Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Then and Now

Fall is a time for reflection. I wonder who you were five or three years ago. Or ten. What did you believe in? What do you believe in now? What did you hope for then, and now? What were you afraid of? What scares you now? How have you changed and grown?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Our Memorial

I wrote this at a retreat called Soldiers Heart, based off the the book War & the Soul. I had been thinking a lot about war memorials and what they really mean and how they might represent certain things in war and also leave out so much of the truth of the experiences. At the retreat I realized even more that a lot of vets don't have wars that are as simple as Iraq or Vietnam or Korea or WWII, and many of our wars continue in other ways and the way that we were used or have been affected in terms of trauma may not have even happened in a war zone. I call it Our Memorial and I wrote it to remember the civilians at Soldiers Heart that really listened to our stories and helped carry some of the weight, and for the other vets that shared their stories.

Our Memorial

What will our memorial look like?

What will our memorial look like?

When our memories have faded. When our memories are gone.

Will it be stone cold and full of regret?

Slabs of granite jutting up from mother earth?

What will our memorial look like?

What will our memorial look like?

When our memories are gone. Society left them with us, to die.

Will it have a fountain and some names? A fountain and some names?

What will our memorial look like?

Maybe it will be on the mall in DC and it will be an abyss. It will be an abyss.

It will suck you in and you can never leave. It will suck you in and you can never leave.

Collective memories gone but the nightmares remain. Stone cold memories and living nightmares.

What will it look like?

Maybe it will be a set of speakers, that play only at night. Playing only at night.

Playing screams in the night. Earth shattering screams that only you can hear.

What will our memorial look like? What will our memorial look like?

Maybe it will be a sculpture of a mother or a wife.

Maybe it will be a sculpture of a mother or a wife. Looking out of a window with two men walking towards her door.

With two men walking towards her door.

What will our memorial look like?

What will our memorial look like?

When these memories are gone. When these memories are gone.

Maybe it will be a stack of lies. A stack of bold faced lies.

In the shadows of your humble and courageous truth.

Maybe it will be a set of eyes and shoulders and the f---ing people will walk by and wonder what does this mean.

But we know what this is for. We know what it is for.

Maybe it will be a Vietnam Vet who gives hugs.

Who gives the best f---ing forgiving and strong hugs and even though he hasn't forgiven himself this single hug makes me.

Makes me.

Makes you.

Makes us.

Finally feel like this s--t is for real. That this s--t is for real.

What will our memorial look like? What will it be?

Maybe it will be a bible with Jesus holding it blowing off the dust gathered from our bombs.

Maybe it will be a bunch of DD214's. Or divorce papers.

Maybe it will be a children's choir singing In Flanders Fields.

Maybe it will be an open casket covered with an American flag that you can sit in.

Maybe it will be a little girl telling you it is okay, that she is with you and loves you. Maybe.

Maybe it will be a Marine yelling with no sound. No sound.

Maybe it will be a good soldier telling you he didn't do anything.

Maybe it will be a wife that always sticks by your side.

Maybe it will be a saxophone outside of a prison.

Maybe it will be a port-a-potty that you can go sit in. Or a rifle dragged in the sand.

Maybe it will be a five-ton, full of cocaine, at the bottom of the river. Or a little girl thanking you.

Maybe it will be a hologram, and when s--t affects you people see you but otherwise you are gone.

Maybe it will be a bandana that you put on like you're putting on your blues, class A's, like it finally means something to you.

Maybe it will be a daughter.

A son.

With PTSD.

What will our memorial look like?

What will our memorial look like?

I hope it isn't for a war. I hope it is for a warrior.

I hope it isn't only for loss. I hope it for what you can find.

I hope it isn't cold and lifeless. I hope it is real. I hope it is warm.

I hope it isn't for lies. I hope the contents are our collective truths.

I hope it isn't just another memorial. I hope it is an altar. A living, changing, transformational, altar.

What will our memorial look like? What will it look like?

When our memories are gone.

When our memories are gone.

Maybe it will be a calm lake with a warrior on a horse coming out and the warrior has painted blue hail stones across his chest and lighting across his face. A stone tied behind his ear with red hawk feathers tied into his hair.

And instead. Instead of his people following him out of the water to pull him down there are politicians and majors and generals chasing him to hide the truth and then you. All of you beautiful people carrying our weight are encircling the warrior, protecting the warrior, watching the warrior, and praying for and with the warrior.

When our memories are gone.

When our memories are gone.

Maybe our memorial will look like you. Like you who finally listened.

When our memories are gone.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Paradelle of the Haunted

I rode my shabby bike down empty streets

I rode my shabby bike down empty streets

To fly my flag on Veteran's day, no war

To fly my flag on Veteran's day, no war

No flag to fly my bike, war down on streets

My shabby Veteran's day, empty I rode.

