Some of you might not know that four years ago, I worked as the outreach coordinator on the film, Restrepo. This film followed the men of the 2/503, Battle Co. of the 173rd ABN. Both a kinetic and emotional experience, the film took audiences into the belly of war, showing people what war is, what it looks like, and how it is to fight.
After the death of Tim Hetherington, for whom this blog was started, Tim decided to embark on the project they both had discussed. To make a film with some of the hundreds of hours left over and unused, that would look at war in a different way. And so now, I’ve been called back. The film is ready to launch on May 30 in NYC, then across the country throughout the summer. The team is back together, Battle Co and ever troop who ever served in the Korengal have been alerted. We’re back. Without Tim. Without so many friends –troops who died then, and more recently. But their loss just signifies the growing need for the stories of war to be told now, and not left to be brushed off only to be varnished with a coat of nostalgia.
Korengal is a more visceral experience. It asks the questions, how do soldiers fight? What is courage, and what is fear? What happens to you when you lose one friend, then two, then three? What do you tell your family back home, when you finally get to talk to them? What’s the impact of daily firefights, and when does it all turn so surreal that the only thing certain about your situation in a remote combat outpost is the uncertainty itself.
Same valley. Same men. Same ferocious fight. Their stories continue.
Watch Jason Mace and Michael Cunningham talk about the film at the Little Rock Film Festival.
Years ago. It was a hot summer day, and I ran outside to bring the trash cans in. I didn’t have any shoes on, because I thought it’d be quick. But I was wrong. As though watching for me, a neighbor approached and asked about the war. She, like others, knew my husband was in Afghanistan. It was a difficult time for us, and the thought of danger was always with us.
But her goal wasn’t a conversation. Rather, her plan was to score an ideological point. Every question she asked, underscored her opinion of the fruitlessness of it all.
For those of us with loved ones in the game –war is crap. If you ever want to feel like shit, try dropping your loved off to be deployed. Every time we hear the word “deployment,” we fold a little, but we spring back because we have to. Sure, we’re scared, but we only show it when we’re alone. What helps us through is the closeness of others who have been through the same thing. I know that I can always look to a veteran or their spouse, regardless of their generation, and find support. This is a wonderful thing.
As for her insistence that it was hopeless, fruitless, foolish, or pointless –we don’t think in those terms. This doesn’t make us shortsighted, rather, we see something deeper. A service member’s commitment to serve is one that makes their lives, and all those who they touch, a bit more meaningful.
I felt attacked. A simple act of bringing the trash in resulted in someone fruitlessly trying to trash us, as I stood on the asphalt with bare feet. At the end of her rant, I told her to read the twelve books on Afghanistan that were sitting on my kitchen table. Perhaps under another circumstance, I could have spoken to her about what I think. But someone who takes a low shot at a barefooted person just trying to bring in the trash cans can’t be reasoned with.
Today, it’s been announced that the 173rd Airborne Combat Brigade Team is sending 600 paratroopers to Poland and 3 Baltic Countries. I hope everyone remembers this about Blue Star Families:
Georgia Tech will hold a job placement event for Veterans and people transitioning out of the military. It will take place December 16 at 2pm at the Georgia Tech Savannah campus and is sponsored by the university’s Veterans Education, Training and Transition program. CLICK for more info.
My Insane Life as a Marine Wife: A Conversation with the Founder of an Online Support Network
What would you do if the man you loved, the man you wanted to grow old with, the man who made you laugh, who made you smile, who made you feel special…changed? By change I mean, “very empty, angry, depressed, explosive, and rather unpredictable.” The man you knew like the back of your hand…now a shell of his former self. What if…you add three young kids to this equation: 7, 5, and 3 1/2. Not old enough to emotionally understand why “Daddy is sick!” Too young to digest the daily and nightly chaos. You and you alone left to mend their emotional wounds, while trying to maintain a healthy and stable environment for them. What would you do?
Too often in the military families…the answer is GET THE HELL OUT! I’m not here to debate what is right or wrong in situations like this…as I’m not a licensed marriage counselor. My name is Chris E. and I’m a 23 year Air Force veteran. I’ve witnessed families like this and have mentored warriors in these situations. I’m also aware there are environments where safety is a concern. In those cases…yeah…run don’t walk. However, I do know first hand that leaving is sometimes the “easier” thing to do.
