"I'm sorry I must leave, but I must do what is asked of me by my God, my Country, and my Corps.. and so, the war blog begins, again." ~B

31 October 2009

American Son

I stumbled onto Nick Cannon's indie film American Son recently. I am always a little skeptical about Iraq war films, as they tend to be politicized or just laughably bad. (Home of the Brave- I'm talking to you.) However, I was surprised by this one.

It was actually pretty good.

The story follows Mike, the main character, a boot Marine on leave before his first deployment to Iraq. He is about as green as he can be, an infantryman who just finished SOI. The film is an intimate look at the mix of emotions that is a young man's last trip home before heading to war. It shows the tension, the melancholy, essentially the shadow that hangs over such visits. Iraq is in the main character's head during everything he does. When he finally reveals to those he cares about that his deployment is emanate, you see how Iraq becomes a part of everyone around him.

The film shows Mike's internal journey, as his last hours at home count down. The film does a good job of showing the very personal journey each warrior must go through on these trips. You know each Marine is trying to fit as much life as possible into the next 96 hours. There are a million things he has always wanted to do, a million people to see one more time, a million conversations that need to be had, a million fears to push away, a million questions to answer. Does he rush a new relationship he doesn't have the luxury to develop slowly? Does he make peace with the family issues from his past that hang over him? Does he explain to his beloved little sister what is about to happen? Does he meet with the young, wounded, wreck of a Marine who lives near his new girl and longs for the camaraderie that was ripped away from him, when her family asks? Can he afford to put those images of the worst case scenario in his head?

The film shows the changes that happen in a Marine that are made evident for the first time when he rejoins his old crew. He is now a little more mature, a little more controlled, a little more somber. He sees his old life in a new light, and must reevaluate his friendships, and himself.

You go on this journey with Mike, gradually coming to realize with him that there simply isn't enough time to resolve all he needs to resolve. The world he left to become a Marine has changed while he was gone, and will continue changing when he leaves again, and he will be left even further behind. Mike, and the audience, must decide if this is a good or bad thing. Maybe it is a little of both.

I found the final 1o minutes particularly moving. He says goodbye to his family, convinces his mother for the first time that he will be alright, then attempts to reconcile with his stepfather as he comes to realize and give voice to the idea that he might not come out of it ok after all.

As his leave comes to an end, he packs up and prepares to say goodbye to his family. The film captures that awkward, heavy, aching moment where one has to choose what to say, when you are essentially saying goodbye. But there are a thousand things left unfinished, undone, and unsaid. The film ends on that uncertainty as Mike finishes his journey home, and begins a journey of a whole other kind.

Really my only complaint involves the special features. Why is it that so many people find the military so complicated, particularly people who make movies? They refer, on many occasions, to scenes on the "Army base," or to "Army guys," or "Army uniform." Specifically, when talking about a shot in the commentary, one of TPTB exclaim, "That's not really an Army base, that's a school." Hello! Your main character is a MARINE! Why would a MARINE be living on, and subsequently leaving an ARMY post?! Does that really make sense in your head!? You refer to the character being stationed at Camp Pendleton. I've been there. Camp Pendleton makes it easy. They put United States Marine Corps on the sign for you, just in case you forget what branch of the service you are dealing with. And how hard is it to hire a military technical advisor that can correct this ignorance? I know you had one, you showed him in the behind the scenes feature! If you can't find the advisor, can't you ask the family whose house you shot the film in who has a son in the Marines? I'm pretty sure they will tell you their son deploys from a Marine Corps base. That is my pet peeve. Stupid things that are easily corrected if the filmmakers were willing to put a little bit of effort into learning about the subject they are making a movie about.

I guess I find it hard to believe there are people in the world that are so disconnected from the military that such a mistake wouldn't seem unfathomable to them.

But other than that, pretty good movie. And they keep the politics out of it, which is such a difficult thing for Hollywood to do.

28 October 2009

Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway wrote to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1925:

...."war is the best subject of all. It groups the maximum of material and speeds up the action and brings out all sorts of stuff that normally you have to wait a lifetime to get."

24 October 2009

Soldiers Angels

Consider supporting Soldiers Angels. Deployed service personnel need all the support that they can get. I made this video and it reflects my experiences with the organization.


video

23 October 2009

Beirut Barracks Bombing

Today is the anniversary of the bombing of the Marine Corps Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon.

241 American service personnel were killed, 220 of which were Marines. The blasts led to the withdrawal of the international peacekeeping force from Lebanon, where they had been stationed following the Israeli 1982 Invasion of Lebanon.

A couple of years ago, I was at a campaign event where I met a Marine veteran. As the evening progressed, he began to open up about this time in the service and what his experiences were. Then he told me about his son. He told me about his love for motorcycles and how he followed his father's example and joined the Marine Corps as soon as he was able. The man told me about the deep pride he felt in his son, and about how he turned into such an honorable man. He told me about how his son's smile could light up a room. He told me about the many friends his son had all over the world. I asked if his son was still in the Marine Corps.

