Conflict Art: Bridging the Cultural Divide Between Civilian and Warfighter
The cultural chasm separating the civilian and the warfighter has never been wider. Most of the conflicts in 20th Century American history have relied on conscription, better known as the draft, to fill the ranks of our armed forces. The Global War on Terror of the 21st Century has been and continues to be fought by an all-volunteer force and because of this, the gap continues to grow as more and more professional soldiers shoulder the weight of a decade of conflict.
Image Courtesy of Zoriah Miller
The typical soldier joins the military right out of high school, most have never lived outside of the town they grew up in and even fewer have visited another country. These men and women are just out of childhood when they join the military and many of them have fired a weapon in combat multiple times before their first drink in a bar at age 21. The military culture is all they know of adult life and once they are separated from this family of sorts, the civilian world is as alien to them as the sands of Iraq were when their boots first hit the ground. After multiple years in combat, witnessing man’s inhumanity to man, they are forever changed and trying to relate to their generational civilian counterparts is almost mission impossible. This is the divide, the cultural gap that separates those who have witnessed the horrors of combat firsthand and those who have simply watched the events unfold on CNN. We, as a nation, must construct a bridge over this divide to bring together this fractured generation and not let yet another war separate so many of our military heroes from their civilian brothers and sisters. Art, in its many forms, can be that bridge we so desperately need and art is what inspired our project, the Graffiti of War, which aims to bridge the divide and join our nation together like never before.
West Virginia University - Winter 2011
The idea we began with was a simple one: to collect and document the art from across the conflict zones in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan and to showcase these vastly different works of art to the American public. What started as just an idea between friends during our deployment to Ar Ramadi, Iraq in 2006 had evolved into a multinational project with goals surpassing the original aim of creating a simple coffee table book. After the initial months of slowly collecting images from our growing base of veterans and military members, we realized we must travel to Iraq before the proposed withdraw of Coalition Forces in 2012. With the assistance of some experienced and world renowned journalists such as Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger (of Restrepo fame) and Zoriah Miller, we were able to secure just under a month in Kuwait and Iraq by the Department of Defense. We were able to capture thousands of images in several different areas including over 100 photos of murals by local Iraqis in Basra, the expedition was a huge success. After returning to the U.S., our team discovered a new avenue in which to raise awareness, one city at a time: art exhibits. Through the fall of 2011 to the spring of 2012, we showcased dozens of the images we captured since the inception of the project to hundreds of people, both civilian and military alike. It was through these exhibits that we truly began bringing the cultures together. Veterans would view the images with their friends and family and begin talking about their experiences as it related to that particular piece of art, it was incredibly inspiring.
Wolfgang Gallery - Spring 2012
As we prepare for another year of exhibits in 2013, including a fall show at West Point, we continue to strive towards building an ever widening bridge. Art is therapy, whether by creating it or viewing the creation, it transcends barriers and inspires unity. Each show that we do is more satisfying than the last as we connect the civilian with the military veteran and promote a greater understanding of the dedication and sacrifice that these brave men and women have endured on behalf of each citizen of this great nation. Art allows our military and veterans to express the inexpressible, to speak the unspeakable and provides a way for civilians to comprehend the incomprehensible. Arts therapy can change the world we live in and changes the lives of those who defended that world.
Courtesy of The Atlantic Council
We stand at the precipice of a bold new direction in the care for our invisibly wounded warriors and now is the time for each one of us to work collectively and unite the countless organizations out there supporting our warriors and veterans. United we stand but divided we will fall. We must have the courage to join together as one to combat the struggles set before us as we strive towards a new avenue of treatment for those who have bravely sacrificed their lives so others may live peaceably and without fear of harm. This generation of heroes became the 1% so the remaining 99% could carry on with their lives, we owe it for their sacrifice. As George Washington said, “A Nation will be judged by the way it treats its veterans.” How will we be judged?
