Lori Ligocki Journal
"Here we go again"
Grace has our class doing another one of her crazy projects; crazy in a good way, of course. I was a part of her Green Medicine project last year, so I know how much she expects from her students. I’m excited but also intimidated because this project is going to be bigger and hopefully better.
I first contacted my assigned veteran, on Thursday, Jan. 31, via email, and sent her a follow up email on Monday, Feb. 4. I’m hoping she will get back to me soon because I am very eager to start this project. I think what I’m most eager about is learning about and understanding what it’s like to be a female soldier, serving in a war, and also what it’s like for women in the military, in general. I find them to be inspiring and helping our society move toward gender, social and human equality.
"The anticipation is killing me"
I has been two weeks since I first contacted my original veteran for this project, and unfortunately, she has not gotten back to me. In all honestly, I am very frustrated and sincerely feel behind in the project as some of my classmates have already completed one, if not two, interviews.
Luckily, Shawn Monroe, who works in the UWO Veteran’s Resource Center, informed me that another veteran is interested in being a part of the project. His name is Myles Bork, and he is a first year student at UWO who served in the U.S. Army for six years. He served two tours between 2007 and 2011, one in Iraq for 15 months and the other in Afghanistan for one year.
I’m hoping we can set up a meeting this weekend/early next week. Although we are behind schedule, I still think this is going to be a fantastic project and a great opportunity for Myles to share his story.
"Meeting with Myles"
As I was transcribing the first interview I had with Myles, a few remarkable things crossed my mind. The stories Myles told me were compelling; some were hilarious, like the time his lieutenant, who’s a Chicago Bears fan, turned Myles', who’s a Green Bay Packers fan, bunk into a Bears shrine; others were scary, like when the military trunk he was traveling in hit a road bomb while on a night mission. Luckily no one was seriously injured.
The stories that caused the most wonder were of how his family dealt with his enlistment and deployment, and how they were affected by it.
Myles said he has a twin brother, one half sister and one step sister, a mother, father and stepmother. His uncle and grandfather are also veterans; his uncle served in the Vietnam war, and the stories his uncle shared inspired him to enlist.
During the interview, I asked him how his mother reacted when finding out about his deployment. He didn’t share as much as I hoped, but he did share that she was very worried. His father, on the other hand, expressed how proud he was. These seemed like normal reactions of family members when finding out a loved one is being deployed to war. But the compelling reactions occurred after Myles returned home.
The reaction that stuck out was his father’s during one of Myles' ‘episodes,’ or as he called it, “a panic attack.”
Myles was staying with his father when he was awoken in the wee hours of the morning by a ‘bang,’ from a garbage truck. This startled him, making him think he was back in the Middle East. He was screaming, searching the entire house for his weapon, and his father had to calm him down. I wonder how hard it was for his father to see that and to deal with.
"Realizing the impact"
I met with Myles yesterday to take photos and conduct our second interview. It was quite enjoyable making small talk with him and Shawn McAfee, who is the art director on this project, as we were taking photos. Most of the topics were focused on the military. Specifically, Shawn shared her experience with the military as she has had a few family members serve.
She shared a story of a family member of hers, who was a veteran and had passed away, who had a gun malfunction during the 21-gun salute at his funeral. So instead of a 21-gun salute, it was more like a ‘50-gun salute,’ as the gun went off a few too many times.
Myles seemed to enjoy that story, although the initial topic seemed to take him aback. He described the ceremony as one of the ‘saddest things to experience’. I wonder if he ever had to participate in a ceremony before? He shared with me that he had a buddy who was killed in action in Afghanistan, so I wonder if he witnessed his salute?
The thing that sparked my attention as Myles talked about these ceremonies was the tone in his voice. Of course, there was a hint of humbling emotion, but I also sensed a tone of gratitude. That tone could've been there because of his gratitude toward these ceremonies as they show a great amount of respect toward veterans. But it could have also stemmed from his gratitude of just being alive, that he survived both of his tours and is able to be here today to talk about this military tradition.
"Difficult to push for more"
During a follow up interview with Myles, I asked him to expand on what he knew about his uncle’s tour in Vietnam and what he knew about his friend who was killed in action in Afghanistan.
