Story Behind the Story
Grace Lim expects your absolute best. I knew this before signing up for the Longform Journalism In the Digital Age Class. Grace was my professor for two classes prior to this one, so I was pretty familiar with her teaching style and fast-paced personality. Nothing could prepare me, on the other hand, for the subject matter that this class would deal with.
“We are going to produce the third edition of the War: Through Their Eyes project,” Grace explained. As she said those words, my mind turned into a jumbled, foggy mess. I wasn’t going to be able to do this, how could I? I was far from familiar with the war and the military. I have never known anyone who had a role in any wars or who was involved in the military at all. I already felt a step behind others in my class because of this.
A 22-year-old journalism major and German minor, I’ve known that I wanted to write since I watched Harriet the Spy at the tender age of 7. It didn’t set in that I would do it professionally until later in high school, when I realized that I had to make the big decision concerning my future endeavors. At that point in my life, I realized that the only profession that I could envision myself in was as a writer. I love the way that letters and words can form and mold different thoughts and meanings to different people.
After stepping into the classroom on the first day, I quickly realized, with no surprise, that Grace was taking no time at all with this class. By the first week, I had already been assigned with my very own soldier. Aaron Jackson, I read. This made the upcoming events seem very real and scary.
I first met Aaron in the VRC in the afternoon. He was sitting with his friend, also a war veteran. The first thing that I noticed about Aaron was that he was very approachable and goofy, and had a very welcoming aura. We chatted easily and I felt at ease with him. I was nervous that his jokester personality would get in the way, but as soon as I got him in the studio, I realized he would be much more open in that environment.
Soon after first meeting Aaron and asking a few basic questions, I quickly got him in the studio. He seems very laid back and comfortable about the whole ordeal. This almost seems strange to me, as I was a near-stranger asking him very personal questions. But Aaron was fun to interview, as he always had a lot to say and would elaborate on answers if I ever needed him to.
I quickly learned that Aaron felt more comfortable talking about his life leading up to, and after, the war, than about exact events that happened while he was in Iraq. I didn’t ever try to pry and probe for information, because if he didn’t want to talk about something, it wasn’t my decision to make. The stories that Aaron did tell me, however, were engaging and sometimes heart-wrenching.
After a couple of times in the studio, countless follow-up questions, over 10,000 transcribed words, and several drafts, I produced the final draft of my story. I’m very happy with how it turned out, and I’m glad that Aaron will get his time to shine through my words.
Meeting and getting to know Aaron has been a wonderful and rewarding experience. I have never known a war veteran, and just getting to talk with him has opened my eyes to many things that I was ignorant about in the past. I truly believe that Aaron is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met. He has faced so many hardships, yet he doesn’t feel sorry for himself at all. He works hard each day, and continues to strive to become the person that he aspires to be. I feel honored to have met Aaron this year, and I’m glad that I was chosen to tell his story.
I was in 6th grade. Looking back, I find it slightly ironic, but I was in religion class at what was then Holy Angels School outside of Appleton. I remember one of the other teachers bursting into our class shouting about New York and planes and I don’t even remember what else. We all got a television out and watched as the day’s events unfolded.
War and politics have always been fascinating topics for me and I never really understood why.
Coming into this class, I had a feeling this was going to be an exciting experience because I had had Grace before and I had seen previous editions of the War project.
My name is Trevor Uitenbroek. Even though I tried not to show it, the War: Through Their Eyes project was probably one of the tougher classes I’ve ever taken.
When we were all shown everything we had to do for this project, I remember spending a long time looking through that list, and thinking, “This won’t be so bad.”
I soon found out I was sorely mistaken.
Even though Michael Dierich has left Iraq far behind, he still carries the memories with him to this day. I noticed that the first time I met him and I saw the tattoo of the flaming sword with the letters O.I.F underneath it. When Shawn came in to take pictures, I really wanted to get a picture of that.
I was able to meet with my veteran, Michael Dierich, within the first couple weeks of the semester. The first time I met with him, I found out he wanted to skip the formalities and get right to business. So, my introduction to Michael was filling out his timeline.
Once we had that established, we could get Michael in for interviews, which went smoothly enough. It’s the part after that kicked my butt.
Every word of those interviews had to be transcribed, which, just so you know takes hours. I spent approximately seven hours in the Halsey computer lab one Sunday playing the recorded interview over and over and transcribing everything. You would think I would be able to memorize every word after seven hours, but I guess not.
Since that first meeting, I got to know what a great storyteller Michael is. He told me so many good stories about his military experience that I wasn’t able to include them all. Between the podcasts and the story, I did my best to incorporate as many as I could because, with the storyteller that Michael is, I didn’t want those stories to go to waste.
One of the stories he told me was when he got turned down by the Navy because he had too many speeding tickets on his record. He didn’t take no for an answer and marched across the hall at the recruitment center and the Army approved him. One of his other great, edge-of-your-seat kind of stories was the one I included in the podcasts about the time his training center caught on fire.
