Soldiers’ Stories | Life After Iraq & Afghanistan

Sergio Kochergin

 

Photographer Jim Lommasson is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography.  From the book/project ‘Exit Wounds’To see Jim’s body of work, click on any image.

 

As a society, we need to understand that a consequence of sending soldiers to war is that the war comes home with every veteran. Exit Wounds: Soldiers’ Stories – Life After Iraq and Afghanistan deals with the effects of the United States’ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by focusing – in photographs and interviews — on returning American soldiers as they reintegrate into civilian life. It is an ongoing collaborative effort, documenting in images and words the personal experiences and stories of these veterans. In addition to their own experiences, they bring home first-hand knowledge of the impact of war on the civilians caught in the crossfire. The soldiers need to tell their stories, and we need to hear them. We must know the true consequences of their – of our — actions. We must take responsibility for the aftermath of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as at home.

 

“Being thanked for doing something for America feels very awkward. I never felt that I was doing anything for America. I was doing it for the people that I was there with. I will happily accept thanks for the job that I did for the soldiers. I want people to know most returning veterans don’t always feel good about what they were involved in. Vets don’t always feel good about what they’ve done. Not everyone wants to be regarded as a hero, or welcomed home as if there achieved something. Or that they should be thanked when they’ve experienced things that should not have happened. If we are going to commit ourselves to a conflict, we need to commit ourselves to the consequence. People need to share that burden, and listen to the vets.” 
– Myla

 

“Before we as a people send our youth into war, we have a responsibility and an obligation to fully understand the enormity of what it is we ask them to do. We are asking them to die. We are sending them into horrible situations in which they face horrible decisions and partake in horrible acts. To truly honor the warrior every patriotic American must bear witness to their stories and their pain.” 
– Mary Geddry mother of twice deployed Marine John Fett

 

“What will haunt me for the rest of my life is when we took POW’s. I had so much hatred for them. I didn’t care if they lived or died. I will not go into details on what was done for fear of the law, but things still haunt me. I remember pulling guard on an insurgent that was about to be turned over to the local warlords. He was flex cuffed and shaking so bad, I gave him a smoke and started small talk. At one point I did a little hand gesture to tell him that he was about to get his head cut off, then I took the smoke from him and said something hateful. Things like that still bother me.” “I did not like fighting in Iraq, I did not believe in why we were there. I went because I felt like I owed my friends that were killed over there. They had everything to live for; family, wife, kids. I had none of that, so why didn’t God take me?” 
– Arturo Franco

 

“I learned philosophy from the best minds of my parents’ generation. The people I studied under are not forming public policy; the makers of public policy went to a different set of schools. It is as if my country were dreaming in one room, and making decisions in another.”
 – Lelyn Masters

 

I don’t Know” – A Poem: 
I don’t Know “Katrina’s 5. Mom’s 25. Mom’s going to war–soon, too soon, not soon enough. I don’t know. We are watching, “We Were Soldiers.” She says, “Mommy, that’s war.” “Oh, Sweety, don’t worry, Momma’s just driving trucks.” January 15th, no sleep. Making love to him for the last time– maybe–could be–maybe not–I don’t know. Kisses. So many kisses, tears, I love you’s. I miss you right now! I’m not even gone and I miss you right now! Don’t let go of me. I can’t get close enough. Tighter. I turned off the alarm. Who needs it. It’s January 16th, 4:00AM. I am in the shower with him. He brushes my hair. I put it up according to military regulation. Brown T-shirt, DCU bottoms, tuck in, chinch the belt, wool socks, tan boots. DCU top. IDENTIFICATION TAGS! For just in case. Maybe, could be–maybe not–I don’t‘ know. How does a mother say goodbye to her five-year-old child? What kind of goodbye is it? Is it the last goodbye? Maybe, could be, maybe not–I don’t know. So kiss her while she sleeps, pat her strawberry blond hair, one last take-it-all-in glance. Turn around–don’t look back–keep going and walk out the door. For the last time? Maybe–could be–maybe not–I don’t know.” 
– Mandy Martin about leaving for war.

