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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

OIF Vet, Author and Cross-Country Cyclist Tyler Boudreau's August Midwest Spin

In the Madison, Wisc., Rockford or Chicago, Ill., area and interested in supporting a returning veteran on an inspiring and, frankly, novel home front mission? Well, your chance arrives in early August in the form of Tyler Boudreau's 'The Other Side' Cross-Country Cycle Tour.

Currently Boudreau, a former 12-year Marine captain who served in Iraq and later wrote to tell about it in Packing Inferno: The Unmaking of a Marine, is at the midway point of his coast-to-coast trek. Having started in Seattle on June 15, tonight he's slated to appear in Billings, Mont., at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at 7 p.m.

I spoke with Tyler this afternoon to begin nailing down his Midwest dates. Due to family responsibilities, he's having to ratchet up his pedaling somewhat to conclude the tour a bit earlier than expected. This means that remaining event dates have had to be shuffled around a bit.

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

Current WI/IL 'The Other Side' events:

Madison, WI
Aug. 6
Escape Java Joint, 7 p.m.
942 Williamson Street
Madison, WI 53703

Rockford, IL area
Aug. 8, 9 or 10 (final date and location TBA next week)

Chicago, IL
Aug. 12
Quimby's Bookstore, 7 p.m.
1854 W. North Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622

On Monday, I've got an appointment at nearby Poplar Grove Airport's Vintage Wings and Wheels Museum, which I think will be an interesting setting to host a discussion with Boudreau. While this veteran will be arriving on a couple of determinedly non-vintage wheels, I'm keeping fingers crossed that this venue will be able to fit us in when Tyler rolls into town.

As soon as we have a place and time, I'll pass it along.

As for Boudreau, he is posting some spectacular road trip photos along with random notes at his online journal. I've included some clips from some of his press coverage in extended. If you support his mission, please consider donating a nickel or two to help curb his expenses. This kind of military engagement is the kind we want more of in our world, don't you agree?

Jon R. Anderson, Military Times:

A Marine captain-turned-author began a 3,000-mile bicycle trek June 15 that he hopes will be as much an inner journey of the soul as a cross-country campaign to encourage a national conversation on veteran’s issues.

“The central point of all this is dialogue; let’s have a conversation,” said Tyler Boudreau, an Iraq veteran, as he stood atop a grassy hill in Seattle’s Gas Works Park that marked the starting point of his three-month odyssey back to his wife and three kids in Northampton, Mass.

“With more than 90 days on the road, that’s going leave a lot time to explore my own soul,” he said, sporting tan cargo shorts and a simple gray T-shirt, bulging saddlebags strapped to his black, spray-painted bicycle.

As part of that conversation — with himself and those he meets along the way — he hopes to delve into the issues of post-traumatic stress disorder. Actually, he says he prefers to drop the word “disorder.”

“There’s such a stigma with that word,” Boudreau says. “I think it would do the country a lot of good to lose it.”

He should know.

Boudreau left the Corps in 2005 after a tour in Iraq that included the Battle of Fallujah. Sleepless nights, hair-trigger rage and entire days curled in ball left him wrestling with the demons of his own war experience.

That’s part of what drove him to write his book “Packing Inferno: The Unmaking of a Marine,” published this year. The book chronicles his journey through war and home again, and why he resigned his commission in protest against the war. The book was a big part of his own recovery process, and he hopes to share what he’s learned along the trek cross country.

Retired Army Lt. Col. George James, who also spent 29 years working in mental health at the Veterans Administration, was among about a dozen supporters who rode with Boudreau in the first leg of his journey out of Seattle.

“I wanted to support what he’s doing,” said James, now an organizer for the local chapter of Veterans for Peace. “He’s doing what everyone in the country should be doing: educating people on the cost of war. People need to know when you send people into combat, s--- happens; it wounds the soul.”

Boudreau will be speaking at events and doing book signings along the 12-state route across the country.

