Sunday, September 15, 2013

Reflections On Paradise Lost

He said he read my writing so I’ll write another. My wife and I were driving our wedding gift car from the gulf coast of Mississippi, northwest on a heading for our home in Portland, Oregon when we stopped in South Dakota to visit Deadwood on our pseudo-honeymoon in October of 2012. I still owe her a real one. We stayed in the “Ma Barker Suite” at “Cadillac Jack’s Casino” hoping that we would have another $500.00 night like we did in East St. Louis. We had visited Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse memorial which my grandparents had recommended earlier during a buffet dinner in Kentucky. My friend Paul Erfman contacted me on social media and let me know he was in the area. We set up a meeting in the Casino and had a chance to catch up for the first time since I had left Hawaii after my last duty as a military policeman in 2007.


I had been an infantryman for almost three years when I was sent to the military police to wait out the remainder of my four year contract on base instead of deploying once more to Iraq with my unit. These fifty grunts/infantrymen had all deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Gunnery Sergeant who read our names off of the list during morning formation on the deep green grass with that Hawaiian ocean sky and that perfect weather sarcastically offered us the chance to stay with our unit and deploy again . I had seen the TV show "COPS" a million times and I knew that I would never again have this opportunity to live a life long dream so I courageously raised my hand and fucked off another deployment to grow a mustache and buy a pair of ridiculously over-sized aviator sunglasses, there would be rules to enforce and I would remain on the Hawaiian island of Oahu for the next nine months.


Those months remain some of my favorite on the planet even though they were veiled with the early signs of disease that came with my war. After a three week course on how to write tickets and put on handcuffs, and after the final exam where we were pepper sprayed, the infantrymen of First Battalion Third Marines had been officially recognized as Marine Corps Base Hawaii military police officers and we received our gun and badge. We were like TEMPS in a factory, this was not our primary occupation and we were not expected to do much more than man the front and back gate of the base to free up the contracted military police who had actually trained for the job and would patrol the base in police cars.
   
The grunts had been there a few weeks when the military police received a dump of fresh new Marines straight out of military police school. Looking at this scientifically it is my hypothesis that it may not have been the best idea to mix a group of seasoned hard core combat veterans with the new military police fresh faced Marines that were sent under the care of the grunts to learn their job on the gate. The reason for this is because the infantrymen, though very young, were hard to life and insane may be a harsh word but violence was accepted and so was hard drinking, we were the age of frat boys but many of us had killed people and lost many friends to war. This was not a shared experience with the new military police Marines who were sent to the gate with us and many were still teenagers.


One of these new Marines became my co-pilot, I would stand the front gate with Rodney Wheeler and at first I would make him work the whole shift, seven hours with bathroom breaks, because I had been to combat I felt it fair that the boot stood the watch while I read my books and listened to my “Coast to Coast” on the night shift.
    
When we were off shift I would drink an ocean and one morning early into Rodney’s career I woke him up at sunrise after drinking all night and informed him that we were going out. He had purchased a Cadillac which was a contradiction to his stature of five-foot-eight but seemed to fit with his southern twang and would have been much more effective with bull horns on the hood. He beamed and agreed to go on an adventure so we were off to live one of my daydreams, first we would visit the North Shore of Oahu. The warm water of November was welcoming but the waves crashed down with a thunder and the local girls were laughing at the white boys trying to make it past the surf. After we were ordered out of the water by a concerned lifeguard Wheeler drove us to Waikiki where we ate eighty dollar steak.


Back on the front gate I would become bored and Wheeler would watch me draft civilians that made a wrong turn onto our base. Our base was at the end of a freeway and especially during the weekend, inevitably some father would have the kids in the back of the rental and would be frantically explaining to me that he was trying to reach Waikiki but must have made a wrong turn. At some point I started retorting to this man and his clones that due to the new statue of the patriot act, thirty-eight-tac-bravo it was my duty to intern anybody attempting to trespass on our base for up to two weeks to pick up trash. I would further elaborate that they were not heading to Iraq or Afghanistan but because we were shorthanded on Marine Corps Base Hawaii due to ongoing combat operations, they would fulfill their new obligation of collecting the trash for two weeks and then could do their u-turn. I would then order them to pull over to the side of the road so that a recruiter could size and fit them for their uniforms. I would watch the color drain out of the father’s face and then I would tell him that I was kidding and proceed to give him the wrong directions to wherever he was heading.


I still don’t know why I found satisfaction in this act but it made sense at the time. If Wheeler was on patrol in the car I would stand the post with Vasquez another new join and these new Marines would stand their seven hour post waving the base traffic passed the gate while I babbled on about my deployment to Fallujah, I was stuck on repeat like a computer glitch and I could not stop talking about it, when I was drunk, when I was hungover, when I was hungover. If I ever heard the new joins complain about anything I would glare at them and bark, “You think that’s bad, let me tell you a little story called the battle of Fallujah!” I had once pictured myself as an old man and came up with that line as I imagined a future me geriatric and interacting with grandchildren.


After our first adventure Wheeler would beat on my door early in the mornings that we were off of work and drag me out of the hangover cave that I preferred and he would say, “Hey Andy, we're going on an adventure!” Off we would go throughout the island in the oversized cadillac with my throbbing head in my hands talking about Fallujah. It was on the last adventure as my contract ran out that we went for one final joy ride to the North Shore for a day of swimming in the ocean and an eighty dollar steak or seafood dinner. Those adventures were the best days of my life after enduring some terrible trauma. The young military policemen welcomed me into their lives and I was able to see how unaffected youth dealt with reality and it gave me hope for my future to be in their present. On that last day we were taking pictures on a jetty when my aviator sunglasses I had bought specifically for my duty in the military police fell into the water between some rocks. Our section sergeant would complain that he knew aviator sunglasses and trimmed mustaches were in Marine Corps regulation but when the whole company dawns these two items it becomes a bit ridiculous, however the sergeant had a sense of humor so for a few months some caricature of a policeman from the seventies would be waving the confused people through the gate.


After I heard that sound of a marble dropped into water I said to hell with the glasses it was meant to be that they vanish on this last day. But Vasquez and Efman would not let them go, they fought dark water and between rocks, I felt funny for standing there but I was positive they were gone, I just wanted to go eat. Somehow Vasquez found the glasses and handed them back to me. The young Marines did not give up so easily and I wore those sunglasses until they finally broke in the Summer of 2011. That night we ate a deliciously overpriced dinner and enjoyed being together and ridiculous. Some of those new Marine military fresh faced policemen would later deploy to Afghanistan, and that made me sad because I was always happy for them to be just the way they were. Wheeler stayed in the states and is as chipper as ever.


