Jean Victor

Jean began his military career as a 32B in the National Guard before being switched to an 11B in Afghanistan. During his time in the National Guard, he deployed to Afghanistan once. In his interview he discusses his deployment, being in Haiti on September 11 and life after the military.


Interview conducted on May 18, 2017 in Los Angeles, California

Present: Richard Hayden and Jean Victor

Transcribed by Richard Hayden


Richard Hayden: What is your full name?

Jean Victor: Jean Victor.

RH: What branch of the military did you serve in and what years?

JV: I was Army National Guard from 2007 all the way to 2010.

RH: Alright. What was your rank when you got out?

JV: I was an E5.

RH: What was your MOS?

JV: My MOS was 32B [pronounced thirty-two bravo] but when I went to Afghanistan, when I got deployed, it switched to 11B [pronounced eleven bravo].

RH: What was your unit?

JV: My unit was out in Braintree, Massachusetts. It was an artillery unit called the 72nd Dust Company.

RH: OK. What motivated you to join the military?

JV: To be honest with you, ever since I was in Haiti. I witnessed the very first coup d’état that happened with President Aristede.

RH: And this is in Haiti?

JV: That was in Haiti. One day the United States military came through – the Marines came through – and they were doing humanitarian work. The way they were acting, the way they were treating us and feeding us and everything else, that’s what motivated me. Maybe if I ever got a chance to come to the United States, I want to be a part of that group. So I was sent even before I got here.

RH: So you’re from Haiti as well?

JV: Yes.

RH: Where in Haiti, exactly?

JV: Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I grew up in the capital of Port-au-Prince on this street called Bel Air from the age of eight until I turned fourteen. Before that, I was born in Paris and I moved to Haiti to live with my grandma since my mother and my father were also service members.

RH: Interesting. They were in the Haitian military?

JV: No. The United States. My mom was in the Air Force and my dad was in the Navy SEALs.

RH: He was in the Navy SEALs?

JV: Yes.

RH: So you are a US citizen?

JV: Yes.

RH: OK. Why did you pick the branch of service that you did?

JV: The Army National Guard? It was the best offer that I got at that time. I don’t know if you’re aware, when you are born in Paris and you are also a citizen of Haiti, that’s dual citizenship. Both of those countries have mandatory requirements at the age of sixteen to join the military. So when I got here, the fact that I was still under French and Haitian citizenship, I received a letter from the French government asking to join the military at the age of sixteen. I took that letter to several different recruiting offices. The recruiters would not take me in because, they said, “Well, you are either going to go back there because we do not accept people until they are seventeen or eighteen. In this country we don’t do that.”

RH: You were living in the US at the time?

JV: Yes. Then I met Sergeant Cody from the Army National Guard and he told me, “We can actually give you a better deal. You can finish your high school and you go to the weekend training, the pre-basic trainings, and right after you’re done you go to basic training and that’s it. Your citizenship with them will cancel because you already are an American citizen so we just give you full American citizenship.” So that’s what made me choose to go with the Army.

Also, from a lot of research that I did between other service members that were in, that was the branch that I felt would work for me best.

RH: Alright. Cool. Why did you pick the MOS that you did?

JV: Because I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, [laughs] to be honest. I love being in the infantry, don’t get me wrong. I loved when I was in Afghanistan and the job that we do. But being in the military police was actually slightly different. It was a little bit more personal and it was more humanitarian work than the regular infantry. And it was a field that I felt comfortable in. That was the main reason why I chose that.

RH: How did your family feel about your decision to join?

JV: My mom wasn’t too shabby about it. The majority of my uncles were trying to not let me do it but my pops and my grandma were two people that encouraged me. They said, “You already are part of a military family anyways so you can follow the family tradition. You can do whatever you want to do.” But they were very supportive – those two people. Very supportive.

RH: Where were you on September 11th?

JV: I was not in the United States at that time. I was in Haiti still. Actually, there was something else happening in Haiti that same day. A lot of people probably have not heard about it. There was also a civil war that happened that day that took two weeks. It was a short, quick reaction that happened. The Marines were still in the country so they stopped it from going further. I came to the United States the following year, 2002.

That was a sad tragedy when it happened because I couldn’t get in touch with anybody over here. I didn’t know what was going on. And I was kind of young, too.

RH: Alright. Good to go. Where did you go to boot camp?

JV: I went to Fort Benning.

