reintegration

One of the 219 Chibok schoolgirls abducted two years ago by Boko Haram militants returned home last month. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari welcomed her in a televised meeting, promising to support her as she remakes her life and help her return to school and receive needed social support services. Reintegration is the goal for 19-year-old Amina Ali Nkeki and the 4-month-old baby she had while in captivity.

But how will that be achieved?

The experiences of those who were formerly held captive by Boko Haram suggest the range of challenges ahead, as well as what might help — and what will not.

The Long Road Back From Boko Haram

Photo: Henry Chukwuedo/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Caption: Amina Ali Nkeki, 19, is one of the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014. She was found last month wandering in the Sambisa Forest, a Boko Haram stronghold, with her 4-month-old baby.

Down the Rabbit Hole.

U.S. Navy SEALs team members, assigned to Special Operations Task Force-South, brace against dust and rocks in the brownout of an MH-47 Chinook with 160th SOAR after completing a clearing operation in Panjwa'i District, Kandahar province, Afghanistan.

(Photo by Sergeant Daniel P. Shook, 19 APR 2011. Blogpost article by David P. Ervin, 17 MAR 2015 via MEA.org)

I asked a buddy how he was doing the other day. I keep in touch pretty regularly with “Doc,” a combat medic who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. We live in the same town, but I hadn’t heard from in a while. He replied with a phrase that’s emerged in the lexicon of American combat veterans of the War on Terror; two words that act as a euphemism for a chilling component of life after war.

“Rabbit hole.”

Of course, we’re not talking about having tea with the Mad Hatter here. We’re talking about a flashback.

I knew what he was experiencing. Your palms sweat. Breaths come deeply and rhythmically as your body maximizes oxygen intake. Your heart thumps within a tightened chest as it pushes blood to every limb. Eyes dart and hair stands up. It’s not a hallucination in which you believe that you’re in another place and another time. Rather, you feel like it. Something (sometimes nothing) has elicited a very physical and emotional memory, a frighteningly intense mental space that we first discovered in combat. As Brian Mockenhaupt aptly wrote, they are the “darkened areas that for many remain unexplored. And once these darkened spaces are lit, they become a part of us.” Often, our time back in those places passes quickly. Sometimes, it does not. And, other times, we give in to the immense gravity those memories exert and venture further down the rabbit hole.

So I wasn’t surprised when Doc began sending me links to videos from the wars. On occasion some of us indulge ourselves in the imagery and sounds of combat. We scratch that itch in a way that’s masochistic, nostalgic, and indicative of the bizarre allure of adrenaline. Modern technology has created an internet that is awash with footage of combat. We can take our pick between an Apache strike, a machine gun’s hammering rattle, or a stream of tracers racing across those all-too-familiar cityscapes. Anyone can. Many do. We wouldn’t be the first generation to revisit these things. In The Great War and Modern Memory, Paul Fussel told us about World War One veterans of Great Britain purchasing phonograph records of the sounds of artillery bombardments on the Western Front.

And, of course, as veterans we’re not really so unique in this regard, either.

There is a reason these images are at our fingertips. If America is honest with itself, we are all fascinated with war and violence on some level. It permeates our culture whether we served in war or not. Those who haven’t experienced it can be drawn to it by curiosity, and the less those who truly understand talk about it – the more it’s a dirty little secret – the greater the pull of this curiosity. David Grossman has taken it a step further in pointing out that the prevalence of fictionalized violence in video games, television, and film is widespread, so much so that it has warped our society’s fundamental understanding and beliefs about violence. Indeed, he went as far to say that the more dishonest we are about the true nature of violence, the more we associate it with positive feelings and thus perpetuate it. For most, those spectacles are just that – exciting images and sounds.

Of course, combat veterans know better. We know what a grotesque reality it is to kill and be killed. It’s the harshest reality we’ve had to face. So why would those of us ‘in the know’ seek to face this reality again by seeking out this imagery? Are we subjecting ourselves to some kind of punishment? Not really.

Down there in the rabbit hole, we fumble around in the dark for reasons why we’re there. We look in every corner of our current reality to make sense of the emotions. But for the myriad of possibilities, there is one single reason why they really occur – it’s a memory. Immersing ourselves in the images and sounds of war allow us to establish a concrete, logical connection between the way we feel now and the way we felt then. It’s a reminder that we are not insane. Our bodies and minds just hold distinct, vivid memories, and those memories have powerful emotional content. We can make sense of it, and that understanding is somewhat of a comfort even if the mechanisms we use to comprehend it make us feel strange.

Were Americans frank about their fascination with war and thorough in its desire to understand, we wouldn’t feel so uncomfortable about remembering. But we live in a conflicted society, one that alternates between peacemongering during war and warmongering in peace. Perhaps if the imagery of war and violence were packed with the horrible punch that we feel that fascination would dissipate. At the least, it would be understood for what it is.

So we write and attempt to tell stories to explain, to give a gateway into the emotional context that surrounds the phenomenon of war. We do so in the hopes that everyone can understand that it’s not really something we miss as much as it is something we can’t forget.

And we try to let others know that when they go chasing rabbits down those holes, they’re not alone.      

What no one tells you about the reintegration process:

1. It is overwhelming for them to be home again.
-Though they are excited, they can also feel anxious. These feelings are often mistaken because of the excitement that surrounds the homecoming.
2. They don’t quite know where they fit in because they have been gone for so long.
-Give them time to find their place again. They aren’t ready for everything and all responsibilities at once.
3. Let them sleep.
-They are usually jet lagged and/or haven’t slept well in months. If you let them sleep the first 48 hours as much as they can/want, they will be less zombie-like afterwards.
4. They will question things/processes.
-It’s natural. Before they left, routines may have been done differently or not existed at all. Be patient when explaining–it’s usually without malicious intent that they ask why you do that thing that way now.
5. Sometimes, they come back a little too aware.
-Certain noises, talking about work or extremely large crowds can be triggers for anxiety–they usually don’t realize it until it’s happening. Again, be patient and talk to them calmly about it. I usually, gently rub my husband’s arm and smile at him. It’s a form of “grounding” (bringing him back to reality) without having to use words.
6. Finally, both of you have changed.
-Months and months went by, you both changed a bit: that’s okay. You had to manage without them & keep everything going and they had to work 20 hour days while sleeping in a shitty rack/cot. Give yourself and them the opportunity to reconnect and talk about all that happened while they were away.

