Veterans of Reddit were asked: "What is the scariest thing you saw in your service?" These are some of the best answers.
1/21 For me it was sitting in a windowless basement office helping to plan death and destruction 12-14 hours at a time for months on end.
Apparently, despite never being shot at or actually having my life in danger (unless you count the possibility of dying from sleep deprivation) that was still enough to give me PTSD. I'm still not completely convinced that this is possible, but several psychiatrists and therapists disagree, so I'm doing my best to deal with it.
2/21 Round flew right by my head and hit the ANA guy who was standing next to me in the face. While that might sound scary just on its own, let me give you a bit of background on this guy. His name was Ahmad Durrani, he was 22 years old (same as me at the time), and was born in Kunduz.
He had joined up because he wanted to protect his family while saving up to afford visas and passports for his sisters and mother. This guy was sharp. His English was great. And he was a hell of a soldier. I remember this one time we were on patrol when we came under fire: his ANA buddies all started doing that pose where they fire from behind cover without aiming (see Liveleak if you have no idea what I'm talking about) and he ran up to them yelling "Aim like they taught you! Aim like they taught you!"
He had dreams of going to America and getting into law school, he wanted to "fight injustice across the world". He had this little 'catchphrase' I guess... "For the good of all" For the good of all...
All that potential. All that promise. Gone. Just gone. That beautiful soul wiped away in a split second. And I watched it happen. After the dust settled I made my way back to him.
This was the first time I had ever lost a friend. I mean a few guys in my unit had gotten hit before, but up until that point I had never seen a comrade laying in the dirt. It's a haunting feeling. Just a few seconds ago, you were talking about some [stuff, messing] around and making jokes that were often lost in translation.
And then they're gone. Reduced to corpse lying in the dirt with your once beautiful mind beginning to clump in the blood-soaked mud.
3/21 I wasn't a line troop, but I supported an Infantry Battalion directly through two different tours in Iraq (06-07, 08-09) and we got some pretty gnarly AOs. While I never had any I'm Gonna Die moments, everybody sees messed up things...things that just make you think. I remember the first time I saw a HMMWV melted down - an automatic transmission liquefies like the T-1000. Seeing some poor [guy] who got smeared all over the inside of a truck by explosives is pretty gruesome. Same thing for VBIEDs (car bombs) - an Opel loaded with 155mm howitzer rounds shakes foundations for miles.
The scariest thing I think I can answer for...is human transformation. We had one guy who was an awesome guy - funny, joking, helpful...until he finally just saw the wrong damn thing. Our awesome guy received and scrubbed an MRAP (truck) after it got hit by an Explosively Formed Penetrator, which is downright scary in every possible way it can be. The EFP slug ended up going right through the driver of the vehicle and splattering him all around the truck.
Very few individuals are prepared to handle that situation with aplomb, some just don't have the coping mechanism to handle it at all. Our Awesome Guy was in the latter group - he was a changed man immediately after that incident: quiet, bottled up, slept little, etc. After that tour he got into drugs really bad and trashed his career...but he was done anyways.
So ya...human transformation. It shows just how vulnerable our personalities and psyches are.
4/21 I worked on a sling-load team in Afghanistan in '10-'11. When the order came in for 50+ bodybags to be shipped immediately, got a little sick to my stomach. Then they called for more while we were flying back from dropping them off, because they ran out not putting more than one identifiable man's parts in each bag, I cried. Still do.
Baddest dudes in the world got scattered, all at once. Still catches me some days, chokes me up.... and I was barely associated with it.
5/21 I was deployed in Iraq in 2007, and ever since I haven't been able to bring myself to relieve myself on a squat toilet. I think this all began when I was taking a dump and the building I was in got hit by a mortar. So yeah, literally scared the [crap] out of me.
6/21 It's an entirely different universe. You spend so much time preparing to go to war and go through so many drills to really make sure you know how to react to anything, from a lone sniper to a complex ambush with IEDs, secondary explosives and an enemy squad.
When I actually had to use the things we'd practice, it was second nature. I wasn't thinking that the person I'm shooting at may have had a family or they were firing a pot shot just to earn money. I wasn't thinking about whether or not I was dying, to me it was just shoot back.