I remember when I was sitting in one of those recorded interview sessions and he started talking about an English class he took after returning from military service. He talked about how they read Hiroshima during that class and his reaction to it because he had military experience. I remember I was frozen in my seat during that entire story. After that, I knew I had to get another view from the professor, Vivian Foss. Personally, I thought the professor was going to be some cranky lady who didn’t want to be interviewed, especially about a topic like this. However, I was pleasantly surprised how well that part of my story went. She was very cooperative and that just added to Michael’s story.
Once I got the interviews all transcribed, the next part was fairly easy. Being a radio/television/film major, I’m used to working around recording equipment, so I just found a recording program that I could work with and the podcasts were no sweat. Well, they would have been if Grace wasn’t being her normal, nit-picky self.
As good of a storyteller that Michael is, when you try to get inside his head he doesn’t let you. Once I started to write the story, I realized that there were personal details that he was withholding from me. How am I supposed to get inside his head? Every time I would ask him to elaborate on sometime in order to get those details, he wouldn’t have anything else to say, and that, above anything else with this project, really got me frustrated because it meant that I couldn’t get anywhere without that information he was keeping from me. At least he was really understanding every time I called him back, which I can’t thank him for enough.
Since Michael and I were in regular contact throughout the semester, but especially when writing the story, I got to know a little more about his family as well. During one memorable, but particularly short, meeting, in the Arts and Communications Center, I had arranged to meet Michael after class to fill out some paperwork, and to my surprise, he had brought his wife, Corina, along. I was very pleased for the chance to get to know her and to ask her about Michael.
Before the War project, I felt like I knew enough about the war in the Middle East because I try to watch the news and stay informed. However, once I got to know Michael, it became very clear to me that there’s more to it. The stories that you hear on the news and from your family don’t describe what is actually happening. Hearing it from someone like Michael made me stop and wonder how much the mainstream media isn’t telling us. Combine Michael’s experience as a medic with his great storytelling ability and you’ve got the recipe for graphic detail.
I tried to incorporate all those details in my story to the best of my ability without going too long. That was the challenging part: Getting all my information in without going on forever. As Mark Twain once said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter so I wrote a long one instead.” Even when I wrote long, it was surprisingly hard to cut. I managed to make some of the story into podcasts, but even then, I had to find a way to cut down.
I have had a love-hate relationship with this class from the start. I loved it because of all the media that was involved with this project. I hated it because, once I got to the story, I kept hitting dead ends, and I started to become very frustrated because of a picky professor.
I think I can honestly say to Michael, to the rest of the veterans in this edition, to all my friends in the military, and to all other military personnel who have served our country both currently and in the past, that it’s truly been an honor working on this project over the semester.
Hundreds of soldiers form a human wall to intimidate the insurgents before trudging through the muddy swamp that separates them from the opposition. Muscular men dressed in matching green uniforms work together to complete one mission: eliminate the enemy. Human blood, brains and flesh begin to cover the battlefield. One man dodging bullets trips over a fallen soldier and realizes it’s his best friend. He wants to leave, he wants to be home, he wants this nightmare to be over.
Kathrine McCard completely changed my perspective of being in the military. She is a Navy veteran, and although her role was very important, she never fought in a war or served on the frontline. She never killed anyone; no one tried to kill her. She taught me to open my mind up to all the behind-the-scene work done in the military. I learned from her to never assume you know someone based on a certain group they belong to.
I’m a journalism student at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, and I’ve been here for three years. This semester I’m working as a reporter for the school’s newspaper, the Advance Titan. Each week I’m assigned one or two articles. The articles need at least three sources and have to be about 500 words. Similar to Grace Lim’s class, Long Form Journalism in the Digital Age, all of this must be completed on my own time.
On top of taking 12 credits and writing for the Advance Titan, I work part-time for Eastbay. For 25 hours a week, I’m a customer service representative helping people worldwide to get the best sporting equipment on the market. For the other 143 hours of my week, I sleep, eat, and breathe school. An average day for me consists of five hours of work followed by three hours of class, and then another four hours at the library. By the time I make it home, I’m using all my energy just to drag myself up the stairs to my bed. It’s been an exhausting semester. I can easily says it’s been the most challenging one yet. Running between work, class, reporting and studying, I barely find time to catch my breath.
When I first heard about the War: Through Their Eyes, Warriors and Students, I really didn’t know what to think. Before the semester started, Grace sent out a survey via email asking the class if we have smartphones. Right off the bat I felt like I wasn’t ready for the class because I wasn’t as technologically advanced as I should be. I’m the type of person to overthink everything, and in turn overreact to everything, so I started getting really nervous about the course. My first thought was to look Grace up on ratemyprofessor.com, and when I did, I started to get a lot more excited for the course. I remember one entry in particular saying if you didn’t like her class, you’re probably bad at journalism. After reading students' feedback, I realized Grace is an up-to-date professor with real world experience that would be beneficial for me to learn about.