On homecoming.

Coming home on leave (16 days at home about 2 times a year) was always fantastic, it really made me appreciate the world I lived in. After shit hit the fan in 2007, on a 15 month deployment where 8 dudes from my 30 man platoon got killed, and I got out, coming home for good, it wasn’t so nice. I moved back in with my mom (I was stationed in Germany), and had no idea what to do. Like 30 grand in the bank since I couldn’t really spend money deployed for 15 months, and absolutely no direction or desire. My mom called me out on being drunk for literally the first two days I was home, I mean not sleeping at all, I just stayed up all night, smoked cigarettes, and drank beer and 40s while looking at pictures of my friends who were still in, and those who died. She heard me sobbing at like 3 in the morning and came and sat with me, but I didn’t want her to, I didn’t want any relationships with anybody. I immediately missed everyone I served with. So I started sleeping and eating, and not being drunk EVERY day, but I didn’t know what to do. 23 or 24 years old, no one was around to tell me what to do anymore, and it sucked. I was depressed all the time, I couldn’t connect with my childhood and high school friends because we were so drastically different. I spent most nights driving two cities away, about 40 minutes, and getting shit faced until last call. Not trying to pick up girls, not having fun, just sitting at a bar drinking nonstop and playing pool with myself, then I would drive back home and go to sleep. I woke up after noon almost every day. Eventually I got pinched for a “Super Extreme DUI” (an Arizona thing) which netted me 45 days in jail and a total cost of about 9,000 dollars. I don’t remember if I was suicidal, but I had absolutely no emotion for anything going on in the world around me. I took drives to Oklahoma, where my buddy I told you about was from, and found solace in hanging out with his girlfriend, friends, and family (I didn’t move in on his girlfriend or anything, we were just friends). Being back home in Arizona was worse after going to Oklahoma. I tracked down two guys I served with who lived in North Carolina, and I threw everything I owned in my car, and drove across the country to live closer to them. I lived on my friend’s couch in West Virginia for about a week, but got burnt out by seeing him deal with his state job and his newly bought house, so I left him there. Made it to North Carolina, and my friends helped get me on track with college, I picked up a girlfriend, and lived in my buddy’s living room for about a year while I tried to figure everything out. Now, years later, I’m 5 classes from a BA in Communication Studies, and I still don’t really know what to do. I still drink a lot and have severe anger issues. I was a happy guy before Baghdad. So it sucks, man. I’m reflective enough to know that a lot of dudes like me lost any potential they may have had, depending on their time in the service. It’s not just that “war is ugly,” it’s so much more dynamic than that. No one I served with, no one I liked anyway, believed in the mission or the war, we just wanted to stay alive and go back home. A couple of us had been to Iraq two years earlier, and in 12 months we didn’t have to kill anybody. So we were like “Good. They left us alone, we’ll leave them alone.” But when we got to Baghdad the motherfuckers wouldn’t leave us alone. We weren’t kicking down doors or harassing people. We were just driving around for our patrols, checking out the city and talking to people, then going back to the base to jerk off, listen to music, sleep, and wait for the deployment to end. Then the bastards started killing us. First guy got shot in the back by a sniper, getting back into the hum vee to end the patrol. We cried, we learned to be more careful, and we learned that it wasn’t going to be the same. Then the fucking IEDs started coming. Dudes would dig big ass holes and stick hundreds of pounds of explosives in them, and we would drive over them and experience mass casualties. A guy laying in the road with no legs, his still booted and clothed legs lying on the curb a few feet away from him, and dudes full of shrapnel holes laying in the street, calmly saying “get me the fuck out of here,” through dirty, bloody grimaces. No Saving Private Ryan bullshit where dudes are hysterical, screaming for their mothers. Just wincing back tears, trying to look tough, even though a leg, or an arm was mangled like a plate of spaghetti, and they were completely defenseless. 18 year old guys, 19 year olds. Fucking teenagers, bleeding and dying in the streets. Anyway, we started to get mad. We started to hate the people for not warning us about bombs in the road, for not giving us info on the assholes who were hurting us. The Iraqis wouldn’t help us, and they wouldn’t help themselves. They just wanted to be left alone. But when your friends die in pieces, you get angry, you want blood, vengeance. It’s not about politics, nations, patriotism, revelry, or anything other than cold revenge. And we were armed to dish out that vengeance. Unfortunately, we were fighting ghosts. We hardly ever got to kill our killers, so we had to pent up our anger and wait for an opportunity to release it. My platoon eventually quit, after one of our Bradleys (it’s like a tank, only a bunch of guys sit in the back of it) got flipped upside down, ripped in half, and killed all 5 of our soldiers inside of it. The driver burned alive, some dudes said they heard him screaming as they tried to get through the flames to save him. After that, my platoon quit. We told our leadership, straight up, “If you send us back into that city, we are going to kill everyone we see. We will go if you let us do that, but we are not going if you will not let us.” We all got punished, split apart, sent to other units. All our brotherhood and camaraderie was ripped from us. Then we got back to Germany. Then, guys like me, got out of the Army and went home for good, alone. Went home and took all that anger, all that resent, and all that fucking loss. It’s still there. It waits for a driver to cut us off, or some college kid to bitch about the war, then it comes out. Some of us drink to control it, to soothe it, to keep it at bay, but at a certain point alcohol just fucking amplifies it. Then, we do things like break our hand on a street sign, beat the shit out of some punk kid for saying something ignorant, or shooting a hole in our apartment wall because we were too drunk and nihilistic to give a fuck if the gun was loaded or not, sometimes it gets us into fights where we wake up in the street outside the bar after being choked out. Some guys kill themselves. Some keep themselves occupied with wives and kids, or 60 hour work weeks. Some of us just slip through life, hoping to be left alone. On Normandy Beach, when the Germans mowed down soldier’s buddies, the soldiers could take all their anger and frustration up the beach and throw it in the enemy’s face; they had a release. Our war doesn’t typically give us that, and it fucking sucks. It is crippling. so we survive. If you’re still with me here, there’s the short answer: Coming home sucks, and we just try to get by and act like everyone else.

