March 10, 2021

12 - Abe McCann

12 - Abe McCann

Hey everyone, this episode contains discussions of suicide bombings and things like that. If hearing stories about that isn't for you, go ahead and skip this one.

Today I talk to Abe McCann, a former combat engineer. He discusses how the US Army started to develop standard operating procedures, or SOPs, to fight IEDs, largely based on the work that Abe and his team did. Also, he gets deep into the profound dehumanizing aspects of war.

This episode supports Veterans 5-9. They're an Arizona based 501(c)3 that helps provide emergency assistance to veterans in a crisis. Their goal to to provide help and assistance until more formal forms of help can kick in. If you're in Arizona and you need help, hit them up. If you not in Arizona, send them a donation, they're doing incredible work.

Transcript

Chirs: [00:00:00] Hey everyone. It's Chris here with the long war interviews, just a heads up this episode has some discussions of people being killed and suicide blasts and things like that. So if that's not something you want to listen to go ahead and skip this one. Now today's guest is Abe McCann. He was a combat engineer and did route clearance in Iraq, similar to my previous guest, Doug Hawthorne.

 Doug give a great interview of how IEDs work, how they're employed and even discussed some specific types of IEDs if you haven't heard that episode check out, you can't really understand the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without understanding IEDs. For this episode.

Abe talks about what it was like, developing those SOPs those standard operating procedures for dealing with IEDs they were a relatively new weapon system, at least for Americans facing them. And Abe has some great stories about how they learn to effectively combat them. He's also a pretty deep thinker and his thoughts and ideas about how war affects people there.

They're very   profound. It's easy to imagine what it's like being in a firefight. There are tons of movies and TV shows that give you a good enough approximation, not perfect by any means, but good enough to get the point across, but Abe dives into the truly horrifying parts of war, like who cleans up after a suicide.

Follow me now, before we get to that, I want to talk about his organization, veterans five to nine they're out in Arizona and they provide all of the services that veterans in crisis might need outside of normal work hours. The group was founded by a Marine veteran who in his day job as a police officer was struggling to find help for veterans in trouble outside of the Monday to Friday nine to five.

So now if you need a place to stay or some money for food or help getting clean, veteran's five to nine is there to help you out. And I'll work to get you hooked up with some more permanent resources. I'll have a link to their website in the show notes, and if you can spare it, swing them a donation.

They're doing amazing work. Okay. Now here's my interview with Abe.

 

Abe: [00:03:01] So I'm Abe born and raised here in Arizona. You know, I got like the typical, you know, suburban life right now, you know, wife, two kids, two damn car garage and a dog. I worked for the Arizona national guard. I'm actually at a soldier and family readiness program managers. So. I, to my current role, I help soldiers and their families get help for everything from, know accessing education benefits to financial hardship or you know sometimes they just come to me and say Hey you know  how do I get in school? Or you know even as something as trivial as Hey where are there good places to go hang out with them soldiers stuff like that. So I really liked the job a whole lot. You know I've tried since I got out of the military to always give back to our community find ways to help you know active duty military as well as a veteran. I come from a long line of servicemen. So on my dad's side goes all the way back to world war II my grandfather was an Irishman from Ireland and joined the United States army to get his citizenship and then fought in world war II became career military and my dad and his brothers all fought in Vietnam. And you know growing up to be honest I wasn't planning on joining the military I didn't grow up as we see in the army I didn't grow up all hoo-ah ready to go I honestly thought the military in peace time was kind of a dumb thing. You know I'm a punk kid in high school drinking beer and playing ball and stuff. I'd always thought like the hell would I do that for you know much to my dad's you know he he didn't like that him and I had we were kind of oil and water for a lot of years.

 You know and through the course of that my I kind of had a falling out with him for a while Cause I was wayward and be honest he right. I was just out being reckless stuff. You know one day him and I had a heart to heart and that you know and I just told him I said Hey pop not that I don't respect service or what you guys done I just Honestly for the life of me don't know why you would do it If there's no war. You know I thought well if there a war and then by all means you know if I'm able body then I'll go. You know and then of course you know not even like a month later 9/11 happens right?  I was actually delivering beer that morning I worked for a beer distributor out delivering kegs of beer. And I went to this one bar my friend owned and I was putting the barrels of beer in cooler and he had the TV on I was going there to get my checks so I could paid and that's when I saw what happened. So I immediately called everybody that I knew and told them Hey you know bad things going on or whatever so you know after that like every other red blooded American I ran down to the recruiter's office and was like let's go do this right. You know and unfortunately I didn't go right away like you know it wasn't like September 11th happened by September 15, I was signed up.

No I I wanted to go I knew I wanted to go but I needed to get some things squared away back home for you know I had just had a kid you know newly married the whole nine. And so first thing I had to do was figure out how to tell mama Oh Hey by the way I've been married less than a year we got a baby but I got to go do this war thing you know like I made a promise that was kind of hard. But once I figured that out and you know and then like most major decisions I took it very serious. So I went to the mall where all the recruiters were and I went up to the little steps, all offices are all lined up next to each other and I knew this was going to be life changing. So like I said I wanted to be super serious about it. So the air force guy was in his office but I'm not an officer, so I was like they ain't gonna let me fly a plane And if you can't fly planes in the air force you know this is before I really got the military what's the point right? I got to know they had like bad-ass you know like J-TACs and PJ's and all that I just thought you that you fuel planes or you fly planes and I wasn't going to do any loading stuff. Like I said they were done. The Navy guy was there but that would involve the ocean ao that was a big no-no, wasn't getting involved with that. The Marines were out to lunch and the army recruiter was standing and said can I help you so I joined the army.

