A few older Marines offered Mike Gerardo practical advice for surviving the extremes of combat as he prepared to go to war five years ago.
“Just accept that you’re going to die.”
Their words served as psychological armor for Gerardo, then 21, who deployed to Afghanistan as part of a mortar team. During the violent months that followed, as one firefight blurred into another, he stopped worrying about his fate. He understood death would come.
When he survived, when he returned home carrying quick-trigger anger and night terrors and the incendiary memories of war, he lacked the defenses to cope. At Camp Pendleton in Southern California, where he was stationed, a therapist diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder.