The War at Home
It was dark; we’ve been driving for 36 hours. All six of us are tired, and ready to head back to home station. We haven’t had a shower in days. We still have another 8 hours ahead of us. The truck is so loud; I can barely hear myself think. The air is so thin and hot, that it makes breathing difficult, but we hardly notice anymore. You could say we are acclimated to this dank environment.
Earlier in the morning, in the same town that are driving through now late at night, was lively with kids running along side our convoy yelling, “America number one”. It felt like a Fourth of July parade, with my gunner throwing out some candy to the kids as we pass by. It was the first time in months that I have felt a feeble feeling of happiness, it had reminded me (faintly) of home.
Now, not a soul in sight, normally this would be relaxing, but something was different, something unsettling, you can feel it in your gut. The driver of the truck looked at me. I could tell just by looking at him, that he had the same feeling that I was having. Not seconds after the driver and I made that perceptual eye contact, my Squad Leader comes over the cheap Motorola Talk-about radios to make an announcement, “put your fuck faces on, they just saw someone trying to set an improvised explosive device (I.E.D.) next to the road. Upon that transmission, I reached up to put down my night vision scope that is affixed to my kevlar helmet to aid in lighting up the unknown. The scopes comes down and sits perfectly over my eyes; then, as my eyes adjust to the bright green glow that lights up everything around me, an overwhelmingly flash blinds me. I threw up my goggles, as my eyes tried to focus, and readjust from the bright green flash that had blinded me. I rose up my weapon into complete darkness.
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Before individuals learned how to put pen to parchment, storytelling was a way to document history by passing on stories from generation to generation. People had to be good listeners. The way we tell stories has changed throughout the years. Today, communication is quicker and more readily available. Time and space has shrunken considerably. Before newsprint and books, storytelling was a way for people to let others know what was happening around them, from herds of animals migrating, to fertile crops at certain points and seasons. But, the rate at which the stores were told, in the time it took to get from one individual to another, could’ve taken days, weeks, and possibly years to reach others. To record their storytelling’s, documentation consisted of cave paintings, and little sculptures. From the website stroytellingday.net describes storytelling as, “an intrinsic part of our societies and culture. Movies, books, music, news media, religions, architecture and painting, you name it, and the influence of storytelling is to be seen in all aspects of our life. Defining our values, desires, dreams and, as well as our prejudices and hatreds”. Not only can storytelling be a way document history, and to inform individuals of what is going on around them, it can be a means of mental therapy to some, and for others hearing these stories, it can prompt them to try to seek further help by seeing that they are not the only one’s dealing with that issue.
“All The Way Home” is in its infant stages, designed around the idea of making storytelling a way for Veterans to share their time in service. Documenting these stories by Veterans accomplishes two main goals; one is to preserve history from the viewpoint of the Veteran, and to help other Veterans that might be dealing with the same problems. For the history side of it, I was a fairly young kid when both of my grandfathers passed away. Looking back on it now, I wish I had the foresight to sit down with them and ask them about their service during World War II. John Bouffard, my father’s father, served with the 82nd Airborne Division as a paratrooper, earned his jumpmaster wings during his tour in England and Germany during World War II. Prior to World War II he joined the main Army National Guard in 1940 with the Maine Coast Artillery Unit. Robert Lovejoy, my mother’s father served with the Army Air Corps. as a pilot during World War II. He flew a PBY Catalina, an amphibious aircraft that it’s primary mission was to search and rescue, and it was widely used in the Pacific against Japan. His time in service was cut short, while trying to land his playing in pitch-black conditions in Okinawa, he hit a bomb crater in the runway, his plane crashed and burst into flames, he survived, but with third-degree burns on his body, and the loss of his left arm, he was medically discharged. I was 4 years old when grandpa Bouffard died of a heart attack, and 17 years old when grandpa Lovejoy died of cancer. Since I had more time with grandpa Lovejoy, I had better knowledge of his service compared to grandpa Bouffard. But not as much as I wish I have. There are so many holes in their history I wish I could fill, to better tell their stories and pass them on to my family. Everything I know about them, I had to find out for myself, by putting together bits and pieces of their stories and facts I found by either doing research, or talking to other family members. Their history, their stories, their legacy will be, at some point in time lost, and I can already see it fading away, and I am trying so hard to keep it from doing that. I can’t help but ponder that someday day my history, stories, and legacy will fade as well. All The Way Home attempts to capture those stories from other Veterans in hopes to preserve them for the future.
