This gripping story was written by Ron Albers for Motts Military Museum and is reprinted here with permission.
Daniel Matthew Hutchison was born here in Columbus (Clintonville) on February 3, 1982, and attended Columbus public schools. Dan had a relatively unremarkable childhood, being the middle child between two sisters. His father worked his way up the corporate ladder at Columbia gas before he passed away when Dan was only 13. His grandfather then took Dan under his wing and is the one who ultimately taught him that it is better to help others than to only worry about yourself. Nonetheless, his father’s death had a devastating effect upon young Dan, and he confesses that he was quite unruly during his school years. The family moved to Sunbury, where he graduated from Big Walnut High School in 2000.
After graduation he started working construction and often worked 50 hours a week or more, as there was a housing boom going on at the time, especially in central Ohio. He vividly remembers September 11, 2001. It hit him hard that a few terrorists could inflict so much harm to the United States of America. The pang he felt became a renewed feeling of patriotism, but not enough to consider enlisting in the military. After all, he was making good money and comfortable with his lifestyle.
One day, however, in January of 2005, while watching the news on TV, “Hutch” had an epiphany. They were showing the surviving family members of a young man who was killed while serving in Iraq. Their loss was extremely troubling to him. This guy had a wife and children, as well as a father & mother. (Hutch had lost his mother a few years earlier.) It suddenly hit Hutch that his loss wouldn’t be mourned as much as those with such families. After all, he only had his sisters and a niece.
So Dan enlisted in the Ohio Army National Guard, knowing full well that he wanted to be deployed to Iraq. He had done well enough on the enlistment testing to qualify for any specialty he wanted. Taking nothing at all away from the Infantry or any other Army specialty, Dan thought that there was more honor in being a medic and saving lives rather than taking lives. That decision changed his life.
Dan joined the 285th Area Support Medical Company, which drilled on East Sullivant Avenue. After completing basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood MO, he spent 16 weeks of medical training at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio TX. Upon completion, he had earned the specialty rating 68W10, Health Care Specialist (commonly called “Combat Medic.”) He immediately volunteered to go to Iraq. Next came 4 months of Mobility training at Ft. McCoy, WI.
On June 26, 2006, a civilian charter flight flew the unit to Kuwait for in-country processing paperwork and briefings before they were flown by C-130 to Baghdad International Airport (BIAP.) From there they were moved to Camp Liberty, the huge coalition military complex just northeast of BIAP. It is probably the largest military installation built overseas since the Vietnam conflict. Hutch only spent a month here with the rest of the unit. Liberty is a virtual city with swimming pool, gym, Pizza Hut, Burger King, and other similar amenities one can find on most established military bases.
At the end of July, Hutch found himself separated from his unit and in a small Forward Operating Base called “FOB Shield,” right outside of Sadr City. This Baghdad suburb is a poor section that had been neglected by Saddam Hussein and is home to more than 3 million Shiite Muslims. It was also home to some of the fiercest fighting when the U.S. sent 20,000 additional troops during the “surge” of 2006. On November 23, 2006, a series of car bombings followed by mortar attacks killed more than 215 people on just that one day in Sadr City alone.
The FOB had once been one of Saddam’s smaller military posts, and it now held about 80 people. They lived in old barracks and had few of the amenities enjoyed by the troops at Camp Liberty. There was little to do but work, work out and socialize. The clinic Hutch was assigned to was called a Combat Support Hospital (CSP,) and the entire facility was contained in one small building. There was one doctor assigned there and 4 combat medics, so Hutch worked the next 11 months in shifts of 24 hours on and 24 hours off. Military and civilian patients (both Iraqis and coalition forces) were taken there within minutes of being wounded or injured. The CSP’s job was to stabilize the individual as best they could until a Blackhawk helicopter could be summoned to take him/her to the full-service hospital at Camp Liberty. The first month at “Shield” wasn’t too bad, but then all hell broke loose because of the surge and the fact that Saddam was tried and hanged during this period. Enemy snipers and IEDs took their toll on our troops and contractors, and Hutch witnessed much more than he could have ever imagined.
