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2. Souvenirs

May 26, 2017 3:01 p.m.

What happens when overseas comes home with you — and finds a way to reappear in your life when you least expect it?

Contributors:
Brandon Lingle,
Alex Flynn,
Brent Wingfield

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Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

From KPBS and So Say We All in San Diego, welcome to Incoming, the series that features true stories from the lives of America’s veterans, told in their own words, straight from their own mouths. I’m your host, Justin Hudnall.

Today’s episode is titled “Souvenirs,” which in the context of the stories you’re about to hear is a little tongue-in-cheek, a little bit of that dark humor people under stress will employ from time to time to get by, but I’m sure you’ll appreciate it by the end. The gist is that what happens overseas comes back home with you, and can find a way to reappear back into your life when you least expect it. And we have three wonderful contributors to illustrate that point. Brandon Lingle of the US Air Force, and Alex Flynn and Brent Wingfield of the US Army.
So Say We All’s Program Director Julia Evans helped me out, so when you hear the voice of an English-American woman kick in, that’s Julia Evans.

We’re going to start off with Brandon Lingle, who serves as a public affairs officer with the US Airforce. Public affairs people, in my experience, have a very specific kind of voice. They have to, to keep the public informed without divulging classified information, and they never say what they’re actually thinking. Which is why it’s fascinating to me that Brandon’s other jobs with the Air Force are as a professor of literature at the Academy and as an editor for their arts and culture journal, War, Literature, and the Arts – positions that let him dive into every facet of messy human emotion related to militarized conflict.

We talked about how he negotiates these two roles, and he gave us some great readings of stories that have appeared in places like The New York Times, Guernica, and Missouri Review, among others. So here’s Brandon.

Brandon Lingle: Hi, I’m Brandon Lingle, and this is an essay titled “Queen’s Creek.”

Midway into a late-night run, I veer down the narrow trail to my neighborhood’s dock. It is November 2011, and I’ve been home from Iraq for barely a week. The oyster-shell path glows under porch light shards as it curves away from the homes and plunges into a swath of forest. I navigate the wooden stairs that zigzag down the hillside. At the bottom, a pier spans a hundred yards over marshland into the main channel of Queen’s Creek.

Surrounded by bases from every service, the stream runs through the epicenter of America’s military might, past and present—a nexus of American violence. Just a few miles from the ruins of Jamestown and the monument marking Washington and Rochambeau’s victory at Yorktown, this ribbon of brackish water reinforced key defensive lines for colonists, revolutionaries, rebels, and spies. The creek anchored a palisade shielding English colonists from the Powhatans. During the Civil War, Magruder and Longstreet used it to bolster Confederate lines against McClellan’s Army of the Potomac.

The mouth of this York River tributary forms the western edge of land DuPont used as a dynamite plant during the Great War. Workers lived in a company town named after Russell Penniman, the creator of ammonia-based dynamite. A government report says the factory produced 54,000 shells daily, and thousands of tons of explosives were unaccounted for when the plant closed shortly after World War I. The site became the Navy’s Cheatham Annex during World War II. Today, the base remains a Navy storage facility and recreation area, and is an E.P.A. Superfund site thanks to decades of toxic and medical waste dumping. Just beyond Cheatham lies Yorktown Naval Weapons Center, current home to most of the Navy’s explosives.

Queen’s Creek also serves as the eastern boundary of a government
training site called Camp Peary, which was carved from
land annexed in 1942 that included the towns of Magruder and
Bigler’s Mill. Originally a Navy base, where 150,000 Seabees
trained for World War II duty, today the site is officially titled
the Armed Forces Experimental Training Activity, but most call
it The Farm. The consensus is that the CIA uses the base to train
recruits. I see bearded Camp Peary guys during my 7 a.m. gas
station coffee stop—lots of Velcro and pockets, tattoos, and grey
t-shirts with a crossbow logo on the chest. Blacked-out choppers
buzz my house every few weeks, and I wonder if geared-up
operators hang in the open doors, eyeballing my neighborhood
through the green and black of night vision goggles. Sometimes,
when I barbeque or toss the ball to my kids, I hear machine gun
fire from across the creek. Every couple of months, around 3 a.m.,
Camp Peary explosions pummel my home. Shockwaves rattle
walls, picture frames, and my children’s nerves. The bombs jolt
me awake, and I feel the same adrenaline-tinged heartbeat that I
felt after the explosions in Baghdad. People aren’t disintegrating
at Camp Peary, but the blasts share the same ominous aftermath
as many war-zone booms: silence. Most times you never know
the explosions’ cause or consequence.

Across the water from Camp Peary’s black ops and barbed wire, the creek flows into a bastion of recreation. Docks, clubhouses, pools, and mansions now guard the sloping banks. At New Quarter Park the trails ease past the remnants of Confederate earthworks. Sometimes I hear of nearby residents digging
up cannonballs, musket rounds, or arrowheads in their vegetable
gardens.

Camp Peary’s choppers are silent this night, but my footsteps
rattle the dock’s faded planks above the drone of vehicles blasting
across the I-64 bridge, slung low across the creek two hundred
yards downstream. The dock’s two-by-fours reflect a bony light
under the blood moon. I hear a splash in the slough off to my
right, and I keep my pace despite a tweak in my chest. The tidal
stream resembles crude, flowing thick, slow, and silent toward
the York, Chesapeake, and the Atlantic beyond. As I near the end
of the dock I spot a person silhouetted against the dim sky. Five
meters out I apologize for disturbing his peace.

He says, “No worries.”

He leans into the rail flanking a line of empty beer bottles.
He pinches a wad of tobacco into his lower lip. I breathe a whiff
of minty leaves and crave a chew, but remember that I quit when
I left Iraq. I’m still breathing hard and sweating as we navigate
through intros and the weather. I learn his name is Will and that
he’s on leave, en route from a Fort Sill artillery job to Special
Forces School at Fort Bragg. I mention I’m on leave too. Two
weeks off before getting back to work at Langley Air Force Base.
In the darkness, I discern the outline of his parted hair and collared
shirt. The hazy sky, commingled with swamp stench and
car exhaust, yanks my mind back to Baghdad. On a certain level
I savor the smell of the primordial mud riding the November
breeze as our discussion slides toward Mesopotamia. He completed
his second Iraq tour a few weeks before I returned from my
first, during the death throes of the nine-year odyssey.

“This tour was a joke compared to the first,” he says. “Last
time we could shoot back.”

I nod in the dark.

In the past, American forces would fire back on the spots where insurgents launched rockets or mortars toward our bases.
More often than not, the bad guys didn’t stick around to watch.
Cobbled launchers of scrap iron, batteries, and washing machine
timers lobbed their weapons automatically. The U.S. barrage
that followed could sometimes kill innocents and destroy their
neighborhoods. As Operation Iraqi Freedom shifted toward New
Dawn, and Americans left Iraqi cities, the policy shifted too, and
we stopped shooting back.

“It doesn’t add up,” he says. “What good is an artillery unit
that can’t fire back?”

I begin to think that it’s a good thing his unit wasn’t pummeling
neighboring Iraqis, and then I’m ambushed by the reality:
it’s much easier to think that way when you’re safe at home on a
brisk autumn night.

“Makes about as much sense as carrying unloaded weapons in a
war zone,” I say. “Some soldiers didn’t even have their own ammo.
The bosses were more afraid of our own guys. Accidental discharge.”

“Or, how about bases not having overhead cover?”

Overhead cover—expensive armor usually built over soldiers’
quarters and dining facilities—can help minimize the damage
from insurgent rockets and mortars. Even after years of conflict,
most military Forward Operating Bases in Iraq had very little
overhead cover, but virtually all State Department people lived
in up-armored facilities. Leaders explained that Department of
Defense bases in Iraq would close at the end of the year and State
Department sites would remain open, justifying the expense, but
for the military people on the ground, this translates roughly
into: “You are expendable.”

Fifteen service members died in June ’11, the deadliest month
for Americans in Iraq since the height of the surge in ’08. The
worst attack came when a Shiite militia attacked a Baghdad FOB
with improvised rockets. It’s tough to say whether or not overhead
cover might have helped save the six soldiers roused from their
bunks as their world closed in just before dawn that June 6th.

“We pay millions to build up the Iraqi military, but aren’t willing to spend the extra cash to protect our troops?”

“The Iraqis I worked with could barely fix a flat on their Humvee,” he says. “I’m not sure what we achieved in the last year.”

“We talked, drank tea, and got lots of people hurt and killed.” Some worked to keep the war going, riding around the country on helicopters and selling weapons to Iraqis.

A pause. “I killed a sixteen-year-old boy,” he says. “Our battalion’s only kill this deployment.”

I stare at his shadow on the dock, and I feel a stab of fall air through my damp t-shirt.

“Outside Kirkuk. Got pinned down by someone taking pot shots,” he says. “We figured out where the shooter was, and the lieutenant colonel froze. He was nearly crying. Lying on the ground. Ordered me to take the shooter out. So, I did. Just a barefoot kid with a rusty AK. He fell in a drainage ditch. I remember the muddy water flowing over his feet.”

We talk for more than an hour. I learn that his dad is a Vietnam vet who teaches combat skills at Camp Peary. In addition to extreme daily workouts, Will plans to run land navigation courses through the local woods during his week of leave.

He hopes to eventually deploy to Afghanistan, or maybe Iraq again. While most American forces are set to leave in December 2011, a military presence providing security cooperation as part of ongoing State Department efforts will continue in Iraq for years.

“I’ll handle whatever they throw at me,” he says. “I’m up to the challenge.”

With that, he lobs his empty beer bottle in a mortar arc toward the water. The glass catches hints of moonlight before shattering the creek’s surface in a watery blast. Concentric ripples run silently from the epicenter out into the darkness, just as military forces and government operatives flow out and into the world from this place that I call home. And, just as tide runs in to fill the creek, so too do the unending consequences of our military odysseys.

I wish him luck, shake his hand, and turn away. As I walk toward shore, my mind drifts back before my deployment, to when my family and I watched summer sunsets, walking the dock. When we first arrived in tidewater Virginia we complained to each other about the sewer smell permeating our neighborhood. Eventually I realized this was normal for our intertidal stream, the natural byproduct of growth and decay churning in the water and the mud. I’d point out raccoon tracks lining the mire or snapping turtles holding fast in small water pockets. At the end of the dock we tossed lines with hooked minnows we’d scooped from their schools in a mesh bucket trap. We’d hope to catch croaker but usually pulled blue crabs.

Time after time I’d hoist the crabs onto the deck and my seven-year-old twin boys would taunt the crustaceans with sticks. The creatures always retreated with their claws up, like miniature boxers blocking incoming blows, or shielding their eyes from the sun. My boys jumped and laughed until the crabs found their way to the edge and fell sprawling backward, back into their brown water murk.
--Music—

Justin Hudnall: So Brandon Lingle, thanks so much for being on Incoming.

Brandon Lingle: Thanks, Justin, it’s great to be here.

Justin Hudnall: Could you start us off by telling us where you were in life and what brought you into the service?

Brandon Lingle: I grew up next to Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California. It’s a gigantic missile base that, when I was a kid, would launch missiles in the early hours of the morning; and when I was a kid the cold war was still going on, so they wouldn’t announce when the missiles would launch. And many times when I was a child I would wake up in the middle of the night to this terrible rumble and think it was an earthquake, but it would be a missile taking off to fly out over the pacific to a missile test range.

So it was interesting growing up in this military town, with Air Force people coming into my parents’ business and air shows and all of these things that go on with a town that depends on a military base for many things. And so that influenced me quite a bit. I had the opportunity to go to the Air Force Academy in 1991 to watch a family friend’s graduation. And this was after Desert Storm and it was super patriotic, and as an eighth grader I was just really mesmerized by this and got it in my head that I should go to the Air Force Academy and become an Air Force pilot.

That didn’t work out, and I ended up a Public Affairs Officer in the Air Force. And that’s what I’ve been doing since 2000.

Justin Hudnall: Can you talk to us about how being a Public Affairs Officer and a writer kind of coalesce, which one came first and informed the other?

Brandon Lingle: So when I was at the academy I had the opportunity to take some creative writing classes with Donald Anderson, the editor of War, Literature and the Arts and the Director of Creative Writing at the Air Force Academy. And those classes I guess changed my life, and got me interested in words and the power of words and influenced a lot of decisions since then.

I got the opportunity to earn a Master’s Degree and go back to the Air Force Academy and teach in the English Department, and I did that from 2007 to 2010. And that was a great, supportive, nurturing environment for art and creativity; and 2007 to 2010, I mean these were the heights of the surge in Iraq and things were escalating in Afghanistan and it was just a very interesting time to be part of this war literature community.