Wet, drops and drizzle, soaked through spanish-moss

Wet, drops and drizzle, soaked through spanish-moss

The sky is filled with gloom, grey faces too

The sky is filled with gloom, grey faces too

Drizzle through, spanish-moss is filled and soaked

The sky drops grey faces, wet too with gloom

Uniforms walk in park, soldiers, brothers

Uniforms walk in park, soldiers, brothers

Unit flags with battle streamers jingle

Unit flags with battle streamers jingle

Unit flags jingle, streamers, walk in park

Soldiers battle brothers in uniforms

Soaked soldiers faces, fly, my grey bike

Spanish-moss drops down to empty park streets

Unit in uniform walk through drizzle

The sky is filled with flags, my shabby flag too

Brothers, I rode wet with battle and gloom

On Veteran's day no war streamers jingle.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Exerpt from: A War On Drugs; A soldiers account of addiction in the military

( I cut and paste this from a word doc and lost some formatting items such as italics and indents.
Chapter one: Iraq and Hard Place

The 12-foot tall angel held me flat, face down over the ledge of a skyscraper and told me not to fear. A black, feathered span sprawled from behind his flowing robes. Down below, people were doing the thing I feared the most, living.
I woke up and laid there for a moment staring a hundred yards through the ceiling. I wondered where I was and what had happened to the skyscraper as a woman in white walked through the door. Her footsteps, crisp like unexpected gunfire on an otherwise quiet drive through Baghdad, dominated my thoughts. Every other noise, even the beep-beep of whatever machine I was on, became the grumbling hum of an idle diesel engine.
The dark angel had been replaced by a woman in white but I was still afraid.
There was no force-field holding me in place, but my body felt heavier than a palette of sandbags. My eyes, the only thing I had the power to move, followed her as she circled to the foot of the bed. Helpless, I couldn’t even speak to ask her where I was or what was going on. So I watched her as she put her hands between my legs.

“Am I awake,” I thought to myself. “This is a pretty decent dream; she must be getting ready to give me a sponge bath or something.”

“…Like a Band-Aid….” her voice broke through the hum.

“O, Yeah, Baaaaaby,” I screamed, as the nurse pulled the catheter out.

My torso shot upward in the bed. For a moment I was definitely awake. I’m sure it should have hurt but the sensation between my legs felt more like Thorazine than pain.
As the adrenaline faded so did reality. I heard a beep-beep off on the horizon somewhere. No more gun shots, thank God, just the comforting hum of my truck. Alice, my truck, was interrupted when someone called my name over the radio; something about reporting to the front of the convoy.

“Where the hell’s the radio?”

“Say again, Over” I spoke into thin air.

“They just called you to the front desk,” replied a disembodied female voice from the vicinity of a nearby mosque. The beeping stopped and I was on a hospital bed again. She had turned off the machines.

“You better hurry, and sign out if you want to go home,” she said, not turning her attention from the storage of cables and cords.

“Home?” I thought “Huh?”

The smell of shit and diesel filled my nostrils as I stumbled from the hospital bed onto the stairs that led down to the flight line. I dragged my feet across the cold tile of the runway and lugged an M-16, two duffel bags, and a rucksack toward the check out desk.

“Iraq? This isn’t a tent. If I were in Iraq this would be a tent. Where‘s my truck and my rifle. I swear to God I was just holding my rifle.”

My wife was waiting at the front desk, looking down, shoulders low; holding what articles of my clothing hadn’t been kept as evidence. She wrapped her arms tight around me, hugged me, and held me with a strength I had never felt her use before.
Time stood still until for a moment until noticed a growing damp spot on the shoulder of my hospital gown. When I realized she was crying the hospital’s drugs turned to water in my bloodstream and Iraq blinked off the map, out of my mind.
No amount of delusion, denial, or dope could hide the reality that my wife was in pain. The worst part- I didn’t know why or what to do about it.
She was obviously worried about me because I was in the hospital, but that’s all I could figure out. I wanted to reassure her, but I couldn’t even remember how or when I wound up in the hospital. I had the sense that whatever happened, it had been my own hand that placed me there. Somehow my pain had become her pain. Then, even the Thorazine couldn’t ease the pain I felt when I snapped back to the reality that my wife was crying because of me.
I wasn’t in Iraq. I wasn’t at home. I knew where I wasn’t but I couldn’t figure out where I was. There was only her and me, her tears, our pain.

“You’ll need to sign this,” the nurse interrupted the moment.

“If this is about what I said to that other nurse, I’m sorry. Did you hear that out here? I wasn’t trying to be rude.”

My wife let out a chuckle and lifted my heart as she smiled through her tears.
“So I guess you heard me,” I smiled back at her.

“Everyone on the floor heard it,” the nurse interrupted again to hand me a pen. “Just sign it.”

As I put the pen to paper I noticed horizontal lines of irritated skin across my wrists and lateral scratches up my forearms.

“No stitches. I guess that’s good.” I smiled. “What kind of drugs do they have me on? They’re good too.”

When I looked up I was on the road again. The evening sun was in my eyes so I couldn’t see the truck in front of me. Our security escort wasn’t doing their job because there were civilians all over the road.

“What an odd convoy. What the hell am I doing in the Cavalier with my wife driving down highway 190?”

“They found you in a field near the college,” her voice was coming to me long distance from the United States. “It took five cops to...”

“Uh, oh,” I interrupted. “Am I in Iraq?”

“No, you’re on your way home. Were you trying to kill yourself?”

