Army veteran Jodi Irlbeck, 40, said Memorial Day means remembering and honoring all of the heroes that didn’t make it home.
The Hinckley native, who now works in the Askov area, entered the military in her mid 20s and deployed to Iraq twice. She was a gunner, military police officer and drill sergeant over the years. As a military police officer she helped train Iraqi police as well as acted as protection for local officials, including the Prince of Jordan. Irlbeck was on her second tour to Iraq, and stationed with the 110 Military Police Company, 1st platoon, when her team was hit by rocket fire. A young soldier was injured near her and she helped him to safety until he could be transported to a hospital.
The doctors told him he would never walk again. The next time Irlbeck saw him, he walked to her.
“He walked past the other soldiers to come and give me a hug,” Irlbeck said with tears in her eyes at the memory.
She left the military due to health issues. She became aware she had symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder shortly after she was home from her last deployment in 2009.
“I was standing near a picnic table and the next thing I knew I was under the table,” Irlbeck said. Unbeknownst to her, a family member decided to set off fireworks in advance of the July Fourth celebration. She contacted her doctor at the Veterans Affairs. They recommended that she seek counseling to help cope with the PTSD and transition back into civilian life.
“It sucks,” Irlbeck said of PTSD.
She also reunited with old high school friends and got a dog, Lake, who helps lower her anxiety levels. Lake senses when she has nightmares and wakes her up, Irlbeck said.
Irbeck said fireworks no longer trigger her PTSD as long as she knows in advance that they will be set off and can mentally prepare herself. She also joined the Chapter 4 Disabled American Veterans, American Legion post 388 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4118 in Hinckley. Irlbeck encourages other veterans to join the organizations as well as seek help if they need it.
“There are people to help you and listen and you are not alone,” Irlbeck said.