– Words and image by Chad Allan Darrah

[What’s the biggest misconception about elephants?]

“Their intelligence. Elephants understand that ivory is the reason they’re being killed. There are very, very few big bulls with big ivory left in the world, and the two or three still in Tsavo have become nocturnal. I’ve seen a bull with big tusks by the road turn his back, trying to hide the ivory.”

— Daphne Sheldrick, DBE (x) (x) (x)

that feel when u realize saiko and amon are matching

Former medics find themselves on the bottom rung in civilian field.

Spc. Tyler Sparks, a combat medic from St. Cloud, Minn., prepares his medical aid bag prior to beginning a mission from Forward Operating Base Kalsu, Iraq. Sparks served as a medic with the St. Cloud, Minn., based Delta Company, 1st Combined Arms Battalion 194th Armor, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team 34th Infantry “Red Bull” Division, providing convoy security during Operation New Dawn, the historic draw-down phase of post combat operations in Iraq. (Photo by Captain Michael Lovas, 14 NOV 2011.)

(Stars and Stripes article by Heath Druzin, 5 MAY 2015.)

NORTH CHICAGO, Ill. — In four deployments as an Army combat medic to some of the most dangerous corners of Iraq and Afghanistan, Joe Carney had seen the worst of war — bullet wounds, severed limbs, shrapnel. He saved lives amid bombs and gunfire, his emergency room often a patch of dirt in the desert or a rocky mountainside. None of that mattered when he left the Army three years ago.

“I think the services should do a better job because at the end of the day, your last day in the Army, the last day in the Navy, you’re out, no one cares about you,” he said. “What I tell people who are planning to get out is, you have to have a plan.”

Like many medics and Navy corpsmen, the U.S. military’s front-line medical professionals, Carney’s skills translated to almost nothing in the civilian world.

He grew up watching “M.A.S.H.” and “ER” with his parents and was drawn to emergency medical work as a young boy. That led him to join the Army at 19 and serve as a combat medic for 10 years. Nearly half of that time was spent deployed in war zones.

But despite his extensive training, he lacked state licensing certificates and he struggled to find a job at his skill level. He settled on a job as an emergency room technician, where he was allowed to do little beyond administer oxygen and take blood pressure readings.

“It was a good reality check,” he said. “You know you’re not in the military no more. The hard part was standing back when you’ve got these trauma situations.”

It’s a common story with medics and corpsmen, who have long had difficulty finding civilian medical work that matches their training.

“It is an asset that’s being wasted because they’re highly skilled in what they do,” said Dr. Michael Bellino, an emergency physician who mentors Carney at the Capt. James A. Lovell Federal Health Center in North Chicago, Ill. “I’d trust him with taking care of my family.”

Carney, 32, doesn’t have to stand back anymore. For the past two years, he has been working in a fledgling program that offers medics and corpsmen appropriate health care employment and at the same time, builds up the ranks at the Department of Veterans Affairs — which is struggling mightily to keep up with demand. He and about 45 other veterans are working as Intermediate Care Technicians, a role invented for the VA program. Carney is also in a pilot program to prepare ICTs to become physician assistants, a more advanced, higher-paying job.

State standards

According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, post-9/11 veterans have a slightly higher unemployment rate than their civilian peers and veterans as a whole. While there are no specific unemployment numbers for medics and corpsmen, they leave the military with very specific barriers to employment in the medical field.

Despite being trained to tend to bullet wounds and severed limbs in the harshest conditions, under fire and on helicopters, most leave the service without a certificate for the lowest-rung medical jobs. They face months of redundant training, and many leave the medical field.

“We do a little more than what people may understand,” said Scott Garbin, a 15-year Army veteran who works as an ICT in Detroit and is the unofficial senior technician in the program, acting as a liaison between the veterans and the VA.

Congress has passed legislation to allow the federal government to recognize military training for some civilian jobs, but health care licensing is generally done at the state level, and efforts have been uneven across the country. Some states have made efforts to recognize military training; in California, former medics and corpsmen can take an equivalency exam to speed the process of becoming EMTs or paramedics. A small program at Lansing Community College in Michigan, which was lauded as a model at a recent military credentialing conference in Washington, fast-tracks former medics to get paramedic licenses and placement in a nursing program.

“One of the major roadblocks those separating from the military face in their transition to the civilian job market is the fact that many professional licensing and credentialing standards vary from state to state,” Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said in an email. “I urge states to adopt standards that will fully recognize veterans’ experience, and I will continue to support VA’s programs putting these professionals to work helping their fellow veterans.”

Undervalued experience

Medics and corpsmen are exposed to more trauma than just about any other occupation in the military. They get an up-close view of the carnage and often must work to save the lives of their friends. Some civilian employers who don’t understand what they’ve been through penalize them for their experiences.

“I even had one hospital’s emergency room (official) ask me, ‘How damaged are you?’ ” Carney said.