I guess it felt like a homecoming. When I walked into the house there was a sense that I had been there before and I had been gone for a long time, but I wasn’t sure if I was home. The living room seemed unfamiliar, corners stretched out for miles and all the furniture in the room was mammoth. A 3 foot tall squirrel scampered into the night from the patio in my periphery as I stared into the corner of the room.

“Am I home?”

“Home,” I thought as I laid on the couch and proportion returned to me.

“So, five cops, to do what?”

“To bring you into the hospital. When you didn‘t come home or call I got worried so I called the jails and the hospitals and they said there was a John Doe that sounded like you and he was talking about angels and Iraq and he was gonna die if they couldn’t figure out what he was on ,” she took a breath. “They thought you were on PCP or something. They had to put those zippy things on you because you kept scratching your arms when they cuffed you.”

“Did you call the jails or the hospitals first?”

“Jails, I thought maybe you were in trouble again.”

“How long was I in there?”

“Three days.”

“And how long have I been back?”

“We walked through the door five minutes ago.”

“From Iraq?”

“Honey,” She looked down. “You’ve been back for more than seven months.”

“Stop walking around so fast. You’re making me dizzy.”

“Am I back?” I asked myself. “I didn’t try to kill myself. Did I? Should I go to rehab? NO, he’s still in Iraq and I can go back and get him.”

I was not home. I was stuck somewhere between Iraq and a hard place, the hard place being rehab. If I chose to get away from the drugs by going to back to Iraq I would get pats on the back, handshakes and hugs for it. Of course, I’d get paid too. If I chose the hard place I’d have to face the shame of rehab and the fact that I had tried to kill myself. After all the things I had done I didn‘t develop a sense of shame until faced with the prospect of rehab.

Seven months prior I had been semi-sober. I returned from Iraq and expected what chaplains call the “Homecoming, Honeymoon phase.” Instead I went through a hibernation phase and slept for 3 months. There were no dinners out, shopping sprees, barbeques, vacation trips, parties or shame. I didn’t even leave the house to get groceries.

“It’s like living with a ghost,” she complained “You’re here but you’re not. I can’t get any rest when you’re in the bed. You kick and scream in your sleep.”

She had plenty of complaints and I had matching excuses. Every day, we raised our voices above the decibel necessary to communicate in our cramped one-bedroom apartment. She wound up in the living room and I in the bedroom, or vice-versa, before the point of yelling. We fought passive battles. We sulked.

When the money that was supposed to be used on vacations and parties dried up, I had to come out from under the covers and find work.

The National Guard is sort of like being a whore you’re only getting paid when you’re getting screwed.

I bounced from one shitty job to another for a couple of months. I’d get fired shortly after anyone with an opinion lit my fuse or quit when the month’s bills were paid early. I looked for night shift work that silently replied to my wife’s “restless sleep” complaints. I looked for overtime so that I wouldn’t have to go home. Something was wrong with me, but I didn’t know what.

In Iraq, Military shrinks had convinced me that medication was the solution for my problems, but they hadn’t been able to figure out which one was right for me. Weed served the same purpose as the sleeping pills I had in Iraq. Hold on, the sleeping pills, Iraq and a hard place the first time…

“Wake up.” a voice sounded off. “Grab your shit, time to go.”

“Uhggg,” I couldn’t speak.

“Grab. Your. Shit. Time to go. Bali-Bali”

The smell of foot and ass burned my sinuses and punched my gag reflex like a speed bag. I tried in vain to open my eyes. A couple hundred milligrams of Diphenhydramine weighed down my eyelids and 18 hours worth of eye gunk glued them shut. Something was happening. The sound of the plane’s engines had been replaced with the sound of 200 bodies hustling and bustling. Near the front of the cabin, a broken record played.

“Grab your shit. Move it.”

“Am I awake,” I thought unflinchingly. “Where am I?”

“Grab. Your. Shit.”

We had arrived, but I couldn’t remember where we were going. And then, as if by the force of some asshole, I was lifted from my chair. My eyes shot open to the sight of the same sergeant who had told me that taking sleeping pills during the flight would make me feel refreshed when we got there.

Foot and ass, very refreshing indeed.

“Grab your shit,” from the front of the plane again. “We’re leaving.”

I twisted my neck and pressed the side of my face against the chair in front of me to look on the floor for my boots. I made an attempt at tying all four at once before realizing that there should only have been two. I tucked in the laces and reached through the entrails of the plane, which had become a living, breathing thing. My carry-on fell from the overhead compartment as I reached for it, striking someone on the back. After accidentally assaulting a few people with my bag and nearly knocking myself out I patted myself down to make sure I had everything.

“I’m forgetting something.”

The guts of the plane began to single file out onto the tarmac through a wound near the front.

“Fuck, what am I forgetting?”

Before I could figure out what I had lost I found myself being pushed and pulled toward the hemorrhage. I will always remember getting off the plane in Kuwait and that step into my first taste of that nauseating atmospheric cocktail of Middle Eastern shit and diesel. Immediately, I longed for a foot and ass air-freshener. A hour long bus-ride and 4 hours of briefings later my eyelids still weighed about 50 milligrams more than they should have and I still hadn’t figured out what I had forgotten on the plane. We weren’t even halfway done with the briefings when people stopped paying attention and started to fall asleep. I hadn’t been paying attention at all. I was missing something and I knew it was important.

