Isaac Federspiel Journal
This is actually the second time I have taken this class. I took it last year as well, but it was very different. We only met once a week, our assignments weren’t as planned out and there were two projects instead of one. Along with the Warriors and Nurses project was a magazine on UWO’s faculty. Splitting time, attention and students between the projects was pretty taxing.
I helped out with both projects where I could, but I never got to write a feature due to my soldier dropping out of the project and not responding to emails. It was really unfortunate, and I felt like I was missing out on a great opportunity. That is, until this class was announced. I took Grace’s class again because I wanted this second opportunity to contribute and learn.
I don’t know a whole lot about the wars in the Middle East, I’m more interested in history after it’s been history for a while, but I do have some knowledge – basically whatever I picked up on from the first two WAR projects, and reading news stories. I’m looking forward to learning more through interviewing my soldier and hearing his stories.
My first meeting with my soldier went well. His name is Dustin Hackbarth, 27, and he’s served a total three tours in Iraq, and will possibly be deployed again before since he plans to retire from the military after 20 years of service.
Even though I’ve met a myriad of different vets, I always expect them to be big, hulking dudes. Dustin doesn’t exactly meet that description. He’s a bit shorter than me (about 6’), and looks remarkably average. If not for the uniform, I would have never guessed he was a veteran.
I got to know quite a bit about him, despite it being only a 30 minute introduction. I was surprised with how many compelling stories Dustin was able to tell in a short amount of time.
I didn’t encounter any problems yet with Dustin being reluctant to speak on a certain issue, but I can tell it will be a definite possibility. When talking about a tense situation, he changes. He speaks slower and looks away. It’s very distinct from his usual, confident self.
In third meeting with Dustin, I learned the oddest fact about the wars overseas that I’ve ever heard. Apparently, for an insurgent to get paid, they need video proof of their attacks. The method of doing this is usually YouTube.
Yes, there are videos of American military bases in Iraq getting attacked on YouTube. This came up when I was talking with Dustin about an IRAM attack (Improved Rocket Assisted Motor), which is a metal tube stuffed with explosives and attached to a rocket, on JSS Ur, the base he was staying at. Dustin described this event as the most terrified he has ever been.
A few weeks after it occurred, he and some other soldiers watched it on YouTube. To this day, you can still find footage of the rockets propelling the IRAM’s toward JSS Ur on YouTube. There is a very distinct explosion and dust cloud in the video, which shows that it is from when the generator was hit.
I could not believe that this instance was on YouTube. Even more unbelievable is that it is commonplace. There is way more attacks on YouTube than just this one. It’s very strange to be able to actually see and hear what goes on over there, instead of relying on stories and my imagination.
When most people imagine Iraq, they probably don’t picture something that is very indicative of what it is actually like. Comparatively, we are much better off.
Despite this, Iraq has very big cities. Their capital, Baghdad, is a great example of this. To put it in perspective, Oshkosh has about a 26 square mile and a population of roughly 66,000 people. On the other hand, Baghdad has a much larger population at about 7.2 million and 78.8 square miles. Wisconsin itself only has a total population of 5.7 million. Baghdad is also probably more modern than what people usually picture. It has roads, bridges and even skyscrapers.
I don’t think people generally think of Iraq containing such sprawling cities with dense populations like Baghdad has.
As college kids are well aware of, dorm rooms are not ideal living conditions.
You’re thrown into a 10 by 15-foot with all your belongings and another person with all his junk. It’s cramped, smelly, too hot, too cold and dark. It couldn’t get any worse, could it?
For Dustin, and many members of the military, it did get worse. While overseas, Dustin lived in a containerized housing unit (CHU), which is basically a 10 by 20-foot shipping container. But instead of just one roommate, he had three others, and all of their belongings. That sounds very cramped.
So it’s just barely more space than a standard dorm room with two extra people, much hotter temperatures and you’re getting shot at. Dorm room conditions don’t sound as harsh anymore.
War veterans all go through a myriad of different experiences. But in the end, they all have very similar stories.
Reading through The End of War and Still Bleeding, 10 Years Later gave me the feeling that I was interviewing Dustin, or reading through past stories in the WAR: Through Their Eyes project.
The biggest thing to learn from these things is that war changes you. A lot of times there is some negative change, and it stays with you for a long time -- sometimes, possibly often, forever.
But if there is one thing I have learned from the WAR project, it’s that there is also good with the bad. The military takes people who are often lost and gives them direction. I’ve read many stories where the people come out better than going in, even with the emotional scars.
It seems like war veterans that attend class will sit in one of two locations: either in the back of class or the very front.
The people that sit in the front come out of the military with a greater appreciation for things like education and want to pay as much attention as possible.
The people who sit in the back usually also came out of the military with that greater appreciate, but they also have a fear. Dustin was one of the soldiers that sat in the back.
He told me, “I don’t like people behind me, and I really don’t like doors behind me.”
This is common with war veterans. Dustin has said that he has this same problem at restaurants, and finds himself always looking behind his shoulder.
Dustin describes the scariest moment of his life as the IRAM attack that occurred at JSS Ur.
His base was hit with 9 rockets each with 200 pounds of explosives. This sounds daunting, but is hard to understand from the perspective of a college student.
I asked Dustin what that kind of attack would have done to buildings around campus, and his response was interesting.
“It can rip out a wall about 200 feet long on a three story building,” Dustin said. “So it could do a nice sized chunk of damage to any of the buildings here, and pretty much demolish half of pretty much any building here. While I guess except for Kolf, that thing is kind of like a bunker.”
A lot of Dustin’s stories were serious, but he also had some goofier ones.
He told me the story of his platoon firing non-lethal rounds at a younger member of their team. It was funny for them at first, but the rounds bounced back at them.
Dustin said him and his friends were covered in welts, and that the guy they had shot at was pretty much fine.
I found this interesting because of how similar this would be to a college prank in one of the dorms. I think we forget that soldiers are the same age as most college students sometimes, and don’t think about how a lot of their free time is spent in very similar ways.
It’s been heating up around Oshkosh now that winter is ending and summer is starting (and we’ve apparently skipped spring).
The recent increase in heat has been tough for a lot of the college students at UWO, but compared to what Dustin and other soldiers had to go through, what we’re experiencing is nothing.
So far we’ve had a temperature of about 80 degrees or so at the max. Dustin experienced temperature up to 140 degrees while he served overseas. Most of the students here have been rocking the shorts and T-shirts. Dustin had to hear his uniform, as well as carry up to 80 pounds of gear around.
He said that there were missions he would come back from just drenched in sweat as if he was just swimming. The heat in Wisconsin seems much more tolerable in comparison.