Sunday, February 8, 2015


Alcoholism runs in a lot of families in America and it has had an impact on my family. Alcohol is one of those things that is always ready and available at my house and it seems like the first two questions that are asked are; how are you? Want a beer? When I first joined the Army my mom was afraid that joining was going to be my path to alcoholism. Furthermore I was first stationed in Germany, the beer was plenty and the drinking age was 18. My mother was so worried I was going to follow the family tradition of booze and I guess she had good reason to worry. But why is alcohol and being a soldier synonymous? Next time you watch a military movie look for the booze, it’s there, it’s always there.

Alcohol is a coping mechanism that has been used by soldiers past, present and future to hide the scars of war. I have a few friends who have physical scars of war, but every friend who has been to war has emotional scars. The easiest way to forget is to drink. During any deployment everyone always talks about how much they are going to drink, what they are going to drink and what they miss most about drinking. I’m not saying that every soldier is an alcoholic because that is far from the truth. However a good number of soldiers have at one point in their post-deployment depression used alcohol as a vice.

I have had my fair share of trying to cope when I get home. Like many before me the easiest way to hide my sorrows is to drink it away. As I look back at my problem now I can’t believe how bad it got. I can remember drinking a 12-pack every night and being able to wake up the next day like nothing happened. This was definitely a low point in my life and is hard to talk about. Too many soldiers turn alcohol and can end up ruining their career over one night, one mistake. A great Platoon Sergeant of mine once told us this; you can be a master mason your entire life, everyone knows you as a mason, but if you kill one person because of alcohol you will forever be remembered as a murderer. The point he was making is that all the good we do during a deployment, the pride our family has in us, the pride our nation has in us, can be ruined by one night of drinking.

Friday, January 30, 2015


I was asked by a close friend of mine to write about something that I do at home that is seemingly impossible when I am deployed. I have been thinking about this for days there is one thing that stands out above the rest; communication. Being able to communicate with family and friends is made far more difficult while you are deployed. From reading body language to being able to physically touch someone builds an unmeasurable pressure. That’s not to say I don’t read body language here or communicate with the people I work with, but I would much rather be able to reach out and tickle my son or kiss my wife.

Back to the question at hand. Not only am I talking about verbal communication but it’s mostly the non-verbal communication that I miss. If you have ever loved someone you will know what I’m talking about here. There is something about looking into my wife’s eyes or looking into my son’s eyes that is unexplainable. The feeling you get from being in the same room as your family is something that you miss uncontrollably while you are gone. The non-verbal communication is the hardest to cope without. The good game tap I give my wife after she makes a meal, kissing her neck or holding her hand is all absent while you are deployed.

It is easy to think about why communication with loved ones is so difficult for us. Not only is the time difference vastly different, but our priorities change while we are deployed. There are a lot of things that happen in the States that people rave about that soldiers couldn’t possibly care less about. When you are away from family for so long and after you have been shot at a few times you come to realize the things that really matter and the things that are not worth worrying about. The one thing that is also hard for us while we are here is trying to understand what are families are going through. Trying to communicate what are families are feeling is hard. Often times we shut down and close the door before they can even knock. We often will dismiss how our thoughts or actions make our family and friends feel using the idea that what we are going through is worse and therefore we need the attention not them. Sometimes we have to take a step back and even though it is hard we need to be more selfless. Taking an extra 5 minutes to let our families get the weight of their chest will help everyone get through the deployment.

There are things that I see in the news media that I cannot believe are worth the time or money to put on air. I have been watching the news today and on every program they have brought up this commercial of a dog getting lost, finding his way home and ultimately getting sold over the internet. Animal rights activists are going BONKERS over this commercial. Why is it worth wasting money and time arguing about how wrong or right a damn commercial is? In the end does not even have to run a Super Bowl commercial because they have received so much attention already. There are so many issues that are going on around the world and even in the United States that people need to educated one. When can we start talking about that stuff? When are we going to start talking about the VA, the war in the Middle East or the murders in Africa?

It is important to talk about communication issues when we get home too. Not only is the discontent with lack of communication palpable while deployed but the surge of communication when we get home is nearly as hard to understand or cope with. When we return we are overwhelmed with trying to catch up on the things we missed. Although we can Skype and FaceTime often it’s the finer details that we miss and the finer details that you can only see and recognize in person. My son for the first 5 months I was in Qatar wanted nothing to do with me. It was nearly impossible to get him to sit down and talk with me for 5 minutes. At first it killed me because I didn’t understand. Only after a couple weeks of reading online I found that it was just a coping mechanism for him. He may have been upset or just didn’t understand why I left. He felt uncomfortable seeing his father through the iPad and not being able to play like we once could.

When I get home I fully expect there to be issues with communication between my wife and I but mostly between my son and I. My son is going to be confused where I stand in the “chain of command” at the house. He has been listening to my wife for so long that I have lost authority. It’s going to be a long process to get our ducks in a row and be able to try to pick up where we left off when I get home. I am most worried about where my wife and I stand. While my son is young and resilient my wife is more aware of the person I have become. As you have read before our marriage is very much on the rocks and the outcome is unknown. I will have to try to learn how to communicate my love and my appreciation for my wife. I need to grow and better comprehend what she needs from our relationship so I can become the husband she needs and the husband she deserves.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Call to service

Deciding to join the Army during a time of war was no easy thing to wrap my mind around, let alone my mother’s. I’ll never forget the receiving line of congratulations just after raising my right hand, my mother at the end, and as I got to her she hit me as hard as she could. I hadn’t been enlisted in the Army but 5 minutes and she had already caused damage to government property. I can honestly say I wasn’t mad, and I’m glad it didn’t hurt as bad as I thought. For those of you who know my mom she can throw a pretty mean jab. I scarred her enough from birth till that day and the way I say it, I had that one long time coming.

