How playing cowboys and Indians prepared this commander for war - We Are The Mighty
Podcast

How playing cowboys and Indians prepared this commander for war


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In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Blake speaks once again with Jimmy Blackmon, the author of Pale Horse, a book about his time commanding an Army aviation task force with the 101st Airborne Division at the height of combat in the Afghan War.

The book is set in the very valleys where the 9/11 attacks were conceived and where 10 Medals of Honor were earned.

Related: How to stay fit and not get fat after you get out of the military

How playing cowboys and Indians prepared this commander for war

These are the stories of the pilots behind the lethal Apache helicopters who strike fear into the heart of their enemies as they work with medevac crews who risk their lives to save their fellow troops.

Jimmy was also in the area when Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl decided to go for a stroll in Afghanistan.

In this episode, we talk on a wide-range of topics including:

  • [1:45] Jimmy humorously explains why he decided to join the military.
  • [5:50] How growing up in Georgia prepared Jimmy for a career in the Army.
  • [7:55] This is how playing Cowboys and Indians as a child helps develop skills for combat operations.
  • [11:45] Jimmy compares his life as an enlisted soldier to growing up in Georgia.
  • [13:45] The difference between situational awareness and situational curiosity.
  • [15:05] The combat rules of flying vs. the combat rules on the ground.
  • [17:15] The most challenging aspect of war according to a pilot.
  • [24:30] How pilots develop skills to read the enemies’ intention from high above.
  • [27:50] How the enemy uses their terrain and weather to combat allied forces.
  • [30:10] Jimmy’s coolest memory from the battle at Observation Post Bari Alai.
  • [35:00] What Jimmy’s been doing since exiting the military.

Also Read: Dale Dye wants to make this epic World War II movie with veterans

Hosted By:

Blake Stilwell: Air Force veteran and Managing Editor

Tim Kirkpatrick: Navy veteran and Editorial Coordinator

Orvelin Valle (AKA O.V.): Navy veteran and Podcast Producer

Podcast

4 survival skills that will help you thrive in a disaster or zombie apocalypse

Do you have a plan for the catastrophe most likely to affect your area? Since the WATM staff is based in LA, our most likely natural disaster is either an earthquake or devastating mudslides. We wondered which one of us in the office (aside from our office Green Beret) was most likely to survive such an event.

The surprise was that some of us have more skills than you might think.


Former Air Force intelligence officer Shannon Corbeil is an avid camper. As is Army veteran and radio operator Eric Milzarski. Veteran Corpsman Tim Kirkpatrick, on the other hand, is a borderline survivalist. As for me, Air Force combat cameraman Blake Stilwell, my plan is to get rescued as soon as possible — hopefully before my rations run out.

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During an earthquake, you’re supposed to seek cover, duck, and protect your neck. Shannon Corbeil was raised in the Los Angeles area, and was in major earthquakes in 1987 and 1994. The WATM crew also has different ideas on what to do after the crisis passes: account for resources or create a team of skilled party members, ready for adventure and initiative?

And then, like the real U.S. troops having a survivalism discussion that we are, we lay out our plans for the inevitable zombie apocalypse.

But there are at least four very important general aspects of survival to talk about either after a disaster, in the wild, or yes, the zombie apocalypse. The most important is being prepared! Don’t wait until disaster strikes to try and get supplies. You’ll be food for the people who went to the Army-Navy surplus ahead of time.

Also, you need to figure out how to navigate through your new, post-apocalyptic world, either by the stars or the sun. Or perhaps you even made your own compass with a leaf and water.

How playing cowboys and Indians prepared this commander for war
Finally, your life has some direction.

In the wild, you need a little bit more. You need to figure out how you’ll filter water, start a fire, and identify edible food. Forget that most of us are bad at picking real food in our daily lives — the stakes are much higher when Taco Bell is closed for the end of days.