RH: What was boot camp like?

JV: Man. The first two weeks, that’s what we call hell week. The first two weeks, I would say, were the most physical, tiring two weeks of my life. But after that, everything was becoming a routine between PT and combat training and going to the range and firing and AIT courses. It was not that bad of an experience. It was a pretty good experience for me.

RH: What was the follow up training like?

JV: It was actually a lot easier. After my boot camp, I didn’t really have a chance to go back to do that because my unit got deployed from our boot camp site to Germany and we were there for about a month. That whole month we were doing combat training, just specifically for the area we were going to go in. A lot of training including invasions and searching. It was a little bit confusing because when you went from your first basic training to a completely different country knowing that you’re getting ready to go to a red zone, it’s kind of like, “Oh fuck. I’m actually going to do this.” I was surprised and confused. When I was there I was not expecting any of that.

RH: So you went straight from boot camp to Germany then to Afghanistan?

JV: [Nods head yes] Then to Afghanistan.

RH: Damn. Wow. That’s actually real quick. I’ve interviewed a lot of people and you’re the first one that’s had to do that. [JV laughs] That’s crazy. So you went from boot camp to Germany and then to Afghanistan. You talk a little about it but what was that period in Germany like?

JV: That period of time in Germany, we didn’t really have any time to do anything. We probably had two days off and in those two days off I didn’t really do anything. I just stayed in my barracks. Most of the things that I can say I remember about Germany is that we woke up at three in the morning. We had breakfast, our first PT class then we went a briefing for an hour, then after that we went back to our PT class and then we would go to combat training. After that we would go back to a big old dorm where we had the Battalion Commanders and COs coming and talk to us about what to expect from the next level. So it was pretty much a straightforward type of thing for us.

RH: How old were you at this time?

JV: I was eighteen.

RH: So you were right out of high school.

JV: Right out of high school.

RH: Alright. We’re going to jump right into it. Did you serve in Iraq, Afghanistan or both?

JV: Just Afghanistan.

RH: How many times did you deploy?

JV: I only got deployed once. I had one tour.

RH: What was the date of that deployment?

JV: The date of my deployment was August 22nd, 2008.

RH: When did you get back?

JV: I got back on September 15th, 2009.

RH: Where in Afghanistan did you deploy to?

JV: I was in Kabul, Afghanistan.

RH: Alright. So they shifted you over to 11B [pronounced eleven bravo] while you were in Germany, correct?

JV: Yes.

RH: What was the mission of your unit?

JV: From when we started in Germany, we were supposed to be there for humanitarian work and have better communication and understanding between the village and the Taliban – what was going on. And also trying to make a better relationship between the US military and the village elders. Our job was supposed to make them feel safe and continue chasing the Taliban out of that village.

For me personally, when we got to Afghanistan, not only were we patrolling more than we were told we were going to but we also became a unit that searched for car bombs and all that. We were doing more than just the infantry job.

RH: What, specifically, was your job within that unit?

JV: I was the communicator. My main job was to communicate with the interpreter and the elder – whoever is in charge of that village – to figure out what it is we need to do in order to have a better relationship with them and to work hand in hand with them. Whatever intel I collect, I would have to report it to my senior officers. And then from there, where it goes, I don’t know.

For example, one mission my job was to try to talk to this village guy after there was a situation that involved the Marines and Taliban in the area. In that situation there were civilian casualties. My job was to try and rebuild the trust between the people from that village and us in the service. It wasn’t the easiest job to do. I don’t know if you’re aware of how I am so quick to interact with people but that was the main reason why they had me in that position. I can talk to people well and I know how to decide certain things. That was basically my main mission.

Also, when there was another mission that went on, my job was switched. I was still regular infantry but I was also used as a sniper in that situation. So like I said, I had different field experience being over there deploying in the military. To be honest, if you ask me what my mission was, it’s pretty much everything. [laughs]

RH: Alright. What was it like the night before you left for Afghanistan?

JV: The night before we left for Afghanistan, I would say was a very interesting night. We all decided to get together because we didn’t know what was going to happen. I think the thing that was said was that we are here today and we don’t know if we’ll be here tomorrow so we might as well enjoy the last night we have before we get shipped to the real war. Pretty much all we did was just hang out, drink, talk, contact our family members and let them know that we love them and hopefully we will get to visit them soon.

RH: Good to go. What was it like when you first stepped off the plane in Afghanistan?