Myles is friendly guy, has a great sense of humor and is genuinely easy to talk to. He usually is an open person, at least when it comes to surface level things. When discussing certain topics, such as his duties or logistical things, he openly describes his experiences in great detail. But when these harder topics were brought up, he becomes much more reserved.
I noticed that there was a hint of sadness in his eyes when he talked about his uncle and his friend. When talking about his uncle, he kept reiterating that his time in Vietnam is ‘not something he likes to talk about.’ I don’t know if he became melancholy because he wishes his uncle would be able to share his experiences with him more, so he could relate and feel a sense of commonality. It could have also been because he understands that there are just some things veterans don’t want to talk about and don’t want to remember.
For Myles, his would be the memory of his friend passing away. He became uncomfortable almost immediately when he was brought up, especially when I asked him how it felt to see his casket being carried onto a plane. He didn’t make as much eye contact during this segment and kept fidgeting with his nails.
I found it perplexing that when he spoke about his ordeal of being in an IED explosion, he rambled, giving me a step by step process of what that was like. But when he discusses things that happened to others, especially injury or death, he nearly shuts down.
I could tell right away that he didn’t want to go into as much detail as he did his other stories, and I understood why, so I found it difficult push for more.
"Finding similarities in veterans"
Grace had us read two New York Times news articles to reflect on as we wrote our journals this week. After getting over the fact that this was yet another task she is having us do on top of all of the other stuff, I read the articles, and I sincerely enjoyed them.
Brandon Friedman reminded me the most of Myles. Particularly because he’s a talker. I could just tell by his writing style. He said in his article that he couldn’t shut up about her experiences overseas. Myles is the same way. At least with the stories that didn’t have as much emotional impact.
Reading these stories about these two veterans helped me understand the bigger picture of this project. Myles hasn’t been as fortunate to publish his stories like Jason and Brandon. I feel very honored to be able to do that for him.
It took me all weekend and most of my Monday night, but I have a first draft completed! It feels so great to have all of the amazing stories Myles has shared with me together.
The biggest thing I struggled with was figuring out which darlings to kill. He shared so many great stories, especially about fellow veterans in his unit that showed how much they bonded throughout the years.
Luckily I was able to keep one story of a good friend of his, but that one didn’t have a happy ending as his friend lost his life.
Maybe that’s what I could write about for my “Story behind the story;” how being a veteran creates this instant connection, making you not just fellow soldiers but family.
“Filling the holes”
Myles’ story is really coming together, but there are a few holes that still need to be filled. I’m trying my best to keep up the communication with Myles, but with the semester winding down, he’s becoming less available. Luckily he’s been able to provide me with some of the information I need.
Regardless of whether or not I’ll be able to receive the last bits of information from Myles, I’m still pleased with what his story has become. I’m planning on meeting with him next week, so he can look it over, and we can sign off on it. I hope Myles likes how it turned out. He shared so many great and not-so-great experiences with me, so it was really hard choosing which ones to feature. I think the best ones really shine.
“Hearing the impact”
This week I am finishing up the final 2 podcasts that highlight certain aspects of Myles’ story. For me, this has been one of the most enjoyable parts of this project. The sound editing can be tedious, but being able to hear the emotion in Myles' voice as he describes some of his most difficult experiences while serving in the military, is an experience all on its own.
The specific words that stuck out to me were, “I couldn’t do it,” which Myles said when describing how he dealt with losing a friend who was killed in action. There was so much defeat in his voice; so much struggle. That must have been the most difficult thing for him to tell me; maybe the most difficult thing for him to remember about his tours. The bond he had with the soldiers in his unit was one of the most prevalent aspects of his story. The idea of them losing one of their own must be earth shattering.
Today, Myles and I met up for the last time before the semester ended. We looked over and read the “finished-ish” draft to do basic fact and style checking.
Initially, I was a little nervous showing him the draft. Honestly, it was because I didn’t want to offend him if I had gotten something wrong. Once he started reading it over, I wasn’t nervous anymore. As he read it silently to himself, he’d smile, nod or chuckle when he reached certain parts of the story. At others parts, he remained silent but had a reassuring smile on his face.
When he finished reading, I asked him what he thought. “That was really good,” he said.
I couldn’t be happier with how things turned out, and I’m so glad that Myles had the opportunity to tell his story and that I could be the gateway for him to do so.