matter of time until he turned to one to tell his story. He recorded an episode of “This is War” in which he bares the ugliness of his experience and recounts the lives he’s seen lost.
“It was really cathartic. I felt like I was being self-serving… but with going through what I went through and my PTSD I knew it would be beneficial for other people,” says Joe. “It’s tough, because PTSD is not like having a broken arm or a wound that someone can physically see.” Approximately 15 of every 100 Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom veterans suffer from a PTSD episode each year.
Help can be found by calling the Veterans Crisis Line at (800) 273- 8255, speaking with a fellow combat vet at (877) 927-8387, or by using the PTSD Program Locator at www.va.gov.