WHO I AM
In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.
Those who know me understand I never intended to write a book, but over the years of learning how to cope with combat stress, I realized how cathartic writing had become. What started as an adjunct to therapy became an incredible psychological release. However, as my notes turned into journals I discovered the writing was less about me and more about the individuals and events that shaped my life. I felt compelled to tell others dealing with similar demons what I had learned, but I shunned the idea of letting anyone read what I had written—not because of a lack of writing ability but more from a reluctance to expose personal aspects of my life that I have kept hidden from even my own wife. As you will find out, I am neither the all-American boy nor a conquering warrior. I am simply a man who held many titles over his military career; some I worked very hard to attain, while others were simply assignments. The most difficult and at times haunting label that I have had to contend with is “hero.”
I am not a hero, but I know many worthy of the title. I have had the distinct honor to serve among them for most of my career. I dedicated my life to preserving theirs. I trained with them for battle, bandaged them in combat, and listened to their revelations about life, everything from the birth of their first child to the burial of their closest friends. I am a man who worked hard to serve among the world’s most elite warriors. I am a sailor who to the detriment of his own family placed service for his country and teammates above all else. A medical officer who struggled to maintain an oath to preserve life through medicine while taking lives in the defense of his country. A veteran who still suffers from the mental scars of war but through the grace of God, the love of my wife, and the support of the families of the fallen learned how to deal with it before it destroyed me. I am a Navy SEAL who lived by a creed and did what was expected. I am a lot of things, but a hero is not one of them.
The awards I received represent the actions of a team, not the deeds of a single man. I know how each citation reads, and I am not trivializing what is written. The line between hero and fool is razor thin, and it was the actions of the team that allowed me the opportunity to do what was required. Had the others not provided cover, coordinated air support, or maneuvered on the enemy as I moved under fire I would be buried at Arlington right now, my legacy viewed much differently. Truth be told, they, the team, are the reasons why I wear these medals, and I am honored to have received them on their behalf.
Until I wore the medals, I never understood their true significance. Our nation’s medals represent more than the actions of any team on a single day. They embody the principles upon which our government was founded and are a tangible depiction of our military’s core values: honor, courage, and commitment. The fact that the nation’s top three medals for valor require a multitude of evidence only demonstrates the reverence our country has for them. However, it is my personal belief that this same standard of inviolability has also prevented many of my brethren from receiving awards commensurate with their actions. These are the heroes of whom I speak: Americans who, when asked to face danger and adversity, continually answered the call, not for notoriety or distinction but solely out of their love for their country, family, and teammates. They are the quiet and often unknown professionals of special operations and the parents, wives, and children who support them. They are both whom I served and to whom I am forever indebted.
Out of respect of their privacy, to protect those who continue to carry the sword and for reasons of national security, many names, locations, dates, and circumstances have been changed or omitted. If you are reading this in an attempt to discover information about special operations, I recommend you look elsewhere. If you’re curious about the internal struggles of a combat medic, dedicated to saving lives but forced to take them, this book is for you.
Copyright © 2013 by Mark L. Donald