“Be sure to point the weapon into the clearing barrel for all steps,” said the solider giving the video brief on the big screen at the front of the tent. “Remove the magazine from the rifle. Place weapon on “safe”. Lock the bolt to the rear.”

“That’s funny. Wait, that’s not funny.”

“Visually inspect the chamber and remove any ammunition”

“Where is it?”

I couldn’t do anything past put the weapon in a clearing barrel and remove the magazine without a bolt in my weapon so I started looking around the tent for someone who might be sympathetic.

“Yeah these guys are all jerks, I’m screwed.”

From the moment I stepped off the plane I was wrong. I would spend the rest of the deployment dodging assholes and kissing ass for that. It took them two weeks to machine a new bolt, but at least there was no statement of charges. The same asshole who had told me to dope up on sleeping pills was the sergeant who told me to take the bolt out and put it in my pocket.
They blamed him because we weren’t actually supposed to put them in our pockets. but I blamed the sleeping pills for making me groggy. In my mind I swore I would never take sleeping pills again.
This was the first promise to myself concerning drugs I would break.

Despite being 18, getting married before I went to Iraq seemed to be the thing to do. I had been dating my wife for three years before I joined. I knew that I wanted to marry her eventually. I wanted her to get medical benefits while I was deployed and I wanted the extra BAH (basic allowance for housing) money, so it was as good a time as any.

I never thought about ending our marriage though. It was a fairy-tale compared to what some Joes in my unit had been through. One guy married a stripper that he met three days before we got on the plane. When he couldn’t get a hold of her, and his family back home couldn’t find his car, he punched the Sergeant Major. I didn’t have a car for my wife to steal but that didn’t make me immune to issues on the home-front. A month into the deployment my wife found out she was pregnant, and then tried to kill herself. I found out about it two months later from my mother, who had been admitted to a mental hospital again.
“You’re a liar mom, your fucking crazy,” I heard her crying as I hung up.

I felt like a traitor who had been betrayed when I found out my crazy mother was the only one willing to tell the me truth. My family said that they were trying to protect me from the stress by not telling me about my wife’s suicide attempt. I think the fact that my whole family had kept it from me was more worrisome. The unit wouldn’t let me go back to assess the situation on the home front because I didn’t find out about it until after the fact. Everyone I tried to talk to just sort of told me to suck it up. I started talking to myself, the only person who seemed to care.

“They’re conspiring. My family, the unit, the Red Cross.”

“No, that’s crazy. Why would those people single you out?”

“Not those people then, the world?”

“Yes. The world then. All of them, the whole lot.”

More often than not these conversations took place in the porta-jons, the only private place any soldier has in all of Iraq. While all the other Joes were taking spank mags to the shitter to beat their meat, I was taking my alter ego to thwart the plans of would be conspirators. After a long argument with myself I always came to some sort of agreement.
When my dad died a few months later, I was certain fate had it in for me and I had to take control. I convinced myself that I had the power to will people to do my bidding. There is plenty of anger in the ranks of a deployed unit at high mission tempos so I used it to affirm my delusions of grandeur. Getting people to fight was the easiest way to assure myself that I had control over something. Even if I lost the fight, getting someone to act in a predictable manner by engaging me was enough. Whether by superpowers, silver tongue or just dumb-luck, every time I got into a fight the other guy to get in trouble instead of me. This further concreted the belief that I had the power to control people. The command let me of because I entered their psyche.
Though I didn’t realize it, my sanity was slipping. Somehow I managed to stay out of trouble until it was almost completely gone.

It was hour thirty-six of some shitty convoy mission, a worthless hunk of metal sat on the back of my truck, on its way from some hole in the sand to some shit-hole. My eyelids were so heavy that if I had a stapler I might have tried stapling them open. I had fallen asleep at the wheel twice on this mission. I shouldn’t have been behind the wheel but the sorry excuse for a sergeant that was my assistant driver had bribed me with two cartons of Hajji-smokes to keep at it. It didn’t matter that Hajji-smokes were only $5 a carton or that they tasted like horse shit. The asshole wasn’t going to take the wheel whether I took the bribe or not. He hadn’t driven more than 5 miles during the months that we had been in country, at least this way I was getting 10 bucks out of his lazy ass.

I could see the gates of the camp where we would be racking out for the night. Up ahead the convoy had stopped again for some reason. It should have been a 4 hour drive; we should have been inside the wire the day before. We had spent half the day standing around on the side of the road waiting for EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) to clear the roads. Over the course of countless wait and bakes, the heat from the asphalt had melted half an inch or so off of the bottom of my boots. Between the mortars the night before and waiting to get shot at through the heat of the day, my soul was wearing thin as well. The sun had gone down; I was ready to do the same. I took my Kevlar helmet off to lighten the load.

“What are you doing?” sergeant asshole sounded off.

“Taking a break, the gate’s right there.”

“Put your k-pod back or I’m going to write you up when we get back.”

