DAVID CORTELYOU (Part One)
DAVID CORTELYOU (Part Two)
Iraq veteran David James Cortelyou suffered severe symptoms of PTSD when he returned to his base in Germany from a tour in Iraq. Failing to get the help he needed, David went AWOL twice rather than return to Iraq. He turned himself in recently, expecting to go to military prison, but was given a discharge instead.
David joined the Army in October 2004 when he was 18 years old. He saw the military as a way to become independent and start his own life, and he chose the Army because it was the only branch of the military accepting people who had GED certificates.
After completing Basic Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma in February 2005, he was stationed in Giessen, Germany with the Armored Division, 2/3 Field Artillery Battalion as a Fire Support Specialist.
In December 2005 he was deployed to Iraq. For his first five months in Iraq he was stationed in a Forward Operating Base in Bi’aj doing patrols searching for weapons caches and working as security. Bi’aj was “a relatively safe place in the sense that they didn’t shoot at us with small arms, but they mortared us daily.” For the following ten months David was stationed in Camp Ramadi, base for the Army, Marines, and Navy. Camp Ramadi was attacked daily by mortars, small arms, and rocket propelled grenades. At least two to three times a month he attended memorial services for soldiers killed in Iraq.
Many of his memories from Bi’aj and Ramadi have become recurring nightmares since his return from Iraq in February 2007:
One day when they heard an explosion from inside the city and four trucks from his platoon were sent to investigate. David was driving the lead truck and when they got to the site “the headlights from the truck illuminated an Iraqi man who had been plastered to the wall.” According to the platoon leaders the man had been trying to lay an improvised explosive device and had blown himself up in the process.
When David returned from Iraq to Germany in 2007, he says, “I needed to find something to help with the nightmares.” He began self-medicating, provoking fights to relieve the stress, and burning himself “so that I could feel human.”
At another time David was driving on patrols and they stopped a car at random. The driver got out but instead of stepping away he walked toward the trunk of his car. “The next thing I heard was the roar of a 240B machine gun. I turned around to see what happened. I saw the driver on the ground with half his face missing.” The driver survived, “but with only half a face.”
During his time in Bi’aj David witnessed “the overall cruelty of mankind.” There was a pack of dogs that roamed around the base. One of the dogs had the habit of sleeping next to one of the security points of the base. 4-5 of the soldiers returned one day laughing and joking about how tough the dog was and how much it didn’t want to die. They had smashed the dogs nose with a shovel, broken its leg, slit its throat, and cut its stomach open. When they thought it was dead they had put it in a bag and tossed it in the trash. Later that day the commander called formation to complain about the dog because it had been found still alive. The commander “was just pissed because he had a rule about “hunting”…he was the only one allowed to do it.”
During one of the missions in Ramadi David was part of a group to provide convoy security for some trucks headed to a supply camp. One of the trucks was hit by an IED and the driver of the vehicle was badly wounded. Because the convoy personnel were inexperienced, in their confusion they jammed the radio frequencies and medical support did not arrive in time. The soldier died in David’s arms.
“When I was caught burning myself, instead of offering me help they threatened to punish me for damaging federal property.” Army doctors offered him pills when, “all I really wanted was someone to talk to.”
David was released from the Army the first week of April 2008 and returned to the United States from his base in Germany.