Last October Paul Erfman found me in the South Dakota Casino and my new wife and I joined him for a smoke and a little catching up. He seemed grown and he was talking in loop about his deployment and my deployment and then he looked at me and said, “Say it Andy.” My wife was confused and I looked at Erfman and said, “Let me tell you a little story called the battle of Fallujah!” He laughed and so did I, Paul said he was going to tell our mutual friend Carver that he got me to say it. There was something different in him and looking back at it I guess he might have reminded me of myself in those hangover Hawaiian mornings, I now see that we were all drinking so much because many of us were emotionally disturbed by our combat experience and had not been taught or properly encouraged to deal with that load in a more healthy manner than pausing the drinking only to puke and make room for more drinking.


Paul Efman had grown up since the last time I had seen him, he was a combat veteran which can peel the joke out of life until it is not funny anymore. We wished each other well and I will never see him again on this terrestrial plane. Carver wrote me to ask if I had heard about Paul yesterday and then I did and as I absorbed this information I found myself drifting back to that last adventure, jumping off of rocks and swimming in the warm ocean, everyone laughing and happy. Paul always looked happy.


Life can be captured in the regular things, I went back through my messages to see our last correspondence and it was as I will remember Paul Erfman who became one of the twenty two veterans who commit suicide a day and I hate it, as cliche as I can be I would love to sit down again with Paul and babble about the war, and about getting help. I wish I had the chance to talk more about how good life can be and to not let the life triggers suck you down too fast and too quick. “Let me tell you a little story about the battle of Fallujah,” supposes that someone who has been to the battle of Fallujah has endured the most pain any human being can endure and it is not true. I would daydream about what I would do when I got home and when those puzzle pieces were not fitting together as I had hoped it became devastating. The memory of pain is hidden in normalcy that looks like our final  correspondence;  


Hey I see ya gonna be in the hills tonight
October 12, 2012 6:31 pm


Hey dude what's up
hey actually honeymoonin  in Deadwood


I seen that.... I'm literally like 13 miles from ya in spearfish
cool man, I think we are going to hit the slots in an hour and a half, Im staying at cadillac Jacks
feel free to stop by for a beer


Right on well would ya like to grab a beer while ya in the area?
ya but we are drinking and Im staying static Ill be in the casino at 9 and we could catch up if you can make it


What's static? Lol oh I can make it I'm sure
coo


Id Text ya when I got there but don't have ya number so I'll just look for ya I suppose
661 400 ****
sounds good see you then


Alright


If you are a veteran in crisis call 1-800-273-8255. There is help out there for you for real.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Grunt Circles


(Read at The Headstrong Project's fundraising event Words of War at IAC HQ in NYC)


When that airplane hit the tarmac
I hit the ground running;
the confusion
of
a
wild
pack
biting at my heels
chasing me in circles,
on
    that
           tarmac.

Electric death clouds
chase me too
rain blood
and that flight crew
waive neon sticks
guiding me the wrong way,
again.

She was a favorite holiday
all of those beautiful bursting explosions
a smell of sulfur hung in my sniffer,

you are not beautiful anymore

the wild pack is exhausting
lost in these endless circles
and I keep saying,

ONE OF THESE DAYS WE’LL GET IT!

when I am weighed down
with a double combat load
and no soul to share the weight

Crooked liberals and crooked conservatives
throw me up on a flag
and
     tell me
what you were,

when I was
the only soul to see,

Liberty can find me in a dive bar;
on a trashy street corner,
maybe in politics or on a dance floor,
down seven sheets again.

Let me tell you
a
little
story
called
the Battle of Fallujah!

the war was easy like birthday gifts
you just show up
and unwrap your surprise.

you can find me
in
your
dreams,

I am your brother

Screaming is the quietest thing children
have
    ever
seen

I am your father.

but the surprise about that tarmac
that has me running in circles;

this place is not in a combat zone,
this is
what I call
                              coming
           home.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

My Little War Turned 10 Today


A decade ago I would have never imagined what ten years later would look like transmitted back to me with all of the hindsight that the future brings. I was seventeen-years-old and my  newspaper editor dad’s ride up the southern California coast to Camp Roberts, a base that time forgot built of white washed 1950’s vintage wooden paneled barracks. I would be dropping him off to invade Iraq with a local transportation company of the California National Guard; the unit's ranks made up of business owners, fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers, working class Joes, piles of soldiers with prior active service and just a few young ones still wet under the ears.
    
We were cruising in my newly licensed used compact that I had purchased from one of my father’s old reporter friends Jeff Wong. While my recently turned fifty-year-old father rode passenger through Santa Barbara in 2003, Jeff Wong was on a ship bound for the invasion as a Marine Corps infantry platoon commander, he had ditched the journalism for an adventure at twenty-seven-years-old; my current age, shortly before the towers fell in 2001. I can’t really recall much of seeing my father off to war, I think my high-school buddy Mike Vang and I helped him drop his gear off in one of those old buildings and that was it, no tears or fireworks.
    
I was glued to the television for a couple of complex reasons. In 1990-91 I had watched more of the gulf war on television than maybe any other six-year-old in America. The minute Saddam invaded Kuwait I called my dad’s office in Los Angeles to let him know what was going on, I can still recall the phone number by heart because I would hear the tones of the numerical buttons in my head like a favorite song. The next reason was I knew many people preparing to invade that country to include my father; my friend Mike who rode with us to Camp Roberts brother Jerry Vang was an Army combat engineer, and our high school buddy Joe Robbins had enlisted in the Marine Corps, the Marine recruiter who signed Joe up was a friend of our family and would be killed in Iraq with just over a year left on life’s clock. I had entered the delayed entry program which meant that I signed the contract to leave for Marine Corps boot-camp after I graduated high-school. After school I would spend time in the recruiter’s office to prepare for my adventure with heavy thoughts of my father and friends helping me find motivation to lose some weight off of my softness, physically and spiritually. My father would be content to die in a combat zone, he would avoid it if he could but I knew that if it happened I could find peace in my old man’s story because he lived his life like no other, and we had talked about it before he left.
    
While my father was in Iraq I was doing what needed to be done to graduate and nothing more. I was a television reporter for my high school t.v. show and had covered a war protest in Hollywood. Our show played on local cable access and after the story ran so many of the ten old people that followed our show called in to complain that they took the program off of the air forever. I remember thinking to myself, “Hey assholes, my dad's in Iraq!” I have found in this culture that no matter what my life experience, I will never be able to attain more free speech points in the land of free speech. Which leads me to today’s reflection. I can orbit the major media websites and view wise finally accepted truths that everyone knows because it has been ten years so it is time to have a sit down and learn from these mistakes. For every story about the war being for oil I want to see a story about the veteran suicide epidemic, ten stories about bad ass veterans who succeed in transition every day and will continue to build this country that misunderstands them because of the media, and a story about the never ending backlog that I believe kills service people in higher numbers than the war. Some of what I learned from the war validated what I already knew, this country is a sensationalist country, it likes drama and whether it will admit it or not, most of it regardless of political affiliation, loves war. War gives both sides something to attack and defend, it gives the people something to protest and something to fight for, and validates the perspectives of every side.

