HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – "Don't forget that human beings have a responsibility to one another and that Americans will always have a responsibility to the oppressed." So said "Why I Joined," an essay by 2nd Lt. Mark J. Daily, who died Jan. 15, 2007, in Mosul, Iraq. His statement captures an ideal: Responsible soldiers are sent overseas to help the oppressed, and their nation has a responsibility to honor their deaths and help survivors recover from their wounds.
Sgt. Hayes Brahmer, who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, doesn't need Memorial Day to think about his friend Daily and the other three soldiers who died with him: Sgt. Ian C. Anderson, Sgt. John E Cooper and Spec. Matthew T. Grimm. The four were on patrol in a Humvee when some 1,500 pounds of high explosives suddenly blew up from underneath them. Brahmer saw the bodies.
Brahmer, who is getting treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, is learning to live with those memories. Sometimes flashbacks from Iraq and Afghanistan triggered in him overwhelming anxiety, but the warrior pushed on. He was working at the Pembroke Pines Armory in Hollywood when he recognized that he needed help.
"When I'm at places alone, I'm hyper-aware, hyper-vigilant," Brahmer, 34, said."Sometimes [I am] paranoid of areas that remind me of places, like cities, large spaces without greenery. When you have PTSD, it's a paranoid feeling at times because you feel so alone."
His wife, Barbara Brahmer, struggled with a Veteran Affairs' waiting list, but eventually found a private rehab that took his insurance. Now that he has been released from a rehabilitation center, she is concerned about unreasonable expectations from a superior at the Pembroke Pines Armory, who doesn't believe PTSD exists.
Brahmer -- who has a clean record and reviews that he is proud of -- said he walked into the Pembroke Pines Armory to a wave of insults. He is in a partial hospitalization program. Doctors are keeping him heavily medicated. A superior removed him from his position, wanted him to sign documents and report twice a day. And he also expected him to drive.
"There is a stigma within the military that is very commonly known -- that if you admit to mental health issues, you are broken. You're no longer a warrior," Brahmer said. "That comes from years and years of warrior mindset."
Brahmer still has nightmares of combat trauma. He is still tortured when he wonders if the situations could have played out differently. He doesn't need Memorial Day to remember the wounded soldiers and Marines he was deployed with. He doesn't need Memorial Day to remember those who died. He is learning how to cope with the memories.
On Monday, Brahmer prayed for Daily, Anderson, Cooper and Grimm. The four men in their 20s were assigned to "C" Company of the Second Battalion of the Seventh Cavalry Regiment. They died in Mosul while serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Anderson, 22, of Prairie Village, Kan., went to Shawnee Mission East High School before joining the Army in 2003. He loved the outdoors and caring for wildlife.
Cooper, 29, of Ewing, Ky., joined the Army shortly after graduating from Fleming County High School in 1995. The school received his casket covered with a U.S. flag for his service in 2007.
Grimm, 21, of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., joined the Army after graduating from Lincoln High School, where he played football, wrestled and dabbled in weightlifting. He loved cars.
Daily, 23, of Irvine, Calif., was born on the Fourth of July. He was a University of California, Los Angeles honors graduate. He joined the Army after the U.S. declared war on Iraq in 2003.
Daily's essay "Why I Joined" was read in Congress two months after his death.
"Consider that there are 19 year old soldiers from the Midwest who have never touched a college campus or a protest, who have done more to uphold the universal legitimacy of representative government and individual rights by placing themselves between Iraqi voting lines and homicidal religious fanatics."