Soldier Speaks: Jason Gunn

The third in a series of profiles of Iraq combat veterans who have recently come home.
By Celina R. De Leon, AlterNet
August 18, 2005

Editor's Note: As of August 17, 2005, 1,852 American troops and between 22,500 to 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in the war in Iraq. Domestically, the bill for the war has reached $204.6 billion.

This is the third in a continued series of profiles of some of the tens of thousands of Iraq War veterans who have come home bearing the scars of battle -- emotional and physical wounds that may never heal unless the nation pays them the attention and care that they deserve. We at AlterNet believe it is the one issue that can and must bring us all together as America.

Jason Gunn, 26, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania finished his eight-year contract with the Army at the end of June. He plans never to re-enlist.

Jason was stationed in Baghdad, Fallujah and Karbala. His unit, 137th Armor or "The Bandits," was responsible for the takeover of Karbala. He first enlisted with the Army in 1997 to help pay for college, and was deployed to Iraq in May 2003. Jason now works for a catering company, attends Veterans for Peace meetings with his mom, and goes to therapy for his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which he got from his service in Iraq.

He spoke to AlterNet on July 11, 2005.

What were you told were the reasons for the war in Iraq when you first began your duty?

I was told we were going to Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein and to help the people of the new Iraq rebuild themselves and the new Iraq.

What did you think about these reasons initially?

I didn't agree with these reasons in the beginning. And I didn't agree with these reasons even when I was over there.

How did you get and maintain the strength to keep fighting in a war you didn't believe in?

I made it through because of my friends ... I lost three friends, including two really close friends. One was killed in my truck, when we were hit by an IED [Improvised Exploding Device]. I was out of Iraq for four months recovering in the hospital. And then they sent me back. It was just a lot of terrible things. When you see that much death -- you know, I've seen enough death to last a lifetime. No one should have to see that much.

Did you ever express dissent?

I expressed my dislike for the war all the time. I would say that I hated it. I didn't believe it was the right thing to do. The whole country and the American soldiers should not be over there fighting a war for someone who wants to make a quick buck. I don't want to be hired over there to protect somebody else's assets.

Did any other soldiers in your unit express dissent?

All of the soldiers expressed the same beliefs. But we had to do our work. Either that or be dishonorably discharged.

Did you interact with any local Iraqis? How was that experience?

Some of the Iraqis are actually happy that you're there. Other ones are cut-throats. They say one thing and then turn around and stab you in the back another day.

Were you ever informed of an exit strategy?

They said the day we go home is the day we go home.

Do you think there is a need for an exit strategy?

There should be an exit strategy from the minute you get the order you have to be deployed. You should get a timeline of when you're leaving and when you're coming home. No extensions. None of that crap.

Why do you think there are extensions?

They have extensions because they are ill-prepared with everything that is happening. They have no idea what they're doing.

What do you think about Secretary Rumsfeld's projection that we could be in Iraq for another 12 years?

The only reason they say we're going to be there 12 more years is so they can have more time -- more leniency -- for how they're going to pull out. They're buying themselves more time so they can come up with a better strategy to get more money from that country.

Do you remember your feelings on your last day of active duty?

On my last day ... I was glad to get the hell out of there. I wouldn't have to see any [more] of my friends get killed.

How was your homecoming back in the states?

It was different. It's weird driving down a street and not having to worry about someone shooting at you or an IED going off. It's the same thing when you're walking down the street looking at new people. You're constantly looking at their hands, and seeing who's around, and looking at buildings.

Are you getting the services you need to transition back into civilian life?

They say they have the means to help soldiers transition back into the world but they don't. I do have someone [I see]. When I got hurt in Iraq -- the doctor told them that I needed to stay in Germany for treatment for my injuries and for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My unit blew it off, and said I had to come back [to Iraq] now. And when I got there -- they said I had to write a letter saying I came back on my own will.

Is there anything you would like to add -- something that you feel is not being covered by the media?

The media tends to make what the soldiers are doing there seem wrong. And like when the Marine shot the unarmed Iraqi -- the media blew it all up, saying we were out there murdering people. You have to understand, when you're in that country, in that situation, some of the people there do really cut-throat things. And every day could be your last day ... Those soldiers who did what they did -- shoot unarmed Iraqis, and now they're going to jail ... No, I think those soldiers did what they had to do to protect themselves from the people around them. And I think the media blew everything out of proportion and caused those soldiers their careers -- and their reputations. I hate the fact that the media is even over there. Some of them tried to talk with me but I wouldn't let them. ...

They're not there to help the American people, or to help the soldiers. They're looking for any dirt -- what sells is dirt. That's all they're looking for. Grimy stories, and stuff that makes the U.S. Army look bad is what they're looking for. The soldiers that are over there are fighting every day to survive. They're not over there for patriotism, or trying to be Americans fighting terrorists -- they're not doing that. They're over there because the U.S. Army wants them over there, and they're there to protect themselves and their friends. No honor or patriotism over there whatsoever. They just want to come home. They're not doing this for God and country. The soldiers just want to come home.

Looking back, is there anything you wish you knew, that you weren't told?

I wish we knew that they were going to lift the curfew for Ramadan. I wish we knew about that. And I wish we knew we were going to have un-armored Humvees the whole time we were over there. And that we were going to be ill-equipped the entire time we were over there. And that we weren't going to start getting anything till the last two months that we were there. A lot of soldiers had to pay out of their own pockets to get bites for their rifles, flashlights, equipment. And you don't get reimbursed.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Yeah, I wish I could have my friends back.

Celina R. De Leon is a social justice journalist based in Brooklyn, NY.
© 2005 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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