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Friday, September 12, 2008

The Unmaking of a Marine: ePluribus Media Reviews Packing Inferno

The always fabulous Cho of ePluribus Media reviews Iraq veteran Tyler Boudreau's upcoming book, Packing Inferno: The Unmaking of a Marine:

Packing Inferno is a thoughtful meditation on the warrior class, combat stress and where real hell lies, which as Boudreau will tell you, isn’t in the war theatre.

The battleground is merely the foyer.

The real hell is here and now
, in the aftermath, daily, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute, confronting the wounds -- physical and psychological -- that are the inevitable outcomes of war.

In 2004, Boudreau served as a Marine corps captain in Iraq.

Since then, his 12-years of active duty service and wartime lessons have inspired him to attempt to stir the nation's consciousness and conscience on war-related humanitarian subjects like the Iraqi refugee crisis.

To get to know the man behind the Marine a bit better, let's look beyond the book via recently published pieces into Boudreau's efforts to do right by the people he was sent to liberate.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.

July Daily Hampshire Gazette profile piece by James F. Lowe:

In April 2004, Marine Capt. Tyler E. Boudreau watched the exodus of Fallujah's residents in the days before American forces laid siege to the Iraqi city. Four years later, Boudreau, who has since resigned from the military and settled with his family in Leeds, says he's driven to help find ways to help Iraqis displaced during the war.

"We were in the position of creating displaced people," Boudreau said of his battalion and other units, who warned the people of Fallujah to clear out before an impending battle with insurgents in the city.

"Here are the very same people we had been sent to Iraq to liberate - in other words to help and get out of a bad situation." ...Already well versed in the documented plight of Iraqis refugees in Jordan, Boudreau said he wants to see their situation for himself. The stories he's read reflect that many are forced to drain their savings or take under-the-table jobs in order to survive. This sets them up for poverty and exploitation, he said.

Another Northampton resident already has a firsthand perspective on the refugee experience in Jordan. Claudia Lefko has been to the country four times since 2006 as part of her Iraqi Children's Art Exchange Project. ...Lefko likened Boudreau to veterans of the Vietnam War, who returned to that country after they'd laid down their arms.

"You want to connect with the source of the trauma," she said.

Boudreau said he began thinking seriously about the displacement and refugee crisis within the last year. In March, while attending a gathering of Iraq veterans in Washington called Winter Soldier, he crossed paths with Montalvan.

Montalvan, of Brooklyn, N.Y., a 17-year Army veteran, served two tours in Iraq from 2003 to 2006. Since leaving the military last year, he has advocated for an end to the war. Montalvan is now a graduate student of journalism and strategic communications at Columbia University.

Boudreau and Montalvan formed the Iraq Veterans Refugees Aid Association soon after Winter Soldier. They share the belief, Boudreau said, that the U.S. has an obligation to assist displaced Iraqis.

"The follow-up is, Let's take care of these people," he said.

Writing with Army Captain Luis Carlos Montalv√°n, they penned a powerful entreaty on the Iraqi refugee crisis that appeared this summer in an International Herald Tribune op-ed piece:

As combat officers in Iraq, we witnessed the suffering and forced migration of millions of Iraqi civilians. These same people are now struggling to survive as refugees in neighboring countries while millions more have been displaced within Iraq, enduring unimaginable hardship and danger. ...As American officers we feel it is our nation's moral obligation to address this crisis.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in 2007 Iraqis represented the highest percentage of people seeking asylum worldwide with a 98 percent increase in applications. From 2004 to 2007, Iraqis seeking asylum moved from the 9th largest population to the 1st.

In comparison to other industrialized countries, the United States has performed poorly in granting Iraqis asylum. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development statistics show that Sweden has taken the most sympathetic approach to Iraqis, with 90 percent of those claiming refugee status allowed to stay. Greece and Turkey are among other countries that have granted asylum to a great number of Iraqis. ...