Finally, you need a game plan for a disaster. What would you do if a disaster struck your area? Find out what the folks at WATM came up with in this week’s episode.

Resources Mentioned:

Key Points:

  • What do you need to carry with you in case of an emergency.
  • If you don’t know any survival skills, you are not alone.
  • Use Krazy Glue for wounds; use Doritos for kindling.
  • Surviving in the wild is much harder than surviving a disaster.
  • Earthquakes don’t feel like earthquakes until they do.

Sponsors:

  • Audible: For you, the listeners of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Audible is offering a free audiobook download with a free 30-day trial to give you the opportunity to check out some of the books and authors featured on Mandatory Fun. To download your free audiobook today go to audibletrial.com/MandatoryFun.
How playing cowboys and Indians prepared this commander for war

Mandatory Fun is hosted by:

Catch the show on Twitter at: @MandoFun and on our Facebook group.

Podcast

‘This is War’ is a raw look at the combat vet experience few will ever know


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What is it like to fight in combat? What toll does it take on someone, emotionally, physically, and mentally? What toll does the personal aftermath take on the relationships in the life of an American troop?

Most American Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen join the military at a very young age. Turning 18 and then going off to war will affect them for the rest of their lives. Even officers, who first get a college degree or graduate from a service academy, will be only as old as 23 when their military career begins.

What comes next? That’s what This Is War is about. This Is War is a new podcast from the Wondery Podcast Network. This Is War is full of first-hand accounts of what it’s like to fight and survive combat while protecting our freedoms, the bonds that form between our nation’s fighting men and women, and the psychological toll it can take on a human being.

Today on Mandatory Fun, we give you a preview of This Is War. Today’s story is about Ian Mearns, who joined up in the deferred enlistment program in August 2001. We all know what happened just one short month later. Ian was just 17 and starting his senior year of high school. His life would never be the same.

“Telling stories of the American combat veteran gives us the chance to look at heroism, honor, and duty through the lens of real lives,” says the opening of This Is War. “To see the practical influence of a life of service to one’s country.”

Listen to Ian Mearns tell the story of his first days in Iraq and much more.

Mandatory Fun is hosted By:

Blake Stilwell: Air Force veteran and Managing Editor

Tim Kirkpatrick: Navy veteran and Editorial Coordinator

Orvelin Valle (aka O.V.): Navy veteran and Podcast Producer

Catch the show on Twitter at: @MandoFun and on our Facebook group.

Podcast

The best qualities about veteran entrepreneurs that investors love


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In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Blake speaks once again with fellow veterans Mike Lui and Buck Jordan from RMR Laboratories, an over-the-counter cannabis pharmaceutical company about the best qualities investors love in veteran entrepreneurs.

RMR Laboratories produces cannabinoid oil that’s applied as a topical cream to relieve pain and other medical ailments.

Due to our unique military experiences, veterans have so much more to offer the world than they’re given credit for, and those traits are closely examined by potential investors.

How playing cowboys and Indians prepared this commander for war

Related: How post-9/11 vets are bringing new life to the American Legion

In this episode, we talk on a wide-range of topics including:

  • [1:55] Mike’s unique career path from college, through the military, and into the cannabinoid industry.
  • [4:13] Buck tells us how about his military service and what businesses he’s helped build from the ground up.
  • [7:03] We get a solid explanation of what the business term “quick exit” means and how we can get in front of other venture capitalists for investments.
  • [9:25] They answer the tough question: How do you know if you are ready for a VC?
  • [12:30] How being deployed helped Mike’s business sense flourish.
  • [16:10] What key aspects investors look for in startup companies.
  • [18:25] What factors the military instills in veterans that potential investors highly respect.
  • [20:00] The different types of investors you should know about.
  • [24:14] What projects/ideas VCs are interested in investing into
  • [29:00] What traits and characteristics veterans have that investors love the most.

Also Read: These are the best military movies by service branch

For more information about RMR Laboratories and/or investment opportunities click here.

