Week 7 Journals
The hardest part of writing is beginning. Well, that’s the first challenge to overcome and it’s a pretty big one. It’s usually difficult to determine where to begin; which anecdote is grabbing enough? what is the truly defining moment of the story? I always worry that whatever I choose, while it might be exciting to me, might be boring to someone else. I finally decided on starting with the story Warren told me about seeing Safwan Hill burning at night. It was one of his first nights in Iraq and in that moment, everything kind of came together for him. He was in Iraq. Fighting a war. “This is an immense production here,” he thought. I like that story because of the imagery he gave me (one raised hill in the middle of the desert; a fire in the darkness of night; a line of military vehicles extending to the horizon whilst invading another country). I hope other people will too.
The second challenge to overcome is deciding what information to include and what to exclude. I thought everything Warren told me was valuable. I transcribed nearly 18,000 words, but the story has to be 2,000. That means 16,000 words won’t be included -- those 16,000 are full of important information, funny, sad, happy and unique stories that I wish I could share, but I can’t. So, I’ve been weeding through my transcriptions and the parts of the interview that I didn’t finish transcribing and picking out my favorites and the parts I think are the most pertinent.
While beginning and picking and choosing what I want to include are hard tasks, there’s one decision I made a long time ago that I’m grateful for. I knew as soon as I heard about his company reunions that I wanted to end with that. Every time they have a reunion, they go to a mountain near their base, pick up a white rock and carry it to the top. It represents carrying their burden and letting go of its weight. I think it’s amazing symbolism.
I added up all of the interviews that I transcribed and it totals 10154 words. Phew. Safe to say that transcribing is not my favorite thing to do. After several hours of chipping away at the keyboard, I’m thankful that I have the restraint to not pick up the computer and throw it across the room. (Just kidding, that’s my inner drama queen talking.) I know some of my classmates have had to transcribe more than me, so I really shouldn’t be complaining.
Anyway, now the hard part arises: finding the information that I want to put into my story. I want to make Aaron proud of the story as well as making an interesting feature. I’ll see where my brain leads me. I’ll probably end up with draft after draft... I’ll keep you posted.
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.
This project is about to take a turn for the worse. With other projects in other classes demanding my time, I feel there are going to be some sleepless nights ahead. This is going to be a long weekend. The first draft of the paper is due next week, and the best case scenario is I’ll get my proofreading done for another class tonight, leaving me to concentrate on the first draft over the weekend. This is the part of the class that I was worried about. The podcasting wasn’t so bad because of my experience with radio. The interview transcripts weren’t that terrible. Now I have to cut a lot of my material down to size and it’s going to take a long time. I get the feeling I’m going to spend a lot of tomorrow on this and much of the weekend. I guess the best way to express my thoughts right now is I’m hoping for the best and completely prepared for the worst. Although I have had a lot of fun with this project, getting to know Michael, and also more about the wars in the Middle East, now is the time to concentrate and get things done.
The interview process with Mark has definitely been a learning process for me! Sometimes I have him spell things out for me, more than twice. For example, when he told me what the unit he deployed with was called - Bravo Battery 1-120 Field Artillery (said bravo battery first to the 120th field artillery) - he said it so quickly I think I stared at him for 10 seconds as if he had spoken a new language. My background in military lingo, or really military-anything, is limited. I have no family members involved in the military, and no close friends who have served. I learned a little bit of the technical side of things writing John Ackerman’s story, but since I didn’t interview him before writing his story, I didn’t get to enjoy the same learning experience I am on now. Camp Cropper, the prison Mark and his unit guarded, was Baghdad’s central booking compound for detainees. Although Mark spent most of his time on base, he did venture into Baghdad a few times. Baghdad, the capital and largest city of Iraq, has a population of roughly 7,145,470 people and an area of 2,830 square miles. Compare this to Wisconsin, which has a population of roughly 5,726,398 people and an area of 54,158 square miles. That means in Baghdad, there are about 2,525 people in every square mile, whereas there are only about 106 people for every square mile in Wisconsin.