“Give me a sec.” I replied, rubbing the back of my neck.

“Why me?” I silently asked the roof of my truck as I looked up, and let out a sigh.

“If you don’t put it back on right now…,” his voice faded to a ringing in my head.

As I considered slapping that silly little, out of regulation mustache off his face, it hit me. A blast of sweet surrender hit me like the concussion of some distant explosion and a gentle breeze, all at the same time. This is the moment I stopped caring, I quit trying, and I gave up control. Fuck it all. I became an addict.
If I could have slapped him upside the head I would have, but it would have been physically impossible to even touch the man from across the cluttered cab of the truck. I poured every ounce of whatever had kept me going into my Kevlar. What was left of my soul flew towards the windshield. When the helmet didn’t quite get through, I did my best to put my fist through the shattered safety glass, but I didn‘t have enough left. Infuriated at the unbreakable windshield, I blacked out.

According to reports while my mind got some much need R&R (rest and relaxation), the rest of my person pointed a weapon at that punk-ass sergeant and threatened to drive the truck into a ditch.

“Record of Proceedings under Article 15, UCMJ (Uniformed Code of Military Justice)”
Omissions italicized.

“I am considering whether you should be punished under Article 15, UCMJ, for the following misconduct:
In that you , having received a lawful order, from SGT Asshole, a noncommissioned officer, then known to you to be a noncommissioned officer, to put your Kevlar on, an order which it was your duty to obey, did at or near Hole in the Sand, Iraq on or about your first deployment willfully disobey the same.”

“In that you, did, at or near Hole in the Sand b, Iraq, on or about your first deployment, without proper authority destroy by slamming your Kevlar against the front windshield of your truck, military property of the United States, of a value of about an eight ball of coke. This is in violation of Article 108, UCMJ.”

“In that you, did, at or near Hole in the Sand, Iraq, on or about your first deployment, without proper authority, willfully destroy by punching the front windshield of your truck with your right fist, military property of the United States, of a value of about an eight ball of coke. This is in violation of Article 108, UCMJ”

(In my account, this is where I blacked out …)

“In that you, did, at or near Hole in the Sand b, Iraq, on or about your first deployment, commit an assault upon SGT. Asshole by pointing a t him with a dangerous weapon, a means likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm, to wit: M16A2 Rifle. This is in violation of Article 128, UCMJ.”

In addition to paying for the windshield, I got two days of extra duty, during which I built a gazebo in the company area. I am still proud of that gazebo more than anything else I did on that deployment. I also got a ticket to the shrink. I counted my blessings that I didn’t get a ticket out of the military on a dishonorable discharge.

It must be hard for the military to find people crazy or dumb enough to drive over explosives all day.

The doc gave me some pills and put me back on convoy as soon as my extra duty was over. The pills gave me the shits and made me feel suicidal.
I didn’t want to go back to the shrink. I didn’t even want to deal with the flak everyone was giving me about having to see the shrink in the first place. I didn’t want to wig out or get in trouble again so I stopped taking their meds and started taking sleeping pills throughout the day to take the edge off. I didn’t point my weapon at anyone else.
I didn’t start anymore fights. I didn’t talk back.
I barely had the strength to talk to myself anymore.

I’m sure supervised medication would have been better. Who would have supervised?
The docs who were so eager to throw pills in my mouth and put a rifle back in my hands or the sergeants who laughed at my wife’s suicide attempt?

By the end of the deployment I was taking triple doses of sleeping pills through my waking hours.

Despite all that had happened, I didn’t want to go home when the deployment came to an end. I was frightened to find out how much had changed while I was away. How could I go back? Why was I feeling this way? When I wasn’t on sleeping pills, I loathed myself for being the only one who didn’t want to go home. As we washed trucks and inventoried equipment in the final two weeks before our homecoming, I found myself between Iraq. I deeply considered suicide as an alternative to staying there or going home.

“I’ll kill myself just before we go home, that’ll throw them for a loop.” I thought. “I’ll find a couple rounds, and as we’re cleaning rifles I’ll put mine on three round burst, look down the barrel and fix everything.”

This was the first time I found myself between Iraq and a hard place. I chose the hard place, home, over killing myself and staying in Iraq forever. My name is Specialist Sign on This Line, and I’m an addict.

Fort Hood writing workshop

It was a sunny Wednesday afternoon as we gathered ourselves, some hesitantly, some eagerly, around a couple tables in the falling leaves of Killeen, TX in the parking lot of Under the Hood CafĂ©. Fort Hood soldiers, Iraq veterans, a “military brat,” a Vietnam vet, a military wife, and hope gathered on Veterans Day to write. We introduced ourselves as writers, some hiding novels in their drawers, some only writing for school, some trying to avoid the pen like the plague, yet here we were. We shared, we listened, we created. We asked ourselves what Veterans Day has meant to us in the past and what it means now. We engaged in honest reflection about Veterans Day, how we saw it as children, how society celebrates it, how we often mourn and detest it. We gave ourselves time and space to begin learning how to express and articulate experiences, emotions and hopes. One veteran came bursting with a story of how his heart, his emotions, his breath suddenly shook him in the middle of class, forcing him to flee the room in search of water and relaxation. He jumped in his car, sped over to us and lay down his heart. We welcomed him with genuine ears and understanding eyes. We know these stories well, we shared similar memories. We encouraged each other to speak, we waited patiently to listen, we embraced with accepting arms. We are building a community of articulation and expression based on trust and truth.

