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Alex Beld Story Behind The Story

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This is Alex Beld's "Story Behind the Story" in which he tells his story about working on the War: Through Their Eyes, Vol. 3, Warriors and Students multimedia project.

Nervously sitting in the Veterans Resource Center at UW Oshkosh, I twiddle my thumbs waiting for my veteran Nick Brewer to show up. Two other veterans are further in the office space, talking about comic book characters and more specifically, Hulk hands. The initial hope is that one of these veterans is Nick.

The one who is working there suddenly looks over and says, “Who are you waiting for?” It turns out he is Nick Brewer and 15 minutes were just wasted waiting for someone who was a few feet away. Even sitting down Nick looks like a bear, especially with the impressive beard he is growing. He is wearing his Red Shirt Friday shirt, which says Red Shirt Friday: Until They all Come Home, like he does most Fridays.

I walked over to him and introduced myself. When we shake hands mine disappears in his grip. If I wasn’t a rock climber I feel like he could have crushed it on accident. Instantly, it seems like Nick is very open and from what I could tell, has a great sense of humor. He jokes constantly and has no issue poking fun at most anything, including himself.

After interviewing him the first time I learned that he was a refueler, which had me worried. I initially had this fantasy of all soldiers being on the front lines and having crazy stories about the battles they had been in. This was not Nick at all, little did I know he still had some amazing stories that he would tell me as I talked to him more.

I quickly learned two things from Nick, he caused a lot of trouble as a kid and there is way more to the military than I had originally thought. Nick was already getting into trouble with the police by middle school and I was not expecting that after meeting him the first time. He seemed so well mannered, at least in comparison to someone who has been arrested on multiple occasions. But I guess he was right, the kind of behavior he had as a kid and teenager made him a great candidate for the military. In turn the military managed to change him into a more upstanding and responsible citizen who was now on their way to getting a college degree.

I was also surprised to learn that his main responsibility was to re-fuel and re-supply helicopters all day long. It was even more shocking to hear that he really liked doing something that sounded so monotonous. How does someone who couldn’t sit through a full day of high school classes, at times, be a gas station attendant for 12 hours, six days out of the week?

All of this information contained a great story and I was overlooking it completely. Coming to class twice a week and hearing about all the other stories of struggle or pain, both mental and physical, I kept thinking to myself “Why can’t I have that story?” I just kept thinking that there was nothing there or that Nick wasn’t telling me everything. I felt incredibly discouraged and would listen to our interviews seeing if there were things that he had said, that for some reason went right over my head. I kept thinking there wasn’t anything I was missing.

It took forever for me to realize I was missing the entire story because I was too busy looking for something that didn’t exist. It is obnoxious how blind I was to what was being said to me. There aren’t many people who screw around as much as Nick did while they’re a kid and end up making it somewhere in life. Who would have thought that the kid digging a hole with fireworks could make it through seven years of military service and give so much to the military that their body doesn’t work as it should? Then after all of that he wanted nothing else more than to go back.

There was the main part of my story, I had finally figured it out. It turns out there were also several great anecdotes from his time in Iraq. Just because he refueled helicopters doesn’t mean the RPG shot at him or the sandstorm that beat him in a race weren’t any less interesting. Now I just had to figure out how to write the story, which I’m sure Grace Lim will say started out with a truly rough draft.

I had figured out what I wanted to write about, but I still had no idea what I was doing with it. The first time through went about as smoothly as off roading with a smart car. I was writing late at night and not really thinking about it. Between this story and all the other homework I was doing I found that my keyboard was becoming my new pillow. I also wasn’t taking the time to look at or listen to what Grace was saying to me about my story. All of this was counterproductive to writing and the story probably was even worse the second time through.

So for a few days I stopped writing and re-evaluated the way that I was doing things. I wasn’t writing a longer story how I normally do and I was just trying to reach a word count. It’s good to fill the requirements but I had to remember that it’s better to make sure the story is well written.

So when I came back to it I switched to the way I normally do things and stopped looking at how many words were on the page. What I did was pick out parts of his story and work on them individually instead of trying to pull out a whole story in one go. I found myself working on the middle before I went back to the beginning. I basically made building blocks and then pieced them together. What resulted still wasn’t something I was proud of, but that’s what editing is for.

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