In this #DefendYourVote bonus episode of the WATM podcast, we catch up with our editor-in-chief Ward Carroll live from the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ward also covered the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, and so we asked him to compare and contrast the two.
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.
“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.
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 the past 40 years, the United States and South Korea participate in a joint military training exercise simulating a war against the Communist north.
The exercise mobilizes around 20,000 U.S. and South Korean troops in land, sea and air maneuvers. In return, North Korea typically responds with missile launches and nuclear tests — increasing tensions and the potential for conflict on the peninsula.
In this episode of the We Are The Mighty Podcast Mark Harper and Shannon Corbeil — two former Air Force officers — share their experience with these war games and what you need to know about the threat from the DPRK.
Role players are an essential element for troops preparing to travel overseas and face-off with the enemy. They provide a cultural boost by immersing troops in the violent world they’re about to deploy to.
They submerge themselves into training scenarios like mock firefights, ambushes, and suicide bombings — all for the benefit of troops heading to combat.
Some role players themselves are refugees turned Hollywood actors.
In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Blake talks with Kelvin Garvanne about his life as an Arabic/Iraqi role player for U.S. ground troops heading into combat.
For the last nine years, Garvanne has provided Islamic culture and language training to military and civilian personnel deploying overseas.
“A role player is basically there to interact with the battalion’s training,” Garvanne explains. “There are different levels on how you can interact. We were all characterized as ‘meat puppets’ which were basically folks who were just there to do whatever was told of us to do. “
These mock firefights consist of loud gunfire (blanks), firework explosions and a Hollywood makeup team to create realistic blood and guts.
Kelvin Garvanne attended the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. He is an Emmy award creative artist who is fascinated by the world and enjoys investigating the context of national and world events.
Mr. Garvanne is a native New Yorker who has lived in Washington D.C., Bogota, Colombia, Madrid, Spain, and Los Angeles, CA. He has traveled through several countries including Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, Panama, Mexico, and Haiti. For the last nine years, he provided Islamic culture and Iraqi and Pashto language training to military and civilian personnel deploying overseas.
Mr. Garvanne continues to develop opportunities to advise and train military and civilians positioned in careers involving global service. He also develops creative projects to expose the human condition.
In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Blake speaks with The Marine Rapper a.k.a. TMR about how he went from wrapping tacos to rapping music lyrics.
“I joined the military because I was working at Taco Bell and ironically as a [taco] wrapper,” TMR recalls. “I wanted more, so I became the manager. I [wanted to go] the same route as the [Taco Bell] founder did and become a Marine.”
If you’ve ever surfed the internet looking for military rap songs, chances are you’ve come across the unique sound of “The Marine Rapper.”
Known for sporting a red mohawk and wearing an American flag bandana, TMR served 10 years in the Marine Corps as a Combat Correspondent where he earned a Combat Action Ribbon and two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals during his service.
After successful tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, TMR left the Marine Corps in February 2014. After entering back into civilian life, TMR began focusing on music as a profession and for cathartic expression.
The Marine Rapper ‘s Action Figure is a bouncy, hyper, fast-paced journey that chronicles the making of his identity. Each song is accompanied by a music video that will be released weekly on YouTube starting Sept. 29.
TMR’s Action Figure will be available for purchase on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Tidal and everywhere where digital music is sold Sept. 29. In addition, a limited run of signed physical copies and merchandise will be exclusively available on TMR’s website: themarinerapper.com
Check out The Marine Rapper‘s video below for a taste of what you can expect when his record drops Sept. 29 for yourself.
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.
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.”
In 1831, King Louis Philippe of France expanded his country’s military by establishing a service branch made up of mostly foreigners: the French Foreign Legion. Immediately after its creation, the Foreign Legion recruited fighters from Switzerland, Germany, and other countries to protect and expand the French colonial empire. Despite the Foreign Legion’s involvement in most of France’s wars since being established, the French don’t get too bummed about their losses. Let’s just say it’s complicated.
In this episode of the WATM podcast, the editorial team discusses France’s bizarre relationship with its force of foreign fighters.
