There is power in seeing the blessing in even the most harrowing circumstances. The Empowering Team knows you can find inspiration for your own situations in the story of Sgt. Jeffrey Beltran, as told by freelancer Jim Rendon in this excerpt from The New York Times Magazine.
Sgt. Jeffrey Beltran pulled a heavily creased Post-it note from the pocket of his fatigues, unfolded it and looked over a list he jotted down earlier that day: pick up an order of beef lo mein, take his dress uniform to work (jacket, pants and boots), do schoolwork. Beltran’s Army-issue organizer is also filled with these reminders, and he checks them every so often to jog his memory — folding and unfolding them throughout the day. Beltran’s life is filled with sticky notes because his short-term memory is no longer reliable, a result of what the Army calls a mild traumatic brain injury that he suffered in an I.E.D. attack in Iraq in 2005.
The photos, taken right after the explosion, show a plowed field next to a road. A few palm trees frame the horizon. In the foreground there is a deep crater. About 20 feet away, the front half of a Humvee is turned upside down. The back half is gone — parts were later discovered hundreds of feet away. When the bomb exploded, Beltran was launched into the air and landed between the blast hole and the Humvee. When he came to, he couldn’t stand up. “I knew something was wrong,” he said. “I felt swelling inside my legs. I was hyperventilating in the heat. The dirt was starting to settle down. I called out to my guys. I couldn’t see them.”
The blast broke Beltran’s knee and leg, fractured his lower spine and buried shrapnel in his thigh; the violent jolt caused his brain injury. He suffered so many wounds that he had to pause in the retelling to make sure he hadn’t left anything out. He underwent 14 operations over the next year. “I was dealing with post-traumatic stress, anger, all the emotions, the ups and downs, the physical, emotional, psychological pain,” he told me. “I was really angry. I wanted to get healed and get back into the fight.”
By 2007, Beltran was on several medications: Clonazepam and Buspirone for anxiety, Celebrex for pain and other pills for depression. Yet the Army deployed him again, this time to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, where he coordinated with nongovernmental organizations to clear minefields. He saw a farmer blown up. A soldier he worked with closely was killed. Whenever a soldier died, a memorial service was announced over the public address system, and the base’s main road was shut down for the soldier’s final ride to the mortuary. “That wears on you,” Beltran said. “As much as you want to avoid it, death is always in front of you.”
After six months in Afghanistan, Beltran was given a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and sent home. The Army offered him a medical discharge, but he declined. Beltran’s father served 21 years in the Navy, and his grandfather survived the Bataan death march. So despite all the troubles that followed — he was even hospitalized after considering suicide — he stayed in the Army.
Jim Rendon is a freelance writer in New York. He is working on a book about the medical-marijuana industr.y
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