As we discussed the project assignment during the first day of class, butterflies flew around my stomach crashing into each other throughout the two hour long class. I’ve never been expected to do so much. By the end of the semester we are required to have: three completed audio podcasts, at least ten journal entries, this first person essay as well as the feature story on my veteran. How will I be able to pull this off on top of all my other responsibilities? Should I just drop the course? I’m sure something else would be easier. The idea crossed my mind, but it left as fast as it came. I decided that night, I’m going to college and majoring in journalism to become a successful journalist. I’m not paying thousands of dollars a semester to take the easy way out and not gain any experience along the way. I knew this course was going to be the key I needed to open the door into real world journalism experience. I don’t regret it for a second.
Getting together with Kathrine McCard was as easy as jumping into a moving taxi going 65 miles per hour down the highway with its doors closed. We were never on the same schedule. I wasn’t able to get ahold of her for the first two weeks of the semester, and I felt like I was being lapped in a race with my classmates to get the most information we could. I did eventually get together with Kat, and we managed to find additional times to record enough information for my story. If I was available, she was sick. If she was available, she would get a call from her son’s school that he wet his pants and needed new ones. Finally, when we thought nothing else could go wrong - I got sick. During spring break, I graduated to a grade-A stalker because I plugged Kat’s home address into my GPS and drove more than a half hour to get the interview I needed.
This class taught me that I am capable of doing so much more than I ever thought possible. In the beginning of the semester, I never thought I would be able to complete all of the assignments for the course as well as balance all my other responsibilities. I’m glad I took this journalism course as a junior because now I’m going to think every other class is a piece of cake. Kathrine McCard opened up my eyes to a whole new idea of the military. I realize now that there are so many people who serve that may not be acknowledged since they didn’t fight on the frontline. Kathrine’s dedication to the military has inspired me to share her story and give credit to each and every person who serves.
February 11, 2013 was like any other ordinary day until at 3 p.m. when the uneasy feeling of having an interview thrown at you sunk in. This unprepared moment had me rushing for questions in a sweat. Questions to ask veteran Adam Ruetten for the project War Though Their Eyes: Volume 3.
As a junior at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh majoring in Journalism. I got to take part in this war project for one of my classes. When I first heard about this project I thought it was going to be hard and the workload along with my other classes was going to be unbearable. Not knowing really anything about war I was excited to work on this project. Getting me to watch movies is like pulling teeth. Therefore I didn’t even have an good understanding or image about war.
The original veteran I was assigned to work with never replied to my email. I was assigned to a new veteran one day when I got class. I actually met him outside the classroom before my teacher showed up for class and introduced me to him. She told me that I would be having an interview with him that day. I was not prepared which put me in a sweat. I came up with some quick question to get the interview going. Our first interview ended up being very short with a lot of giggling and playing around with the microphone. Doing a project like this for the first time and only being a student, you wonder a lot about things. I always wondered are my questions going to be too personal. Who am I to ask these types of questions and will he open up to someone he only met a few times? War is a serious topic to talk about. I felt nervous about what questions to ask. Especially questions that deal with death. Did you kill someone or see anyone get killed? This was a hard topic to interview someone about because of these questions that go through your mind. Every person is affected differently and I tried to keep that in mind when asking questions.
The veteran I worked with throughout this project was Adam Ruetten. He is a junior at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh majoring in education. He was in Iraq for 15 months from February 2007-May 2008. His job in Iraq was a lead vehicle gunner. I heard many stories from Adam and was able to write a great story about him.
A struggle with this project was trying to meet at times that work for both of us. A personal struggle for me with this project was the amount of times I had to email or text Adam. The more I had to contact him for question, the more I felt like I was bugging him. Writing the journals was also a struggle for me. Many times I can come up with what I want to say but I sit there and stare at the blank computer screen trying to get the words out.
Coming into this project I really didn’t have any experience with working with multimedia or had really any interview experience. In my writing for the media class I interview a few people for our papers but it never felt as extreme as this project did.
I feel like I walked away with a lot from this project on as a journalist and on a personal level. Learning new multimedia programs will help me out in the future at school and when I get a job. I learned how to become more aggressive on getting the story. Even though I felt like I was always bugging him I was proud of myself for just keeping at him to get the story. This project made me look at writing in a different way. I really enjoyed feature writing. Being able to hear someone else’s story for their point of view was amazing. Especially when it comes to a topic like war. You can read about war stories in books, magazines or online. But I feel that actually sitting across from you veteran and hearing the story in person you get to see and feel the emotions. For example when Adam was telling me a story about rockets going over right over their heads I could see his emotions in the story. He would get very excited explaining it and would be laughing about how they reacted. Even when he read that script for my podcast I could tell he wanted to laugh and was having a hard time reading that part. After hearing Adam’s story it made me realize that you don't really understand what these soldiers go through until you hear the story from their point of view. Adam told me that when he called home rockets would go off in the distance. His family and friends would ask him what that noise was. He would tell them don’t worry about that, it happens all the time. This quote really made me stop and think about one of things his family went through when he was in Iraq - Them wondering if he was going to make it home safe.
