have courage. take heart. bear witness.
Eddie Black is a curious soldier. He is a sergeant who drills his troops in disciplined obedience, and also trains them to exercise independent judgment if a situation warrants; a warrior, practiced in taking quick, reflexive action under pressure, who also engages in self-reflection and psychotherapy; an expert sharpshooter who has no qualms about using deadly force, yet stresses that it is neither easy nor natural to kill a person; a self-described "guy's guy"—and a Wiccan.
And Eddie Black is a curious man. As he tells it, the questions that occurred to him as he grew up in small Southern towns were usually met with definitive answers from those around him. But the people he encountered and the things he experienced as a young Marine in Iraq nudged aside some of those clear-cut conclusions so he could view and review a landscape of questions that, upon investigation, led to deeper territory. After many years in the military, he still wonders. What makes a good soldier? A good man? A good person? Are there ways to bridge the divide between warrior culture and civilian culture? When a life feels fragmented or empty, how can it be made whole and meaningful?
Recorded in Corvallis, Oregon, December 2008.
"In the Marine Corps our motto is semper fi. And that means 'always faithful'—to our God, our country, our Corps, our family, and our self, in that order. To defend this country, if I had to wear a Girl Scout uniform, I'll wear a Girl Scout uniform. We're faithful to our country before our Corps."
"Anybody that says that women aren't in combat right now is just not listening. Everybody's in combat right now—men and women alike. All jobs. Everybody needs to go to a tough boot camp, learn discipline, military bearing, tactics, how to survive, and be trained in how to be a rifleman. Because the nature of warfare right now, everybody's exposed."
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"When you talk about what does it feel like to shoot another human being, some people don't even want to think about it. Because to care about that is to question my role as a soldier—question my role as a warrior. I can't allow that. I can't think about that, because if it tears that down, what's left?"
"It was a busy street. And the repercussions of us shooting back were not pretty. So it means that people who had nothing to do with the fight died. So our culture of wearing the white hats, being the good guys, for at least me personally, that's been something I've been having to deal with—that I was part of a group of people that shot into civilians. And, so, when I train my soldiers, I train them not only in how to operate a weapon, but also in how to think for themselves. Just so when they find themselves in that position, they can maybe rise above it."
"When I give this presentation [on posttraumatic stress disorder], NCOs and officers and everybody [say], 'Well, I'm fine. You know, I'm a 20-year military. I'm hardened steel.'
That's awesome. Not everybody goes through these emotional reactions. I went through these reactions. Chances are, somebody under your direct command is going through these same things. Chances are, they may be at risk for suicide. Now my question to you is, what kind of NCO, what kind of an officer are you to ignore these facts and to not try to get help for your soldiers?"