I haven’t written in what seems like years and I don’t even know if anyone even reads this any longer. My struggle with my inner demons took a turn for the worse a few months ago and only in the last few days have I been able to slow the downward spiral that is the shattered remains of my life. Today I thought it would be appropriate to write an entry to update the true fans of this project and those who have stuck with us since the beginning. That and I will be unavailable for the next few months as I am checking into a 2-phase clinic for PTSD in North Chicago starting on Tuesday.
This project has and always will be focused on helping the nation and the world better understand the trials and effects that PTSD has on those afflicted with it. My life is a study in itself of these afflictions and what happens when they are not addressed. The art we showcase is a small window into the souls of those who deal with this disorder both prior to, during and after. And though I am not an artist, words have always been my outlet.
For years, those that have surrounded me have desperately tried to assist me in garnering the help I needed to make the changes for a better life and for years I have all but ignored them. The frustration of watching their loved one descend down deeper and deeper into a hole of darkness is
extraordinary and something I will never fully grasp. Slowly but methodically, I alienated those closest to me, pushing them away as I continued my dark journey. I took their love and companionship for granted, believing that I could continue this route as if nothing would happen, as if my relationships were iron-clad and indestructible. I don’t believe that I ever really voiced that or even consciously thought it, but my actions over the past few years practically screamed it.
I poured over my work and filled my days with busy tasks, forgetting about what is most important and neglecting those around me that kept me going, day by day, hour by hour. My focus was this project and my work with Maxim and nothing else. I believed that if I could achieve success with
this project I could bury the wounds of my past and then concentrate on the family I had long forgotten. Sadly, the family that I had long forgotten had built walls to protect them from the pain my actions had caused them. When the spinning plates I call my life began to fall all around me, I searched for my comfort and found cold stone and steel had replaced the welcome mat. As the disaster continued to rage around me, I was trapped with no one to run to for help. I was alone.
I had betrayed them, forsaken them, pushed them to a new life that I was absent from but who could blame them, this was the life I had built for myself. Weeks turned into months and I could do nothing but watch as those three that I do love so dearly, began their lives without me. There are no words in this language or another that can come close to describing the pain and anguish I suffered watching the one beautiful thing in my life slowly disappear. My soul groaned and ached but solace was out of reach. I stood at the edge of my life’s abyssal plain and peered into the deep. I researched ways to end my life, days and nights filled with this macabre activity, but an easy way out alluded me.
This story has no happy ending, as life is no fairy tale, however, the spiral has stopped and I have found solid ground to work with moving forward. The casualty of this disorder is my marriage but my survival remains intact. The next steps of my new life are going to be hard, desperately difficult and at times I can’t think about them for fear of a panic attack. That said, I will move forward, I will move on and though happiness may allude me for years, even decades, I cannot give in, I cannot give up.
My hope, well my realistic hope, is that my suffering will benefit another somehow. Perhaps someone out there is where I was 3 years ago and maybe by reading this he or she will realize their position and do what is necessary to ensure they save their marriage. If I had only listened to those
around me, if I had only made a different choice here or there, the jewel of my life might possibly still be here. I beg those who are traveling in my tracks to wake up and turn around, to grab ahold of their loved ones and get the help they need before they end up like me, shattered and hopeless. This isn’t a life you want, this isn’t a path you should choose. There are ways out, there is another path to take, there is hope for those afflicted as we are. Heed my warnings, take control of your life by giving the wheel to a professional and let them drive you out of this dark tunnel of hell. It isn’t too late.
After I complete this 2-phase clinic in North Chicago, I will be returning to this project and continuing the mission we set forth in 2010. In the interim, feel free to post on our Facebook page, or contact Rob Craven (firstname.lastname@example.org) as he will be the lead contact for the project in my absence. Thank you to everyone who has been so faithful in this effort and given their time, talents and ideas to our little project, all of us those who are still with us and those who have moved on, are eternally grateful for what you have done. Beginning in early 2013 we will be firing up this project and leaping forward. Thanks to our friends at Partners International (www.partners-international.org) we have some great things happening for the Spring of 2013 so don’t give up hope, we will make the difference we set out to. We have given up too much to let this die. See you all in a few months!
