Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can affect anyone who has suffered from a traumatic event in life, or has occurring fears of their safety and the safety of others. PTSD disrupts a person’s ability to live a normal life. Saddleback alumnus AJ Trotto, 20, currently serving in Iraq spoke candidly about PTSD, its genisis and the impact on his life. The graphic language may offend some readers, but was not omitted to preserve the contextual validity of his words.
Lariat: How did you end up enlisting?
Trotto: I ended up enlisting in the army when I was 17 years old. I got sick of high school and all the bullshit so I dropped out, got my GED and joined the army. I was a reserve for two years then decided to go active duty and join a combat arms job. I have been in the army for a total of 3 years, including reserve time.
I am a battle tank crewmen and I am the tank driver. I also do infantry work such as dismount patrols and raids. Joining the army was a personal choice. I wanted to do something crazy and support my country. I also had a desire to kill. L: When do you come back to the United States?
T: My ETS (Estimated Time of Separation) from the military is Nov. 5 2010. That’s if I don’t decide to reenlist. If I don’t come home early from Iraq for being hurt, I should redeploy back to the states late Feb. 2009
L: Are you going to enlist again?
T: At this point in time probably not. The army had really screwed me, but you never know. I may change my mind.
L: Tell me some stories about losing or almost losing a friend.
T: It’s a tough thing to deal with losing a friend. I have lost a few friends and battle buddies in this deployment. It. . . you just have to drive on and it just gives me more motivation to kill those mother fuckers who killed my buddies. I think the toughest this was when we got hit by and IED (improvised explosive device) and a truck caught fire and four soldiers got stuck inside and burned to death. Having to listen to their screams and not being able to do anything about it really messes with you, and you will never be the same.
L: Do you regret enlisting?
T: I don’t regret enlisting at all, I am doing something that not many people can do, and freedom isn’t free. I don’t care what anyone thinks, someone has to fight for it and I am proud to be one of those people.
L: What are you most looking forward to about coming home?
T: To be honest, I want to be fixed so I can get back in the fight. I am a trained killer, and that’s all I know. If I could I would stay here for another 15 months. I enjoy combat. I live in fear everyday, but fear is what keeps you alive out here. At this point, I really have no reason to come home and am not really looking forward to coming home except for one thing. Her name is Chelsea Parrott. That is the only thing I would give this life style up for. She is amazing and I love everything about her.
L: Are you scared about re-entering everyday life ?
T: Yes. I am very scared. I am so used to being in a combat zone. Coming home and living in the civilian world is a scary thing. [Having to get] used to everything again and trying to function with people who know nothing about killing [after] seeing your friends die on a daily basis.
L: What was the most disturbing thing you’ve seen?
T: The most disturbing thing I’ve seen was the aftermath of a rocket attack. I was on the QRF (Quick Reaction Force) that day and was first on scene. The first thing I came across was a Iraqi national with his head split wide open dead on the ground, with dead babies who were killed by being burned to death. [I was listening] to the screams of the mothers looking for their children and [seeing] the pool of blood flowing down the street.
L: Do you have nightmares or night terrors?
T: Yes,every night I deal with PTSD (posttraumatic stress syndrome) and nightmares. The thing about having nightmares is your brain cannot decipher the difference between dreams and reality, so every time I have a nightmare it’s like I am going through combat over and over again.
I hate dark places with a lot of people such as movie theaters. I freak out and have to leave. I also hate people behind me and I hate being in large crowds alone. I start to feel like someone is going to come after or try to kill me.
I feel alone at times. I am dealing with depression and that comes with the environment.
L: Are a different type of person after being in war?
T: Yes, 100% different. You have a whole different perspective on life and value things differently.
L: Have you killed someone?
T: Yes. I have killed many people and assisted in killing people.
L: How did that affect you?
T: It affects you in different ways. Killing a grown man that is trying to kill you gives you the sense of immortality and power. Now, having to kill a child or female is a different feeling. It really fucks you up and makes you feel like you’re the biggest piece of shit in the world, but when it comes down to it, if someone is trying to kill you no matter: male, female or child, you’re going to fight back to protect your battle buddies and yourself.
L: Have you become desensitized because of all that you’ve seen in Iraq?
T: To be honest, seeing the bad guy dead makes me sleep better at night and being the person that killed that person makes me feel even better. I still have feelings, but my emotion to care I would say has changed. Watching my friends die is one thing but seeing somebody dying that was trying to kill me does not affect me at all. That bastard deserves to die.
L: Tell me how you were injured and what was going through your mind when you realized that you had come so close to death.
T: I have been injured a few times, from a RPG (rocket propelled grenade) being shot at and blowing up right near my head, to IEDS and EFPs (explosively formed penetrator); also rockets being shot at the building I live in, but I am not afraid to die. It does not bother me. I am ready for it. I just want to die quickly. Every time I came close to getting killed a lot of things go through your mind but you’re prepared and you’re ready to die with honor.