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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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His time to heal and reflect
By Beth N. Gray, Times Correspondent
Published March 11, 2008
Joshua Davidson would like to forget the year 2006, but he can't. He probably never will. The 27-year-old spent more than 11 months that year as a combat medic in Iraq with an Army infantry division assigned to the notorious Sunni Triangle, about 75 miles north of Baghdad.
"The worst was the injuries, the deaths," Davidson said recently at his Spring Hill home. "When you're a medic, you see everything.
"It tested you," he continued, "seeing violence, blood and guts. You're their first respondent."
Add to that the tension that comes with realizing you could get blown up at any moment, Davidson said. The medical compound where he was stationed was the target of frequent enemy mortar fire. "Sometimes it got pretty intense," he said.
Davidson came home to Spring Hill in January after spending a year in Colorado Springs on a special leave accorded to certain overseas returnees. Now that his four-year enlistment has ended, he can reflect on his service.
He recalled the rewarding times, such as his work in the city of Balad. He served in a clinic that treated civilians, from babies to the elderly, everything from coughs to broken bones.
Besides medical care, Davidson dispensed teddy bears and soccer balls to the children. "That was the best thing," he said, "trying to get them not to hate us. Kids and older people loved us. It is so weird. We are seen as the invaders, and they hate us."
Then there were the terrifying times.
He flew on air raids and helped evacuate the wounded. Every third day, the medical unit drove out on patrol for 24 hours. "I slept out in Humvees many a night in the middle of the desert," he said.
One day, his unit ran into five improvised explosive devices - roadside bombs. Three of them blew up in daisy-chain fashion by the driver's side door of a vehicle in which he was a passenger.
The blasts left Davidson with a traumatic brain injury.
"It scared me so bad," he admitted, adding that being scared "kind of comes with the job. Every piece of garbage could be an IED. You have to be vigilant."
The stress of constant danger takes its toll, he said. "People lose it everywhere. You can't take a weekend off."
Davidson counts himself among those soldiers who have suffered psychological damage from the war. He is wrestling with panic attacks, post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression and nightmares about dying.
Davidson was awarded the Combat Medic Badge for treating casualties under fire. "It was selfless of us," he said of himself and his fellow medics.
But he felt unappreciated by the Army brass.
"Superiors belittle you," he said. "They say, 'Go here. Shoot these people.' They should come with a little more admiration, like, 'Hey, you saved these people.'"
Now that he is out of the Army, Davidson said he feels free to voice his frustrations about his years in the service.
He didn't get the assignment he requested. He is a musician, a drummer with a Tampa Bay area band, and he wanted to join the Army band. But the Army noticed his work experience included helping a physician's assistant and serving as a phlebotomist. He was ticketed for a medic's bag.
The Army ran him through a six-month "crash course" in trauma treatment, emergency medical procedures and drawing blood that he hopes will help him meet his dream of a dual career in music and medicine.
Since returning stateside, Davidson has gotten back into the music scene with his yet-to-be-named band. Enrolling in a college medical program will come a bit later.
He also reunited with his mother, Wanda Hartley of Spring Hill, and the two of them celebrated Christmas, albeit in mid January. His first request when he got home was a dinner of crab legs at Red Lobster.
"I waited a long time for seafood," he said.
His appetite sated, Davidson looked forward to his second wish: "A night without the sounds of war."