FORT MYERS, Fla. — Carlos Diaz, Jose Gariga, James Gilyard and Tony Best lean on each other for support to battle daily mental, physical and emotional battles associated with their military service in the Iraq wars.
They all gathered at Gilyard’s home Monday to remember what they’ve survived.
Diaz, Gariga and Gilyard lived in New York City during 9/11. Gilyard said he remembers it like yesterday.
“I saw the planes hit the towers. Right then I knew, I had to report,” he said.
Diaz said the stench he smelled while working crowd control at Ground Zero was unbearable.
“I used to come home, before I walk into the house, I have to take off my clothes, because of the smell and the dust,” said Diaz.
“The smell of dead people,” Gilyard added.
The men said they’re living with psychological and physical pain associated with 9/11, too. Gilyard said his doctor found five tumors in his stomach, which Gilyard believes stems from inhaling too much dust while at Ground zero.
All three were eventually deployed to Iraq, but Diaz said coming back home was harder than deployment.
“I was getting very angry, very anxious. I used to cry. I used to break things,” he said.
Their military brother Tony Best joined them in Gilyard’s living room Monday. He served active duty during the first Iraq War.
“When things get really bad, I got these guys to count on,” said Best.
Best said a tank ran over him while he was in Iraq and the chronic pain in his knees, back and shoulders is sometimes unbearable.
“I got to the point where I’d rather take my life than to deal with this every day pain that I’m dealing with,” he said.
He said he’s attempted suicide at least four times. The last time was a little over a month ago.
Gariga said having a band of military brothers to lean on helps them through the difficult times.
“It’s always good to speak around another veteran, because they experienced it,” said Gariga.
National Suicide Prevention has a 24/7 hotline 1-800-273-8255. You can also text HOME to 741741.