Went in there, said "What do you want to do?" I said I want to go blow some shit up he was like okay cool Well what do you want to do? And I said well  driving a tank would be cool know tanks are pretty bad ass. Well if you drive a tank and you you you're going to have to wait up to a year and a half to even get into the army because at that time again there's this mad rush you know.

And I didn't want to wait that long. And you know and the other thing too was I literally just wanted to like sign up go to war and come home. I don't know where I got that idea in my head that that was even a possibility but ideally I would have gone to basic training I would've gone to my training after basics you know for what MOS I picked. And then I would have just gone to the deploy do my deployment and then come home and hang 'em up and get out right? Again I had no idea what the military was I felt like I had a duty you know I didn't know what an enlistment contract was, none of that. So I went back and forth with the guy and like he wanted to be artillery I remember my dad telling me that artillery guys were losers, so I was like I don't want to do that.

And then they said well why don't you be an infantry man. And so then I say well again no concept of the military so I said well those guys are pretty dumb and they call them knuckle draggers. So I don't know man maybe there's something else we can do. So this is where the army gets me and they go Oh Hey well what else do you want to do? And so I said well I really like to get some skills, of a sudden now I just pay that I want some stuff let me get out and get a job, right? Brand new family. So I tested really high on it ASVAB but I said Hey you know what about maybe working on a Apaches or doing something on the flight line that might be you know. And then I thought they're not gonna let me fly an Apache, but maybe if I fix one then there that'd be riding you know like some other helicopter I could be a door gunner like that guy in Full Metal Jacket or right? But the problem was they wanted me to sign up for four years, and so I kept telling the recruiter, You're not understanding Sir I don't I'm deploying you know fucking some shit up and coming home. So he said well you could be a combat engineer. And I said well what do they do? He goes well they go forward areas and they build stuff you know bridges bunkers and they you know they work on the bases and then they learn how to do demolition because a lot of times they have to blow up stuff dispose of things and whatever right.

And so I had no idea what I would that really meant. So I was like all right that sounds cool You said the magic word blow some stuff up Right. And you know basic training for me was again like I had this bad habit of taking things super serious. So the recruiter was cool He was like you got to wait six months which was the soonest I was going to get in at point so alright. He's like let's meet up every Friday or every other day or something Let's do PT let's you ready. And I was like you're good it's the army and you're gonna laugh because this is real words I said it's not the Marine Corps it's not that serious be okay right? So I spent the next six months drinking beer growing my hair long and not shaving you know not listening to my dad tell me that I'm an idiot and this is not going to end well for me you know.

So yeah I was that dude man I showed up in the middle of the night to Fort Leonard wood Missouri in October of 2002 and I was the first guy pulled me off the bus and said you know look at this effing guy. Next you know I was getting my head shaved first all the drill sergeants immediately became my friends And then I basically had a bullseye on them for the rest of training cycle. I remember I hopped off that bus and I had my bags you know like I think you guys call them sea baggies calm duffle bag and I'm holding them they're you know in formation and they're yelling and screaming I want on my back one of the front. And just looking at my crap you know ready to break down already like the first three minutes into the thing. And I remember the drill Sergeant asked me he's like what's your problem I said I think I made a mistake you know. And there was that moment right there that I learned like Oh shit this is a real this is going to have real consequences. And you know just cause I didn't join quote unquote the Marine Corps didn't mean that this shit was going to be easy you know because I listened to everybody when I was sitting at my dad's knee at the VFW you know I don't know shit for shit I'm a kid down here on the Marines calling the army guy pussies and everybody's saying the Marine Corps is the hardcore and that the basic training is 10 times harder you know. So I was kind of a culture shock you know and then I went to basic training and I actually I did well. I started a crazy thing I started actually liking what I did I figured out the game. I started you know I got in shape right away, cause there's no other choice. Um They have this thing right When you're a troublemaker you ended up being a PT stud.

Funny how that works because I ended up doing a whole bunch of extra pushups I ran a whole bunch of extra miles you know and I was always running my mouth. I got to the point where the Drill Sergeant would put out information before he did he would say and Private McCann shut the fuck up, we don't want to hear from you but.

Chirs: [00:12:00] Tell me if this sounds familiar. Similar background to you, like, I was kind of a screw up in high school. Really, all I did was drink beer, you know, working minimum wage jobs, real kind of aimless. And I enlisted a couple of years after you. It was like, yeah, you know, Need to kind of do something with myself as well.

I ended up enlisting, but you know, real dirt bag from day one, like didn't really know what I was doing. I wasn't in good shape. Cause I drank all the time. Yeah. You I showed up, they gave me a, it's like the PT shirt with two white stripes across the front to let everyone know that I was a fat body.