JV: It was hot. [laughs] It was really hot and I remember I had all this gear and uniform and all that on me. I was like, “Oh my God. I feel like I’m back in Haiti in a hundred or more degree type of weather.” After that, we got into our bus that drove us to our unit where we had to be stationed for the remaining time.

RH: And this is all in Kabul, right?

JV: Yes. All in Kabul. We had difficulty getting into the Afghan territory. I wasn’t really aware exactly what it was but I know that, after we got off of the plane and got into the bus, when got kind of close – I would say two miles away from the base – we were attacked. That was actually my first experience of actual combat.

We were in a firefight for about thirty minutes. Then after that, the busses that we were on had to turn around and we had to continue our route to our base. So we took the next two miles by foot until we got there. That was actually the most nerve-wracking moment of my life to be honest because we’re not using blanks at that time. There was no blank ammunition – it was actually live rounds.

When that situation happened, it was so fast and so quick. We were like the freshmen of the unit. We didn’t have any veterans that actually deployed before that was with us. Everybody that was in my unit was straight out of basic training. We had a to struggle a little bit until we could actually get things back on track. We had a situation to get us back to where we were supposed to be.

It was a real nerve-wracking experience and also kind of cool. Hooah! We’re actually here.

RH: Cool. You kind of already answered this question but I’m going to ask. What were your initial impressions of Afghanistan like?

JV: What do you mean by that?

RH: Well, you got off and you got into a firefight. [both laugh] But after that, what were your first impressions of Afghanistan like?

JV: This is not a friendly zone. [laughs] This is not a friendly zone. I would say that after the first week out there, it started to feel more like home because we were going to be there – we were there for thirteen months. When you are out there you can tell the tension, especially when you are in uniform. You can feel the tension. You’re driving by in the Humvee and not everybody likes what we are doing. It’s not everybody that understands. So it’s kind of hard because you’re looking at it like, “Oh my God.” You don’t know who’s a civilian and who’s not a civilian. You’re fighting with any enemy that’s blending into the population. So it’s like every town we go patrol, you have in the back of your mind, is this going to be my last patrol or am I coming back? You know? Once you’re strapped up and you’ve got your weapon and you’ve got your flak on and start heading out – especially for us as an MP unit, we had to walk alongside the road by the convoy – it’s really tense. You just wish that nothing happens and that I can make it quick to my destination and come back and call it a day. It changed a lot after a while.

RH: What was a typical day for your MOS like?

JV: We’d wake up, get dressed, check each other to make sure we’re all good to go and we took off. We patrolled the streets searching for car bombs and look for anything that might seem suspicious in the area. We’d make sure that our base is clear from enemy threats and landmines and, also, keep ourselves safe from any type of ambush that can happen at any time – especially because Kabul is one of the hottest spots in Afghanistan.

We might see action probably two or three times a day. It depends on how they feel. A majority of the time, we file around just to let them know that we are still around. But I would say that from the time I was there until the time I was leaving, every day we’d see action. Every day.

RH: What were some of the notable events that occurred on the deployment aside from the ones that you already mentioned?

JV: I remember this. There’s this one particular mission that we did that was – we’re allowed to talk about it – but it was a tense type of situation where we were deployed to a six story building. The main mission for that building was to clear the building and to capture this one person. That person was a most wanted person and when we got there, the enemy was shielding himself with civilians – kids and women. Our orders were strictly not to fire upon arrival, only to fire if we’ve been attacked. And even if we’d been attacked, we had to measure the situation. Is it worth it to take the risk and how many innocent casualties might we put in that situation? So it was kind of a situation that we kind of stood down for a while before we actually proceeded. The main reason why is because the kids and women that were there that didn’t harm anyone and didn’t look like they could harm us.

It took us about an hour between radio communication between us and the base and the bird – the chopper – that carried us there. Then after that I remember what we did. We separated ourselves in three groups and one group went around the back of the building where things were a little more clear. Another group went from the far left side and me and five other team members, we went from the right angle to try to clear the civilians from off the side. The language barrier was the most serious for us because we didn’t have a translator with us. The Afghan police that were around with our unit at the time was also occupied on another mission so we were all just by ourselves.

It was actually a pretty successful mission. I’m not going to say that it was a hundred percent successful because some stuff happened that we had no control over. It’s either that happened or we would be gone. Did we get the person that we wanted to get alive? That was a negative. But we did get the body because that was the main point – to get that person, dead or alive.