two writing workshop excerpts by Mike Kern, Iraq Veteran

Not knowing what war is and what the real purpose we are over there for has a lot of psychological effects on people returning from their “jobs” overseas. Imagine fighting a non-uniformed combatant civilian some of the time with no military training whatsoever, in their own country, a country that you were not invited to, a place where you are not visiting on your own accord. I see it the same as genocide, the same thing that the United States was fighting against in WWII. But now the nation that was trying to fight this act is committing it in other countries where the local population obviously doesn’t want us there. We’re destroying people’s lives, and in a lot of cases ending their lives. The United States is moving into a foreign country, occupying their surroundings and enforcing “rule” on these people that have little to no interactions with the way the Unites States does things. Coming back from actions like this and trying to get on with your life is pretty much impossible for veterans.

I don’t want to be a veteran
Friday evening formation - the formation where the chain of command tells you about the upcoming events of the week. First off the normal, “don’t drink and drive, don’t beat your wife and room inspections will be happening first thing Monday morning after mandatory urinalyses.” Also, they mention Veterans Day is coming up. I feel like I die a little bit inside. As the commander is talking, I think back to when I was younger and what Veterans Day meant to me. I wanted to be a veteran, I wanted to be thanked and have a whole day to myself for the sacrifices I have given this country. Back to formation - I wish I didn’t have to see anyone on Veterans Day. I wish it didn’t exist. I don’t want to be thanked for what the United States thinks I did over there. I don’t want a day like this to happen. In anything besides a war setting I would be in jail for what I did over there, probably awaiting the death sentence. So why should you thank me for the lives I took, for the things I stole, for the families I have destroyed. Last thing, make sure you thank a veteran for the joy he took in all of these actions when over there.

In My Skin, and then I'm Not

I don't normally feel comfortable with poetry, but with family... Thanks to everyone who showed up at UTH.

They're talking again,
about flags and coffins
contracts and coffers,
and I'm angry,

In my skin,
and then, I'm not,

I'm driving again,
At day end music playin
In the ground they're layin,
and I'm crying,

In my skin,
and then, I'm not,

Calm collected again,
As I pull into the place
Pipes play "Amazing Grace",
Back to pieces,

In my skin,
and then, I'm not,

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fort Hood workshop excerpt

Writing from the workshop by Aaron Hughes

Veterans Day is Armistice Day in other nations, right?
or is that Memorial Day
one two days a year veterans and war may be thought about
not mourned
red white blue band and kids candy
big roaring motor bike bbq
what for
a parade to mourn
where is the mourning
did we all forget to mourn the loss
the pain the destruction
where is all the mourning
and for what is all this for
a march
a celebration
we are proud and strong and powerful
I am vulnerable
I am vulnerable
I am human just human
weak and strong and aware that I am just human
just vulnerable
can Veterans Day
my day
our day
be a memory of our fear
our death
our vulnerability and waiting to die
waiting for road side bomb
and massive explosion
destruction and reconstruction
roadside bomb
radical vulnerability
in fall in sun-setting evening
and fall
leaves death and moving time to all our deaths
I am vulnerable human and proud

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Warrior Writers is going to Fort Hood (on Veterans Day)

Friends, Family,
It is with a sigh that I reach out to you. And with friendship, with strength, with Love, with hope. We had been planning to go to Fort Hood for Veterans Day for a few months. Now, we go in a new light, things have changed. Yet at the same time, this is one of many situations like it. We know too well the violence and pain of surviving times like these. Our intentions our deep, our hope, growing. We are going to heal, to listen, to build, to support. To stand by, to depend upon. To be there. While the world around us spins around in violence, in greed, in destruction, - we build. we create. we grow. please join us.

We will be writing letters from Fort Hood.
Please send us letters to Fort Hood.

Warrior Writers
c/o Under the Hood
17 S. College St.
Killeen, TX 76541

Sunday, November 1, 2009

the storms that shine

A commercial for a red scarf reminds me of the girl in the red dress from the movie Schindler's List. Sometimes I see a different girl, a woman grow but a girl, confused, as we all are at times. A red scarf, a red hat, black trench coat, dark eyes, dark hair. Maybe everything is black and white, except for the red scarf and hat, with the same significance of the girl in the red dress, in a different context.
I love red nail polish. I love all the shades of red for fingernails. I dated a male once who wouldn't let me wear red nail polish; he claimed you couldn't trust a woman with red fingernails.
Maybe you can't. I don't think the red fingernails is the indicator, though. Not the real indicator, at least.
When there are tornadoes, there is pink in the sky. Pink is like a red that has been faded with a white wash. Tom Sawyer... white washed fence. Tricks.
Fall weather is blustery, it blows you indoors and when outdoors, whips your hair, whips your piercings, gusts and billows, and draws you in so deep. It draws me in. I don't know if I can talk about the storms I've weathered; I'm often not sure they are through. Life is one large storm, with multiple eyes, and sometimes we just fall in the middle of one of those eyes.
I've been to Iraq, I've been married, I've had a child... I've lost weight, I've gained weight, I've had bad hair cuts, I've had good... I've had religion, I've had faith, I've had spirituality...
I'm just not sure anymore. I'm peaceful about the uncertainty, though.
I've posted up in an eye.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Workshop in Killeen, TX on Veteran's Day