So I got half rations and the chowhall. Yeah, it was. It's a nightmare. But when you get into that situation, you're right. You do work harder and you're, you get a lot better because of it. So that by the end of bootcamp, I was like, you I'm crushing this I'm I'm way better than these other kids. Like I've been tested a lot harder than they have.

Is that, is that kind of the way that you were feeling by the end there?

Abe: [00:12:55] Well, yeah. You know, and it, but also, you know, not only just because the fact you're doing more reps, but you start pushing yourself harder because you get tired of bullshit. You know, I th we didn't have a quote unquote fat body group or anything like that, but I was in C group. So you had a, B and C for runs and I was in C and they just treated us like garbage. You know, and you would go to lunch and the drill Sergeant would stand there watching you go through the chow hall line and tell you, you know, only get what you can earn is what he's going to say, eat what you can earn. Eat, whatever you wantas long as you can earn it, you know, and I picked up on it really fast than that just don't eat any BS, you know, but a lot of guys didn't, so they'd give them, you know, decent meal, a piece of cake and all of a sudden they'd be like, Oh, You know, we can come out of the chow hall and they'd call out so-and-so and so-and-so and said, okay, it's time to earn your cake. You know, so that, you know, you can catch on, but you can just get, you get motivated.

I got one because get tired, you know, the BS, but then you start seeing yourself doing better. So these get motivated and more motivated. And like you said, by the time I graduated, you know, I was like top 10 in the whole, the whole thing, you know, cause run times, pushups, the whole nine, just killing it. But, you know, I also, like, I kind of, I kind of bought into the whole military itself, you know, I started becoming good friends with people who, people who literally, I tried to fight the first week, you know, now we're friends and I started buying into the whole idea of like the army values, you know, I duty honor country and all that.

Right. And. You know, I, I started, I mean, I, honestly, I joined because I wanted to do the right thing, wanted to serve my country. I wanted to I felt, you know, I was doing the right thing, you know, and, but there was a little bit of part of me too, that was like, you know, I was a good dude. I was like, like they say she was a hooker with a heart of gold right. Yeah Well I was like the scumbag version of you know like I was a nice guy I'd help you I never screwed anybody over but I also needed some discipline I needed some direction. I I wanted my son and my wife to be able to be proud of you know me being in a family, what I'm going to stay on My husband's soldier my dad's a soldier you know.

So it was a really positive experience, you know.

Right. And so I signed up and they give you, they said, okay, you get four duty stations. So I picked Hawaii, number one, I picked fort Carson number two, Fort Lewis, number three and fort Hood, because I wanted to stay in the Western half of the country. Right. So end of basic and AIT, you have that meeting, they give you orders right there in front of everybody.

And they're like, Hey, McCann, you're going to Fort Stewart, Georgia. I was like, where the hell is that? And they're like needs of the army dumb shit. And by the way, they're in Kuwait waiting for the wars getting ready in Iraq to start now. Right. So this is, I got out. I got out in like February, I think it was yeah, like February of 2000.

And in three, two, it wasn't two or three.

The war in Iraq popped up So I'm like this is fucking great you know not only am I not going to be anywhere near my family I'm going to Fort Stewart and it's in swamp you know Fort Stewart is in the swamp. It's literally in the swamp and they have a section of it that used to be like a POW camp for people in world war II. They put German people there and it's it's just as lovely as it sounds you know it's quite awful.

But it's funny cause you get there and you roll in and you're in the swamp you're in the South and everything's desert tan. And then and I remember asking the the E-4 guy driving me like why is everything tan? And he goes this is a desert unit man, this is a heavy mechanized unit And I don't know if you pay attention to anything but you've been this is what they're built for them rotate through Egypt all these other places.

So I'm like okay great you know. So I get there and I'm fired up I'm ready to go I'm immediately put on recall meeting you know you you got a you've got a 24 hour recall We call you gotta be ready to go. I was attached to rear detachment. So that means you show up every morning you do PT and then you try not to get in trouble all day. And you just sit around and you you know it's like they tell you don't don't buy anything through very true moving furniture there's nothing because you're going to go. So like once a day an NCO will come by the barracks and check to make sure my gears back Right You know that kind of stuff.

So there's a lot of anxiety you know and again I want to go me and my buddy want to go. And so as luck would have it we get called the six of us that were all kind of in the same boat. So we all get called and then these two other knuckleheads get called and they don't show up.

And so they go AWOL. So we're sitting in this little mobilization area for like 48 hours waiting to get on a bus or something to get to the airfield and whatnot So after about 48 hours they go case going back to the barracks we don't know what we're going to move you yet. Right. Because now like you're watching the news we've officially crossed the line we're hauling ass to Baghdad you know and all that. Right So then after that's over and these other two knuckleheads show up again. And so our rear detachment first Sergeant in lieu of processing them for being AWOL or charges or you know busting them taking rank or whatever. He sends those two guys to Iraq And so the rest of us .We all got to stay home. We got to be on rear detachment, and so  these two shit birds they got to go Right And so I was kind of pissed off about So.

Chirs: [00:18:40] Sorry to interrupt. Just like, I, I think one of the hard things for civilians to understand is like you do all this training and, you know, you joined up because you want to fight and then to be denied, that opportunity is upsetting. You know what I'm saying?

