Below is a letter to veterans from Benjamin Busch, a former United States Marine who served two combat tours in Iraq, writer, filmmaker, photographer, and actor, who will facilitate Talking Service discussion groups in Kalamazoo and Dearborn this fall. To learn more and to register for this free program, please visit:
I write this note from a movie set in Florida where I’m dressed as a gladiator. This sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it’s not I’m wearing about 30 pounds of metal and leather and I’ve been fighting in a warehouse for 5 hours with plastic swords. There is no air-conditioning and it’s hot as Mercury in here. Of all the thoughts I could have, I keep returning to when I was in the Marines training in the Hurt Locker and using pugil sticks in the summer. I didn’t plan on it, but I’m thinking about my service.
When I left the military I didn’t know what it was to be a veteran. Not really. It was just another title quietly added to my name. It felt generalized and empty. I didn’t see it like a degree or a unique achievement. I didn’t equate myself to other people who had the same title applied to their identity. How could I be a veteran like someone from a Cold War post in Germany, or combat in Hue City, or Iwo Jima, or Chosin, or Fallujah, or Normandy Beach, or a career in DC. I couldn’t place myself with Cooks and Paratroopers and Motor T and Comm and Arty and Medics and Drill Instructors and Able Seamen and pilots, and Coasties, and EOD and Admin Chiefs. I didn’t know how those experiences fit into who I was on this side of my life, but it was hard to imagine myself without a uniform, without a particular duty and expectation every day.
There seemed to be too much air, not enough pressure. I left like I slowed down and became less important somehow. I lost some purpose. It wasn’t damage, just an odd absence of that collective labor we all did. But I was free to do as I liked. I could evolve. Just like you. It took me years of looking back to finally see what I had been part of, what you are also part of.
This isn’t a course or a seminar or a club. No confessions will be expected, no speeches given. This is just 25 of us talking about our service, how it shows up in our days in strange ways, how writers have been trying to get us right for thousands of years…and sometimes have. We’ll read some short excerpts from a great anthology called Standing Down: From Warrior To Civilian and discuss how some of the stories speak to us. I’m sure our own will come up in between.
Two hours once a month for 3 months and that’s it. No tests. No demerits. No cost. Just us after dinner. Families of veterans are also invited. We rarely know what they have experienced during our deployments and training. I hope we find out.
We’ll watch clips from films, listen to some songs we’ve heard on the radio and talk about what we think of how our country thinks of us. This will pass through politics and the media and into a history of stories by great writers.
We’re proud of what we’ve done, or disappointed, or haunted. We aren’t the single thing the title “veteran” has thinned us down to. It might feel good to sit around with people who have all been to boot camp at some point in their lives. This is going to be casual and you’re probably going to discover something you haven’t yet considered about yourself. Or it will be you who leads us to a surprise.
I’m not in charge of anything here. I’ll just be stirring the fire as we sit around and see where the stories take us, from Shakespeare to Hemingway to you. Some of you may know me from the HBO mini-series Generation Kill or The Wire. I’ve pretended to be other people. But I know who I really am. I’m a husband, a father, an artist and now, like you, I’ll always be a veteran.
To register in Dearborn, please contact William Emerson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (313) 436-9196. To register in Kalamazoo, please contact Margaret Von Steinen at email@example.com or call her at (269) 387-2072. (there is no cost to register and copies of Standing Down are provided free as well). Pass this along to friends and family. Seats are filling fast.
We have seats for 25 veterans from any service during any time in any place. Going to combat doesn’t make you a veteran. Joining the military, serving and leaving it does. I’d love to meet you. Let’s Talk Service together.
Location and dates:
September 22 from 12:00-3:00PM (University Center 1225)
October 13 from 12:00-3:00PM (University Center 1225)
November 8 from 12:00-3:00PM (University Center 1227)
Meetings take place in University Center (see room numbers for each date above), on the campus of the University of Michigan – Dearborn, but the discussion are open to students and non-students.
September 21 from 6:30-8:30PM
October 12 from 6:30-8:30PM
November 9 from 6:30-8:30PM
All meetings take place in Schneider Hall, Room 1245 (Hayworth College of Business on the Western Michigan University Kalamazoo campus but open to students and non-students).
To learn more or to register, please visit: https://www.michiganhumanities.org/talking-service/