He stopped, and his eyes were overtaken by the kind of pain that could only mean one thing. This gruff man cleared his throat a couple of times and told me that his son was no longer with us. He had been killed in Beirut.

He told me the story about how his son's Marine buddies had dug through the rubble, trying to get him out. But it was futile, his son was already gone. He told me about the Marines who cared for his son's broken body until it was returned to him.

He told me that he still goes to see his son, every week, in the place where he is buried.

In honor and memory of this man, and this man's son, I remember the Marines killed in Beirut on this day, in 1983.

19 October 2009

The Good Soldiers

I read David Finkel's The Good Soldiers this weekend.

Finkel's coverage of Battalion 2-16 as they deployed and executed "the surge" strategy is remarkable. He writes with compassion as he captures the personalities of the 2-16. The Ranger Battalion lost 14 men KIA, with many more being wounded. Finkel uses the framework of presidential speeches to compare the macro and micro events in the time period he is with the soldiers of 2-16.

Finkel truly captures the brotherhood these soldiers have. He does not shy away from covering the mental aspect of warfare and how each of the soldiers responds to it differently. He covers PTSD and "survivor guilt" within the unit with honesty and without judgment. He manages to cover both the leadership and the enlisted men without a preference for either one.

Good book, but a tough read. These soldiers were in the thick of it, and have the stories to prove it.

18 October 2009

Getting My Feet Under Me

A week ago, Knapp had broken her long public silence with a statement on her website, saying that she had been "traveling mostly" during her time away from music. She wrote: "My experiences have been both wildly exotic and extraordinarily mundane. But mostly I will say that I have had a chance to get my feet under me. I took that time to discover more about myself and my own faith without the veil of expectations to a cause. Without writing a novel at this point, I'll just say that I'm starting to think that I might actually be a songwriter, musician, or artist of some kind … So, maybe I should do something about it?

One of my favorite music artists recently returned to the stage after a long time away. She spent several years pouring her heart and soul into this thing called the music industry, and then walked away. No one really knew where she went or why she disappeared. I was one who clung to the hope that one day, she might return.

With a statement on her website, she answered a few of the lingering questions. She put into words something that I have spent the last year doing. She describes it as "getting my feet under me." That is what I have been doing. I spent 4 years of high school and 4 years of college trying to do what everyone else expected of me. I worked harder than maybe I should have at that. I worked too many hours at a place that didn't appreciate it, and took what I would call challenging (others call insane) course load at the university. I succeeded at it too. Kicked academic butt.

I poured my soul into volunteer efforts that I felt were worthwhile. I gave up too much of myself until I hit empty. But I learned a lot about life.

I left college, degree with honors in hand, completely and totally spent. I had no idea who I was anymore, or what I wanted to do with myself. I worked a job that was everything I never want to be. I'm at a better place now, but not somewhere with the word career attached to it. I get tired of the questions, and the vaguely disappointed stares. I get tired of the accusation that I am not putting my "incredible potential" to good use.

It has taken me over a year to feel like I have any gas in the tank to give. I have spent that year trying to find myself. It has meant trips to southern California and campouts in the woods where I can just sit with nature and try to listen to myself for once. I am trying to rediscover the fire, the passion, and self confidence that used to define me and is still in there somewhere. I'm not sure when I lost it but I did.

It has meant deep conversations with close friends and mentors. It has meant questioning everything I have ever believed to be true. A lot of people have hung in there with me, but there are some voices I have learned I don't have to listen to anymore. It has meant discovering the voices that affirm me when my belief in myself wanes.

It has meant drudging up the buried, dark places, and holding them up to the light. There are many people who would claim that "our perfect Wendy" doesn't have any darkness. To you, I'd say maybe that says something about how well you know me. Can anyone who deals intimately with those who deal with the darkest of human darkness-war-ever come away unscathed? Can anyone who has seen the Church fail come away with their faith untarnished?

It has meant healing.

It is easy to put a smile on your face, make up some BS life plan, and say that you are fine. Truth is, I'm not quite done with my sabbatical yet. Given that I've never taken one in my life, I think it is justified. I'm at the point where I am "starting to think I might be a _____." I'm not there yet. But I'm getting there.

I will be at the "maybe I should start doing something about it" stage soon enough.

15 October 2009

Pfc. Steven, USMC

Congratulations to my cousin Steven on his completion of USMC Basic Combat Training. He has earned the title of Marine. Way to go Steven! We are proud of you!

"THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS... is over 225 years of romping, stomping, hell, death and destruction. The finest fighting machine the world has ever seen. We were born in a Bomb Crater, Our Mother was an M-16 & Our Father was the Devil. Each moment that I live is an additional threat upon your life. I am a rough looking, roving soldier of the sea. I am cocky, self-centered, overbearing, and do not know the meaning of fear, for I am fear itself. I am a green amphibious monster, made of blood and guts, who arose from the sea, feasting on anti-Americans throughout the globe. Whenever it may arise, and when my time comes, I will die a glorious death on the battlefield, giving my life for Mom, the Corps, and the American Flag. We stole the eagle from the Air Force, the anchor from the Navy, and the rope from the Army. On the 7th day, while God rested, we over-ran his perimeter and stole the globe, and we've been running the show ever since. We live like soldiers and talk like sailors and slap the Hell out of both of them. Marine by day, lover by night, drunkard by choice, MARINE BY GOD!!! OORAH!!!"