Military families are “STRONG” by nature, design, and necessity. I firmly believe having been retired now for four months and staying home with my wife…that her job is way more tough than mine ever was. I would suggest, Rebecca’s job is tougher times infinity!
“Roughly a year after he returned from his deployment to Afghanistan is when my husband’s PTSD started to become a major problem. He returned home in February 2011 and in February 2012, things began to go downhill very quickly. It’s been a major uphill climb from there trying to pick up the broken pieces and do our best to stay together as a couple and as a family.”
Multiple deployments, long hours…and kids…let alone three kids under 10 can take its toll on anyone. Add to this, a special needs child. Her youngest has Sensory Processing Disorder and high-functioning Autism. Rebecca truly has the “warrior ethos” instilled. Maybe because she married a Marine, or maybe because that’s just who she is. She did not run. Instead, she has hunkered down. Drawing experience from each “battle” she faced to develop new or updated TTPs. Her husband, a Marine Staff Sergeant has been through what I call the PTSD gauntlet. He’s done an intensive six-week outpatient PTSD therapy, group therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Exposure Therapy, and medications. He is currently on a high dose of an anti-depressant and a mood stabilizer. Often times, finding the right meds, combo of meds, and dosage can be deadly. It is no walk in the park subjecting your body to these powerful “Black Box” meds. “Finding the right dosage was difficult, I do believe the medication has really helped my husband better control some of his symptoms. The therapy has also been a major necessity in helping him work through some of his inner demons. My husband still has a long way to go, but has also come a long way from the person he was at the beginning of this.”
“My husband very rarely discusses any information about his PTSD. I do wish that he would because communication is the key to understanding. I do know and understand though that my husband never intentionally wants to cause me any emotional pain or anguish.”
Rebecca took to the internet learning all she could about PTSD. She educated herself and sharpened her “battlefield skills.” She began journaling. “In the beginning of my struggles with my husband’s PTSD, a neighbor suggested I use a journal to help me “get things out”. I used it daily to help vent about the things I was going through or to say the things I needed to say to my husband but couldn’t.” With the help of her husband’s PTSD Therapist and PTSD Psychologist (who happened to be husband and wife) Rebecca began the first PTSD Spouse Support Group for the Wounded Warrior Battalion and associated mental health at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, CA. Still wanting to do more…she started a Facebook page called, My Insane Life as a Marine Wife.
“I started My Insane Life as a Marine Wife because I wanted to reach out to other spouses of Veterans with PTSD. When my husband’s PTSD initially took over and wreaked havoc on our lives, I felt very alone and isolated. There was no one I could talk to who understood what I was going through. I searched for support groups for spouses of Veterans with PTSD, but there just weren’t any in my area.” She says that the page has helped her immensely by having others to talk to who actually understand what she is going through. Collectively, these spouses take comfort in knowing that they are not alone in battling this beast known as PTSD.
Rebecca is no miracle worker…and she doesn’t “go it alone!” (Neither should you) She has a strong support group of family members, fellow spouses and loyal friends who have been by her side unconditionally. She says their love and support have helped her through the darkest of hours. Now, with the help of social media, she wants to be that “loyal friend” for others. “I’m just really hoping that others will be able to take comfort in knowing that they are not alone while battling their loved one’s PTSD. I want them to have a place to go to vent, ask questions or get advice from other spouses, to get resources and information on PTSD, and provide a place for spouses where others truly understand what they are going through. ” The facebook page has only been live for a short while and Rebecca has shared some intimate details of this not so glamourous life. She plans on sharing everything she can (within reason of course) in hopes it will help another spouse.
It’s the story of Daniel Rodiguez, who fought in the mountains of Afghanistan, away from anything he knew, literally fighting not only for his life, but for the men he knew so well. He’s back, and Brian Mockenhaupt writes about him in the 80th Anniversary Edition of Esquire Magazine.
Best advice he’s gotten: “It’s not how you start something, it’s how you finish it. Where I’ve been and what I’ve gone through haven’t defined me; it’s where I want to go and how I finish my life that drive me and motivate me.”
