Wednesday was also when my friend Mike was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.
I won’t put down the full citation here, but his story deserves being told, so here I am.
March 22, 2009. Now Zad was a ghost town in a wide valley. It’s smack in the middle of Helmand province, and known for some of the bloodiest fighting since OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom) began.
I was returning to base from an early morning patrol. From the gun turret I gave a noncommittal gesture that’s halfway between a wave and a salute at the foot patrol heading out just as we were coming back. Near the front I noticed Mike, with his engineer and radio operator nearby. I wouldn’t see him alive again.
As I was back in the base cleaning my gear, an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) exploded at Mike’s feet, severing his left leg. His first reaction was to set his squad in the defense. Sure enough, Taliban showed up and the shooting started. Mike called in his own casualty report and kept leading his squad. At one point he was calling in strafing runs from the arriving attack helicopters. Reinforcements came, and Mike only let himself be evacuated when his entire squad was ready to move out.
He died in the casevac chopper.
This past Wednesday, the Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus presented the Navy Cross to Mike’s mother. The stands looked like a mini-reunion of my old unit. The ceremony itself was swift and meaningful. The real reminiscence was later that night at a bar that was one of Mike’s preferred hangouts. The shots came as smooth and plentiful as the stories.
It was on the plane ride that I started to really think about my dual professions of warrior and storyteller. This wasn’t helped by the fact that my body has decided that having hangovers is all well and good now that I’m in my 30′s. And eventually my thoughts ran to what pisses me off about so much of the movies and TV surrounding the wars I’ve fought in. And by that I mean besides lousy scripts and lousier execution.
It boils down to two words: No Heroes.
Seriously, none. Not a single film or television depiction of Iraq or Afghanistan to date depicts heroic actions by any of the actual players. I can’t even make a case for the fictional characters as being heroes either. When it comes to depicting Americans fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, film show them overwhelmingly as one thing: victims.
Go down the list of films made about Iraq and Afghanistan: Green Zone, Home of the Brave, In the Valley of Elah, Stop Loss, the list goes on. At best, American troops are depicted as blue-collar schmucks stuck toiling away for the Big Bad Bush. At worst they’re broken, crippled trauma victims who need a hug and adult, again, because of the Big Bad Bush.
I got one word for that: Bullshit!
Since boots landed on the ground in Afghanistan in October of 2001, Seven medals of Honor have been awarded. An Eighth will be awarded in 2 days to Salvatore Giunta, which will make him the first non-posthumous award since the wars began. Including Mike, 26 Navy Crosses have been awarded, along with 21 Distinguished service crosses by the Army and 3 Air Force Crosses by the Air Force.
That’s 58 recipients of the highest military honors for combat action from October of 2001 to today and you’re telling me that not a single one of these stories deserves to be told on the screen? BULLSHIT!
Over 2 million troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan since the war began and none of them have committed any acts of heroism worthy of cinematic note? BULLSHIT!
And why is this? I got three places to point fingers.
The first goes to whatever miscellaneous dickheads within the Pentagon fucked up big in their own depiction of American heroes. The lies and bullshit spun about the capture of Jessica Lynch and the death of Pat Tillman effectively crushed any attempt to talk about the no-shit American heroes of this war. Lynch herself called bullshit on the official tale of her capture before Congress. I’m firmly convinced that those two incidents killed any Pentagon effort to tell the real stories of heroism coming from the Global War on Terror.
My next place is the global news media. I’ve got a lot of bones to pick with you fuckers, but in this case I’ll start with your collective rush to be the first and the half-assed lip service you give to being accurate. They may not have created the bullshit in the first place, but the most copious spreader of it during the Lynch incident was none other than The Washington Post. And after the backlash you lot were even more skittish than the Pentagon about telling stories of American heroes. It doesn’t help that with the possible exception of the Murdoch empire, you lot are all collectively a part of my third place…
The left of center and the hardcore Bush haters. This one is probably going to piss off the most people, but right now I could fucking care less.
I’ll be the first to admit I have legions of friends, colleagues and loved ones who fit the description I just filled. Some of my nearest and dearest are among their ranks. Several have been bastions of help when I was deployed, and more made it possible for me to actually attend Mike’s ceremony, something that I’ll be grateful for the rest of my life.
But yeah, you guys have some of the blame here. Part of it is the unabashed hatred for the Bush administration that was so full there wasn’t a possibility of supporting anything he did, including the war.
And part of it is the ultimate cop-out that is the phrase “Support the troops, not the War.”
Really? Fucking really? You know what troops do?
FIGHT FUCKING WARS!
And they’ve been fighting this one for going on a fucking decade!
As much as I know my loved ones who say it mean well, I can’t help but fucking despise the wishy-washy sentiment behind it. It’s a branch off the same thought process that wants to win a war without killing anyone or breaking anything, and it’s as fucking ludicrous and naive as the thought of toning a muscle without breaking a sweat. It’s the fucking epitome of wanting to have your cake and eat it too, and even when staring in the face of that impossibility, turning away and looking up pictures of cake on the Internet. Fuck that phrase and fuck the pretentious, naive sentiment behind it.
I created this blog for lovers and creators of action art. Hopefully, that’s most of who’s reading it right now.
You want to support the troops?
Tell their stories.
Find them and tell them.
Find the stories of Michael Ouellette and Brian Chontosh. Find the stories of Michael Murphy and Jared Monti. Find the stories of Paul Smith, Jason Dunham, Robert Miller and Salvatore Giunta.
You know names like Abu Ghraib and the Fort Hood Massacre. You’ve heard incessantly of our humiliations, victimizations and fuckups. Now get up off your fucking ass and hunt down the stories of the no-shit, flesh and blood heroes who fought, killed and died in far corners of the world so you could ignore what they’re doing to watch American fucking Idol.
These heroes aren’t going to tell their stories for you. They’re in the next world beyond our ken, or in a comfortable tavern talking about the game on TV and not saying a damn thing about what they’ve done. You have to find them.
The news media aren’t going to tell their stories. They’re still digesting what celebrity gossip and political fuckuppery into five-second soundbites they can. You have to find them.
Find them and fucking tell them.
I just gave you some of their names. And for most of you reading this, it’s the first time you’ve heard of them. Seek them out. Find out what they did.
Tell their stories.