14. Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children
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August 24, 2018 9 p.m.
We have two of the most entertaining, self-made, grunt-ass Marines on today’s show. Their upbringings made them perfect candidates for the United States Marine Corp, the USMC, an acronym Marines will often repurpose when referring to themselves as Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children.
Veteran and stand-up comedian Brian Simpson talks about maintaining identity while serving in the armed forces. And veteran Dan Lopez tells the true story about smoking pot with the Taliban.
Contributors: Brian Simpson and Dan Lopez
Visit us at kpbs.org/incoming
Find more KPBS podcasts at kpbs.org/podcast
S4E4, “Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children”
Speaker 1: 00:04 From, so say we all and KPBS and San Diego. Welcome to incoming the series teachers, true stories from the lives of America's veterans, told in their own words straight from their own.
Speaker 2: 00:16 I'm your host, Justin hugging. We have to have the most entertaining self-made grunt ass marines I know on today's show for you, and they really couldn't be more different from each other except both of their upbringings made them perfect candidates for the United States Marine Corps. The US embassy, an acronym marines will often repurpose when referring to themselves as Uncle Sam's misguided children. A lot of what happens on our show intentionally or otherwise takes aim at stereotypes that have been assigned to service members and it is a stereotype indeed that people enlist in the military because there's just nothing else that they could have done with their lives that it is an act of born of desperation. And I know that's a concept hanging out there for some consciously or otherwise because I've heard it said and seen it written too many times, but it is important to interrogate the world that class plays in our military is recruitment and because of our friends, the Pew Research Center and the survey, they conducted about it back in 2011. We know that when the economy tanks military enlistment does go up. I believe that was true way back in 2002 long before I had any empirical evidence to back it up and I believed our military and then too, because I was living in a very low income way out
Speaker 1: 01:34 are Brooklyn neighborhood after nine slash 11. And I remember
Speaker 2: 01:37 seeing the recruiters swarming the blocks after pew also found that the post 9:11 gi bill was a huge incentive driving enlistment during Iraq and Afghanistan. But this is the military people. It's not a part time job down at the piggly wiggly. And I promise the pay is not that great. There are other jobs people could do for money that do not involve going to a war zone
Speaker 1: 02:00 and additional reasons for why the people who did chose to do so. Ninety percent of the veterans and service members pew surveyed said their motivation to join with primarily because they legitimately wanted to serve their country. Seventy percent like the educational benefits that came on top of that. Sixty percent were inspired to see more of the world, 57 percent wanting to learn unique skills and only 27 percent reported they were partially motivated to join because they had problems finding civilian jobs. The reason I bring all this up and inflict a statistics lesson on you is because of how easy it is for an individual to get lost among all of those numbers and assumptions in our first guest on today's program wrote and performed a true story for you about exactly that. So let me introduce you to Brian Simpson. I met Brian when I was leaving a bar back in 2011 and found them outside hitting on my girlfriend at the time, but he was so hilarious, so quick with his mind. In his mouth that we ended up becoming friends and that same night I told him he should really look into getting into standup comedy. Seven years later, he's just been made a paid regular at the Los Angeles comedy store with his name on the wall. Alongside Alley would be Goldberg's Steve Martin's Garry shandling's and the list goes on. So here's Brian performing his original story, a breath of fresh air live at the. So say we all advanced storytelling showcase at the whistle stop bar in San Diego, California.
Speaker 3: 03:32 I'm the opposite of Justin in every way. I'm short. I'm black and I have no problem begging for money. Give me a dollar, mother*****. We'll let the minority say the first curse word of the night. All right, here we go. A breath of fresh air.
Speaker 4: 03:53 I hate gas mass. It was pretty early into my first 18 years. Spent shuttled between fall of Maryland's foster in group homes that I understood what it meant to be seen as a number instead of a human being. It motivated the biggest decision of my life to date. If I was just going to be another number that should at least be some purpose behind it, so I joined the Marine Corps. If all of his testosterone, it was the least violent and most stable environment. I know. The Marine Corps gave me my first opportunity to be around white people who weren't in a position of authority. No social workers, no cops, just ordinary people like me. A lot of whom unintentionally helped me realize I wasn't nearly as dumb as I grown up thinking I was at least back in Paris.
Speaker 5: 04:48 Yeah.
Speaker 4: 04:48 Upon completion of bootcamp, I was all in the core was a place where nobody could become somebody, a meritocracy where the smart, fast and strong rose to the top. No worthless test that lacked avi. It's relevance to your life. This was going to be the beginning of my climb to the top. I love the Marine Corps and the Marine Corps loved me. My first time in the Middle East was march of 2003 and began somewhere in the middle of Kuwait. At the time, no one was sure if we were actually going to invade Iraq or not. No other group of people debate at the topic more heavily than the marines have. Max One EWC, no marine, and the EWC debated the topic more heavily than Lance Corporal Simpson. That's me who has several hundred bucks riding on the issue. The EWC stands for early warning and control. Our job was to man and awesome state of the art radar system that could see some classified distance away. The first to detect planes and missiles launched by an enemy.
Speaker 4: 05:59 My personal responsibility was to maintain and advanced radar interface. Most of the stuff never breaks, so most of the time was spent playing spades and board games. Our mandate was to assume that any missile that was launched contained some sort of biological weapon and to alert the entire camp right away. Of course, none of this really mattered to me at the time because we weren't actually at war with anyone yet, and as I mentioned before, I had several hundred bucks riding on the issue every single day of every single week. For the two months we've been in country, we have biological weapon drills five to seven times a day to prepare for the likely scenario that we were attacked by a biological weapon contingent upon the very unlikely scenario that we would actually go to war. By now, I've been in the Marine Corps long enough to find nothing strange about preparing for a threat that was either unlikely, outdated or completely nonexistent. This is the military way of life. The name the means by which it justifies it's outrageous budget and ego, but week three, we had so many drills that we've broken our military issued nuclear, biological and chemical alarm and had to use a modified seven ton truck horn and it's placed through a jury rig process involving high voltage cabling and industrial generator and Satan.
