Back from Iraq with Plenty of Problems

Paul Miles returned from Iraq needing help with the death in his head. He got prison.

Sometimes those mental tricks worked. Other times, they imploded. A few months before, he was thinking about being with his friend Sarah, flying kites by Lake Nacogdoches. Then his alter ego butted in: Now that's not a fuckin' option now, is it?

The daydreams that seemed to stick were the ones where he was the "bad" soldier. In July, Miles blogged that being a good soldier didn't pay off, so "I have chosen to be bad. Hopefully I can intimidate my boss to move me into a new unit. I don't try to intimidate many people. Sometimes I scare people I'm not trying to scare. Maybe I should stop telling strangers how I could silently kill them four times before they hit the floor."

Yet nothing in Miles's military record indicates he was a bad soldier. He received an Army Commendation Medal, for "ex­cep­tion­ally meritorious service....His accomplishments reflect great credit upon himself, the 56th Brigade Combat Team, and the United States Army."

Mile was erratic and rambling the day of his arrest.
Mile was erratic and rambling the day of his arrest.
After Iraq, Miles spent less than a year with his family — pictured here in 2006 — before he was jailed.
Courtesy Curtis Miles
After Iraq, Miles spent less than a year with his family — pictured here in 2006 — before he was jailed.

When the end of his tour was just a few days away, the bad soldier receded and Miles focused more on what home was going to be like. He'd need to get a gun permit. Just couldn't imagine not having a weapon on him. He figured a Desert Eagle .50, maybe. That was one reason he should live off-campus.

This time, at least, he'd be ready for people not caring about what actually went on here. When he had two weeks' leave in September, he found plenty of yellow ribbons but no one to talk to. The ribbons were more of a fashion statement than anything. Threw him for a loop. He had a sense then that he wasn't ready to move on with his life. Now he knew for sure and that somehow seemed better.

Before he left, he had to complete the post-deployment health assessment. A bunch of bland questions with the occasional zinger such as: "Have you ever had any experience that was so frightening, horrible or upsetting that, in the past month, you were constantly on guard, watchful, or easily startled?" Miles answered "yes" to that one, as well as the one about feeling numb or detached from people, activities or surroundings. Ditto for the one asking if he was concerned about serious conflicts with friends and family.

The tricky one was the question asking if he was concerned that he might hurt or lose control with someone. For that one, he put "unsure."

He was only at his parents' home a few days before he went back to school. He didn't feel like he could open up to his family. The few times he tried to talk, he just felt like they looked at him funny. Like when he told his mother about this little girl who tried to trade her infant brother for a Meal, Ready-to-Eat. That had really messed with him. But his mom just kind of blew him off. Not much he could do about that. Only another soldier could ­understand.

When school started, he moved into South Hall on campus and commenced drinking heavily.

In South Hall, rooms were set up like suites, with separate quarters sharing a common door. A few of the rooms were unoccupied, so those doors weren't locked.

"Last night, in a drunken stupor, I checked the security of my floor," Miles blogged on January 31, 2006. When he heard voices coming from the room adjacent to one of the empty rooms, "I opened the door with a loud creak. The guys next door got all pissed off and opened their door like, 'What the hell?!?' I told them they should leave their door locked. Next time, it may be Ali Baba comin' after them. Haha. There's only room for one paranoid nutjob in South Hall, and that's SGT. MILES!"

In October, he moved into an off-­campus apartment with a National Guard buddy, Carl Timmons, whom Miles called Crazy Carl. They had been roommates before Iraq and got along well enough, even though Miles liked to mess with him. You could really dish it out to Timmons and he'd never do anything back.

Before Iraq, when Timmons came home one day and found his pet goldfish, Audi Murphy, dead in his bowl, Miles said Audi must have committed suicide. Stabbed himself with a fork and choked on orange juice pulp. Turned out Timmons had a lot of suicidal pets. Shithead the crawfish drank too much booze. Trogdor the tadpole shrimp drowned in a vial of rubbing alcohol.

While Timmons and Miles may have disagreed over the value of marine life, they were on the same page when it came to explosives. When they moved back in together, they fooled around with their own IEDs. Pipe bombs. They also grew marijuana and mushrooms — wanted to make a little money.

One September night, they grabbed a friend and went searching for something cool to blow up around campus, like a garden gnome. They wandered onto the Catholic Center grounds and found the next best thing: the Virgin Mary. All four plaster feet of her. They taped a cell-phone sized bomb to her head and boom, it shredded half her face. Loud as hell. Funny stuff.

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