Abe: [00:18:55] Oh, it was frustrating as hell.

Chirs: [00:18:57] Yeah. Talk, talk a little bit about that. What's that like

Abe: [00:18:59] So, you know, here I am.

Chirs: [00:19:01] like ready to go and they pull it from you.

Abe: [00:19:03] Well, well, here I am. Right? So I went from zero to hero, right? I was fat, overweight out of shape, you know, borderline alcoholic the whole nine, right? No direction. I go through the 16 weeks of intensive training and all that, you know, and now I'm like peak physical condition. Mentally I'm in a much better place. I'm motivated. I'm confident I'm ready to serve. You know, I'm living my life very disciplined manner because I'm supposed to be constant state of readiness. My family is going through that with me. You know, I'm calling the wife every day. No, I haven't got the call yet. I'll call you, if i get it.

You know? So putting them through all that constant, not knowing. Right. then to see these two gentlemen that are, you know, less than motivated that are breaking the rules, that literally one of them was your, and I didn't notice it's a real thing. Literally one of them was that go to jail or go to the army guy.

Right. So he picked prison and was like, The whole time, like, actually I just picked where he picked the army, sorry. But in the whole time it was like, I should've picked prison, you know? So then they go and it's like, okay, I can still go. But then we finally got our orders. They're like, okay, no, you've been reassigned to a different unit, the same base, and you're going to be rear attachment.

So I went from combat engineer training. I'm going to go out there and do my part. And, you know, as they say, close and engage and destroy the enemy, right. And now they looked at me and go, Hey, you had a CDL, right? Yeah. Okay, cool. You get to drive the bus now. So I became a bus driver on post. So every morning I'd get up, go to PT, go to formation and then go put on my uniform.

And I was the Fort Stewart courtesy shuttle for, for eight hours a day. I drive loops around posts, picking up soldiers, taking the PX, taking kids to the little, you know, recreation facility. Like I literally became a bus driver.

 You know, my wife loved it. She was like, this is the greatest thing ever, you know? you know, and then after about six, seven months, the unit came home. Because it was the initial invasion. So I think they were back by September and then they had a month to decompress and take leave or whatever.

So my first, almost nine to 10 months at my duty station, or literally just as I was a bus driver, I'm drinking beers, you know, just, I wasn't. And then, you know, the unit came back and I was the one a-hole who didn't go.

 And then their training cycle started. So we're like the last three months of Oh three Oh four was an entire train up because we were going to deploy Oh five. So we knew that. And so I knew that, which was kind of, kind of cool because it was like, well, can I know old, five's going to suck and that'd be gone from my fans who gave me time to prepare, but.

That's what I really learned, what the army was, because once that training cycle started, I moved my wife from her house, from her parents' house to Georgia. And I thought, okay, I'm going to finally be stable for a year, but I wasn't. Once a month we were training, it was gone for a week. Then we would go to like joint readiness train.

So we'll be gone for a month. Then we would do battalion exercise of less than a month. I sat down one time and I figured it out the four years I was in the army, man lived with my wife a total of six months and they were not consecutive.

Chirs: [00:22:26] wow.

Abe: [00:22:27] That's what I learned. Like this is what it means to be in the army because we trained all you do is train, train, train, and, you know, especially at that time, the war was still kicking off.

Afghanistan is going for, you know Iraq's going full and it's also like in Iraq when this whole idea of IEDs started becoming prevalent, right. So we literally went from the basic training combat engineer, where I'm learning to build road, blow up roads, to make craters blow up bridges, how to clear a minefield to this is a whole brand new discipline.

We're going to learn how to remove IEDs do that kind of stuff, which was cool because we had the Australian army and the British army come to Fort Stewart because of their experience with IRA and terrorism and all that.

Chirs: [00:23:13] Oh, sure. Sure, sure. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

Abe: [00:23:17] That was great. Right? So the British army, they had a guy name was major jolly and which we. Teased him mercilessly about his name, but he was, he was really, I think because we weren't English, we weren't part of the English military. He was really friendly and familiar with us. He joked around a lot. He wasn't really like uptight or anything.

Right. But they had taught us how to conduct route clearance and home searches based on all the tactics and lessons that they have learned from batting the IRA in Northern Ireland and places like that. Right. Just amazing stuff, right? I mean, we learned how to build IEDs. We learned what to look for when you're searching a house for bomb making components.

We learn how to, what we call the interrogate, an IED, which you, you learn how to do it with your hands. You learn how to do it with equipment. You learn how to do all these different really neat things. And there was also a really fun because of the language barrier, you know, Our terms and their terms, you know, one of the things that took us a while was, you know, they call the car, the hood and the trunk, the boot and the bonnet.

 Things like that made it funny. And then obviously, I don't know if you've ever had an opportunity to drink beer with Australians, but at the end of the training, they basically put on a clinic for us, you know?

So it was just a lot of characters and a lot of intense training, but. It was, it was really valuable in, in ended up being the biggest thing that really kind of made us successful once we got into country. This was also the time when the army started buying those buffaloes and all those MRAP looking vehicles and things like that.