Speaker 4: 07:26 The result was a noise that sounded like the opening ceremony of the apocalypse or as I like to imagine that an elephant, if you would've said it's nuts on fire and roll it down a bumpy hill. When you heard the alarm, you had to stop with. You were doing scream gas, gas, gas while you were finding and putting on your mask and Hazmat suit than running to the nearest trenchill bunker and waiting to be given the all clear, wearing a gas mask when it's 90 degrees outside was zero percent humidity is comparable to putting a condom on your face and then manning a barbecue grill
Speaker 4: 08:13 being made to do so countless times with always ended up being a drill resulted in almost everyone becoming complacent law. Before we created the old truck horn. We'd be sitting in the bunker playing cards, joking around, hating life when someone mumbling of sending these through their carbon filters because you had to stop and run to the closest bunker to you. The people you ended up in the bunker with were often totally random at times. I found a bunker that contain only my friends and uh, one of these occasions I decided to be a good idea to cheat losing my straps and put my headphones in.
Speaker 5: 08:51 Yeah,
Speaker 4: 08:52 it turned out that my lieutenant looked a lot like my tom when he had a gas
Speaker 5: 08:56 massive.
Speaker 4: 09:06 The lieutenant was clearly not pleased with my music listening. It could have been me or it could have been that he didn't feel that fifty cents get rich or die trying was a classic, but either way my punishment was to make a one to 100 scale replica of the Great Wall of China out of sandbags, sandbags. That I had to feel while wearing my gas mask again. I hate gas mask. I won't even smoke weed out of them. On march 17, 2003. I've been in Kuwait for a couple of months. I found myself fresh off my shift and right in the middle of a heated game of trivial pursuit. I don't remember anything else about the night except the cart. I drew the question on the car was in 1996, the US military tested all their gas mask for defects. What percentage were found to be defective? I lost the game because I guess 10 percent. The answer was 50. 50 percent.
Speaker 5: 10:23 Yeah.
Speaker 4: 10:23 I reflected on all of those trust building exercises that we've done for the left.
Speaker 4: 10:31 They showed us a video of a goat being vaporized by gas that Saddam was most assuredly in possession of when we were still in America. We all went to the gas chamber to test our equipment against tear gas. Since we were assigned specific individual mass. The exercise was supposed to help us build confidence in our equipment, but because we've ended up being a few miles short of the gas chamber, a handful of marines and my opportunity, myself included, ended up not even being able to test the mass that we would ultimately end up deploying with. I told every single marine I pass on the way back to my tent that night. Hey, did you know that your gas mass might not work? It's a 50 slash 50 shot. They made us do all those drills and that damn thing doesn't even work. Fifty five, 10 percent of the time. I was like a manic Paul revere running through 10th city. I knew it. I knew it were nothing but a number of them. Agent Orange in Vietnam, LSD in World War Two, Gulf War syndrome, and now this. I mean, if the people that made trivial pursuit knew about this, then how the hell could the military? Not unless they did.
Speaker 4: 11:58 I had my whole situation pegged all wrong. The military isn't a race to the top. It's a struggle to stay in the middle, a contest to see how far the system can fail before it's forced to admit that it needs to change. Here I was trying so desperately to escape the fate of staying and nobody I didn't see the alternative are chosen in the Marine Corps. You're not nobody. You're anybody. You just another cog of the machine replaceable, expendable. A number on some colonel spreadsheet. No one took my rants seriously because not only have we grown complacent about the NBC drills, we'd also grown complacent about the possibility of going to war with Iraq. I was putting my revolutionary complex on full display, out of outrage, but not fear because the truth was I slept like a baby. Confident that what I learned about my gas mask would never matter because it will never be tested. Never bet against the bush going to war. The very next morning we woke up, we're called into formation and informed that the war had already started in the middle of the night. From this moment forward, there will be no more drills in the alarm. Sounded is the real deal. Almost immediately after we would dismiss this as I was starting to think about all the money I lost on that stupid bet. The alarm sounded
Speaker 4: 13:30 in an instant. The complacency over the past few months was exposed as suicidal behavior. Other marines moved like mad men scrambling to get the little bits and pieces of equipment we come to take for granted, trying desperately to remember all the procedures that might save our lives. So now I find myself sitting in a ditch in the desert facing death with a good portion of the people I care about all around me, and all I can think about is that good damn trivial pursuit card in that case, damn go. I can't stop visualizing how the goat evaporated. It's skin falling to the ground like there were no bones organs inside. I can hear the instructor's voice so clearly describing the symptoms of being infected by this gas. I'm not imagining this, it's happening to me. I'm dying. The opposed or sweat building up around the rubber seals on my forehead and my cheeks and on the back of my neck will start to burn it. Any moment right before I lose control of my bowels and my soul and evaporating and nothing like the victim of some mortal kombat finishing move. I feared for my life before, but I always believed that I could at least affect the situation in some way. Now I'm at the mercy of the numbers. It all comes down to two coin flips, 50 slash 50 to incoming missile contains bioweapons and a 50 slash 50 chance that by math will work if it did,
Speaker 4: 14:58 um, so previously aware of every single sensation, every single nerve ending in my body was vying for my attention. What my mind this associated, I scan the trench line with almost smugness thinking to myself, these poor bastards don't even know how close we are to death right now. So competent in their protection. I'm slowly losing my mind here. I'm imagining how awesome it would be to not be about to die. What I would do for just one more breath of fresh air, it would feel like being born again. I want that breath of fresh air so bad. I couldn't stand it. The feel of the cool breeze on my face and the refreshing, non poisonous air, filling up my lungs like being released from a hostile situation into a sauna and afterwards running right into a walk in freezer made of a Larry instill and York peppermint patties. I've already made my mind up. I'd rather go out like private power than that. Go. I clicked my [inaudible] from safe to unsafe. I put the business end under my chin, put my finger on the trigger and wait for the gas to affect my nervous system and the result in twitch to finally make me literally the no one I'd never wanted to be,
Speaker 4: 16:22 and that's when I heard the two sweetest words in the English language echo from the distance. All clear. All clear.