Every time something dramatic happens the news is all over it. I read articles about many sources complaining that the media dropped the ball on Iraq, I laugh out loud, as if there were anything else to do than to cover the orgasmic explosions of “Shock and Awe,” to feed the people’s eyes that are so hungry for legitimate drama. I say the media did a fantastic job covering the war. It’s not the media that’s fucked up here, it is the people who will it. If people want to watch something in America someone will figure out a way to show them, the more watching people the happier the business that provides this service. I saw plenty of critique from the media regarding weapons of mass destruction even before the invasion, the war protests were covered and when we went into Iraq so was something so unique to history that in March of 2003 a war was covered more extensively and brought to the viewers live for almost nine seasons. You can’t make the people pay attention to what bores them. War is not boring.

    
 I could have told you at seventeen that I anticipated any longer involvement in Iraq post-invasion would mean something serious to me, not like it would for the disconnected viewer. I figured that if the people loved this war so much, they would send me there to fulfill my destiny. I hate when our society refuses to accept that it is the people of a democracy that run this country and if it is not that way it is only because the people of this country are too lazy to make it some other way. If you ever wonder what mystical forces compel the strings of media, look no farther than what normal American people want to see, violence first and then sex. I can’t wait for a university in a hundred years to sit its students down and dissect this great gift of anthropology the media will have left behind regarding the war in Iraq. When I see the media apologize for itself I understand it is only doing what the people will it to, if they didn’t buy it, no one would sell it. The media gave all of the information to a people who willed war.

     
My father returned from reporting on the invasion on Friday June 13, 2003 which was the same day I graduated high school. I saw him for the first time in my first moments of my transformation from a school-boy to a young-man. I knew more people in the invasion than my father had known who served in Vietnam, I was influenced and proud of my peers who seemed to be the only people willing to put skin on the line for what their country wills. I went to this presentation about the Iraq war in Portland a couple of months ago. The only veterans in the crowd of a dozen or so was myself and a representative from Team Rubicon.

     
The presentation was designed to be a discussion about the war and as I discussed my feelings about the war and inquired to a beatnik lady of correct vintage how she felt about the troops she responded, “I bleed empathy for everyone on this planet but it is like, they are over there oppressing people you know?” The majority of the crowd agreed with her and I really didn’t know what she was talking about though I want to hear more people say what they really think.

When I shipped out to boot-camp my dad dropped me at the recruiter's office behind my old high-school in Jeff Wong’s former car, there was a hug and no tears and I was off to where the people willed me. When there is a VA backlog and a veteran suicide epedemic it is because the people of this country will it, if they cared enough they would not let the government get away with saving money on suicide. Every vet that kills themself saves the taxpayers of their country a lifetime of care. I don’t blame the media for the war; the troops sent to it, big oil profiting from it, or the government facilitating it, I put the blame where it belongs, on this country’s decadent majority fueled by its fascination with violence.




(Hello viewers of this blog. I wanted to inform you that Iraq/Afghanistan and More will close shop the day the war ends in Afghanistan. Thank you for reading and please stay tuned for the final installments.)

Friday, January 4, 2013

Somewhere in Mexico

The ball dropped in New York as I sat on a sofa with my new wife and strapped in for a new year. 60,000 Syrians are in the ground; cars changed, sports teams changed, some more celebrities died and I watched it all happen un-filtered through my box plugged into the wall. I remember my father bringing a computer home in 1994, it was to replace the old one with the green screen from the 1980's. We marveled as a family after we plugged the plant in to watch it grow. The new desktop had internet and my life would become digital, a father's hope that his family would see the next big thing. Every morning I power on my "super-computer", while the wife struggles to make it to work on time and the dog is whining for need of relief, I click and the whole world comes screaming at me in high definition. I would have had to own a subscription to multiple newspapers and magazines to capture a small percentage of the information available to me today within in a few seconds. I can watch the babies blown up in Syria and mourn to myself in this detached country, or the babies die in Newtown and hear the cries of change echo in my connected country. If I am an asshole I can validate any crackpot theory that swims around in my empty skull, or if I am poor I can find knowledge not available to the richest men a short time ago. I listened my whole life to adults explaining that this box in the wall would be the future and looking back I understand it, the difference between life before the airplane, or indoor plumbing.
   
The year passed has provided me with hope for a future that a couple of years before I did not believe in, something rewarding. My business partner Antonio and I were able to raise the funding for our documentary, and then we filmed it. My wildest dreams came true, infused to the story of my brother's who I fought alongside and finally got to see again. A month ago I was in Mexico for our last interview, the box in the wall had shit me airline tickets and correspondence with a man who in any other time would have been lost to me forever after discharge, the type of person who literally disappears. The concept of going to Mexico during this time in history made me queezy. I thought about recently having been married to my wife and day-dreamed that I might really understand what I had to lose right before some cartel guy lights the diesel and tells me to climb into the barrel. When the wheels touched down in Mexico I was alone with my camera equipment hidden in my backpacks. My tall friend and some guy I didn't know were there to pick me up. It was moving to see my friend "The Bandito" again. He had been our point-man during the second battle of Fallujah and terribly wounded by a gunshot to the femur. The last time I had seen him was 2005 and he hobbled around base with a very noticeable limp. As we left the airport I noticed that there were no signs of a limp and The Bandito's English was mucho improved.

We put my bags into the back of a late model Ford Mustang which had body damage similar to the other cars parked around it. The Bandito pulled his seat up and let me in, I fell back into my bucket seat and grabbed for the seat-belt to protect me from the bumper-cars, but the seat-belt did not exist. We drove from the airport toward the barrio where my friend lives, I played with my beard and felt the adrenaline course through my veins again. Traffic in this part of Mexico seemed unregulated and completely nonsensical, however I was sure the chaos made sense to the locals and forced myself to trust in that. The end would begin if the car was forced to stop by someone my friend did not know. If there was one thing I remembered about The Bandito it was that his values for things like safety always seemed much different than people hold in my country, which is what made him such an effective point man eight years before. 

The Bandito and I set my gear down and the driver left but promised to be back later. During the car ride The Bandito had explained that his life might be in danger, we drank beer and talked about it. Inside his barrio house the walls were bright white with immaculate white tiles on the floor, the living room seemed to glow. A card table set up with empty bottles of beer and paperwork reminded me of my dead Uncle's old apartment, the outside noises sounded similar to my outside noises back home but I noticed that every time a shadow crept across the curtains to his window, The Bandito became alert. I asked him to tell me about why he had decided to return to Mexico after gaining citizenship in the U.S.? He explained that he lived in Texas for a few months after he had left our base in Hawaii. He said that the walls felt like they were getting tighter and it was hard for him to watch the "zombie people" walking around him. The Bandito sipped his beer and turned up the music on his radio, I can hear the DJ banter because of his similar timing to any other DJ back home, but I can't understand what the DJ says. The old point-man continued to explain that life in the U.S. seemed very predictable and that he felt out of place, he had joined The Marines in search of an adventure, but life after the adventure is always back to the same-old. So my friend bought a motorcycle and drove it down to the other country on his citizenship Rolodex, the more exciting one.