But they never trained you on the downtime. You had down time, you were always prepared for something. Hyper vigilant, is an appropriate term for it. It's been years since I came back, but I feel like I'm still ready to fight at a moment's notice. Relaxing is hard. They didn't teach us about how to readjust to a non combat environment.
7/21 I miss the war. Honestly, it's such a heightened experience. You know how you wonder if your friends are fake or not? They're not during war. They're as close as ever. You fall into such a daily habit of things you kind of overlook it. I remember just loading up the humvee everyday, we all knew our jobs, we all knew what was outside the wire and it just became a daily process. To be honest, it's just so simple. Everyone wants to do their portion because everyone knows someone could die if they don't.
It's weird for me to be around civilians (I am still in) because people are just so damn selfish. No one wants to do things to make others lives easier. Over there, everyone will do their best to take care of their task daily.
Everything is increased to a level you won't experience again. Friendship. Love. Hate. Suffering. Happiness. I've never had such friends as the ones I've had on my deployments. I never really cared for any men as much. I have suffered greatly due to my deployments. I have never experienced such happiness than knowing some [jerk] tried to kill me and completely failed.
Yeah, it was a rough couple of years. Those years was my youth though. Now that I'm a Drill Sergeant, I just try to pass on to my men that war is a heightened and truly different experience for everyone. It can be brutal but some things in it you'll always remember.
8/21 I'm a combat veteran with PTSD. War is extremely boring. Several months of preparing, sleeping, playing golf in the sand, writing letters, drinking water, singing songs with guitars people brought along, pooping out in the open, playing football, freezing at night, burning up during the day, wishing you were home, and
.... several hours of pure terror, your heart pounding so hard you think it might leap out of your chest, your best friend on fire, running as fast as humanly possible, pure luck, sleeping with one eye open and your hand on your weapon, laser focused on the task before you, the world melting away as the only thing you observe is a heart beating and breath being taken in, then silence.
You walk along with the rest of the group. Everyone celebrating that we're going home, but you just give a fake smile. All you can think about is not having been there 5 minutes earlier, or why didn't he duck, or why him...
And the sound still stays muted even through the great yell being given by everyone as the plane lifts off the ground and heading home, the high fives given are half hearted and unenthusiastic as we stop at several airports on the way to the states. Everything quiet and just as dead as your best friend. Then you finally see your beautiful wife...and it hits you. That you were lucky enough to be here, now. That incredible moment when you finally hold her and kiss her deeply and forget everyone else there to meet you. Then remember that other beautiful woman not kissing her hero. Not making love to her prince - and the guilt starts again.
Then the real war starts. The yelling and screaming - you left the door open! What is wrong with you! Don't you know anything about security??? The feeling of fury over a burned sandwich-that smells like death. The anger over someone being sweet to you. The murderous rage over being woken up in the middle of the night by that sweet someone wanting to make love. The anguish of having experienced a break in and beating that person only to find out it was an elderly man with Alzheimers having accidentally walked into the wrong home and the blind fury over her having not locked the front door - again.
War itself is hard, sure. But the training and the adrenalin and the focus makes it all a blur. It's After war where we aren't trained and don't have an outlet for the adrenalin and the only focus is the pain and fear and guilt and sleeplessness that makes it last decades. Decades.
9/21 It's very surreal at times. It's boring and we know an idle mind doesn't help any. Every now and then you have bullets whipping by your head, pieces of concrete smacking you in the face, and dead bodies laying on the floor. How would I describe war? It's a different world, nothing like the movies, highly morbid and boring.
10/21 I was in the USAF as a 2T2. Essentially I was the guy that helped get people and supplies flown into and out of the AOR. I mostly stayed on the passenger side booking people into flights and making sure they get on the right aircraft.
For us it's mostly a fight against boredom. It was 12-14 hour shifts 6-7 days a week. When off work there was essentially nothing to do besides go to the gym. I spent a lot of my free time reading my kindle at the smoke pit. We did get attacked damn near everyday but after the first month or so it didn't really phase us anymore. You'd hear the siren. Then sometimes walk over to a bunker and wait it out then go back to what you were doing.
