Lost in the Fog of War

Four years after returning from Iraq, an Army IED hunter struggles to piece together his memory and his life.

I don't remember much after that sixth blast.

I remember the C-130 plane ride, filled with stretchers of wounded men and women. Their cries of agony from burns, bullets and explosions plagued our ears all the way to Germany.

At the medical center in Landstuhl, there was the doctor who told me I had brain damage. She tried to explain how the concussion from an explosion works, the studies on this thing called TBI, traumatic brain injury, and how after surviving six IED blasts my brain was now like Jell-O shaken in a container.

IED hunter Casey McFarlin, author of this personal story about getting a traumatic brain injury in Iraq, stands looking at the camera with his arms folded.

The author in Iraq, 2007.

Back home, there was a year of treatment and rehabilitation. And there was that day when someone spit on me.

I'm still trying to piece it together. While at Walter Reed, I knew where we were, but not how we got there. There are just too many gaps. I remember vividly getting mad at the nurses on the C-130 when they tried to move my gunner to another seat. I remember the helicopter pilot who flew us from Baghdad to Balad. Everything else in between, I just don't remember.

Funny, then, how I can remember so much of my last mission. Many of those details come easily now....

Another day in Iraq. The heat once again is unbearable. Sweat pours out of me, plastering my shirt to my body. The burden of wearing my armor for days has left my muscles tense, but they ease as I slowly strip off my protection piece by piece.

Today isn't my day to go outside the wire. I just got back from a five-day Panther tank mission, clearing roads for our division's Cavalry scouts. As I wind down and look forward to some much-needed rest, I see my men are gearing up again. The vehicles are loaded and final checks are conducted. Then my first sergeant approaches and tells me they need me on this mission.

It so happens we are going right back to where I just came from, the "Hard Rock" routes. This area, as are all areas in Iraq, is notable for the names of the roads someone somewhere has given them. Here in the Sunni Triangle, almost all of them are named after hard rock bands. I have lost friends and comrades on roads called Metallica, AC/DC and Primus.

Because I know the area best, I am asked to assist the lead sergeant with navigation and to operate our new Gyrocam, a high-tech camera system outfitted onto my RG-31. It allows an individual to see hot and cold inconsistencies within one's environment, an amazing benefit when looking for metal on hot days.

No one has traveled on the road we're headed to for a few weeks now, and it has had little over-watch. That means insurgents have had ample time to place and camouflage roadside bombs. And it's my job to find them.

We are IED hunters—"window-lickers," they call us, because our job in its most basic form is to stare out the window. My team and I drive around in up-armored vehicles, often at a 5–10 mph crawl for up to 20 hours a day, looking for roadside bombs. I have already survived five direct blasts. I know some IED hunters who have survived more than twenty.