Hi Friends! Dr Strange here with a “bonus” story for you. I know it’s long but it’s one of my personal favorites. If you have time, please read it. Although it’s one day short of Veteran’s Day it is still important. This was done 6 years ago and originally ran in MRR Fanzine. Hope you enjoy…
I have a few of these old “On the Couch” interviews. This one, below, is good timing for Veteran’s Day.
“On the Couch” w/ Dr. Strange
I’ve been doing mail order for 19 years now and one of the best things about it is getting to know and meet new people from all over the world. I’ve actually been lucky enough to make “real” friends. You know people you call, visit and care about. And all because of selling records. In those 19 years we’ve dealt with several punks that are in the military but it hasn’t been until our (the U.S.) recent war in the Middle East that I actually started wondering, “Who are these people?”. “Why are they in the military?”. One thing specifically that got me wondering that was when I did a mass mail-out of the catalog. A couple of them, to people in the military, were sent back. All it said was “Not Claimed”. I wondered to myself, “Are they dead?”. That inspired me to get in touch with a newer customer of ours; Chris Dunn, who is in Iraq right now. I hope you’ll take the time to read what he has to say~
Okay Chris, for everyone out there, those of us who you are fighting for, tell us your: name, age, rank and where you are right now. –chris dunn, 26, specailist, we patrol the Wetsern Baghdad neighborhood of Amariyah. U.S. army infantry 1-5 cavalry
What initially made you want to join the Military and how long has it been? Was it for Education money? Patriotism? Gain Skills? A family history?
–Well I was having a long stretch of bad luck, that was lasting like 3 years. It got to the point were I was pawning everything I owned just to pay the bills. Then I had to start selling all my movies and worst of all my records. I knew I had to do something before I was out on the streets, so just said “fuck it” and made the drastic move to join the army. I just reached my 2 year mark.
Do you have any regrets? And when you signed up did you assume you were going to have to fight in a war?
–It’s hard to say I regret joining the army, like I said it helped me get back on my feet, and I knew I would be going to Iraq when I joined, I figured if I was going to go, I would want to be out there on the front lines rather than sitting behind a desk on base doing some boring bullshit.
How long have you been on tour for? Is this your first?
— Yup this is my first tour, we have been here a little over 10 months now and still have another 5 or so to go.
I hear in the News about all the hardships, atrocities, killings etc… that go on in Iraq on a daily basis. How do you deal with that? Do you separate yourself from Chris the “civilian” from Chris “the soldier”?
— I don’t seem to have a problem with dealing with what I’ve seen over here. The first few months all we were dealing with was sectarian violence. We were picking up dead bodies almost everyday some as many as 3-4 a day. We would find them everywhere; in the streets, sidewalks, trash piles. Some were decapitated, arms cut off, tied to trees with their head in their lap. Then it turned to attacking the Iraqi National Police that would patrol with us, they would set off the I.E.D.’s trying to get them, but hitting us at the same time. Then it turned to just attacking us, we were getting hit almost everyday for weeks, had a few close calls in my Bradley (tank) and then they started making them bigger and deadlier able to destroy Bradley’s and tanks. In may alone we lost 13 soldiers and they destroyed 6 Bradley’s and a few tanks. Our sector was becoming one of the worst. Lately the I.E.D. attacks have stopped a lot and now its snipers taking shots at us. We stay so busy doing patrols and such, were you gotta stay focused on a lot of your surroundings so we just don’t think to much about it. We joke around a lot in our platoon, and that helps keep you sane and in a good mood.
Man, I don’t know how I would be able to deal with just “seeing” the things you’ve seen (bodies etc…). You must have some pretty terrible nightmares… And what about you and your platoon. Have you personally had to kill anyone? What does that feel like? How have you, or your buddies, dealt with that?
— I haven’t had any nightmares or anything like that, you have to be strong mentally more than anything. We’ve had a few guys get sent home that couldn’t handle it. I personally haven’t killed anyone, shot my weapon once while we were guarding one of our combat outposts. We were taking shots from surrounding rooftops, once we started shooting back they took off. It’s really hard to know in an urban battlefield just how many casualties are out there.
What is a “normal” day like for you? What is your job and tell us how hot it gets over there. I’ve heard as much as 125+ degrees? Is that true?
— I drive a Bradley fighting vehicle. I have done dismount missions, clearing houses, and gunner on a Humvee. No such thing as a normal day here. Since bush’s new plan to put the troops out in sector living in these combat outpost in the middle of some of the more dangerous neighborhoods. We live in some lousy conditions a lot, sleeping in bombed out buildings no running water and using burn shitters, sleeping on cots, the ground. We rarely stay on base were we have a/c and comfy beds. Instead we are always out patrolling the streets, usually looking for I.E.D.’s and searching houses. Then we rotate with other platoons and pull security on the outpost. We also do a lot of q.r.f. missions (quick response force) where for 24 hours we have to wait around, if something happens in sector, we have to be ready in like 10 minutes to roll out. But we always get stuck also pulling security for barrier missions, where they go out and put concrete barriers and block off entire neighborhoods to reduce the flow of weapons and bombs into the area. So its rare we get much down time. yes it gets so fucking hot here, we have a huge thermometer in our Bradley and it usually stays around 140-150 in the Bradley.