So we were getting kind of familiar with those platforms and kind of funny that my experience with the commercial vehicle operators and truck driver came in really handy because. Like with the pre-trip inspections, you know, I knew how to check the vehicle, check all the systems, you know, things like that was super helpful. And so we did that with those guys and then we showed up in Iraq. And when we got there, we were, we were issued all that equipment and basically we. Had no SOP, you know, there was no, I mean, for some of that stuff, we didn't even have a field manual. Then there was also no route clearance field, manual, you know, like the military will give you a field manual for everything.

You know, we had a combat engineer field manual and it didn't have anything in it whatsoever about a route clearance. So one of the things that we had to be we had to do was develop our own SOP. And then we had to take notes because we were one of several units that was really kicking off this whole higher IED task force type thing.

Right? So in Afghanistan at the same time, the same threat is kicking off our raft. It's kicking off, it's increasing. And so the military and the army was really kind of looking for us to not only complete the mission, but then take notes and write an SOP. So we were kind of doing both at the same time. then to be honest with you, that's it was, it made me quite, I was quite scared because when I got there. You know, the first week they were like, Oh, Hey guys are going to work at this checkpoint. So there was a weird, we were based in the green zone and want to sit Dom's palaces. So I first got there. I was kind of, Oh, I'm in the green zone, man.

They ain't nothing happen to me. And then they said, well, we're going to man a checkpoint. Our company is in one of the tunes are all going to take turns, Manning it. And it was a commercial vehicle checkpoint. So you're going to scan cargo trucks. Right. And so then the thought was okay, that's cool. But then. It's the green zone. Someone's going to blow up a truck. They're going to kill us off, you know, so you got nervous. And then like after a week they're like, Oh, by the way, we're going to do Route Clearance now. And so it was really kind of a daunting task. Like I was excited to do it, but I was also fearful. And one of the biggest reasons though, was because no one's ever done it before.

 And, and, and the other thing too, is it's like you, during that time, you would hear them go off constantly. If you're on your base, walk with a shovel and you'd hear it. And you can just tell like, Holy crap. And then, because our base was so close to the border of the green zone and the checkpoints cars and stuff would blow up outside the wall and then inside. You know, we would have, we'd be sitting there in our, in our hooch and car parts would come falling down out of the stack.

Chirs: [00:27:35] And that's like a 20 foot

Abe: [00:27:37] and

Chirs: [00:27:38] barrier wall too. Like that's not just, you know, like

Abe: [00:27:41] yeah,

Chirs: [00:27:42] or anything. Yeah.

Abe: [00:27:44] no. And, and then

 We had, we had mortars and rockets you know, I dunno how to explain it, man. You never felt easy. It wasn't like running around wet my pants everyday, but it was like, we used to have a say, right? Like an opportunity. We called ourselves team shitty because we got shitty details. We've got the shitty jobs.

We had shitty luck, you know, and we have shitty mooches we had shitty Burks, you know,

but. And then we just thought, like we were in the shittiest situation ever because every week it just seemed like there was some new detail that would come down. You know, our and open to what's is a construction. Platoon went from building shit to being on standby. So they could go literally scrape vehicle borne IDs and bodies off the ground so they can open up checkpoints.

So they became like the Zamboni of the IED. Basically they went around spreadsheet up open roads and, you know, and. For anybody that doesn't know, like, you know, like the best thing. I mean, obviously not any general Jewish, most gonna know what it's like to see someone get blown up or to see an IED and the after effects.

Right. But what, the part that always stuck out to me was when we go and we do these things and you'd see some bodies there laying around that had been affected by a blast killed or whatever. Right. You know, that's all scary and that's, you know, disturbing, but when you see how they're removed and you know, not necessarily by the U S military either, but by the Iraqi national guard police, it is the same as that guy driving down the road and hit a possum and someone just coming by afterwards with a shovel and posit in the back of the pickup to get it off the road.

You know, there was a very kind of matter of fact, just called and. You know, they literally would scoop the bodies, put them in the back of a truck of a dump truck or put them in the bucket of a, like a bulldozer or something or an end loader and just scrape them all up just to get the road back open. And then, you know, they had, I don't know what the process is for indigenous personnel, you know, identifying the remains and stuff, you know, for the U S military. Unfortunately, when we get hurt, you know, We do things a whole different way. You know, we have ambulances there and the medivacs and everybody else, and we really go all of our way to security area and do things right.

You know, but that was kind of like the first thing, first time it really hit me was like, Holy shit, this is war, you know? And you know, the coldness of it and how you just kind of dehumanize it, you know? And like a lot of people. We'll say that about the military that they always accuse us of that. Oh, you guys are just cold-blooded killers and murderers or you guys have really dark senses of human.

Well, it's a coping mechanism.

Chirs: [00:30:37] yeah. Yeah. You know what I real similar story to yours? Well I got a tie rack. My platoon got split in half. Half of us were just like a regular squad doing vehicle mounted patrols, and other half was the personal security detail for the battalion commander and XL. And they had to go out as suicide bombing at a checkpoint.

And they had to go out, put all the body parts into piles so they could estimate how many people have been killed. And they're like, you know, picking up legs and be like, is this a left leg? Her right leg? Because it matters. It's going to throw off our account one way or another. And then yeah, just put everything in the back of a truck.

