Memorial Day with Mike Pinaula

Is there anything you want to share with non-Veterans specifically about Memorial Day?

The key point I would like to share with non-Veterans is the specificity of Memorial Day. There are numerous holidays, some federal and some of lesser clout, honoring our nation’s Veteran population. While I whole-heartedly agree with this effort, Memorial Day should be reserved for those lives lost during service to this country and the families that have been forever altered by losing their own. I would ask for three major things this day. First, put aside your personal beliefs about if and why our troops are deployed. Second, this should be an opportunity for everyone to look at their brother, sister, father, mother, and imagine how your family dynamic would be altered by their absence. I understand people die every day, but the way these individuals passed is unique as they left the confines of their home and traveled to a location with the understanding they may never return. They go to foreign lands, so you do not. Honor the greatest sacrifice one can make and honor the lives that are forever changed. Third, this day should reflect how you can be better in your own life. Regardless of your chosen path, use the memory of soldiers lost as a catalyst to making the most of what life you have retained.

Has Memorial Day changed for you now that you are not on active duty?

Now that I am no longer on active duty, Memorial Day seems to have a way of pulling me back in time. While there isn’t a day that goes by where I do not think of those lost, during Memorial Day I feel myself slipping back to a time where those individuals no longer with me are most active in my memory. I can think of the good, bad, and the end of my time with them. From being a groomsman, rescuing and being rescued from the many shady establishments that seem to be around every duty station, and arguing about why their chosen sports team does not deserve to breathe the same oxygen as mine slowly creates the bond every soldier will experience. This bond becomes exponentially more formidable during combat-related deployments. A bond between a trusted medic and a competent infantryman is one that rivals the strongest in nature and fiction. I had these bonds with so many and this day allows me reflection on the bonds hindered by death. I used to resent this holiday as it was a reminder that these people are no longer with us, and I am no longer, “Doc.” Now, several years later, I look to this day as an opportunity to honor all not of this world through combat.

Is there a certain person you would like to honor by sharing some memories of them with us today?

I have the tradition of rotating between the most significant losses I endured during my time as a medic in light and parachute infantry regiments. This year will be represented by the one I struggle with the most. Two reasons surround why this person has such a piercing existence in my mind, even to this day. First, I was barely 19 when I arrived as a new medic to my platoon which had been deployed to Afghanistan a couple months prior, where I was met by a familiar face. I knew this person from basic training. When I went to Fort Benning, GA to attend basic training I was not expecting to be involved in actual infantry training. However, while in the reception company there was an issue with soldiers attempting self-harm. This was the main factor in making the decision to send a mixed company of infantry candidates and, “soft-skilled” recruits. We had two platoons of future grunts and two of random jobs/careers. In one of the infantry platoons was what became my best friend. As things happen, Corey and I found similar connections, interests, and basic principles and over time, this developed into a cherished friendship. Unbeknownst to both of us, after our specific training and separate jump schools were completed, he was deployed, and I was assigned to his company within the 82nd Airborne division. We were once again reunited, and our friendship picked up exactly where it had left off a short time ago. His death came on the morning of my 9th day in-country. Our job for this deployment was to secure an area on the Pakistani border where supplies and combatants were crossing into Afghanistan and hitting us, before retreating to areas we could not have pursued. Receiving contact on our patrols became commonplace. Guys would go down, but never anything a newer medic couldn’t handle. This all changed on this recollected morning. We found ourselves on another presence patrol, but this started differently. One of the villages early in our route would have kids rush our trucks to take anything that wasn’t bolted to the vehicle. Because of this we didn’t have our rucks or supplies strapped to the outside of vehicles. This morning saw no thieving children, or teens throwing rocks at us… To borrow the cliché: It was too quiet. On a narrow road, where we often got hit, our lead vehicle took a small IED and was disabled as a result. It was ON at this moment. We took considerable small arms fire from both sides of the path. The area was not large enough to turn the entire column efficiently, so we had to fight. Corey was in the lead vehicle and able to exit. I was 3 trucks back being shoved by my squad leader and pinned between him and our truck. Between the truck, my squad leader, his weight and equipment, and my own weapon and gear, maneuverability was not an asset for me to say the least. Before I knew it, I was working on two wounded soldiers behind my truck. Once I got them to a point where they could get back on their weapons, I started looking for other wounded. In a moment that I lives forever in clarity, there I was on my knees, behind a vehicle trying to stuff random medical items and garbage in a dump pouch and similar pockets, when I feel my eyes shift 90 degrees to my right just in time to see my best friend getting mown down as he moves towards my truck. His body fell contorted in such a manner that his eyes met mine. At this point in the story I would like to claim that I turned into a medical god and ran to his aid to save his life, but that would be a lie. I did what every medical professional fears… I froze. I watched as my best friend’s life ended. The next movement my body made was not of my own choosing, I was picked up off the ground and placed in a truck as we were finally able to leave the area. To this day I contemplate every medical and tactical decision I make and play endless scenarios of things occurring differently. But nothing I can do will ever give back a breath to one of the best men I have ever had the privilege to know. I went on to have 2 more combat deployments with the Army and another as a contractor after being medically retired at 25 years old. Today I am likely the best paramedic and fighter I have ever been, but because of losing guys like Corey, I will never be satisfied with what I have accomplished in life. MY Memorial Days will always be a reminder that I carry not only my own life, but the lives of every soldier I have come to know and lost when the death could have easily been me. We are all on borrowed time, I will never forget the numbers that have been called.

When do you feel most proud of how we as a nation remember and honor those that made the ultimate sacrifice?

I am proud when our nation sets aside their differences to honor the fallen. Also, when someone that has dealt with so much due to loss or military service but still takes time to honor others (I am referring to actions much more than just a blurb).

When do you feel most disappointed?

I am not sure if I am disappointed more than when people use this day as an excuse to push their own biased, anti-war/military agenda. You get so many days to vide for others’ convictions toward your opinion, leave this one be.