This is Chris. One of my old soldiers from when I was an officer in the Army passed away last week. His name was SGT Cory Johnson, and although I’m sure he’ll never make any official statistic, he’s a casualty of the war as far as I’m concerned. They’re still waiting on an autopsy report, but it looks like he went out partying, came back, passed out, and never woke up. He was definitely drinking, and I’m willing to bet the autopsy will show that he had drugs in his system.
SGT Johnson was ambushed on April 9, 2004, by members of the Moqtada Al Sadr’s Mahdi Army at around the same time the Marines lost control of Fallujah. His truck was struck by two rocket propelled grenades (RPGs). The first one penetrated the thin armor on the Humvee and went completely through the truck. In the process, it killed one other soldier, SGT Cody Eckhardt, and seriously wounded another.
SGT Johnson was the gunner on the truck and was blown out of his hatch on the top by the force of the blast. Although dazed, he managed to pull a couple of other soldiers from the burning vehicle (while getting shot at), took care of the casualties, and stayed on to fight off the ambush until help arrived. He was submitted for a Silver Star and ultimately awarded a Bronze Star with Valor for his actions.
After returning from Iraq, Cory almost immediately started down a bad path from which he never returned. Before moving back to the U.S. from our post in Germany, he started smoking pot. After moving to Ft. Hood, TX, he was soon busted for cocaine. He suffered from blackouts, memory loss, and a bunch of other side effects from the war.
I last saw Cory this past 4th of July and he was still battling with his issues. He was out of the Army and on disability, but regularly used drugs – both prescription and illegal ones – because they were the only things that helped him feel better.
I’m neither for nor against the war. I do think the initial invasion was a terrible mistake, but I also think it’s somewhat our responsibility to at least try to clean up the mess we’ve now made. I can only wonder how many other soldiers will suffer a similar fate in coming years. Either way, I hope that Cory found the peace that he’s been looking for since 2004.