And who knows where it went from. There it is. It's, it's super grim, you know, the non-combat stuff that just like, you know, the Mo the mundane whores of being on a deployment. It's real tough.

Abe: [00:31:27] You know, and I think what the, what you're talking about too is, you know, anybody can picture war, you know, you're a kid you're playing army. You watch enough movies. You know, I think the average civilian can picture in their mind and think like, okay, I think I understand what it looks like. You watch that movie, the outpost.

You know, or you watch black Hawk down or something like that. And you think, Oh, that's that's war. And to a certain degree, that is right. That's, you know, guns a blazing and direct engagement, direct contact with the enemy. Right. But like the things that we're talking about left foot, right. Foot piles, you start to see the utility of war.

And I think that's where it's like, What other situations like, would you do something like that to where you're literally breaking down body parts to try and figure out, you know, and you, you, it almost becomes like some type of data point rather than a person and for the person that's tasked to do that job. If they can't separate the act from the reality, they're not going to make it. If they literally sat there and picked up that leg or that body part for every time they moved it. Took the time to come to terms with the situation and quantify that that is a living person that is no longer with us because of an act of violence.

They're not going to make it just like us when we went route clearance. Right? So everything at that point was haul ass down the road. Don't stop stagger your convoy, go around piles of trash, everything. Right. You know, and you literally drove through the city to highways hauling ass balls to the wall.

Hoping not to get hit. You were hoping you were fast enough that if they took the shot, actually with an IED. Yeah. And so then you see us, so we're there and they're like, okay, you're going to drive five miles an hour. And you were going to drive over all the trips and you were going to take this mechanical arm off the side of your trunk and sift through the tracks.

And if you do, you're going to, if you see things you're going to move around, you're going to investigate. Oh, and you're going to do it at night. Right. But you're not going. And I need night vision because we're going to put spotlights on all your vehicles. So again, now you're in Iraq where everybody got to get off the road at 10 o'clock or whatever the curfew is.

Right. You were the only ones on the road. It's dark. And you were lit up like a football stadium. And you're driving five miles an hour, hoping to find a bond, right? So it's like, you get this brief and you're like, Oh, hell no. Right. You know, and what you have to do at that point is you have to trust, okay, all of us are going to work as a team. We're going to make sure that everybody is eyes open and we're alert. You have to trust the equipment and you have to literally just, this is why the military, I think one of the breaks things, this is where that camaraderie comes up because. In the job that we did, you know, we weren't Rangers, we weren't seals, you know, they weren't like recon guys kicking in doors and, you know, chasing Osama's and, you know, but we were engaged with the enemy every night, as soon as we left that gate.

And we started down that route, we were, it was, it, it was on because in our case, if anybody was out, when we were out, then they were not allowed to be out. So you're already in suspicious. Right. We were going through some pretty hairy areas. Right? So like when I was there, Irish was pretty much closed, you know, Irish and bioperine from, and so we were to give you kind of context if you know anything about, so, you know, to the, a little bit to the West of the airport and to the, to the East or whatever is the green zone. So that route Irish from back and forth to those two areas, right. And then Irish cuts a little bit stop and then eventually becomes highway eight. Which leads you all the way to Kuwait, if you stay on it, you know, and then is intersected by MSR Tampa at some point, right? So those are kind of the, we had to patrol that entire thing.

 And so we would go down there at night, five miles an hour, lit up like a Christmas tree and poke trash. And when it first started, it was pretty easy. It was super boring because we got there in 14, 15, 16 hours, but you kind of figured you figured out how to use game. You're like, Oh, this is what he likes to do.

So we went from a point where we find an IED and sit around for six hours and EOD to show up and blow it up to where we can take that mechanical arm and dismantle the IED. And then, you know, Being combat engineers being UXO certified, then we would just put a charge on it, backup, blow it and go, you know, but then, you know, the, the, the tactics evolve, somebody would get hurt that civilian or military member and the bad guys would see the links that we would go to, to secure scenes, what type of aid we would render.

You know, we had a couple of guys that were bad, guys that blew themselves up, trying to set up an IED in front of us. And, you know, our medic gets down and starts helping him, right? So all of a sudden you start to see different things. You know, you see the big sandbags and trash bottles and moving away, but now we're finding bodies you know, our instinct as Americans, when we're trained, we want to jump out of the truck, go over, start rendering aid. instead because of the operational environment and the threats. We have to drive over to this dead people and get that big fork arm off the side of the Buffalo, that big mechanical arm, and literally poke holes in them, flip them over, manipulate their, by sometimes shaking them like a ragdoll because the bad guys would have wires hanging out of them.

And sometimes they weren't even bombs. They would just do it to see what we would do. And you know, so now you, again, you're getting back to this thing where. War is basically turning people into things and it's dehumanizing everybody. And so I'm looking at a military age, male, and I'm stabbing with a giant fork because it means literally what it is.

