Specialist Steven Merkley

After they got to Afghanistan, Spec. Steven Merkley kept telling the guys in his outfit, the 511th MPs, “Hey, this isn’t all that bad.” One night Merkley, a tall, brooding 24-year-old from Croghan, upstate New York, talked about being on peacekeeping patrol in Bosnia a few years ago.  “We stopped the Humvee out of concern about mines and got out and I went forward on foot, and all of a sudden I was up to my waist in this incredible stink. Guys helped pull me out and there was a finger stuck in my boot lace.  It was a mass grave. The top layer was all kids. Babies, too. They eventually pulled 397 bodies out of there. I couldn’t sleep for six months.  They sent me to a Marine Corps major who was the mental health counselor. He was no help. He said, ‘Hey, it’s war.’

“I spent a long time talking to my dad about this. He did two tours in Vietnam. He really helped me. My dad was the only one who could really understand it. He knew exactly. He saw a lot of bad stuff in Vietnam. He had post-traumatic stress, real bad. He used to beat me when I was a kid. One time I tripped over his feet and he swung around and hit me and broke my nose.

“I moved out and lived with my grandfather for a couple of weeks. That really hit him hard. He signed himself into the VA hospital and was there for three years in and out, getting treatment. He still sees a psychiatrist.”

After that experience, why did Merkley choose a military career?  “There are no jobs back where I come from. And my dad wanted me to go military. So did my grandfather. It was the one thing he wanted to see before he died.

“He almost made it. I was with the recruiters when I got a phone call saying, ‘Your grandfather is going.’ I raced home on the back roads in my mom’s Dodge Charger. Six or seven minutes home. He was dead.”

Staff Sergeant Dirk Sheffer
PFC Ryan Odom
Staff Sergeant George Smith
Major Kevin Farris
Command Sgt. Maj. Frank Grippe
Maj. Gen. Franklin L. “Buster” Hagenbeck
Lt. Col. Fred Hoadley
Specialist Steven Merkley
Maj. Jerry Curran, M.D.

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