You’re kidding? You have to live in the city? I just assumed you would go out on patrol but at the end of the day get to come back to your base. So you guys are sleeping in bombed out houses etc? Also, how many people are in a platoon? 8-10?
–We started to move out in sector around February. We have started 3 C.O.P.’s (combat out posts) some were nicer than others, our second one was nice cause it was in an Iraqi National Police compound, so we really didn’t have to do much to make it livable. The one we are at now has taken a lot of work, its a great building, cause its huge and its basically a bomb shelter, but someone had loaded it full of tires and burnt them inside, and there were 2 really bad decomposed bodies out back, so its been a long ordeal to get it cleaned out, painted the inside, and put cots and bunk beds and a/c. it’s come a long way. But when we were getting that building ready we would sleep in this bombed out building next to it, cause at least we had the breeze. But when you stay out there all you hear all day it gunshots and explosions all around you. About a month ago we split our infantry platoon and joined with the tank platoon, so now we roll out 2 tanks and 2 Bradley’s. We have now about 24 guys.
I would imagine (because that’s all I can do) that making friends with fellow soldiers may be kind of “odd”. I mean you have to have a good person watching your back for you but is there a sense of not wanting to get to close to someone in fear of that person getting killed? Has this happened to one of your buddies? How do you deal with that and do you ever feel “guilty” because it was him and not you?
— It is very odd, cause you are put with all these guys with all different backgrounds. Most of them are people you would never hang out with outside the army, but we all get along real good for the most part, there are some you don’t care for, but others you never thought with nothing in common that you would get along great. You can’t help but get close to them. Since I’ve been in for 2 years living in the barracks back in the states we have lived and worked with each other every day all day. So far in our battalion we have lost I think up to 15 or 16 now. We are actually having another memorial service tomorrowfor a guy in our company. Several have been friends, while the rest are people I’ve seen at work but didn’t really know to well, but it hits you hard never the less. One guy was my roommate back at fort hood. Yeah its tough, but we hear that we lost another soldier but then we have to roll right back out on mission, so you have to push it to the back of your mind so you can stay focused. Everyday we roll out you know it could be your turn, that’s why we joke around a lot, to take your mind off it. These terrorist have gotten damn good at hiding these bombs, and in our sector they are so big they take out Bradley’s and tanks. We had to stop rolling out in our Hummves. The longer we stay, the better insurgents we have created.
Are you worried that when you get back home this all may “hit” you at once? You know, when your mind starts to let it’s defenses down? And above you referred to them as “terrorists”. I’m still confused, thanks to the News, White House, etc… as to who we really are fighting there. Iraqi Nationalists who want us out, Al Queada, Iranians, men, women, children or a mix of all. Chris, help me out. Who are these people and why do they (really) want us out? Or do they?
–I’m sure there are genuine cases of P.T.S.D. (post tramatic stress disorder) but I think its B.S. that so many people try and use that as an excuse, it’s just people that were weak minded before they came here, they knew they were coming to war and now that they are here they cant handle it. Well there is definately Al Qaida here, our sector of Amariyah was a strong hold of them. I would agree that Iran is a huge part of a lot of the attacks, you talk to the locals and they all say that most of the I.E.D.’s in Baghdad come from Iran. I hate to say that kids and women are used a lot. We have found that Al Qaida was using kids age 9-16 to set off the I.E.D.’s. They would stand out in the street and wave at you, than as you turn the corner the kids would go back in the courtyards and watch for the antennas on the vehicles to pass a certain point and detonate the bomb. it’s a tough question on why, so many different terrorist factions have sprung up, its hard to say why.
In my first question I said that you were “fighting for us” back home. Do you agree with that? I know what the “higher-ups” have told you why you are there but why do YOU think you are there? Do others agree or disagree with your opinion?
–I honestly think it was a good idea to come here at first, but all we did was turn this country upside down, it came clear that Saddam was what these people needed, they respond to fear more than kindness. The Iraqi people try to carry on a normal life, but with the corruption within the Iraqi forces, I don’t see it being something we can fix. They want us to do most of the work for them, but its their country and they know it better than we do, so without their full support its almost impossible for us to fix it all for them. They are so terrified to tell us about the insurgents in the area, cause if they are seen helping us it puts them and their families in danger to be murdered. It’s basically a cat and mouse game we are playing. A lot of us feel the same. I totally agree we should just leave, they have lived with war and violence for centuries, it’s all they are used to. A few times we’ve had guys that wanted to show us were the Al-Qaida meets every week, but he wouldn’t go unless he had us treat him like a captive, he wanted to be zipped tied and blindfolded.