The civilian reaction to combat experience has been one of the most difficult changes to make, said Ed Davin, an analyst with the research firm Solutions Information Design, who has spent three decades studying military-to-civilian career transitions and helped develop government programs to aid veterans as they leave the services.

“What the civilian folks can’t get their arms around is, ‘How do I put a value on two tours in Iraq?’ ” he said.

The medical community has made strides in recognizing military training, and the military has improved its credentialing, but the vast majority of medics and corpsmen still come out facing the prospect of a pay cut or redundant training.

“We have large numbers of medics and corpsmen who, when they come out, can’t get a job to support a family,” he said.

‘They relate’

When Aaron Rice left the Army in 2009, he was 25, a veteran of three violent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan as a combat medic. He was struggling to find his footing in the civilian world. Seeking solitude, he moved to Alabama, far away from friends and family.

“It was kind of like looking in a broken glass mirror,” he said. “Your sense of self is kind of lost because your sense of self was your unit.”

His colleague, Conrad Siat, had a similar experience after a year in Ramadi, one of the most dangerous corners of Iraq. He had to quit a construction job because the loud noises bothered him, and he was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Both got help, and now they work together as technicians at the John Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit, one of 15 VA centers affiliated with the ICT program. On a winter day in that hospital’s busy emergency department, they attended to patients, including an ill elderly Korean War-era veteran and a young Iraq veteran with a gaping wound in his arm.

Rice and Siat say the job has become a calling.

“I’m a veteran, I’m here for the veterans — they’re my brothers,” Siat, 44, said. “He who sheds his blood with me shall forever be my brother.”

Far from seeing war experiences as liabilities, VA officials say having veteran medical professionals interact with their patients is an obvious benefit. Doctors who work with the technicians say they have a special rapport with patients and can often calm combative patients who might not respond to civilians.

“They relate,” said Dr. Bassam Batarse, the Detroit VA hospital’s chief of staff for integrated clinical services, who says the program has gone so well he’s requested additional technicians.

Positive response

The ICT program began in 2012 after prompting from then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. When the VA central office began accepting applications for 45 spots, they received about 400 applications, said Karen Ott, director for policy, education and legislation in the VA’s Office of Nursing Services.

“We knew we were on to something,” she said.

Now there are 45 ICTs working across 15 VA hospitals, and the program is set to grow to about 270 slots. Pay for technicians can range from $31,000 to $52,000, depending on experience and location. The pilot program to help technicians prepare for physician assistant school while on the job, called CAMVETs, has just started. .

Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Ret.) David Lash, the director of the Corpsman and Medic Vocation Education and Training Program and a civilian physician assistant, said the job matches well with the skills of medics and corpsmen. It will also be open to those interested in other health care jobs, including physician. The physician assistant position was created in the mid-1960s partly in response to Vietnam veterans who returned with skills in treating trauma. As the profession has become more popular, it has become harder for medics and corpsmen to get into school.

Lash, who helped create the ICT program and the Lovell Health Center-based CAMVETS, bridges the divide between civilians who run those schools and the technicians.

“A lot of schools don’t want to accept what they did in the military as health care experience, which is crazy,” he said.

He has gotten a positive response from schools he’s worked with, and he hopes to be able to tailor the program to veterans interested in using the ICT job as a stepping stone to other medical jobs. Lash said interest in the program from veterans has been overwhelming, and he wants to take it national.

“How can you go wrong if you have veterans becoming the people who are taking care of our veterans?”

British drama, In The Flesh, twists the zombie genre by examining it not as an apocalypse, but as a disease - with a cure.

The undead are now being medically treated, and referred to in politically correct speech as sufferers of PDS: Partially Deceased Syndrome. The goal is to reintegrate PDS sufferers into their communities.

Unfortunately, society has not all forgiven the undead for their crimes when rabid. Many neighborhoods still hold onto their militias, which resemble real life hate groups (such as the KKK) in their murderous mob mentality.

In The Flesh becomes unique for the zombie genre by examining how groupthink can not just help humanity (as is the typical lesson in zombie shows), but how it can harm it by creating the obstinate us vs. them mindset.

The heroes are not the able-bodied and healthy-minded zombie fighters, but characters who endure discrimination, PTSD, depression, and physical attributes which mark them as different from society. On the flip side, those pro-living often have valid reasons for their fear and rejection of the partially-deceased, making this conflict a complex one.

And for anyone interested in queer representation, the main character is a gay boy who is shown to pursue a romantic relationship.

However, as of January, BBC Three canceled In The Flesh for budget reasons. Petitions have since been set up to make producers aware of the demand and potential success for this unique series.

Sign here to have Netflix pick up the third season for In The Flesh

Sign here to have Amazon pick up the third season

Sign here to have BBC Three pick up the third season

Holes left behind – Segment IV – Disconnected.

US Army Captain Renee Marie tosses bits of shredded uniform, days before her retirement from the US Army, at Shotwell Paper Mill, home of the Combat Paper Project. - Andrew W. Nunn

 

If you’ve spent five minutes in the civilian world you’ll have realized that many things are different; from the way people act to the way things are done, everything becomes foreign the moment you went through basic training and they didn’t.  When you get out of the military everything is exciting and new, and you feel free; until that point in time when you have to begin interacting with the world again, the one you left behind years ago.  This sudden drop back into civilian life, can at times, feel like a whole other culture, and in some ways it really is.  

The hard copy definition of culture is a shared set of values, morals, and knowledge that gets passed on from generation to generation.  The moment you join the military you automatically split off into another culture, and the longer you spend within that culture, the more disconnected you become from the civilian path.  I don’t know many veterans who still have real personal connections with old civilian friends, let alone family members.  That’s because while most civilians are graduating high school and moving on to college we had already moved away from home, flew thousands of miles away, lived in foreign lands; were shot at, blown up, and caught dysentery.  It’s a pretty big difference between that kind of stress and the stress you get when you slept through your alarm and are now late for a test.  