Veterans Day Veterans Speak
Veterans Day November 11, 2009
GI and Veteran Writing Workshop 4 – 7PM
Open mic and fundraiser 8 – 10PM

November 12, 2009
Extended writing workshop and training 4 – 8PM

At Under the Hood: 17 S. College st. Killeen, TX 76541

Come out to a writing workshop with Warrior Writers Project
The Warrior Writers Project brings together recent veterans and current service members to be in creative community and utilize art-making processes to express themselves. There is a deep necessity for veterans to create when so much has been shattered and stolen. A profound sense of hope comes from the ability to rebuild and transform. Our workshops and events utilize (but are not limited to) writing, drawing, photography, papermaking and music. We also compile artwork into books, performances and exhibits so civilians can begin to better understand veterans’ experiences.

Free to all GIs and Veterans

Thursday, October 15, 2009

a rainy evening in West Philly

Hey friends,

The season is changing, seasons change
we change, it gets colder, we move inward
where do we go? how do we get there?
how does the weather, the world outside affect us?
boxing us in, drawing us out, smiling, frustrated
tell me, what storms you have survived
tell me, how have you survived?

I'm so glad you're/we're writing together. As I write this our friends are in the other room. Chantelle is painting her first canvas, Toby showed her the ropes. Jose made a hand turkey. We're preparing a package for Kelly and Jay. Steve and Frank are enjoying the company, though they may or may not admit it. Sending packages to friends is a beautiful thing...

Love you all,

Friday, October 9, 2009

This morning on the Radio...

I had two predominant feelings about the news this morning that President Obama had received the Noble Peace Prize: Pride and frustration.
First and foremost, I have to let you know that I very much support President Obama. His election was truly an historical event, and my generation will likely not see something this monumental during our lifetimes again.
So throughout my day, I listened to MPR, and was able to get a bit more insight into the reasoning behind Mr. Obama’s nomination with such a massive honor and privilege. The reasons given were Mr. Obama’s work regarding nuclear disarmament, his attempts at reconciling the East with the Wast, namely by reaching out to the Islamic world, howbeit as small as his Cairo speech might have been regarding mending those delicate and torn relations, it was a step in the right direction none the less.
It was also pointed out that Mr. Obama’s election to the American Presidency was seen around the world as a step by the America in finally righting some of its horrendous historical and social injustices regarding racism and slavery.
On these grounds, I would indeed have to agree, and for these reasons I am proud at what our current President has been able to do within his first eleven months in office. So yes, President Obama has indeed made great strides regarding these issues, and for that, I think we all should be grateful.
There is, however, the darker side to this current administration, and that is the fact that so many of the harmful and brutal missteps of the last administration still have to be corrected.
We are making our way slowly out of Iraq it would seem, but what type of presence will we leave there, since there is only a withdrawal of “combat troops”?.
We have floundered in Afghanistan for the past eight years, and the Obama Administration is attempting to find the best course of action to take, which at the moment seems to be a course that will narrow the U.S. Military’s role and objective there, which is promising. I can understand the Obama Administrations desire to take it slow when it comes to big changes in Afghanistan, the results of Mr. Obama’s choices regarding that country will not only effect the rest of his Administration and political career, but will also affect the American Military and safety for years and possibly generations to come.
And lest we forget, there is still the issue of Getmo and the continuation of Patriot Act articles.
So for now, I will continue to speak out, to write, and to pray for that elusive day when the wars will end and there are no more. Do I stand by the Obama Administration 100%? Heck no. but with that said, I will take pride in what I can from this administration while I remain engaged within the Peace Movement and continue to work for Peace and Justice, because after the last eight years, I will take whatever positive move I can from this country’s government that I can get.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I acted out a little

I'm telling you, I had been drinking a little bit, but I really didn't get too mad at the young E-5 Recruiter until he told me he had volunteered to be a recruiter. That's when I gave him the business. I asked him what his quota was and what his commission bonus was for sending young kids to their death. He stammered and named some numbers and then lied, several times, before admitting he gets a bonus. Then he told me he wasn't that bad cos he is just a national guard recruiter. So, I saw red. I told him, in no uncertain terms, that he was contributing to the illegal occupation of foreign soil, and that he had killed my friends who had died over there, and was killing more like them, all for a bonus. That he was killing children with his "oh so innocent" recruiting. I told him he was worse than the scum of the universe, that he was the armpit of the scum of the universe and had no idea what he was talking about. He was silent for a long while (basically the first 5 minutes of my outburst), then he told me "Oh, well, I guess you know everything, I can't argue with you," and I said "yeah you're right you can't" and walked away because I had a sneaking suspicion I was five seconds from getting violent. I found out after I walked away that he called me the c-word after I walked away, and then I found out he'd never been deployed.