Mike served in the Army for eight years and deployed to Iraq, where he led teams that helped rebuild the country by setting up its first democratic elections.

Buck served also served in the Army, but as an officer and Black Hawk pilot. After exiting from his military service, he began working as a venture capitalist and now is an RMR Laboratory investor.

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Podcast

How to stay fit and not get fat after you get out of the military


In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Blake, Tim, and O.V. speak with Army veteran and fitness expert Jennifer Campbell on what veterans can do during their busy day to stay in shape — especially when going to morning PT isn’t an option.

“Veterans have a 70 percent higher chance of developing obesity than the general public,” Jennifer Campbell says.

The reason for this statistic is due to the dramatic change in a veteran’s daily habit. The majority of the veteran community have been known to cease fire on their work out plans, which creates a negativity jolt the body’s system.

In this episode, we talk on a wide-range of topics including:

  • [2:00] The daily regiment of a fitness instructor to maintain a healthy lifestyle while still staying “loose.”
  • [2:40] Information about “Merging Vets & Players,” the growing fitness organization that connects troops and professional athletes.
  • [4:50] Some positive traits of working out versus taking certain medications.
  • [6:20] What “Overtraining Syndrome” consists of and how to avoid it.
  • [10:00] How structured dieting and workouts are necessary for those looking to get into the fitness industry.
  • [11:40] How to properly test your genetic makeup.
  • [13:25] If you want to cheat on your diet — a.k.a. cheat days — here’s how to do it the right way.
  • [18:20] What you can learn about yourself from your genetic markers.
  • [19:20] Important tips how to stay in shape while working in an office space setting.
  • [23:20] Some dietary buzz words that freak everyone out.
  • [30:25] How we can stay looking young using our new health and fitness tools.
  • [34:45] What type of alcohol we should be drinking if you’re trying to stay in shape.

Hosted By:

Blake Stilwell: Air Force veteran

Tim Kirkpatrick: Navy veteran

Orvelin Valle (AKA O.V.): Navy veteran

This episode originally ran in November 2017.

Podcast

Sebastian Junger talks war, vet reintegration, and what’s wrong with America


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New York Times bestselling author Sebastian Junger dropped by We Are The Mighty to discuss his latest book “Tribe.”

Here’s what the publisher says about the book:

Through combining history, psychology, and anthropology, “Tribe” explores what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty, belonging, and the eternal human quest for meaning. It explains the irony that—for many veterans as well as civilians—war feels better than peace, adversity can turn out to be a blessing, and disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations. “Tribe” explains why we are stronger when we come together, and how that can be achieved even in today’s divided world.

Hosted by:

How playing cowboys and Indians prepared this commander for war

Selected links and show notes from the episode

  • Sebastian Junger’s new book “Tribe” is nothing short of a lesson for all Americans
  • [00:40] Sebastian Junger’s motivations for writing TRIBE.
  • [02:05] Why humans are drawn to communal living and tribal affiliation.
  • [04:15] Examples of tribalism in modern communities.
  • [06:05] How do we live in a modern society and retain some of the cohesion that comes from hardship and adversity.
  • [07:15] How mandatory national service could unify America.
  • [09:00] How Bowe Bergdahl and the financiers who caused the great recession harmed America.
  • [11:05] The difference between war trauma and personal alienation for troops reintegrating into society.
  • [14:00] The dangers of over valorization.
  • [16:20] Why no one else could have written this book other than Sebastian Junger.
  • [20:00] Sebastian Junger clarifies the use of “tribe” as used in his book.
  • [23:15] The feelings associated with coming home and leaving for deployment.
  • [25:25] What it takes to be accepted into a tribe.
  • [26:15] Sebastian Junger’s thought about practicing tribalism.
  • This celebrated war correspondent nails the reasons why soldiers miss combat
  • Sebastian Junger nails the reason why young men want to go to war

How playing cowboys and Indians prepared this commander for war

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MIGHTY HISTORY

The story of the slave who survived the Alamo

The attack on the Alamo in 1836 was not a 13-day siege and slaughter as often portrayed in film and television. Don’t get me wrong – the defenders of the mission-turned-fortress were killed en masse as Mexican troops stormed the structure. It’s just that not everyone inside the Alamo died that day.