I asked if there were certain experiences that he cannot purge from his memory, and he has many. One involved an Army troop shot right above the left eye by an AK-47. That 7.62 X 39mm round goes in about the thickness of a pencil but leaves a hole the size of a baseball when it exits. The troop was still alive when he was laid on the table. Hutch took great pride in being good at quickly “sticking” patients (finding a vein and inserting needle so that an IV can be started.) Hutch couldn’t find a vein, and when he thought he did, and after a couple of tries, he was still unsuccessful. Finally, he thought he had one and started the IV. The guy was still alive. But his arm began to swell. Hutch had missed again. Finally he got the fluid in the IV flowing where it should. The soldier didn’t make it. Even though the man’s brains were spilling from the back of his head all over the table, Hutch had terrible guilt feelings that perhaps the guy would have lived if Hutch had been more successful with the IV needle right away.
Another Iraqi he was treating totally erupted with projectile vomiting (nearly all blood) right into Hutch’s face and mouth, and image he will never forget. Fortunately, they stabilized the guy, and after being flown to the Green Zone hospital where they removed a kidney and kept him on a ventilator for a while, he was stabilized. Unfortunately, this Shiite was then transferred to a Sunni hospital… where he was killed… simply because of his religion.
Hutch was allowed to come back to Columbus for two weeks in the middle of his tour, a bad idea. Most of his memories during that period were of feeling estranged from everyone and drinking too much. He felt isolated and hostile in his own world and couldn’t wait to return to Iraq. His unit was supposed to return stateside in June, but for whatever reason they were extended until December 21. Upon his return E-4 Specialist Hutchison was selected to become an instructor of Operational Warrior Training at the Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center in Indiana. He was eager to assist with training troops prior to their deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and thought he could help them survive with his experience and knowledge. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to do something rewarding and also something that he was good at. During this period, however, he realized he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD,) and he was abusing both drugs and alcohol to try to erase what was going through his mind. He couldn’t sleep without them. He spent 17 months at this position before being released from active duty and returning to Columbus on December 21, 2008.
The recession and housing crisis prevented Hutch from finding a decent job. And he had no focus. His PTSD was eating him up, and his abuse of drugs and alcohol were making matters worse. He was barely getting by doing odd jobs, and he had nobody he was close to except his sister and her daughter who lived with him. Finally, he found a job at DSCC. But the demons remained. He couldn’t stand the sight of blood and would wake up in the middle of the night with the memory of the Iraqi’s blood in his mouth. He would franticly brush his teeth and scrub his face, but he couldn’t remove the taste. Constant memories of seriously wounded and dying troops and civilians he had treated at “Shield” wouldn’t allow him to sleep.
Hutch went to the new Chalmers Wylie Veterans Administration facility here in Columbus to get registered; but he was not at all pleased with how he was being treated. He thought the staff personnel were bureaucratic, unfriendly, uncaring, and unhelpful. They coldly asked routine questions while looking at a computer screen and punching in his responses to their generic questions. He knew he needed help, so he made an appointment to see a doctor who could perhaps help him with his PTSD. When he showed up, the doctor was from Iraq! That infuriated Hutch, and he stormed out. And he continued to abuse alcohol and drugs. Suggesting that he might have PTSD to anyone in his Guard unit or seeking help there was not an option. Hutch foresaw a stigma and bad consequences if he even mentioned it there.
One evening in January of 2009, Hutch had become incredibly depressed; and he decided to end it all. He sat on the couch in his house with a loaded and cocked Glock 22 .40 caliber pistol in his mouth. He was ready. But he had second thoughts because his sister and/or her daughter may be first to find the mess; and he didn’t want them to endure such an experience. So, he returned to the VA again for help. He was seen by someone who was not a doctor and asked if he had thought about taking his own life or that of someone else. He said no. After more of the usual standard questions, she made an appointment for a month later and sent him down to the pharmacy for some drugs to take until then. He needed help, and he needed it now! But the VA said to wait a month. He gave up on the VA.
While drinking in an AMVETS post one day a veteran Navy Corpsman mentioned that Hutch could probably receive some help from a government agency called simply The Vet Center. Hutch didn’t hold out much hope that another government agency could do him any good. But he gave it a shot and visited their Spartan office up by the North Market, fully expecting to be disappointed once again. The guy he talked with there happened to be a veteran of the USMC Lima Company which had experienced serious combat and major casualties while deployed to Iraq. Sam was a great listener, and Hutch vented. Sam seemed truly interested in hearing Hutch’s story. He didn’t ask questions, take notes, or punch things into the computer. He simply kept eye contact and listened. Because of his own experiences, Sam fully comprehended what Hutch was saying. Hutch began to trust Sam and really looked forward to his visits and chats with him. Finally he had someone who was helping him withdraw from his isolation and cut down on the drugs and alcohol. And Hutch was realizing that returning vets need to help other returning vets. And that there was a generation gap. Vets from other wars can’t relate to vets from Iraq and Afghanistan. This war is totally different from Vietnam or Korea or WW II, just as each of them was unique.
Hutch remained in his Guard unit until he quit in June of 2010. He was having problems with unit members who had remained at Camp Liberty during the Iraq deployment. They didn’t understand what he had experienced, and he didn’t understand why some of them were getting Bronze Stars or promotions they didn’t deserve. He had lost a close female friend in Iraq (who died along with two other soldiers.) When the in-country unit service is held, an AR-15 is stuck in the ground with boots in front, helmet sitting on top and dog tags attached. They give roll call. And repeat each of the fallen’s name three times – to silence. Roll call at the Guard would be torture for Hutch, as it always brought him back to his loss of her. He got his honorable discharge.
Meanwhile, Hutch had started writing a letter to President Obama urging him to assist returning veterans more than the government has been. Hutch kept writing. It was good therapy for him, as it allowed him to vent everything he felt inside. It became sort of a diary. And eventually, he never mailed that letter to President Obama. Instead, it was printed into a hardbound book, Nowhere to Turn – The Broken Road home from Iraq by Daniel Hutchinson. It’s available from Amazon.Com or in our museum gift shop. (I read it in one day. I couldn’t put it down. It is a grippingly honest and true story. Tragic, perhaps, but hopefully with a happy ending…) Hutch’s grandfather had died just prior to his Iraq deployment. “To this day I strive to be as honorable a man as he was. I dedicated my book to him.”
Eventually, his confidant at the Vet Center got Hutch back into the VA system and helped him apply for benefits. He is now receiving partial disability payments and using other VA services. When his claim was finally processed and approved, the back pay he received allowed him to quit his job and start on his new life.
Hutch is the founder and director of a new organization called Ohio Combat Veterans (OCV.) It only officially began in May of 2011 when Hutch rented office space, established a website, and filed the name with the Ohio Secretary of State. In early June, he hired an attorney to file with the IRS for OCV to become a 501(c)3 non-profit entity. In Hutch’s own words on OCV’s Facebook page, here’s what he says about this new organization: Ohio Combat Veterans is a nonprofit organization that provides social outlet opportunities and resource guidance to veterans of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, in order to insure that transition to life after combat is as stress-free as possible. Ohio Combat Veterans offers no-cost social functions such as monthly runs, mixers, rock climbing and kayaking, and more; help navigating government resources; locating, filling out and filing applications for employment and benefits; and classes on financial and credit management, resume writing, and healthy living. Ohio Combat Veterans serves the men and women of Ohio who have deployed to combat zones in support of the Global War on Terror.
By the end of the first month, Hutch had recruited about 30 members, and they have done a number of events and activities together and have many more planned. First year membership is free. And the only thing needed to join is a DD Form 214 proving that a veteran had boots on the ground in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Hutch is working full time trying to network with contacts in the Columbus community to recruit members and find support for his efforts. Readers are encouraged to contact Daniel Hutchison if you can assist or refer him with his new mission in life. More information can be found on his website at: http://ohiocombatveterans.org