Tag Archives: coming home

Coming Home: Memories of Return from Iraq

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Almost seven years ago I returned from Iraq. It was a war that changed me forever and my return from it has been as traumatic as my experiences in Iraq.

I had a good therapy session today with my new shrink. It is a good thing, I am in the process of getting evaluated for things that should have been done years ago. However, dealing with PTSD, Moral Injury and TBI or Concussive injuries is not always an easy or straightforward task. Many of the symptoms that those affected with these injuries overlap. Unfortunately without continuity of care it takes far longer for professionals to make the connections, even very good and experienced medical and mental health professionals.

My case seems to be one of those kind of cases, and my memories seem to almost overwhelm me every year as I approach the date of my return home from Iraq. I fully understand the words of Bruce Dern in the movie Coming Home when he cries out

“What I’m saying is! I don’t belong in this house, and they say I don’t belong over there!” 

 While I no longer feel that I don’t belong in my own house, I still struggle with having to leave Iraq in 2008. I will discuss that  more in the coming days, but it will suffice for now to say that I still struggle. What has happened to that while I still struggle I manage to live with it.
What I will say tonight is that I still struggle, that I often feel alienated from fellow Chaplains and clergy as well as the “true believers” who sit in judgment over those that express their doubts and struggles. My first shrink told me that be speaking the truth that I would be “radioactive” to many of my peers. He was more right than I ever thought possible, but as most of my peers abandoned me, he did not.
I can’t go back to Iraq. Truthfully I would if I could, if nothing else to try to help those Iraqis who I knew. I feel so terrible for them, their country ravaged by a brutal dictator, and savaged by the decision of my country’s former leaders to invade it, bringing about more death, destruction and instability than a thousand Saddam Hussein’s.
The fact is that many veterans of Iraq, and to some extent Afghanistan understand this. We did our duty. We served, we saw things that we wished we could forget. When we returned to a country that the vast majority of people, including many who served in the military but did not have “boots on the ground” we found that we really didn’t fit. We didn’t fit in at home, and our country didn’t want us where we did fit. For me that was in the badlands of Al Anbar Province, where I left my heart.
For years before going to Iraq I studied the people and the country, going there I was blessed to get to know many Iraqis. I still grieve for what they are going through, and what we as a nation are in large part responsible for, the rise of ISIS or ISIL, the existence of Al Qaeda and the rise of other extremist groups. Our intentions were not bad, but they were done out of ignorance and perceived opportunity to dominate others for out own ends.
We sowed the wind and we are reaping the whirlwind.
As for me, like T.E. Lawrence I wonder. Lawrence wrote a friend not long before he died:
“You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.”
I understand that feeling.
I’ll be putting out a couple of other memories of my time in Iraq and my return over the next few days. 
Have a great night.
Peace
Padre Seve+

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Hollywood and Recruiting Since Vietnam

I have been thinking about how Hollywood occasionally helps military recruiting in the post-Vietnam and all-volunteer era.

Back in World War II Hollywood Moguls signed on to further the war effort with films which were entertaining but also inspiring to those on the home front.  Films like Wake Island, they Were Expendable, Destination Tokyo, The Fighting Sullivans, the Flying Tigers, The Memphis Belle (1943), and Thirty Seconds over Tokyo all helped bolster the war effort.  Stars like Jimmy Stewart served in combat.  These were the high tide of patriotic war films.  In the post war era more films about the war were made until Vietnam made war films a riskier proposition for studios.  With the exception of The Green Berets and a few Second World War themed films such as The Longest Day, In Harms Way, The Battle of the Bulge and Patton war films became much more anti-war and often anti-military.  Such films as Catch 22, M*A*S*H, Go Tell the Spartans, Kelly’s Heroes showed this while films like Platoon, The Deer Hunter and Coming Home showed the dark side of Vietnam.

In the 1970s some films like Midway began the return of film makers to more positive looks at the military. After the election of Ronald Reagan Hollywood began to produce more military themed films.  Some were fully endoresed by the Department of Defense and others not.  Some were designed to make the miltary look good and well, some which were not intended to do so had the opposite effect.

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The most successful of these films dealt with the Navy and Marine Corps, those dealing with the Army and Air Force were not as successful, though the Iron Eagle series with Louis Gossett Jr. had a pretty good run.  Films like Top Gun thrilled young audiences with both the story of Naval Aviators, a great musical score and some really hot and sensual scenes.  The Hunt for Red October was another thriller in which Tom Clancy made the Navy look great.  An Officer and a Gentleman had some of the most memorable Drill Sergeant scenes of any film, with Louis Gossett Jr. in the role of Gunnery Sergeant Foley destroying and rebuilding a class of OCS candidates led by Richard Gere.

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Once again a good story well acted and some great love scenes and musical score made this appeal to the younger generation.  I was across the Puget Sound when this was being filmed having my own ass ripped by an Army Special Forces, Ranger and Vietnam veteran Drill Sergeant.  I could relate to Richard Gere crying “I’m not going to DOR, I’ve got nowhere else to go.” Thank you Sergeant First Class Harry Ball for making me a better person by destroying all preconceptions that I had about myself and rebuilding me.  Judy when she first saw the movie asked if I had a Puget Sound Deb but alas, I did not.  I was too busy cleaning latrines with a toothbrush for any extra-curricular activities even if I was so inclined. Clint Eastwood’s Heartbreak Ridge was a positive portrayal of a Marine taking over a Recon Platoon before going into Grenada.

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A Few Good Men was not supposed to be a film that made the Marines look good.  Director Rob Reiner attempted to get permission of the Marines to film at Guantanamo Bay but was unable to do so because of the script.  The film turned out to be a cult classic among many Marines.  Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Colonel Nathan Jessup became a hit.  The line You ant the Truth, you can’t handle the truth!” followed by the rest of the speech is classic.  The character that Nicholson was based on was a real CO of Gitmo.  He was relieved after about a year into his two year tour.  A former CO of mine who served under that man at another duty station said that officers and enlisted alike lived in fear of him. More recent films such as Saving Private Ryan and the Band of Brothers HBO mini-series brought positive attention to the men of the greatest generation.  Films about Iraq have varied.  Perhaps the best is Taking Chance with Kevin Bacon playing a Marine LtCol. escorting the body of a young Marine killed in action home.

So it is interesting to see how Hollywood sometimes helps and sometimes hurts recruiting.  We’ll have to see what the next batch of war films turn out to be like.

Peace, Steve+

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