How playing cowboys and Indians prepared this commander for war
Maybe standing in the open wearing the brightest clothes isn’t the best idea.

That’s how we came to know of Joe — just Joe, any other names he had are lost to history now. Joe was the slave of William B. Travis, the commander of the Alamo during Mexican dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s siege of the Texian fort. But no one knows exactly how Joe got there. No matter how he ended up there, he was one of many slaves and free blacks who fought or died at the Alamo.

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Joe was a stalwart defender alongside Travis and other Texians. When the din of the fighting died down and the Mexicans firmly controlled the fort, Joe was shot and bayoneted, only to be saved by a Mexican field officer. Because Joe could speak Spanish, he was able to be interrogated afterward.


All that is known about Joe after the Alamo is that he was questioned by Santa Anna and then later questioned by the Texas Cabinet. A little more than a year later,
Joe escaped to Mexico on two stolen horses.

How playing cowboys and Indians prepared this commander for war
One supposed photo of Joe, the slave and survivor of the Alamo.

That’s where attorney-turned-author Lewis Cook picked up the story. His first book, called
Joe’s Alamo: Unsung, is a fiction-based-on-history account of what came next, after the Alamo, and after Joe escaped.

Cook was waiting to go to medical school when he discovered Joe’s story and was compelled to write about the Alamo. Cook discovered the Alamo was more than a bunch of white, male landowners fighting for Texas. The fort was full of women, minorities of many color, and followers of many religions. So, he set out to tell the story of the Alamo, a story that, he believes, belongs to all of us through the diversity of its defenders.

In his book, Cook tells a different story from what is commonly told in textbooks, film, and TV shows. It includes recently discovered facts about William Travis, Susana Dickinson, Davy Crockett, and Joe himself.

Resources Mentioned

Sponsor

Audible: For you, the listeners of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Audible is offering a free audiobook download with a free 30-day trial to give you the opportunity to check out some of the books and authors featured on Mandatory Fun. To download your free audiobook today go to audibletrial.com/MandatoryFun.

About Mandatory Fun

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Share your thoughts about this episode on Twitter at: @MandoFun and on our Facebook group.

Articles

How an aspiring sergeant major became a stand-up comedian


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In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Blake, Tim, and O.V. speak with Mitch Burrow, a funny burly-guy who went from being a Marine to becoming a stand-up comedian.

When we join the military all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we have sort of an idea of what we want to do with our lives — but we change our minds dozens of times before landing a career that we hopefully love.

Related: This is how drunken shenanigans influence pilot callsigns

How playing cowboys and Indians prepared this commander for war
Mitch Burrow doing his monthly workout. (Source: Mitch Burrow)

Mitch is a Marine Corps veteran that served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. He then started a career in manufacturing before realizing that it sucked. Now, Mitch has found his true calling in acting silly on a stage in front of strangers on a nightly basis.

So why did Mitch decide to jump on stage and be a comedian after getting out of the Marines?

“I love stand up comedy, so I was like you know what? If this is working at a party or a social group, let me try it on stage,” Mitch humorously recalls. “So I drove down to San Diego to the Comedy Store in La Jolla and had three shots of tequila, and I drank a couple of Budweisers then I got on stage. I’ve been told it went pretty good.”

Also Read: Dale Dye wants to make this epic World War II movie with veterans

To follow Mitch or check out one of his shows visit his website: Mitchburrow.com.

