Image Submitted by Luis Jurado, Jr.
Working on this project can be all consuming at times, ask any of us that have been involved in this more than a couple of weeks. Although all of us have other interests, obligations and responsibilities, due to the nature of it, the project takes over our lives most days. Every now and then, it takes someone to refocus my attention. Yesterday, that refocusing came from an old friend from my previous life in the military, SSG Stephen Quarles. He asked me to do him a favor, but in reality, the favor was for my benefit and ultimately for the core of this project by taking some time to reflect on the reason behind this project and the personal histories each photo represents for those of us that survived combat and for those who sacrificed their lives on the very battlefields the photos reflect.
Image Submitted by Luis Jurado, Jr.
This project is more than a collection of photos and stories, more than a book. This project is a record of the lives we once lived, realities that now exist in our dreams and nightmares. This book will be a window into the past for those who lived inside it to reflect back on and a tool for those that have not to gain understanding with.
That old cliché which says a picture is worth a thousand words could not be more true in this instance. Hundreds of books have been written and thousands more will be written on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but nothing brings a flood of memories quite like a photograph. Each new one we receive becomes a new piece to the mural that is this project, bringing with it a new perspective on a reality we that have been to war all share. This HD world we all live in perhaps is what makes the recent conflicts so different. No longer is the battlefield we shared a distant memory only to re-emerge upon the closing of our tired eyes, technology awakens these moments simply by the power switch to our cameras or the window inside our laptops. Not to say that we are the first to document war via film, we have since the Civil War. However, these are
the first conflicts captured in the digital age, and each of us can prepare a personal historical record without the work of a film crew.
Image Submitted by Luis Jurado, Jr.
This project, through the artistic creations of those who have lived and died on those battlefields forever frozen in the silicon chips of our digital lives, joins the seams of those unique, personal perspectives into a mural of the realities we all share.
As we gear up for this expedition in just over a week, I will reflect on why we are doing this, what makes this project different and the purpose of it all. I will take SSG Q’s advice and do my best to carry the memories of the men and women who shared this momentous time in all of our personal histories. Though each of our experiences differ as each of us does from one another, we all share a common thread that held us together, a loyalty not to politics, creed, race or religion. A loyalty to one another, to watch out for and protect the one on your right and the one on your left. This book is a historical record of the events that we all shared, the moments our families were unaware of and the memories of those we lost, but most of all, it is a record of the brotherhood of US.
Submitted by Bobby Dolan
We recently learned of more base closings in Iraq, and for me as an artist and spouse of a veteran, this is deeply troubling. This comes on the heels of our expedition team being informed that we are being restricted to much fewer areas around Iraq due to a lack of interest among the units currently deployed. Knowing that with each closing we lose that much more artwork done by our military and others, we feel the need to make a plea to get more participation from those that are deployed. We know this is not an easy task as you are not there to be photographers but to do a job, and we are not asking that you sacrifice your obligations, but there are over 50,000 troops still deployed. If we can get just one of you on each post to take a few pictures of graffiti you see, we can ensure that it is sealed in time for future generations to experience.
Many may ask why this is important. Our answer is simple, this artwork represents a piece of history, your history, a moment in time through your perspective. It’s something that represents the lives of those who were there; the visual explanation of the lives of soldiers, airmen, marines, local nationals who didn't survive, and it’s something that needs to be preserved as a tool to learn and grow as individuals and as a nation.
Submitted by Rebecca Zimmerman
We’ve seen all the artwork that’s been sent in, much of it we haven't posted yet, and there are some amazing and extraordinary talents among the military community and beyond. The memorials that have been created, murals, little signs, the list goes on and on, and to imagine the incredible works of art that might get trashed like yesterday’s news is heart wrenching. Some of these took a lot of time and I can only imagine that’s not something easy to come by while dat war. I would think that the families of the fallen would love to see photos of artwork that was done in remembrance of their loved one by the men and women who knew them in a way no other did. Then there are the random pieces of art that express the uncensored emotions of war, the “words of wisdom”, slogans, rhymes, poems, and spontaneously jotted down by those of you who lived it and many who died because of it. It’s our responsibility to document them before they are forever lost.