Justin Hudnall: Can you talk a little bit about how the rigor and conformity of military life gels with the expression and subversive nature of writing?

Brandon Lingle: That’s a great question. So- War, Literature and the Arts, it’s the oldest - and to my knowledge the only - literary journal exploring the intersection of war and art. They started in 1989.
The Air Force Academy is such a structured and rigorous environment that at least from my experience as a cadet, every minute of your day is accounted for. And so when you enter a creative writing workshop and have the opportunity to create and have discussions about art, it’s a powerful escape, and it’s also empowering.

Justin Hudnall: And I think we should mention that in addition to your day job, you’re also serving as the non-fiction editor of War, Literature in the Arts.

Brandon Lingle: That’s right. Donald Anderson, one of my writing mentors, asked me to help out with the journal a few years ago, and it’s been a great experience.

Justin Hudnall: Yeah can you talk about that, what that experience is like? Watching the war come back to you in the form of these essays that are being written by service members? or veterans, I should say?

Brandon Lingle: Yeah, when I was teaching at the Academy, we were oftentimes teaching literature about a war that was happening at the same time and it was a very different time than when I was a kid out at the Air Force Academy. In 1996 to 2000 there weren’t any huge wars that our country was engaged in; there was no prospect of “Well you’re going to go direct to combat after you graduate.” Whereas the cadets that I was teaching at the Air Force Academy, they volunteered to serve in the middle of multiple wars.

And I had great respect for that. So it was really interesting to engage with them oftentimes with literature that challenged a lot of the things that you would expect at a military academy. I suspect some of this literature people would see as subversive or too questioning, and I think it was good to challenge cadets with that type of material.

I’m Brandon Lingle, and this is an essay titled “Halaq.”

No striped pole hangs outside this barber shop in a tan stucco building once part of the Ba’ath party headquarters. Instead, a hand-painte d sign with a red arrow guides customers through what used to be Chemical Ali’s torture chambers into a two-chair shop that could pass for any small-town America barber. Cigarette smoke clouds the Barbicide air. Creased Baghdadi newspapers flutter in the fan’s breeze beside day-old Stars & Stripes and a roughed-up Western Horseman. No Penthouses or Playboys hide under the table. The two Iraqi barbers turn and smile as I enter, gesture toward a couch: “Please sir, sit, sit, please.”
The faded leather couch embraces me as I wait. Just a couple weeks into an Iraq deployment, and I’m exhausted from the dust in the air that you never get used to. I adjust my holstered Beretta so it doesn’t dig into my hip. I notice how the Iraqi newspaper’s cover photo—a blackened car skeleton from yesterday’s bombing—works with the Stars & Stripes’ image—a group of patrolling infantrymen. The shop features the same wall art as the base barbers back home: massive grinning faces and sharp military haircuts.
My dirty boots and camouflage contrast the barbers’ shined loafers and button ups. The tall barber on the left works an older Iraqi man’s hair slowly in sync with the pace of their conversation. With every scissor swipe salt-and-pepper hair slides down the black cape and floats past the shined shoes to the concrete floor. I wonder how the old man in the chair earns his living. Does he work on this U.S. base all day only to leave silently to return to his family in Kadhimiya or Doura at night? Or, does he live within this t-walled patch of the West only to visit his family when the threat is lowest? Does he even have any family left?
The shorter barber cuts a soldier’s hair silently. Sometimes he joins the tall barber’s conversation and sometimes he hums to the tinny Arabic music streaming from a 1970s clock radio—the kind with the cozy orange glow lighting flip numbers. Like the one my father gave me when I was 8. I remember feeling the orange light’s warmth against the clear plastic window on foggy California nights. I watch the barber’s mustache move with the music, and I wonder about his life before 2003, 1990, or even 1980.
The Americans are silent, only finger numbers for blade guards, smiles, and nods. The short barber cuts around the soldier’s head with shuffle steps, choppy and quick. He flings the hair off his clippers like it’s contagious. He cuts two soldiers’ hair before the tall barber finishes his Iraqi customer. I’m intrigued when the short barber wields the straight razor around the soldier’s ear, the nape of his neck, with quick flicks of his wrist, a steady pace, a jingling gold bracelet, a pinky ring flash, and a snap to close the blade. Then the barber smiles, cracks the cape, collects his money, and motions for me.
In the tilted chair, the barber shrouds me under the cape. I’m lulled by the language I don’t understand--adrift and at home. As the clippers hum, I return to my hometown barber shop in Central California with the same smoke and drone of men’s voices, the same messy pile of newspapers and magazines. Hustlers stashed under the back table and the Monday morning quarter-backing of Friday’s high-school ball games.
Before my wedding, my father told me to go to the barber to get a straight-razor shave. “A tradition,” he said and that his father had told him to do the same. When I asked Winston, the white-haired owner of the Matador, for a shave he laughed. “Man, we haven’t done those in years… Cali law.” Then I told Winston, I needed a haircut for my wedding. He said, “Oh, your sucker cut,” and, “everyone gets a free sucker cut.”
Turns out there was no law against straight razor shaves in California, and in the Iraqi barber chair, I thought of my father gone more than five years now. I imagine him getting a shave in some ancient Illinois barber shop 39 years ago. He’s perfectly still at the razor’s edge, decades before the Parkinson’s tremors. The older man in the chair next to me rises. The old man and barber hug and kiss and hold hands. I hear the barber say “Yaba” and “Habibi”… Arabic for father, my love. The tall barber walks the elder out and stands at the shop’s doorway.
Before long, the Iraqi barber cutting my hair waves a flat hand toward the mirror, “Good?” I stare in the mirror and nod. I don’t like what I see, but the haircut is fine. The barber grabs the red-white-and-blue striped Barbasol can just like my father’s and gently dabs around my ears and neck. The shave cream smell sends a jolt from my chest. I dread the straight razor, but long for the cut. I watch the barber ease the blade around my neck and ears. I feel the razor’s tug, hear it work, and revere how the barber wipes the blade on his bare palm after each pass.
--Music—
Justin Hudnall: In your story, the young man you meet by the river expresses a lot of overt frustration and cynicism about his tour of duty in Iraq and his experience overseas. And I wanted to ask you, how you walk the line between acknowledging and honoring the validity of those frustrations that some service members feel, while still performing your duties as a Public Affairs Officer, and kind of the voice in some instances, or the go-between, between the military and civilians?