I’m sure you, and others over there as well, know that your country back home pretty much hates the President Bush (22% approval) and wants us out of Iraq. How does that make you feel? Is there a feeling of “Why even try”. And do you, as an extension of the U.S. Government, feel any responsibility or guilt for the situation that Iraq is in now?
–To me it’s just a job, I don’t pay to much attention to the politics of the war. In my opinion we are here for some hidden agenda, usually money, who knows. It’s a tuff situation, I think if we stop trying to win the hearts and minds of the locals, like I said earlier they respond to fear. There are locals that try hard to help us at the risk of their families life, tuff question. It’s hard, one day we lose 3 of our friends in an I.E.D. attack and a few days later we are having to pass out food to the locals in the same area. For the most part the Iraqi people are nice and like us there but they know what’s going on when Al-Qaida is planting bombs in the streets next to there house.
I hope that you and the troops know that even though the country is against the war they do (really) support you guys. Is there a feeling of understanding that the country supports the Troops but not the Governments policy? Or do you feel clumped into the same catagory? (of being disliked)?
–I agree with that, I feel a support for the troops, when I flew home for r & r in April, at the D.F.W. airport, there were hundreds of people cheering and giving us a standing ovation. That was kind of weird.
Was going into Iraq a mistake? Did we take our eye of the ball by not going in stronger into Afganistan as many have said? Where do you think Iraq, as a country, will be in 2 years? 5 years? 10 Years? Is there still hope for them?
–Like stated earlier, it was a good idea, but we made this country worse, at first they liked us around, they said they felt safer, but it started to get real bad again and the locals say its worse than when Saddam was in power. It will take a long time to fix this place, but it should be up to them. one problem is the corruption, I know in Western Baghdad, the Iraqi police hate the national police, and the national police hate the Iraqi army. They are all working for the same result, but it all goes back to the hatred between the Sunni and Shia tribes.
On that note, what would YOU do to fix it? If you were the “man in charge” starting today what would you do?
–I think I would just leave, I’m sorry we kinda fucked this place up, but if they cant unite and fix their own problems, there is no need to keep putting our lives in danger.
Okay, now onto a better topic; Punk Rock! You order a lot from my mail order (thanks by the way). How did you hear of Dr. Strange and how long have you been into Punk Rock? Name a few of your favorite bands.
–Well I think it was back in 2000, I came across a catalog of yours somehow, I ordered a few patches and some records, I remember I was pleased with the selection, and I got the stuff pretty quick. But I always liked to support the local record stores around town, plus its always fun to go record hunting, but sometimes they just don’t always have some of the old rare stuff all the time. So when I got to Iraq and had my debts paid it was time to rebuild my collection that I had to pawn. So I remembered Dr. Strange and haven’t found anywhere else I would buy my records online from. I was in high school and was into the whole headbanger metal scene, and a friend made me a punk comp tape, and immediately I was hooked, so I would say its been 12 years now. Naming my favorites would take forever, i love music so much, its a big part of my life. i go into phases where i will listen to several bands all the time, right now its been Poison Idea, Adolescents, Angry Samoans, Zero Boys, and the Feederz always playing.
I know you order on-line from Iraq and have your stuff sent home to Texas. I bet you can’t wait to get home. I’ve been to San Antonio, Texas. Where do you live and what do you miss most (besides family). What is your life like back home?
— Fuck man its going to be awesome to get back to all those records, I cant fuckin’ wait. I was born and raised in Austin, I miss going to the bars and clubs, I plan to go out a lot, I have a lot of catching up to do. Well now that I’m back on my feet financially, i can go back and do a lot of what I wasn’t able to do being so poor before. Just having fun. Being in Iraq has been good, its helped me realize a lot about what’s important in life and that’s having good friends, and having fun with what time you have in this life. Seeing the condition these people live in everyday, we as Americans take so much for granted it makes me sick, when you really get to see how a lot of these other countries live and survive you will think twice about what you complain and bitch about.
I couldn’t agree more! That’s my favorite part about going on vacation (to other countries). It really makes you appreciate how great the U.S. is. Not perfect but the best thing going in my opinion. Getting back to Iraq, have you met any other Punks over there?
–Unfortunately not. Rap and hip hop seem to be what everyone is into.
Are there any cool bands that go through or near your town? Who have you seen?
–I’ve been away for a few years, but it seems a lot of bands skip Austin, which sucks. Being born in ’81 I missed out on the great early hardcore scene. But I have managed to still see bands like the Circle Jerks, MDC, Cramps, Exploited, T.S.O.L. reunion show to name a few. Seen the Austin bands such as Lower Class Brats, Krum Bums. There are others but a lot of nights are real fuzzie and don’t remember a lot.
Hey Chris, I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to do this and more importantly, thank you (sincerely) for doing all you do over there. You’re in a hellish situation over there and right or wrong my hope is that it’s over soon and more importantly, we will learn from it and not repeat our mistakes in the future. I hope that the word “War” will eventually only be found in our history books instead of our present world. Keep your head low Chris!