Overall I am very happy I took this class. I was going to drop it because of the time it was offered and the way my work schedule was. It was a challenging class but I am glad I was able to complete it. This class had a very large workload and you do wonder how you’re going to get it all done but it can be managed. Things like transcribing over 10,000 words, recording your podcast five to seven times and writing a few different drafts for your final story. You really can work hard and achieve what you need to when you put your mind to it.
I’ve never been to war, no one in my immediate family has been to war and none of my close friends have been to war.
I have taken this class before, though. My freshman year, in my Intro to Journalism class, Grace beckoned me over after one of the last classes of the semester. She told me about about this great class; and that we would be interviewing war veterans; and creating feature stories and multimedia projects; and how it would be a great piece for my portfolio. By the end of the class, I did about half of those.
I interviewed my veteran once, and then he stopped responding to my emails. I also put together a short podcast, but it was for a faculty member and not the WAR project. I was still left wanting my feature story and great portfolio that Grace had promised me. Thankfully, Grace offered the class again.
My main focus going into the class was successfully interviewing my veteran and crafting a feature story. As I sent the first introductory email, I hoped what happened the year before wouldn’t plague me this year, and the first week or two I feared it had. After 10 stressful days, I heard back from Dustin and we were able to set up a time to meet.
Going into that first interview, I figured I would hear much of what I had read in the first two WAR projects and books I’ve read. Dustin surprised me. No matter how similar the situations may appear from one soldier to the next, they always take away something unique. Dustin’s story was interesting, and I knew right away that it was going to make an incredible feature.
This was the first time I have interviewed someone and had to ask tough questions. Usually my queries have been news related, or much more light hearted. I had to ask Dustin about some of his most terrifying and darkest moments. The answers were not easy to listen to. I could go into an interview feeling cheerful, but came out feeling terrible.
It was difficult, but I’m glad I took the class. I gained so much, and grew a lot as an interviewer. I will have more confidence going into future interviews because of the sessions I did with Dustin.
I was surprised how easy it was to write the feature story. I had never attempted to put together a long form story before, but I started reading an increasing number of them this year, and I’ve gotten to the point where I really enjoy them. Now, after this class, I also have an interest in writing them. I did my first draft in about four or six hours while working, and not much changed between my following drafts. There were revisions, and definite improvement, but essentially the same story is being told -- just not in a more refined, comprehensive way.
I found the feature story to be the best part of the class. It was fun, a great learning experience and an amazing portfolio piece to show off. The podcasts were nice too, but I think slightly less important. The only part of the class I didn’t enjoy was the story behind the story. I’m not sure why, but I don’t see the value in it. When I write something like my story about Dustin that’s what I want to present. Honestly, I don’t think my journey of completing the class was important enough to warrant an essay devoted to what I did. Maybe I’m bad at talking myself up, I’m told fairly frequently that I am, but to me it was just a series of interviews put together into a story. There wasn’t anything particularly shocking that I did. I learned some crazy stuff, which appears in my story. The story Dustin told was intriguing, but I’m not sure the story behind that story is one worth reading.
I had similar problems with the journals. I found them to be more annoying than helpful; too uninteresting. I was really focused on just telling my narrative of Dustin’s life, not so much weird side information to connect it to Oshkosh. Honestly, I put off doing them as long as possible. They were supposed to be more week to week, but for both semesters I ended up doing them right before they were due, which isn’t how I usually complete my journalism assignments. I’m a get it done early, and get it done well kind of guy.
Overall, I have no regrets taking this class. I could have taken an easy class that would have taken up much less time, but that’s not why I’m going to school. I’m here to learn, and I try to take the classes that I think will improve myself and make me more marketable to employers. Every second I spent in this class was an investment that I believe will pay off in the future, and I can honestly say that this was the most useful class I have ever taken.
In the waning years of my adolescence and again when I was 23, I experienced war as a soldier. My name is Zachary Kaiser, and I am a two-time Operation Iraq Freedom veteran.
Four years later as an aspired journalist, I listened as Todd Raley slowly explained launching artillery against Saddam Hussein’s soldiers then drove through the destruction he caused a few hours later.
As he told me the story, the air became dense as the words slid from his mouth as he reflected on his early 20s.
I could feel him reaching for the right words to articulate his feelings. I am aware of the struggles associated with musing on a subject as delicate as war. These musings come later after the scabs have been picked at and tore off a few times.
I patiently waited for him to finish telling me what he saw. I didn’t know how the story was going to end.
Raley is tough. At 44 he has looked back at the past, and the sores have been replaced with scared tissue, resilient to my poking and prodding.
It never seems to be the beginning of the semester until it is. The same is true for the end of the semester. Sometimes I’ll even get emails pertaining to syllabi for the class starting in a week, but the first day is always a shock. I wake up, realize I haven’t printed any of the syllabi, haven’t bought books or general supplies. I throw some pencils and paper in a bag and run out the door.
Then in a week I’m in school mode, and weeks turn into due dates.