Speaker 6: 16:56 All right, Brian Simpson. Welcome. The incoming. You mentioned in your piece that you grew up partially in the foster care system out on the east coast, do you think that that made it easier or more natural when you transitioned from one system to another when you joined the Marine Corps?
Speaker 3: 17:11 I'm not sure. I mean I don't know because when I, when I was a foster kid, I don't know if I was. That was really as aware of or conscious of being in a system as when you joined the Marine Corps and it's sort of like a parent. It's always in your face that it's a system and that everything is regimented. You know, in the foster care thing, it's sort of a, you only get glimpses of the system in between pretending like you're a regular kid in a regular fan, you know, and then when you're plucked out of a home and then you have a court date, you know, or think something like that. Then you're aware and then you're back to this illusion of normalcy. Whereas the military doesn't give you any sort of illusion. You're just in the machine, you know?
Speaker 6: 17:54 Did you find that kind of consistency that the Marine Corps demanded was appealing in any way? I don't know if that's the right word to use. Would that kind of discipline?
Speaker 3: 18:05 Yeah. Well, I mean I think at the time I didn't, I didn't find that appealing, but looking back on it, I think it was good for me for sure. Yeah. You know, no one can get rid of you, you know, unless you do something really horrible. But um, I don't, I don't know very many people that, that, that sort of thing happened to,
Speaker 6: 18:20 what was it like going from one system to another and then finally being in no system once you were out of the core system shock at all?
Speaker 3: 18:29 Yeah, I think that that's a hard adjustment and I think it's still hard actually. I mean I think it's hard for a lot of veterans, especially the ones that really wanted to get out and then you get out and you realize, oh, like I miss that. I miss it sometimes. Yeah, for sure. But I would also never go back in, but if I could go back to being young and go back in, I would do. I would stay in, but I wouldn't go back in now.
Speaker 6: 18:53 When you transferred out here to Miramar, what were some of the things that really surprised you when you land on the West Coast?
Speaker 3: 18:58 Oh, just how awesome it was. Just the weather was immediately. I mean when I got here it was the sixth or seventh of July or something like that and it was just perfect day. It was perfect, you know, a perfect breeze. It was like 73 degrees or something. And I walk up and my roommates just sitting outside with a pitcher of lemonade and I was just like, oh yeah, I could do this.
Speaker 6: 19:21 One of the lines in your piece, you mentioned how when you moved out to Miramar, when you joined the corps, it was the first time you were around white people who weren't in a position of authority over, you know, police officers? No social workers, no nothing. Just guys like you who sometimes you outranked are really quickly outranked. I know the military and the Marine Corps doesn't acknowledge race. They like to call black people, dark green marine.
Speaker 3: 19:45 I don't know if they still do that, but they surely did that when I was at it.
Speaker 6: 19:48 But what was it like being one of the few African American? Well,
Speaker 3: 19:52 no, I was the only. I was the only black person in my, in my platoon for long time.
Speaker 6: 19:59 What was that like coming from a predominantly African American neighborhood?
Speaker 3: 20:02 It was kind of a culture shock. I think I found myself in a position of constantly trying to make white people comfortable. It really made me aware of a lot of racial disparities and myths and misunderstandings and that sort of thing. But no one, I don't think anyone like outright hated me, but it was like I didn't have a word for microaggressions at the time, but it was just a lot of that, you know, a lot of like, hey, do you realize how racist that is? It was a lot of situations like that, you know.
Speaker 6: 20:33 I mean, I guess you were probably the first black friend to a lot of white guys.
Speaker 3: 20:38 Oh yeah, I mean, but you know, I was doing the same thing. I mean it was, there were a lot of assumptions that I made about white people that I had to realize that like you have to treat everyone and give everyone an equal chance to show you who they are instead of assuming you know who they are. But it was much easier for me to learn that. Then I think it was for a, for a lot of the white bead, you know, [inaudible] I think what I got out of the experiences is that you have to give everybody shot. But I think what a lot of them got out of the situation was that there are assumptions about black people who are still correct and that I was some sort of exception to the rule, you know, that's just how it went. But, you know, and I don't think it really ultimately mattered. I mean because everyone that mattered still showed me love, you know, and they would still do anything for me, but I still don't know how they feel about black people in general.
Speaker 6: 21:28 Talk to me a little bit about the friendships you made while you were in the core. I mean, you're still tight with a couple of your guys out here in San Diego.
Speaker 3: 21:35 Oh yeah, yeah. A lot of guys that aren't here in San Diego, but yeah. And they're. And they're all white guys. Mostly, you know, it's weird for me because I think that when you're in the marine corps, when you're in the military period, I think it's one of those jobs that's also a lifestyle, you know, like being a cop or being a musician or something like that, you know, it's your whole life is that thing and so you have your whole life in common with all these people around you. But that's like a false. That's not real, you know, because once you're out, you know, you're back to being a kid from DC and they're back to being like, you know, a red neck from Texas and it's like you have nothing in common. We can go from having everything in common, having nothing in common. Um, you know, it was like I'm bleeding heart liberal and most of them are Republicans or you know, Donald Trump supporters or whatever, and it's like, yeah, we disagree on pretty much everything, but we would still do anything for each other, you know, it's Kinda weird like that. It's like you took an oath but you really didn't, you know,
Speaker 6: 22:35 but some of it is still persists, right?
