The Wilderness After War

wawHart Viges, Mark Wilkerson and Jessica Goodell all volunteered for the military.
They all chose to go to war, and they have all suffered from PTSD.
But none of them fully recognized it until after they were home.
The war over there – its smells, its sounds, the reflexes they developed to survive – forced its way into their lives over here.

Wilderness After War from The Ochberg Society on Vimeo.

Trauma works on people in different ways. Some are affected by physical wounds, others by past traumas brought to light in the wake of war, and others by their direct experience in the theatre of war. Nothing is “normal” in war. Young men and women are immersed in something so intense, experiencing in a period of a few months things that most of us will never face in our lifetime.

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Sex and the Wounded Soldier

sawWhen I first met Pete Yazgier, he was fond of wearing an olive-green novelty T-shirt that read, “WANNA PLAY ARMY? I’ll lie down and you can blow the hell outta me.”

The shirt scanned differently on Pete than it might have on most other active-duty U.S. Army specialists. At the time, the Somerset, N.J., native boasted a stark gash across the left half of his skull, from where he had, in fact, just had the hell blown out of him; during his deployment in Baghdad, a rocket-propelled grenade collided with Pete’s Humvee and nearly took his life. Amidst the blur of surgeries that followed, his doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., discovered that, along with severe cranial trauma, Pete, in his late twenties, had brain cancer to boot.

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Syria’s Less-Visible Losses

syWhile reporting in Armenia in October, I joined a group of Armenian Americans for dinner.  They were traveling together on a promise they had sworn to the year before: if their friend, a member of the group, survived the cancer and the chemo, they would all make this pilgrimage to the reduced remains of their ancestral homeland.

Though they had come from Los Angeles and Montreal, a hundred years ago their ancestors had lived in what Armenians call “Western Armenia,” today a part of Turkey and the region the Ottoman Empire emptied of its Armenian population in the first genocide of the 20th century.

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When to Write About What You Witness?

whenBy summer last year I had reached the end of my tolerance for war. I didn’t know it then. I’d been covering America’s wars since 2006, and in August I walked through a sweltering, treeless valley in central Afghanistan and joined a unit of soldiers for a mission thinking nothing had changed. Heat, sweat, and a million shades of brown below a singular blue.

Later, in the confiscated shade of an Afghan home, a soldier asked me,“So what are you gonna write about us?”

Soldiers and Marines always come to this question sooner or later. Years ago I answered vaguely. I rarely had any idea what I was going to write, and I worried about stumbling into politics or onto media bias, or miring myself in another subject that might get me blacklisted, blocked, disliked. I thought, in my evasion, that I was preserving objectivity, floating neutral through no man’s land. But really I was treating their question dishonestly. In time I found a better, a more honest answer.

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Editor’s Note: After Service

The last few years have seen a remarkable change in the American conversation about veterans. As our soldiers come home, we’re paying more attention to the lifelong wounds of war. But suffering in service takes many forms.  This issue of Dart Society Reports is about giving voice to some of that suffering.

I’m incredibly proud of this issue of our magazine.  Barely a year old, in this issue 14 writers and photographers join us in grappling with some of the toughest questions in our field.  Without coordination, they have here ended up in dialogue with each other.  Phil Zabriskie and Alia Malek approach, from different angles, the legacy of war for civilians.  Dave Philipps and Lee Hancock offer practical advice on getting better interviews.  John Moore and Sarah Stillman explore wounded warriors and healing, and Frank Ochberg and Lori Grinker remind us that “the invisible injury” is often present for the wounded and their families.

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