Jaeson "Doc" Parsons
On this Independence Day, my thoughts point toward those who have given so much for what we, as a nation and as individuals, take for granted. We moan about the economy or our politicians and we think we are living in some of the worst times in history, but these hard times we face are nothing in relation to what earlier generations endured. Generations such as my grandfather’s and grandmother’s, the depression and then the onset of the last great war of our short history.
My grandfather, Jake Homer, fought in World War II and continued his service into the mountains of Korea and then on to the jungles of Vietnam. His service to this nation was exemplary and unmatched by most. The heartaches and loss he must have endured are unfathomable to Generation Now. Yet he continued to serve his country through the pain and agony within him, true sacrifice for the love of his country, his family and his God.
As the dawn of the 236th year of this nation’s independence rises, we as her citizens celebrate the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of military members who, like my grandfather, gave everything for one thing….freedom. Freedom to succeed and freedom to fail, freedom to have everything and the freedom of simple living. As we celebrate this fourth of
July, let us remember why we have what we have, all because brave men and women were willing to give everything, take up arms and take a stand against tyranny, fascism, and evil. It is because of our forefathers’ willingness to go beyond what is asked of them, because of our fathers and grandfathers, because of past generations and this generation, fighting as we celebrate this independence day that the United States of America and all She stands for still exists.
So remember the fourth as more than just a holiday for beer and brauts, more than just another day away from the office or plant. This day we celebrate the sacrifices, the loss and all that we have gained because of what these incredible citizens have accomplished. Thank them for their love of their country, your country, our country. This is our independence day.
Today we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Day that will forever live in Infamy. This attack enraged a Nation and made the final push in our Nation's road to World War. Just as 9/11 enraged my generation to fight the war on terror, Pearl Harbor was the sucker punch that moved the Greatest Generation to fight the last of the Great Wars.
Yesterday, I had the privledge and honor to speak with a member of that generation, Hershel "Woody" Williams, who also happens to be living recipient of our Country's highest Military honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Woody joined the Marines in 1943, after being first denied due to height restrictions, and was shipped off to the Pacific theater, joining his fellow Marines and Sailors as they island-hopped their way to Japan.
By February 23rd, 1945, Corporal Williams found himself on Iwo Jima, fighting an entrenched enemy for a key piece of ocean-front property. What transpires during this day will earn Woody Williams the Medal of Honor.
Williams, distinguished himself when American tanks, trying to open a lane for infantry, encountered a network of reinforced concrete pillboxes, buried mines, and black volcanic sands. Williams went forward alone with his 70-pound (32 kg) flamethrower to attempt the reduction of devastating machine gun fire from the unyielding positions. Covered by only four riflemen, he fought for four hours under terrific enemy small-arms fire and repeatedly returned to his own lines to prepare demolition charges and obtain serviced flame throwers. He returned to the front, frequently to the rear of hostile emplacements, to wipe out one position after another. At one point, a wisp of smoke alerted him to the air vent of a Japanese bunker, and he approached close enough to put the nozzle of his flamethrower through the hole, killing the occupants. On another occasion, he charged enemy riflemen who attempted to stop him with bayonets and destroyed them with a burst of flame from his weapon.
These actions occurred on the same day as the raising of the U.S. flag on the island's Mount Suribachi, although Williams
was not able to witness the event.
What an incredible, courageous story of self-less service, sacrifice and love for his fellow Marines. However, if you speak with Woody, his quiet humilty speaks volumes. He states that this honor is not for him, but for those who never came home, those who lost their lives on the black-sanded beaches and jungle interior during the battle for that island.