If you've never seen one, that's called the Buffalo and it literally has a Pitchfork on it, but then arm like a backhoe, except for who's a little bit different. Right. So that's what we're doing and we call it interrogating IEDs. So we're doing this thing, you know, to people. And, you know, this is also when all of a sudden the same thing, you know, bad guys know we're going to help our camaraderie or comrades, you know, so they blow up the truck in front of you, wait till the aide gets there and then hit you the second day. and the thing was like with our unit, we were always finding IEDs now we're very lucky all the time. We're one of the only units to do this mission, not to lose anybody. We did have trouble of guys get seriously injured, loose, and limbs, but they're alive and they're kicking and they're doing well.

 There is nobody that you can explain it to you that we'll get it. If they didn't go through it. Right. And you go through a lot of horrific stuff, you see your friends get hurt, you see people die, you see like what you saw counting body parts, and you can't explain that to anybody.

Right. And then I think the other part that people don't understand is that, you know, and the other part like me personally, I would say, I don't want to explain that to you. I don't want to come home and tell my mom about, well, I was driving down the road in downtown Baghdad at seven in the morning in front of a school bus stop that an IED went off and killed like 15 kids right in front of me. Because when you do that, you start sharing those images and then they become their baggage. You know, and especially military people, we carry our own weight. We don't put the load on somebody else, you know? And in fact we're quite the opposite. We're. Going around trying to take the load off somewhere else.

Yeah.

 I think a lot of people misinterpret us missing the military for here's a warmongers, your war, pigs. You want to go hurt people in reality, we don't, but you always it's. You get a sense of comfort being in environments with your brothers, you know? And I will tell you my unit.

Well, another thing too, people don't realize that diversity, right? So there's a big keyword. I had, you know, black, white, Latino, native American, every color of the rainbow, you know, sexual orientation too. Like we all knew it. Guess what? Nobody cared. Literally. Nobody cared about any of that stuff. And I mean, I had guys in my unit whose family members were in the Klu Klux Klan, and whose roommates were black.

And they're best friends. Like, I mean, and you hear all the trash talking and everything, you know, and you can't quantify that, you know, and people mistake being able to depend on different people like that. They mistake that longing for that brotherhood. And then, they would stake it that we're looking for war and we miss war and we don't, you know, I like to tell everybody, man, every good service member of soldier, we got, we all got a little anti-war and at somewhere you go through our playlist on Spotify and you're going to find some anti war songs and be like, dude, it's really, you know, my dad being in Vietnam, I have a lot of respect for, for what he went through and the way people treated them.

And, I carried a lot of that with me and, you know, it's, I bring it up for two reasons. One, because. He hated war. And I honestly, if you compare my experience to his, I mean it's night and day, you know, I would not wish to ever take, you know, switch shoes with him and go on patrols in the, in the jungles and have to deal with the Kong and have to deal with the way the country was and everything else.

Right. But what it says though, too, though, it's about that same comradery, right. And the same mindset and the same, how things are similar because I laughed my ass off. I'm in Baghdad, I'm in the motor pool, listen to preach Clearwater revival and helicopters are flying over. And I'm like, you know, this is like, no, man, you know, this is the same music.

You have the same things complaining about the same things, you know, the whole night. And so it's a universal feeling, you know? And it's why I'm here. Non-big could sit down with an OEM that, and you know, the different generations, but there's going to be similarities. This is my I'm blessed. I'm 44 years old. Right. I served in 2002 to 2006. My son is military age. Now he could be a private in the military right now. So I like to tell people that. There are people like that in the military right now fighting the same war. Right. And you can't tell me that like their experiences are going to be similar. Cause they won't be, you know.

 

 Chirs: [00:42:15] Hey man, you're terrific storyteller. I appreciate you talking about some of the, the more grizzly stuff here. That's, it's, it's something that's hard to talk about, you know, you know, just kind of emotionally, and there's not a lot of people you can talk about it with. So, you know, I appreciate you talking about this kind of stuff with me.

Do you, do you want to talk about veterans five to nine, a little bit here?

Abe: [00:42:40] Yeah, sure. And you know what, thanks for the opportunity to talk about that too. And I can tell you one of the reasons that I can talk about these things, you know, now is because, you know what, I've every soldier or every service member or whatever, you know, first of all, I want to tell the whole world, not everybody comes home, messed up.

There are plenty of men and women that get out that are just fine. And they may seem a little odd it's because they're in a new environment, not because they have PTs or they're a headcase or anything like that. Right. So I think a lot of people need to realize that one of the reasons that I talk about things is because I have figured out what my journey of being out and working around a military community and just having a family is that if you do have issues, it's okay. And the best thing you can do is get help. You know, and if you can't find help, I'm going gonna, this is sound hard, but that's because you're not looking hard enough. There is a veteran resource like everywhere.

Okay. So I like that. Right. But. I found that my telling DC one, it helps veterans understand that they're not alone and that they don't have to feel bad if they do have some type of issue. Right. But also for the general public, I want the general public to know kind of the source of some of these issues and why they exist.

Right. Not everybody has PTs because they killed a bunch of babies or saw their friends died or all this weird stuff. You know, a lot of it is like we talked about, you're just as dehumanization as utility of war and things like that. And the other thing too, that people don't understand is just. When you're in a, in a combat or four area, whatever chaos becomes your friend, because you adapt to it in the training that you've received makes you good under pressure.