Brandon Lingle: Right. That character in that essay is frustrated and I think his frustrations mirror some of the feelings that I was experiencing at that time too, just coming back from that experience, and it’s ok to be frustrated. I think people have to grapple with these hard feelings. If it was easy I think we would have bigger problems.

I think you can still be a patriot and still ask questions. I think you can still be loyal and critique things. I think it becomes dangerous when we don’t ask questions or we don’t really analyze the decisions that we’re making. So as a Public Affairs Officer, I’m constantly navigating these sort of murky waters and this difficulty. In a war zone, there are a lot of barriers to communication.

Whether it’s operational security, or sort of a commander’s intent, or the politics, there’s just a lot of challenges, and the real stories from war zones aren’t the fun runs happening on giant FOBs. The real stories are what is happening out in the field or in the combat hospital. And oftentimes, those are the stories that are hardest to get out.

Justin Hudnall: Insofar as you’re able to talk about it, would you mind sharing an anecdote or a story of one of the more difficult challenges and stories to work with in your role as a Public Affairs Officer?

Brandon Lingle: Oftentimes I think there’s this general momentum toward not acknowledging the ugliness of war. Whether that’s people getting killed or injured, or damage to bases, or innocent people getting killed, or whatever, the list goes on. Oftentimes the institution, there’s just this sort of unspoken inertia to not acknowledge the ugliness. And so I found it very important to try to at least get a glimmer of the realities of what the thousands of men and women were facing over there and are facing there today in war zones.

So for me, I think one of the more challenging stories - well I think most of the challenging stories for me came from Craig Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. And that’s the largest coalition hospital in Afghanistan. And there was this day that I went there to work with a surgeon that I went to the Academy with. He had done some humanitarian work on a little girl named Zuhal and I got to witness that surgery and watch this sort of hopeful thing. He was operating on this 11-year-old girl and it would give her a healthy life, and it was a good, uplifting, hopeful story.

A few weeks later, she came back for a follow-up appointment and so I was going to be at the hospital to work with this surgeon and cover the sort of follow up appointment because it would be her last appointment and she would go to school and continue with her life. Well, that day when I walked into the hospital, I bump into the surgeon and he’s in scrubs and he’s all sweaty and covered in blood and he’s like “Come with me, we’ll see the little girl later, we have a bunch of trauma that we’re dealing with right now,” and I walk into this operating room, and earlier that morning a suicide bomber had attacked a checkpoint and wounded and killed a number of security contractors. They were Nepalese security contractors.

And in this operating room, this guy was gravely injured, and the neurologist was working on this guy’s brain, and multiple surgeons were working on different parts of his body and it was just this very surreal contrast between the hope for a normal life and this very real reality that this guy’s probably going to die. And these guys were having conversations about “Is this guy survivable” and the neurologist says “Well if he survives he won’t be able to talk, and he’s going to be paralyzed, and it’ll be really tough for him.” And unfortunately he passed away that night. But after that sort of scene in the operating room, we went and visited with the little girl and her father, and it was a happy moment and they gave her a box of Girl Scout cookies and sent her on her way and as far as I know she started school and everything is going ok.

When you look at coverage of these conflicts, these very human, personal stories don’t always get out. “Oh, well we have trained 10,000 Afghan policemen” or whatever, trying to show progress that way. I think that it’s difficult for institutions to capture the personal stories.

Justin Hudnall: From your experience being in the military for 15 years and as a cadet for four years prior to that, and having seen several generations in that time term out and leave – and I imagine keeping in contact with friends who have retired and left the armed forces – using all that body of experience and relationships you’ve gathered over the years: if you could give one piece of advice to somebody who’s about to leave the military now, what do you think it’d be?

Brandon Lingle: Yeah I think it’s really important for people to maintain the relationships that they’ve developed in the military. For a variety of reasons. And I also think it’s crucial that people make sure their military records are correct. I hear stories of people who get out of the military and the infamous DD214 is not accurate or it doesn’t reflect something that they did during their military service, and that’s the key document to everything, that’s - as far as I know, from everything that I’ve heard - that’s the document that unlocks VA benefits and different things like that. So if you did go to Afghanistan or Iraq and it doesn’t show up on your DD214, and then 20 years from now you run into issues, some type of health problem and you go to the VA and say “I think this is combat related” and there’s no proof of that, then you’re in big trouble.

So maintain your relationships, and make sure your paperwork is accurate. And if you don’t understand or know what it should say, there are various helping agencies that can help you make sure all of your information is as accurate as it can be.

Justin Hudnall: Brandon Lingle, thanks so much for being on Incoming.

Brandon Lingle: Thanks Justin, it’s great to be here.

--Music—

Dewey Bratcher: Hey there friends! Dewey Bratcher here, a veteran of the US Navy and host of Permission to Speak Freely, a web video series we produced with KPBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s Veterans Coming Home initiative. A group of contributors from Incoming got together with Justin and the folks at KPBS and decided to tackle some of the biggest misconceptions veterans face after returning to the civilian world with humor and wit, and a little bit of sass. If you enjoy Incoming we think you’ll be glad to see Permission to Speak Freely too, and you can check it out online at kpbs.veteranscominghome.org. That’s kpbs.veteranscominghome.org. We think you’ll be glad you did, and hopefully you’ll want to share it. Thanks for supporting your friendly neighborhood veteran artists. I’m Dewey, and I’m out.

--Music—

Justin Hudnall: Welcome back to Incoming, where we hear true stories from the lives of America’s military told in their own words, straight from their own mouths.

Continuing with today’s theme of souvenirs Julia Evans, our Program Director here at So Say We All, sat down with Alex Flynn. Here’s Julia.

Julia Evans: Alex Flynn joined the army in 2008 and spent 4 years in the infantry. He became a combat correspondent for the next 3. He writes about Afghanistan in the way of a photojournalist, in snapshots. Home now, the way he exists with conflict and danger is complicated.

Alex Flynn: I’m terrified of driving cars, I’m terrified of crossing the street. I’m incredibly cautious when I do everyday activities because people are stupid. I know, trust me.

Julia Evans: He’s also drawn to continuing his work as a conflict photojournalist.

Alex Flynn: I’m more addicted to just the idea of being in a place where everything counts.

Julia Evans: His vignettes show as the space between home and that relationship with danger, but I’ll let Alex tell you the rest.

Alex Flynn: My name is Alex Flynn and this is my story, Narratives.

