Week 2 Journals
I’m planning on having the first interview sometime later this week. Right now I’m in the process of brainstorming and jotting questions that I feel will help my veteran to open up and tell me his story. It’s hard because I feel like it may be tough at first, but I have to make him feel at ease and able to answers the questions. I need to convey that his story will be told in a respectable and truthful way. I’m still feeling intimidated overall by this project, but hopefully I can get more comfortable as the semester goes on and my veteran and I get to know each other better. Doing the research, I’m trying to understand more about the things veterans go through, such as ptsd. I also didn’t realize how long ago the Iraq war began. It was in 2003, I was 13 at the time!
I had emailed Todd the Thursday before and was starting to wonder why I hadn't heard from him. The first time I emailed him he literally emailed me back in a minute. This time I emailed him at about 7:30 p.m. and heard nothing all through the weekend. By chance we ran into each other at the gym.
“Aren’t you doing army stuff?” Todd asked.
“I’m out,” I said.
I asked him if he had received my email from the previous Thursday. He told me he had and responded that night. I later looked at my phone and noticed my email notifications were turned off. I had gone the whole weekend without any emails? I hadn’t noticed till then. Maybe I enjoyed the peace and quiet. We set up an interview or the following Thursday. Then, like Batman, he was gone when I looked up. He wasn't much for drawn out goodbyes.
Michael told me some of the best stories yet. I was surprised to learn that the Navy wasn’t his first choice of service branch. The Army was. The only reason he ended up in the Navy was 1) he had an attraction to it as a child because there was a naval base in the area and 2) the Army turned him down because of some speeding tickets he had in his past. The other story was the one that stuck in my head for days. In his first semester back, he had an English class that read the book Hiroshima and that just brought back a lot of memories for him. As he was telling the story, I was just visualizing sitting in that class fresh out of the military. I would probably have the same reaction if I was in his shoes. I would see that worst that war has to offer: casualties, death, and loss. Just when I think I am free to go back to my own life, I am forced to deal with these memories because of a class. I don’t think I could do something like that.
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.
I got a response from Kat McCard yesterday, and we got together today just to meet and talk about some background information. I was nervous to meet her at first, but she is very laid back, so she made me feel comfortable right away. I went prepared with a list of questions that would help me to start creating a timeline for Kat. I started with the basics like birthday, parent’s names, siblings, hometown, current location, children, etc. I figured I would try to get as much of this information right off the bat so I won’t have to worry about it later. Kat told me she joined the Navy right out of high school. She was a nuclear engineer. I knew her journey in the Navy is going to make for a good story. Plus, Grace said that she hasn’t had a veteran who was in the Navy yet, so I’ll be the first one! I’m looking forward to what the project has in store.
Today I did a follow up interview with Adam. I got to learn a lot more about his experience at war. He showed me pictures and videos from when he was in Iraq. It really helped to see pictures because then when he talks to me about his experiences I can visualize some of the stories in my head. In the pictures Adam was either 19 or 20 years old. He had a younger looking face in the pictures. It put an image in my head of that 19/20 year old guy rather than the 25 year old sitting across from me. The pictures surprised me because I really knew nothing about Iraq. I didn’t realize how hot it gets there. Adam said the thermometer that was sitting by his head was always at 122 degrees. One thing I learned in my interview today was that the first thing he did when he returned to the states was went to Milford Lake. I didn’t know where Milford lake was located, I thought it was in Wisconsin. Milford Lake is the largest lake in Kansas and is only 20 minutes away from Fort Riley. He said he went there to marvel at the amount water. This thought made me stop and think about how other countries have problems with various things like water shortage and how sometimes people just take advantage of simple things like water. Today we also took our studio photos with Shawn McAfee.
After a week and a half I hadn’t heard back from the original soldier I was assigned to (along with at least two other people in the class), and Grace was reaching desperation. No one is more productive than Grace Lim in desperation. When I arrived to class there were two men standing near the doorway, one of them was in uniform. The soldier in street clothes, she found him in the hallway. As for the soldier in uniform, she found him sleeping on the couch in the reading room next to our lab. The man in uniform had to dig in his pocket to get Grace a quarter, which she used to determine who got who, and just like that Mark Maurer was mine. We returned to the reading room where Grace woke him up, and I found out that he had not heard of our project before, and had not met Grace before, which is a series of life-changing events in itself. Not knowing at all what he was getting into, I had to brief Mark on our previous War projects and get some basic information from him.
When I sat down with him and started asking the basic questions, reality sunk in. The reality was that I was meeting Mark three weeks into a 14-week semester by the end of which I had to produce a full profile and multiple podcasts of his story, and I knew nothing about him. Mark had to get to class though, so in 10 minutes our initial interview was over. So much for a relaxing nap!
After taking some time to reflect on our impromptu meeting, I recorded a few things that really stood out to me about Mark. I didn’t know a lot about him yet, but I did learn that he served in the military quite some time before he was actually deployed. He traveled to a few different camps, and even did some training in Japan. The most striking thing he told me was that after a while, he volunteered to deploy to Iraq in 2009.
I could not wait to dig deeper into Mark’s story - our first interview is was set up for the next day, and I had already written down two pages of questions!
"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.
The interview process with Nick has been delayed. Nick had some issues with his back the day that we were supposed to meet. He injured his back several times during his service. The injury that left him with permanent damage was received during combatives training from the instructor. Somedays his back is so bad that he cannot get out of bed by himself. We were going to take photos and record the interview in the podcast bay. The earliest we could reschedule was Thursday at 4:30 p.m. In the meantime I hope to get into contact with some people who are close to him. Hopefully that will work in my favor and help me make some better questions for Nick.
The second time I met with him, I decided to meet during class so it would be easier to access the recording equipment. I asked him to meet at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday and, again, he showed up early. I had gone through most of the first interview and picked out a few things that I either wanted him to re-tell me because I liked what he said, or that I wanted to ask more about. We got started right away and I was reminded of how much he can talk! I asked him much less questions than last time, but we recorded for an hour and fifteen minutes. As he was responding to my first question, he reached out and straightened out my pencil that I had laid diagonally on my notebook. I’m not sure if it was because he was thinking of how to continue his answer or because it was bothering him. During our first interview, he had worn long sleeves, so I didn’t see the tattoos on his arms but that day he was wearing a t-shirt. He has the quote “For he today who sheds his blood with me is my brother.” Next to it is the battlefield cross: the rifle in the ground and the helmet hung on top. I am always curious about the tattoos people get and the stories behind them. This is clearly military-related, so I asked him about that too. It turns out, one of his captains would recite the Band of Brothers speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V and at this line, the company would join in unison. He also had the symbol for his company on his forearm. He calls it his inspiration arm. I thought that was interesting and I like that he carries that sense of brotherhood with him.