We came home to seeing how the new generation has fared since we had left, and to be quite honest a lot of the time it disgusts me how much our society has become an entitled society.  Now, before you go ape shit on me about how you have some disease that makes you unable to work, I’d like to say that I’m not talking about you.  I’m talking about the generation of apathy, narcissism, and a sub par work ethic; the one that thinks it’s fully acceptable to use the acronym LOL in an essay.  I think what gets to me most of the time is the large number of uninformed who choose to be uninformed due to news being “too dark.”  For those of us in college this is what we have to reconnect with.

How do you reconnect? Tolerance and understanding.  No joke.  If you don’t make an attempt to understand that they will not understand the same life philosophies, that you have come to embrace, for possibly many years to come, you will get eaten alive.  I mean think about it, are you really upset at the new generation and how they’ve forgotten us or have you forgotten that they never knew about us?  When I first got out I was so mad at the world because I felt absolutely left behind; when I left for Europe, and eventually Iraq, maybe 25% of the population had cellphones and they flipped open or looked like a brick; whereas, when I came home the whole world had changed, I felt like Brooks from Shawshank Redemption.  The culture in the United States is ever changing, and we cannot blame the greater population for going with it; we can only do our best to catch up and try to adjust.

Words by Nathan D. Moldenhauer
Photograph by Andrew W. Nunn

  • Reintegration
  • Yellow Swans
  • Deterioration
Play

Reintegration by Yellow Swans, on their album Deterioration. Just picked this CD up last night. Yellow Swans are a pretty good noise/drone/experimental band from Portland, Oregon.

My eyes were drawn toward the interesting album cover, and I was pleased to find that it was by a band I had heard of–they were featured in the documentary People Who Do Noise.

A veteran’s discussion of “Thank you for your service.”

Major Mark Bieger cradles Farah, a little girl wounded in a malicious car bomb attack on patrolling US forces in Iraq, while local children were gathered around the vehicles. Bieger rushed Farah to the US hospital, but she died in his arms. (Image by Michael Yon, 14 MAY 2005. Source.)

(Blogpost by David P. Ervin, posted 2 FEB 2015 on MEA. Source.)

I was recently talking with a friend about the dialogue surrounding ‘thank you for your service’ in the military and veteran community. When I mentioned that it might not be the best thing to say based on what I’d read and heard, she was perplexed. She wondered how a seemingly harmless phrase like that could take on such negative connotations. After thinking about it for while, I wondered myself. What is wrong with it? Given the pervasiveness of this phrase’s criticism, it’s important to examine what we’re really talking about when we talk about ‘thank you for your service.’

The spectrum of denigration of this saying within the military and veteran community is wide. Some have said it doesn’t go far enough, that society should do more than utter a phrase and offer a free meal on Veterans’ Day to welcome back its warriors. Some say it’s simply sycophantic and has more to do with making people feeling good about themselves than legitimately honoring a veteran’s service. And there’s a chorus of voices that claim such a platitude is a symptom of widespread disengagement, sort of a proxy for any meaningful conversation about war. Still others say there’s simply no need to be thanked for something we volunteered to do.

While there is a degree of validity to much of this criticism, perhaps the interpretations are indicative of something deeper, something that speaks more about the perspective and experiences of post- 9/11 veterans than of the meaning (or the lack of meaning) of the phrase itself.

It’s true that a tiny fragment of American society participated in Iraq and Afghanistan. While we were at war our peers were obtaining higher education or pursuing and building careers, something on which we got a late start because we chose to serve. Life went on normally for an overwhelming majority of US citizens. “America wasn’t at war,” so the saying goes, “America was at the mall.” Sebastian Junger and James Fallows have correctly pointed out that the wars following 9/11 were something that fell on the shoulders of the participants rather than the society in whose name they were fought. Junger discussed a situation in which the public simply doesn’t know what its military does, much less share the moral burden, and Fallows mentioned that the gap between cultures goes further, effectively stymieing realistic, constructive debate about military spending and foreign policy.“Thank you for your service” can, in that light, be seen as something of a hollow gesture coming from across a wide chasm between the experiences of those who fought and those that didn’t.

The character of those experiences themselves can shape the interpretation. Recently, the concept of ‘moral injury’ has garnered some attention. In summary, moral injury is the effects of taking part in an act that goes against basic human tenets of right or wrong, like killing. The ubiquity of civilians on modern, non-linear battlefields coupled with the guerilla tactics we encountered created situations in which innocent civilians were killed even while following the rules of war. Then there’s the feeling that we didn’t do enough or that we didn’t deserve to survive when so many didn’t. In these contexts the acceptance of gratitude seems inappropriate.

War unleashes a complex set of conflicting emotions. As young men and women we were awed by incredible displays of firepower even while knowing the obscenity of its purpose. Sometimes we loved it. Sometimes we hated it. Sometimes we hated that the fact that we loved it. And in the back of our minds, we knew it was something we chose to do. We’re proud of that even if we’re appalled at the sights we saw. That the overall experience can leave a veteran grappling with significant questions is not hard to fathom.

Can the average civilian contemplate the depth of this internal conflict? Probably not. But it seems they are attempting to at least ackowledge it by saying ‘thank you for your service.’ If the recent box office success of American Sniper is any indication, they’re willing to learn more about our experiences. Perhaps we shouldn’t spurn that. Perhaps we should meet them halfway across that gap.