He says he has always loved Mexico and that he missed the language the most. We go for a stroll in the barrio, street vendors are selling produce and meat, we are heading for a strange beer. The Bandito points excitedly, "You see this, this is what I mean. Here people talk to each other." I look around and see that he is correct. In the U.S. people seem to go out of their way to keep to themselves, but in this Mexican ghetto, children kick soccer balls, music plays outside and people talk to each other, it looks like the wild west. I prefer security to conversation but I can understand why this place appeals to my friend. We walk into a shack with two young Mexican men who serve beer with gobs of hot sauce added to Clamato poured into a Styrofoam cup with shrimp set atop the lid. We purchase the strange brew and I pray that these shrimp don't poison me, I used to frequent Tijuana when I was a teenager, my family has traveled deep into Mexico on a regular basis since my grandparents first went down in the 1950's. That was long before the massive drug-war and I can hear my father, "Don't drink the water boy or you'll wish you didn't." I am not sure how much water is in this strange drink but I know if I don't drink it The Bandito will laugh at me so like the old days I trust my friend and risk the parasite. The beer is good. That night I film the Bandito's interview in Spanish because I know it will piss-off an ignorant guy who wrote a comment on my story "Mexican Marine" when it appeared in "The Doonesbury". 

This year Antonio and I will spend countless hours editing the documentary on our computers until the film is finished and then we will tour it utilizing the box in the wall to assist throughout the whole process. Our southern neighbor will remain a non-issue for the most part again, I always marvel at how much closer Afghanistan seems to United States consciousnesses than Mexico. The Bandito will use his computer to find more dangerous work, as he walks his barrio streets, somewhere where the people communicate in their beautiful language and the shadows are something to be scared of. He wants very deeply to help rebuild his land but the street dogs will tell you that is a hard thing to do when there is so much corruption. Mexico used to be so different, I thought to myself as we flew along holding onto the rail inside a rural Mexican bus with no shocks. The people were all looking at me with these lines in their faces and an expression that I could not relate to. They all sat and stared at me until I felt out of place, but I remembered that I was with The Bandito and it was just like the old days.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Marine's Army Buddy (or the other way around)

Antonio and I cruise the desert of our childhood like time stopped a decade ago, with the windows rolled down. I would have been in my last year of high-school and when you are young the blinders are turned on hard, I never noticed so many people wandering the streets of my home-town before but I assured myself that they had always been there. Some of the strangest people in southern California reside in Palmdale, a refuge from the inner city of Los Angeles. It is always a mix where the flat middle class intersects with the poor and everyone of every background lives together in stucco houses mass produced between the middle 1980's and the late 1990's. When I was young I watched the city grow from a one stop-light desert community to the small metropolis it is today, Palmdale grew with me. The only notables that I ever knew crawled out from under those desert rocks were Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart, both were young men influenced by European Avante Guard music and for some reason I can't get this useless fact out of my head because it makes the most sense of any analysis I have ever heard about this desert. Tumbleweeds blow, on the outskirts the farmers still work their alfalfa, the suburban police helicopter takes flight at night to find someone doing the same, a pool-hall is still a good place to get stabbed on a Friday but there is something I miss very much from this community I left to heal some time ago. People seem themselves in the desert, or they are more like me than where I reside in green Oregon.

Antonio and I are going to end our cruise in a trailer park to visit our friend Jerral. We had not seen Jerral since a fourth of July party my parents hosted before Antonio and I took off to film our documentary. If there is one place in America that is looked down on by even the most progressive; it is the trailer park. As we pull in the children are riding bikes, they look as innocent as any others so we take care not to run them over, like any others. We park and enter Jerral's home. He tells us it is good to see us, the fish tank humming in his living room; a beep from some other machine, the television is on and set to cartoons, Jerral's children will be home soon. Antonio and I take a seat so that we can begin shooting the shit. Jerral says, "Man, I haven't been out of here since the fourth of July." My heart sinks but it is now very important to listen to every word my friend tells me, because he has had all of this time to think, almost six months solitary. I ask him why he has not been able to leave the trailer? He explains that his van is still being worked on, something about the wiring. Jerral sits in his chair. Jerral and I returned to the same community, in the same year of 2007 after our war. I remember how slow everything seemed to me, so Antonio and I began a television commercial production business, but every week I would get the jack-rabbit in my blood and I needed to get out to see something big. We would usually go to Las Vegas, only a four hour drive. All I could think about was the war at the time and I was very curious to learn how to shake those feelings of darkness. I would try to drink them away, or get away, I would have crawled out of my skin if I could but the reasons are too deep to explain.

Jerral never had that option, no Vegas lights and no hopping in the car to make a bad decision. He had joined the Army and became a tanker. I was a Marine infantryman and our connection is made through my father who had also been an Army tanker. Jerral and his tank commander were happy to be at the front of their convoy, they had volunteered for the dangerous duty. The people who detonate a roadside bomb like to hit the first vehicle in a convoy because it traps the other vehicles in the kill-zone to an ambush. My fight had been in 2004 and house to house, I had always thought to myself how much I preferred that fighting to what later became a convoy war fought through roadside bombs. The waiting during a convoy was always the worst part; crammed into a small space with too much gear for hours on end, maybe your burning coffin, I could hear an explosion that had not caught up to me yet. On Jerral's 21st birthday his explosion caught up to him. The 21st birthday is what the young enlisted man lives for, the day he can finally have a legal drink, maybe to escape from the previous years and tax that being a warrior becomes, or maybe because young people like to drink. I remember that it was a constant fear of mine to be killed before my 21st birthday.

Jerral was stuck in or to the driver's seat, the tank's turret needed to be rotated 180 degrees before he could be removed and many had written the driver off as dead. Antonio and I sit and listen to Jerral recall it, a half hour spent cooking consciously until it all went black. His left arm was burned so bad that it required three amputations and a severed spine leaves him paralyzed with some basic function in his right arm. The scars cover the left side of his body and the tattoo's on his right side, one of a tank, another the crest of his unit the famous horse head of the 1st Cavalry Division (1st Cav). As if the story could not get harder, Jerral speaks of his wife who ran away with an Army ex-buddy of his, she left her children with Jerral, who manned up in a wheelchair and remains a proud pillar of father-ship. He explains that sometimes the young beautiful children don't listen to him and there is nothing he can do from the chair except wait for his mother to come home so that control can be maintained. I ask Jerral about the van, his only escape to the outside world and he explains that the guy working on it since shortly after the fourth of July stopped returning his phone calls a month ago. If Jerral is down at all it is hard to notice, there is an inner strength that glows, his eyes are steel and his position remains something not negative. As if to say, what can I do about it?