Speaker 3: 22:37 Oh yeah, yeah. I mean, I mean there's something about taking a, taking a dump back to back with somebody in the middle of the desert that, you know, you're sorta all the, all the unimportant things sort of fade to the background.
Speaker 6: 22:50 Yeah. That's a unique bonding experience.
Speaker 3: 22:52 Yeah. Yeah, it is. Yeah.
Speaker 6: 22:53 So now that you're back in San Diego, he'd become a standup comedian, arguably one of the best standup comics we got in San Diego. If anything, maybe nothing at all, but what do you grab from your experience as a soldier when you're writing your material and going on stage? Is there any overlap and carry over there?
Speaker 3: 23:10 Oh yeah, the Marine Corps, it turned me into a comedian for sure. The, uh, learning when to speak the timing thing, when learning that you could get away with saying all those things that people think and don't ever say because it's not appropriate. I learned in the Marine Corps that you could get away with saying them if you sam at the right time, you know, also learned that if you say some of those things at the, at the perfect time, that it's funny, you know, I'm at the wrong time, then you get grounds for same at the perfect time. It's hilarious. I didn't dream of being a comedian at the time, but I just got into those, you know, and it definitely helps me now.
Speaker 6: 23:48 Hey, you said once that you started becoming a comic when you were in the military, before you even knew that that's what you were doing. What was that instinct to make light? I mean, what do you feel like it was a way of lightening the situation or blow enough pressure? Like what was that?
Speaker 3: 24:01 Oh yeah, for sure. Because, uh, because the first inappropriate thing I started making fun of it was race. It was the first thing. And I think a lot of military people end up doing that, but, but it was just that my, in my unique situation, just that I ended up in a unit, the reason I was the only black person in my unit is because there had been some kind of racial incident in the unit before I came that I didn't know about. And when I first got to the unit, I was picked out of the school. I was, I was the only black person in my class and I was picked to go to San Diego, which is the best place to go, only because they needed a black person there, you know, and I didn't know any of this until way later somebody accused the captain of being racist or something like that.
Speaker 3: 24:48 And, and, uh, he got moved to another unit and they brought me in to sort of, you know, I wasn't like a spy or nothing like that, but I guess they didn't know that, you know, so they, everybody was acting so very, uh, politically correct. Like I could just tell, I could just feel that people will like walking on eggshells around me, like just being real careful about what they're saying and rewording what they mean. And, and it was just making me uncomfortable. So I decided that I would start this saying inappropriate things, you know, once somebody pulled me to the side and explained to me why everybody was acting so weird, then I decided, okay, well I don't care if you can say whatever you want to say, but I'm gonna say what I want to say, you know? And then so I sort of got this leeway to say whatever I wanted to say and that kind of, you know, there was a lot of times where I should have been in trouble, but because of those unique circumstances, it was nothing, you know, it was just like, oh, well that's just simpson running his mouth.
Speaker 6: 25:43 Well, let me flip my earlier question. Do you think being a comedian helped or hurt your career as a soldier? Well, I mean I wasn't a comedian at the time. Well, you know, like the Provo type of what would become a standup comic, that comic instinct
Speaker 3: 25:57 when it was me and when it was me and my platoon, it didn't affect it one way or the other, but whenever we encountered some bigger bureaucracy, like we'll never. We were had to be around our parent unit or when I was sent to some other place where, you know, it was sort of more strict. Yeah. I've probably gotten a lot more trouble than I mean, but, but I've never gotten any official trouble. My name would end up on this list of people that had to go bird feces or I would end up on the post that had to be by the trash pit where they were burning garbage. And I knew that it was because I said some smart remark to the wrong person, but it was never official. You know, I would just get some talking to like, Hey, hey simpson. You need to watch who you talk to. Make sure you're looking at people's ranks in the dark. And I would think everything was okay. And then I would end up on some party to go do some undesirable task, but that was worth it.
Speaker 6: 27:01 We're back with our guests, Marine Corps veteran and standup comedian. Brian Simpson. Talking about maintaining identity while serving in the armed forces. When you decided to, um, to transition out of the military, what was the most helpful thing you did to kind of adapt back to civilian life?
Speaker 3: 27:17 I started doing standup comedy. Yeah.
Speaker 6: 27:21 Do you feel like you creek, you recreated a new kind of brotherhood there to replace the one you?
Speaker 3: 27:25 No, no, not at all. No, because I'm still closest with the people from the Marine Corps. But um, but I regained purpose because you used to have a purpose every morning you would get up and know exactly what you were doing and why it mattered. And then in end that's just sort of gone. And then when I started doing standup, it's like now I have, I have that. Like I know exactly what my goal is every day and I know exactly why I'm doing those things. You know, if I just had to work a regular job and I didn't stand up, I would have blown my brains out a long time ago. Maybe. Maybe blow my brains out. I was a little not because that's not how I would do it.
Speaker 6: 28:09 You've put thought into it.
Speaker 3: 28:10 I mean, honestly. Well that's a whole nother conversation. But yeah, I put a lot of thought into it, but I don't, I haven't thought of a way that I'd be comfortable with. I don't have a car so I can't do the whole like lock myself in the garage thing with silent and just fall asleep with the exhaust, you know, I can't do that.
Speaker 6: 28:27 What was the period that was darkest for you? Between becoming a standup comic and leaving the core?