Private Miller is eating a Pop-Tart now and later today he’ll have watched two men die. Then he’ll tear into dinner afterward like it’s the last meal he’ll ever have. His platoon sergeant, a veteran of inconceivable horrors in Iraq and Afghanistan, will remark, “It’s so f--king weird man, every time these guys see death like that, they get hungry. I’ve never been able to figure that out.”
Later that evening as the sun slowly dips below the horizon, with the staccato of small arms fire and tracer rounds arcing through the sky, he stands on the back ramp of a Stryker staring into nothing and says, to no one in particular, or maybe says to me since I was the only one staring at nothing with him, “I can’t get the faces of all dead people I’ve seen out of my head.” I’ll be taken aback, and I won’t know what to say so I’ll try and joke, “That last guy didn’t have a face, kid. Chill out.” Then he’ll snap out of it, giggling like the 19 or 20-year-old kid he is and we’ll go back to talking about girls and booze and how it’s bulls--t that it’s so cold and we’re not allowed to build a fire. He’ll ask me to email the pictures I took of him today. “My family would probably print ‘em out,” he says. “They’re really proud.”
I'm standing in the frozen food section of Sam's Club and I hear the beeping sound of a forklift and I close my eyes and I'm back. Back in Afghanistan; in freezing rain, lighting a cigarette, and the second I spark my lighter I’m standing in a cloud of dust. I can't breathe because my mouth is filled with grit and I can't hear anything except a high-pitched ringing and my cigarette is still burning on my lips and the thirteen-year-old boy I was following around a corner is convulsing on the ground in-front of me. The nearby Afghan National Army soldiers are gone, presumably blown apart. I notice bits of their uniform stuck in a nearby tree, fluttering in the breeze; which for a moment is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. But the kid, that poor kid, his legs, jaw, and left arm are gone and I'm giggling because I'm in shock and it looks like the kid is doing the worm but he's not. He's in his death throes. It's dead quiet because the kid can't do anything but make gurgling sounds as he fades and I hear one of our vehicles reversing to pick him up and check on me and it sounds just like the f--king forklift in Sam's Club and my girlfriend says, "Baby, are you alright?" and I shake it off and walk toward the automotive section and buy new tires for my Subaru. Nice tires, the most expensive all-weather tires I can buy because I'm not f--king dying in a car accident.

--Music—

Julia Evans: Thanks for being on Incoming. You were a combat correspondent. What came first for you, the army or journalism?

Alex Flynn: I’d always been interested in journalism. I’d always been interested in photography. When I joined the army, that’s what I initially tried to do, but it was 2008, and George Bush needed kids to go to Iraq. So, they were like “no, that’s not a job you can even do in the army. Be a machine gunner.” I was in the infantry and I just took pictures all the time. I always had my camera with me. My bosses, my team sergeant, squad leader and everything, they wanted me to go to the [inaudible*] correspondent school for the army and be dual qualified. It’s called a secondary [inaudible]. They were cool about it. they knew what I wanted to do. I was provided the opportunity to do it. I went to the Army’s Broadcast Journalism School in Fort Meade, Maryland.

Julia Evans: In your work, I see a dichotomy. You have a lot of really dark situations and imagery, then this portrayal of pretty immature stuff. 19 year old, 20 year old stuff. It’s unsettling. Can you tell me where that comes from in your writing?

Alex Flynn: When you’re a journalist, if I’m going to write a news story that corresponds with my photographs that- we went into this village today, and some people got blown up. People got shot and died. Go down on paper and go out to the wire services and news agencies, it will say 3 dead. Acronyms and stuff. you can pass it off so easily, and that’s now how I process. I don’t like to process death, especially death that I’ve witnessed like a statistic or a numbers or acronyms or anything. I wish there was a better way to describe how people died, because photographs are one thing. When you pair photographs with writing and stuff, you can paint a picture that is a lot more horrific.

Julia Evans: Do you feel like your camera was able to create a barrier between yourself and the trauma?

Alex Flynn: As a civilian journalist, kind of. Now, working now. But as a soldier, an army correspondent? No, it didn’t create a barrier. If somebody got blown up, it wasn’t my job to take pictures of them. It’s my job as a soldier to save their life. Help them. As a soldier, as a combat correspondent, there’s no question about that line. There’s no questions about your moral responsibility. It’s your job as a soldier to take care of people that are dying. I’ve held- IV bags in my left hand and taken pictures with my right.

Julia Evans: What kind of work do you do now?

Alex Flynn: Conflict. Conflict stuff. I think what I’m supposed to say is that it’s a calling to cover all that, but it’s not. War is exciting. As long as you don’t die, or someone you know dies, it’s exciting. Getting shot at is fun. It’s an adrenaline thing. I see it more as a civil service. Photojournalism, at least my role in photojournalism, is more of a civil service. firefighters and firefighters because they’re not scared of running into a burning building. To be a documentarian or to provide a historical record of something, you can’t be scared. There are certain people that aren’t going to be scared to do it and those people need to be doing it if they’re capable. I still have legs. I still have hands. I can use a camera. I know I can make pictures when people are shooting at me. So, as long as I have that assurance myself, there needs to be someone that can take it.

Julia Evans: It makes me think of the ending of your story at Sam’s club, how you want the best tires for your car.

Alex Flynn: I’m like an old woman. I’m like a grandpa or grandma. I don’t drive fast, I drive a very safe car. I’m terrified of [inaudible], someone’s life is in danger. That might be a byproduct of war and conflict and stuff? Maybe?

Julia Evans: And then on the other hand, would you consider yourself an emergency junkie?

Alex Flynn: Is there a way to use junkie in a positive way? Emergency junkie? Freebasing emergencies? I don’t think I’m specifically addicted to that sort of adrenaline rush where I’m going to do something incredibly dangerous just to feel that for a moment. I’m more addicted to just being in a place where everything counts. Everything matters. It’s life and death. When I wake up in the morning, and I’m walking around Afghanistan, I have to pay attention to everything. Everything’s turned on, you just feel more alive. If I can think of a specific incident, when I realized I was good at it, I wanted to pursue photojournalism. I can’t remember where I was. Somewhere in southern Afghanistan. I got ambushed, some people fired 3 or 4 RPGs at us and small arms fire, like AK-47s. When I went back and reviewed, I had a videocamera. I was shooting B Roll. For the first 5 seconds, my hand was shaking. Then it stops shaking entirely. I kept doing that. every time I get in a firefight, every time something sketchy would happen, I’d go back and look at my footage. I’m not shaking, I’m perfectly calm. That’s good.That’s good. There was a specific incident, which was that ambush. I remember looking up at this kid, trying to find some way to shoot him, and being perfectly calm with my camera.