The thin line between brilliant and crazy cliché couldn’t be truer than for the military leaders in this entertaining episode of the We Are The Mighty podcast. While they accomplished incredible feats and heroics on the battlefield, they have another side the history books leave out.
Bad back, knee sprains, and other injury claims ISIS militants are using to scam out of duty are child’s play compared to excuses deployed by the finest members of the E-4 Mafia.
“For starters, headaches and stomachaches are rookie excuses,” says Tim Kirkpatrick, a former Navy corpsman and newest member of the We Are The Mighty Team. “There’s no way to diagnose these ‘chief complaints’ because they’re subjective.”
As a veteran with multiple deployments, Tim has heard every excuse in the sick call commando’s manual and can tell you what works and what doesn’t.
“A Marine rarely gets out of a hike,” he says. “He has to be dead or dying to get out of it, but there are ways.”
In this episode of the “Mandatory Fun” podcast, Tim and reformed members of the E-4 Mafia — your hosts, O.V. and Blake — divulge their ‘skating’ tips to ISIS fighters looking to file a proper jihad-ache.
America’s relationship with Russia wasn’t always as bad as it is now (or was during the Cold War).
Thanks to help from Czarist Russia, for example, England had a tough time controlling the colonial rebellion during the Revolutionary War. And who can forget the alliance with Stalin during World War II?
In this episode of the We Are The Mighty podcast, our hosts explore the on-again, off-again relationship with the Ruskies.
Before you read any further, the lesson here is don’t listen to anyone with an opinion about your VA benefits. Even when the Department of Veterans Affairs makes a “final” decision on your case, you can still appeal. So, don’t listen to your Staff Sergeant. Anyone still wearing a uniform is not an expert on your personal VA claim.
Unfortunately, this happens a lot more frequently than you might think. That’s where Moses Maddox comes in. Maddox is more than just a veteran who advocates for his fellow vets. For almost a decade, the former Marine has built a career in helping other veterans with personal, academic, financial, and success counseling through various organizations.
Maddox talked to us about finding your veteran community, managing our veteran ego, and how to thrive in your post-military life. He talked to David Letterman about his experience, so we’re grateful he took a moment to sit down with us on the Mandatory Fun podcast.
Maddox believes we’ve come a long way and the military is getting better at preparing us for our post-military lives. The problem in his mind is that the military is designed to weed out the weak among us and the weakness in ourselves, a necessary process to prepare military members for what they may have to do. But once you’re out, that process proves detrimental – the perception that mental issues are weaknesses is what keeps us from addressing those problems.
The greatest challenges he faced when transitioning out of the Marine Corps stemmed from his admitted lack of planning. He set a countdown to his EAS date and was excited as the day approached. When it came, he felt nothing. He was so fixated on getting out that he didn’t have a plan for what he was going to actually do when the day came.
Over the course of two months, he went from handing out millions in humanitarian aid to handing out gym memberships at an LA Fitness.
“The nothingness and monotony of civilian life has just as much potential to beat you down as war did,” Maddox says. It’s a refrain he tells to many transitioning veterans. When the military is gone, the silence is the biggest hurdle.
But all that changed. One day, Maddox drove to the VA to see if they could help him. When he was there, a Vietnam veteran saw the despair in his eyes — and told him that the feeling was normal. No one had ever told him that his struggles were normal and treatable. So, armed with this knowledge, Maddox took care of it.
Now he advocates for veterans in many areas of post-military life. He looks back on his service fondly, but acknowledges that the Marine Corps was not the only thing he had going for him. Helping people is his passion, helping veterans is now his life’s work.
Learn more about Moses Maddox and how he discovered his “new why” on this episode of Mandatory Fun.
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.
Army medics and Navy corpsmen are a perfect example of service branch cooperation. When they work together, they save lives.
For this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, we invited former Army medic Ruty Rutenberg to chat with our resident Corpsman about deployment responsibilities. Tune in to learn the differences between their jobs on the field and in garrison.
Disclaimer: Let’s be honest — we only work so well together because we’re secretly trying to outdo the other side.