Hosted By:

Blake Stilwell: Air Force veteran and Managing Editor

Tim Kirkpatrick: Navy veteran and Editorial Coordinator

Orvelin Valle (AKA O.V.): Navy veteran and Podcast Producer

Humor

These are the wars we’d fight in if we had a time machine


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In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Blake, Chase, Tim, and O.V. discuss what role we’d like to serve in during any war.

Many veterans today are so intrigued by military history, they’ve considered what war they feel like they missed out on. Although when (hypothetically) given the opportunity to change from their real life MOS to whatever occupation they wanted, the podcast crew surprisingly decided to stick to their original area of expertise.

Related: 5 military perks that will help you win at service life

“I would still select the Navy, and it would be during World War II on a battleship like the USS Iowa,” O.V. proudly stated.

As it turns out, everyone reverted to what he knows best. Blake, a combat camera veteran with the Air Force, chose to be a combat cameraman but also opted to serve during World War II.

“If I were going to go back and be a combat cameraman, I would want to land at D-Day,” Stilwell said. “I wouldn’t mind dying as long as my footage got back. That’s the whole point!”

Hosted By:

Blake Stilwell: Air Force veteran and Managing Editor

Tim Kirkpatrick: Navy veteran and Editorial Coordinator

Orvelin Valle (AKA O.V.): Navy veteran and Podcast Producer

Chase Millsap: Army and Marine Corps infantry veteran turned Director of Impact Strategy at We Are The Mighty

Podcast

How post-9/11 vets are bringing new life to the American Legion


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In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Blake speaks with Army veteran Jennifer Campbell who is currently the Second Vice Commander of the American Legion Post 43 in Hollywood, Ca.

Recently, Jennifer and the commander of Post 43, Fernando Rivero were featured in a Wall Street Journal article about how they engineered a plan to bring some fresh energy to the post.

The young veterans of the post managed to fuse and honor old military traditions with the new generation of combat veterans.

Related: The real-life dictator who ruined his country and became a cannibal

In this episode, we talk on a wide-range of topics including:

[1:05] Jennifer states why she decided to join the Army after growing up in a Navy family.

[4:00] We talk about the path on how to join the leadership of an American Legion.

[9:50] Insightful advice for other post-military organizations that are struggling to stay afloat.

[11:23] Jennifer briefly explains “Operation the First Reformational Congress” is all about.

[15:30] We get an update on the modern and exciting renovations legendary Post 43 is getting.

[17:00] The new post modifications features a new state of the art one of these…

[18:30] Jennifer makes a list of all the film productions and celebrities associated with the post.

[20:20] Jennifer tells us the spooky inside history that happened in the historic legion.

Also Read: How to see those never-before-published ‘Terminal Lance’ comics

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Podcast

How a single Christmas tree brought the spirit of the holidays to a deployed unit


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In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, we speak with Army veteran, national speaker, and acclaimed author of the 2017 Independent Publishing Award-winning book The Frontline Generation: How We Served Post 9/11Marjorie K. Eastman.

Eastman is also an accomplished executive and operational professional with over 20-years experience in leading people and various organizations.

Her award-winning book began as a personal memoir for her son. Eastman’s goal was to capture the lessons and inspirations she learned serving beside men and women who represent the very best of what it means to be American — the 1% of the population in the military.

How playing cowboys and Indians prepared this commander for war
The Frontline Generation: How We Served Post 9/11. (Source: marjoriekeastman.com)

She respectfully identifies this group as the Frontline Generation and notes that it is an untapped reservoir of leaders who have been strengthened by their Post 9/11 service.

Christmas Lights All Year

“Can someone please tell me why in the hell this big-ass box is still cluttering the entryway to the CP?”

It was early in the morning, and I was standing in the front part of my company’s command post (CP), staring at a box that was just over six feet tall (a height I can quickly surmise since I am six feet tall). This designated area was meant for my soldiers, as it was an “orderly mess” of numerous bins, all of which were overflowing with freebies from countless care packages. At any hour of the day, soldiers could stop by and grab extra soap, snacks, toothbrushes—you name it. While deployed, my unit received an abundance of care packages that were crammed with just about anything and everything—and the CP was beginning to be littered with boxes, especially since we were approaching the month of December.