RH: Are there any other notable events?

JV: Yes. I remember there was this one time where we were traveling on the wrong side of the road and it was the first time that we saw a group of villagers come up to us – not in a bad way – come up to us automatically. When they came up to us we automatically thought that this was a suicide party so we had to put our guards up. And actually they brought flowers, they brought food, they brought water. These people were actually cheering for us and we stayed there for probably five minutes. There were some kids that came and we couldn’t understand what they were saying. We couldn’t communicate with them. All we could do was smile at them and wave at them and then we took off.

That was one of the most memorable things that I’ll never forget about Afghanistan. It’s one of the things that actually made me feel great about our job out there – to see the smile on those people’s faces after the thing we went through. What registered on my mind was that we were here to help those people out. If we could do whatever we got to do to make them smile, then that’s what we were going to be doing. It was a real great experience.

RH: So what were the civilians like in Afghanistan?

JV: The majority of them kept to themselves. Some of them, they would try to be kind of close to you but keep their distance because, the way I see it, to them you are the terrorists. That’s the way I saw it. But the people that actually understood our job, understood why we were there, they were actually good people. There were some quite good people that were there. That’s the reason why sometimes at night before I’d go to sleep, I thought about them. They had all these good people suffering in a situation that they had no control over and they can barely defend themselves. Again, people that I bumped into, I would say that ninety-five percent – well, not ninety five percent – eighty percent of them were actually great people.

One thing, some of them actually made our mission a lot easier just by communicating with them.

RH: What was the enemy like?

JV: Vicious. Alert. They were well-trained. They knew the area better than we did. I would say that for my fighting experience against them, it wasn’t really something that was hard to do. Yes, when we had competition with them, it’s a lot of cracking that goes on. They go off. They were using weapons that, sometimes, we thought were our weapons through the sound and the range. And, also, they’re really quick. The hardest part about fighting those guys is that they were in the mountains mostly. Most of them were in the mountains. That was their hiding spot and their getaway.

I don’t know how you call somebody that is always hiding but I feel like that was their main thing. They just hide a lot and when they come out, they come out and just blast whatever they’ve got to blast and go back to hiding. So it was like we were playing hide and go seek. When they come out, they attack and once we diffuse the situation, they flee the situation. We go on patrol and try to catch up to them. If we get them, we get them but the majority of time when we were fighting with them, when we get into a confrontation with them and when we find them, they’re not alive. They’re already dead. To me, it was not that difficult. It wasn’t that difficult but they were great fighters.

RH: You said they weren’t difficult. Was there one time in particular where you did meet a group or meet a small unit that was difficult?

JV: Yes. There was this mission – it wasn’t really a mission – it was a regular PT morning. We just decided that it was our day off so we were going to PT. But the fact that we were in enemy territory, we were always taking our weapons. We ended up bumping head to head with a group of Taliban. There was probably, I think, fifteen of us. It wasn’t the whole unit that went. It was fifteen of us that decided to go PT. We were running on one side of a wall. Towards the end of the wall, we literally bumped straight head to head with them.

RH: Damn.

JV: Yeah. [both laugh] It was literally head to head. That fight was us against about, I think, thirty of them. That fight took about forty-five minutes. That was the most difficult fight I ever fought in my life. I don’t know what level those guys were but their training, their skills of fighting were similar to our skills of fighting. It felt like we were fighting ourselves.

RH: So after you bumped into them, what happened?

JV: All I heard was one of them say something. It was in Arabic. The front soldier that was there, he just said, “Enemy spotted.” Once he said enemy spotted, we all decided to take cover. All we were hearing was DUT-DUT-DUT [makes a machine gun sound], AK-47 rounds. We had not yet shot one single round because we were too busy trying to get cover.

There were two sides of the wall. On the other side it was all trees and rocks. As soon we bumped into and saw them, we ran into the bushes and took cover. We tried to stay as quiet as possible and they started shooting around and we started opening fire just to keep them away from us but they were not staying away. They just kept firing at us to challenge us in order for them to make us run out of ammo. We called cease fire from our stand and took cover. Patiently we waited for them to sneak in. When that happened, we literally waited for them to sneak into the fort where we were at and we just ambushed them. After that, we checked the area, made sure the area was clear and returned back to our base.