An anger washes over me and embarrassment; how could it possibly be that this man on a very short list of other paralyzed vets who gave just short of the ultimate sacrifice under service to the taxpayers of his homeland, taxpayers who sent Jerral across the world to get blown up, cannot leave his fucking trailer?! This is not a free pass request, his account has been paid in full by his body which has suffered the loss of function in youth during service. There should be a Lancaster City parade every day to Jerral's trailer, where a big van will roll up and take him out to lunch. His children should go to the finest private school in the valley, transportation included and free of cost. If some dickhead mechanic ducks his calls that man should be fired, and for damn sure no blown up vet should ever have to do hard time for a crime that he did not commit. When we went to visit Jerral a couple of days later he signed off by saying, "I'll be here man." When I left Jerral to return to Oregon I felt the ribbed plastic on the key between my fingers; and the desert air in my hair, I felt the fabric of the driver's chair and sat down. I pulled the switch on the shifter and moved it to reverse, gave it some gas and backed up, I moved the shifter to drive, gave it some gas and went home.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Happy Marines Come From Connecticut


Happy Marines could be found throughout the battle of Fallujah. They would usually start at it early in the morning when their dirty faces could get away with it, a smile and a laugh, usually at some other Marine’s expense, the energy was strong in the morning and everyone could only be happy before an operation. After that the smiles appeared only in brief short bursts, behind the gunfire and fire, the smoke that choked the young men with their black lungs. I met Paul Stewgots during his first day assigned to our Infantry unit; he had transferred over from security forces and the Marine Corps’ elite fleet anti-terrorism force (Fast Company). I was mopping the floor in the Alpha Company office.

I had been in the infantry a long three weeks and even to “the field”, our slang for the real infantry training I participated in the week before. I had been around the block and I wanted to make sure that Paul was on his game after he arrived. I introduced myself and told him that we would be in the same platoon; he was waiting in our reception room before being introduced to our Captain. Paul noticed that I was as new as his fresh socks but kindly humored my advice anyway. He asked me to program his watch to make up for his time change and once again I found myself frustrated that even the new guy was telling me what to do. I programmed the watch and babbled on all about the things necessary for “the field” which I had become an expert in and we would be leaving again for shortly.

Most transfers from security forces would have spent their previous two years guarding nukes, or the president, and others came from the historic drill team based in Washington D.C., therefore I assumed that Paul had either been standing in front of a missile or marching smartly. Our infantry unit was preparing for a deployment to the Philippines that we would never sail to aboard our Navy ships, which changed direction and headed for the middle-east. The only Marines in our unit that had been to Iraq were the older enlisted Marines, who deployed to Desert Storm thirteen years before. A strange thing had happened while my class was in the school of Infantry in January 2004, our instructors were replaced later in the cycle with instructors who had returned from recent deployments in Iraq, like a cheesy war movie the eighteen year old me was pretty sure the war in Iraq would be over with soon but in hindsight the instructor switch should have rang a loud bell.

Paul sat in his chair, a naturally quiet man. What he did not say was, “Shut your boot mouth kid, I just got back from Iraq.” He would be the only Marine in our platoon who had been to combat in less than a decade. Paul was a weapons expert and a professional Marine. I assured Paul the word that had been handed down to me, not to worry about that Iraq shit, Hawaii Marines go to the Philippines. When we made it to those ships that kept sailing everything changed as we crossed into waters known as the straits of Hormuz, off of the coast of Iran and the gateway into the middle-east. Our platoon was tasked to provide security along the perimeter of the ship; I stood next to Paul, loaded up with live rounds and curiosity. Small Iranian speed boats constantly flirted with our ship’s standoff distance; their small vessels would speed toward our ship and quickly break away before we started our two warnings and a sunken speedboat policy, nevertheless they were testing us and Paul stated that matter of fact when I asked him what the deal was with the speedboats? We stared at the boats and coast of Iran for hours, any time before I would have been water-skiing off of the back of a speedboat in air so hot, the water was emerald and would glow at night. Paul was preparing for round two.
   
 During the first full-fledged firefight I found myself involved in, a squad of Marines were caught in a gunfight with thirty enemy fighters in the house next-door to us. Nathan Douglass recalled from the perspective of our third squad, that Paul Stewgots sent a hail of grenade launcher fire down the street. The launcher requires the operator to load one round at a time, Paul was getting a hand cramp but Douglass explained it was a sight to behold, he just knew what to do, Paul Stewgots was a real life war machine. Some of this would have come from his advanced training in the elite FAST Company but most of it came from a warrior finding his place in the world. I was naturally clumsy, very young and my operating looked a world opposite of Paul’s.

Paul’s squad was blown up inside of a corner house later in the battle. Paul and his best friend Donnie were guarding a stairwell outside of the house when they heard the explosion followed by the moaning of wounded Marines. Today Donnie and Paul live close to each other in Connecticut; I went fishing with them this summer. Paul recalled that as he entered the house he asked his squad leader to help him pull bodies out of the house, his squad leader rasped “I’ve been shot,” and collapsed. Donnie and Pauley began dragging Marines out of the house that was also engulfed in flames. One Marine was lying on a stairwell and was too badly wounded to crawl out of the house. The smoke grew thicker by the moment and when Donnie and Paul found the injured Marine, they had a hard time moving him. Donnie recalled that they looked at each other and Donnie said, “We are going to die in here.” Paul recalled, “But it was like we were all going to leave this house or none of us were.”

Donnie and Paul were always a funny sight for tired eyes, they could make anything fun and the two were the heart of the platoon. They both received medals for valor that should have been higher. I talked to Paul about that last night. He had also been hit by shrapnel but never put in for a purple heart. I remember Paul and Donnie laughing in the desert, seared into my brain. Pauley Stewgots said to me last night that he recalled a flag waving on the back of a vehicle we exited to enter the battle, and how he thought that this was not the reason he was fighting, a piece of cloth. The Marine he pulled out of the burning house is breathing today.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Mexican Marine


Through heavily accented spanglish the first thing he ever said to me was, “I am your Corporal and I do not like the dick sucking.” I would come to later find that he had a robot black heart tattooed over his real heart. I was eighteen years old and standing at the position of attention. I replied, “I do like the dick sucking but to each his own Corporal.”  My roommate was also new to the unit and had Mexican heritage, he bit his lip in fear but I was confident that the Corporal would not comprehend my translation. The Corporal was a light skinned Mexican, he was built of lean muscle, he ran Iron Man competitions for fun and he was my first real squad leader. I was at home. Somewhere in the not too distant future both of the men standing with me in that room would be shot full of bullets in their legs, the squad leader’s leg almost blown in half and my roommate’s calf’s would look like a shark took a snack as he stumbled into our overpowered house with his finger laying down full automatic survival.
 
 Later the squad leader was moved to point-man, after the rest of the unit returned from advanced training. He loved the job and was good at it because he moved like a panther and was born lethal. I asked our point man “Bandito” how he came to America and he told me about walking through the border after several attempts as a teenager. His brother had taught him how to knife fight and he would teach me. He spoke of bandits in the streets of Mexico as a youth and how these bandits knew not to fuck with his knife fighting brother. During a training operation our unit participated in Okinawa the Bandito’s team was wiped out as he fought through the bottom story of a mock hotel with paint bullets. He called over the radio to inform us that he was carrying on. By himself the Bandito killed every member of the opposing force in the hotel working from the bottom floor to the rooftop. I was glad his service was in the US Marines.