Brian Mockenhaupt served in the US Army and completed two tours of duty to Iraq with the 10th Mountain Division. Since, then he has written extensively about veterans, war, as well as the aftermath for publications ranging from Esquire to the Atlantic. You may also find his work for purchase on his website.
My name is MSgt Chris Eder…and I’m just shy of 23 years active duty service to THE United States of America as a Combat Correspondent in the Air Force. Since 9/11, I have found myself in some interesting places. Sometimes by myself, sometimes with people I had never met, and sometimes with people who I love(d) as a brother or a sister. I want to make it perfectly clear that anything I say is not meant to “one-up you,” try to be better than you, or try to compare to you. Rather, I want to provide perspective and insight as we both wear combat boots and serve as warriors & protectors of the USA!
I know exactly how it feels not to sleep. For many years, I just told people I was a “morning” person. That was maybe less than half true…as I really do enjoy being up before anyone else. Hot showers, fresh coffee, etc. But the truth was…I couldn’t sleep. I used to spend as many hours as possible working. People thought it was because I was a hard worker. OK…they were right! However, as I have learned over the years…working hard is also an unhealthy coping mechanism. Avoidance! It is hard to tell something is wrong when you continue to out-perform everyone!
In 2003, I found myself traveling throughout Iraq by any means possible. I was equipped with a 9mm, no ammunition, a flak vest I think my dad wore in Vietnam, and my camera gear. For a short period of time, I called the Al Rasheed Hotel home. That is until Oct 26, 2003 when insurgents attacked it with 68mm and 88mm rockets. Under Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was in the hotel that night. Check the story out, Sec Wolfowitz is wearing my flak vest! Things got worse after my second deployment to Baghdad during the “Surge of Operations.” Damn…the insurgents had our location dialed in! 20+ attacks a day seemed “normal” for so long.
So…why yoga? Hell…why not? What is the worst thing that can happen? I started yoga back in 1999 because of a pinched sciatic nerve and a diagnosis of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. I instantly was hooked! During my 2007 deployment to Iraq, I was actually teaching 5-6 classes a week. Anyone…and I mean anyone… can do yoga. I introduce to you Lieutenant Colonel Tom Bryant.
Lieutenant Colonel Bryant, US Army is my friend/mentor and hands down the best person to ever come from Alabama. LTC Bryant is the last person I thought would try yoga. He is a typical Southern conservative, “Roll Tide!”-preaching, family loving, church going, hunting/fishing military kind of guy. He would often poke fun of me when we worked together about how I taught and practiced yoga. Tom recently sent me a Facebook message:
“Are you sitting down? You should.
Last night I did yoga. And since I’m deployed, you know I wasn’t drunk or high. It lasted 20 minutes, was cal
led relaxation yoga or something like that. Really just seemed like a lot of stretching to me, but this Japanese guy with a ponytail on the video kept talking about “seeing your breathing” and “step mindfully downward on your heels” and a bunch of other platitudinal crap I didn’t understand. But the stretching stuff was cool.”
Even this staunch yoga antagonist found yoga to be at the very least, “cool!” There is a good chance what you think Yoga is…is not at all what it really is. Yoga can be whatever you want it to be…killer workout, awesome stretch, or a time to reset and restore your batteries. For me, I *try* to start every day with 15-30 minutes of meditation and yoga. I also end each day with some grounding breath work to help clear and prepare my mind for sleep. Trust me…I know it sounds fruity, crazy, or even esoteric…but IT WORKS! I’ve been practicing yoga since 1999 and teaching since 2007. I often wonder where I would be today without yoga. I see my brothers and sisters-in-arms who share *our* nightmares, panic attacks, alertness, relationship issues, memory problems…the list can go on forever. I know just how tough my life is…and wonder how much tougher and often debilitating it would be without yoga in my life.
Lastly, I’d like for you to stop breathing for 20 minutes. What…you can’t? You think you might die. I agree! So…public math here…if I can increase both the quality and quantity of your breath…would that not increase the quality and quantity of your life? Check out this free sample from Suzanne Manafort:
This is a true story. The names have been omitted to protect the truly loving and caring. A group of well-heeled yogis, who have every earthly possession to make their lives comfortable, were given the opportunity to donate a few bucks to support our new community yoga classes for veterans at the VA and a local base. Their response: they didn’t think they should have to donate something that the government should already be providing.
