Week 8 Journals
“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.
Warren mentioned to me in the first interview that his dad wrote to him once every week from the day he left for boot camp until he finally came home for good. That’s four years and over 200 letters. I think it’s fantastic that his dad was so supportive. Warren said that is his most treasured keepsake from his time in the Military. I wanted to find out more about those letters. So, I asked him to bring a few for me to see. On the day of our third interview, he brought along the box he keeps them in. It was a pretty plain box, but it was obvious how much it meant to him. He placed the box on the floor and carefully took the lid off as he happily told me he had just finished organizing the letters in chronological order even before I asked him about them. He had picked out five letters from varying times through his service. He wanted to choose them to be around significant events, which I appreciated. He gave me one right after his first deployment, right before he invaded Iraq, right before and right after the fighting in Najaf and one after his post-deployment leave when he was still at Camp Pendleton.
His dad was really impressed with him. At times, it seemed like he even looked up to Warren. But it was really nice to see that he wasn’t just writing about the war - his thoughts and fears, what he saw on the news, questions about Warren’s experience. These things are in the letters, but they aren’t the main theme. I think this is really good because letters should be an escape into the writer’s world, not something that highlights your position. (I image that it would be frustrating to get a letter about war while you are at war.) The letters talked about what was happening with the family and his father’s life. They kept him updated on everything that was happening at home, from when the family car, the UnderAcheiver broke down to how his grandma was doing to if his dad was going to go up north or not. Warren looked forward to these letters each week - they were one of the only things he could count on during that time.
March 19, 2013 marked the 10th anniversary of the start of the U.S. war in Iraq. It is incredible to think that veterans like the student vets in this project are still fighting a war when some of them were barely even teens yet. Two veterans who were there when it all began recently wrote moving blogs for the New York Times about how the war still affects them today. Jason Davis, who wrote “Still Bleeding, 10 Years Later,” served in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division for five years. Davis described those first days in a way that would send chills down the spine of anyone who read it. The reality of what these men and women were forced to deal with while those of us who weren’t there watched from our living rooms is unthinkable.
Brandon Friedman, who wrote “The End of War Stories,” served as an infantry officer, also with the 101st Airborne Division. He said he enjoyed dramatically telling his stories of war when he came back, and he remembered every detail (He wrote a book called “The War I Always Wanted”). He said, “I had to put the memories somewhere. So many were toxic, and I needed to purge.” He wrote every night and said, “I never slept at night - at least not for the first five years after I left.” That line stopped me right in my tracks. Five YEARS of never sleeping at night? He said many veterans open up with time, but he was the opposite. He shut down with time, and now tells the stories as if they were memorized lines from a script - someone else’s story. Friedman’s post made me wonder about what this process is like for Mark and the other veterans we are interviewing. How many of their stories are recited like scripts? I don’t think someone can ever understand what the “story-telling” process is like for them without actually being there first.
“The president said God was on our side, but I was thankful for the many 2,000-pound bombs carried by the United States Air Force,” Davis wrote. “My muscles were exhausted, and I would soon find out that in war, there were no days off.”
I’ve finally finished the first draft of my story. It was challenging, to say the least, to trim and cut at the info that I have from all of Aaron’s interviews. But I am happy with the draft. I know it can be improved, but just having a draft typed out has made it feel like a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders! I also finished the first podcast, complete with music and everything. This project is finally coming together! I’m so ecstatic.
Dustin describes the scariest moment of his life as the IRAM attack that occurred at JSS Ur.
His base was hit with 9 rockets each with 200 pounds of explosives. This sounds daunting, but is hard to understand from the perspective of a college student.
I asked Dustin what that kind of attack would have done to buildings around campus, and his response was interesting.
“It can rip out a wall about 200 feet long on a three story building,” Dustin said. “So it could do a nice sized chunk of damage to any of the buildings here, and pretty much demolish half of pretty much any building here. While I guess except for Kolf, that thing is kind of like a bunker.”
Today I met with Adam again so that he could read a few of his quotes for my podcasts. I got there at 8 a.m. and Adam didn’t show up till almost 9 a.m. Before I texted him I didn’t think he was going to show up. I am happy that was able to make it because it can be hard to always get our schedules to work out just right to meet up. While I was waiting I got a few pictures taken again with Shawn McAfee because she said my first few were out of focus. He had to read his quotes a few times through before Grace was happy with them. She told him that he got better as he read on. Adam started to read a clip out of Men’s Health Magazine about Ryan Reynolds to get him warmed up as a joke. The second time through he did a really good job and Grace was happy with end results. Adam also read over the third draft of my paper. I looked over it when he was done and there are a few things that I need to change. We then went over some more of his pictures from when he was in Iraq. We noticed that we didn’t have any photos of him, more were just of scenes in Iraq. I had to get ready to leave for class but I seemed that we got some nice photos of him. In these last few weeks I need to finish up my story behind the story which is about a 1,000 word essay. It’s about what we went through as a journalist getting and writing the story. It’s also about how we felt about the project in general. For example how much we actually knew about the war, if the project was easy or hard and things that shocked us.
It’s coming down to crunch time. I’m going through a draft a week, which means I am in regular contact with Michael to go through the drafts and correct everything and make sure everything my professor wants included is in. I’m pretty sure Michael is starting to get annoyed with me calling him every day. One challenge that I have run into and I foresee it happening again in future drafts is that it’s becoming very hard to “get into Michael’s head.” This has been a problem since I started this endeavor. He seems to only want to give me enough information to answer the question presented to him. Hopefully, I can find a creative way to unlock the information I need to make this story live up to its potential.
I get frustrated most when I think back on the war now because we only discuss us.
This week was the ten year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Our class had to read some blogs from veterans talking about the war. They made me angry.
The biggest thing I deal with now, after spending almost two years in Iraq, is this constant feeling that I wasted my time. I read the news and hear about Shiite and Sunni conflict and realize we left them naked.
I used to think we need to leave and let them figure this out, we couldn’t prop them up forever. The day the last soldier left, there was a massive attack in Baghdad. That didn’t take long. A few weeks later, their vice president was accused of committing acts of terror. Their VP? Come on.
What I am getting to is that we helped people over there. We did something. There are Iraqis that would attest to this. I know it. But reading these stories, if I didn’t know any better, I would swear we went there to messed up a generation of young people through PTSD and amputations. We did something there, but you would never know. You don’t hear the stories about how our unit captured a man who stole a family’s car. You don’t hear about British EOD removing hundreds, maybe thousands, of unexploded mines, mortars and rockets that would have maimed, maybe killed small children. You don’t hear about our medic who patched up Iraqi citizens after a freak bus accident. How many lives have been lost in the Iraq War? How many have been saved?
The story is always the same. I am like this now, fill in the blank. I just want to know we accomplished something.
This last Friday Me and Nick finally got some good pictures of the two of us together in shirts that were definitely more acceptable for Grace’s requirements. He also managed to gather his scattered photos from his tour and get them to me. The ones he sent are fortunately all of him, he said that he has some other photos, but he noted that it would be better if people didn’t see them. This, of course, makes me want to see them. After taking photos Nick and Shawn, the photographer, were talking and stayed there just to listen to them. I knew Nick would not think I was necessarily listening in an attempt to remember everything he said. He spoke more candidly than he ever had with me and I was actually fairly jealous that Shawn managed to get this stuff out of him. I listened to his endless supply of stories about getting in trouble as a teen, from digging holes with M80’s to joyriding in stolen cars. I also learned about a time he was stabbed in a High School bathroom by another student who wanted his wallet. It was unfortunate that I wasn’t prepared with pen and paper or a recording device.
I’m down to four weeks left of the semester. It’s great and horrible at the same time. I have so much to do I’m beginning to wonder if getting it all done on time is even a possibility. I guess I’m going to start getting a lot less sleep and spending a lot more time in the library. I’m working on my third draft that’s due tomorrow. I have a few blanks I needed to get filled in, so I ran over by Kat’s work to get a picture of her at work and ask her a few questions. I feel like I’ve really gotten to know Kat well. Thinking back to when we first met until now, its been quite the journey. I’ve never taken a class where all we did was focus on one project. I’ve been putting most of my time and efforts into this class, but I also have to remember to set aside time for my other classes as well as being a reporter for the school newspaper. I’m really looking forward to the end of the semester. It will be such a HUGE relief to have everything done and handed in. I just hope I will be happy with the final results.