The second and biggest goal of “All The Way Home” is to help other Veterans through the art of storytelling. Simply by talking, and not bottling up your emotions or problems inside can be beneficial to one’s mental health. With that, comes the concept of, helping other fellow Veterans that might be having trouble reintegration into a civilian lifestyle. By hearing stories from other Veterans, and some of the ordeals that they went through, another might relate to that story, and feel as though he/she is not the only one going through that issue, prompting them to seek further help. Coming home after being in a combat theater is another war within it’s self, one with very little support or with no clear end in sight. The feeling of loneliness comes to mind, even though you are surrounded with family and friends, they don’t know what you went through, the things that you saw, and had to do. Because of this, it can be hard for a Veteran to effectively communicate with others that have not served in a military capacity about their time in service. It’s as though you are frozen in time, and everyone around you is moving on with his or her lives. You would hear these stories about soldiers coming home, and about this new disease called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a relatively new term adopted by a bunch of psychiatrists in order to describe this new phenomenon that is happening with the soldiers of United States. There are no visible scars, no way of knowing if someone has it, that individual might not even know that he or she has it. For me, I knew I didn’t feel like my old self, but PTSD was a small blimp on the radar, and not really a popular term like it is today. I acted like I was fine, and I had to force myself to act like I use to before, prior to me going to Iraq. I never talked about how I was feeling because; one, I didn’t know how to articulate it to others, and two, I thought it was something that would just pass over time. I was moody all the time, I got mad at the smallest stuff (still do, but not as much), sometimes I didn’t want to be around people, and I was mad that I felt that no one understood. Here we are now, nine years later, and I can finally feel as though I am getting back to my old, energetic, curiosity killed the cat, eccentric self. But some are not as fortunate to be back at a point in their live where they don’t feel like that they are a prisoner in their own minds. They fall into a rut and have a difficult time getting out, and for many reasons for which I will never be able to explain. Some people handle different situation differently than others, I needed to be challenged creatively, something to exercise my mind, something to get my mind off of Iraq. It work for the most part, but what really made a difference was talking and listening to others in the same situation that I was in (war). I found myself listening more then talking, hearing these stories from my soldiers and feeling and seeing their pain brought back all those memories I had when I first got home. Quietly inside of me, while I try to help others, is a therapy session going on, at this point in time I don’t know it’s happening, but I can feel something positive in me for the first time in a long time.
Marty Pottenger the creator of the program has done similar projects in the past. “Art At Work” was designed to help out the Portland Maine police department with a morale problem that they were facing, through the use of poetry, and other creative means by putting together a program that is tailored to suit their needs though a nine step model. Identify the departments, identify key issues and opportunities, select the artists, convene the support team, set goals and examples, design projects and dialogue, begin art making workshops, publish / print / perform / exhibit, and document and evaluate, are the key steps that Pottenger sets in order to make a successful outcome. In 2010 after the success of the police poetry readings, and in hopes to raise more money to help fund the continuation of this project, the poems were made into a calendar. Pottenger hopes to bring the same success to the “All The Way Home” project by, “ initially, Veterans would play a central roles as workshops storytelling participants. As healing progresses, they would take on additional roles to develop ‘All The Way Home’ into a successful project for themselves in other Veterans throughout the region. The experience would be designed to allow Veterans to regain a sense of possibility by strengthening their core sense of self, develop their own team of Veterans and supporters, increase their relationship to the community in general, and improve their own in there colleagues economic security by leveraging the stories and performances into revenue gathering experiences”. If we can put the word out that it is ok to talk and to put those feelings on the table, then this project could be a successful means for treating PTSD, and hopefully using medication as a last resort. A Veteran helping other Veterans is a beautiful concept, and one that hasn’t really been exploited on the creative level before. Yes, the Veterans Affairs employees mainly Veterans but, the problem is, it’s still wrapped in red government tape. Today as I write this, there are threats of cutting government funding for Veterans; in my mind this shouldn’t be an issue, especially where the government calls upon us on a regular basis to put our lives on the line in hopes to keep peace in order for their own political agenda.
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Before I could rip off my night vision goggles, three roadside bombs went off, I was blinded. But what really got me, was the fact that I have no memory of the last two going off, nor sight or sound do I remember. Maybe because it happened in one adaptable motion, or maybe because of the traumatic first encounter the adrenaline kicked in right away, and tunnel vision set in. At that point in time, I can remember how focused I was, I had blinders on. I could only see what was in front of me, and that was the blurry sight picture looking through the optical scope affixed upon my rifle, looking for the flash from the tip of the enemies’ rifle. This was my first firefight I was in, up until that point in time, I had no clue how I would of reacted in that type of situation. I was shock at myself of how the world around me turned into a void of darkness for the brief moment in time, how my mind went blank, the numbness that poured over me, I wasn’t scared, nor did I fear the of lead that rushed past the truck I was in, but yet, not one round hit the truck. It was like my body took over without me telling it to, muscle memory from all the training we have done prior to arriving in country basically told my brain to, “relax I’ll take it from here”, it was, to say the least, an out of body experience. At one point in time during this euphoric madness, I happened to glance to my left, (out of the windshield) to see two Soldiers form the 25th Infantry Division (the unit I was attached to) picking up another one of their own, and carry him to the back of the Stryker Vehicle that they were in. He was obviously hit by either the roadside explosion or enemy gunfire. What seemed like a lifetime of sitting there and trying to suppress the threat, took all of 15 minutes. We were able to turn around, and head towards the base that was close by to regroup and assess the situation and damage. When we arrived, to my surprise, none of our trucks were damaged and all of my buddies were fine. Up until that point in time, I was beginning to think that I would never have to discharge my weapon, and I was ok with that.