That was my experience being in a war zone. Logistical support is necessary but it can be boring. There were a few occasions that were fun. When musicians or comedians came through on USO tours id get to meet and talk with them since I was going out to meet their plane and get them off the flight line. But for the most part it was an exercise in dealing with boredom.
11/21 Watched, via ISR footage while deployed in Iraq, a kidnapping of a man by Al Quaeda and then the eventual execution in a rural field. It stuck with me how they tossed him in the car trunk, drove miles out to the rural area outside Baghdad, dragged him out of trunk like a sack of potatoes, then stood him up in the field and executed him with their Ak-47's.
And there was nothing we could do about it.
12/21 I was a Navy Sailor who went out to sea many times for weeks at a time. One of my jobs was being a lookout to spot boats, planes, things in the water or air pretty much and report it back to the ship. My Lookout rotation could have me standing watch during the day or night sometimes both and it was during the nights where I was pretty afraid especially if you were at the back of the ship alone. For anyone who hasn't been out in the middle of the ocean in the middle of the night should realize you see many more lights in the sky than you would ever in a city. And on Navy ships they like to have very little lights on at night so standing watch around 1am feels very alien sometimes. And during the nights without a bright moon to help with your vision, you may as well be on a different planet.
There was this one time I saw bright green color moving in the water slowly and I didn't know what it was. My mind told me maybe it's a USO or something else. Eventually I was told it was just plankton but it sure looked freaky to someone who wasn't aware of the glowing plankton produces. Another time me and another guy were standing watch together and I decided just to look up during 2am and see what things I would come across the midnight sky. I would see meteors streak across the sky but a couple of times there were bright lights moving slowly way out there. Perhaps a satellite, maybe who knows. But I stared for a good 20 minutes in the sky and encountered approximately 15 of those slow moving lights in different areas of the sky perhaps many millions of miles apart. Either way those were the few times I saw for myself how vast space really is and that there was so much unknowns out there that humans have yet to discover or explain.
13/21 Yeah Iraq sucked for many reasons but that wasn't the scariest thing I saw. It's what we did to each other when we got back. Each month it got worse and worse. Sexual assaults, rapes, vicious fights, bureaucratic backstabs, mental breakdowns, and medical discharges.
My boss, I'll call her lieutenant M. was one of our battalion's SHARP (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response & Prevention) reps. This wasn't her only responsibility, just an additional one. Every week she had to face hell all the while showing a brave face and signing paperwork like it was just any other job. I saw and helped with only a fraction of the work and it disturbed me. This went on for a year but I saw in her eyes she had aged a decade.
I finished my contract and got out before she did, but not long after I left she was out on medical grounds, in rehab fighting severe alcoholism. Watching colleagues, friends, and family breaking all the while breaking myself was the real nightmare.
14/21 Incoming was always scary, but it was also scary to watch a B-52 strike. The ground shook for miles around. Napalm was also scary to watch, especially when it was close; and it usually was close.
15/21 I was part of Desert Fox/Nobil Anvil. I have a hard time putting it into words. I'm sad for those that had to die because someone on their side put them on a path that took them against our side. I spent a fair bit of time contemplating my existence and what I would do once I was out of that situation. Then I went and did my job.
I didn't have to worry about bullets because I was on a submarine. I had to rely on the actions of the ~100 other guys to keep me alive. It wasn't so much Band of Brothers, but I really do look back on those guys with a lot of respect. I don't put myself in the same class as the infantry guys though. It's an entirely different experience.
16/21 Marine vet with 100% PTSD here. War was 99% boring as hell with some sporadic excitement thrown in whenever some Iraqis felt froggy. It is tons of driving and doing [stupid] work while being shot at. Then if you're lucky you go back to your base at night and get a shower and some hot food. Back on base you get to [defecate] in a luxurious porta-potty while listening to another man abuse his [penis] next door. Then you get attacked with mortars. Part of your building was destroyed but go ahead and try to sleep. You eventually get so tired that you're able to ignore the sound of a generator operating directly outside your window. Imagine sleeping with a lawn mower next to your bed.
