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thedrifter
07-15-08, 07:19 AM
'It can be helped'

By JARED MILLER
Star-Tribune capital bureau

CHEYENNE -- While many Americans felt helpless as they watched terrorists attack New York City and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, Cody Feeback felt something else: a call to service.

He enlisted in the Marine Corps the next day, at age 18.

"Sept. 11 happened, and it just made up my mind,” said Feeback, who grew up in Sheridan. “I figured it was my turn to do something.”

By January he was in boot camp, and within months he was in Iraq, one of the first Marines into Baghdad during the initial invasion.

Feeback later volunteered for a second tour, and spent a total of 14 months in the Iraqi desert.

"I just felt like I could contribute more and that I should because I was able," he said, referring to the decision to voluntarily return to war.

Soon after he returned from Iraq and left the military, Feeback began to experience nightmares, flashbacks and insomnia -- clues that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

He also became enraged over seemingly small irritations, as well as depressed and isolated.

He no longer enjoyed his favorite activities, and he felt like he didn’t fit in anywhere -- more symptoms that pointed to post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, an anxiety disorder affecting thousands of Iraq War veterans

"Once you get home, it’s a little harder to go from that to being a civilian again because you feel like you are alone," Feeback said.

Anger problems helped end his first serious romantic relationship after the war. He became enraged when his girlfriend was a few minutes late to a date, and the relationship crumbled.

"I get real mad at stupid stuff," Feeback said.

He took a job driving a truck at a coal mine near Gillette, but the dull work allowed his mind to return to the images of war that haunted his dreams. He resigned after six months.

At one point, the emotional pain became so intense that he called a recruiter to re-enlist for another hitch in Iraq. It was a desperate effort to end the isolation he felt and to eliminate the guilt for surviving the war while others didn't make it.

"I went twice (to Iraq) and never got a scratch," said Feeback, who ultimately decided not to re-enlist. "I have some buddies who went there once and didn’t come home.

"You still think about that all the time."

He won’t talk about his experiences in Iraq, even with his family.

"I try not to bother them with it, because I feel like it’s my problem," said Feeback, who declined to discuss the war for this story.

Feeback also complains about the boredom of civilian life.

The adrenaline rush of combat in Iraq was "unreal." Civilian life seemed tedious by comparison.

"I don’t think I’ll ever have an adrenaline rush like that again," he said. "Life is too slow-paced back here. It’s hard to adjust."

In February, he finally broke down and checked himself into the Veterans Affairs hospital in Sheridan.

He said he felt "weak" for seeking help, but he saw no other choice.

"I just lost it," Feeback said.

VA medical center staff diagnosed him with PTSD, and he is considered partially disabled as a result.

Doctors prescribed a regimen of counseling and medications, which have taken off the edge and given him his life back to a large extent. He feels less angry and depressed.

He still doesn’t like to be alone with his thoughts, however. He asked his father, Clyde Feeback, to accompany him on a recent trip to the Cheyenne VA Medical Center so he wouldn’t be by himself during the 650-mile round trip.

Clyde Feeback said he’s proud of his son’s service, but he wishes he could talk about what’s bothering him.

"It’s hard to see him go through that," said Clyde Feeback, adding that he doesn’t blame anyone for his son’s post-war struggles.

"I regret that he has the problem and everything, but it’s not a finger-pointing regret," he said. "I just want to be there if he needs somebody."

In all, Feeback served four years and eight months in the Marine Corps. He spent a quarter of that time in Iraq.

He’s glad to have served his country, but he knows the impact of that service -- the symptoms of PTSD -- could be with him for the rest of his days.

"I don’t know if I’m going to have to take medication for the rest of my life," he said.

Feeback said there is hope for veterans with PTSD, which he called a "tough deal.” They can be healed, he said.

The key, Feeback said, is to seek help from the VA, which he praises for assisting with his recovery, or some other source.

"It can be helped, but you have to do it yourself," he said. "Nobody can make you do it."

Reach capital bureau reporter Jared Miller at (307) 632-1244 or at jared.miller@trib.com.

Ellie