US Army Pvt. Kushaial Dahlea patrols the streets of Morghan Kechah village in Afghanistan

Afghanistan Veteran Paddles Away War’s Demons

PTSD Mississippi

Afghanistan Veteran Paddles Away War’s Demons – Former Marine coping with post-traumatic stress disorder finds solace in paddling length of Mississippi River. – Gerald Herbert / AP

Afghanistan Veteran Paddles Away War’s Demons  >> Photo Gallery on NBC News

Two tours in Afghanistan took a toll on Joshua Ploetz.  The former Marine was injured in a roadside bomb. He lost friends in combat, and later, to suicide.

When the Winona, Minnesota, resident returned from the war eight years ago, he was coping with post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD, the fallout from a minor stroke and other injuries. Adapting to civilian life proved difficult. Relationships failed, employment was hard to come by and, Ploetz said, he had an overwhelming feeling of being “lost.”

This summer, Ploetz, 30, found direction — and became an inspiration — paddling a canoe the length of the Mississippi River. He launched on May 19 in Lake Itasca, Minnesota, where the river begins as a narrow creek lined with tall trees and bald eagle nests.

The trip to the Gulf of Mexico would take him 71 days, about 49 of them spent paddling and the remainder resting. Ploetz said he needed every inch of the river’s more than 2,300 miles to paddle away the demons of war, or at least calm them a bit.

See full photo gallery and read more at NBC News

Ryan Pitts on the Medal of Honor: The ‘real heroes’ are the nine men who died


The ceremony was over and former Staff Sgt. Ryan M. Pitts, the nation’s newest Medal of Honor recipient, walked toward the microphones set up in front of the West Wing, his pants bloused over his black boots and the nation’s highest award for combat valor draped over his chest.

“The real heroes are the nine men who made the ultimate sacrifice so the rest of us could return home,” Pitts said quietly, a reference to the nine soldiers who died defending Observation Post Topside beside him in the summer of 2008 in Wanat, Afghanistan.

“It is their names, not mine that I want people to know.”

“Spc. Sergio Abad, Cpl. Jonathan Ayers, Cpl. Jason Bogar, 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom, Sgt. Israel Garcia, Cpl. Jason Hovater, Cpl. Matthew Phillips, Cpl. Pruitt Rainey, and Cpl. Gunnar Zwilling,” he read, and in an homage to Chosen company of the 503rd parachute infantry regiment, added: “Thank you. The Chosen few.”

Pitts did not take any questions Monday, and as he walked away, a reporter inquired, “Is that it?” For Pitts, 28, of Nashua, N.H., it was.

A half-hour earlier Pitts was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama for his actions on July 13, 2008, when he single-handedly defended his observation post from an attack by more than 200 Taliban militants. The citation recounts his courage under withering enemy fire, during which he threw grenade after grenade as he slowly bled from shrapnel wounds he sustained from the explosion of rocket-propelled grenades.

Read more at the Washington Post

Watch live as Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts Receives Medal of Honor at 3 p.m. Today

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