This article is the second in a series, looking into the reentry into civilian life for veterans of the military services.
James Cottrell returned from missionary service for the LDS church in Guayaquil, Ecuador and was probably in the best physical shape he ever had been. The Ecuadorian people thought it funny that his spanish was a little shaky, being that they assumed on first meeting he was a native of that country.
Cottrell heard the toughest bootcamp experience was with the Marines, he enlisted and served eight years eventually rising to Lance Corporal in the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. The physical part of the training was not a struggle for the former Orem High wrestler and he was quickly made squad leader.
Some years later back in his Camp Pendleton home base and shortly after deployment to Bahrain, Cottrell received new orders directing him to Kuwait in just three weeks in preparation for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
He saw ordinary Iraqis happy, cheering his passage through An-Nassiriyah, Al Kut and the then-called Saddam City, now Sadr City. That deployment with Lima Company was uneventful for Cottrell and his fellow Marines, with few injuries and only sporadic contact on their passage through An-Nassiriyah.
His unit returned to Iraq more than a year later in the fall of 2004 and the game had changed for the worse. As the 3-1 took position in Anbar province, just outside of Fallujah, events were unfolding that would become grim landmarks of the war. A group of Blackwater security contractors were killed as they passed Fallujah that fall, and the decision was made that the city needed to be retaken from the militias that used it as a focal point of resistance.
Cottrell was attached to H&S Company as a scout sniper, and was part of a 4-man squad providing overwatch. He lost a lot of friends in that campaign; his unit’s medic had his arm blown off by a rocket, his sergeant likewise injured sporting a leg barely there due to a rocket impact. In all, the 3-1 lost 33 men, with many
But luck allowed Cottrell return with only three others that had been in the thick of the fight and left him uninjured. At the end of 2005, Cottrell left the Marines honorably, but the fight kept raging in his mind, unabated.
His large family closed ranks with him, but he couldn’t relate to them, and avoided them. Cottrell had along the way started to drink with buddies, and he eventually realized that hitting bottom emotionally, and a career in the military like he had planned, were two objectives in divergent paths. The rage and alienation he felt ached for an outlet, and he perfected his Mui-Thai kickboxing moves competing in the Throwdown-sponsored fight series and Ultimate Combat Experience, with good success.
Luckier than most again, he found the solid bond with his father, a retired U.S. Army major to be the lifeline he needed and when told he had all the markers of PTSD, he relented and entered the Veterans Administration-run rehab program, “The Eagles’ Nest” that changed him and allowed Cottrell to regain his footing mentally.
Once in the program, surrounded by other veterans that likewise had nightmares, were unable to sleep and were on guard constantly, with their backs to the wall, he felt he fit in, although he concedes that some WW2-vets there are really crazy.
“… I have the best relationship with my dad, he’s the one that, without him, I don’t know where I’d be…” Cottrell told us. He
also has six sisters that love and support him, and have helped him return to normal.
“PTSD is not understood, unless [it happens to] someone that you know. My family understood, they knew me and (…) it was still difficult. People think PTSD is like drugs or a drinking problem, someone might think ‘oh, they should be able to get over that’ but it takes a while. It took me a long time to know what it was. I had to be diagnosed, for me to believe I had it. It made me understand what I did, what I’m doing, to understand the triggers.” Cottrell said.
These days he is busy with classes in the Collision Repair Technology program at Utah Valley University, and keeps fit running, hiking and bicycling.
For more information on the Utah veteran rehabilitation program visit www.utvet.com/Eagles’Nest.html. For the veterans resource directory in Uah visit www.utvet.com