The whole situation lasted about forty-five minutes. Thirty minutes it was a strong firefight. It was non-stop. It was a scary situation. I actually thought that was going to be my last thing. [laughs] But we made it through.

RH: Are there any particular Afghans that stick out? I know you talked about the civilians but are there maybe one or two that are very memorable?

JV: Not really. Because to be honest with you, memorable things for me would be somebody that I was close to. There was one thing that they told us straight up when we were in Germany. It was not to trust any of the people that we come in contact with. Whether they were Afghans or Afghanistan military – whether it was somebody that just gave us a cup of water – it was just not to trust them. Yes, it kind of makes things difficult but I did not really meet any memorable Afghans just for that reason. I did not want to compromise my mission, also. Do you know how when you get friendly with somebody and then emotional involvement happens, it’s going to make you lose focus on whatever the issue is. So I didn’t have any meaningful relationships there.

RH: Good to go. What do you remember most about the soldiers that you served with in Afghanistan?

JV: Those guys were awesome. Until this day I still keep in touch with them. They’re like brothers to me. It was like a group of family away from home. We went through hell. I’ve seen grown men cry. It’s one thing that I thank God every day to this day that none of us were deceased or got hurt in any type of way while we were there. But those guys from day one until the last day we were, those guys were awesome. They were professional in every type of way. Even the times when they didn’t have to be professional, they were still awesome dudes to be around.

RH: Alright. Good to go. What was the most challenging period of the deployment: the beginning, the middle or the end?

JV: The end.

RH: Why?

JV: The reason why is there’s a situation that happened that every time I talk about it, it makes me feel some type of way because of how hard the situation happened. Our last day – it wasn’t our very last day, it was a week before we shipped back home – I personally took out a kid. I was not proud about it but it was either I take him out or it’s my whole unit. [clears throat] Sorry about that. I often think about that situation.

What exactly really happened? I was outside my barracks. I was doing guard – post guard. I saw someone coming and he had a white flag. He had a white flag on his back but he also he had what seemed to be – what it was – an AK-47 in his hand. The AK-47 was not pointed at the ground or up in the air. It was actually pointing towards me.

Me looking at it, it was like, OK, his main thing is to take me out and do whatever he has to do to take out the rest. When he had the flag on it and he was walking to us, I spoke loud and I was like, “Stop.” Stop is a universal language. No matter what language you speak, you understand the word stop. He ignored my first warning. Then I fired. I gave him a fire warning to let him know stop. He ignored that one too. Then the next thing I saw is that he stopped for a moment, grabbed the AK-47, and it looks like he was trying to cock it back and that’s when I took three shots on him.

It was difficult to tell if it was a kid at that time because his face was red. His head and his face were covered. The only thing I could see pretty much were his cheekbones and right here [points to his face] and his eyes. After I fired on him and I saw that he was no longer moving, I called for back up and went up to him and checked.

This kid, he looked like he could be no more than fifteen years old. His whole body had a vest. It was all C4.

At that time it was something that was good but at the same time it hurt. When we unwrapped his face, I was like, “Man. That could have been me or one of my brothers or anybody that I know.” That was one of the most difficult times for me. I had fired on the enemy but I never singly just fired on someone and killed them. To look at that person as a kid I was like, “Wow. This is real.” That actually got to me for a whole week until I came home. That was one of the most unforgettable emotional moments that I’ll never forget.

RH: Did the command support you?

JV: Yes. They supported me. My battalion commander came up to me and told me that, “I understand how you feel but you’ve got to understand, you did something good because if you didn’t do what you were supposed to do, we would probably have had to go to your family’s house and give them the bad news. We don’t know how many other soldiers’ families’ houses we would have had to go back and give bad news to. Yes, you took out a kid’s life but that kid had a holy mission that he had to do and you did your job so you should just look at it as that.” That was pretty much what everybody was telling me, just to try to keep me going. It worked until I got home but once I got home, I still thought about it. To this day, I still think about it.

RH: You might have just answered this next question but did you have any transformative or significant events that occurred on the deployment?

JV: Yes. A lot of things about the deployment changed my personality and my character. When I first went in, I was young. I did not know much about wrong and right. All I had in my mind was, at a young age, I just want to have fun. Everything to me is fun. But after deploying and the missions that I’ve been through and the type of things that I’ve engaged in and the type of things that I’ve seen happen, whether it was something that I didn’t agree with or something I did agree with, it changed my view and my perspective of life. It changed who I am as a person, also. I would say the deployment had a really big effect on me.

