MOLINE -- Her thoughts weigh heavily these days.
As retired Army Sgt. Danielle Gordon sits at her grandmother's kitchen table, she tries to concentrate.
She has difficulty with short-term memory, the result of combat while serving in Iraq. Ms. Gordon was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in September 2010, a problem more and more veterans face.
Her 2-year-old daughter, Belle, runs through the kitchen, wanting to play with the new puppy. Ms. Gordon cautions Belle to be careful, not to hurt the puppy while trying to pick him up. The war veteran is adapting to domestic life.
Yet, Ms. Gordon wonders if she'll ever be the same, like she was before the war.
She picks up a picture of herself as she entered the Army in 2004, just out of high school, hair up in her hat, a stern look on her young face. "Am I worse than what I was before?" she asks as she sips a glass of pop at the table, studying the picture. "I'm 27 years old, I have memory problems. I want to go back to school, but I know in my head, I know it's a problem.
"A lot of us (veterans) just want help." She works with a therapist and participates in transitional programs such as Wounded Warriors.
"She's staying with grandma (Isabelle) and I," said her mother, Deanne. "I think when she is under pressure, she cannot process. "She'll say, 'Mom, I can't do this. I gotta lie down.'"
Ms. Gordon's case is not unique.
According to the Rand Corporation, a nonprofit think tank, roughly 300,000 veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan may suffer from PTSD.
Rock Island County Veterans Assistance Commission superintendent Todd Harlow said PTSD is a "big issue" for returning veterans. "I can't give a figure," Mr. Harlow said. "Anybody that comes in here that served one or two tours, many times you can see they have it."
Ms. Gordon served most of 2006 in Iraq and a second, 10-month tour in 2008-2009. During the first deployment, she had a variety of responsibilities from cook to convoy escort and detainee guard. She conduced female searches during raids.
Driving over improvised explosive devices jarred her mind.
The PTSD was aggravated when she came home to Colorado and an abusive husband. On Feb. 4, 2011, her then-husband beat her and tried to kill her. She was stabbed several times. A large scar runs underneath her right ear.
He is now serving a 35-year sentence in a Colorado penitentiary.
PTSD and domestic violence is a double-barreled combination of bad, and the daily battle with PTSD continues. Instead of enemy fire, she wrestles with war memories, recognizing her irrational fears yet unable to cope.
On Thursday, Ms. Gordon entered a Moline restuarant for lunch. Soon, the noon crowd packed in. With so many people, she felt alone and vulnerable. The woman who took on the horrors of war overseas was frightened among local diners.
"I just couldn't handle the people, too many people," she said. "It's like an anxiety panic attack, like you're really terrified by something. I can't go to Wal-Mart when it's too busy. I had those issues from combat.
"When you were there (Iraq), your adrenaline goes through the roof. It's constant. A lot of times, you're mortared, you're shot at. You don't trust people around you at all, always on high alert."
Now, she is picking up pieces, trying to find a life for herself. She met another veteran, someone who also suffers from PTSD. They hope to marry and live in Virginia.
"Sometimes, I have bad days," she said. "It's because of my migraines and my mood alterations from the brain injuries.
"The thing I hate about all these issues, about the PTSD, is all this damn medication. The headaches from the explosions, you got rocked around in your vehicles. The first time, it was a fuel and water run, and we just got hit.
"You're really dazed," she said. "It's weird. You're really not there, but you are."
There are events in war she simply won't discuss.
Dressed in her Army uniform, a Combat Action Badge is stitched on her left shoulder as evidence of her time in hostile encounters. The war brings daily nightmares.
"I'm not ready to deal with this," she said of the memories. "There's just things that are mine, my own. I don't need to talk about with others.
"A lot of us come home and have to deal with what we saw. It might have been something we couldn't do, what we couldn't help out with."
Ms. Gordon is medically retired from the military. She'll receive a monthly paycheck and health insurance for herself and her children.
In spite of the war injuries and the troubles that followed when she came home, Ms. Gordon said she still believes.
"I have been really, really blessed," she said. "I have a really good family. Eventually, I hit rock bottom where nothing mattered."
Her eyes wander to Belle, who is outside the patio door studying a bowl of dog food. The retired sergeant smiles at the little girl.
"I've seen the dark side and the best side of life with the birth of my own children," she said. "I would tell people hope is out there. "
Moline, IL Details
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