My actual call to service started way before my enlistment however. My first true calling came late 2005 when I decided I wanted to dedicate my life to civil service; police, firefighting, EMS, something. By late 2006 early 2007 someone answered that call. A close family friend and Fire Officer at De Forest Fire/EMS saw something in me and was willing to help me on my path. Rydell stuck his neck out to get me in the door, get me an interview and ultimately started the foundation of my love for serving.

This is when I met Mark. Mark has been a major player in my life sense 2007. Mark pushed me, taught me life lessons, always expected the best and wasn’t afraid to kick my ass when it needed it. Mark supported me through my career at De Forest and was happy to see me go to another fire department because he knew it was the best for me to start my long career in smoke eating. My fire and EMS service is something I will never forget and it is something that I will always hold close to my heart. After 6 years of being in the Army I still find myself boasting “I was a firemen before I joined the Army.” I have a Maltese cross tattooed on my right arm with the number 343 inside, the number of FDNY firemen lost in the September 11th attack.

I had an amazing start and was well ahead of anyone my age in relation to having a career so fast out of high school but I felt like I was not doing enough. I guess this is when my second thrust towards serving others was. As cliché as it is, I saw the pictures and videos of war, I saw the pain in soldiers eyes, I saw the war and needed to be there. I needed to be a part of something bigger, something with more meaning, something that was going to make a difference. The realization that I could not come home crossed my mind and was gone as quickly as it came. Dying for my country was the most honorable thing I could imagine. My journey from enlistment to Afghanistan was a dream. Basic, jump school, moved to Germany and 60 days later I was in Afghanistan. This was exactly where I need to be. Getting off the plane I looked around, it was cold, smelled like shit, I was tired as hell but it didn’t matter.

There are fighting seasons in Afghanistan believe it or not. Think of it as a baseball season. It’s too cold in the winter to play ball but come spring - GAME ON! Our platoon was very experienced. Most just got back from another deployment and here they were back in the suck. I was called on again to deploy and I was just as excited as my first one. Here I find myself once again, being called on, and I’m back over in the Middle East.

My call to service has taken me around the world a few times and I couldn’t be more honored to wear the American Flag, my Sergeant chevrons and the U.S. Army nametape. Nothing makes me happier than knowing I’m a leader in the greatest Army in the world. I will continue to serve until they kick me out or bury me.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

My start here

It has been brought to my attention that I need to change. Change is not something that comes easy for me. Of course I am not really sure change truly comes easy for anyone. My first real mentor and pillar that I have leaned on for years, the one who started my career in Civil Service was sought out for help in my most recent depression and struggle. He suggested starting a blog to help relieve stress and get the word out there. So here I am.

I'm sure all of you know that I an in the Military and supporting service members is something that is important to me. In this blog I will mostly tell you way to much about my life and my struggle. Keep in mind throughout reading that my struggles are not isolated to me. Thousands of veterans feel the same pain I do, they feel the same need for help I do. You will read not only my stories but hopefully I'll be able to get my brothers-in-arms to contribute here and there.

You will notice a reoccurring theme I'm afraid, pain. I am not sure how to help alleviate the pain I hold inside besides writing about it knowing someone out there might take satisfaction and solace knowing they are not alone. The pain I'll talk about is not exclusive to Military, or even Civil Services for that matter. Everyone feels pain and while our circumstances may differ the weight we hold on our shoulders weights the same.

Most of you know me as Tom, Thomas, Tommy, Son, Grandson, or friend and while those are all correct I have long sense been identified as something, perhaps even someone else. Sergeant Kirkland is someone who I have become through service, training, experience and sacrifice. Most of you reading this have never seen me at work. You honestly know very little about what I do and the "daily grind" of being a Sergeant and leader in today's Military. This is OK, keep reading and you will soon understand. I will slowly help you understand the Military and our lifestyle. Keep in mind my experience are not the same as every other person in the Military.

 If you have a loved one who serves, don't be frightened that their experience is the same or what they have been through is exactly the same. Rather take what I write and try to understand what they are going through and the help they need. Next time they snap, alienate themselves, yell, curse or say something we all know they don't mean think about what I have written. The pain that Soldier's feel and the weight on our shoulders is something that might best be described as incomprehensible. Don't feel sorry for us, this is the path we have chosen. This is the life we love and want to live. Many of us live off the pride. We live off knowing the weight is on our shoulders and not yours.

Sacrifice is something we are all accustomed to. We all sacrifice for what we believe in and love. I have sacrificed my family and loved ones to serve multiple tours overseas. I would not change it for anything. Some sacrifice a little and some sacrifice everything. A great man was killed 24 December 2012. Sergeant Enrique Mondragon was a brother to me. I have been relatively quiet about how his death effected me but trust me it has. With that being said I can look my family in the eyes, my wife and my son, my father and mother, my brother and sister and with complete sincerity tell them that if it was possible I would leave so Enrique could come back. I would sacrifice myself even if it meant that he could only spend even one day, one hour, one minute with his beautiful wife and daughter. I would have no problem leaving everything behind so Beverly and Katie had one last chance to say "hello, goodbye, I love you!". This is the love that I have for the men and women I serve with. This is the weight I'll gladly bare.

Stay tuned if you want. Feel free to comment with your thoughts, suggestions or your own stories.