It was Sergeant Marco Vasquez who popped his head over his computer, my quiet, stellar NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) sergeant who was also my driver on several convoys. He probably was swearing underneath his breath that he was the unlucky one, the only person in the office to answer my cranky question. My headquarters team caught on quickly that I was the most unpleasant after my morning beatings from Battalion, where I had to give my company’s daily battlefield update briefs, and on top of that, I was currently embroiled in an unnecessary battle over my company’s combat patch ceremony.

“Yes, ma’am. I think First Sergeant said it was a care package that was simply addressed to HHC.” Top walked into the CP at that moment, a to-go breakfast plate in hand, not missing a beat. “Good morning, ma’am. Yes, we still need to open it and see if we can identify the individual it belongs to, or if it is just a care package meant for the company.”

I instantly had a flashback of those damn duffels and tough boxes that were left at the reserve center back in Texas—for years! To put it lightly, I was annoyed that it had already sat there for several days. So I grabbed the box, which was leaning against the wall, and I laid it on the ground. With one quick slice along the taped seam from my Benchmade knife, the smell of a fresh evergreen tree burst from the box and engulfed the room.

“What in the hell?” I wondered out loud. With Top and Sergeant Vasquez peering over my shoulder, I unwrapped a live, six-foot-tall Douglas fir Christmas tree. The more and more I breathed in that glorious smell—an absolutely foreign fragrance on Bagram Airfield—I was overcome with joy and peace. I turned around to see that this tree was also having the same effect on Top and Vasquez—both had sloppy grins ear-to-ear.

Once we stood it up, and began to loosen the boughs, a card dropped to the floor. I picked it up, and read, “To the Soldiers of HHC, enjoy this reminder of home during the Christmas season. Take care, (signed) Charles Eastman.” My husband had sent the live Christmas tree, the piece of home, and gifted it to my soldiers. He was wise enough to include a tree stand, tree skirt, and numerous strings of Christmas lights.

Charles knew all too well what it felt like to be deployed over the holidays, considering he had spent the past two Christmases in Iraq. This was our third consecutive Christmas in which one of us was serving in combat; outside of our family and close friends, not many people knew this. Thus, his gesture meant so much more . . .

To read more, you can purchase a copy of The Frontline Generation online at Amazon, Barnes Noble, or signed and personalized copies available at www.thefrontlinegeneration.com.

Related: How the US Air Force tricked CSAF McPeak into staying in the military

In this episode, we talk on a wide range of topics, including:

  • [2:00] The reason why this acclaimed author decided to join the military.
  • [7:25] Eastman explains how she received her direct Army officer commissioning.
  • [11:50] What gave Eastman the motivation to move forward and write her now acclaimed book.
  • [16:10] The story behind why Eastman smiled at a drill sergeant during boot camp
  • [20:30] What helps define a strong female presence in a leadership position.
  • [25:00] What veteran stories Eastman loves to tell during her public speaking events.
  • [31:15] The complete explain behind the story “Yes, man. No, man.”

To continue following Eastman’s public appearances and other work, be sure check out her website: marjoriekeastman.com

Also Read: These veterans may be the future of cannabis-based pharmaceuticals

Blake Stilwell: Air Force veteran and Managing Editor

Tim Kirkpatrick: Navy veteran and Editorial Coordinator

Orvelin Valle (aka O.V.): Navy veteran and Podcast Producer

Podcast

The wars that could break out in the next 4 years – Pt. 2


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Now that the conventions are over and Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the official presidential nominees for their respective parties, how will the incoming Commander-in-Chief handle the turmoil around the world? Will America be led down the path of imminent war, or will the new president avoid these chaotic scenarios?