Speaker 3: 28:32 Hmm. It was like a period there. I got out and went to move to Oregon when I tried to go to school and it was just like running into this. Civilian bureaucracies are a thousand times more frustrating than military bureaucracies, you know, because there's more nuance. It's like in the military, if you're not getting paid, someone is in trouble, you know? And you know exactly who that someone is. There was like a chain of command, you know exactly who to go talk to and, and the problem's going to get worked out and in the meantime you don't have to worry about your rent and all of that other stuff. But it's like in the civilian world, it's like if you don't get your paycheck, people can give you all of this running around, you know, it's like there's no one you can scream at. There's the [inaudible], you know, you'll get arrested.
Speaker 3: 29:17 That's, that's assault, that's threatening, you know, there's like 10 times worse and no one tells you how to navigate it. There is no rank structure, there's none of that. It was just difficult for me to get used to that. It was just so many people not doing their jobs and there's no consequence for that whatsoever. I just, I just couldn't get, I couldn't handle it. I still can't. It drives me crazy. Even if I walk, if I walk into starbucks, you know, and there's 12 people working in this three customers and it's taken too long for my drink is like, like I see inefficiencies everywhere and it drives me nuts. But now those are jokes. Whereas with out comedy, I would just feel powerless.
Speaker 6: 29:56 What do you think one of the most common misperception civilians have about the military?
Speaker 3: 30:02 Well, well, marines specifically. I think one of the biggest ones that all of us are, uh, are super karate killers that just need a shoe string to kill 10 men and that kind of thing, you know? Um, whereas this is not quite that serious. Um, I think a lot of them think that all of us are Republicans and that's certainly not the case. You know what I think the biggest one is that a lot of civilians think that all of us want to be thanked for our service. I hate that. I hate it when people thank me for my service. It's, it's such an empty. I don't know. It's, it's. I mean, I, I, I don't have a problem with the sentiment behind it. I get, I get it, but it's so dismissive. It's like giving a homeless person of color and you think that, oh, you've done something like that's all that matters and you don't care anything about my story or my experience. It was like, oh, you're missing an arm. Thank you for your service. Like that makes it, you know, you're, you're thanking me for my service is all you need to contribute, you know, for me, losing my arm for me having ptsd or whatever, you know, and it's like, don't, don't know it just such an empty phrase
Speaker 6: 31:16 naked to blow off Kinda. Right, right. It kind of makes me want to ask, what do you think civilians should owe veterans?
Speaker 3: 31:24 Just the care, like don't assume you know, ask. Don't assume that I think like you don't assume that I feel like I'm protecting your freedoms or whatever. Like I asked me about myself instead of just assuming that I'm this cut out of your perception of what a marine or soldier is.
Speaker 6: 31:43 Do you think that being a marine or soldier or veteran makes it difficult? It's like a barrier for a civilian to see you as a person. Do you think that it's kind of like what we talked about with career lifestyles, like a cop is, is often not seen as a person that's seen as a cop, you know?
Speaker 3: 31:58 Oh, right, right. Like just sort of forever separate. Yeah. Yeah, I think so. I think there is a. But I think that that perception is different for every person, but I think, yeah, as soon as they find that fact out about you, you know, they have a thing in their mind that they have a box in their mind that they will put you in as soon as they know you're a veteran, they assume all these other things about you and most of those things aren't true.
Speaker 6: 32:22 Well, my last question is, uh, if you were to counter some man or woman in the service about to transition out and you caught them two or three weeks before they did, what advice would you give him? Get on top of your paperwork. Yeah.
Speaker 3: 32:35 Yeah. That paperwork. That's how they get you. I mean, that's true in the service, but it's, it's a thousand times, so outside the va, I think that's how they weed people out is they'll make you fill out a thousand forms and you putting the same information on every form and there is this just this paper was, you know, they know eventually you'll stop climbing over those walls. That's how they deter you from getting a lot of your benefits. They just put this incredible, their accuracy in your way. If you think the military bureaucracy is huge, you have no idea. I'm trying to get your money out outside. It's just incredible. It's easier to get your tax refund than it is to get your military disability and it's faster to. The Va is the worst. It's the best and worst thing for veterans. It's a vagina with teeth. Brian Simpson. Thanks for being on incoming. Thanks for having me.
Speaker 1: That was my interview with Brian Simpson, but we don’t want to leave him there, because we can’t just talk about him being a killer standup comedian without letting you hear some of it for yourself. So here’s Brian onstage at beach wood, San Diego, back in march of 20 16.
Speaker 2: like, as a black person I'm supposed to be afraid of racist cops, but if I'm being honest, I'm way more afraid of racist lifeguards.
They're so much more dangerous.
Because a racist cop has to at least break a sweat, you know? Files paperwork. A racist lifeguard just has to not notice you out there.
[in a peppy voice] "So, Jim. You've let about seven black people drown this week. Is there something you want to tell me?"
[in a Southern drawl] "Well, gee, boss. They're hard to see. I mean, I thought it was a baby seal or something."
Good job. Employee of the month.
So, ask yourselves, is it that black people can't swim, or have we been the victims of a decades-long conspiracy by the aquatic wing of the Ku Klux Klan?
[laughing and applause]
I don't help people with their missing pets. Alright, that's just my personal policy. When I see a lost dog sign, to me, that's just one side of the story.
I mean, you say your dog is lost, but he could have just escaped from your f**** up house...Like, these people, they want you to believe that their dog's biggest problem is that he can't find them. He's lost. And, I used to think that was true, but then I saw this episode of Myth Busters and they were testing the strength of dog noses, and they let this guy hide in the woods for two hours. And they gave this dog one sniff of his underwear. The dog found him in 15 minutes.
[laughing and applause]
Wasn't even his dog.
So, the next time I saw one of those signs, I thought to myself, "Maybe your dog knows exactly where you are."
"You just can't handle the fact that he chose the streets."
And, as a black man, I'm not entirely comfortable returning a runaway to its master, so...
[laughing and applause]
That's right! All my jokes are about slavery, buckle up!
