Week 3 Journals
Getting the questions for the first official interview wasn’t easy. I had many things that I wanted to know, such as but it was hard to find the questions that would lead me in the right place. I’m just nervous about asking touchy questions. I researched my veteran and found this article. It details a bit about how he overcame an illness in order to continue fighting in the All-Army combatives championship, a tournament established in 2005, that teaches members of the Army hand-to-hand combat as well as other skills. I’ll be sure to ask Jackson about his experiences with that.
Todd and I met in the studio to take photos. He wouldn’t smile, not even a try. After the photos, we sat down for our first interview. I felt a bit overwhelmed at first because Todd has such a long history. He has been to Germany during the cold war, launched artillery in the Gulf War and trained Iraqi soldiers during OIF. That covers a lot of earth, and not the best parts of it.
Maybe one of the most interesting things about hearing Todd’s stories was hearing pieces that fit into my own. He spoke of training Iraqi soldiers to protect polling sites in the first Iraqi election. I deployed to Iraq from 2005 to 2006, and ran convoys from Kuwait to almost every base in Iraq. During this election Todd spoke about, I was on one of the only seven convoys that were allowed to travel on that day; otherwise all routes were black, meaning no one was allowed to travel on them. The Marines were not told about us coming through, so they shot warning shots at us at every bridge for about 30 miles.
I also remember how excited the Iraqis were. They used a thumb print to mark their ballot. It was a point of pride for several Iraqis to show their thumbs to us as mark of their enthusiasm for democracy
Today Todd told the story about the soldier for whom he wears the memorial black bracelet to honor a fallen comrade. These are common and I know a lot of vets who were similar bracelets, but I noticed Todd often twists and fiddles with his bracelet. I can only speculate why he moves and plays with it, but after the story I heard about his friend, I think he lets it reminds him of what he has lost, and to be thankful for the life he has.
One thing that I didn’t have so far was pictures that were more professional, so that’s what Shawn did today with Michael and me. I thought we were just doing the pictures today, but I ended up asking him for clarification on a few things after getting my transcript back from our second recorded interview. I would’ve liked to include a picture from the ones we took today, but I haven’t seen them yet. So, I’m just including one from Michael’s collection for now. This is a picture of Michael with an Iraqi soldier that represents the continuing relations between the U.S. and Iraqi forces.
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.
Less than 24 hours after Mark woke up to find Grace hovering over him, he met me in the basement of Polk Library for our first interview and photoshoot - talk about jumping in head first! I could tell Mark was a bit apprehensive because he still did not know what he had gotten himself into (I made the mistake of telling him yesterday that Grace ordered John Ackerman, the soldier I worked with for the previous War project, to take his shirt off during the photoshoot to capture his patriotic tattoos). Thankfully, Shawn McAfee did a wonderful job of making Mark feel as comfortable as possible in front of the camera!
Kat and I met today for our first formal interview. After talking with her for just an hour, I have learned so much! Before today, I knew nothing about boot camp and the instructors or about the naval academy and the base it’s located on. I had no idea what to expect before we talked today, but halfway through the interview I stopped and told her that I could never even begin to imagine all of the information she knows. After attending boot camp in Chicago, Kat flew to Goose Creek, S.C., a city just outside of Charleston, to attend the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command. The majority of the information Kat learned at this academy is completely confidential. At first I didn’t catch on, and I kept asking her questions about what she did. She said she was having a hard time answering the questions because she can’t tell me how a reactor works other than the phrase she was taught, “Hot rock makes steam boat go,” which is all she is really allowed to say when someone would ask her what she learned. Honestly, when she say that she couldn’t tell me what she learned, it threw me off. I couldn’t think of any questions to ask her right away. How am I going to write a story about her experiences when she can’t even begin to tell me what she learned in the academy? I stopped asking questions about what she learned and tried to just stick to the main parts of her life story. I’m going to have to ask about how I should approach this next class because I’m not sure what to do. Next time Kat and I meet, I’m looking forward to learning about her time of deployment while she was out on the USS Eisenhower for three months in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Virginia. I couldn’t even begin to imagine myself going on one of these ships and leaving my family and friends. I couldn’t even imagine myself going to boot camp or a military academy let alone be deployed. Kat and I have only met two times, and I already have so much more respect for what people in the military are doing for our country. It is truly amazing.
Today I had my third interview with Adam. There were a few things that threw me off guard in this interview. The first thing was about his flight overseas. I asked him if anything was on his mind while on his flight. He told me only the music he was listening to. He tried sleeping but he was too excited. This surprised me because I think I would be thinking about a lot when flying overseas to participate in a war. I asked him what song he was listening to and he said it was Don’t Fear The Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult. He had just found the song two days before leaving. Today was the first time I ever heard about pen flares. He accidently started a greenhouse on fire because they had pen flares to shoot instead of bullets. He said they would roll and bounce around before they would stop. I really liked how he explained them. He said, “shot this little ball of fire at somebody like you're Mario.” Super Mario Bros. is a nintendo game. In the game Mario will get a power up where he can shoot fireballs at enemies. The way he explained this using Mario, it really put an image in my head of what shooting little balls of fire could look like. After having three pretty decent interviews, I am now going to pick out the anecdotes that I want to use in my story and start looking at the way I want to structure my story. I will also start looking at the things I want to use in my three podcast I will be producing.
"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.
Warren and I went to the photo studio today to take pictures. The first time I told him about taking pictures, I didn’thave to ask him to bring his own photos: he offered.
I met him in the basement of Polk to meet with Shawn McAfee, the art director for this project. Shawn said some of the veterans have a hard time being serious during photo shoots, but Warren was pretty good about it. I made sure that Shawn took a few pictures.
After taking pictures, Carly and her soldier were next in line. Warren and Carly’s soldier began talking and poking fun at each other’s choice of military branch (she was in the Navy, I think). After a few minutes, though, Warren stopped, looked at me, and asked if we should go to look through his pictures. The reminded me of the first time I met him, when he didn’t waste any time asking if I was the girl he was meeting. We went into the next room and he began with the photos on his flash drive. He explained that some of the pictures were taken by reporters that were implanted within their unit. He explained each one: there were group shots, pictures of the city center he told me about, even picture of him getting sea sick during their third deployment. One picture stood out to me the most: it was he and his friend, Justin Toren. He said it was after they got done clearing the Old City (which I took to mean Najaf); they were both still in full uniform. It was taken from behind. They were walking away from the photographer, each with his arm around the other. When I told him I liked that one, he agreed. Justin has it framed at his house still today.
I had my first podcast bay interview with Nick this week and it went well. There was only one question he would not answer. I asked if there was anything he had never told anyone about his tour. He said that there was but he would not share it. I have set up another time to do photos with him and do another interview. So far his story is turning out to be interesting. He was a bad kid that proved he could be more. My main concern now is that he has only found two people for me to interview about him. He has said he is not on speaking terms with his parents and most of his friends from the military are too busy. He has two people and is waiting to hear from a third but says he is not the best with communication. Nick is also sending me around 10 photographs from his tour.