I don’t want to spill beans on when that happens and how, but what you pointed out, we definitely deal with. Again, we didn’t want to just be like nothing happened just because it’s an animated world. Like oh, now we’re all back together and everything’s the same as it was. We try to treat these characters like they’re real people, even if it’s a fantastical world. We definitely deal with the years apart.
—  Bryan Konietzko, responding to being asked how Korra will reintegrate with the group after so much change, X

Whether you admire or admonish webcomics, there is a massive amount of talent in that field. Many artists turn to producing webcomics in order to help create a fanbase and launch a concept that would be hard to pitch to a studio. Especially with so many of the major studios trapped in the purgatory of retconing the same concept time and time again. Whereas online, an artist can make a webcomic for anything from a story of a guy who’s face gets ripped off in a terrible printer accident and he becomes the best anti-hero, to a story about movie/videogame ultra men trying to reintegrate into society. Kelly… Kelly worked on the latter.

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I started following her webcomic back in… 2008 or 2009. In fact, she had one of the first major Webcomics. At one point, her website was one of the top 10000 sites on the internet. That is a massive deal considering the hundreds of thousands of sites that exist now. It was my introduction into the world of webcomics, and was one of the first artists to help bridge the gap to the rest of the art community and art world. I am extremely grateful for this.

Her webcomic was a perfect cacophony of references to action heroes, videogame characters, a scatter few super heroes, and her main star… Commander Badass. The story centers around Commander Badass, a spacefighter from the future scientifically engineered to be the ultimate badass and given an awesome name, to be awesome. He is working in a temp agency that specializes in getting other badasses into jobs and re-ingratiate into society. The story is pitched perfectly in the first comic.

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For those of you not familiar, Kratos is the main character of the God of War series. He spends most of the series yelling and screaming at greek gods while ripping the wings off harpies, stabbing cyclops in the eyes, and just murder. So much murder. it was also one of the first games to capitalize on quick time events involving you smashing keys. To me, it was a thing of beauty that had me grabbing the stitch in my side laughing so intensely. Every comic to follow has managed to come along and follow up the jokes. Her references are incredibly spot on and manage to mock the absurdity of those worlds.

Something can also be said about the way she made each of the main characters truly fit into their roles. Commander Badass, who to my knowledge is almost always smoking a cigar, talks with a thick accent and his words can be muddled together. She illustrates this really well. His arch nemesis is Canadian Man. That character is a joke off a mix of her dad and her being from Canada, knowing full well some of the ridiculous stuff that goes on up there. It has had me laughing intensely because they are injected expertly. Next comes Commander Badass’s kids which she has managed to turn into something believable. It sounds unreal to think that a couple of little kids would be okay in a story along side Duke Nukem and the basement of Snakes (MGS joke…,) yet she based most of Commander Badass’s parental skills on those she grew up experiencing. Then there is Jared and Mr. Fish. An injoke at Pokemon and a normal person in with this patheon of movie gods and videogame demigods. Well, Mr. Fish is…. yeah….

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Platnium Black.

The series has been going on for quite sometime and continues to improve in minor ways throughout time. I really love this comic and it introduced me to more. Surprisingly, Kelly has been in two bad accidents during this time and it never really stopped her from working on this project. Often times she injects some snippets of what is affecting her style. Whether it is a piece of animation with particulars or something going on that inspired her to try out a new tool.

After a few years of following her online, I found out that she had an additional project that she had been wanting to work on. A quick breakdown for those on the outside of this… Getting into the mainstream comic world is tough. The mainstream world is really tough to pitch to on any front, especially for 1-off ideas and concepts that could be tough to market. The reason why there seems to be a lack of originality in the system, is due to major production companies being unsure of whether or not they can turn a certain profit on a piece. Ultimately, nothing can be worse than working on a project and investing the necessary funds into it, then having it tank horribly.  That is something most webcomic artists who produce slice of life stories or even more intense stories that would be tough to convey properly.

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Kelly talked about her one dream project that she had been hoping to work on like this. For quite sometime she was working on drawings and illustrations of her characters. They were beautifully detailed and with nuanced characters that would take some serious time to build into the story. It is a story involving boxing, monsters aplenty, and a world that you would want to explore all of the background characters because they all seem to have a story to tell.

In ended up becoming a joint project with an additional artist. Kelly did the flat drawing and line art and referred colouring to an additional artist. If this is something that some may refer to as cheating, in the world of comic books you often have a writer, a colourist, an illustrator, and an editor. In fact, in an issue of a Firefly graphic novel, there is a bit in the background where it says “fill in black with stars” in regards to the background. It was a note for the colourist that somehow slipped past the editor. If Darkhorse comics can use a team to produce their works, the idea of a webcomic being worked on by 2 artists is not absurd. If anything, it gives them the ability to accomplish more more often.

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The overall story follows a human boxer living on an island filled with other human level intelligent creatures. The boxer is like the shiest guy out there, like it is so bad he often goes out and becomes a hermit off on some remote area of island. His best friend and guide on the island is a form of shapeshifter. The shapeshifters are often taken out somewhere remote, and harvested for their organs. They will regenerate and often forget the trauma that they endured. It is considered illegal on the island but within about 20 pages or so, it is driven home how little anyone cares for the laws on this island.

If anything, I can’t do the comic justice in a short synopsis. The shortest version would be “3 guys, into boxing, on an island full of monsters.”

However, she spent the better part of 3 years going into detail on what she wanted. Kelly had questions into everything from individual characters and how they met, to complicated discussions of trade agreements and currency on the island. She always had answers for the people asking and it helped inform and shape the comic as she worked to get it into production, all the while continuing Manly Guys Doing Manly Things. I think one of my favorite bits of side information that she interjected into some of the revealed preplanning was talks of the ghosts that inhabit the area. It was one of the coolest versions of a story with ghosts I had heard.