So sometimes it's the stress in your life with, because you don't have chaos anymore and you don't need to make split decisions. You actually need to take your time and think about things. And then there's all these other factors that all of a sudden you got to deal with. So that can cause some issues. So a buddy of mine, his name's Marcus Forester, he is also a Marine. He was a Oh 300, I guess again, in an infantry. He was a regular infantry guy. He now serving as a police officer makes Arizona I met Marcus through my work in the veteran community and doing services for Batson, him being a police officer.

Unfortunately he's around a lot of bets. And I met Marcus because basically he got tired of arresting veterans for being homeless, not having a place to go, being drunk, having a substance abuse issue or needing some type of mental health. But the way the system is, they can't deal with them. Now, Arizona is set up pretty good to handle most of those things as long as they happen Monday through Friday from nine to five.

So if you can do it during the regular work week, have your. How have your critical incident or request your help your services, and you can do a normal business hours. So Mark has working nights. The only would have to arrest a guy just because he was quote unquote Lloyd ring and had no place to go. He would have to arrest the guy because he needed help, but he couldn't get it.

And so they, the way the system is put them in the County. For disorderly conduct overnight. So rubbed dry out, whatever. And you know, obviously the, the jails and the prisons, they're not equipped to deal with mental health issues. Very purpose is not to deal with substance abuse issues. So you had a situation where the veterans are lacking resources, lacking outlets, and they're unfortunately being incarcerated or worse, their housing situation deteriorates and they get into more trouble sometimes even from lead to injury or death. So he came to me and told me what he wanted to do. And at first we stride reaching out to establish agencies, the VA state different hospitals, different community resources. And we all got the same thing. He kept saying, well, you know, they said, well, Hey, we'll do it. And then he would go out on work and call up that number at night.

No one knew what to do or to get the night or. There was no resource. So he started veterans five tonight. And what they do is they provided emergency housing, transportation, food, and access to behavioral health and mental health on weekends or after. So they take care of everything from you get a report of someone lurking around in the park or whatever, and you go there, it's a homeless vet and they just don't have a place to stay.

They couldn't get them a hotel. They work with, they have funding, they have. Different hotel chains that they work with. And so the primary objective is just get them to Monday, you know, get them to when the business hours opens and then that same organization will connect them with like the VA housing or the different resources that do that.

They work with a mental health facility. So if someone's having a mental health or if they're having some type of detox situation they've connected with Local providers to get those people checked in immediately that night and then to work out, transfer of care to the VA. So a lot of times they'll put someone in a temporary housing, temporary facility.

And then that Monday quote-unquote Monday morning, then they'll work with them, the process to get their VA benefits established or to get into some type of long-term program. The other thing they do to those, you know, that guy on the side of the road with a sign that says, Hey, I'm a vet. I just want some food. Veterans from five to nine, when you give grocery cards, make sure that they get food that they need. You may be a vet that got off of work too late. We're going to double in the buses that run, you can call them and they'll get external. You know, you can be a disabled vet that has to get somewhere, you know, and they do that.

They try to focus primarily on critical issues, but if you're a veteran and you need help, you could be, let's say you're a, you just out of the Marine Corps and you come home. You don't have a place to stay. I've seen them put people up in a hotel for up to a month and then refer them to employment services and everything else.

So they're kind of like, well, they focus on crisis. They they're pretty much a Jack of all trade. And again, it started out as just one man, one police officer, trying to do the right thing. And so now they operate throughout the state of Arizona.

Chirs: [00:48:43]  that's an awesome organization.  It just sounds like you guys are doing amazing work. Thank you for doing that.

Is there anything else that you want to talk about or anything like that?

Abe: [00:48:53] Yeah. And just, just to wrap it up real quick, I just would like to say a few things. One. I can't tell you enough. If you're having problems, please ask somebody for help. If it's a friend colleague or whatever, there's a ton of social media groups on Facebook events, vets that will help you you know, and also I just want to say, Hey man, if you guys have a family member that has, you know, Been there for you or whatever. I've been through deployments where you really take time to thank them. You know, like I tell everybody I was deployed. Well, my wife was, you know, back home and my little boy and she had to hold down the Fort, you know? So spouses and family members deserve a lot of credit. I joke around, I go, yeah, deployment, easy. All I had to do with NASDAQ, she had to do all the hardship, you know?

So thank you for that to my family. And last but not least. Engineer company four six for Arbor from 2005 to 2006 is the greatest combat engineer unit ever assembled them. God's screener. And if you don't believe me, look it up. And if you are going to make the wrong, it's just wrong. So that's all I got, brother.

Thank you for doing this, man.

Chirs: [00:49:58] Thank you for talking to me. Hey man. I really appreciate it.

Abe: [00:50:00] No worries, man.

Chirs: [00:50:01] All right. I want to thank Abe for speaking with me. Like I said, is it deep thinker and has some great perspective on the dehumanizing aspects of violence? Two quick things before I go first, I apologize for that background noise and this episode, then using some new editing software and I haven't quite figured it all out yet.

So I promise you that it'll get better as time goes on. And second. I see in my analytics that a lot of you listeners are listening to the long war interviews on the website. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. It works great, but you can also subscribe to the podcast on Spotify or Google podcasts or Apple podcasts as well.

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