Here I am now, in a great position, a position of knowledge and leadership for the younger soldiers as we tentatively embark into a new combat theater, Afghanistan. To these young troops my storytelling has just begun, and I can see the same look in their eyes that I had back in 2004 before we put boots on ground in Iraq. The look of excitement, curiosity, and fear, the look of wanting to serve their country, all the training we have done culminating into one big event. But what I also see is the future, the future of struggle with personal demons that comes with the aftermath of being in a combat theater. My storytelling begins today, to educate those who are virgins in the emotional roller coaster that is war. They are young and naïve, but when they return home they will be adults, emotionally disconnected adults that will struggle with finding a place for themselves that thought they knew prior to leaving. I can tell you that, every time I saw my buddies I served with in Iraq, I felt like I could be myself, and actually talk to someone that understood what I was talking, and thinking about. I can remember we had a few months off from duty when we got back home, I was happy to have the break but it felt as something was missing. When the break was up, and I walked on to that drill hall floor and saw my fellow combat veterans there, a sense of completion in me took over and I knew they felt the same way just by the look in their eyes. At that point in time, I knew that this was my new family, dysfunctional, but still a family.
The Ball is Rolling
This past weekend I approached my Commander, and pitched my idea for my documentary while we will be deployed. The Commander and the First Sergeant blessed off on the idea, saying “it will be important to capture our mission overseas to preserve our story in a historical context”. The First Sergeant also went on to say, “people are use to seeing you with a camera in your hand, so it won’t come to a shock to anyone”. I’m hoping that was a complement. In explaining my intentions, another subject was brought up, in that, they are looking to have me be the unit historian, to compile all of our past photos and documentation for preservation and education. To which I happily agreed too.
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Last monday I met with Bill Nemitz with the Portland Press Harold over some coffee to toss around some ideas on how to approach this project, and to think of all the different angles I could go with this. Basically, what he told me is that, I won’t know till I actually get more into it. It’s good to start the brainstorming process to have an idea when to start, but you never know where a story might take you.
. . . .
I have been trying to contact various companies, in hopes to gain some sponsorship, and support along my journey. I would like to stay as mobile as possible, that’s why I have done some research to find the best products for the job. I don’t have a lot of extra cash,thus my outreach to these companies. So far I have had no luck… Fujifilm is the first company that I have contacted, by both email and phone, I am hoping to hear from them soon. If not, then I will try one more time, and then try another company. I hope it doesn’t come down to that, I think their X-Pro 1 camera would perfect for the job, and to be my primary work horse. I do have a top of the line DSLR camera, with an assortment of lenses, but the problem is that the camera in big, bulky, and after a while it gets to be a bit heavy. If this was my primary mission and didn’t have to play G.I. Joe while I was over there, then yes, I would bring my DSLR with me. Fujifilm has always had outstanding picture taking products, thus my hopes that they would be kind enough to sponsor me. Next on the list is “Really Right Stuff”, their tripod are (in my opinion) one of the best around. They are lightweight, rugged and built in the good ol’ U.S. of A… Another company that I would like to have as a sponsor is, Pelican Case. I actually got to talk to someone at Pelican Case, but they still had me send an email out since (from what they tell me) they are backed up with these types of request all the time (which I believe them, their products are in high demand for protective cases)… The only company, so far, that has come right out and said no to me is, Blackmagic Cameras. My interest with them is their new Pocket Cinema Camera. I wanted a small, compact, video recording device that has outstanding video quality, which is why I picked them. Plus if I get a “macro four thirds” camera system, the lenses on that camera would work on the Blackmagic Camera (less stuff to carry). Now I am looking at the Canon XF-105, I use this camera at school when I work for the University to record lectures around campus.
None the less, I think I am off to a good start. All I have to do is, keep a positive attitude, and continue to pluck away.
Wish me luck
People look at ordinary stuff all day long, so why not make a picture extraordinary and give them something new to look at. ~Heath Bouffard~
“Secondary Mission”, a title I am using to help describe the documentary I will be making in the near future. Why Secondary Mission? Because my primary is being a Soldier, an Engineer in the National Guard to be exact. I have been in the National Guard going on thirteen years now, and in the past 3 years I have decided to pursue a career in photography. With pursuing this career, I enrolled in college for the second time in my life, this time with a focus in Media Studies.
Upon getting the news about being deployed, I thought this would be a great opportunity to put together a professional documentary to help jumpstart my career, and not to mention the great opportunity to document my time overseas. This won’t be my first time being deployed, I just wished I had the sense to document my first time being in a combat zone.
As of now, I have no clue on what this documentary will be about. I do have a few ideas in mind, but I will have to wait until the ball gets rolling to figure out my topic/subject. The idea behind this blog is to, not only follow my progression in making the documentary, but hopefully obtain helpful support, ideas and constructive criticism along the way. With that being said, I will not give away any information that will compromise my unit, i.e. specifics on our mission. So, please don’t ask any questions about the details of my unit or I will not answer you.
I want to thank you for your support along my journey and I hope you will enjoy this blog.
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