"Marines are about the most peculiar breed of human beings I have ever witnessed. They treat their service as if it were some kind of cult, plastering their emblem on almost everything they own, making themselves up to look like insane fanatics with haircuts ungentlemanly short, worshiping their Commandant almost as if he were a god, and making weird animal noises like a band of savages. They will fight like rabid dogs at the drop of a hat just for the sake of a little action and are the cockiest SOB's I have ever known. Most have the foulest mouths and drink well beyond a man's normal limits. But, their high spirits and sense of brotherhood set them apart and generally speaking the United States Marines I have come in contact with are the most professional soldiers and the finest men I have had the pleasure to meet." Anonymous Canadian Citizen 1969.

07 October 2009

Ford o' Kabul River

Ford o' Kabul River
BY
Joseph Rudyard Kipling



Kabul town's by Kabul river --
Blow the bugle, draw the sword --
There I lef' my mate for ever,
Wet an' drippin' by the ford.
Ford, ford, ford o' Kabul river,
Ford o' Kabul river in the dark!
There's the river up and brimmin', an' there's 'arf a squadron swimmin'
'Cross the ford o' Kabul river in the dark.

Kabul town's a blasted place --
Blow the bugle, draw the sword --
'Strewth I sha'n't forget 'is face
Wet an' drippin' by the ford!
Ford, ford, ford o' Kabul river,
Ford o' Kabul river in the dark!
Keep the crossing-stakes beside you, an' they will surely guide you
'Cross the ford o' Kabul river in the dark.

Kabul town is sun and dust --
Blow the bugle, draw the sword --
I'd ha' sooner drownded fust
'Stead of 'im beside the ford.
Ford, ford, ford o' Kabul river,
Ford o' Kabul river in the dark!
You can 'ear the 'orses threshin', you can 'ear the men a-splashin',
'Cross the ford o' Kabul river in the dark.

Kabul town was ours to take --
Blow the bugle, draw the sword --
I'd ha' left it for 'is sake --
'Im that left me by the ford.
Ford, ford, ford o' Kabul river,
Ford o' Kabul river in the dark!
It's none so bloomin' dry there; ain't you never comin' nigh there,
'Cross the ford o' Kabul river in the dark?

Kabul town'll go to hell --
Blow the bugle, draw the sword --
'Fore I see him 'live an' well --
'Im the best beside the ford.
Ford, ford, ford o' Kabul river,
Ford o' Kabul river in the dark!
Gawd 'elp 'em if they blunder, for their boots'll pull 'em under,
By the ford o' Kabul river in the dark.

Turn your 'orse from Kabul town --
Blow the bugle, draw the sword --
'Im an' 'arf my troop is down,
Down an' drownded by the ford.
Ford, ford, ford o' Kabul river,
Ford o' Kabul river in the dark!
There's the river low an' fallin', but it ain't no use o' callin'
'Cross the ford o' Kabul river in the dark.

01 October 2009

Historical Moments

I have been rereading Nathanial Fick's One Bullet Away this week.

His story is interesting due to its connections to HBO's documentary Generation Kill, as well as the Evan Wright book by the same name. It is interesting to hear his perspective on the portrayed events.

I specifically chose to reread it because of work I am doing with my alma mater's newly formed Office of Veteran's Affairs. Fick breaks his narrative into three parts: Peace, War, and Aftermath. It is the Aftermath that I was interested in rereading, as he relates his experience reentering academia after the Corps. As often happens though, another scene grabbed my attention.

On the last page of "Peace," Fick describes being in port, in Darwin, Australia on September 11, 2001. He and his fellow LTs learn about the attack in a bar, joining the crowd around a big-screen tv. This is the moment their world changed, and they knew it. He quotes one Lt: "Fellas, history just bent us over."

He then describes the scene, as thousands of Marines and Sailors flood the streets of Darwin, heading back to the docks and their ships. He describes an Australian couple who pull up to see if they need a ride, which he and his friends accept. They are dropped off at the pier, where the ships are lit by floodlights and armed sentries stood along the rails. The scene ends with the driver shaking their hands and remarking: "Guess you blokes are headed for war."

What an image. What an historical moment. What did the Australians think, watching all these young men and women streaming from the nightclubs and bars, suddenly sober and deadly serious? To be members of a foreign military, in a foreign port, when your nation is under attack, and it is your job to defend it... Fick does a captivating job of nailing this moment where their lives changed. No longer were they serving in peacetime. When they stepped back onto their ships, they knew they would lead their men in war. And the Australian couple who drove them to the pier...do they wonder if all the men who rode in their car made it home? Do they know how they feature in this memory?