Submitted by Luis Jurado, Jr.
In addition, there is the fact that this art can be studied as a reference tool for the development of art therapy that is geared toward veterans and service members. Documenting the images of this art is a joint goal of ours; we want to get art therapy out there as a more readily available treatment for those veterans and service members returning with the invisible wounds of war not just the visible. We want those who are interested in these alternative means of healing to be able to use their painting, writing, singing, or dancing to express themselves, to heal, to grow, to find a sense of stability and peace in their lives. With our partners we want to focus on bringing the community into the picture, and use your art to help our society better understand what you went through. We want to showcase your art for the world to see, and perhaps even help develop it into forms of income for those veterans struggling financially out there. The number of veterans who are homeless and living paycheck to paycheck are staggering, and if this could not only help these veterans heal, but also create opportunities for them to provide for themselves and their families, it’s worth our focus. I hope that any of you that are deployed and reading this can find time to snap a few photos for something that is a duty of ours as a nation to take care of our veterans, it’s a great cause, but more importantly… it’s your story!
This story is your story and needs to be told, not by politicians or policy makers, but by those who survived and by the brothers and sisters-in-arms of those who didn't. It is up to US to ensure what has been created, will not be lost by the sands of time, but will be here for future generations to learn from and to be inspired by.
Melissa "Mel" Parsons
Melissa “Mel” Parsons is a co-founder of the Graffiti of War Project and the executive director of the Graffiti of War Foundation. She will be sharing her thoughts and experiences as a military wife and spouse of a combat veteran in the hopes of shedding some light on the issues facing military and veteran families.
Have specific issues or questions that you would like addressed? Email Mel at email@example.com or post your comments on this blog or through our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/graffitiofwar
There has been quite a bit of chatter lately since the killing of Osama Bin Laden by Seal Team 6 almost two weeks ago. After the smoke cleared and the cheering stopped, many speculated that grim news couldn’t be far from the horizon. Still more thought that this should hasten the end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since we have finally found, and killed, the Western World’s most wanted man, why are we still fighting in Afghanistan? War’s over man, let’s move on to what really matters now…the lives of our celebrities and whether Obama is secretly a Muslim extremist born on the moon.
Sadly, the wars are not over and our brave men and women are still dying in countries thousands of miles from their home towns. More specifically, I recently learned about the plight of a father and his only son from one of our partners, the North Carolina Chapter (7) of Rolling Thunder. Via their Facebook page, they had a YouTube video posted, which I have reposted to this blog.
Bowe Bergdahl - Image by Associated Press
Over the course of the past two months, we have been quite busy and I am sure I have carpal tunnel syndrome from all of the emails, letters and requests I have been writing, many times to blind eyes. Frustration doesn’t seem to fully explain the emotion of speaking to deaf ears or writing to those who cannot grasp the urgency of our project’s goals. Many times I get wrapped up in the goings on around here and it takes a slap in the face to put me in my place, to awaken me to a clearer perspective on what’s important, and what isn’t. The struggles of this family, their son and the whirlwind of international diplomacy they now find themselves in is what cold-cocked me in the face this morning and brought a huge portion of perspective for my thoughts to chew on.
Sun Valley Idaho
Bowe Bergdahl was a once a boy from Hailey, Idaho, a resort city in Blaine County, the central part of the state. A small town boy, growing up in a community of less than 1,500 people amidst the wilderness and paradise that is the Rocky mountains, he joined the Army and was attached to the 25th Infantry Division out of Fort Richardson, Alaska. His unit deployed to Afghanistan in February of 2009 as a part of Regional Command East, International Security Assistance Force. The Battalion’s area of operation included Khost and Paktika provinces, all on the border with Pakistan. On June 30th, 2009, while on duty in Afghanistan’s Paktika province, PFC (now SPC) Bowe Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban. Since his capture they have released five videos, the last being a brief one in December 2010, showing him in captivity, threatening to execute him and demanding $1 million and the release of 21 Afghan prisoners, most of which are being held in Gitmo.