 

 

“The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”  –General Douglas MacArthur

 

 

“It seems to me that the most interested population in war tend to be middle aged people who have not served. Many liberals seem to yearn for us (veterans) to return scarred emotionally so they can say I told you so. Many conservatives are too eager for blood baths in the name of their savior, they hope we return to stick up for the second amendment. Those liberals forget that the military is comprised of all walks and same with the conservatives, they put us in a box that turns my stomach. War tourists who follow the movement to justify preconceptions of something that can’t be defined.” 
– Garrett Anderson

 

“People look at the Nazi concentration camps and wonder, how can you do something like that? It’s really easy. It’s a simple thing. You make one wrong decision and you spend the rest of your life explaining that decision. I’ve barely made any choices in my life, and then I ended up working in a concentration camp. You wake up every day, put your boots on and go to work at the concentration camp.”
 – Christopher Arendt former Guantanamo guard

 

“When a warrior becomes broken or disabled it’s a very serious thing. It’s antithetical to be a warrior and to be broken; to be a warrior is to be tough, to be strong, and when you’re broken, service members and veterans feel lost. Alienated and alone I began to wonder if I would ever recover. In May of 2008, through an email from a Veterans Service Organization, I learned of a new type of program to pair service dogs with veterans. This was new to me; I didn’t know what a service dog was. I immediately researched that and I thought, “This is for me.” In November of ‘08 I was selected as one of the first veterans in the country to be paired with a service dog. My dog’s name is Tuesday. Tuesday has mitigated most of the my symptoms of traumatic brain injury, PTSD, a spinal condition, and has enabled me to re-ignite, re-awaken, and re-realize some of my personal goals, dreams, and hopes.  I now walk into the world each day with a gentle, well-trained golden retriever named Tuesday, who wears his bright red, clearly marked service cape as he accompanies me when I ride the subway, enter an elevator, or dine at restaurants. My relationship with Tuesday transcends our exterior, our skin and our fur. Tuesday is so many things. He’s a part of me. He helps me physically… and he helps me spiritually.” 
– Luis Carlos Montalvan

 

“We find that we do not want to tell our stories to people who are incapable of hearing our stories with their heart. Please, do not ask us if we’ve killed anybody. This is the number one question posed to us and it reflects the morbid curiosity of those wanting to be entertained. We cannot, do not, and will not bring upon others the burdens that we’ve shouldered. It isn’t who we are. And were we to want to bridge that gap with a wife, a mother or father… how could we contaminate the hearts of our loved ones with such as we’ve known? How can we tell those that love us the things we’ve done, the choices we’ve made? And if we do not, how can we ask for simple acceptance if they know not what secrets we keep in our hearts? Listen to our stories with your heart. Allow us the right to weep as Achilles wept for Patroclus. Allow us our confusion and anger. Let us feel that we are part of your community… our community. It takes more than a yellow ribbon on a car. Next veteran you see, of any war, go up to him or her and offer a hug or a handshake. It takes a nation to send troops off to war. It takes a nation to bring them back.” 
– Eddie Black.

 

Featured Image

“So, I just had a conversation with the Bank about my college loan. I explained my situation and my hardship being a disabled combat veteran and finding a job and paying back my loan. I asked them if there were any options of getting a deferment or forbearance. They explained to me that, they do not offer such privileges to anyone. They told me I have 16 days to make a payment or my account will be handed over to a collecting agency. Then I asked them what would be a way to make sure that my parents don’t end up stock with my debt, they did not have an answer, so, I asked them what would happen if I blew my brains out, only then they said that my loan would be forgiven. So, Veterans, thank you for your sacrifice and thanks for the bailouts that the has been receiving from our tax money and the only way we can help you, only if you blow your brains out!!!!!” “And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free, AND I WONT FORGET THE MEN WHO DIED WHO GAVE THEIR LIFE FOR ME AND I GLADLY STAND UP…………”
– Sergio Kochergin

 

All images and text © Jim Lommasson

 

 

 Exit Wounds: Soldiers’ Stories – Life After Iraq and Afghanistan is collaborative photo and oral history project about the trials of homecoming by author/photographer Jim Lommasson, and veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Exit Wounds is a traveling exhibition and a book (Schiffer Publishing).

 

 

See also:

American Fight Clubs

By Jim Lommasson

 

 

 

 

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