I was his student. In Kuwait he introduced me to a Sergeant Peralta in 1st platoon. The Bandito explained to me and the Sergeant his outlook on the impending Battle of Fallujah in late 2004. He said, “I am here for the glory, nothing else. A million bullets can rain down and if Mary wants to take me it will be my time, if not it won’t.” I objected to this non-scientific approach and Sergeant Peralta laughed at my interpretation. Sergeant Peralta would later be nominated for a still pending medal of honor when after being terribly wounded he pulled an enemy hand grenade under his life-filled body, absorbing the lethal impact thus saving the lives of the Marines in the room with him. Regular guys who come from Mexico, the Mexican Marine Corps and an untold story of sacrifice by Mexican immigrants lives to this day in our military, which has always been filled with immigrants who yesteryear were white, giving generations of Americans a good excuse to avoid service.
 
This machinery is necessary to the American framework, it is not cruel, and tomorrow the Latino immigrants who served become politicians and can serve their non-serving white counterparts with a record that can’t be challenged.  This is the real America and a new wave of demographic will be our integrated future, like it or not. The truth is domesticated suburbanite teenagers like I was can’t be killing effective without the hard hand of the immigrant Corporal, who is hard through experience and a representative of every immigrant Corporal from every country to come to America, pick up a gun and fight in another foreign land.
 
After the wounded had been extracted, I picked up the Bandito’s helmet. I looked to a full moon and wondered if there was any significance in this? My hero had been killed and my teacher was off to the hospital. I reached in his helmet and picked out a Spanish prayer card he had tucked into the webbing. I stuck it into the webbing of my helmet and left the war an untouched atheist. I will visit the Bandito in Mexico next month for the first time since we were Marines, where he is fighting for his country in the drug war. He is my last interview for the film.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Between The Peak And Valley


Somewhere between the peak and the valley is the normal; where a human finds themselves most waking hours. I walked down the aisle on October 6, took the plunge, and pledged half of everything I do not yet own to my woman. As I walked along the smiling faces I thought of all of those marriage casualties who had come before me, crawling along the sidelines and tugging at the extra fabric on my tux. Of course two of them were my parents but blessed am I to have grown up with four of the greatest. Many people were married when I was in the service and today most of the couples have dissolved the ties that once bound them.

The rumor had spread to Fallujah Iraq in early 2005 that some of the wives of our unit had been caught running a brothel on our home base in Hawaii, as per many great substance lacking rumors this one came with the catch that the reason our chain of command had not informed anyone was because they didn’t want Marines in a combat theater going ape-shit with their loaded weapons while contemplating a different warriors welcome home than originally anticipated. When we finally came home it turned out the story was true, many of those wives had fled and spent the deployment money as well. I specifically remember standing in some line behind a Marine who said, “After all of that (war/battle/survival) I just want my truck, but she won’t give it back…. This is fucked up shit!”

These are scary stories colder than the poles but like combat either the fucked Marine carries on, or dies. Most carry on. Even given the crippling statistics a very few have been able to make it work. The reason strange and cruel divorce was such a happenstance in the Marines had to do with very young men marrying usually a high school sweetheart (first kiss), taking her far away from home and planting her in a house in Hawaii, where she finds herself alone for the first time in her life the duration of a year after the new husband deploys. Looking at this raw situation honestly sets a young woman up for a very lonely year of sacrifice, or the best year she has ever had with an endless surplus of tax free deployment money just a pin number away. I don’t judge because I have not been a nineteen year old woman married to a rich nineteen year old Marine, all of our money is expendable when the house and food are paid for by Uncle Sam, the drill instructors warned us about such women.
 
 I was married in Long Beach Mississippi, we had a real Southern wedding and to say it went perfect does not give it justice. My step-brother/brother Michael found it appropriate to mention that never in a million years could he picture my wedding being in the South, making reference to our upbringing in suburban Southern California and on how this was a true act of Southern hospitality that left men from our background awe stricken. I find it important as a combat veteran to associate everything with war so that I may appreciate a greater importance and assign meaning to this thing that I find so meaningless and time consuming, the character “Walter” in the 1997 film “The Big Lebowski” had a knack for doing the same thing. I think that civilians focus on such caricatures because like many stereotypes, this one has merit. Kin to the one of a grandfather barking at his kids, “You think this is bad? Let me tell you a little story called the battle of …” I am surprised to have found such a great match and to be so happy but being surprised at this surprised me so greatly that I felt like analyzing why. I am a child of divorce, which has a negative connotation I do not accept as mentioned above. Where I come from, it was strange not to have divorced parents. My parents remarried two beautiful people and I cannot imagine a happier childhood without them or the siblings I was raised with but I can imagine an unhappier childhood had they decided to continue fighting it out (risk/reward).
 
 My love Katharine married me and I had one of those tunnel vision moments where I felt time stop and the computer in my head registering something for a long “save as” (happiest moment) to replace the previous “save as” (surviving Iraq). Earlier in the morning I had my sun rise cigarette and found myself overwhelmed with emotion as I understood that this beautiful day would never be known by the young men who died single in Iraq 2004-05 (Walter Sobchak) Semper Fidelis, something known only to a warrior. It is this understanding and respect for death that I have found the most meaningful lesson learned from war in life. Death will eventually take us all as it has everyone before but we as living human beings, despite origin in culture and religion, always seem to find it important to celebrate certain living things universally. I could feel connected to early man walking down the aisle the way I could feel a certain transcendence walking into battle. We were lucky to have our loved ones, I am sure other weddings full of unstable in-laws could understandably go quite another way; in grace our new Anderson family is blessed.

This moment was an opportunity for reflection, there was a girl I would write letters to when I was in Iraq back when I really didn’t know shit. Now I know some shit and the shit that I do know is deep, if I had not done everything I did the way that I did I never would have met my Mississippi bride in Portland Oregon, she helps heal me and I now know what it means to be happy to be alive. Things get better and sometimes they go backward but to me it is all worth the dime I paid to ride this ride, I have had the experience and there is so much more to come, and when I reflect again somewhere in time’s never certain future I will know more than I do today just like they knew yesterday until there is no more day. My dead brothers will walk with me and all of the others who remember them, that is part of our service, in this our joy is shared and the important sting of their loss is a reminder to remember how different this gathering of family could be and how each one was a loss that eternally disrupts history. When I awoke the day after Corporal Michael Cohen was killed I had an epiphany that life would forever be this way, I knew he would be attached to me for every happy moment of my life, but he tells me it’s only because he wants to see too, so I let him.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

To Whom It May Concern ...