Julia Evans: The scene in Sam’s Club, we think we’re going to understand it at first. This narrative of a PTSD flashback, and I think you take it somewhere else. do you deal with this a lot, that people act like they understand your experience. They fill in the blanks post combat?

Alex Flynn: Yeah, people do— I think with greater public awareness, greater public understanding, there are less people saying “I understand what you’ve been through” and “oh, yeah ,I know how that feels.” That’s like crisis management 101. You don’t tell a person that’s just about to jump off a bridge that you know how they feel. That’s not helping them. You don’t know how that person feels. I also think there is an issue in the United States now of PTSD being fetishized. That’s a good word for it. It’s almost been popularized by these movies and it’s just weird. It kind of irks me, how accepting people are of PTSD. It’s because of popular culture, so people form these opinions and narratives from movies like American Sniper or something. They have a preconceived notion in their head about what PTSD is. There’s so many different forms and so many layers to that story that aren’t told. People assume oh, you have PTSD. I have a lot of people assume I have PTSD, which is untrue. I saw a Behavioral Health Specialist, and the guy was like you don’t exhibit the classic symptoms of PTSD. You don’t exhibit any of these. There’s no avoidance. You went to Ferguson, you’re not scared to go to war. You’re not scared. We should look into these things like depression and these different types of post traumatic stress, or moral injury. That’s another thing that is gaining more public traction. For me, moral injury is— I have more than an issue with some of the things I’ve done that is immoral, which wouldn’t be typical stuff that you would think. If I’m a soldier and I say I’ve done immoral things, you would think oh, I killed a civilian or something. That’s not hat I’m talking about. I’m talking about politics or regional politics, or like my role as a soldier in a particular stage of the war, in an unwinnable war.

--Music--

Justin Hudnall: Hey folks, if you’ve been enjoying this and other episodes in the Incoming series and the thought has ever occurred to you that you can do this yourself, we want to be the first to agree: yes you can. Several of the contributors you’ve heard on this show started off by participating in FREE veteran writing workshops offered by the non-profit that produces Incoming, or had their stories published in our literary journal. Visit our website at Incomingradio.org, where you can find information about classes, submission opportunities, and upcoming live performances by veteran authors and artists. Hopefully, you’ll pick up a copy of our books while you’re there. We welcome all generations and all branches, with stories on every conceivable topic. It’s our mission here at Incoming to help people understand who their military is and what it does, both at home and abroad. And we need your help to do it right. Visit Incomingradio.org to learn more and drop us an e-mail. We’ll be glad you did.

--Music—

Justin Hudnall: For our third and final contributor tied around the theme of “Souvenirs,” Julia Evans interviews Brent Wingfield. Here’s Julia.

Julia Evans: It was the last day, the last mission of Brent Wingfield’s tour in Afghanistan. And he’d left his decision down to the wire. Would he stay in? Or get out?

Brent Wingfield: “There’s... I don’t know, that bond. It’s enough. It was enough to keep doing it.”

Julia Evans: He knew from his time in Iraq that there was no such thing as a perfect tour, a perfect homecoming. But this time, in Afghanistan, he was lucky. He was almost there. Whether that meant he should quit, or re-up, he couldn’t decide. But I’ll let Brent tell you the rest.

Brent Wingfield: Hi, my name is Brent Wingfield and my story is called “Homecoming.”

As I trudged through Afghanistan’s lush Mizan River Valley on what would be my final combat patrol, I stopped momentarily to catch my breath before climbing out of a knee-deep canal and over an earthen embankment. I wanted to keep my guys out of the river bed where we were easy targets, and off the roads where the locals liked to bury explosives. They didn’t usually like placing the IED’s in or around their homes, so to hell with the roads, I thought.

