The mood was somber as Seb, Ethan and I sat outside the medics tent on our makeshift base. By the time the helicopter landed, Chris was catatonic. There was no reaching him, so we just made sure he was safe until the medics could do their jobs.
It honestly scared the shit out of me. I can handle physical wounds, there’s always something you can do, apply pressure and try to stop the bleeding, but mental wounds... what the hell do you do? Should I have done something differently? Should I have done more? Were there signs with Chris, before this happened, that I never picked up on?
All these questions running through my head, that I know are useless. What’s done is done, now we just need to move forward. Assess the situation, decide on the best plan, implement and adapt when necessary. That’s my life, that’s my training, there’s no point in looking back, forward is the only option.
“What are we going to tell Tammy?” Ethan interrupts my thoughts. I look over to him, his eyes are peeled to the medic tent doorway.
“We will figure that out when we know more.” Seb replies.
We slip back into our comfortable silence, each lost in our own thoughts, when the medic sticks his head out and indicates to Seb to go in.
Ethan and I watch as Seb disappears inside the tent. As the team leader, they will tell him what they believe needs to happen next, Seb will then take it to the on base commander and then we will be informed.
A painful process when your teammate, brother in arms, is in strife. But it’s the chain of command, and there is nothing we can do about it.
Seb comes out of the tent not ten minutes later, he nods in our direction before heading off to where the base commander should be. Going by the staunch look on his face, giving no emotion, no indication of how Chris is, I know that it’s not good. I stare back at the tent, wanting to see my brother, but knowing that all I can do is sit and wait.
“We’re going home.” Seb says as he walks towards us. Ethan and I nod as we stand with Seb’s arrival.
“How is he?” Ethan asks, concern evident in his voice.
“Not good.” Seb replies, removing his beret from his head, running his hand through his hair before replacing it. “they’ve sedated him for the moment, once we get back to Perth he will be admitted for psychiatric assessment.”
“I think I’d rather be shot.” Ethan mumbled under his breath and I can’t help but nod in agreement. Physical injuries are a lot easier to recover from than mental, and given Chris’s complete breakdown on the last mission, I’d say he has a long road to recovery. Not only that, the likelihood of him returning to the team is slim. The commandos aren’t going to risk this happening again.
The moment he froze on a mission, his career was pretty much over.
With those thoughts running through my mind, I pack up and get ready to go home.
24 hours later we are back in Perth, at the army base hospital. Chris is awake and speaking to a psychiatrist, while the team, with Tammy and Lucy wait to be able to see him.
Tammy’s eyes are red and puffy, she looks a mess as she stares at the doors that lead to Chris while gripping onto Lucy.
I wasn’t surprised when Lucy arrived with Tammy. If you think the teams of commando soldiers are close, their families are just as close to each other. They lean on each other during our deployments, after all, no one would know what they are going through like another army wife.
Only Brad, Nicole and Kate are missing from this makeshift family, no doubt waiting at home with the kids and Chase, their phones close by, waiting for an update.
I look around this group of people, knowing that they all have my back, that they are the family I never really felt I had growing up.
Don’t get me wrong, I had amazing parents and four older siblings, but when your parents are in their 60s when you are born, and all but one of your nieces and nephews older than you, you tend to feel like the odd one out.
Mum and Dad were married for over 40 years when Dad retired from the army. A career soldier, he worked his way up to general and was in command of the SAS when he retired. While mum was happy to finally have him home, and dad was glad to retire, it didn’t take long for their marriage to start falling apart. Mum wasn’t used to having dad home. And dad wasn’t used to being home. After over 40 years of being together, they’d never actually spent that much time together.
After trying for two years, dad moved out. They didn’t get a divorce, just had a trial separation, but in the year that dad was living on his own, he met Danielle. A 26 year old waitress who was smitten with him.
Soon enough, Danielle was living with dad and pregnant. She left when I was 3 weeks old.
Dad, being 65 with a new born baby, did the only thing he could do. He turned up at Mums doorstep and begged her to take him back.
Mum welcomed both of us, and always treated me as her own. She told me that I gave them both a purpose again, and with the help of my siblings, they raised me together.
Now in their early 90s, they are finally kid free and living happily in a retirement village.
The door swings open, snapping me from my thoughts as a tall older man in a white coat walks out and looks over all of us.
“You’re all here for Chris Powell?” He asks. Tammy leaves the comfort of Lucy’s arms and steps forward.
“I’m his wife.” She croaks out. The doctor gives her a kind smile.
“He will be in here for a while, but you can go and see him, he’s alert now. Two at a time though.” He states, not giving much away. But then, what can he tell us really? Physically he is fine, saying he is alert is enough, considering his state last time we saw him.
Tammy looks towards Seb, who walks towards her and wraps an arm around her shoulder before walking her into the room.
“Will he be okay?” Lucy whispers to both me and Ethan.
“I don’t know.” Ethan replies, “but we will help him however we can.”
Lucy nods her head, looking down at her hands as they wring together.
“Tammy said he was fine before he left. She said there was no indication that anything was wrong. He had the occasional nightmare, but that’s normal right?” Lucy asks quietly.
“That’s normal.” Ethan confirms. “He was triggered by something on our deployment, no one saw it coming.”
I shrink back in my seat, thinking about the moment before we went down those stairs. The question as to whether another team should go down. In my gut, I knew it was a bad idea, but I didn’t speak up. I should have said something, then maybe Chris wouldn’t be in the position he’s in now.
It’s all my fault.