Sitting in the chair on that first day, listening to Grace list off the requirements for the project, I wouldn’t say I was freaked out, but I realized this project had two due dates and a lot of moving pieces. Being a veteran, I wondered what I would be facing. I have never had a problem discussing the war and often times I enjoyed discussing it. Hoping to become a writer some day, I had picked at my wounds several times.
But who would this person be? What if they had problems discussing the war? It was only in hindsight that I realized he pulled stories out of me just as much as I pulled stories out of him.
I meet Raley the second week of class. We meet in Reeve Memorial Union at UW Oskosh. He wasn’t hard to pick out. I did have some concern about if I would recognize him, but when you get assigned a guy with more than 23 years of service, you can make some assumptions about age. He was the only older gentleman sitting in Reeve that day. I had met men like Todd before. In fact, I believe there is something about being a senior non-commissioned officer in the Army that naturally makes one gravitate toward certain mannerisms. Todd was no exception. Their faces often reflect the stress and wear of constant responsibility.
Almost immediately I felt Todd drawing out my own stories as much as I was drawing out his. Our sessions were pretty normal, and it appeared Todd was fairly comfortable discussing his past. There was sometimes a tension around the studio, but I never felt I couldn’t ask him something. It seemed he took this as part of his duty to his fellow soldiers. These stories needed to be told.
But as we discussed his past, I remembered the trials and uncertainty of my own experiences. Sometimes while recording our interviews I would sit and nod my head, knowing exactly what Todd meant when he discussed the tensions surrounding the Iraqi elections. I was there. That was the day some Marines shot at our convoy.
Our interview did get rather heavy while we discussed Todd’s friend who had died overseas. The studio became pressurize and the weight of the air sat heavy on my shoulders. The outside world seemed to stop and all sounds were silenced except for Todd’s hushed voice and a the soft thump of his hand on the table. Then the story would end and the pressure would lift like a heavy fog.
Transcriptions. Have you ever done one? They are the worst. On the school computers I had software that allowed me to speed up or slow down the audio in order to type it out, but at home I didn’t have that luxury. I would open iTunes, listen to a sentence and type it up. This took hours. I would type until my eyes burned, and my wrists cramped.
Our next interview started with photos. Todd brought in about 200-300 (maybe more) photos of his time in the service. After we went over those, we started with another interview.
This interview was more of a reflection on where Todd was and where he is going. It required a lot of questions about how he’s changed and stuff like that. His answers were not a surprise because once again I felt myself nodding my head a lot. He seemed to be describing me when he talked about his life since going overseas. It was like interviewing myself.
He described the last few years of my life. He described how he tried to self-medicate with alcohol and missed the Army while he was still trying to understand it. It took a lot of writing and a lot of picking before I understood how I’ve changed, but it also became apparent I am still figuring it out.
At this point I have a lot of material, but then what? I realized I was interviewing, transcribing and interviewing again. I mean I made the podcasts for the project, which was probably my favorite part, but I needed to start putting it together.
Writing is a lot like a relationship. It can be a cold bitch and other times it can be as easy as putting your hands on a keyboard (don’t tell my wife I said that).
The project continued as such. I went to class, revisions were made and work was submitted, but outside class I found myself reflecting. In a way Raley’s story brought me a way to look at my past and start to structure this vast vault of memories leftover from my seven years in the National Guard.
And with the memories came the musings. Like the wounds I spoke of earlier, my own festering scabs burst open and started to drip into pages. In another class on memoir, I started to write about the twisted year I had after my deployment due to the loneliness I felt. In another piece, which I am planning to make into a full-length memoir, I wrote about my own experiences as a 19-year-old in the Iraq War.
Raley showed me that pride can be just as powerful as fear, and fear only succeeds when the wounds it has caused are never treated. For some the wound is too large or deep to bind. For me, I have to keep telling people stories. That is how I can help my fellow soldiers after my service has ended.
Sitting in a vacant UW Oshkosh faculty office that has been turned into a recording studio, I struggle to find the appropriate phrasing of a not-so-casual question: “So where were you when you found out that your friend was killed?” The expression that came across the pondering yet wary war veteran, whom I was interviewing, was the most challenging experience I’ve had to endure so far as a student journalist.
I decided to take Grace Lim’s Long Form Journalism course to do just that--challenge myself, in a project-based course.
On the first day of class, Grace informed us that we would be constructing the third volume to the War: Through Their Eyes project. This volume would be titled, “Warriors and Students.” This intrigued me as I knew little-to-nothing about the military aside from what I’ve learned from films, like Saving Private Ryan to We Were Soldiers, and books, like The Forever War by Dexter Filkins. I’ve also had few family members and friends who were and currently are in the military.
I’ve always viewed it as a touchy subject for those involved, so up until my first interview with veteran Myles Bork, I’ve never asked questions beyond, “So where did you all go when you served?”
Being able hear the story of someone who may have had to pull a trigger in the line of duty that caused harm or death on someone, baffles me. I would never be able to put myself in that situation and still be able to grasp my humanity. Let alone, I would never be able to sign my name on a piece of paper, which signified that I would be risking my life to save others. I have so much respect for those who serve our country because of their astounding bravely.
