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Former Ranger sharing his story

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Posted: Tuesday, August 26, 2008 12:00 pm | Updated: 5:05 pm, Wed Aug 15, 2012.

By Amanda Kim Stairrett

Killeen Daily Herald

"I feel like I'm about to vomit," Nate Self wrote.

He and 13 men from a Quick Reaction Force were in a helicopter in March 2002, searching a snowy mountain, crawling with al-Qaida fighters, for a missing Navy SEAL.

"Right now, there's no place on earth more hostile to U.S. soldiers – and no place my team would rather be," Self wrote. "We're here because we're Rangers, and we have a creed to uphold: Never leave a fallen comrade ..."

A gunner spots a man aiming a rocket-propelled grenade launcher at the helicopter.

"'I've got an RPG–two o'clock!' The door gunner leans into his minigun's trigger," Self wrote.

"The M-134 Gatling gun belches, accompanied by three rounds from the aircraft's M-60 machine gun in the rear. Their tandem fury jolts me. The machine guns riddle the Arab's body, pinning him against a boulder, but not before he launches the RPG. Our gunners are too late.

"I hear the air tearing as the rocket-propelled grenade screams toward us. The detonating shaped charge rips into the aircraft's right engine, jolting the helicopter. A second RPG pierces the windshield glass, detonating inside and spraying hot metal throughout the cockpit. The helicopter falls with a queasy rush. In an instant, nearly 50,000 pounds of rubber, steel, and American flesh crashes to the earth."

Self, a West Point graduate and former Army captain, writes about the experiences that follow in his book, "Two Wars: One Hero's Fight on Two Fronts – Abroad and Within." The author, who now lives near Temple, is set to sign copies of his book from 6-9 p.m. today at the new Market Heights Barnes & Noble in Harker Heights. The store is hosting a preview party before its grand opening Wednesday.

The battle Self wrote about was the highest-altitude battle ever fought by U.S. troops and several of the first 10 men to die in the War on Terror were lost in that fight, called "Rescue on Roberts Ridge," according to information from Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists.

Self was awarded a Silver Star for valor, Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his actions in that battle, but he wasn't prepared for the fight that was to come.

Self writes extensively about his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder in "Two Wars."

An April 2008 study conducted by the Rand Corporation found that one in five Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffer from depression or stress disorders. It also found that less than half of the 300,000 veterans in that study receive care for depression or PTSD.

Self wants people to read his book and understand what it is like to be a soldier at war and the effects of that on them and their families.

In an interview with Stone Phillips on "Dateline" in June 2005, and in the throes of PTSD, Self said he dreamt every night that he always had a gun in his hands.

"There's always something that has to be done, there's always somebody shooting at me," he said. "And, you know – I kill people every night."

Writing "Two Wars" was therapy, Self said last week. The physical act of writing helped him because he had difficulties talking about his experiences, especially to his family. Talking about the deaths of his friends in combat bothered him, and he found it easier to talk to strangers.

Putting the words down on paper "declared it," Self said. He gave drafts to his parents and wife, Julie, and for the first time they could talk about the events that happened years before.

Self encourages soldiers who come back home to similar experiences to start writing.

"(Writing) is a mechanism to share those experiences that I was scared to share," he said.

Self, who left the Army in 2004, has gotten overwhelming reaction from veterans – of wars past and present – who read his book or heard his story. Publishing the book has given him a new connection with those who enjoy the modern story of war and who can identify with his loss and struggle.

"It comforts me to hear this is a normal reaction to war," he said.

He's glad that his experiences weren't wasted, but being used to help heal and serve others. It was a difficult decision to put himself out there as a face for a problem that has long come with a stigma. The easiest thing to do is close up, Self said, but it's a message people need to hear.

Awareness and funding to treat PTSD is rising, Self said, and it is up to those who are suffering to seek out help. He recognizes that the biggest challenge is for those people to say they actually need help. Self admitted he didn't seek help for his PTSD until it was a problem.

Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at astair@kdhnews.com or call (254) 501-7547.

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