Woody is a prime example of why his generation has been called one of the greatest and his continued service to this Nation and our military community, even at the age of 88, is a testament to his love of Country and his fellow Americans. Woody sets a standard that we can only hope to acheive but an example we can all certainly follow.
As I headed out the door, Mr. Williams handed me a copy of a poem he had written to commemorate the upcoming anniversary of Pearl Harbor and I have listed it below. Take a moment out of your busy day to think of what this day means to the men and women of that dying generation, what it continue to mean to our military community and what it shares with our own, Day of Infamy - 9/11. Think of the unity this December tragedy developed and remember what united us on our more recent September Day. Finally, remember our military and our veterans as they continue to serve this great Nation.
Let's Remember We're United
Let's Remember Pearl Harbor
And the lessons that it taught
Let's Remember Pearl Harbor
And our loved ones who fought
Let's Remember Pearl Harbor
And all the Mothers gave
Let's Remember Pearl Harbor
And those in Honored Graves
Let's Remember Pearl Harbor
As we live our lives today
Let's Remember Pearl Harbor
And our Freedom to always say
Let's Remember we're United
As we go to beat the foe
Let's Remember our Heritage
As we did the Alamo
We will always Remember
To save our Liberty
Let's Remember our loved ones
As we promise to stay Free
Let's Remember our loved ones
Who are dying every day
Let's Remember the loved ones
That are now in harm's way
We will always remember, to be thankful and pray
Let's Remember our blessings and go on to win the fray
-Hershel "Woody" Williams - Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient 1945
Hollywood, definitely not the creative hub it once was, judging by the movies they have been putting out, rather the sequels and remakes they have rehashed on us over the past few years. Every new sequel and remake I see, I wonder why they don't take a stab at some of the military movies from decades past. Considering our country has been at war for the past decade, it seems to me that much of America could relate to these military classics remade with amazing clarity and even in 3D.
For the Full Article Visit www.Maxim.com/DirtyBriefs
Now before you start the hate-emails, I love this movie and am in no form or fashion saying it needs redoing because of the original quality. That said, why not make a new, updated version that takes place during the current conflicts. One of the reasons this didn't make the list on Maxim.com was because of the fact it was an extraordinary film and since Kubrick is no longer among the land of the living, it would be a hard case to find someone with his fine-line crossing genius to remake this incredible experience that is Full Metal Jacket. However, we feel this would be a great idea for Hollywood to take a shot a remaking, as long as they found the right person for the Director's job....perhaps Stone?
Again, the same reason this one was cut from the official top-ten list was the fact that this movie is ranked among the greatest-ever in terms of a war film. This film, separated in three acts, could easily be modernized into the war in Iraq or even in Afghanistan. For our idea we would place the time during the height of the Iraq conflict, right around the time that some of the American troops were being captured. The main idea of the film is what happens to men after they have gone through the horrors of combat, the debilitating changes that occur. This updated version could be a great tribute to the invisible wounds of war and the psychological effects that it has.
Most of our generation probably has never seen this film, however, when I was growing up, my grandparents made watching this film a Christmas tradition and I still watch this every Christmas Eve. A great movie and has a military-theme behind it. The plot starts in Europe during WWII where the General of the division is heading out of combat and to a staff position, to which he hates as he is a front-line commander and prefers to be with his troops. After the end of WWII, two soldiers (Bing Crosby and Danny Kay) partner up and become huge stars and then find out that the retired General is having trouble running his Inn located in scenic Connecticut because of the lack of snow that season. They head out there and set up a huge show, inviting all of the old troops from the General's old unit and, you guessed it, the ending scene has snow falling and all is well. Christmas and the military, great for the whole family and a sure-bet for the holiday season, seems like easy-picking for Hollywood in our opinion.