Overwhelming amounts of people do, though. Just this past month, my younger cousin Amanda, who is a junior in high school, enlisted in the National Guard. When I was a junior in high school, my biggest concern was whom I was taking to prom, not when I was leaving for basic training. I’m so very proud of her.
Being a part of the War, volume 3 project made me think back to a year ago when I was in Grace’s Spring 2012 reporting course. She assigned the class to the Green Medicine Project, which profile’s UWO student Sitha Thor and his family. Because we were able to pull that project together last year, and other classes have been able to pull the first two volumes together, I had faith that this class will be able to pull the third volume together..
After learning more about the project and watching and reading the first two volumes, there are two things for certain that this project does for me; it inspires me to push further and confirms my feelings toward storytelling. Fiction is great and all, but real-life stories of inspiration are much more intriguing and impactful.
Myles Bork's most impactful stories involved those whom he served with. The first couple of stories he shared with me were light-hearted. 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 the time when the military trunk Myles and his unit were traveling in was hit by road bomb while on a night mission. Luckily no one was seriously injured.
Things began to get heavy during our second meeting. While we were taking photos with the art director, Shawn McAfee, she shared her experiences 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 wondered if he ever had to participate in a ceremony before.
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 been stemmed from his gratitude of just being alive, that he had survived both of his tours and is able to be here today to talk about this military tradition.
After the photo shoot, during our interview, he shared with me that he had a friend who was killed in action in Afghanistan. He became uncomfortable almost immediately when he was brought up, especially when I asked him how it felt when he saw his friend’s casket. He didn’t make as much eye contact during this segment and kept fidgeting with his nails. I could tell right away that he didn’t want to go into as much detail as he did his other stories. I understood why, so I found it difficult push for more.
The story of his friend passing stuck out to me so much that I decided to include it in one of my three podcasts. For me, the podcasts have been one of the most enjoyable parts of this project. The sound editing can be tedious, but being able to hear the emotion in Myles voice as he described some of his most difficult experiences while serving in the military is an experience all on its own.
The specific words that stuck out to me were, “I couldn’t do it,” which Myles said when describing how he dealt with seeing his friend’s casket being carried out onto a plane. There was so much defeat in his voice; so much struggle. That must have been the most difficult thing for him to tell me; maybe the most difficult thing for him to remember about his tours.
Overall, the bond he had with the guys in his unit was one of the most prevalent aspects of his story. Myles taught me that being a part of the military creates this instant connection, making you not just fellow soldiers but family. The idea of them losing one of their own must be earth shattering.
Nervously sitting in the Veterans Resource Center at UW Oshkosh, I twiddle my thumbs waiting for my veteran Nick Brewer to show up. Two other veterans are further in the office space, talking about comic book characters and more specifically, Hulk hands. The initial hope is that one of these veterans is Nick.
The one who is working there suddenly looks over and says, “Who are you waiting for?” It turns out he is Nick Brewer and 15 minutes were just wasted waiting for someone who was a few feet away. Even sitting down Nick looks like a bear, especially with the impressive beard he is growing. He is wearing his Red Shirt Friday shirt, which says Red Shirt Friday: Until They all Come Home, like he does most Fridays.
I walked over to him and introduced myself. When we shake hands mine disappears in his grip. If I wasn’t a rock climber I feel like he could have crushed it on accident. Instantly, it seems like Nick is very open and from what I could tell, has a great sense of humor. He jokes constantly and has no issue poking fun at most anything, including himself.
After interviewing him the first time I learned that he was a refueler, which had me worried. I initially had this fantasy of all soldiers being on the front lines and having crazy stories about the battles they had been in. This was not Nick at all, little did I know he still had some amazing stories that he would tell me as I talked to him more.
I quickly learned two things from Nick, he caused a lot of trouble as a kid and there is way more to the military than I had originally thought. Nick was already getting into trouble with the police by middle school and I was not expecting that after meeting him the first time. He seemed so well mannered, at least in comparison to someone who has been arrested on multiple occasions. But I guess he was right, the kind of behavior he had as a kid and teenager made him a great candidate for the military. In turn the military managed to change him into a more upstanding and responsible citizen who was now on their way to getting a college degree.
I was also surprised to learn that his main responsibility was to re-fuel and re-supply helicopters all day long. It was even more shocking to hear that he really liked doing something that sounded so monotonous. How does someone who couldn’t sit through a full day of high school classes, at times, be a gas station attendant for 12 hours, six days out of the week?
All of this information contained a great story and I was overlooking it completely. Coming to class twice a week and hearing about all the other stories of struggle or pain, both mental and physical, I kept thinking to myself “Why can’t I have that story?” I just kept thinking that there was nothing there or that Nick wasn’t telling me everything. I felt incredibly discouraged and would listen to our interviews seeing if there were things that he had said, that for some reason went right over my head. I kept thinking there wasn’t anything I was missing.