[laughing and whistling]
Speaker 2: And now ladies and Gentlemen, Marine Corps veteran Dan Lopez is going to tell you a true story about smoking pot with the Taliban. But first I have to tell you a story about Dan Lopez. When I tell stories about Dan to civilians, I shorthand introduce him as my junk yard dog. Another of our marine friends describes Dan as enlisted, as far or every officer's worst nightmare. Dan has an opinion about pretty much everything, but it's never from the angle. I expect him to come at it from. Like for instance, why he thinks America has the best warriors in the world.
Speaker 7: Get a corn fed, Nebraska boy, Britain with Samoan. Holy Cow, and you put that guy in seal pattern. Cool. I got bounced the ball on his nose and sit there and get out of here. Man.
Speaker 2: He's crass. Boundaryless when sober. Even more so when drinking and ingeniously fell metal, which made it really fun for me. When it came time to edit his interview for Public Radio Warriors,
Speaker 7: man, let me give it to God. Anybody says, well, you will become lawyers. Man Did. We did. Nobody could do that, man. Like we lost. A lot of them are doing this. You can do some Ninja liberal doing some good. Straight up, man. All us that were in there and get one man. I'm telling you all of those were getting like that
Speaker 2: and if he thinks he's surrounded at a gathering by a certain kind of company, like for instance white people who listen to NPR, he really plays up his rough around the edges persona, his run ins with the law and time spent in jail. His body count while he was serving overseas, but the people who know them know the marshmallow that lives underneath all that still he's somebody I genuinely worry about a lot, but he's also someone I think might outlive us all. He's a person who'd roll out of bed at three in the morning if you needed his help and he wouldn't stop to ask any questions on the way. Anyone who's ever been a part of a tribe and had to leave. It knows how rare a quality that is. When you find it, sometimes you'll look the other way when they get themselves into trouble.
Speaker 7: I like it here better than I like it back home because everybody's about meaning and then like these people here. I mean, at least with the guys I'm with, it's about us. It's a brotherhood, man. It's about us,
Speaker 2: but that is not why I'm friends with Dan. It's because through all of his uncompromising loyalties to the marine corps, it was country deeper than all of that. Dan is a man who stands up for the underdog. He finds the humanity in people and meets them where they're at, like hearts and minds, but actually believed and lived.
Speaker 7: Marines will do more for less and witless forever for the rest of our lives.
Speaker 2: I tried to get Dan to write the story out for us, but he's a busy guy so I thought I did just invite them over to my home studio. We could talk it out together and I'd edit it up in post. We made a date. I called him on the afternoon of the day, have to let them know I'd be home in about five minutes and he could show up anytime, whenever, after that. And he said he was already smoking a joint, sitting in my backyard with his pit bull, but she's a gentle baby that my cat was. Okay. That is Dan Lopez. So anyway, here we go.
Speaker 8: Getting roughed up. Like man, since I was six, grew up in northeastern Colorado parts where nobody talks about Colorado, the planes. We grew up on a ranch, farming, ranching cattle, had horses. We're in graduating 13 kids in my senior class. I mean connection to this whole story is just the kind of lifestyle I grew up in and it was just like very relatable about what we're about to talk about.
Speaker 8: My uncle was a Vietnam vet. He was Delta Company man. He said they called it delta. Always looked at him like the manliest man because my dad, he was never around, so I grew up just outside of jail either in social services, foster care, got paid to get back and then stayed with my mom for a little bit, gotten a car wreck grant. I've tried, enlisted in the Marine Corps, dislocated my hip leg pretty good. So that disqualified me for two years after I got out of that foster care job, me and I was just like, Oh man, what am I going to do? I was like, reaching out to my recruiters. Hey, you still want to get in? I said, yeah. And he goes, they're taking dudes with pins in La because that's when I rack was just. But that's when Bush was doing that surge man and I just gotten a dui and I had gotten so many minor possessions or whatever the hell it was. Lexi, knower and Iraq's and we're doing during the first bump, during the second battle, flu's a phantom fury man can then a deed that happened. We'll know that rock and roll show happened. Lost my closest friend there.
Speaker 8: 42:21 After that, guys got out, guys lost, guys took their lives, guys overdose. We all shotgun to everywhere, man. I was like, you know what? I'm going to take time out. Gotten married and had a kid. Kinda took him my other son. You know, I got two boys. I've got three boys.
Speaker 8: 42:43 Iraq was a bitter, bitter beast for me, man. But I love my job. I was a squad leader, my infantry squad there to. Dude, how much more could you ask for it? What'd you like about it? Oh my God, it's your guys. When you're away from everybody, you could run it how you wanted and you can build the leadership how you want it, and you could filter all that stuff and from higher ups and you can take care of you guys the best you could. They know that you're going to have their back no matter what. If you're going to go to bat for them like this, they got into, you're going to have them. They're taking care of them, you know, two years. You know, I, I just grew up with such a variety of people. I mean, I was a knucklehead growing up too, so it was easy for me to relate to these cats and there's so many guys get it would just snitch on their guts. Like, why would you do that, man? Keep it at your level of kinds of problem. If you won this guy enough, he doesn't want to listen to you and it's going to cause problems for you, then it's a problem. Take care of it that way. But in the meantime, if you can't handle your boy then, and you don't deserve the position,
Speaker 8: 43:45 so after Iraq you become an instructor at the school of Infantry for how long? A year and a half. Two years almost. And then somebody said, well, if you don't want to extend a rear list, you're going to go straight to Afghanistan with to one of those guys who's going to wait out your a little gun show, man. So Nixon, you know, I'm getting sent over two to one. Yeah. So tell me about the deployment to Afghanistan. Where was your first landing? It was a, we went to Helmand province because in the winter. So it was Kinda cool. There wasn't a lot going on, you know, and a lot of stuff is blasting off down south though. I mean it's wild, wild west. These guys fight the Russians, you know what I mean? I have a lot of respect for the Afghany people and gentlemen there.
