Lieutenant Colonel David Younce
Proudly Serving His Country No Sacrifice is Greater
He was born into a military family so one would think he might simply follow in their footsteps. Well he did, but not for the reasons you might think. As a young kid, David Younce loved the Army and had a strong desire to serve his country. That’s why he decided to join the Army. He began his career as an MP in the Army National Guard. He went on active duty and his life as a full-time infantryman began in 1984. From there he would serve in various parts of the world, including Germany and Kuwait. But there was one place that would change Lieutenant Colonel David Younce‘s life forever in more ways than he or anyone else could imagine. It was Iraq. David says, “I can tell you that everything I was, everything I knew from my very soul to the very surface of who I am, died over there. It affected me greatly. I came back a very hollow person. When I got back -- obviously it was great being back in America but I lost my wife and I lost my home. I lost everything that I was in the States. Iraq was real simple. You get up, do your job and get some sleep when you can.” It would be one of the longest ambush battles that he and members of his unit would ever encounter. And within that time frame, total devastation of life would occur. This unforgettable event played an astounding role in changing David’s life and his perspective on life. It’s as if he’s lost his identity. The journey to recovery has been long and the mental pain he’s endured seems everlasting. Younce returned from Iraq in late 2006 and he suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). His home has become his only safe zone, where he feels safe, mentally and physically. “There are so many times the depression and PTSD hit me that I’ve got to run here before something happens,” says Younce. Page 2
“For some reason I’m mentally attached to this house, I can’t explain it, I don’t know why, I don’t know how it happened. But this is the place where I feel safe. I don’t worry about bombs, I don’t worry about killings, I don’t worry about wanting to kill someone and I don’t worry about wanting to kill myself. For here right now, that’s the safe zone. There’s no other way to explain it.” Since returning from Iraq, Younce’s perspective on life has taken on a new meaning. He takes one day at a time, doesn’t worry about tomorrow and forgets about yesterday. As a matter of fact, he often barely remembers yesterday. Life is an ongoing struggle but he continues to press on, although sometimes when he awakes, he wishes that he hadn’t. Younce has been receiving care through the Veterans Administration but the trauma he experienced was so devastating that he realizes only time will heal his wounds. When asked if there was a particular incident in Iraq that caused him to be in his current state, he replied, “There’s the killing of people. One thing that I remember quite often is this guy that was taking aim at the gunner behind me who got ambushed. I probably remember it everyday to be honest. It’s like a visual that comes into my head like it is right now because I’m speaking of it. I ripped this guy in half with my machine gun, a young kid. I can see his face, probably in his 20s. How many children does that leave? It’s those things you think about. How many other people have I killed that were in the distance? You just don’t know because you get ambushed and you just rip and tear into anything around that’s a threat. How many people did I kill?” Exceptional People Magazine had the honor of speaking with Lieutenant Colonel Younce about his experience in Iraq. EPM: You said that you really wanted to go into the Army. Why were you attracted to the Army more so than any other branch of the military? Younce: That’s a really good question. When I was a young kid I was in something called Civil Air Patrol -- an auxiliary of the Air Force. Even though we were part of the Air Force, the Air Force didn’t send many recruiters. We were supposed to be a really good source for them to get kids to recruit into the Air Force program. But the Army would send recruiters all the time. They would have all these neat things - posters, toys, just neat things. So when I grew up, it was like the Army is where I’m going because recruiters were always there trying to recruit us and they seemed neat. All I wanted to do was serve my country. I still cry when I hear the National Anthem, whether I’m in military uniform or not. I just love my country that much. EPM: You love it enough to obviously be in the position that you’re in now. You’re definitely dedicated to serving and protecting your country. Page 3
David: I think about the kids that we lost in their teens and their early 20s. Why them and not me? I’m in my 40s. I’ve had a pretty good life. I would rather die than one of these kids die. If I could bring one of them back with my own life I would. EPM: Is there any advice, foresight or words of encouragement that you can give young soldiers that are going into the military today? David: I can tell you this, when I was a soldier on active duty, we used to go out and do military police duty and active duty. That involved a lot of what we called back then stupid things, doing things for stupid reasons, going out to the field and staying there for 30 to 45 days. Doing all this Army training just seemed like bull. Train as you would fight. You’re going to be so scared you’re going know how to fight. That’s how we would think about it. I can tell you for absolute 100 percent fact that I would tell soldiers to pay attention to their training. It’s not stupid because when you have to use it, it will all come back to you and it will probably save your life. When I hit that first ambush and I was on top of that Humvee with that machine gun, all my infantry training came back to me and it was “train as you would fight”. And I can tell you to this day that training helped a lot of people die that we needed to kill and it also saved my life. So the stupid training that we hated all the time, it really does work. EPM: What did you learn from them - the Iraqi people; the citizens? Was there anything that you learned from them, the way they think or things they like to do that’s similar to how we live our lives in America? David: I did a lot of things for kids. I used to volunteer my time at the Civil Military Operations Center (CMOC). It’s a center where they directly interact with the civilian population, like finding people that are missing. If someone took their car, we would help them find them it. They had a medical clinic that dealt with less complicated issues as well. However, if they’re missing an arm or something, they also helped them get the appropriate care. I found the kids to be normal kids. All they want is toys. All they want to do is play. All they want is love. They’re a little bit different than us in that they don’t get anything, so from our perspective it’s like sticking them in a closet for a year and bringing them out and showering them with food, clothes or shoes. Shoes were a big thing. EPM: I’m sure they were very happy to receive those things. David: Extremely happy. CMOC built a playground there for the kids, the same sort of thing we have in America. While there, I never saw seesaws or things we see in grade school but the kids loved it, especially the seesaws. They laugh and have fun like normal kids. Page 4
EPM: What one good thing did you love about being there and meeting the people while serving your country? In your opinion what improvements could have been made? David: There’s one thing I learned, and it’s been passed through the ages of different warriors: When you conduct war, you need to conduct war. They (the powers that be) need to make up their minds what we’re doing in Afghanistan and Iraq. They keep injecting politics, and soldiers are there for war. A positive thing that I took away is they’re just people. They’re just normal everyday people that have been raised in different customs, different cultures, different belief systems and different value systems. And if we learn to respect them a little more, if we were in the peace keeping operations, I think it would go a lot smoother. Instead of trying to make Iraqi’s accept American democracy, try to help Iraqis achieve what they want. How can we facilitate their Muslim culture and their traditions? I saw that in Berlin when the wall fell. We tried to bring in American democracy and it didn’t work there. American democracy worked for Americans in 1776 and it’s done very well for us since. Not everyone desires all those freedoms. Not everyone knows what those freedoms are. Lieutenant Colonel David Younce’s story is a lesson from which we all can learn something about commitment and serving others. What have you done lately to serve others? Have you made a commitment to someone and failed to follow through? Have you asked yourself why? How much are you willing sacrifice so that someone else might have something they’ve never had before? As a nation, we should be thankful for the Lieutenant David Younce and all his fellow warriors and heroes. Support those who fight for our freedom.