I really dislike recruiters who have never been deployed.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Phone calls

It was nice talking to those of you I have gotten a hold of over the past few days. I'm sorry I'm so terribly awkward on the phone. I had three deployments while married, and being in Signal where we almost always had access meant that I spent a LOT of time on the phone with my ex husband. Anyway now I really hate to talk on the phone but I realize that is something I have to overcome if I plan on being an activist and having such great friends spread out across the country.

Thanks for coming to look at the blogspot and I hope you will contribute. If you are unable to make your own post and are only allowed to leave comments then let me know because there is a list of contributors that you have to be added to.

Again thanks for coming by and I hope that this group will be a spot that you look forward to visiting to share some experience with your brothers and sisters.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

recollecting a tour of duty from a swivel chair

i think about you all the time
imagining the dirt beneath my feet
the monsoon mud and midnight muck
the images on the video screen
the general in his office and
the major yelling from his chair

i think about you all the time
imagining the little bird, falling
the bodies burning and blood boiling
the seared vision of bodies in that van
eighteen, packed-in
i find it hard to speak

my mind grows a little weak
each time i see
the little bird burning
and the bodies
all the bodies
on that big, big, big video screen

i am here, and i was there, and i
watched everything from that
damned video screen
never able to help
anyone screamed

i think about you all the time
you're my country now, too and
a part of me just like my daughter
and my education and my

i think about you and i
do, miss you. your ancient cities and
societies and ways of life and love of
god, i think about you

and all the bodies.

Objects of Obsession

I got a phone call a couple weeks ago from my ex-husband. He said he just wanted to make amends and let me know that he had no more ill will towards me etc. I was touched by his phone call but couldn't help but think that he had ulterior motives.

Two days later I got a call from a county courthouse in FL they wanted to get my address so they could serve me some court documents. At that point, I knew it had something to do with my ex and his phone call.

The time period where I was waiting to find out what was going on was really stressful and reminded me of all the time I spent deployed and could do nothing about my marriage falling apart except just worry and speculate about what was happening in my absence.

Phone Call: Mistakes of Your Past

Worry is still of no use:
His weight presses into my chest.
The meaning is too obtuse,
I try to be at my best.

His weight presses into my chest,
I can feel the room closing in.
I try to be at my best.
How many years has it been?

I can feel the room closing in,
Yet now I am much stronger.
How many years has it been?
To forget would take much longer.

Yet now I am much stronger,
I won't go on that same ride.
To forget would take much longer.
I hold on fast to my pride.

I won't go on the same ride.
Worry is still of no use.
I hold on fast to my pride.
The meaning is too obtuse.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

An amazing residency in the Twin Cities

Hey all,
We had an incredible week at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. We cannot thank them and the community enough. Welcome to the new Warrior Writers and Combat Papermakers and the supportive community in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Soon, I will post pictures and hopefully even video. We even got a new webmaster out of the deal, thanks John!
Here is a piece I wrote on our borrowed typewriter on Thursday, our first morning with our new friends...

uniforms and girlhood pinks
tangle, intersect
we dissect our trauma
over scissors, poems
and wet paper
this is our history
and we are our futures
now woven together

So now, since I've kept you waiting on a new exercise (most of you haven't been writing anyway, tsk tsk) here we go with a new one. I'll give you only a topic.

Objects of obsession

now get to writing,

Friday, September 11, 2009

Up, down and around...

Congrats to everyone who posted (see Comments under my first post). These should appear on the blog, not as comments, so we're workin' out the kinks with that. Email us if you are trying to post on here for our agreements and a login.

Be patient with yourself. Also, be diligent about your art-making. Creativity is a muscle that must be used.

So, onto this week's writing exercise. I'll post on a specific day once I get internet access, bear with me.

Managing our emotions: up and down, frustrating and liberating, confusing and clear - wears us out. So today, your assignment is to paint a picture of where you've been, where your feelings have led you lately. What makes you angry? What makes you excited? What calms you? What scares you? What makes you smile?

Think of this as a tool to deal with these emotions. Knowing these answers can help you plan better to to take care of yourself during these times. Do so. Reach out when you need help. We're here.

In struggle,

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Our first exercise

Hey everyone,
Welcome to the Warrior Writers Blog! I am so excited to see what you all have to say! I will be posting/sending exercises every week, I'm not sure what day but just keep checking in.

As our summers wind down and we fall into autumn, let's take a minute to reflect on the travels and transitions we have been in lately. Travels and transition always shake us up a little bit. We see different things, people, places, we do different things and our habits are a little out of whack. Change is good, and more importantly, always necessary. Where have you traveled lately? What have your journeys taught you? What will you bring with you into your next chapter? What are you trying to learn? What changes have you been making in your life recently? What changes are you interested in making?

Of course, you can write whatever you want but start this off with a free write and just keep your pen moving for ten minutes. Do not pay attention to grammar, spelling, format, etc. – just write! It can take any form, a letter, a poem, a list, a play, a monologue, just write! If you want to go back and edit, do so, but just post it, and give yourself a timeline too, because we want to see what you have to say.

- Get that pen moving!