This response isn’t atypical of those who are far removed from the realities of the politics that control the conditions of our veterans and their families. The truth is that funds are stretched, and while one would think that the VA provides yoga teachers at every single hospital, it doesn’t. We think it should too, and have written about the disparity of funding for yoga and other movement-based therapies in governmental institutions. However, to lounge on principles is akin to driving in a luxury car through a tough neighborhood and pretend to not notice the stress and suffering out the window.
Rob Schware, the Big Poppa of the philanthropic yoga movement and co-founder of the Give Back Yoga Foundation, writes in the Huffington Post, Veterans Trauma and Yoga: Are we moving quickly enough? He writes:
Are there enough yoga teachers and therapists to complement the work of other health professionals addressing the growing health crisis those now face who have served our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even Vietnam?
Rob lists several resources, including our grassroots partner, Yoga For Vets. A civilian, Rob has an interesting professional background, and could easily sit back on the laurels of his career. But thankfully, he doesn’t.
I think the real issue is whether people are willing to put aside their personal politics, and help those in need. War is one of the less desirable products of our own humanity, and because we are a part of it, we at WarRetreat accept the consequences (both good and bad) that come from it. We know personally that war brings tragedy and suffering on every level. Driven by our own humanity, we own it. Because of this, we’ve witnessed the fruits of ownership, which is a sense of community, caring, and the creation of ways to address the suffering of others to offer a helping hand. Without ownership, we might as well lease a big car and drive through life, ignoring our environs.
This isn’t to say that we would dissuade anyone from being politically astute and even active. However, WarRetreat draws lines when it comes to bringing politics onto the mat –there is a fine line between activism and politics, especially in the U.S. where we live in a highly divided political environment that is both provoking and suffocating. One thing for sure, talking about politics makes people talk in short, desperate sounding choppy phrases. It tenses people up and closes people off. It seems to be the antithesis of finding stress reduction through yoga. Our goal is to help those who have been through the confusion of war find a bit of peace so that they may live the productive lives they desire.
The room was brutally sticky, no air con and I joked that we were doing Bikkram yoga today. The room was full, our yoga matts tessellated like sardines, the atmosphere convivial and inclusive, the tone set by K-meister, we were all struggling together. -Dr. Karen Woo, writing about yoga in Kabul
It was 2010, and news of her death hit hard. I didn’t know her. But friends of friends did. Upon reading her blog after her cold-blooded murder, she was someone I wished I had known. A Brit, she had wit, intelligence, flexibility, a sense of derring-do, and a background that included leaving school at age 16 to work as a dancer and wing walker before deciding to become a doctor.
Dr. Karen gave up her practice and worked for the International Assistant Mission, an organization that has been delivering medical care in Afghanistan for 30 years. Through the Soviet occupation, the Taliban, to the current wars, this group has nimbly maneuvered through it all giving highly valued medical assistance. As a female surgeon, she would be allowed to see women patients who otherwise would go untreated. Her skills were much-needed.
After delivering crucial medical surgeries in remote Badaksahn, she and her group of 9 other doctors, nurses and technicians, were en route back to Kabul. As they rested, no doubt Dr. Karen talked about her upcoming wedding. But then the unspeakable happened. She and six Americans, a German and two translators from Afghanistan were overtaken by terrorists and executed.
The other day, I was perusing old bookmarks, and took a peak to see if her blog Dr Karen Explores Healthcare in Afghanistan was still there. Thankfully, her fiance and family have left up. It’s a tribute to her vibrant spirit. She wrote about cats, enjoyed the site I can haz cheezburger, brilliantly described the pedicure from hell. This time, I came upon this post about her doing yoga in Afghanistan.
In “US army use yoga as defence” Dr. Karen wrote about going to a yoga class in a room scented by the smell of lemon and incense, and having the end punctuated by the sound of an MRAP parked outside the building. In true Dr. Karen fashion, she lacked the scorn of the more jaded UN workers, and wished she could usher them to safety, to help them get out of the maze of Kabul where apparently, they had gotten lost. But even so, Dr, Karen knew there is nothing she can do for them except wish them well. They have orders, and must wait. She, on the other hand, also knew her party had to get as far away as possible from this sitting target.
