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"Activism is my rent for living on this planet." -Alice Walker (1944-), African American writer
Check out this amazing article featuring our amazing IVAW Oregon member, Brad Fleegle!
April Baer | September 9, 2011 | Portland, OR
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are enduring legacies of the September 11th attacks. So for Oregon soldiers and veterans of those wars, the 10th anniversary of 9-11 has particular significance. April Baer reports on two Oregonians who signed up to serve because of what they saw that day.
Ten years ago this week, two men who now live in Oregon witnessed the shock that altered a generation. Both were 17 at the time. Rick Collier was growing up in California. Brad Fleegle was a high school senior in Nevada.
"I remember, I had a car, I went to pick up my friend, I was going to give him a ride. When I went in his house he said, 'Look at this, someone flew a plane into the tower'," Brad said.
As Rick Collier remembers it, "They were just replaying the actual planes hitting towers, the chaos, the panic, you hear the news crews going wild. It was just dead silent in the room."
Separated by hundreds of miles, Collier and Fleegle were among those swept up in the day. Both describe themselves as pretty lonely guys in high school. Both dreaded graduation, with no firm plans. Both had seen military recruiters at their schools.
Brad was bookish. He didn't like Vegas and he wanted out.
Rick wasn't close with his family, but when he joined ROTC he made a lot of good friends. He says he knew on September 11th what he'd do.
"Within a couple days I was down at the recruiting station. My mom thought it was crazy. But at the time with ROTC, she felt like it was my fit. Within 6 weeks of events I was fully contracted."
Brad signed up in January.
"I didn't sign up until January. I really felt it was my duty to make things right in the world somehow. I was really idealistic. I wanted to do something meaningful, and it seemed like this was an opportunity presenting itself. I even had scholarships lined up and I passed that up, you know?"
Though both Brad and Rick joined the Marines shortly after 9-11, their first combat experiences didn't come until 2003, and the invasion of Iraq.
"So our job through the invasion was to push through, take over cities, set up screen lines so units behind us could safely advance. We fought through main stronghold Nazaria, Beghadad, we were the first unit into Tikrit where they found Saddam."
"When I was with the artillery battery, I'd tow guns, that was my job at the time. We'd set in in the dark of night, two or three in the morning, then be on move immediately. I remember not taking my boots off for about a month and just feeling my feet merged with my wet socks. You didn't get much sleep. We were sleeping two or three hours a night most nights."
"You're still motivated, you're still - you see the kids the families coming out of the woodwork, the peace and happinesss. You're literally rolling through your town handing them their lives back."
"I ended up hurting someone i shouldn't have. There was a lot of that going on. It was an Iraqi, yeah. That was very difficult for me to deal with for years. I wasn't cut out for that kind of thing."
Brad says he took a lot of drugs to keep it together after his first deployment. After his second deployment, he got out as soon as he could.
Rick drank very heavily after combat. When he got home, he was devastated to learn his best friend from high school had been killed serving in the Army. Ultimately he went AWOL. The Marines gave him a bad-conduct discharge.
Both Rick and Brad came to Oregon to get a new start. Brad came to Portland. Rick moved to Oregon City. Civilian life hasn't always been easy. Brad loves living in Portland, but his tech sector job has been outsourced. He'll be out of work next month.
Rick's married with a six-year-old son. He started a non-profit for military members that provides mentoring cut and some services. He had to checked himself into an inpatient psychiatric program for veterans last year.
Their parallel experiences have led them to completely different ways of understanding September 11th. Brad says he doesn't do any thing special to mark the day.
"Maybe the first few years, but no. I look at it as the day America was manipulated into sending troops to other side of the world for seemingly nothing. I think the world was sympathetic to us immediately after 9-11. We squandered what could have been a good thing, and really made asses of ourselves, I think."
Rick says, for him, the day still has meaning.
"I don't turn it into a party or celebration or sit ther and light candles or anything. But I do use it as reminder, where you've come from the sacrifices, how life really works. When you personalize it like that you tend to take advantage of life, live it to the fullest because others can't."