Speaker 8: 44:22 There's some places in Afghanistan that have never been conquered by anyone. It is just insane the strength that these people have. It's respectable, man. You got to respect that. True blooded warriors there, man. You got the Kuchi tribe there. They're traveling in the desert people. Crazy man. Campbell's man still like biblical style people. Man. They live in these dome tents, made our camel skins and they just travel north to south through the desert. I saw these people. We hung out and drank some wine. It messed me up. It made me sick and holy cow and I drank it again because it made me feel so crazy. It was crazy, man. I was having a blast out there, man. It was like, careful what you eat and I'm like, I eat everything sir. I don't like. You're going to eat something. They're going to poison you like, well, if they're going to poison me, they're going to do it. I haven't found anything to kill me yet. Let's see. Party on pen. If it's going to be poisoned, it's going to be some hard drugs is going to just send me for a trip, threaten me with a good time. You know what I mean? Would you poison everybody? You meet God. What'd you just treat somebody like? They're a human being and it makes me sick.
Speaker 8: 45:28 What's your I patrol route or your to your mission when you're in Afghanistan? We're holding. We're just holding this land. This is already taking ground. There's a lot of ied problems there guys getting blown up left and right. The wholistic was created there. It was named Gunner Sergeant Holly.
Speaker 8: 45:48 Longest bamboo stick you could find with this little sickle. You know what I mean? That we used and we bet 5:50 courted duct taped it, whatever, and that was our iad finding tool. The first patrol base I get, it was called wornick. It was just named after the village. It was next to it and I made friends with everybody over there. Good friends were playing volleyball with those cats over there. Bad. We're having such a good time to post is security and I was like, do you mind if we just watched you guys play ball man? Like, no, go ahead. No. After a while it can be us against them. It was good. It was community man. It's like, Hey, I'm not those guys. And they're like, we know. I started asking, my wife at the time was like, Hey, can you give me a volleyball net? I need another volleyball. They stretched it out, looked awesome. Later on, some other kids stole it from another village. I went patrol over there, a volleyball net bag
Speaker 8: 46:33 in the. Where I was at was exactly the kind of place that I grew up in, man farmland. Guys just trying to just grape and their bags, making a dollar. Granted itself a pot and opium. Hey, that's their crop is how they're making money. That stuff grows in sand a. they. They told us to go there and chop down their fields and tell them to. If they want to grow something to go get wheat really, really noon, go get. We'd deliver this stuff to them. You want us to chop it down, man, let them harvest this stuff and then when they go get their new seed. Oh Man, it made me mad. So I was going around and telling him dude, just like, hey, you guys can't have it outside. All right. Harvest, which you can right now. Just harvest what you can. I'm not going to chop it down if you guys got a little dumb thing. I'll stomp on some stuff just to feed the bear. If I got some kind of commander with me, but I'll patrol. I'm away from all the fields because I knew where everything was at and they're telling me I wasn't patrolling my eo because they kept on all the poppy and all that. Let them make a buck man. The poor man, they. They need to make some money.
Speaker 8: 47:37 So much pot out there. So much pot that you couldn't come back from a patrol without this stuff being in new dump us. If you're a gunfighter, you know what a dumb patches to where you toss your empty mags because it's not like in the movies, you just don't mags on the ground and you got to keep that stuff because later on you're going to get another gun fight and get a reload. Those things, those things don't just fall from the sky or whatever, but you couldn't come back from a patrol without having buds in your dump pouch. Man. And I was like, shoot, I got papers. Got spliffs. Got Buds. Come on. Let's see what Afghanistan is all about. I grew up in Colorado. Man, we smoke weed.
Speaker 8: 48:16 Got sent over to this other spot. Cold, cold you bed. I shouldn't be saying these folks to get my head chopped off. It was good village man. But these dudes do. And there's a doctor, a dentist, a shopkeeper, and this Niki schmoozy dude. Y'All always in the back. Cool cat. But he never said much. You know what I mean? After every patrol, I'd always like, hey guys, let's stop by the shop. Let's see if they got anything you guys want. And I sit down, we just smoked cigarettes and I have my interpreter there and we'd all just talk. Some of my guys. And I told them, I said, you guys can bring whatever you want. I'm going to slick because I want to show them that I trust them. It's a family thing, you know? It's like we're neighbors. They had their eight ks. I didn't give it.
Speaker 8: 48:57 You got a gun? I got a gun. Right. Wow. That was brother. What's up? And the old man we started talking to me about when he fought the Russians, man, it was so much like when I was talking to my uncle knew, can you just talk about stories fighting the Russians. He showed me some bullet holes. He had three crazy bolt holes down the side of him and I was like, oh my gosh man. All those guys were sons. He's the shop owner, the doctor, the teacher, the dentist, and the other cat was Taliban man.
Speaker 8: 49:29 After awhile. That guy that always started hanging out in the bag started speaking up. I remember there's one time because why are you here? And I was like, I'm here for job man. I'm getting paid to do this. I wanted to do something for my country. Military was what I wanted to do. I want him to be a fighter because I knew exactly who he was growing up, man, I've seen enough dues that love who they are and just don't care. Hard hitting dudes. Man. I see some meat grinders growing up, man. I knew he was one man. I can just tell just the way his demeanor, the way he just hung back and just read everybody. He's just read my man card basically. Do you think he read in you what you read in him? Like we talked about how to go and it was pretty good and be like, hey man, tell us, tell us what you know.
