By Monica K. Guthrie, Fort Sill Media Relations OfficerSeptember 11, 2019
FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Sep. 11, 2019) -- It's been 20 years since a gunman walked into my church.
I was there that night, sitting on the front row of Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas.
Larry Gene Ashbrook walked into the church that September night looking for the prayer meeting and instead found a sanctuary full of kids singing during a See You At the Pole after rally.
He killed seven people. He wounded many more.
Twenty years ago, I didn't know anything about post-traumatic stress disorder but I knew I had "something" and that it was going to take a while to "go away." Lockers would slam and I would jump.
I'd go to dinner and know what my escape route would be for any given situation. I handled my new normal without an "episode" until I joined the Army and had to overcome real PTSD when I was handed a weapon for the first time and told to shoot it.
During the shooting, Ashbrook tossed homemade pipe bombs which exploded but fired up into the ceiling rather than out. I was told after the shooting, Ashbrook had a 9mm semi-automatic handgun, and a .380-caliber handgun, which he reloaded several times. He had enough ammunition to walk down the aisle and shoot everyone, I'm told.
There were so many gunshots.
I had miscalculated how I would be paralyzed with fear upon hearing those sounds again. Here I was surrounded by a hundred young adults firing weapons.
There were so many gunshots.
In basic training the Army values are drilled into you.
In my panicked state, I remember thinking about personal courage. I needed to be afraid in order to have courage. My mind associated gunshots (and lockers slamming) with death and I was terrified of death. I needed to disconnect the two things.
With a lot of work, and with support from my battle buddies, I did overcome my paralyzing fear. I shot 32 out of 40.
I found myself returning to my thoughts about personal courage throughout my military career during my first 15-month deployment, every time we lost a Soldier (or got close to losing Soldiers in battle), and every time the Army pushed me to do something difficult or intimidating.
In time, death became less and less a worry. Without getting too existential, I came to a peace. I wasn't welcoming death, but I wasn't hiding from it, either. My second deployment came and went with little fear.
In the years after I joined the Army, I learned a lot about PTSD and how traumatic events are handled differently for each person. I've also learned that triggers can come up everywhere.
After more than 10 years, I thought I'd effectively gotten over my fear of death.
Then I had my son.
There was a time I was among the very small percentage of people who have experienced a mass shooting. That pool of people has grown dramatically in the past few years.
I find myself, a veteran now, thinking about death and personal courage again, but not for me. For my children.
I want to hide them, protect them from the world, and yet I know that's not how life is intended to be. I am afraid for their safety at times, but I want them to experience life.
Meg Cabot said, "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all."
Personal courage is not a one-time life lesson. Just when I thought I'd gotten over fear, it was reintroduced to me as something new.
As I think of those I lost 20 years ago, and with the media remembering 9/11, I am encouraged to live my life to the fullest and be courageous, courageously raise my children, courageously be vulnerable to others, courageously stand up against things I believe are wrong.
I may be in the shadow of fear, but I don't have to act fearfully.
Twenty years after the shooting that changed my life, I'm still reminding myself to have personal courage.
You can't fully live life with a spirit of fear. Live life with power and love and a sound mind.