       In my documentary “And Then They Came Home” I ask Marines that I had served with the same thirty questions so that I can gauge patterns in their response eight years after our shared point of trauma. One of my questions is, “Do you think a warrior ever comes home?” I am preparing to film my interview leaving only one Marine in Mexico to be filmed when I return from my wedding. I meditate on my own response. My life-long hometown friend Antonio has been sleeping on my couch for the past few weeks, stringing filmed pieces together so that editing will not be a hassle and we will be able to make our December deadline for the film. Does a warrior ever really come home? I couldn’t tell you because deep in my beat up wallet I bought after my deployment to Afghanistan in 2006 is a National Guard ID tucked behind my plastic cards and license. In April of 2010 I wrote my Guard unit a letter of resignation and have not had to put my uniform on since. I am contracted until December 2013.
 
I don’t know what it is like to come home, I haven’t been there since I watched my southern California suburbia youth haven disappear in the rearview mirror of my recruiter’s SUV bound for Los Angeles to catch a bus for San Diego three weeks after I had turned eighteen in August 2003. You are now leaving childhood, Palmdale California 1986-2003. I survived two combat deployments serving in the Marine Corps from August 2003 to August 2007 as an infantryman. A historian might note that those were the most violent years of the war. One day I found myself honorably discharged from the Marine Corps, I left my home base of Hawaii changed and bound for southern California. I spent a month at home, went to work for my Uncle for a month and caught a train to Portland Oregon to visit my best friend. Signs of trouble were seemingly slow to come, I was still drinking like a Marine which can be compared to twice that of a frat boy, one less than a vagrant and the nights had been bothering me for some time. There is still a hole in my best friend’s apartment from where I threw a hunting knife into his wall. In November I returned to California to start a business with my friend Antonio after coming into a family inheritance. We purchased film equipment and started to film television commercials and court depositions in California’s Antelope Valley. We were the youngest members of our Chamber of Commerce and I found that clients were receptive to a former Marine; my service would be brought up on the first interview and was absolutely an asset. I had no formal training in running a business but Antonio and I seemed to be doing alright during the days and at night I would return to my father’s house, drink like a Marine and watch endless videos of Fallujah on “Youtube”.

 I was in the second battle of Fallujah in 2004 and if you knew me in late 2007 you knew I fought there, it was all I ever wanted to talk about. I had felt zero emotional connection to friends and family since I had returned home and I wondered if I had ever felt anything in the first place, I was sure however that I had been doing a good job at faking it and I would think to myself that the connection would probably come naturally soon. Sleep was so infrequent that all I could remember about it was that I didn’t hold it as a priority at the time and could go for a couple of days on a few hours. I was standing on my porch smoking a cigarette drunk one night when I announced to my father that I was thinking about joining the National Guard unit that I had read in the local paper was getting ready to deploy to Iraq in 2008. My father had this way he would look at me every now and again back then, a sort of deep baffle with a nod of understanding.
In December 2007 I joined the National Guard, I signed a contract to become a tanker…a soldier who rides in a tank, my father had been the same thing when he was in the Army and after working with tanks in 2004 I was convinced that this would be the most enjoyable way to return to Iraq.

 I signed the contract and swore in over the phone on the same day. After I had sworn in it occurred in through the haze of the previous night’s hangover that I was not clear on an important part of the contract. I asked the recruiter how long the contract was that I had just signed? He looked embarrassed and quickly said, “You wanted the bonus right?” I replied yes and he told me, “It’s six years.” I was stunned but thought to myself I guess I’ll just keep doing this for the next six years; I had knocked out four in the Marines and I knew once I had sworn in there was not much that could be done to reverse it. When I got to my new unit I was informed that their status had changed from tankers into infantry because they didn’t need any more National Guard tanks in Iraq. I had joined to return to Iraq in an armored death chariot, I found myself back out in the open and on my feet, this made me uncomfortable. I liked the people in my National Guard unit and was able to make friends with my new platoon as I figured out how the National Guard was different from the Marines. I was surprised and excited by the professionalism of the unit; most of the soldiers had done prior active duty service like myself and joined the Guard after, there were even a handful of Marines in the unit. We would show up to train one weekend a month and the rest of the time we would work at our civilian day jobs.

 I prepared for Iraq and went back to cutting commercials and drinking at night, not sleeping and with a new weight on my shoulders, the next deployment. Some nights I would open my father’s bedroom door and babble drunkenly until he was awake and then shut his door. One night my father came over to the computer to tell me good night, I suddenly began to cry and I told him that I had been thinking of shooting myself with the shotgun upstairs. He was baffled again and I was sure I would have to answer for that slip after we came home from work the next day. The next day came and I did not go to work, I drank and told my friend Antonio that I wanted to go to open microphone stand- up comedy night at a club in Hollywood. By the time we got there I was tanked and quickly sank into an incoherent mess. I don’t remember my routine but I am sure it was nonsensical, after it was over we left the club and Antonio and a friend wanted to get something to eat. I told them to leave me in the SUV. They left and the rest I remember some of and the other parts Antonio filled in for me later. I was trying to kick out the back window of my vehicle when they found me, Antonio let me out of the vehicle, terribly confused and then I disappeared.

I left my friends and found myself drunk and walking through alleys and Hollywood streets, the writer’s strike was going on and screenwriters waved signs in front of one of the production studios. I checked myself into a hotel room and visited a liquor store to pick up a forty of fine malt liquor. I pounded the forty and sat in the hotel room. I didn’t want to go home because I didn’t want to face my father, and I didn’t want to return home to an empty house where I might shoot myself. In the drunkenness I remember that I tried to hang myself but the knot I had tied with the towel had come undone on the shower rod and I found myself on my ass wondering why that thing didn’t hold and then something hit me. I was trying to kill myself, I had been acting strangely and something I had been in denial about was very real, the things I had heard on the news and radio ads were true and something had happened to me in combat that was killing me back home.

 I called my mother who came to pick me up from the hotel and the next day I found myself a twenty two year old combat veteran in a mental hospital. Antonio had spent the night searching for me with my step brother and I was able to explain things when he came to visit me in the hospital. The initial intake and my first twenty four hours was spent being evaluated alongside people with severe mental issues, some criminals and this setting I found to be completely insane and counter-productive to my care. I spent the rest of March 2008 in the hospital. When I returned my unit had deployed to Iraq without me and I began going to Guard weekends as a member of the “rear detachment” comprised of soldiers who had medical conditions that did not allow them to deploy. I had left Antonio and our business behind and went to work for my mother while I attended aftercare in the hospital. The economy was tanking and I wanted to get on my feet a regular way so I moved into my sister’s apartment and found a job at an aerospace factory. I worked on the factory floor with Vietnamese immigrants, some of whom were Vietnam combat veterans, we would tell war stories and they would slap me on the back on the Fridays that I had to dress in my Army uniform to go to a Guard weekend.

After the first hospitalization I began to notice that I would become nauseous before reporting to my unit, a nervousness that would cause me to vomit. As the factory became a victim of the economy I had decided at the end of 2008 that I wanted to move to Portland Oregon, so I put in my two-week notice with my job and showed up to my last guard weekend in California. The acting unit commander wished me well and told me that this weekend he wanted me to watch over a soldier who had been experiencing similar issues. I agreed to watch the soldier, I knew him well and he had told me a bit about his issues. I started to worry about him during the previous Guard weekend; this soldier had been prior active duty Army and had returned from a deployment to Iraq.