Our $3 dollar car was filled with us and our yoga mats and the ridiculous contrast between us and the military convoy did not escape me – I wondered how much damage I could inflict with a yoga mat, and some Jedi mind tricks, it was like ‘Men who stare at goats’ made flesh – I could see the headline. “Amateur yogics defeat insurgents with Tantric chanting”.
Read the entire post.Remember people like Dr. Karen Woo, as well as our troops and contractors who have given of themselves in ways more than death. And if you could, stop by the Karen Woo Foundation page set up by her parents and friends. There’s even a fundraiser on 21 July at the London Bridge Church. Appropriately, they’ll be serving Cheeseburgers!
December 5 is Tim Hetherington’s Birthday. WarRetreat was started in his honor, following his untimely death this year in Libya. Tim will always be remembered for is his many embeds with the 2/503, Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. The relationships he formed with the men were the basis of the film Restrepo, Tim’s book Infidel, and Sebastian Junger’s book WAR. To mark Tim’s birthday, WarRetreat is pleased to have Eric Ortegren from Battle Company, share his thoughts.
By Eric Ortegren
We became hardened men in the Korengal. Most interaction with media was disliked and carried the weight of bad luck. This was really brought home to me when Al Jazeera English came to my remote Fire Base Vegas for a tour. While our Platoon Sergeant SFC Blaskowski was showing the reporter around, a single round rang out. We ran to our posts and lit up the whole forest, but no more shots came at us. After a brief lull we heard the shout for medic. I grabbed a radio and ran down, only to see SFC Ski sucking for air. It was one of the worst days of my life to work so hard to keep him alive, and watch as life left his eyes before the medevac bird even landed. Needless to say reporters had a stigma.
I met Sebastian and Tim while refitting at the KOP and was surprised to learn that I instantly liked them. It helped that I planned at that time to be a commercial fisherman when I got out and Sebastian had written the best fishing story (The Perfect Storm) since The Old Man And The Sea, which I had read multiple times.
These men were a genuine shock because they actually wanted to know us. They cared about us. Over a short time they proved to not get anyone killed, or cower and put us at risk. A paradigm shift occurred that I had never heard of in American military circles. We accepted them as our own.
We protected them just like the man to our left and right, which is a very sacred brotherhood that few are given the privilege to enter. I dare say: We grew to love them, and they grew to love us. It was because they took a new approach and wanted to report on us not the war.
Tim and Sebastian made us human in a war where the American public had become detached. They forced America to see that the men on the front lines who lived in fear and anticipation (every waking moment) and are now plagued by it in our nightmares –were the same kids that used to play football at the big homecoming games. The same guys who worked at the Subway down the street. (Sal Giunta) We weren’t superhuman assassins intent on killing, and we earned a Medal of Honor for one of the most laid back non overbearing men I have ever met. We were normal men doing extraordinary things all with the hope to bring your man to the left and right home alive.
Sebastian and Tim showed it in such an eloquent way in their film Restrepo that a country that was numb to our plight gained their long-lost empathy. For that we are forever indebted to them. For that Tim will be among the pantheon of heroes. His legend will go on inspiring a whole new generation of photojournalists to take it as far as they can.
I was medically retired after leaving the Korengal about nine months in. The transition back to civilian life was the most difficult time in my life. The lack of camaraderie is what made it so hard. My marriage suffered, my family suffered, my identity suffered. I came back a shattered remnant of the man I was before. Making peace with who I have become was amazingly difficult. But we are Sky Soldiers, and we drive on and continue the mission.
I am finishing up with my first semester towards a Masters in Clinical Social Work hoping to work on veteran reintegration as there is a great need. My desire is to continue the professional development of soldiers. I participate with many wounded warrior functions and was recently given the amazing opportunity to fly in the wounded warrior project balloon at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. I even recently reignited a passion with fly fishing going on a Troops First Foundation fly fishing retreat. I went with my best friend, who lost his legs in the Korengal in our one IED attack.
Life is still a constant struggle and more work than ever, but now I am proud of who I am and what I did. I won’t ever let my disabilities take that away from me. You know, we thought about God a lot over there, and what his judgement would be to us back here, but it is what you make it. I read a great quote the other day: