The Dream Tee: Aaron Ojard's perfect foursome are the men who saved his life

Ojard wanted to reunite with (from left) Estes, Dauphin and Danaher.
Chris Keane for Sports Illustrated

Ojard wanted to reunite with (from left) Estes, Dauphin and Danaher.

He roamed the hills above the base, launching rockets at the facility up to three times a week. Other bases might fire back, but not Role 3. When the projectiles hit, Rocket Man was long gone. He’d set up hours in advance, using a bottle of ice for a trigger. When the ice melted and the contacts connected through the water-whooosh! The rockets came three or four at a time, and the alarms reverberated over the base, accompanied by the recording of a woman with a British accent and a reasonable tone: “Rocket attack. Rocket attack.”

Ojard has flashbacks at a craft fair in Maryland, with his two kids and his fiancée. They are looking at handmade soap when an alarm goes off at a nearby fire station-a dead ringer for the Rocket Man alarm. Ojard’s face turns ashen, and he starts to hit the deck. Another time, while making sloppy joes for his children, he freezes upon smelling the raw meat, an odor that takes him back to Kandahar. He becomes uncomfortable while playing in a scramble with a friend from Afghanistan near the Aberdeen (Md.) Proving Ground. Suddenly he is facedown in the fairway. Aberdeen is doing demo tests, and by the third boom Ojard is back on his feet and ready to run. His friend has to stop him.

Incidents such as that push him to stay close to people he knows, people who can remind him of where he is when those feelings sneak up on him-Rocket attack-and when he shudders, remembering the impact that knocked him ass over elbows on his way to Role 3 one morning. That near miss led to a neck fusion and 10 follow-up procedures, but Ojard feels lucky and blessed. His back problems are now confined mostly to the golf course-too much slide, he can’t quite turn through the ball at impact-and that would be a small problem, indeed, if he weren’t the type of person to drag his clubs to Kandahar.

Two days back in Maryland and Ojard is trick-or-treating with his kids, dust from Afghanistan still on his boots. He sleeps well for a while-from the -exhaustion-but the flashbacks and the nightmares start soon thereafter, his pager calling him back to Kandahar, to the trauma beds amid the screams and the scramble to determine who was missing what.

He stops going places. He stops spending time with the kids. He walks through his days like a zombie, and he wonders about the soldiers he treated. How badly were the memories and the injuries beating them, the guys Ojard and his colleagues had put back together and sent home?

What troubles him is hard to describe. As much as anything, it is not knowing what’s wrong. It’s being bothered by everything and not knowing why. It’s wondering whether the next day will be any different from the one he’s stuck in. It’s thinking that if this is what life is going to be like, what’s the point? It’s not asking for help-he is a -warrior-and it’s not a disorder; it is the norm. It’s PTS, drop the D.

I meet Ojard at an Italian restaurant in Baltimore. He sits with his back to the wall. His new wife is there, and while I’m not thrilled about his being accompanied for an interview, I soon understood Linsie’s presence. Ojard says nothing good happened to him after he returned from Afghanistan until he met Linsie. (He was looking for help with his two kids from a previous marriage when her dad introduced the two at church.) She tells me he didn’t laugh for a long time, but he is starting to. We talk for almost two hours, and she holds his hand almost the entire time.

Ojard is 6' 5" with broad shoulders and a shaved scalp that won him the nickname Shrek in Afghanistan. (He wore the tag battle nurse on his scrubs-no family names in Role 3, not when so many of the patients are Taliban.) Yet for all he has been through, there is something fragile about the way he holds the hand of someone so much smaller. I learn she is the reason he’s alive -today-with an assist from his golf clubs.

After four months of being unable to function, Ojard says he had finally had enough, so he reached out for help. He found a doctor who would see him on an hour’s notice and began engaging in the only real cure for PTS: talking. It is on the golf course where the words come the easiest.

Salute Military Golf uses the game to rehabilitate veterans, and the organization helped get Ojard out of the house and onto the course for a few minutes of practice. Minutes turned into hours-Ojard chasing his ball with other vets who understood why someone would always sit with a view of the front door in an empty restaurant. So many people take the game for granted, but it gave Ojard a chance. It gave him a chance to go back to work and date the girl of his dreams. Golf got his world moving again.

The clubs go everywhere these days, and Ojard has developed an antidote for his triggers: He picks up a golf club. When he’s pulling an overnight at the hospital-an endeavor he once thought he’d never be able to accomplish again-he calls Linsie and wanders the hallways with his 5-iron. The feeling of the grip in his fingers (Golf Pride, midsized) relaxes him. The world feels familiar again with a golf club in his hands.

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