The last on our list that didn't make the list is the classic, Gone With The Wind, now who doesn't remember that one? This classic deserves a remake, not an entire reworking, but simply stick with the story and make a modern version. We can think of plenty of actors and actresses who would love nothing more than to play Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler. With the modern technologies we have, imagine the amazing battle scenes and the destruction of the old plantations, the background could be amazing in its detail. We would love to see this remade, though perhaps try and keep it to a more manageable 2 hours instead of the lengthy 4 as we know how this generation is, anything over 2 hours is either Church, Court or your serving time. So, come on Hollywood, what do you say?
For the Full Article Visit www.Maxim.com/DirtyBriefs
Weapons have always been a facination with me, the ability to destroy from a distance. Some may say this is unhealthy and I am in need of some psychiatric care (no doubt as the VA and my wife agree), however, show me anyone that doesn't love breaking shit from time to time. In fact, go into your kitchen right now and find an old plate, go outside and toss that bugger as hard as you can on a hard surface and then tell me how it makes you feel. Relieved? A bit satisfied maybe? Well, times that by 100 and that is the feeling you get when rocking an automatic rifle on full-auto, it simply feels great! Not because you're a psycho or want to burn the world down to the ground but because somewhere in the Human brain, it just feels good to break shit sometimes.
With that in mind, I compiled a list of my favorite weapons, weapons that I would love to receive for Christmas or for shits and giggles, but receive nonetheless. In addition, through researching these monsters, I found some kick-ass photos to go with them and a YouTube video or two. So, sit back, relax and watch the fun! (Caution - For those with senstive ears, language reality ahead)
For My High-Powered Weapons List - Visit Maxim.com/dirtybriefs
As our nation has passed the 10th anniversary of our entrance into Afghanistan, a lot has changed since then and we thought we’d give a quick rundown of where you might want to avoid if you’re thinking of say planning a family vacation to the historic land of Afghanistan. As Iraq has calmed dramatically over the past couple of years, the exact opposite has transpired in the land where Empires, nations and communist Russia have all been brought to their knees, an area slightly smaller than Texas.
To accompany the full article on Maxim.com, here are a dozen or so images of that Paradise of which has turned into the 6th level of Hell over the past couple of years. God Bless Our Troops who willingly (well, who can say no to a Sergeant Major, right?) serve on these front lines to ensure our security and safety back home. Say a little prayer for them as you thumb through these images, brought to you by dvidshub.net and your very own, Doc Parsons.
To Read the Full Article on Maxim.com/DirtyBriefs, Click HERE
Being a super-fan of military aircraft all our lives, we wanted to put together a short list of the fixed-wing aircraft on station today, in the collection of our Navy and Air Force. These airframes are the best the U.S. has to offer in terms of offensive aircraft, and have saved the lives of literally thousands of men and women on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as during the
NATO operations in Libya this past spring. We searched the web for the stats that set each of these bad-ass toys apart and compiled a list for your reading pleasure. We hope you like our choices.
To Read the Full-Article on Maxim.com Visit - HERE
As many of you know, I was invited to be the military contributor for Maxim.com and recently I wrote an article detailing the stories of past Medal of Honor recipients. This week, I focused on the stories of 6 men from the Vietnam War. These men all had one thing in common, other than winner our nation’s highest honor; they were all Combat Medics, or the naval equivalent, Hospital Corpsman. In my research to showcase the amazing feats of some past Medal of Honor winners, we stumbled across the story of a certain Private First Class, Kenneth Michael Kays from Mount Vernon, Illinois. His story is both extraordinary and extremely heartbreaking. In my original article for Maxim.com, I only reported on the story behind why he was awarded this high honor, however, there is more to his story that I decided to share here, on the Graffiti of War Blog because of what the story focuses on, PFC Kays’ struggle with PTSD and this project’s vision to raise national awareness for those currently struggling with this invisible wound. Here is his story.
