MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
During the night of April 28, 2008, Companies A and B of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, landed by helicopter in Helmand province, Afghanistan. The following push through that province and the ensuing battles were to reverberate through the newspapers and television stations for months to come.
Cpl. Paul Nee, originally a rifleman with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division and now a patient with the Wounded Warrior Battalion - East aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, was among the Marines that carved their way through Helmand province and racked up a number of other successes before his career took an unexpected turn.
Born and raised in Everett, Mass., Nee progressed through his young life with an inclination toward the military, but was unsure of what route to take.
“After high school I attended Nowich University in Northfield, Vt., a military college,” said Nee. “However, after two years I didn’t think I was mature enough for college yet, and my grades reflected that. I left and worked in the produce delivery business with my uncle for a few years.”
During his time after college, Nee was becoming more inclined to do something for his country, though he still considered himself naive. However, with the events of Sept. 11, 2001 and the following call-to-arms of America’s youth over the next few years, Nee responded.
“One day I was watching the news and saw Marines in Fallujah, Iraq, and after seeing guys the same age as me over there, I realized that was the last straw for me,” said Nee. “I could still do my part, and I was going to.”
In June 2005, Nee went to his local recruiting office and did what every recruiter hopes for.
“I sat down in front of this recruiter and said, ‘Don’t sell me the story. I want to go, and as quickly as possible,’” said Nee. “Only one thing was right for me: 0311 - infantry.”
The following month Nee was at Marine Corps Recruiting Depot Parris Island, and following his time at Infantry Training Battalion - East, Nee was sent to 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division aboard Camp Lejeune in February of 2006 - just as they were starting workups to deploy to Iraq.
“For the next six months we were preparing to deploy, and the second week of September found us in Ramadi,” said Nee. “It was a complete urban environment, where you’re surrounded by buildings and there are threats all around you. Within the first week we earned our combat action ribbons.”
The battalion was scheduled to return to the states the following March, but in the second week of January the surge into al Anbar province commenced, extending Nee’s return from deployment an additional 60 days.
“The battalion took a good amount of casualties, but as a boot rifleman, I definitely learned how to operate with the leadership we had and the trust between the guys,” said Nee. “We were a tight family.”
In May 2007, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division had finally returned home. Nee was as happy as the next Marine to walk off the bus into the arms of family, yet he found himself having a hard time adjusting.
Throughout his leave time as well as the months working up for another deployment, this time to Afghanistan, Nee always had it in the back of his head that something was different, but he put it aside and focused on his unit. He was experiencing new emotions he never felt before, and often drank himself into a stupor, but he hid it so well that no one knew.
Nee said that he was always a social drinker, but after he got back he was just drinking to numb everything. However, he eventually became a team leader, responsible for four Marines and one Navy corpsman, and now was not the time to be unsure of oneself.
“Everything was fine until the last day of (Fort A.P. Hill training) when I received word that my father had passed away in his sleep,” said Nee. “Losing him was a kick in the gut, but I knew he would want me to pick myself up and get right back with the guys. I went home for a week and a half, and two and a half months later we were in Afghanistan.”
In March 2008, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division landed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, but the fighting didn’t pick up until April when the battalion went out on a 7 to 10 day-long mission which panned out to last 137 days. Helmand province was a Taliban hotspot, and the mission was to flush them out.
“The first two months were totally hot, small arms fire and Rocket Propelled Grenades,” said Nee. “After that, the Taliban didn’t want to fight us head-on. They resorted to Improvised Explosive Devices, pressure plates, taking cheap-shots at us. The rest of the time we were on patrols, helping rebuild places we had bombed, reassuring the locals, ‘hearts-and-minds’ kinds of things.”
While engaged with the mission, however, Nee noticed he wasn’t himself; the wave of emotions from the deployments and losing his father made him feel like he was not there anymore.
“You’ve been taught to be strong and not be sorted out as being weak, so I denied anything being wrong with me,” said Nee. “I sucked it up.”
That October the battalion returned to the states. Nee was happy; his mother, step-dad and other family members were there to greet him. Of course he was happy, but something was missing.
“I came back from post-deployment leave, and I still had enough time on my contract for a third deployment,” said Nee. “I did the whole work up for another tour in Afghanistan, but behind closed doors, I was a mess. I wasn’t right. But I didn’t want to show that to everyone, because like I said, that wasn’t me. I always wanted to be a good, locked-on Marine, and there was no stopping until the job was done.”
It was not until Nee started having panic and anxiety attacks when he went to his platoon commander and said ‘I feel broken.’ From there, Nee’s company commander made sure he received the best treatment possible, ensuring he wasn’t another number on a roster, but a human being and a Marine who needed help.
“For the next few months, I was in and out of psychiatrist offices and put on various medications,” said Nee. “I was diagnosed with (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and because of the meds I didn’t feel any of my emotions.”
Due to his medication, Nee became non-deployable, and with his PTSD he was attached to the WWBN - East in December, 2009. That whole winter he secluded himself, feeling miserable due to the fact that the Nee everyone knew who always rogered up for any task was now a recluse sitting in a barracks room wondering where he went wrong.
“I was thinking ‘why did it affect me and not other Marines, some who’ve been through worse than me?’” said Nee. “Because my brain took it like it did, I was missing another deployment with a solid group of guys, and I felt that if anything happened to any of them, it would be my fault for not being over there with them.”
Nee knew that if he ever wanted to get back on track, he would have to rediscover the Cpl. Nee he knew existed somewhere in the hole that depression, anxiety and alcohol had dug within him. He had to reach down and bring himself back up.
The first sign of light for Nee was when a child named Joey wanted to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a Marine. Joey had brain cancer and, due to multiple cerebral operations, was physically disabled, yet he still wanted to try out the Indoor Simulated Marksmanship Trainer aboard Camp Lejeune. This was an event of inspiration for Nee.
“Being there and teaching him how to operate the ISMT made me feel like a team leader again,” said Nee. “A picture was taken of him and I, and every time I look back at that picture and see myself I think, ‘That’s who I need to be again, I need to get him back.’”
From that day forward, because of Joey and that picture, Nee started his slow but upward climb back to his healthy self. Through the spring of 2010 he was on a roller coaster of emotions and progress, but he started to gain more control of who he was and who he was going to be.
“I also had a timely goal in mind to help me in my progress,” said Nee. “That June my old unit was coming back from Afghanistan, and when they got off the bus to see me I didn’t want them to see a broken-down depressed me, but the Marine and team leader they used to know.”
As Nee was waiting foe the bus to pull in with his 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division brethren, his smile returned and he felt alive again. He felt as if he was on a non-stop climb to the top; no longer two steps forward and one step back. He was becoming himself again and the Marine he knew still existed.
Since then, Nee has been getting better day-by-day. Some days are harder than others - the anxiety and the sleepless nights have not completely left - but due to the support he is receiving from his friends and his wife, he is on his way back to health.
With his initial contract nearing its end, Nee plans on returning to the blue-collar life he led before joining the Marine Corps, and although his time at the WWBN-E is not yet complete, he has bright visions for the future.
“I’m aiming to get a job after I leave here, but if I need a degree I’ll go back and finish it,” said Nee. “You have to want to get better, do a gut check and do what you need to do to take care of business. Even though my Marine Corps career hasn’t panned out as I had planned, 20 years from now I’ll look back and be proud of what I’ve done and say, ‘Yea, I did that.’”
This is just one of the many stories that come out of the WWBN - East patients. Whether it’s a case of PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injuries or an amputee, each of these Marines or sailors have their own story and their own path back to health.