It took forever for me to realize I was missing the entire story because I was too busy looking for something that didn’t exist. It is obnoxious how blind I was to what was being said to me. There aren’t many people who screw around as much as Nick did while they’re a kid and end up making it somewhere in life. Who would have thought that the kid digging a hole with fireworks could make it through seven years of military service and give so much to the military that their body doesn’t work as it should? Then after all of that he wanted nothing else more than to go back.
There was the main part of my story, I had finally figured it out. It turns out there were also several great anecdotes from his time in Iraq. Just because he refueled helicopters doesn’t mean the RPG shot at him or the sandstorm that beat him in a race weren’t any less interesting. Now I just had to figure out how to write the story, which I’m sure Grace Lim will say started out with a truly rough draft.
I had figured out what I wanted to write about, but I still had no idea what I was doing with it. The first time through went about as smoothly as off roading with a smart car. I was writing late at night and not really thinking about it. Between this story and all the other homework I was doing I found that my keyboard was becoming my new pillow. I also wasn’t taking the time to look at or listen to what Grace was saying to me about my story. All of this was counterproductive to writing and the story probably was even worse the second time through.
So for a few days I stopped writing and re-evaluated the way that I was doing things. I wasn’t writing a longer story how I normally do and I was just trying to reach a word count. It’s good to fill the requirements but I had to remember that it’s better to make sure the story is well written.
So when I came back to it I switched to the way I normally do things and stopped looking at how many words were on the page. What I did was pick out parts of his story and work on them individually instead of trying to pull out a whole story in one go. I found myself working on the middle before I went back to the beginning. I basically made building blocks and then pieced them together. What resulted still wasn’t something I was proud of, but that’s what editing is for.
My first exposure to evil, to the truly horrific things one person can do to another came on the same day it came for millions of children around the world. On the morning of September 11, 2001, I walked into my fourth-grade classroom and one of my friends told me that a plane had crashed into the World Train Center. At least, that’s what I thought she said. I can still picture the image that popped into my head - a commercial plane crashing into a giant train station. I knew plane crashes happened, on accident of course. I wondered why everyone was acting like the plane crash happened right next door. Throughout the day I realized this was something bigger than an accident, as teachers ducked into conference rooms and stared at TV’s on carts. Later that day, standing in the doorway of my neighbor’s house, I saw it. The station was flashing a video of a plane that looked like a small bird flying in a clear, blue sky, until it disappeared into the tower.
One thing I sure did not realize at the time was how much that day would impact so many kids my age. Kids who, after barely getting the chance to grow up, would decide to fight back. Kids sitting right next to me in that fourth grade classroom, just as confused and innocent as I was, would one day be sent overseas with guns and armor to fight the enemy. I am not sure how long it took me to grasp the concept of what happened that day; I still do not think I have. Although my life took a different course than those kids who fought back, it has now brought me right back to them.
Even in fourth grade, I understood the power of words, the power of telling a story. I wrote stories about everything, mostly fiction. I wrote news stories about the talent show and the hot lunch menu, and dropped them off on my neighbor’s doorsteps. I wrote about scary stuff too: late night thunderstorms and getting lost in the grocery store. It’s funny how much scary can change in 12 years. Now I am a junior at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, one year away from graduating with a degree in journalism and economics. The words are just as important to me now as they were when I only knew a small fraction of them, only the stories have changed. I was reintroduced to the kids whose lives changed on that fateful day when I agreed to help with the second volume of War: Through Their Eyes. In that volume I wrote about John Ackerman, a nursing student at the UW Oshkosh who is also an Iraq War veteran. I took over Ackerman’s story about halfway through the process, so all of the interviews were done. I didn’t actually meet him until the night of the book debut. In this case, for War: Through Their Eyes Volume 3, Warriors and Students, I was fortunate enough to get to know Mark Maurer’s story from start to finish.
I was excited when I found out that this semester’s special topics class was going to be for the third War: Through Their Eyes. From being in Grace’s class before, I knew what she could get a class to do in one semester. Putting together a whole multimedia project in 14 weeks would be difficult, but not impossible. If the third volume was going to be anything like the first two, it was going to be great. As Grace always puts it, “This one’s going to be the best one yet.”
About three weeks into the semester, I hadn’t heard back from the original soldier I was assigned to (along with two other people in the class), and Grace was reaching desperation. I arrived to class one day to find two men standing in the doorway, one of them in uniform. The soldier in uniform was Mark Maurer, who Grace had found sleeping in the journalism reading room just minutes before. She brought him into the classroom and, without much of a choice, he was part of our project. When I sat down with Mark 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. We got the interview process started right away, and in seemingly no time at all, I knew a lot about his war story.
Mark is a member of the National Guard who toured in Iraq from January 2009 to January 2010. The most fascinating thing Mark told me early on was that he volunteered for deployment after a few years of training. Before working on these projects, I had no personal connection to the military, no true understanding of the war. I had never met or even heard of someone who volunteered for deployment, which just blows my mind. This opened my eyes to how much these men and women in the military, like Mark, truly love what they do and how passionate they are about it.