RH: How did it change you?

JV: It made me more mature. It built me to be more mature and to understand my life better and not take it for granted. I have seen a lot of people – not in my unit but other units – we were just here talking to them like yesterday and the next day they’re gone. There was an Afghan police guy, he was real cool, and he made this one little mistake that cost his life. That actually opened my eyes. Seeing that opened my eyes and made me understand that, hey, listen, this is not a joke. Life is not a joke. I can’t keep taking everything for granted. I need to grow up and actually, if I want to survive, I need to keep my head up. I can’t keep that same little kid mentality that I had.

It showed me both the good and somewhat bad ways but mostly the good way.

RH: Alright. Good to go. We’re going to go ahead and move on to post-deployment. Before we move onto post-deployment, is there anything about the deployment that I left out that you want to address?

JV: No. You pretty much addressed everything so far.

RH: Did you come back to the US or did you go to Germany first?

JV: We went to Germany first.

RH: Let me ask you this, then. What was it like getting on that plane and leaving Afghanistan for the last time?

JV: We were not cheering until we actually got to Germany. Me personally, I was young and I witnessed something that I was ready but not fully ready for. The whole time I was in the plane, I was just hoping that nothing happened to us. The type of thing we see out there, when we were on the plane coming from a combat situation, everything plays back in your head. We still had that “what if this happens?” What if the enemy decided to do this? And stuff like that. It feels like a relief at first. At first I was like, “I’m done. Phew! I’m not going to be here for long anymore. This is my last few hours,” or whatever it is. But it still was kind of, in the back of my mind, I still want to get home. That was pretty much it.

RH: How long did it take before you got back to the US?

JV: It didn’t take us much. We travelled from Afghanistan to Germany and then we stayed there for, probably, a week. The reason why we were there for a week, they told us, “If you guys need to contact your family to let them know where you are going to be, do that.” And stuff like that. “Make your arrangements, whether you are going to get dropped off with the MP unit or just going to have someone to pick you up.”

It only took us about a week after we got back from Afghanistan. But the flight was long, back to the US. It was a long flight.

RH: When you came back to the US, you came back to Massachusetts?

JV: Massachusetts.

RH: Since you were National Guard, you just went back into civilian life?

JV: Pretty much.

RH: What was the transition back into civilian life like?

JV: I couldn’t function in society for about, almost, eight months due to flashback – post-traumatic stress disorder. That’s what they say it is. Certain things like fireworks or smells of gunpowder or certain smells of flowers brought back events. I couldn’t be around a crowd of people. Once I saw a crowd of people like that, I got intense. I’m reaching for my weapon. It’s like I was always in that situation.

What helps me the most is my therapy sessions. After that eight months period of time that’s when I could actually function fully as a civilian. It was kind of difficult. I lost a lot of friends because of that situation. I couldn’t hang out with a lot of people. By the time I was able to do so, it was too late.

RH: Since both of your parents served, and especially since your father was a SEAL, did they have any insight or were they able to help you out at all?

JV: My dad, he was nowhere to be found, really. The last time I talked to him was actually before my deployment. When I got back, I couldn’t get in touch with him. I think he was deployed somewhere. So my mom was the person I could relate to. My mom did one tour and she was in South Korea. She was not really in a combat zone but she still was still kind of close to enemy territory. She told me, “I understand that you were on the front line and your situation is completely than our situation.” But she was there and very supportive. She helped me out with the whole situation. That’s the reason why me and my mom are really close. We’re very close. I would say that between my therapy sessions and my mother, those are the two best supports systems that I have when I came back home.

RH: Did the soldiers around you change when you got back and, if so, how?

JV: The change I saw was that they became more serious about things. But it was the same guys. How we would always mess around, joke around and hang out, it was the same thing. Just now, everything was more – how do you say that – we were more grown. We acted completely different than our age. A lot of people we went to high school with – actually, three people that I know – told me that, “You guys changed.” I was like, “For real?”

For us, we don’t see the change. We’re with each other every day. We might see some little thing. We might see some little thing like the way we are making our decisions are a little different. Any other change, we couldn’t see it but everyone else would tell us that. But what I am seeing from them and what people were telling us is that we became more mature and we actually became more problem solvers than problem creators, pretty much.