“In many respects, this project is a fresh attempt at ‘Coming Home,’ ” Boudreau writes on his blog. “Veterans of the current wars and their communities have been struggling to find each other but are in so many ways blinded or blocked by political and cultural barriers. A major objective of this project is to get to ‘the other side’ of those barriers and find home — possibly a better version of home ... possibly as better versions of ourselves.”

Scott Gutierrez, Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

After leaving the Marine Corps in 2005, Tyler Boudreau wrote a book about his seven months in Iraq that's been regarded as a "true face" of the conflict.

He became a vocal advocate for veterans, even writing an article in The New York Times on whether the military should award the Purple Heart --for servicemembers wounded in combat -- to those afflicted with post traumatic stress.

But Boudreau, 38, wanted to carry the conversation about veterans further. So, the captain who spent 12 years in the Marines planned a cross-country bike ride, starting in Seattle and ending in his hometown of Northampton, Mass. The goal: To talk openly about the war in communities along the route with vets and non-vets alike, and to help society understand what vets go through. He calls it "The Other Side" tour.

On Monday, he stood with his bike atop the tallest hill in Gas Works Park, where several members of a local chapter of Veterans for Peace gathered to send him off on the 3,200-mile journey. Some biked with him during the first leg of the trip and he is inviting others to do the same along the way.

He wasn't much of a bicyclist until now, but envisioned having a challenging obstacle to motivate him.

"I felt like bringing something physical into the equation," he said Monday. "When you're in the military, you're always doing these big physical events -- you're hiking a hill or you're in a war. Once you get out, that goes away." ...

Boudreau said he needed this trip so he could continue his own self-reflecting. He chose to start in Seattle, where he spent a few days speaking and signing his book, because it is literally at the opposite end of the country.

"It all oriented around the idea of riding across the country to get home. I wanted that to be the focal point. And when I'm riding, or working my legs strenuously up hills, I wanted all that to be about getting back home in a better state than I was," he said.

Ed Kemmick, Billings Gazette:

Boudreau, 38, said most veterans have experienced the "difficult, ambiguous" nature of war and tend to have mixed feelings on the subject. It's the people who haven't seen war, who view it as an abstraction that happens to someone else, who hold unyielding opinions.

For too many people, whether pro-war or anti-war, he said, "everything's black and white and nobody's talking about the complexities." ...

He is bicycling from Seattle to Northampton, Mass., his hometown, by himself, though some people have joined him for short legs of the cross-country trip. He stops wherever people want to meet with him. His two most recent events were in Missoula and Helena, which is where I caught up with him by phone. He'll be in Billings Tuesday and will give a free presentation at 7 that night in the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Billings, 2032 Central Ave.

Boudreau said he begins most of his discussion sessions by talking about his life and his experiences as a Marine and then lets the conversation go where his listeners want to take it. He says he is not an expert on the military, history or politics.

"What I am an expert on is my own experience and my own history," he said.

His goal is not to change people's minds or to persuade them to agree with his conclusions about war in general or the war in Iraq. He wants to show people, through his experiences, how he came to those conclusions. Understanding how somebody else came to believe something is a powerful way to move a discussion beyond superficialities and into deeper waters, he said.

He also wants to talk about post-traumatic stress. He intentionally leaves off the word "disorder" that is part of the usual phrase, arguing that the term reduces veterans to powerless victims.

He also objects to the notion that post-traumatic stress is always the result of witnessing a violent or horrific incident. The standard diagnosis fails to acknowledge that sometimes post-traumatic stress is brought on by guilt, suffered by soldiers who can't reconcile civilian morality with the morality of war.

Omit "disorder," he writes in "Packing Inferno," and "Suddenly the veteran's distress can be viewed as the product of a good quality, not a bad one; and I think that would be valuable for wounded veterans to feel: that their distress is a good thing and natural."

Boudreau doesn't want people to think that his bicycle tour is his "little homespun remedy for post-traumatic stress." That is something he dealt with before the trip began. He's biking because he wanted to talk and listen and connect with people, and to probe his own thoughts about important subjects.

And he simply wanted to get to know the United States better.

"We always talk about defending our country," he said, "but most of us haven't seen a tenth of it."

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