I have also learned more about how difficult every aspect of war can be. Mark did not have the stereotypical tour, patrolling the streets. He was a military police officer at Camp Cropper (the same prison where Saddam Hussein was held before his execution) and had to guard some of the worst prisoners of war imaginable. This took a toll on him mentally. I cannot imagine what it would be like to deal with people like that day in and day out, but Mark gave me a pretty good idea of how difficult it would be.
I will never look at another war veteran the same after doing this project. I will never watch a movie about the Iraq War, never hear a news story in the same way. I have gained even more respect for these war veterans than I had before, because I now understand their stories just a little bit more. I will never fully understand what it is like to go to war, what it is like to come back from war. I will never fully understand what changed in the hearts and minds of those kids destined to fight on 9/11. The one thing I can do is continue to tell their stories.
I don’t know much about the Iraq war. Despite several uncles and cousins who were deployed to Iraq, I remained surprisingly and shamefully uninformed. I was in 5th grade when 9/11 happened. Our teacher wheeled a TV into his classroom after recess and told us we needed to know what was going on. My 10-year-old self didn’t know what to think of the video showing two tall towers I had never heard of falling to the ground. I didn’t know that 300 miles south of me, 17-year-old Warren Glas was watching the same news report, thinking very different thoughts. He, too, sat in his teacher’s classroom, eyes glued to the screen. But while I asked a friend, “what’s going on?” he told a friend, “it looks like we’re going to war.” Eleven years later, he explained the direct impact that moment had on his life.
The first War: Through Their Eyes project came out in 2009, my freshman year at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. It looked like a really in-depth and detailed project. I thought it was a good effort made by the University. I didn’t know that one day, I would be a part of it. I learned about the class through the instructor, Grace Lim. She made an announcement about it at a meeting we were both at before registration began. She said it would be difficult, very involved and stressful. But it would be worth it. What she described intrigued me; I had just finished a reporting project on the growing refugee population in Oshkosh, but I had done that as an independent study. I wanted to further my experience with the reporting process as well as learn about the multimedia aspects Grace was to include in her class. I asked an advisor if he thought I would be able to handle the class. He told me, ‘I think you’ll cry. But I think you’ll be glad you took it.’ I came in excited but also nervous.
I was assigned to Warren Glas, once a Marine, now a freshman at UW Oshkosh working toward becoming a history teacher. I met him on a Thursday in early February at a Starbucks. I was nervous to meet him because in the past, people have gotten closed up when telling me about important but heavy life experiences. I thought he would do the same, but he proved me wrong. He is a pretty straight-forward guy. He doesn’t shy away from many topics and he is always right to the point. I got that impression of him right away. I walked into Starbucks a few minutes early, hoping to get a chai latte before he got there. I looked around to see if anyone was sitting alone. There was one man at a counter, looking out the window at the falling snow. He had a coffee cup, but the name scrawled along the side was turned away from me. I began to set up my things behind him and he turned toward me almost immediately and asked, “Are you Molly?” I invited him to sit down and we got started right away. He was really open and unafraid to share details. He remembered names, dates and events almost like they happened yesterday. When I asked him a question, he answered it fully. In fact, he told me so many things -- useful things -- in our first interview, I ended up transcribing 10,000 words.
Things always went really smoothly between Warren and me. He was always friendly, responded to my emails right away and had a very open schedule this semester, so making plans was always easy. Meeting with Warren never presented me with problems or very many obstacles. What made me nervous was writing the story itself, for two reasons. First, the War: Through Their Eyes projects have always been prominent stories on campus, and always created with a high level of talent and expertise from everyone involved. Speaking with Warren was both eye-opening and enjoyable. I learned a lot about the Iraq war in general and a lot about Warren as a person. But how could I condense all of that information into 2,000 words? And how could I do that well? Second, I was worried about what Warren would think about the final story. I collected his thoughts, feelings, experiences, views and anecdotes through our conversations. I dissected them, asked him to elaborate on them and strung them together in a 2,000 word essay. I felt he shared something very valuable with me and it was my duty, both as a journalist and a person, to take care of it. I couldn’t disappoint him.
The beginning and the end of the story were easy. He told me a story about one of the first times the war felt real to him. He told it with great emotion and description and I knew right away that that was the story I was going to begin with. He also told me about his reunions with his company. They hike up a mountain together carrying big, white rocks to leave at the top. The rocks are a symbol of the burdens they carry, and leaving them at the top of the mountain. This was what I wanted to end my story with. But the middle was what was tough. He told me so many great stories, I didn’t want to exclude any of them. He also told me a lot of pertinent information that is key to understanding his stories and the parts of the war he was in. I couldn’t exclude those either. But, in the end, I think I preserved the most important facts and some really good anecdotes.
It turns out that my advisor was right -- it has been a hard, sometimes stressful, project. But looking back at everything I gained from taking this class, I know it was worth it.