Perhaps our proudest legacy from Vietnam was welcoming of over a million Vietnamese who had aided U.S. forces during that conflict.

Many of these [Iraqi] refugees have provided U.S. forces with invaluable services. One such individual, whose case we have been trying to press with immigration authorities, is a translator named Ali, who helped the U.S. military in 2003 and 2004.

At a time when we had no translators assigned to us, Ali stepped forward and helped us communicate our intentions to the local people in the Al Anbar Province. Ali's courage was responsible for saving many lives, including those of American service members.

Sadly, Ali has remained trapped in Jordan for two years enduring what he describes modestly as "harsh circumstances." He tells us that food and housing is scarce, health care is inaccessible, schooling for children is largely unavailable, and that only people who have residences are eligible for jobs. ..

When the United States desperately needed Ali's help in Iraq they got it. But when Ali had to flee because of threats to his life, when he came in to his own time of need, the U.S. failed to reciprocate.

We and other soldiers who once worked with Ali are trying arduously to facilitate his request for asylum under the provisions of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and via applications for asylum through the United Nations.

The creeping disillusionment this officer feels with the erosion of America's traditional role as protector and final refuge to the "tired, hungry and poor" of the world (especially those who have extended their hand in our direction) courses through those lines above.

The political policy and current stance of the nation he served is fueling his work and feelings today.

But discussing politics in the same breath as PTSD makes many uncomfortable. Some may wish to sanitize the condition by keeping the focus only on the clinical. Unfortunately, war is a political as well as military tool waged by our leaders and carried out by our warriors.

Trying to keep politics, and the discussion of the morality and ethics of a certain war or invasion, out of our discussions of PTSD is like trying to keep photos of caskets hidden from a public's view.

The combat deaths still take place -- even if they're not in our face all of the time. They remain right under the surface, under our daily radar, a part of the brutal reality of war that many are all too happy not to be forced to face or see.

The ePluribus Media book review glances this same vein briefly:

Boudreau writes of attending conferences stateside, studying the literature of combat stress, and recognizing that, as other mental health professionals have documented, soldiers can cope with their mental wounds if they believe their war to be just – a fight to liberate a people for example, but they cannot when the war is not just, when it is a war of acquisition, say, for oil. Yet, issues of the morality and ethics of the Iraq invasion are the very questions that mental health professionals tend to duck. [209]

Karin Zeitvogel of Agence France Presse writes of Boudreau's August Jordan fact-finding trip, and explains why the former Marine and his Army counterpart believe their efforts benefit not only the Iraqi refugee, but the American veteran as well:

Iraqi refugee Ahmad welcomed former US marine Captain Tyler Boudreau into his cramped apartment in Amman, stretched out a hand, and said: "We forgive you for invading our country." Boudreau had served in Iraq's Babel and Anbar provinces in 2004 - months after Ahmad along with his wife and two young children had fled the violence unleashed by the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

The ex-marine had now traveled to Jordan, which has become a safe haven to between 500,000 and 750,000 Iraqi refugees, with another former officer who fought in Iraq, army Captain Luis Montalvan.

They had come, they said, to repay a debt they and many other veterans feel the United States owes to the Iraqi people. Bothered by the effect on the Iraqi population of the US invasion - as well as the impact on those doing the invading - the two former captains founded the non-profit group Iraq Veterans' Refugee Aid Association (IVRAA).

Their trip to Jordan was aimed at garnering first-hand information that they can use back in the US to advocate with legislators for changes to rules governing refugee immigration. They also want to campaign in schools and in the media to raise awareness of the plight of the more than 4 million Iraqis displaced by the war, they said.

Boudreau and Montalvan believe bringing together former soldiers with the people whose plight they have helped create will help both sides heal from the invisible wounds of war.

For more information, be sure to stop at Boudeau's online journal, Deeper Than War. And check out his book, Packing Inferno.

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