Join us for part two of the potential wars that could break out in the next four years.

Related:  The wars that could break out in the next 4 years – Pt. 1

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Selected links and show notes from the episode:

  • Here are 10 wars that could break out in the next four years
  • [02:10] Israel versus Hezbollah.
  • [12:00] Turkey Civil War.
  • [17:30] Afghan Civil War.
  • [22:30] China versus India.
  • [38:00] North Korea versus anyone.
  • [29:30] Discussion about jet fuel’s flammability. Here’s a demonstration of jet fuel putting out a match and how it compares to other fuels.

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Podcast

Combat poetry reveals what life is like on the Afghan front lines

Justin Eggen had some things stuck in his head for a long time during — but especially after — his two deployments to Afghanistan. These thoughts became poems and short stories that reflected his feelings and personal experience as a Marine in Marjah and in Afghanistan’s Sangin Valley. Like so many writing combat poetry, they are Eggen’s way of handling the overwhelming series of emotions from and memories of his time there.


In this episode of Mandatory Fun, We Are The Mighty’s Blake Stilwell talks to Justin Eggen on what it was like to write poetry as a Marine Corps combat veteran — and why every U.S. troop needs some creative outlet for thoughts and feelings like his.

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“When I was younger I wrote a bit of poetry,” Eggen says. “And I realized this is a good outlet for releasing a lot of pent up memories and aggression.”

That was then, this is now.

Eggen wrote up a few poems for “shits and giggles” after he returned from his deployments with the Corps, but the response was better than he ever imagined. He sent it to people who said he needed to share his combat poetry with the world.

Initially, however, he wasn’t apt to publish his works and share them with the world. At first, it was just a way to release the mental anguish. Eggen didn’t really take poetry or writing seriously, especially as a way to cope with what he describes as his mind “still living over in Afghanistan.”

“Ten years ago, I didn’t even think I would deploy to Afghanistan,” Eggen says, describing the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan while he was entering the Marine Corps. “When I joined, Afghanistan wasn’t even in people’s minds. Our Drill instructor said if we’re lucky, we’d go to Iraq.”

But don’t expect Justin Eggen’s combat poetry to look like anything a stereotypical beret-wearing beatnik might write. Eggen was a .50-cal machine gunner on a route clearance platoon, searching for IEDs in the roads around his area of responsibility.

 

How playing cowboys and Indians prepared this commander for war
Eggen at PB Alcatraz, Sangin 2011.

 

The enemy was like a ghost: They were very good at making IEDs that were hard to detect because they were composed of very few metal elements. His second book, which is currently being written, will be about fighting such a ghostly enemy.

His first book is about the struggle of having your mind stuck back over there.

“A huge part of being home after the Marine Corps is trying to face what happened,” he says. “You get blown up and you’re never the same, regardless of if you’re in a vehicle or on foot. You hit an IED and that rattles you to an extent and you’re changed for the rest of your life. I have friends who are not the same. I am not the same person.”

For Eggen, writing down a lot of what happened, especially as combat poetry, is a powerful thing. Not just for him but for anyone who is struggling emotionally or mentally from a traumatic experience in their life.

He enjoys his work a lot and even enjoys reading them. Each one tells its own little tale. While the longer stories and poems are deeper to him, he also revives the ancient art of the warrior writing haiku. They’re just as deep, but short and sweet and he loves the challenge of writing them.

“You get 17 syllables to portray a story,” he explains. “if you can build something that makes people think in 17 syllables, that’s a huge challenge. That’s what Japanese warriors used to do after battle, write haikus. That was the first version of “combat poetry.” That’s how they dealt with a battle. So that’s what I did for three weeks straight, counting syllables on my fingers.” 

For more of Justin Eggen, catch the rest of the show and then check out his book of poetry and short stories, Outside the Wire: A U.S. Marine’s Collection of Combat Poems and Short Stories on Amazon.

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