RH: Alright. Good to go. So now that we’re a couple of years out, how has your military experience shaped your life since you got out of the military?

JV: Very high. To be honest, without the experience that I had, without the training that I had, I don’t know if I would be the same person that I am now. Those experiences actually built some type of tolerance that I never had before and it makes me look at life from a different point of view. To be honest, the changes I see on my end that came from the military, I’m proud of. I’m really proud of it and I’m glad that I did it.

RH: I’ve got a couple of spiritual questions for you. Has deploying affected you spiritually and, if so, how?

JV: I’m more religious. Before I was deployed, I never really would go to church. I never really prayed until I got deployed. I remember my first time praying was when I was leaving Germany to go to Afghanistan. I remember exactly what I said, too. I remember I told God, “You and I have had an agreement as friends. We haven’t been communicating. I don’t know how you feel about me but there’s one thing I always know that my parents told me is that you always watch out for the kids.” So I’m like, “If I’m one of your children, I’m asking you to guide and protect me and my fellow comrades through the situation we are going through and help us make it back.” I told him at that time, “If you help us and guide us through our journey and help us to make it back, I promise that I will follow you from now on.” And that’s a promise I kept because everyone in my unit came back. None of us were harmed, none of us were hurt. We didn’t lose anybody. That’s something that I thank Him for every day. Now I am a Pentecostal.

RH: Alright. Good to go. Has deploying changed your perception of life and death and, if so, how?  

JV: It confirmed that we are just bodies. To be honest, after every fight we go through and you see your enemy and you see how they are so alive in the moment and the next moment after everything is done, you just walk through and it’s just bodies. There’s nothing else left. It makes my belief about death stronger, that it does exist. It’s something that can happen at any minute and it’s not something that we can control. Also, it gave me that mentality to live life to the fullest because you don’t know what’s going to happen.

RH: How do you feel about the current situation in Afghanistan and where Afghanistan stands today?

JV: To be honest, I feel a little bit better about the situation. Yes, it’s not as bad as it used to be. The country is being rebuilt and our military is not as in danger as it used to be. Yes, we are still fighting. There are still little things that happen every day over there but it’s not how it used to be from what I hear. I still talk to other soldiers that just came back. My uncle, actually, is also in the Army. He just got back two months ago. He was in Afghanistan. From what he told me, it’s pretty cool out there right now. It’s just the government. It’s a government problem. We’re not even fighting the Taliban anymore. We’re fighting ISIS. I feel a little more comfortable about the situation now than then.

RH: Good to go. We’re going to switch it up a little bit. What is your happiest memory of the entire time you served?

JV: Coming back home and actually having Burger King. [both laugh] That was one of my favorite things when I came back home because I did not really have a basic training full graduation. I was nervous because I knew I was going to go away right away but coming back home and wearing the uniform and actually marching in the parade and seeing how the people out here were so cheerful and holding signs and thanking us for everything that we were doing even though they don’t know what’s going on, it makes you feel great. It’s one of the greatest feelings. It’s amazing. That was my happy moment right there.

RH: Good to go. What, if anything, do you miss about the military?

JV: The only thing I miss about the military is hanging out with my unit. It’s hanging out with my unit and us doing crazy missions together. That’s pretty much the only thing I miss about it. And the discipline. That’s pretty much it, really.

Once you join the service and you hang out with those guys – whether it’s in formation or PT or afterwards – after a while you guys become friends. You’re not strangers anymore, you’re just family. I feel like I have a family away from my family. That’s what I miss most of all.

RH: Good to go. Alright man, this is going to be the hardest question of the entire interview. What was the best MRE?

JV: [laughs] To be honest, I opened one of my MREs and there was Mexican rice in it. That was one of the best ones I had, obviously. That whole package was that little pack that had the Mexican rice and another pack, it was chicken breast. And, you know, the little shakes. I couldn’t drink the shakes so I just gave them away. That was the best one, the Mexican rice. It’s crazy because you don’t ever know what you’re going to get when you get the MRE. When I open them I’m like, “Rice. Awesome!” [RH laughs] So it was pretty cool.

RH: What are some of the funny stories you have?

JV: Oh God! It was in Afghanistan when it happened. It was one of our days off. We were chilling and three of the guys decided to – they were kind of embarrassed – they dressed up as girls. [both laugh] We were just sitting there and we could not deal with it. They started dancing and I guess they were making some type of video to send to their families. It was hilarious. Those guys, they used whatever they found to have some type of weird make up. They thought they were looking pretty but it was actually scary. [both laugh] That was one of the coolest things that I got to witness over there. That happened every so often. It happens unexpectedly.

