Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Jess is Interviewed by the Buffalo News

 This article is accompanied by a video:


Monday, October 1, 2012

A Student Essay

    Jessica gave the convocation address at Miami University this past August. Since then students have been thinking and talking and writing about her story. I've read several of their essays. One that I'm particularly impressed by follows. It is written by John Evans.

Two Marines
Shade It Black is a story of two versions of marines. One is the brothers in arms we all want them to be. These Marines are selfless and brave. These are the Marines that would run across camp during an attack to make sure their comrade is safe. These are the Marines who would follow another marine into a lake in full gear to save him from drowning or die trying. These are the marines who would go back into the burning Humvee to get their man out when the army soldiers are told to give up and get out. These are the marines that make us proud to be Americans, the marines that we have grown to know as the pinnacle of Americanism and patriotism and honor. These marines live up to the motto Semper Fi- Always loyal- to their very last breath. They go to a world of hatred and death and find a way to support one another through it. Their spirit and sense of humanity not only survives but somehow grows stronger thanks to the impossibly strong love they feel for their fellow marines. Being a marine, feeling that unshakable brotherhood was a privilege: The greatest honor one could achieve in this life-serving their brothers and serving this great nation. My uncle was a marine and I idolized him for it. He was never ashamed of what happened. Of his past, his present and his future, he always had an unwavering certainty that was the life he wanted to lead.

However, the rest of the book is taken up by the other type of Marine. There is no romanticism here. These marines are brutal. They bully some of their own so badly they are driven to suicide, and then call the dead marines cowards. They have sex with anything that gives them the opportunity and often many that don't. Rape was such a concern that women would die from dehydration so they didn't have to go to the bathroom in the dark. Having to choose between staying hydrated and not getting raped is a decision no one should ever have to make. If this were a problem in the civilian world, it would be called an epidemic and over there it is how things are. It was sickening to read. We as a nation have been numbed to the concept of war to some extent. We realize it is bad, but we don't really mind it all that much. With our military might, there is not a force on earth that could defeat us. Our soldiers can still be killed but I always assumed they could at least rely on one another. I realize now, this is not always the case, and suddenly war seems so much worse.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Poem By Alex Bell

A poem inspired by Jess's experience.

Shade it Black

Across the gunfire, beneath a truck,
flashes light up my collection.
The explosion has done its job,
Oh God how it has done its job!
I must do mine.
How dare they say we are trained,
there is no training to prepare you for this...
Same boots, same belt,
It could be me, it could be me.
I wish it was me.
His pain over, mine just begun.

I freeze.
Feeling inept I lay there motionless, what do I do?
I do nothing, nothing.
A nearby shell shocks me. I start clawing out
at the burnt meat, grabbing all I can see....all I can smell.
Quickly, quickly, get this over with.
No fear. Pure anger.
Body bag partly full I drag myself out.

The Unit greet the old me. She doesn’t exist.
She was left behind in the cold shadow of the truck.
Congratulations on a successful mission
Got there before the enemy. Job well done.
I ignore the high five............
The light falls upon the open bag.
They are also quiet.

A half-finished jigsaw
the marine lays on the table,
We stare at the spaces the bomb has left behind.
I shade these in black on the paperwork.
The inventory begins.

His pockets full of life,
‘Rules of engagement’ neatly folded,
scrunched up trash that didn’t become litter,
a picture of smiles from his high school football team,
a half-full bottle of Blue Star ointment
from his bloodied breast pocket slips a sonogram of a foetus.
The silence now louder.

Alex Bell

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Jess Delivers Convocation Speech at Miami University!

   The 4,000 person audience was fully attentive during Jess' 15 minute speech, and many cried. Afterward, people said it was the best Miami convocation ever. Here is a bried segment of her speech.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

From Chris Hedges

Chris has an artticle in the July/August issue of Boston Review. it's titled, War is Betrayal. Here is an excerpt:

Jessica Goodell came to understand that torment only too well, as she relates in her 2011 memoir Shade it Black: Death and After in Iraq. Goodell wasn’t poor. She grew up in a middle-class home near Chautauqua Lake in upstate New York. Her father was a lawyer, and her mother worked at home. But her “universe fractured” when she was sixteen and her parents divorced. She could barely continue “the motions of everyday existence.” She was accepted at Ithaca College her senior year, but just before graduation a uniformed Marine came to her high school. He told her he had come to find “tough men.”
“What about tough women?” she asked.
By that afternoon she was in the Marine recruiting office. She told the recruiter she wanted to be part of a tank crew but was informed that women were prohibited from operating tanks. She saw a picture of a Marine standing next to a vehicle with a huge hydraulic arm and two smaller forklift arms. She signed up to be a heavy equipment mechanic, although she knew nothing about it.
Three years later, while stationed at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in the desert town of Twentynine Palms, California, she volunteered to serve in the Marine Corps’ first official Mortuary Affairs unit, at Al Taqaddum Airbase in Iraq. Her job, for eight months, was to “process” dead Marines—collect and catalog their bodies and personal effects. She put the remains in body bags and placed the bags in metal boxes. Before being shipped to Dover Air Force Base, the boxes were stored, often for days, in a refrigerated unit known as a “reefer.”
Her unit processed six suicides. The suicide notes, she told me in an interview, almost always cited hazing. Marines who were overweight or unable to do the physical training were subjected to withering verbal and physical abuse. They were called “fat nasties” and “shit bags.” They were assigned to other Marines as slaves. Many were forced to run until they vomited or to bear-crawl—walk on all fours—the length of a football field and back. This would be followed by sets of monkey fuckers—bending down, grabbing the ankles, crouching like a baseball catcher, and then standing up again—and other exercises that went on until the Marines collapsed.
Goodell’s unit was sent to collect the bodies of the Marines who killed themselves. They usually blew their faces off with assault rifles in port-a-johns or in the corners of abandoned bunkers or buildings. She and the other members of the Mortuary Affairs unit would have to scrape the flesh and brain tissue from the walls.
Goodell fell into depression when she returned home. She abused drugs and alcohol. And she watched the slow descent of her comrades as they too tried to blunt the pain with narcotics and self-destructive behavior. She details many of her experiences in Shade It Black, a term that refers to the missing body parts of dead Marines, which she colored black on diagrams of the corpses.
In a poignant passage, she talks about what it was like for her and a fellow Marine named Miguel to come home and see all those yellow ribbons:

We’d frequently pass vehicles displaying the yellow ribbon ‘support-our-troops decal,’ but we never once mentioned it. We probably passed a hundred or more decals—two hundred if you count the multiple decals decorating the cars of the more patriotic motorists—and yet neither of us even once said, ‘Look, more support from the citizenry. Let’s give the ‘thumbs up’ as we pass.’ . . . I knew that these people on their way to work or home or dinner had no idea what it was they were supporting. They did not have a clue as to what war was like, what it made people see, and what it made them do to each other. I felt as though I didn’t deserve their support, or anyone’s, for what I had done. . . . No one should ever support the people who do such things.

Stateside “support” not only reflects the myths of war, but it also forces Goodell and her comrades to suppress their own experiences:
Here we were, leaving the ribbons behind us as we sped up on our way to Hell, probably, where we would pay for the sins these magnetic decals endorsed. There was an irony of sorts shaping the dynamic between our ribbon decal supporters and us. They were uninformed but good people, the kind whose respect we would welcome—if it were based upon something true. It was when we were around them that we had to hide the actual truth most consciously.

    Those who return to speak this truth, like Goodell or Millard, are our contemporary prophets. They struggle, in a culture awash in lies, to tell what few have the fortitude to digest. The words these prophets speak are painful.