As [crappy] as baselife was, raiding was much worse. At 2 in the morning we would drive or fly into towns and then raid them. We would stay for about a week and raid houses and shops during the night and hide out during the day. It is so damn hot that you can't sleep during the day. You end up going for days without sleep while being shot at with rifles, rockets, bombs, grenades and mines and then standing gun watch all night. War is incredibly stressful. Having to take another human's life is awful. I think the majority of veterans would oppose most military involvement.
17/21 It's kind of scary when the indirect fire (mortars, rockets, etc.) alarms go off and you run to a bunker.
While you're sitting in the bunker, which is really just a few slabs of concrete, there's this feeling of complete impotence. In all the war movies you've ever seen, an enemy attacks and the soldiers rush forward with their weapons to meet the attack head on. In reality, when the Taliban is firing mortars at you, there's nothing you can do except sit there and wait.
So you sit down in the bunker, with a loud alarm screaming at you, and you know you're completely powerless to do anything. You sit there and you listen for small arms fire, you listen for people screaming (if they got hit), and you listen to the explosions coming closer and closer to you as the Taliban adjusts their aim and tries to land rockets on your head.
The worst part is that when you come back home, everything sounds like that IDF alarm. Somebody scoots their chair back on a tiled floor, and your heart rate shots up to 120 and you reach for a weapon that you're no longer carrying.
18/21 Former Army infantry here so I'll chime in. Losing friends is hard but actually having to carry their bodies after they've been hit by an IED is the worst. Those things are scary in themselves, but when you can't recognize someone because their entire face is missing, that will [mess] anybody up.
19/21 It varies from boring and mundane to heart racing adrenaline filled moments. Depending on your job, unit, and pure dumb luck the amount of time you spend on one side of the scale changes. It eventually becomes very routine and blends together, we worked 7 days a week with every day being the same thing. For me it went like this. You wake up, get chow, go to daily briefs, plan the mission, do the mission, come back and try to eat something, go to the gym, eat again, and try to occupy yourself until you get tired and start all over again the next day. The only variance in the schedule is what time you go on target, and if anything happens while there. If the mission gets cancelled for whatever reason that time is filled with classes of different topics. Everyday for months and months you see and live with the same people, eat the exact same food, go to the same places at the same time and watch the same movies, tv shows, or play the same games. All while 100% sober and celibate.
This monotony is dotted by your daily mission involving multiple hour long firefights, clearing buildings, S vests, various forms of IEDs, and sprinting through the mountains at several thousand feet above sea level, wearing 100lbs of [stuff] chasing people that are wearing normal clothes. Friends die, innocent people die, enemies die and the only distinction between them is where they happened to be standing on the planet when supersonic chunks of metal happened to also be there. Training, equipment, and planning all tilt the odds in your favor, but anyone that has seen real combat will tell you a bunch of it is pure dumb luck. You happened to be on the drivers side of the vehicle, you didn't step on the ppied the person ahead of you did, the rpg that hit the wall 2 feet from you was a dud, etc.
The worst part of all of that is coming and going from the states. Most units deploy and sit in Kuwait for a month waiting for their stuff, or have a 2 week layover in manas on the way out, not mine. I said goodbye to my wife, got on a bus to the airfield 10 minutes away, loaded up had a 3 hour layover in Germany and then touched down where ever we were going. With the expectation we were mission capable in 24 hours after landing. With all the time zone changing and flights the average time from kissing my wife to loading a helicopter to hit a target was ~48 hours, with 72 being the latest. For the trip to go home you stand down 24-48 hours before you leave to pack, clean, and do customs. Load the plane, fly to Germany for a 3 hour layover, then fly straight back to the base, turn in sensitive items break the pallet down and get released for a 48 hour pass. Average time from the last mission to kissing my wife was right around 4 days. That's the real [problem], going from being a normal citizen to a war zone in 2 days and then going from a war zone to citizen again in 4.
20/21 Going to shower, hearing the incoming fire siren go off. You continue to shower as the 122mm Russian made BM-21 GRAD rockets start hitting the area around you - because there's nothing you can do and nowhere within range is safe. A piece of shrapnel hits the outside of the field-shower, and you still do nothing.
Just lather and rinse.
21/21 I saw two mid-level Taliban leaders get shredded by the 30mm cannon off of an A-10. Body parts just scattered everywhere. About 10 minutes later, a pack of wild dogs showed up and ate what was left of them.