More or less, the ghosts of the dead are useful. Because they wander to and fro, the people on the island will purposely leave bodies out to rot and corrode into exposed skeletons. This way the ghosts can inhabit the bodies and float about. Often times, the ghosts would be put partially to work on moving materials back and forth. The ghosts had returned to serve the living and living know to intern their skeletons to the dead. That struck me as a more beautiful concept to have in a story. In this case, it is just a bit of random background noise in a sea of interesting ideas that are coming to fruition. If you are still on the fence, it is worth peering into.

Who is Kelly Turnbull though?

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From what I know, she is a Canadian citizen that moved out to LA in order to work in animation. There are two words that can describe her, BAD ASS. Honestly, she is who I tend to look to in terms of self acceptance because she can pull off some amazing looks. I mean, she has a huge nose ring, often times a Pompadour meets mow hawk haircut, and desires to dress like she is a raider in Post Apocolypitica. I mean, she went so far to design and make a jacket that matched Kurgan from The Highlander and she would not look out of place on the set of Mad Max. She would probably be an enforcer. Hell, one of the first pictures I saw of her, was her having shaved her head to pull off being Kratos from God of War for Halloween one year.

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Her Canadianness often rears its head and her jokes are often filled with comments about the way things are there versus here. Often her jokes talk about the influence her father had on her. Her father sounds like quite the character who is into some elements of taxidermy and creating ringmail. To the point, where recently her brother adopted a puppy and he created a ringmail outfit for the puppy that fit him perfectly.

She actually has a story about her and her father (he really is a constant source of inspiration for her,) in which she talks about his beard. Apparently, he is this big viking of a man. A true Canadian of a man and was known for having this great bushy beard. At one point, early on in her life, he shaved it off for some reason. This seem to scar Kelly. I think she said she was 4 at the time and she burst into tears because her father had always had this beard. That was all she knew. Suddenly having this non-bearded man that looked like her dad scared her. She actually wrote a whole comic about it, however it was rather entertaining having her share that story.

She has worked on animation in the show Ugly Americans, an animated short for Parker, and typically the start up sequences in movies and shows where the credits roll in. She has become a story boarder from what she has commented on most recently. Kelly is busting her ass in the field she is in, to where she was involved in a motorcycle accident that injured the nerves in her dominant arm. Quite a few people wanted to treat her like a horse no longer fit to race, yet she has found a way to continue working and nearly the same level using her left hand (I couldn’t do it,) and get some of the additional detail in with her right hand as she waits for that to heal up entirely. She is working as a board artist for Cartoon Network.

Now her style is something that needs a few words on. Every artist ends up typically developing their own quirks and ways to create their projects. Manga styles tend to stay consistent and are unique with in a production house. However, that seems to be that way due manga typically being treated as kabuki masks to tell the stories. However, that is a story for another time. Kelly has talked about how certain animation projects have affected her to draw hands and fingers slightly differently for one reason or another. However, with the way she draws, her style is inspired by Disney, comics, and a touch of manga. Her style also has some of the realism influenced by Andrew Loomis and his words on how to create caricatures of a person based on landmarks. The idea being, know which rules you can bend to get the results you want. Regardless, it is one of my more favorite art styles and her idea of velociraptors is quite enjoyable.

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she has saltini pigeons and I love her bird loaf dinos.

Materials and Tools:

From what I remember, Kelly uses a combination of Photoshop and a couple of Corel’s products designed for comicbooking.  You can refer to the previous Spotlight Saturday concerning what my recommendations are there. However, she does have a couple of unique tools at her disposal. Also, she totally wins some points in my book for actually illustrating her examples and teaching as she creates. Often times, she will have some bit of education to go along with it. It really assists in figuring out what she means exactly.

She uses a special set of premade tools call the Frenden custom brushes and Peltmade.

Frenden custom brushes is a set of custom brushes and tools for drawing and illustrated. I picked them up for around 5 bucks online and they made a massive difference. The pencils actually responded so much like pencils that I often times treated them exactly like them. To the point where I had manage to shave down the tips on my Intous pen tips. I was digging into the surface of the tablet as well which became problematic rapidly. However, it was an ideal tool that worked wonders. It comes with a non-photo blue preset, 3 different standard pencil presets, a grease pencils, a couple of pen/inking presets. All of them are worth it, especially if you are serious about wanting to create webcomics.

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The other tool, Peltmade is a fill tool. I know, shocking. What this does, is autofill the backgrounds intelligently. For digital webcomics, smart autofill gives you the ability to create the forms and background colours. The last thing you want is for the colour to leech out from behind the lines or have weird artifacting around some of the art because the fill isn’t capable of sitting exactly where you want it. This tool takes the work out of it and does a full autofill of all white in the piece. I would imagine the tool has some presets and adjustability to get it to do exactly what you want, but she uses it to rapidly fill a piece and prep it for final colour. Because her pieces are detailed and her style is quite different, a tool like this saves a lot of time and gives her the ability to finish piece and be done with it to meet her weekly deadlines.

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If you wish to find her works, I recommend the following:

  1. Tumblr
  2. Twitter
  3. Manly Guys Doing Manly Things
  4. Platinum Black

I do hope that you give her art a browse and I am going to include a few of her random comics. I recommend running a bath, ziplocking your tablet or phone, and light some candles. Take a couple of hours and read though her comic Manly Guys Doing Manly Things. It really is hysterical.

As always, thanks for your time, and I hope you all enjoy.

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Spotlight Saturday: Kelly Turnbull Whether you admire or admonish webcomics, there is a massive amount of talent in that field. Many artists turn to producing webcomics in order to help create a fanbase and launch a concept that would be hard to pitch to a studio.
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@ capcom: please consider the following

  1. Apollo Justice 2
  2. Apollo Justice 2
  3. Apollo Justice 2
  4. Another game featuring Apollo Justice, the protagonist from Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney for the Nintendo DS
  5. Apollo Justice is a defense attorney working for the Wright Anything Agency. He is notable for his involvement in a test trial for the Jurist System, an effort to reintegrate the jury into court proceedings, along with co-counsel Trucy Wright, Prosecutor Klavier Gavin, and mentor Phoenix Wright.
  6. Apollo Justice 2

Bringing the battlefield home.