Today we worked on our podcasts in class. The three I chose to talk about consist of his job as a lead vehicle gunner and how he was almost decapitated by an ethernet cable, the dangers of war all around and how he thought he was going to die when a rocket came in where he was hanging out with friends. I found these stories emotional. They show how a real person had to deal with these types of situations. He said that when the rocket came in and they all took cover and when they realized that it was just a dud they hugged each other and it felt like a movie moment. The way he explained this I could almost feel the emotion that was going on in that room. They didn’t know whether they were going to live or die. I have never exactly had a feeling where I thought I was going to die so I can’t even imagine what they were all feeling at that moment. Adam almost being decapitated by an ethernet cable was a different story and that’s why I chose this one as a podcast. In Iraq they don’t bury their Internet cables. They string them instead. When their truck was going down an alley, Adam had his head turned to the side and when he turned back forward the cable was at neck height. It gave him a bloody nose and almost ripped his helmet off. I need to get my podcast recorded and I didn’t exactly know how to pronounce Adam’s last name. I don’t remember if told me during the first interview because it was such a frazzled moment. Anyways I had to email and ask him if he could either email me back or call me with the way he pronounced his last name. He never got back to me so I just went in to record and if I pronounced it wrong I will just have to re record my podcast because it is so important to pronounce a person’s name right when you are in the journalism field. I felt kind of dumb emailing him to explain I didn’t know how to pronounce his last name. I wanted to make sure I pronounced it right because a lot of people will be listening to these podcast and reading our stories.
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.
This photo was taken by Raley during his deployment to Iraq. It shows a tank moving away from a violent explosion.
Over spring break I have done little to advance my story on Todd Raley. I looked through the quotes I have from Todd and decided what is going to make up the story. But something else happened that gave me glimpse of what Todd had gone through when he told me about deploying as a father and deploying as a young man.
I was shooting dart league at a bar this week and saw a very unstable person I was deployed with. He has been crazy as long as I have known him, and I had a firsthand perspective of his insanity while working with him in the year leading up to the second deployment. We tried to tell the commander but he didn’t listen. On deployment, the soldier lost it, ended up being shipped home. Now roams the streets of Oshkosh and he was roaming the bar I was at. He looked at me, and I knew he recognized me. I was afraid he was going to do something, namely come into the bar and shoot me or something.
It was a long night. I kept watching where he was sitting, just to see if he was coming. I even went so far as to ask my friend if he was carrying his gun. I was afraid because I didn’t want to be killed. I am getting married next September and want to be there for that. When I was deployed, I was single and, in crude terms, only had to worry about myself.
This incident gave me an idea of what Todd went through his second deployment as a man with something to lose. I had a glimpse of how difficult that can be. Imagine that uncertainty and fear for an entire year.
After looking through Nick’s photos it is interesting to see how quickly he changed after his service ended. His head and face were incredibly well kept in comparison to the mop on his head and the beard that gives him the appearance of a bear. He still looked about just as big and you can tell that he kept his good sense of humor throughout most of his service. In most of the photographs Nick is either smiling or appears to be having a good time. From the looks of it, being in the military really is what Nick loved to do. My hope is that he can find a job at the DOD like he was talking about. It would appear that his only way back into the military or some kind of government work is a college education. Since I’m close to having to go and find a job myself, I understand the desire to have one that is really enjoyable.
Sunday evening creeped up on me too fast. Grace wants a rough draft of our article by Wednesday, so that means I have a LOT to do. I just read both of the articles from the New York Times: Still Bleeding, 10 Years Later and The End of War Stories. Grace wanted us to read them because it relates to what we’re working on, but they’re written in first person instead of third person.
I think I am going to write my article more in a style of the second article. It was easier to read and had more flow. I like how Friedman’s story has a sense of achievement to it because he takes the readers through his journey of how he acted when he came home to now the man he has become after years of returning.
The first article, Still Bleeding, 10 Years Later, was written by Jason Davis. I really like the style of this lead. It really grabbed my attention with the precise details. The article continues packed full of details by using the exact date that events took place. I like this because it shows how impactful this experience was to Davis because he remembers the exact date for everything.
The second article, The End of War Stories, was written by Brandon Friedman. I liked the overall style of this article a lot more than the first one because its not a typical story of events that took place while Friedman was deployed. Instead, it starts with him saying he never tells war stories anymore. “It’s robotic, sterile, almost as if I’m telling someone else’s tale instead of my own.” I really enjoy the choppy writing style Friedman brings to this article. It gives the reading a vibe like this was my life, and now its over. This is what happened, and now its done.