Speaker 8: 50:11 I know, you know something. What's up dude? I kept on hassling. I knew who he was. It was, uh, you know, who we're looking for, you know, some of these guys. We came across a couple of them. We got pictures of these guys. I'm tired of just giving you guys contracts. I'm hooking up your villages doing all this stuff. I'm not gonna mess with you guys. I'm not going to do some dirty stuff. I'm not going to tear your stuff apart. I'm here to help you out, man. Be Open with me. He goes, some of these guys are my friends. So these are our farmers. He goes, we're all just here living here. Yeah. I made my living off of poppy and Pi. Yeah. Yeah. This is me. Yeah, this is my palace in the middle of nowhere.
Speaker 8: 50:52 What do you expect me to do this? I don't expect you to do anything different. Men. I know exactly what you're talking about, man. I get it, dude. Don't blow us up. That's all I'm asking. Don't blow us up. You stop killing rings. It goes. Then what's wrong with them over there talking about the other squads. I was like, what are they doing? And was golden. Go over there and I was like, all right, cool. Screw it. And I think that was kind of his like, what kind of man are you? Are you going to listen to me? Are you just going to sit there and just tell me I'm some dumb life gaining? Did those some sheep humper whatever. You know what I mean? Some kind of stupid, ignorant thing that they always here. We got back from that patrol and one of my team leaders aren't. I don't know which way that was going to go. He goes, I felt we're going really close. I was like, hey man, that's why I had you guys there, man. I'm not going to go solo and I said stuff popped off to kill them all.
Speaker 8: 51:49 I patrol over to this other spot, man, but I'm like, hey, can I just kind of scramble around? I just want to go for a walk. I want to check out all day or I'm hearing all these great things. I'm hearing about these elders over here. They have great food and I'm seeing how these guys are going. I'm looking at the locals and like everybody's going in southern houses. It's like, what the hell is going on you man? What are these guys doing? What are patrolling around my neighborhood who's are coming out and he grabbed me by my arm and pulling me in the house. If we can have Chai, eat candy, we can talk about ditches. We can talk about building bridges across canals and stuff. These other squads were going under reckoned houses, putting cigarettes out on dudes, kicking them around, ripping families apart right in front of the kids. It's like, what are you doing, man? Have some respect. Don't zip tie the dude in front of his family in front of his kids. Oh my God, it's ridiculous, man. The wonder where the eight is.
Speaker 8: 52:46 It hurt me because it's like. I know there was good dudes in those squads getting messed with one dude. He's messed up. Nineteen years old man. Nineteen years old. Just got hit with the roadside IED. Roadside bombs just knocked this kid, knocked him out. Cold comeback shaking. Just saw somebody get blown up in front of him, called in a hit. Just happened. Honest squad to make sure everybody else's okay. He didn't know what happened. He just know he got hit and he knows there's a guy dead in front of him. He got in the 19 years old man, got on the hook and did that. Nobody thinks about this stuff man. And then you got poor leadership in front of them. Dragging these solid kids meant smart kids through hellacious. Barnstorms like that man is like, what are you doing man? Take care of them and you bring them through this stuff. Imagine what they can be calm, man. You mad and they're just dragging. It's like you're just a dumb boot, and it's like, oh my God, I'll kill you right now. I'll. I'll do the job for me. No, dude, if you're going, I'm not going to be the one talking to your mom. If you get blown up, I'm getting blown up with you, man. I'm not poor. Halo. Somebody else boxes both of and pick up our pieces.
Speaker 8: 54:17 So after you went up to the other aco and you kind of see what this dude was talking about in terms of like the disrespect, did you get to have another conversation with them? After that? We had a lot of conversations after that man. We became boys, man, we understood we're enemies. We don't want to fight each other. We would wreck each other's lives more likely. We've destroyed each other's families before we destroy each other because that's how we'd fight. He would attack my squad. He would let me wash my guys, get shredded. I'd make him watch me destroy the villages. We knew what each other were capable of. We knew it. We respected that whole little thing was starting to blossom here. I'm not gonna say his name, he's on, he's on Ati
Speaker 8: 55:01 and after awhile I was hanging out at his brother's shop and he came in over there. It was one of those times I was patrolling. I just told my guys to go ahead and hookah, throw on some herb man, and I was like, because we started asking. He was like, do you guys smoke any of this stuff? And they're like, no, we don't do any of it. I was like, oh, there's no way. How come I keep on rolling up on you guys around the corners, like sneaking this stuff in your like, dudes. Hi. Hi. I feel like all my guys came back because I smoked pot with the Taliban man. It was just, it was there, dude, it was there, man. And when we got back from patrol can debrief as a boys. I don't think we've got to worry about anything and think we're good. Every single one of my guys came back without a scratch meant. Every single one of them do love my boys man. I got three kids, man. Every single guy I ever had it on my command, I've always tried to treat him like a son of mine. Nobody's going to understand that man, ever.
Speaker 2: 56:30 That's our show with Dan Lopez and Brian Simpson. I loved them both like brothers, so this was a very personal subject matter for me. If you couldn't tell everybody in the armed forces as a personal subject matter to someone, the family and friends who knew who they were before they put on the uniform and who have to reacquaint themselves when they come home. Maybe if we did a better job remembering that as a society, we could do a better job getting funding to the programs veterans need. Incoming is produced by myself, Justin Hudnell, Jennifer Pepper Pot quarterly is our editor and sound designer. It kpbs. Chris Conan is our audio engineer. Lisa Morris said, zap is operations manager. Nate John is our intimidatingly youthful innovation specialist in John Decker is program director music for Dan Lopez. His story was absent minded by rescue sleeping giants. Support for incoming comes from the KPBS explore program, the California Arts Council veteran's initiative in the arts, cal humanities and supporting members associated. We all learn more about us at our website at www dot, so say we all online.com and we'd love it if you drop us a line via email. Share your thoughts. Tell us some stories at Info at associate. We all online.com. Thanks for listening. We'll talk again soon.