When I joined the Navy I had reservations... At the time I was 25 with a degree in photography, a bad apartment in a bad neighborhood and a constant battle to pay my bills. In an effort to escape poverty and jump-start a career I thought I'd try the military. I figured the military must have some element of neutrality to it; the hospital ships, the disaster relief and "peace-keeping efforts" etc... I thought that it just needed well-meaning patriots to bolster the ranks.
I ended up getting a contract to become a Mass Communications Specialist. I was to become a propagandist (I think I saw it that way at the time). I even enjoyed the majority of the training. The camaraderie and the intense physical demands of boot camp were fun, Defense Information School made me feel like I was pushing my boundaries and setting myself up for a meaningful career. When the opportunity came up to attend advanced aviation survival training at Combat Aircrew School I jumped at the chance.
Combat Aircrew School lead to a stint in an intelligence unit with an anti submarine warfare squadron out of Whidbey Island, WA. As a part of Obama's 2009 60,000 troop surge in Iraq I found out we were to deploy to southern Iraq to provide real-time reconnaissance in 30 year old P-3 Orion turbo prop planes. I remember we took official command of Commander Task Group 57.18 on my birthday, May 24.
There in the southern Iraq desert at the ancient city of Ur I was engulfed in 50 years of environmental cataclysm. Dried up rivers and marshes, shredded military vehicles, abandoned bunkers and unexploded ordinance littered thousands of miles of the once sacred land around me. Burn pits raged day and night and towering sand storms hit like freight trains. We received routine rocket attacks as I watched young men and women struggle to keep planes that all felt like museum pieces aloft in summer temperatures exceeding 120 degrees on the tarmac. I began to wonder if this was the place I wanted to die and what it would mean if I did.
A few months after returning from that hellish experience I began to grow bored sitting around in the Puget Sound and felt a need to 'get on with it' as it were. I volunteered to be an Individual Augmentee which meant I would separate from my unit and deploy again to a war zone wherever the DoD saw fit. Only six months out from Iraq I deployed once again to Kabul, Afghanistan.
After attending a month-long Army infantry bootcamp for sailors I was assigned to NATO-Training Mission Afghanistan as a Public Affairs Specialist. I'll never forget traveling along one of the most embattled stretches of road in the world from Bagram Air Base to Kabul in that claustrophobic personnel carrier. Once again I witnessed humanitarian and environmental cataclysm on a grand scale. Kabul had all the potential to be a gorgeous high altitude city which I caught small glimpses of in the faces of hard-working, family-loving Afghans and in the magnificent mosques and rose gardens and pomegranate trees at the presidential palace and American embassy. The vast majority of what I witnessed however was orphaned children starving and disease stricken. Amputees and heroin addicts spare-changing on the pavement in rush hour traffic, road-side bakeries with their precious Naan bread covered in dust and soot from endless convoys of MRAPS and armored cars.
It occurred to me that military intervention had been tried endlessly in both of these dystopian landscapes not just in the recent US occupations but for decades before; it simply wasn't working. I began to feel ashamed, it was obvious that I had fallen into the wrong side of history. I had become an imperial storm trooper and worse, as a propagandist I was constantly emotionally and mentally tested to uphold that horrific status quo in the most visible way.
After a year in Kabul leading armored convoys, rubbing elbows with generals and pentagon officials, and propping up that horrific status quo. I returned to the states and shortly after received orders to Defense Media Activity at Fort Meade, MD. My career as a Navy Mass Communication Specialist was bright! I was highly decorated among my peers, Air Warfare qualified with strong evaluations that described me as a "rising-star." I was being groomed to become senior management and had every opportunity to do so. It was just all wrong though. All shiny exterior and deeply corrupt and festering inside. As much as I enjoyed the salary, benefits and camaraderie I knew I had to go.
After finally separating from the military a few years later, I drifted back to Ohio and struggled to make sense of my place in history and how to go about shaking off the filth of my military career. I'm still very much battling those dark experiences and ensuing negative self-talk but slowly making steps towards healing. The progress that I so desperately need to alleviate the shame and conflict in my heart has come from my understanding of history, imperialism, militarism and the blind allegiance Americans have to endless war. I have come to understand that I was another pawn in the long march of colonialism, white supremacy, corporate exploitation and resource extraction. I understand now that I must share my experience and show solidarity with those same people I helped to ruin and kill.
Attending the Veterans For Peace national convention in Spokane WA was a bit of homecoming for me. I felt as though I had found my tribe. I met dozens of people who have repeatedly put it all on the line to organize, agitate and resist the inherently evil American Industrial Military Complex. At the same time I was happy to be able to witness first hand the internal struggles of the organization and meet face to face my brothers and sisters in peace who strive to hold the imperialists feet to the fire.