Hayden resident John Kregar holds a picture of his platoon from the Iraq war and his Marine photo. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder but found comfort and therapy in a poem he wrote about combat.

Photo by Noelle Leavitt Riley

Hayden resident John Kregar holds a picture of his platoon from the Iraq war and his Marine photo. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder but found comfort and therapy in a poem he wrote about combat.

Hayden man writes poem to help with war-related PTSD

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To Walk My Post

By John M. Kregar, Corporal/ U.S. Marine Corps

The night watch starts without a sound;

But is quickly interrupted by an explosion that shakes the ground.

Our hearts pound as we jump to our feet;

And to the staging point our platoon begins to meet.

Before we have a chance even to ask;

The call comes out “We think there is GAS - GAS – GAS.”

We put on our masks and begin to don and clear;

We gather up our courage and try not to be overcome by our fear

As the Gunnery Sergeant glares at us with a hardened look in his eye;

His salty voice yells “NONE OF YOU IDIOTS HAVE MY PERMISSION TO DIE.” 
We receive our orders and assume our post;

Deep down inside we think about the things which matter to us the most.

We adjust our sights and check our gear;

And in a silent prayer we hope that the end is not near.

What will happen to us we cannot tell;

In death will we guard the scenes of heaven, or just regroup in hell

In the distance we see several small flashes of light;

Our platoon leader yells out “INCOMING CONTACT FROM THE RIGHT.”

We open fire and do as we are told;

There are no other options, because the line we must hold.

As quickly as it started, the skirmish comes to an end;

For now the nightmare is over, but we wish it was only pretend.

Each squad leader checks for casualties which may have resulted from this task;

Then the all-clear order comes out, and finally we are allowed to unmask.

We break the seal and take breath of fresh air;

We drink some water and rub the sand out of our hair.

Some Marines will go on react and some will return to the guard;

Some Marines will try to sleep, even though it will seem very hard.

People back home don’t know what to say;

Especially when they are told that this was just our Monday.

Each day that follows will repeat a similar scene;

Endured for an entire year by a person who is only nineteen.

There are many wounds which will be felt by this selfless deed;

It will wake Marines up at night, and make them scream their rifleman’s creed. 
Years from now it will be peace that each of us will try to find;

A difficult task, because the battle is still raging in our mind.

The battles endured won’t allow veterans to be fully complete;

Some days they need help just to get back up on their feet.

For each day they will beg God to be there when they begin to cry;

And in the shadows of darkness they will hear a whisper saying Semper Fi

— It’s hard to imagine fighting a war, watching comrades die and hearing guns and bombs explode all around you.

The aftermath of such experiences is difficult to digest. How do Marines, who risked their lives for America, lead normal lives after returning from warfare that’s forever engraved in their brains?

With Veterans Day on Monday, one Hayden resident chose to share his story about his time serving the country as a U.S. Marine.

John Kregar, of Hayden, deals with struggles pertaining to war on a daily basis. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder related to the incredibly difficult situations he encountered while fighting the war in Iraq.

Yet he’s found solace in a poem that took him four years to write. The act of writing the poem gave him a form of therapy that encouraged him to move past his strife.

“I picked it up and set it down for years,” he said.

The poem is a reflection of the 24-hour stress that Marines go through — dealing with exhaustion, death and fear.

His poem specifically deals with one night in combat that was unforgettable, when his troop was attacked by an improvised explosive device.

“Whoever attacked us had a multicolored bomb,” he said. When a bomb is multicolored, it usually means chemical gas will be emitted into the air.

The Marines got their gas masks on and started exchanging fire with the enemy. Kregar’s poem describes the fear, exhaustion and pure hardships of what it was like to fight in combat.

Yet joining the infantry wasn’t his original plan when he entered the military.

Kregar graduated from boot camp one week after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which pretty much guaranteed him a position in the Iraq war.

“I was supposed to originally work on helicopters,” he said. “The job changed to the infantry.”

He spent most of 2002 in warfare training and was deployed to the Middle East in November 2002, where he remained until August 2003.

Entering a country like Kuwait was an eye-opening experience for him, but he found that the people there to be very welcoming to American Marines. It wasn’t until he entered Saudi Arabia that he was affected profoundly by what he saw.

“They hold their public executions on the soccer field,” Kregar said. “Imagine, before a Broncos game begins — taking people out on the 50-yard line and shooting them.”

He and his battalion had a clear view of the executions. “We were kind of pissed off” at what we saw, he said.

For most of 2002, it was hurry up and wait for the U.S. Marines stationed near Iraq. Kregar knew that they eventually would invade the country, and after President George W. Bush gave the orders, that’s exactly where his platoon headed.

Shortly afterward came his first experience in combat. He was ordered to go to the tower to hold the line.

“I remember hearing the snaps of bullets coming by right behind us,” he said, noting that when they finally reached the tower to start shooting at the enemy, he found that his weapon was full of sand and he couldn’t shoot.

He finally cleared out the sand and starting firing at the enemy, which was his first experience killing another man.

“Nobody (in the platoon) was hurt that night. As the weeks went on, that wasn’t the case anymore,” he said, trying to hold back tears. “Altogether, we lost five guys.”

The deaths sent a shock wave through the Marines.

“That’s when it got super real. These were guys … we went to the gym together, we went to the bars together,” he said.

The fast pace life of fighting in a war gave them no time to grieve for their fallen comrades. He, unfortunately, held one of his buddies who died after stepping on detonated bomb.

“An IED blew his legs completely off,” he said through tears. “I ran up to him, I took off his belt and my belt and tried to wrap them around his legs to stop the bleeding, and he’s screaming the whole time. He was screaming for his mother the whole time.”

All the while, Kregar was yelling for a Navy corpsman, or combat medic, but no one was immediately available. By the time someone got there, the Marine had died.

Such incidents have made it difficult for Kregar to sleep at night. He was honorably discharged from the military in 2005, and not long afterward, he met his soon-to-be wife, Liz.

They met at church in Denver and were married a year later. Liz holds her husband in the highest respect for his service, and she’s spent years trying to help him sift through his PTSD.

Kregar often wakes up screaming in the middle of the night.

“There’s a lot of things that set him off,” she said, including fireworks during the Fourth of July.

She has a master's degree in social work, so she’s been able to help him through his problems.

“I probably understand his PTSD better than he does,” Liz said.

Yet the biggest help was the poem.

“I started writing it when I fell (into depression) in 2009. I wanted to convey that we were exhausted and tired,” he said.

Perhaps it was expressing his trauma on paper that helped him, or maybe it was the art of writing down his experience to share with others. Either way, Kregar hopes to use writing as his form of therapy as time goes on.

John and Liz Kregar recently moved to Hayden after John accepted a deputy position with the Routt County Sheriff’s Office. They have two young sons, Lannon, 5 and Corbin, 2.

“We’re still trying to get used to it here. Still trying to make friends,” John said. “When this position opened up, we saw it as an adventure.”

Noelle Leavitt Riley can be reached at 970-875-1790 or nriley@CraigDailyPress.com.

Comments

John Kregar 1 year ago

I am very thankful to Noelle Leavitt Riley, the Steamboat Pilot and the Craig Daily Press for taking an interest in my story and publishing my poem. I hope that it has given people an insight to what some veterans have endured and what some veterans are still experiencing.
Sincerely John M. Kregar

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