We took the safest route: through their fields and farms. None of us wanted to be the latest casualty in a forgotten war, and no one was trying to be a hero, especially on our last mission. I stopped and relayed instructions via radio to my two team leaders. I told them to start maneuvering their fire teams towards me; we were taking a detour.
I took a deep breath and scaled the retaining wall. When I reached the top, I looked at the fields ahead. An acre of red poppies danced playfully in the breeze as the craggy mountains cast a looming shadow over some mud-walled homes ahead. I marveled as the Afghan cliffs slowly swallowed the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen.
“It’d be kinda pretty if it weren’t for all those crappy houses,” Guenther’s voice came from over my shoulder.
Brian “Hans” Guenther was one of my team leaders and closest friends. Though I outranked him, Hans was twelve years my senior. He was like an older brother. I met eyes with the mustachioed man, smiled and looked back to the sunset.
“It’s beautiful,” I paused, “but tainted.” The lush valley was a light show of colors, littered with crude, mud-walled houses, dirt roads and the scars of centuries of war. I was captivated. The views were tremendous, but I was sick of seeing them at the same time. I missed my home, my wife, and my pug, Roxy. I missed having a beer after work. My gut wrenched over the decision I knew that I had to make, a decision that I knew was long overdue.
But I wasn’t sure if I was ready, or even wanted to hang up my boots and say goodbye to life as an infantryman. After a seven-year-long love-hate relationship with the Army, most of which was spent overseas, I realized that I loved seeing the world and the camaraderie and the experience of serving, but I had long-since grown weary of the caveats.
I was at the end of my enlistment and had to make a choice: re-up or get out. I wanted to stay in but I was tired. I was tired of saying goodbye to my wife, tired of keeping my family at a distance, and I was tired of keeping a guilty tab on my growing list of dead friends. I longed for a “normal” life, even though I didn’t have any idea what the hell that even meant. I just knew that it had to be better than all this.
But on the other hand, I loved what I did. Training soldiers and leading them through combat was the most rewarding experience of my life. I loved the guys with whom I served like family, and being a grunt was all I had known since I was nineteen. I wondered if I should just accept the fact that this was my life. I looked around. Maybe I should learn to love this, I thought.
I turned to Guenther and his friendly eyes cut through me. He knew me.
“Let’s get ready to move,” I told him.
“Take us home Sergeant,” Guenther said with a friendly wink.
I nodded and smiled. “I’ll stay on point,” I said. “We’ll head through that farm at our two-o’clock and link up with the rest of the platoon ahead.” We bumped knuckles and I started walking backwards.
“Roger. We’ll follow.” Guenther said. He turned and walked off to relay instructions to bravo team.
I kept walking backwards, admiring the soldiers in my squad. Damnit, I am gonna miss this, I thought as I watched them following in formation. It had taken countless hours of training and a year at war to turn what was once a gaggle-f--k of misfits and teenagers into an effective and cohesive fighting force. I smiled proudly as I watched them climb from the canal and into the poppy field. I turned and started walking to check ahead for sight of 1st Squad.
As I stepped, I twisted my ankle and ate s--t. Gravity jerked my body one way, and sent the 90 pounds of gear I was wearing violently in the opposite direction. I sailed to the ground like a bag of bricks and apparently, it was quite the sight. Laughter erupted behind me.
“F----n’ A,” I said and threw my hands up, laughing at myself. What could I do? I brushed mud from my face and struggled back to my feet.
As I stood, I caught sight of the lead squad. My Platoon Sergeant Tony Robb was standing with them atop a large, brown hill. I looked through my binoculars and saw him staring at me. His face was red with laughter. Apparently everyone had noticed my fall.
“You alright?” Robb half giggled into his radio.
“This s--t’ll buff out,” I answered into my mine.
“Aren’t you gonna miss all this Wingnut?” Robb’s Tennessee drawl cackled through my radio’s muddy mic. Wingnut, I thought. He knew I hated that.
“F--k no,” I answered, still spitting out pieces of Afghanistan as I spoke.
I adjusted my gear and noticed an Afghan family standing outside their mud hovel. A small, brightly dressed girl with long, dark hair waved and smiled. She made me think of my cousin. Two men stood beside the girl, staring silently. I looked at the poppies I had smashed and shrugged. They were pissed. I dusted myself off and kept moving.
Guenther’s fire-team was quickly approaching from behind. “Watch these guys, Hans,” I motioned in the direction of the men.
“We’ve got eyes on,” Guenther affirmed.
I reached the edge of the scarlet morphine farm and climbed a wall to the next one. I could see pink and white poppies planted in neat rows in the next field. As I climbed, my mind wandered back to scaling walls while fighting house-to-house in Southern Baghdad years prior.
It wasn’t anything like this.
Back then, we would quickly climb crude walls, rush into half-ruined homes, and fight our way to the rooftops. Entire neighborhoods would erupt into gunfire and my heart would race as I clutched my rifle’s grip, my eyes and sights racing frantically through the haze of incoming lead. I remembered the confusion of trying to tell which civilians were just trying not to get shot and which ones were trying to kill us; we rarely could.
I thought of the adrenaline rush as bullets sang overhead and I remembered the piercing cries from those that struck true. I remembered the ever-present, carnivorous dread that gnawed at our sanity, and I remembered how we fought through it arrogantly.
I thought of the dozen guys that didn’t make it home and the couple dozen more who got f--ked up, blown up or shot. I remembered how the rest of us were left to carry on and fight in their absence and I remembered how we tried to pick up the pieces of our lives when we went home.
The dead are the lucky ones.
I was still coming to terms with my first homecoming from war on the eve of leaving Afghanistan. I relived old firefights by night and avoided them by day. I was neurotic about my guys’ safety, because I was tired of seeing young Americans die on forgotten battlefields, in wars no one back home gave a s--t about anymore.
F--k this, I thought.
But as I heaved my body over a final barrier and walked towards our combat outpost, my mood changed. I led my squad through the second poppy field and onto a small dirt road leading towards our mountain home. After a day spent battling the crags and valleys, I walked the last few painful, muddy steps smiling because I knew that at least this time, it was all different.
I took a heavy breath and smiled.
I knew that I was still dealing with some old demons, but at least I had managed to keep my s--t together. I had trained and led ten soldiers through twelve months of combat, and this time, I was bringing all of them home alive, and most of them were still in one piece.
I had done my job well and I was proud.
I stopped at the entrance to our sandbagged outpost and kicked most of the mud from my boots. I looked at the faces of my soldiers and counted them as they walked through the concertina wire. I smiled with every passing face. “Awesome job guys.”
I keyed my mic for the last time: “Hey Two-Six, Two-Three. We’re a hundred percent.”
“Roger that Two-Three. Welcome home,” I heard my Lieutenant’s voice answer through the radio.
Guenther waited for me. He and I entered last. “My feet are barking,” he said.
“That’s ‘cause you’re too old for this s--t,” I teased.
“F--k you, Sergeant,” he said with a smile. We bumped helmets affectionately.
“Come on, let’s go get some chow,” I said.

