September 17, 2008, Walnut Creek, CA – The Veterans Administration estimates more than 20 percent of those who come back from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may develop PTSD — post traumatic stress disorder. That’s 40 to 50,000 people, about the size of the city of Novato or San Ramon.
“They took us back in there to go through the whole city and clear it from top to bottom, going house to house to rid the city of the insurgency that had taken route there,” said Sgt. Mike Ergo from the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.
The 25-year-old served two tours of duty in Iraq. Ergo enlisted right after high school in Walnut Creek. He’s a real life American hero, but paid a severe price.
He is calm as he describes the war in Fallujah that took such an emotional toll on him. He came back with post traumatic stress disorder. It was the massive “D Day” November invasion in 2004 to retake Fallujah from thousands of insurgents.
“I remember I took a step and a half and fell on my face. I thought I tripped on a sack of potatoes. As it turns out it was part of a man who had been killed, an insurgent. So right off the bat, I was faced with the prospect of death and seeing it all around me,” said Sgt. Ergo.
Mike lost five good Marine buddies and his leutenant. They are remembered in a book called “Fallujah with Honor.” Mike didn’t have time for any emotions during the battle.
“And so all these emotions of fear and loss and grief, you don’t use. You put them aside for later,” said Sgt. Ergo.
Mike received an honorable discharge and came home to his fiancée, Sarah Hendrey, who has a master’s degree in occupational therapy.
“When he was deployed, I did my senior thesis for my bachelor’s on combat-related PTSD, because I kind of figured that the likelihood of him coming back with PTSD is probably high,” said Hendrey.
She was right. For starters, he had to face the parents of the buddies he lost in Fallujah.
“They wanted their sons to come home. And I just felt guilty that I kind of maybe that I let them down, that I couldn’t bring them back,” said Sgt. Ergo.
And there were the nightmares and scenes that replayed over and over again in his head.
“This one instance where I kicked open a door and there were people in this bathroom hiding, shooting back at us, and from three feet away from where I was. And just replaying this instance over and over again of shooting this person and everyone else in the room,” said Sgt. Ergo.
“How depressed did you get?” asked ABC7’s Cheryl Jennings.
“I would sit, at home a lot of times, and maybe drink by myself, stay in the dark,” said Sgt. Ergo.
To Mike’s credit, he enrolled in college and is now studying law and social justice at U.C. Berkeley.
But he had to get counseling to make it this far.
“My neighbor is a Vietnam veteran who was in the Army, in the infantry, and so he told me, you can either deal with it now, or wait until later to deal with it. And he told me about some of the people he knew who just completely flipped out,” said Sgt. Ergo.
So, mike went to the Concord Vet Center for mental health counseling every week for nearly a year.
“It really helped just to be able to have someone help me to process what I’d seen,” said Sgt. Ergo.
Mike also founded his own local chapter of a self-help called group called Vets For Vets. He’s worked hard to deal with his PTSD, so has Sarah and here’s the proof that counseling worked.
Mike and Sarah got married this summer. He has a powerful message for other veterans.
“Don’t be a casualty of war yourself, by coming back and being withdrawn and secluded. Be the best person you can, to honor their memory,” said Sgt. Ergo.