There was one time I was just sitting there, cleaning my AR at that time. I was cleaning my AR and we’re sitting inside the dorm. All I hear is a big noise, BOOM! And the guy was like, “Aten-hut.” We were just looking around and I stand up and I’m like, “Wait a minute. He’s not a CO. What is he doing?” Next thing we know, he walked and he was dancing and singing really loud. Two of the guys followed him and they did a dancing routine. It was real cool. We were laughing. [RH laughs] It was funny.

RH: Any others?

JV: Yeah. When we got back home, the whole unit went to the beach. Three of us were just standing there talking and stuff like that. Two of my friends that I deployed with went and grabbed me. I never like going into the water at the beach. For some reason, I just never really liked it. They all went swimming and all that. They were like, “Jean, you’re not going swimming?” I’m like, “Nah. I’m just going to eat and chill here.” So next thing I know I was carried and dropped in the water. They dropped me in the water. [laughs] I was mad but at the same time I just laughed at it because it was something they were doing because it was just fun to do.

There’s a couple other things that happened that I would say was kind of cool to see those guys actually do after we went through a whole lot. So it was pretty cool. It was fun. We had some fun times.

RH: Alright. Last couple of questions. What are some of the common misconceptions that the average American might have about the conflict?

JV: To be honest, they don’t see everything. From being on the other side and being here, the nation is misinformed about a lot of things. I kind of understand it’s to not panic. And also sometimes, I bump into people. I bumped into some of my friends when I got back and they were like, “This guy is a stone cold killer.” It’s one thing I try to make them understand is that, no matter what we went through over there, we’re not the same. We’re still them same person that left home to do that mission and come back. We still have the same personality. Yes, we might be different because we went and fought a war. We did crazy things that other people don’t do so people look at us like, “Oh.”

There’s one thing that actually happened that upset me. One guy did not want to shake my hand because he thought that I was a baby killer.

RH: A friend of yours?
JV: Yes. He was a friend of mine. He said that I was a baby killer. That’s what he said. He was like, “All you guys do over there is kill babies and kill innocent people.” He did not want to shake my hand because of that and that really got me upset. I told him, “You don’t understand half of the things that went on. You don’t know what’s going on. You’ve never been there. You can’t just say ‘you are a baby killer’ or ‘you are a murderer.’” No. A majority of the things that we do is because we had no choice. It’s a decision that we have to make in a split second and a majority of the time it was self-defense.

That’s what I would say a majority of Americans don’t know. If you don’t have somebody in your family that was in the military that will explain to you what happened, you have a different perspective of the matter. I bump into people I’ve been talking to – even before I went into the service – I bumped into people that just thought that I was going into the Army because I wanted to kill people. But that’s really not why we do it. We do a whole lot of different things but people don’t see that. That’s why we now are kind of understanding because they were never there to witness everything we went through. I would say that there are a lot of things that people misunderstand about us.

RH: Alright. Good to go. If you could communicate something to young soldiers who will be fighting the wars of the future, what would it be?

JV: Actually, to be humble. Be humble and don’t be discouraged no matter what happens or how hard things might get. Just stay focused and keep motivated. That’s what’s going to get you through: being humble, being motivated and being focused.

RH: Alright good to go. So before I ask my last question, is there anything at all that I left out that you would like to address?

JV: Me, personally, if I knew anybody that wanted to join the National Guard, I would definitely encourage them to go if that’s something you are passionate about. But if it’s something you want to go in just for fun, I would say not to do it. That’s one thing I would want to put out there.

RH: Alright. My last question. What specific accomplishment are you most proud of during your service?

JV: The most specific accomplishment? It’s the same situation that I’m in now. It’s the fact that I was there in a situation that could have killed a whole unit and that could have been a major loss to the US and that could put a whole lot of families out of a son, a nephew, a father or a mother. I was actually there to stop it before it even happened. I’m proud of that accomplishment because I gave my unit a second chance.

RH: The incident you were talking about earlier?

JV: Yes. That would be my biggest accomplishment.

RH: Alright, before we wrap it up, anything else?

JV: That’s pretty much it, sir.

RH: Well, thank you!