Robert Bergdahl - Photo by UK Daily Mail
On May 6th, 2011, his father, Robert Bergdahl, released a video via YouTube, pleading to Pakistani officials and the Taliban to release his only son. He appears with a full beard, the mountains of Idaho in the background and his eyes stare into your soul. Being a father myself of boys, I can only imagine the pain and torture it is, not knowing if your son will be killed today, or maybe tomorrow, or the next day. Is he cold or sick? Is he hurt or in pain? What if
he gets sick? What if they lose patience and kill my son? It is heart wrenching to speculate must be going through his mind.
In the video, Robert remains humble and respectful in his pleas to the captives, asking for them to play the video to Bowe. During the 3 minute display, Robert speaks a language that according to The Daily Mail (UK) is used in Northern Pakistan and Afghanistan, obviously hoping to relate his plight to those who hold his son for ransom. It is a haunting video and truly brings the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq a bit closer to home for those who choose to watch it.
Though we celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden, the fight sparked by September 11th continues in his absence. Our men and women remain vigilant and watchful thousands of miles from our shores and Robert Bergdahl lays awake nights, I’m sure, hoping that one day, a Special Forces Unit will intervene for his family, but those hopes are in vain. The Wars over, they say, the mastermind of terror is dead, buried at sea. Unfortunately for Robert and Bowe and thousands of our men and women in uniform, the wars rage on, captivity continues and the blood of our sons and daughters continue to stain the battlefields, thousands of miles from home.
A Special Happy Mother’s Day….this is a message for all the mothers out there who have sons or daughters in the military. Many articles and blogs are about spouses and children of soldiers, but I don’t see many regarding mothers of soldiers. Being a mother of a soldier is one of the most difficult and honorable positions anyone could hold.
What do you do when your child says “I enlisted in the military” particularly when a war is going on? Many things went through my mind and just to name a few…. pride, panic, worry. I was proud that my son chose to serve his country. I was proud that it was voluntary when a war was going on. I was in a panic that he was enlisting when a war was going on. I was worried that he was enlisting when a war was going on.
Mothers have such conflicting emotions when one of their children has enlisted. My son became a combat medic and immediately after being trained he was sent to one of the most dangerous places in the world at that time…Ramadi, Iraq. My heart ached and at the same time, it was bursting with pride. Mothers understand these conflicting emotions. I knew that by being a combat medic he would be in harms’ way every day. But I also was incredibly proud of him that he wanted to do this not only for his country but for his fellow soldiers. He was willing to lay his life on the line. How many of us are willing to do that?
He told me not to watch the news, but I was drawn to it, all the while praying that my son was not one of the casualties. And at the same time, praying for other mothers whose children were there on behalf of our nation. As I’m sure mothers of soldiers know, there were many times I went to bed and my heart actually ached not knowing if I would ever see him again. But at the same time knowing that if he indeed had to give his life, I would be proud that he did.
To all mothers of soldiers, I salute you. I know how difficult it is to remain steady and sane during the time their solders are serving, especially during war time. Not knowing if or when you will see your son or daughter again. But, if necessary, willing to pay the sacrifice of losing them in a war and being proud of them for doing this in the service for our
Soldier Moms, lift your head high for you are the mothers of brave sons and daughters who are willing to lay down their lives for their country. Have a wonderful Mother’s Day knowing that you are standing behind these brave warriors!
A Proud Mom of a Veteran
We have been waiting for this news for years, the capture or death of Osama Bin Laden. Ever since his name had become front page news on September 11th 2001, there has been a world-wide manhunt to track down what has been coined, “Public Enemy Number One” spanning almost a decade and two Administrations. Osama Bin Laden has been named as the mastermind behind several terror attacks to include the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing, the USS Cole as well as 9/11. Believed to be hiding out in the mountains on the boarder of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Bin Laden remained in the public’s consciousness popping up every few years on a grainy video addressing the world and propagating terror among his world-wide followers.
Tonight, the President of the United States announced to the world that during a military/CIA operation, Osama Bin Laden was killed by US personnel and that the US has possession of his body.