PFC Kenneth Kays was born in Mount Vernon, Illinois in the years after WWII and by the time he was 18, the war in Vietnam was continuing to rage on and the draft was inevitable for Kenny. However, Kenny was completely against the war in Vietnam and like many men against the war, he fled to Canada to avoid the draft. Only after his father, a veteran of World-War II pleaded with him to return, to fulfill his duty, did Kays return and was drafted as a conscientious objector. His status as an objector placed him as a medic with the 101st Airborne Division and he was assigned to the storied 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. By the middle of 1970, Kenny found himself knee-deep in the hell of Vietnam fighting for his life and those of his brothers-in-arms. As the medic of his platoon, his men were his mission, and his bravery and courage in face of certain death earned him the Medal of Honor but cost him physically and even more mentally. To read the full citation, visit www.maxim.com/dirtybriefs.
Kenny returned to duty and served the rest of his enlistment, never mentioning his courageous actions. After he was released, President Nixon invited Kenny to the White House to bestow on him the highest honor a soldier can earn, the Medal of Honor. Kays, with long hair and a beard, not the typical soldier-type and many of his platoon mates never even knew it was him. He returned to life, but normalcy evaded Kenny as he was forever plagued with the invisible wounds of his experiences. His physical wounds healed, though the scars and loss remained, but his mental wounds continued to fester. Kays was in and out of mental institutions and struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction. The hell this man had seen had never left his mind. He continued to relive the experiences from that spring day in Vietnam and nothing, it seemed, would take away his survivor guilt or the pain that he experienced.
His community was no help either, the lack of respect he received from older veterans from World War II and the Korean War, they claimed he wasn’t in a war but simply a conflict. Others simply thought of him as strange and a dope addict, dismissing him as just another weirdo. Eventually, his habits got him in trouble with the law which further degraded him and without the help of others, the respect of his peers or the direction of a veterans organization, Kays continued his downward spiral deeper and deeper into the hell that is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He was kept out of jail by a conditional release
to his elderly parents; however, this was not the treatment he needed.
His family life was deteriorating as his parents were afflicted lingering illnesses. By 1981, his mother Ethel took her own life after suffering a long-term illness which left her aged husband, John Kays, to care for their mentally ill son. Their life together, father and son, was beyond troubled and strained as John was suffering a long physical ordeal with cancer. Kenny was becoming unhinged by his fathers continued complaints of agony and at one point suggested he shot himself and be done with it, to which his father complied and took his own life in 1985.Kenny continued his downward spiral and self-medicated with drugs and alcohol having continued odd outburst and increasingly violent behavior, classic symptoms of PTSD. He withdrew more and more and by 1991, during the Gulf War, he told his neighbor he simply couldn’t go on this way. By Thanksgiving that same year, Kenny Kays, had reached the end of his rope, completely alone and utterly despaired, he took his own life over the holiday.
This is what happens to many of our nation’s heroes then and now. They are forgotten as our nation’s collective attention span rivals that of my three-year old. What was sure to unite us is forgotten in weeks or days. The man that is our hero and makes all the headlines is a drunk and a drug-addict just months later, forgotten and alone. These men and women risked their lives in the service of their country to protect their brothers and sisters-in-arms. They were willing to give their all, even if they didn’t agree with the politics, like the story of Kenny, they fulfilled their duty, gave their all and went above and beyond for those who needed them.
The least we can do, as citizens of this nation, is to ensure that stories like that of Kenny or that of Ira Hayes, another Medal of Honor winner who became invisible just like the wounds he suffered from. We, as Americans, as fellow human beings should not rest until we ensure never again will another hero, another veteran who served this nation suffer as Kenny did, as Ira did, never again will our veterans suffer alone and without help. This is our duty as citizens and should be our mission as compassionate human beings. I challenge our nation, our people to be resolved to ensure their care is assured, no matter what the cost. They never took cost into account and neither should we. Take up this cause, the cause of our heroes to never again suffer alone, never
For more information on Kenneth Kays visit this link or search for Troubled Hero by Randy Mills