I stepped outside with him and we stacked our gear next to each other. I informed the soldier I would be watching him during the weekend and he was alright with that. We lit up cigarettes and I asked him if he thought he would be alright to train over the Guard weekend? He said yes and I believed him. A moment later he was crying and told me, “I don’t know why I am crying Anderson.”  I understood why he was crying and told him that I thought he needed help. I told him it would be a better idea for him to return home. He told me he started a post-traumatic stress disorder program later in the week and when I told the acting commander that the soldier was having problems, he agreed and sent the soldier home. My friend called me to let me know he made it home and I have not seen or talked to him since.

I drove up to Portland Oregon and got a job writing parking tickets for a private company. It took me a few months to check into my new Guard unit because there were no tank units nearby Portland, so in the end I was sent to an infantry unit. I had told the guy placing me that I had been rated non-deployable and asked him not to send me to a deploying unit. My infantry unit had deployed to Afghanistan when I got to it so I once again found myself in the rear detachment. I had saved up a little bit and moved from my friend’s loft into an apartment and found myself truly alone for the first time in my life. At first I thought that being alone is what I had always wanted but the nights got longer again and the same weight had been with me, I felt less than cured and was not sure if there was a cure for how life felt. In January 2010 I once again found myself in a hospital after strong suicidal ideation.

 I got out and this time it did not take long for me to realize that things were still not fixed. I could feel myself running out of patience with myself and one day in April 2010 I was walking in Portland, fearing the next Guard weekend when I realized that the source for most of the anxiety in my life was being a member of the National Guard. I was not a bad soldier and that was part of the problem, it looked like I was fine so why would anyone think I wasn’t? Even with two hospitalizations I was seen as fit for duty though I felt completely unfit for duty and the pressure was building. It agitated my symptoms and I felt like someone was going to deploy me even if they were not and the fear of deployment agitated these things that literally drove me insane. I decided that if I valued my life I would write the National Guard unit a letter of resignation and face the consequences or carry on because I knew I would not survive much longer under the status quo, certainly not to December 2013. In April of 2010 I wrote something that changed my life, a letter of resignation…

With proper military respect and to whom it may concern,

I joined the United States Marine Corps in August of 2003, shortly
after graduating high school. After completing the Marine Corps School of
Infantry in February of 2004 I was stationed in Kaneohe Bay Hawaii where I
trained for a deployment to the Philippines specializing in jungle warfare.
When training was completed we set sail from Okinawa and continued on to
Kuwait. In a few months my infantry battalion suffered the loss of fifty-one
brothers, many of whom I had crossed paths with during my then short stint.
Afterward I participated in a combat deployment to northeastern Afghanistan
where my battalion suffered four KIA. Since the loss of so many close friends
I have never been able to reconcile my belief in service with my belief in
life.
     I no longer cherish the ability to be combat effective, lost in the
most evil haze of hell that a war can produce. I miss my friends and am often
confused as to why I am alive and they are not, I cannot imagine what it is
like to draw the short straw. This thought consumes me, I find myself unable
to comprehend any sort of meaning in this life, and I miss my friends.
     Since my discharge from the Marine Corps I have spent time in two
different mental hospitals, one for an attempted suicide and the other two
years later after the symptoms of a beast of an affliction returned to kill
me again. Being a dumb grunt I do not know much other than that I am still
alive and that I do not have the ability to hurt another human being.
      I will not lace up my boots again, and I am aware that there are
consequences for this action. I write this letter as a resignation and not a
declaration of insubordination, I beg for mercy and for benefits that I
earned walking between steel raindrops twice. I hope that I can someday make
peace with the violence that has consumed my twenties, I pray that this
affliction does not consume my thirties on into the rest of my life. I hope
the reader of this letter a successful and safe career, I hope the reader of
this letter finds what they are looking for in life, I thank God for the
United States Military, full of brave souls and too full of sacrifice for me,
if this is delayed cowardice than a coward is what I now am. I will not be
returning phone calls or allowing visitors into my home without a warrant,
this is not personal, it is simply my own paranoia of a large world that I
have seen destroy good men.
       Lastly I would like to thank ***** for doing everything
in their power to help a Soldier when he was down.

                                    Fair winds and good luck,

                                       Garrett Phillip Anderson

I expected my cell phone to be assaulted by incoming phone calls that morning, but nothing came. I felt a wave of fear sweep over me; I knew military police would probably be at my apartment, maybe after work. I went home from lunch. I was astonished to find an email from our training sergeant that explained I would not have to put on my uniform again and that the unit wanted to help me through this process of discharge but I had to contact them. I did and the process began. Since then I have not had to attend a Guard weekend, I have written for therapy and that has led to this film I am working on. I am getting married soon and live with my fiancé, created a more stable support network. Nothing is fixed but the pressure that has been taken off of me has allowed me to live a more real and fulfilling life. I was told that I would go to two review boards for discharge, the first would be a mental health screening and the next if I was found not fit for duty at the mental health screening would be my actual discharge board. I went to the first board in Madigan connected to Fort Lewis in Washington State in January of 2011. Madigan would later be found to have been lowering PTSD ratings for soldiers to save money at the same time I was seen there. All I can conclude from that is that my story was so fucked up even those dirty shrinks said I was not fit for duty.

 I waited for my discharge board and it never came. In July 2011 I was called by my unit and told to report for two weeks of annual training. I explained that I was still waiting for my discharge board and he explained that my not fit for duty status expired after one hundred eighty days. I called my father and we got in contact with a congressional representative who was able to delay my annual training and start the process again. In November of 2011 I flew to Georgia for another fit for duty board and was again found not. I had a second phone interview after the Madigan story broke and I think that one went well. I am not clear if I will ever be discharged from the National Guard, I wish I knew what it felt like to be truly free again. I also wonder how many more soldiers like me are out there in this limbo? The unit when informed went out of its way to help while following the rules of the system, so if there is blame to be put on delay it is on whatever is happening above. I recently received a letter from the VA apologizing for the delay in my case review but assuring me that they will get back to me when the process is finished.

Combat operations in Afghanistan are slated to end by 2014; luckily my contract ends December 2013. In a decade of service my time will not have known peace. The unit knows I am not fit to serve, the shrinks have found me unfit to serve, I know I am not fit to serve and for two and a half years I have been waiting for the paperwork to be filed. The only reason I am better today than I used to be is because I found another way. I have pages of paperwork from mental hospitals and a film I am editing to verify how it could have been that combat affected a young life so deeply. I urge those in similar situations to seek help, because they will wait for you to die before offering help if you don’t do anything for yourself. I proudly served my country and fought through two combat deployments, I am not ashamed of having been so affected but I am ashamed in how the system treats warriors who have put their lives on the line to protect it, this makes me nauseous and I don’t know what to do with any of this information.