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Welcome to FOB Haiku: A Review

by David P. Ervin

Randy Brown, aka “Charlie Sherpa,” released Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire on November 13, 2015. Sherpa, a veteran, prolifically published freelance writer, blogger at “Red Bull Rising,” and poetry editor for As You Were: A Military Review, published a poetry collection branded as a witty, humorous portrayal of military life through poetry. I picked up Welcome to FOB Haiku with one major expectation; a good laugh borne of the sometimes dark humor that uniquely military situations can create.

I did not expect the chills down my spine.

While there is certainly a humorous edge to much of the work in the fifty-one poem collection, many of the pieces delve into the deeper emotional landscape of military service. “Static” examines the challenges a military parent faces and how they communicate with their children. “We are the stories” is a look at what our war stories mean for the identities of military veterans. Several poems, like “here and theirs” and the title poem, offer a commentary on the broader implications of the war in Afghanistan and American foreign policy in general.

It’s war poetry. It’s military-themed poetry. Most importantly, however, it’s a lyrical relation of the human condition as seen through a military eye. Welcome to FOB Haiku is an important addition to the canon of military literature and art that will give posterity an impression of “what it was like to be there.” It will also help veterans in understanding their own experiences by viewing our pasts through a more abstract and artistic lens.

 

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As You Were, Vol. 2 Release

MEA is proud to present you with As You Were: The Military Review, Vol. 2. This publication is the culmination of hundreds of hours of work on the part of writers, artists, and our volunteer editors. Its poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and artwork represent nearly every living generation of veterans and individuals whose lives have been impacted by the military. “We hope you’re intrigued, touched, and even moved. Above all, we hope you enjoy.”

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Help support our mission by disseminating this wonderful collection of veterans’ works!

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Building Hope From Tragedy: The Naslund Story

“Yet we few pay such a heavy price in hopes that our
Efforts might keep children, now yet just little boys,
From having to decide their innocence and lust for life
may best be sacrificed”

-excerpt from “Once Again to Be a Little Boy” by Dillion Naslund

I read this poem over and over. Its twenty-three lines contain a message that’s chilling yet bright, sad but hopeful. It articulates the internal conflict between the pain of post-traumatic stress and the deeply felt honor of military service, speaking volumes about how we attempt to reconcile the weight of all that. But the story behind this poem and its author, infantry Sergeant Dillion Naslund, is one that’s haunting – and hopeful – as the poem itself.

It was written six months before he ended his own life.

Naslund1Dillion Naslund was a normal kid, says his mother, Lisa. He was an avid outdoorsman, gregarious, and action oriented. Being such a hard charger, it was little surprise to their family that when he decided to enlist in the military he chose the Army infantry. Dillion joined during high school and became a member of the Iowa National Guard’s 34th Infantry Division, The Red Bulls. The surprises came later. After deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan, “we expected him to be different,” his mother said. “But there was no way to prepare for what would come.”

Naslund2Dillion changed after his second deployment. He was plagued by nightmares and flashbacks and was prone to bouts of depression and anxiety. He coped with alcohol. Although close with his family, he rarely talked about his experiences in combat. War had altered him dramatically. “So much was the opposite of what he was before.” In August 2012, alarm bells rang for the family when they learned that he was contemplating harming himself. They took him to the emergency room, and he was sent to a VA hospital for a time. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and began treatment. But the “beast” that was PTSD, and the magnitude of the battle he and his family had to face, was “too much, too big,” and came on “too fast.” The battle ended in his suicide in December 2012.

The Naslunds did their best to recover, grieving deeply and privately. But they were shocked and overwhelmed all over again when they learned that 22 veterans committed suicide every day. That’s when Lisa and her husband, Jeff, decided that they “had to do something to make a difference.” And they have in many ways.

dilliontitlecardBy sharing their experience, it was their hope to prevent the type of tragedy they knew all too well. Family friend and film-maker Tom Zwemke offered to help by creating a documentary film featuring Dillion’s story. Then they began reaching out to other families, like Howard and Jean Somers of California, who also lost their son to suicide. A letter of condolence from one mother to another led to collaboration on Operation Engage America, an organization that holds events devoted to raising awareness about the issues facing American veterans and providing education about the means to address them. The Naslunds launched a website that helps families and veterans alike navigate the bevy of resources available for help with PTSD.

It was the beginning of filming for the documentary that led to another surprise, that of a poem that surfaced written by their son: “Once Again to Be a Little Boy.”

Lisa says Dillion had “zero interest” in writing. So they were skeptical when his fellow soldier, Shannon, brought them a worn piece of paper containing the poem. Shannon told the family that Dillion had written it over the course of a long, problematic night spent at his house. They were amazed at the depth of the message it contained and came to learn much about their son’s frame of mind and the shape of the beast with which he was grappling. The more they read and thought about it, they came to believe something else:

“That poem, and him writing it, gave us more time with him.”

The Naslunds have made it their mission to give others time – and hope – any way they can. Their son’s death served as a way for his fellow soldiers to open up about their problems, knowing they weren’t alone. All across the country, people have contacted the family directly for help. They’ve made an impact in a broader sense as well. The Naslunds have saved many, many more through their significant contribution to raising awareness about PTSD and the veteran suicide epidemic.

The overall message they wish to convey is to reach out, communicate, and remain hopeful. “PTSD is not a death sentence…there is hope. If one thing doesn’t work, try another.” Getting help “starts with a conversation,” one that the Naslunds are fostering among families across the country.

The family’s latest surprise? Although “never a writer,” their son will be a published poet in As You Were: The Military Review, Vol. 2 in May 2015.

 

(contributed by David P. Ervin) 

The Glass by Beauregard Storm

Poet Beauregard Storm started writing and rhyming as a part of art therapy. As a Veteran, he would like to share this piece with those who have PTSD and tell them this: “Never give up the fight to find yourself again. Never let anyone take away your pride in your service.”

This is a powerful piece of writing; we feel honored to share it with you.

The Glass by Beauregard Storm

Three times I was asked the age old question

Was the glass half full or half empty

Always afraid of a trick, I could not make sense of the axiom

The possibility of either did make me think a plenty

One day, two friends came over for drinks and filled theirs to the brim

I took my own glass, curiously looked, and filled mine halfway

Not to boast, but asked for a toast, and let out a grin

I asked them the same question, each one, to let them say

Both were concerned for me and afraid of my mental disorder

I drank, drained the glass, and washed it in the sink

I finally had made myself think it through in logical order

I saw it as both, neither, and a tool from with which to drink

I saw optimism as always being naive and ‘exactly’ half full

I saw pessimism as always being ‘exactly’ half empty and no fun

I saw realism as the glass is just a glass with the question void and null

Opportunism is all three combined and my answer is done.

It is only because of freedom bought by our veterans that we may not have known

That we get to own, keep, share, and drink from such a thing as our own glass

I have also stood the watch for 20 years – even though I did not make it on my own

So I reserve the right to use the glass that I bought with my shares, to drink, share, and or smash

My glass again sat upon my shelf

I drank from it all alone

I washed it all by myself

Because it is mine to own