Week 4 Journals
One of the things Warren explained to me in both of our interviews was getting al-Sadr’s militia out of Najaf. Before talking to Warren, I had never heard of Najaf or al-Sadr. But the way Warren talked about it, it seemed like the battle that took place is something I should have heard of. So, I decided to do some research.
Apparently, there was a man named Muqtadā al-Ṣadr who famously disagreed with American involvement in Iraq. During a 60 Minutes interview, he compared Saddam Hussein to a “little serpent” and America to a “great serpent.” This was in October of 2003. The battle Warren was involved in took place in April of 2004. Warren told me al-Sadr took over the Imam Ali Mosque as a military base. The mosque is a very religious site, so Warren and the other marines in the area were told to not damage it, despite the fact that al-Sadr’s men were targeting them from inside the mosque. The American government didn’t want to offend anyone by damaging such a holy site (according to legend, Moses and Noah are both in it, along with many other religious figures). Al-Sadr’s militia could shoot at the US marines from a politically protected space. According to Warren, in the end, they had to let al-Sadr and his men go. But, he said this was a learning experience for the US Military in that they learned that protecting the mosque and trying to be careful wasn’t the best strategy. He said the next time al-Sadr was involved with American troops, they were more assertive, which worked better. I found out that al-Sadr was branded an outlaw that April.
The first interview with Aaron went really well. He talked more about his life leading up to the decision to join the army, as opposed to what occurred overseas, but it was still very intriguing learning how he ended up enlisting. I was also excited to learn more about the All-Army Combatives, which is He won twice in the heavyweight division in the world tournament, which is the championship that I described in my previous entry. It was neat to hear the passion in his voice when he was talking about the tournament. I could tell it was a big part of his life. He didn’t go deep into detail about the occurrences when he was in Iraq. He seemed to gloss over it. When I asked directly if he has any days that stick out in his memory, he said he’d rather not talk about them, that they weren’t his story to tell.
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.
There was one section of my conversations with Michael that deserved a little digging yet. He told me the story of his English 318 class, or Writing for the Sciences, which included reading the book Hiroshima. Michael told me that brought back many memories from his military experiences. After hearing that, I knew I had to talk to the professor. Today, I met with Dr. Vivian Foss along with Michael to talk further about the class. Dr. Foss said she admired how well Michael hid his issues, and how he brought it out in his papers instead. “My favorite student in the class.” She said she “did not realize the depth of Michael’s stress until a few weeks ago.” Dr. Foss mentioned that her experience with Michael was comparable to another student who went through Desert Storm. She was happy to talk to Michael again and was happy to help him whenever he needed.
In this phot Todd smiles while standing next to a SpongeBob Squarepants toy his children sent him while he was overseas.
Todd and I met in the studio again to have our third interview. Todd brought with him all the pictures from both Desert Storm and OIF.
The really interesting thing during the interview was when Todd started talking about a “Superman” mentality amongst young men. He was talking about how his perspective changed after he had children. I knew exactly what he meant. I enjoyed my first deployment because I felt the invincibility that he brought up. I enjoyed being away from home (to an extent) and enjoyed the adventure Iraq provided because I felt what Todd described. There was nothing for me back home but a job at Menard's or for a roofing company.
Today’s interview was introspective for me. Todd described the stages of coming home from overseas, but before I explain, it is important to understand the way Todd discusses these things. I’ve met some people who are overly dramatic about their deployments to get attention. Guys like Todd don’t want that attention. They know they are worth a damn and refuse to be pitied. Anyways, he said young people, once they realize they aren’t Superman, first self medicate and settle down only after legal trouble or domestic issues make them realize they need help. Luckily I realized I was going down a bad path and changed. I found therapy in writing about my experiences, even though they were not that bad. In a way, interviewing Todd is like reliving my life and seeing where it might be going. There are only a few similarities, but I think it’s why I find Todd’s stories so fascinating.
At any rate, the interview lasted about an hour, and I finished up by looking through a gig of photos of Todd in Iraq with Shawn McAfee, the art director of this project.
Mark and I had about an hour for our first studio interview, and we barely skimmed the surface of his incredible story. He told me that he always knew he would go into the Army; he wanted to be either a soldier or a pirate when he was little (he still holds on to that pirate dream a bit). He always wanted to experiment with explosives, or watch things blow up, which makes sense now, he says, with the fact that he went into artillery (he served as a Fire Support Specialist). He told me about how he grew up with his grandmother for eight years before moving back in with his parents, who were working hard to make a good life possible for their son. His grandmother is nearing the century mark now, but is strong as ever he says, and continues to take care of his two disabled uncles. I wonder if it is people like his grandmother who help mold these soldiers into the brave, selfless people that they are. Mark will be back with me in the studio shortly, and we will be digging deeper into his time spent in Iraq.
Today I am working on making my first podcast that is due before spring break. We did a tutorial in class on how to use Garageband but I didn’t really understand how to work it so I ended up learning Audacity. I think Audacity is easier to use. During spring break I want to start writing some of my story. I started to structure it a little bit, but I want to run it by Grace and see what she thinks. I’ve noticed that Adam talks about fishing a lot, so I want to incorporate that into my story someway. I was hoping to put it in the beginning as what he is doing in his present life. He talked a lot about fishing in his interviews and couldn't meet with me one day this week because he was going fishing with his brother to catch walleye. I also want to start thinking about writing my story behind the story. This shouldn't be too bad because we need to basically write about ourselves and what we think of this project. We were also assigned a project where we need to describe our vet in a descriptive way. I’m kind of a little worried to write this because I don’t feel like I know him enough to write a lot about him in a descriptive way. Adam was more open the second time I interviewed him.
Today was suppose to be the second interview with Kat, but her daughter is sick so she couldn’t make it to campus. We will be getting together on Wednesday. I have a lot to ask her. I’m working on making a timeline of her life to better understand her experiences. I realized there is so much more I need to know in order to make a complete document. Last Wednesday, February 27, 2013 Kat and I had a photo shoot with Shawn McAfee. She works with Grace, and she takes all the professional photographs for this project. I wanted to capture the moment, so I took this picture when Kat was getting her individual pictures taken. Neither of us really enjoyed the photo shoot, but Shawn made it be not as bad as it normally would be to get your picture taken. Kat and I both stood awkwardly with our fingertips in our pockets and our feet together until Shawn told us to loosen up. I’m not one to really worry about how I look, but knowing these pictures are going to be in the final project, I was continually adjusting my hair. I just didn’t want it to look weird. After I fixed it for the hundredth time, Shawn told me it looked good in all the pictures she took so far. Shawn suggested to Kat that she should bring in her children to take pictures with when the weather warms up. I hope she does because they are a big part of her life, and it would be beneficial to meet them and include them in the project.
"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.
I recently tried to go bother Nick at work because of the lack of interview time with him but he was not there. I did, however, get contact information for people to interview about Nick this week and am going to start coming up with questions for them. I am going to see if there is anything they know that Nick may not be telling me. My hope is that if they can’t tell me, they may at least be able to help me get him to talk. Unfortunately Nick could only find two people, his wife and someone he deployed with. I also finished my first attempt at a podcast this week. It was OK overall but has to be redone because of sound quality.