I had a United States History teacher in high school that was a Vietnam veteran. He taught his class via US conflicts and because of him I developed an intense interest in war history. Lee Barcomb was a tunnel runner during Vietnam, and though I never witnessed it and am unsure if it is true, I heard rumors of him having flashbacks occasionally in class. My 16-year-old angry Alanis Morrisette music induced state would think nothing of the magnitude of what he dealt with. I was an art student, and he was a football coach, so for his class to have the impact it did shows the caliber of teacher he was, and how extreme his reach. Later I would research what a tunnel runner actually did and would be floored at the amount of courage that would take and how naive I was and likely still am.
The thing about my interest in US war history was that it originally laid only in the societal aspects of it, how it changed and shaped the culture every time. There were those that left to fight, those that stayed and had to step up in other ways, things people went without, ending with the family dynamics of all of those that tried to return to a normal that would never happen. I rarely cared about actual battle strategies or the technology of the weapons used outside of a very basic, yeah, guns and some planes and some tanks were there.
My glossing over of weaponry used showed a very huge deficit in my self-war-education, and this last weekend I was left with a heftier understanding of how intricate the ties bind. I am not saying I didn’t understand that war was a weighty thing, but maybe I gained a deeper grasp of yet another layer in the intensity.
My comparison of this, which is going to be slight at best, would be that of adopting children. Having adopted kids from all ages there was always this moment that happened with each of them, sometimes multiple times, that would give me a surprised pause. This was their feeling of love and security. I had this perhaps naive idea that they were completely comfortable after several months; that they knew they were safe. They would flop on my couch seemingly without a care in the world, not think twice of giving me a hug, raid the fridge, and come talk to me about a problem so we could work it out. I just knew in my mind they felt held tight in my love for them. Then out of the blue they would say something off cuff or act in a manner that would set me back a bit in my mind thinking, wow, they didn’t feel as secure as I originally thought and now they feel it a little bit more.
Of course mentally I knew this would be a thing, we were knitting a family from the horrored remnants of another’s and they had grown up in survival mode, I had not. But when in the moment, I always found it strange catching me off guard. I find this concept to be as true when you are learning new things, though the weight is rarely as strong. When I learned about room clearing that dawning of understanding was much deeper than originally thought (article here https://www.facebook.com/107895177634806/posts/258008945956761/?d=n ). I found the heaviness in this same manner when I went to a gun show last weekend.
So a gun show. As with everything, I seem to do stuff backwards, though this time it was due to my lack of being informed and relying on information of a dude’s weekend that I crashed. I was under the impression I was going to a gun show called OFASTS when in all actuality I was attending a big gun shoot. OFAST is an acronym for Oklahoma Full Auto Shoot and Trade Show, and by full auto shoot that means machine guns. So the spray-painted signs stating, “Shoot Machine Guns Here!!” should have been my first clue that, though this was my first one, it was far from a normal one.
Never having attended a gun show I thought this might be an educational hole I was missing. Honestly the desire to go was pretty lacking, but my mom’s willingness to roll with us to wine festivals even though she doesn’t drink sort of amped me up because she still manages to have a good time. OFASTS was normally the guy’s trip they did every year. While my interest normally laid at zero, this year I said I wanted to tag along. I told them not to worry, I wouldn’t cramp their style, I just needed a ride.
I brought my 12-year-old daughter Lila with me and even though I was wearing a butterfly camouflaged rain jacket, we still stuck out; there were like six women there (ok, this may be a slight exaggeration) out of several hundred. We started out by trolling the tents lined up on a ridge that overlooked a ginormous hill dotted with random vehicles and appliances. Harking to my love of history, I wanted to find the oldest gun there. We trucked through the mud thankful we wore muck boots; side note music festival mud and gun show mud are the same.
The start time was at ten am, I didn’t fully comprehend what that meant. We had grabbed some kettle corn contemplating what to do since we had already walked the line a bit when the entire ridge lit up. And I mean LIT UP. It was literally out of a movie, only it was out of a war, only it wasn’t any of that. The impact of hearing a machine gun for the first time is intense, the impact of hearing hundreds of random large caliber guns going off all at once is not something I will ever forget. I imagine, minus the yelling, the screaming, I was hearing the sound of war and it was unsettling to say the least.
First it was the audible and then it was the visual. I won’t ever have a full understanding, God- willing, but we had walked over to the tent where they were shooting a M2 Browning .50 caliber machine gun and like the comfort level adoption story mentioned above, I found myself getting a deeper peek into that world. I know enough to never pretend that a book knowledge will ever touch experience, but this gave a minute understanding of what it would have took to be on the scene with a weapon like that and I was floored. The bullets of that gun (which were the size of my hand) seemed to go THROUGH the hill, they certainly weren’t stopped by them. There wasn’t even a hesitation to tear through the side of a truck, I remember thinking to myself, my goodness what actually would stop that round? Nothing I could think of.
The air smelled of cat piss and ammonia. It clung and felt thicker as I looked around and my brain struggled to put this new picture of what I was learning into what I already know about the after effects of trauma through foster care. I could not imagine what it would be like to go up against a machine like that or similar and then I realized, my brother had.