Amvets Warrior Transition Workshop is a service run by the AMVETS Freedom and Honor team, a non-profit organization.

Mission The Freedom and Honor team is here to help you move through your combat stress via training modules. It’s not about sitting around and talking about your feelings, it’s about understanding who you are now and developing a mission.
Company Overview AMVETS Warrior Transition Program conducted by the Freedom & Honor team is a training and education provider for personnel of the U.S. military (veterans, active duty, Reserve and Guard), with a focus on those struggling with combat stress and readjustment issues resulting from one or more deployments to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), and other foreign military operations. These programs were designed by training experts and combat veterans. The flagship program is a 3-day hands-on reintegration training program using paradigm shift methodologies proven effective in dealing with trauma. To date through workshops and support to Yellow Ribbon events, more than 60,000 hours of training have been provided to more than 7,000 returning veterans. Description AMVETS Freedom and Honor Warrior Transition programs are weekend workshops and specially designed training programs that will change up the game. Sick of feeling like you are stumbling around? Struggling with feeling and emotions? Repeating your story and getting no where? What you need are the skills, tools and perspective to gain ground. Our Warrior Transition Workshop is unlike any other. 97% of the American public has never done what you’ve done so why not take a chance with those who have been there.

Rather than asking about ships or Lexa at SDCC, why don’t you try some of these questions: 

  • Will there be a time jump before season 4 or will it pick up pretty much where we left off?
  • Will Roan be involved in season 4?
  • Can you talk about Luna’s role in season 4?
  • Will Clarke’s leadership be challenged as she finally starts to reintegrate with all of her people?
  • Is it hard having a 13 episode limit this season?
  • What kind of emotional journey will Bellamy have in season 4 coming off of his hardest season yet?
  • What will Jaha have to do to redeem himself in season 4?
  • Will we get to learn more about characters like Miller or Emori?
  • Can you talk about what role Murphy will have in season 4 given his past relationships with the delinquents? 
  • How will the losses of so many people affect our heroes causes this season?
  • How big of a role will Raven have this season with shutting down the threat from the nuclear plants?
  • How hard will it be for the sky people and the grounders to come together, or will they?
  • What did Clarke learn in season 3 and how will she carry that lesson into season 4?
  • What effect did ALIE have on Abby and Kane, and how it will it affect their ability to be leaders going forward?
  • We know from the finale that 4% of the earth will be spared. Will there be an argument to go there rather than fight for the rest?
  • How far will Bellamy go to bring Octavia back into the light?
  • What effect will the Arkadian war have on people coming together in order to save the world?
  • What is your favorite way your character has developed since 1x01?
  • Would you say that life being about more than surviving is a theme for season 4? 
  • Will Harper have a bigger role this season?
  • Is there a chance we could ever learn more about Aurora Blake?
  • In the opening credits, we see statues and monuments. Are those images previews of what’s to come, especially given that the nuclear plants are scattered?
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Want to find out more about the Octavia Butler Archives? Support this project and signal boost! http://www.gofundme.com/9fkze8

Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network (OEBLegacy) showcases, supports, and promotes individual, community, social and environmental justice work that continues to be inspired by her life and science fiction. It is a diverse and inclusive grassroots organization that is made up of people from people across the country from various backgrounds. We have a network of artists, activists, doulas, academics, filmmakers, students, authors, scholars, science fiction fans and other people that are engaged in creating the world that we want to live in. 


OEBLegacy’s founder, Ayana Jamieson, usually shares, supports, and promotes news and activities from around the community. This time, she is asking for help to get some inspiring science fiction into the hands of 30 individuals in a community-funded and volunteer-based program called the Reintegration Academy founded by Dr. Renford Reese. She would like to be able to give at least one Octavia Butler text to each person and offer the encouragement of the community of donors that made it possible. She will be participating in an event on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 and she doesn’t want to show up empty handed. 

The Reintegration Academy is part of the Prison Education Project
which provides opportunities for incarcerated individuals. Its “ultimate goal is to create a prison-to-school pipeline and provide inmate-students with the cognitive tools necessary to function as productive citizens” and reduce recidivism by using resources in the backyard of each of the state’s prisons to make change.

Octavia Butler wrote about Change as the only lasting truth, shaping Change, and “positive obsession.” She inspired many of us to do the work that we do, whether it is fiction writing, social justice organizing, activism, parenting, teaching, or just living by the words that she wrote. Please help to share her life-sustaining work with people who understand what Change is and how vitally necessary it is to continue on the journey they started in this ten-week program. You can watch the video from past participants to see what a powerful impact the Reintegration Academy has had. 

Since OEBLegacy's founding in 2011 and launch in 2013, supporters and followers have grown organically through relationships and word of mouth. OEBLegacy has nearly 500 followers on Facebook, and more on Twitter and Tumblr. If each person just donated $1.00, it would add up quickly.

Ayana also has some very exciting Octavia related news that may encourage you to donate now or in the near future. She has been doing ongoing and extensive research in the Octavia Butler Collection and Archives of manuscripts and private papers for nearly two months. Soon, Ayana will begin to share some of her amazing findings with the OEBLegacy community. So far, all of the labor that keeps OEBLegacy running has been out of love and for free. This campaign to fund book donations is the first step in growing OEBLegacy into the kind of organization that is sustainable and even more engaged in community. 

As an added bonus, Ayana will add each donor’s email address to a mailing list of folks who will receive the updates to their inboxes without having to log in to social media or search Google.

http://www.gofundme.com/9fkze8