The next day, I again counted my guys as they boarded a CH-47 helicopter. It was our ride out of the bomb-laden mountains and back to Camp Disneyland, otherwise known as Kandahar Airfield, or KAF. KAF was our next stop on our way back home to Germany, where we were stationed.
“Going home” never felt real until the CH-47 threw massive plumes of dirt up as we lifted off the mountainside and flew south.
We were so close to finally leaving Asscrackistan and we all looked forward to the families, booze, and brothels that awaited. I remembered my first awkward homecoming, and I wondered how many years it would take to “adjust” this time. I closed my eyes and listened to the helicopter clamor through the desert dawn.
I thought of red poppies.
Later that night, Robb Guenther and I went out to explore our interim home. Compared to our forsaken outpost, KAF was a 5-star resort, and we fully intended to enjoy ourselves. The three of us went and bought some cigars and a pizza to celebrate our deployment’s end.
We reminisced about humping our gear over mountains, getting rained on and eating expired MREs, all while the assholes stationed on KAF had such plush living conditions. The leviathan air base had USO shows, PX’s and contractor-run dining facilities. There was a weekly “Salsa Night” on the Boardwalk, an actual boardwalk lined with shops and restaurants.
“Afghanistan: individual experiences may vary,” I joked as I chewed pepperoni pizza.
“Seriously, is it a deployment or a vacation for these f--kin’ guys?” Guenther said.
Our twelve months in Afghanistan had truly sucked, and in confounding new ways nonetheless, but my experiences had paled in comparison to the combat I’d seen in Iraq years prior. I remembered seeing burned homes, dead kids, and friends lose limbs. I felt stupid for complaining.
“I’m just happy we got everybody here,” I said.
“Those soldiers of yours,” Tony Robb looked to me and said. “Brand, Espinoza, Spaulding…”
“Yeah, they sure didn’t make it easy,” I nodded.
“No, they didn’t,” Guenther agreed. We had been like dads to the guys of our squad. Over the last year, we had walked them through everything from weapons training to personal hygiene issues.
“Yeah, we’re all still alive,” I said. “In spite of stubborn soldiers…”
“Lazy Sergeants…” Robb teased.
“And the most valiant efforts of our chain of command” I said.
“You ain’t kiddin’” he nodded.
The three of us sat, chewing our food in silence for several minutes. It was nice to finally enjoy the fruits of society again. A greasy pizza and a Coke. I was in heaven.
And that’s when Robb’s phone rang. It was one of the soldiers in our platoon. Guenther shot me a worried glance. We could hear the panicked voice. Something had happened back at our platoon’s tents, something terrible.
Robb’s brow curled sharply as he listened to the frantic soldier. “It’s Spaulding,” Robb told us as his gut visibly sank. “Spaulding’s been shot.”
“He was shot?” Guenther’s voice cracked.
Shot? It didn’t make any sense; we were miles away from any real combat, on the eve of our homecoming.
Robb looked at Guenther and I. “We need to go!”
We scrambled to our feet and out the door. Robb clutched his phone and rifle as he ran. My heart raced. “They’re there now?” he said into the phone. “Good. We’ll meet them at the hospital. I’ll be back at the tent as soon as I can,” he assured the soldier and hung up.
“Stop that bus,” Robb motioned and yelled.
Guenther and I stepped into the road and tried to flag-down a passing bus. It didn’t stop, so we raised our rifles. After looking down the business end of two carbines, the driver slammed the vehicle to an immediate halt and the three of us climbed aboard. Guenther and I sat in the first row and Robb informed the driver where to go: the ER.
“Now, what the hell happened?” Guenther asked.
Robb took a deep breath. “All I managed to hear was that Spaulding’s been shot and that Baker did it,” Robb told us as he sat, his tone more of a question.
Baker was another soldier in our platoon and a close friend of Spaulding, and although they were both problem soldiers, none of this added up.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” I said.
“He said something about... they were playing,” Robb’s face cringed, “and that Baker shot him in the head.”
“What the f--k?” Guenther said.
The bus dropped us off at the Combat Support Hospital exactly as the Humvee arrived that was carrying our wounded soldier, Riley Spaulding. His face was covered in blood-drenched gauze. I could see that he had suffered a point-blank gunshot wound to the forehead. My mind raced with questions. The reasons why were still fuzzy; the trauma was all that was clear.
I watched four Corpsmen carry Riley Spaulding onto a hospital bed and quickly wheel him inside. Robb, Guenther, and I followed closely. As they pushed the gurney through a doorway, Spaulding’s bandage fell from his face.
He’s not gonna make it, I thought.
We watched the frantic doctors do what they could. They tried their damndest but it was no use. It was too late. I looked at the bullet hole in Riley’s forehead. It was too much.
Robb and Guenther headed back to be with the rest of our platoon while I stuck around to fill out the necessary paperwork. What the f--k Spaulding? I looked at his vacant eyes. You were trained better than this!
What the f--k were you doing?
I choked back tears as I signed my name, officiating his death. He was a lovable goof, kind of like a little brother.
And now he was dead.
A week later, we were all back in Germany. We landed at Rammstein Air Base near Frankfurt, and then loaded buses on our way back to Vilseck where our lives that were interrupted a year prior had left off.
As the bus drove on the Autobahn I stared out my window at the thick, green pines and ferns and rain-soaked roads. I didn’t know what to think about the carefree civilians driving beside us. They were completely oblivious. It was odd to not worry about IEDs in the road. It was weird to be so close to home. Suddenly, it wasn’t such a vague concept.
I thought of what it was like going home last time and I shuddered. I wondered what it would be like now. This time, everything was different.
I thought about Riley Spaulding.
We were less than an hour away.

--Music--

Julia Evans: Tell me what that 100% meant to you, right then at the poppy field when you were done with that final mission?

Brent Wingfield: It’s like I had closure. I knew that my record was clean. Th e r e w e r e n o l o o s e ends. I brought them all home like I said I would, and I did my job. I was home. It was so surreal. Like I remember just standing there, like, taking it in. Like, looking around, like, this is it, huh? It didn’t even seem like it was — I don’t know. I felt like at the moment, like my decision was made, I was staying in.

Julia Evans: What does it mean when someone loses their life in a war zone, not in combat, but in a mistake, like this?

Brent Wingfield: To die in combat, that’s something we went into it knowingly, like we all raised our right hands, we all said we would do it. It was something we were trained to do, we were prepared to do, we were ­ you expected that as a possibility for you, yeah, no one wants to die, but it’s always there, it’s always in the back of your mind. But then when something like that happens. It’s just so disenfranchising. The whole meaning of everything you’re doing, there’s nothing to it. It’s just such a waste. It’s pointless and stupid. And that’s harder to deal with. It’s easy to say, These are the people that killed my friend, and then to have some kind of recourse against that, you know, to do your job, if anything, it was functional: it helped you do your job. But who would’ve ever imagined?
After that happened I talked to him once; he was crying, he was saying “I didn’t do it, it was an accident. I didn’t mean to.” There’s no way that would’ve ever happened if he’d been doing the right thing. There’s no excuse for that. You have this idea that your guys are so great, you’ve done such an amazing job, you get back and now one of them’s dead. You’ll never talk to them again.

--Music—

Justin Hudnall: That’s our show.
 Incoming is produced by myself, Justin Hudnall with help on this episode from Julia Evans.
Jennifer Corley is our editor.

Original music by:

Chris Warren
Ariana Warren
Kris Apple
And Alan Jones

Outro music is provided by Tim Koch, aka 10:32, with intersticial music by Drew Andrews and Nathan Hassman.

At KPBS:
John Decker is Program Director
Nate John is web editor
Emily Jankowski is our Technical Director
And Kurt Kohnen is our Audio Engineer.

Special thanks to KBIA in Columbia, Missouri for helping us to record Alex Flynn, and to Capital Public Radio in Sacramento for helping us to record Brandon Lingle.

Funding is provided by the KPBS Explore Program, The Veterans Initiative in the Arts by the California Arts Council, and listeners like you.

If you’d like to learn more and get involved, you can find us online at kpbs.org/incoming or incomingradio.org. You can hear this and every other Incoming episode on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and wherever wherever fine pods are found.

Thanks for listening, and we’ll talk again soon.