No doubt this is breaking news, a moment in time that many Americans will remember. The press have said some wildly sensational statements, such as “breathtaking” and “an end to an era”. Even military leaders have been quoted as saying this will boast morale to the troops that are currently deployed. But is it really? Does this truly change anything? Bin Laden hasn’t been a major player in Al Qaeda for years due to his high-profile status as the number one target and the entire Western World trying to rub him out. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been raging for years without the direction of Bin Laden. I was in Iraq when the supposed Bin Laden associate and “right-hand man” was killed in Iraq and the insurgents didn’t miss a beat. The IEDs were placed that night, the ambushes were set. I guess someone forgot to tell them that Al-Zarqawi was killed.
Although I am sure that this will be a psychological blow to Al-Qaeda and it might brighten the day of thousands of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan but I can assure you, nothing there will change with the death of this wanted man. These wars are not our Grandfather’s wars, this isn’t World War II and Bin Laden is not Hitler, his death though a relief, will not by any means be the end to world-wide terror organizations. He is now their martyr, their 9/11. Let’s just hope they he doesn’t become their rally cry.
This man has defined our national security and foreign policy for the past decade. His efforts from a cave in the mountains of Pakistan and that of his fundamentalist followers have cost thousands of American lives and countless hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan lives. Though rarely have I wanted someone dead, this man was one of those few. I only hope that his death will bring some closure to those who lost families in the attacks from 9/11 and those who have sacrificed their lives in wars caused by the actions of so few lead by this man, Osama Bin Laden. If it is an end of an era, let's just hope the beginning of the next is a bit less violent.
Jaeson "Doc" Parsons
People either love this project, or they absolutely hate it, there doesn’t seem to be much in between. If you have been keeping up with our progress, you know that I am referring to the recent comments we received from the brief write-up we received on CommonDreams.org. Though, we did receive a ten-fold increase in new visitors to our main website, www.GraffitiofWar.com, it appeared that the only individuals that reviewed the brief summary and video were avid anti-government activists. We have always encouraged a different viewpoint and are intrigued by those who have a different perspective than the majority. That being said, the comments we received ranged from unimpressed to hateful and ignorant and I really wanted to blog about how wrong these people are, how ignorant and distasteful they acted, what terrible patriots and Americans they are. However, that would just perpetuate what we are attempting to accomplish with this project and that would be more of an atrocity than comments under an article.
Those comments came from the heart of someone, someone that may have lost someone during this war. Perhaps that person had family in Iraq or Afghanistan and is bitter, with good reason, against what has transpired during this decade of war. We will never know, but what we can do is try and empathize with them, play the Devil’s Advocate, think about their perspective, their viewpoint and make an attempt at understanding. Opinions are just that, opinions, not facts, they are neither right, nor wrong and until we can stop shoving our views down the other’s throat, choking them with the righteousness of what we believe is right, we cannot move forward. These arguments could go on forever, and truly they will. However, if we can begin to see world experiences from a diverse set up viewpoints then maybe we could begin moving forward as a society, instead of continuing the downward spiral of all great nations.
What I hope is that we begin to see past the differences among ourselves and to truly strive to understand, without judgment and preconceived ideologies, and empathize with those with whom we might resist. It shows no character to agree with your friends, with those whom you have most everything in common with, what does show character and grace is trying to bridge a gap between those with which you share nothing in common with, those who seem foreign and strange. Someone once said, love your enemies, bless those who curse you. Trading punches for punches shows ignorance, striving to understand and empathize with your enemy displays wisdom and humility. I may not agree with those who attacked the integrity of this project and our service members, but I will strive to ensure that it changes the way I view myself and those around me.
Art by Banksy
This project is about not just service members but civilians, families and everyone that has been affected by the decade of wars. Our focus is not on politics, or foreign policy or if our government was justified or not in going to war against Afghanistan and Iraq. What would the point be? That fact cannot be changed, it has happened so now we need to pick up the pieces, learn from the mistakes of the past so we don’t make them again in the future. Most importantly, we should strive look past our differences, to make this world a better, more peaceful place. This project is our attempt at that goal, however imperfect that attempt may be.
Jaeson "Doc" Parsons
Director, Project Operations