My brother Andrew did not acclimate well to civilian life when he first got out. Seven years ago he moved in with me after making the decision to be closer to family. He was a Fleet Marine Force Hospital Corpsman and like many veterans he came back moody, loud noises made him spazzy, and in a house with hella kids, we likely weren’t the best spot for him to heal. But I was his older sister, and we had a guest room.
One day it all came to a head in an argument that I am sure is familiar with many family members and those involved in combat, so Andrew started sleeping at my parents next door on their couch. He left his stuff however in the guest room, where it stayed until we added on to the house. Thus I commandeered a rather beautiful painting. And by commandeer, I mean I had a brand new fantastic dining room that lacked a picture of a sommelier tasting wine. I took his from the former guest room, hung it up, and there it stayed for three years.
Over time Andrew acclimated better, started a trucking company with my dad, and was eventually able to move to Virginia to be closer to his son. He bought a house and then decided that the painting would look nice in HIS dining room. I disagreed.
Since I live in Missouri, and he was in Virginia Andrew quickly realized I held the dominating position of negotiations for ever getting his painting back. He tried enlisting my parents and my children in his art heist but realizing this was a sensitive subject and they all had to live near me, they wisely decided to not get involved. It finally dawned on him that I had more power here than Joan of Arc during the Battle of Orleans, so he asked me my terms. I told him I wanted a replacement. He wasn’t initially keen on this since the one I held ransom cost a nice sum. I explained that it could be ANYTHING art wise; if it fit the wall well and wasn’t offensive, I would gladly hang it in the house. Whereas before he was slightly irritated at the hostage situation, he now was getting in the spirit, and I waited in anticipation of what was likely going to be the ugliest thing I would ever display in my home but hang it I will. And hang it I did.
I wrote a previous article on how humor is a coping mechanism; I also believe humor can help heal. Sometimes there are no answers to a situation, it just sucks. There were many hurt feelings from that period. I was upset my brother didn’t come back the same person before war, I was dealing in foster care trauma, he was fighting combat trauma, no one knew how to help, and the situation bled over everything.
With this you would think I am going to offer some pithy answer for how to acclimate and work with your veteran when they come back. I am not. I haven’t been in war and no book or late-night listen of stories around a campfire will gain me that perception fully. I didn’t have that experience. I was recently listening to Ryan Fugits Podcast, Combat Story and one of the men interviewed spoke of how you do not know how you are going to react in combat until you are IN combat. I may get a tiny glimpse, and as mentioned above, may learn a deeper understanding every once in a while, but I won’t be able to fully relate.
So what I AM going to do is turn this whole article around on something I do know about. You never know until you try. I hark on my kids constantly about trying new foods, that’s a small step, but the idea is to instill a drive to try. We talk of overcoming fear a lot. The last ten years of foster care and the last couple of years focused on a more force on force way of training have been uncomfortable and by uncomfortable, I mean fabulously hard. But the growth for me personally and for my family has been exponential, and like almost every person on that podcast has responded, I would not have done it any other way.
My stepmother in law called me the other day to ask about Jiu Jitsu. To be honest I looked at my phone screen to make sure I was talking to the right person. I have known her fifteen years and though she would give herself little credit, I am in awe of the things she has embraced to try in the last couple of years. She always struck me as someone wanting to stay in their zone and not venture too far out. She took up running a year ago and now is running long races (representing Healthy Buffalo merch too when she goes). She asked me about shooting a pistol a couple months ago. Again, I was surprised but thrilled. Then she called me up about Jiu Jitsu and knocked me off my rocker because I can’t think of a more uncomfortable martial art for a 40 something year old woman to start. However, when I got off the phone, I thought of all the steps she has taken, and it made sense. She never would have known unless she tried and now here she is asking about rolling on the floor boob to boob (my words, definitely not hers) and even in her hesitancy I am just inspired that she would call to ask. Will she do it? I have no idea, but for all the lack of credit she gives herself, she is in the top three people I have seen in the past year eating her elephant in big ways, wanting to try new things and constantly stepping forward. It is super impressive.
So I went to a gun show. I shot an M2 Browning (I am also probably saying all the words wrong). I ate my BBQ ribs with turquoise ears on because the noise was too loud. I was once again out of my element negotiating with Jerry’s Machine Guns, but I drug my 12 year old Lila, and guess what? She shot it too. She also shot a Barret M82. She was less anxious, though I don’t know how because we were both doped up on the homemade Snakebite Sasparilla sold, but she for sure had a better countenance. My US History teacher Lee Barcomb gave me a desire to learn, to seek out even though he likely knew I may never fully relate and honestly, he probably prayed that none of his students ever would. My job to my children, as a parent and teacher, is to push them farther up that hill. I must show them a craving to seek out truth, teach them small steps when they feel smashed up against the wall and defeated, so they can look back at the larger picture. But also, at the same time, teach them there is no limit to the sky, and then I get celebrate with them when they grow beyond me.
#veterans #soishotamachinegun #M2Browning #barrettm82 #ishotanoozietoo #gunshowsareexpensive #youknownothingjonsnow #siblings #motherdaughterday #brightcolorsinatacticalworld #ibunnytrailalot #buticanglueittogether #kinda #crashingdudesweekend #OFASTS #vietnamveteran #ushistory #dothejiujitsumel
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Author- Christun Erwin
"Thank you for your words. They make an impact and its important that, human to human, woman to woman, mother to mother... you know that you make a difference, even to those you never knew your words" -Krystal