De Nishia Yearby
September 22, 2008
(This content is produced by Rock the Vote in partnership with Wiretap.)
Kareem Lawrence, a 26-year-old Tallahassee, Florida native and disabled veteran, enlisted in the Army back in April 2001 at the age of 19. Since that time, he has been deployed to Iraq twice, in 2004 and 2007, serving as a unit supply specialist and armorer, among other duties. After numerous injuries, he returned home in December 2007.
He still struggles with how much he has changed since his first deployment. Like many of the over 30,000 injured soldiers returning from Iraq, readjusting to a daily life interrupted by two, three or even four deployments to Iraq is an ongoing challenge.
It is stories like his, of continuous mental and physical pain, that have contributed to the staggering suicide rates for returning soldiers–the highest in Army history. Wounded, well or waiting, there are currently 132,000 soldiers in Iraq and 30,000 in theater.
Lawrence intimately understands the challenges of returning soldiers. He has endured mental and physical pain–Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), permanent damage to his shoulder, back and knee–that has left him questioning his role in a war that continues to be waged at a cost of $12 billion dollars a month.
Lawrence recently sat down with Rock the Trail to talk about his time in Iraq, his painful adjustment to his new life and why he thinks American soldiers are being taken for granted.
Rock The Trail: Why did you enlist in the Army?
: I had a friend who was a recruiter. He used to come to my high school and he told me I would get a government vehicle and could hang out and have fun and get paid for it. I wasn’t doing anything constructive so I decided it was a good idea.
Did you ever imagine you would go to Iraq or Afghanistan?
: No, I never imagined I would be deployed. Everything was peaceful when I joined. They [recruiters] said it was money and parties and that’s what I joined for. September 11th happened while I was in training. We were actually in Virginia nearby the Pentagon when it happened. We were on a road march and they just told us to get on the ground and lay down. We didn’t know what was going on for almost an hour and a half. Then they told us something about planes hitting a building. Next thing you know, we were on lockdown.
What was your reaction when you found out that you were going to be deployed?
: My first reaction was that I was going to die because when the war broke out, that was all you were seeing. Jessica Lynch was stationed in El Paso with us. When everything broke out, the whole base was supposed to get shipped out at the same time. Something happened and my unit didn’t go. Jessica’s unit went out there, and they got ambushed. We’re sitting at home and watching them getting shot up on TV. I was sitting in the hotel room watching the news and they showed the face of this guy I used to hang out with on TV. I just broke out crying. We use to hang out–go to the clubs, go shopping–he was a real cool person. He was very “churchy.” Him dying was the first time it got real [for me].