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Thoughts from the Road – Minnesota

Fourth of July—Independence Day—a uniquely American holiday, and Veteran Van is heading west towards Minnesota. Wrapping up visits with two old LTs, now Commanders—great leaders, patriots, and mentors—who remind us of why our Armed Forces, and especially the infantry, are such bastions of courage, intelligence, and strength.

Independence: It’s a word many Americans have forgotten, and some may never know.

The infantry are independent. We hold down entire cities and provinces in hostile territories half-way around the world. We live in abject squalor and yet maintain the professionalism and will to survive and accomplish impossible missions under impossible circumstances.

Independence is strapping on a heavy rucksack and walking out with your brothers in arms to distant outposts. Independence is leaving the comforts of hometown life at an early age to confront the harsh realities of the real world. Independence is casting off the shackles of colonial masters back in the day, in good old 1776, and teaching the world, for the first time, what a free society can become. Independence is heading out in a van, loaded down with books, and seeing what kind of adventures one can stir up.

Two days before arriving in Detroit, we try to schedule a police ride-along.

“Hello. Is this ___________ Police Precinct?”

“Yes. How may I help you?”

“I’m an author and Iraqi War Vet looking to do a police ride-along with your department.”

“Oh. . . just show up at any precinct a few hours before you want to go out. They’ll accommodate you.”

“Thank you, that’s too easy. . .”

Except it isn’t. We get shuffled from one station to another before being politely told that we should really only go out on Friday or Saturday (it’s Sunday); otherwise, nothing will happen.

But that’s okay, because our old LT is now a recruiting Commander and veritable Duke of Detroit, who gives us an infantry-style patrol of the once great American city. It’s better this way.

We drive along 7 Mile Road, through back streets, commercial roads, and rows of houses. An endless urban sprawl of decrepit, abandoned America stretches out before us; miles and miles and miles. Traffic lights at four way intersections aren’t working, burnt out and collapsed houses are everywhere, the only businesses are Coney Island hotdog shacks, cell phone providers, and liquor stores. Cut off the sewage, let the black water run loose through the streets, and this is isn’t America: this is Iraq.

What happened to the American Dream in Detroit? How can a child who only knows 7 Mile Road hear those words and not laugh in unknowing bewilderment? What’s happening to all of America?

Everywhere we go there’s this defeatist attitude. People cannot seem to talk enough about how America has lost its way, how the politicians have led us astray, and that we’re doomed to reenter some kind of dark age. There’s recession, China’s on the rise, perpetual threats of terrorism and endless war, and even 2012 doomsday prophecies. When did this country of optimists get so jaded?

Perhaps if we recaptured the spirit of the Fourth of July, maybe if we re-learned independence, we as a people and a country could break through this losing streak. Independence requires discipline, non-entanglement in the affairs of others, and the courage, intelligence, and will to stand alone. There are no easy answers, no simple solutions; only challenges and how we meet them. We need to remember that we’re not entitled to anything, that greatness, like respect, is not given, but only earned. It’s going to be a lot of work, but that’s what Americans do best.

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Thoughts from the Road – Texas

Highway 10, on the road to New Orleans, and it’s almost midnight. We have no idea where we’re sleeping tonight; maybe a campground, maybe a rest stop; perhaps there’ll be no sleep at all.

Van living is a tough life, and Texas spared no punches. In Huntsville we camp for the night and see an eight-foot alligator, night-stalk an armadillo, and battle with ants.

In Austin we set up shop on a street corner fair. “Circus Food,” Bob calls it. A flash rain storm makes us happy to have our umbrella. Everything gets wet. I go out to an open mic night I saw in the paper. Seven people are there, an eclectic group, when I read my chapter from the book. Thirty minutes later there’s thirty. No sales.

Back at the Circus: “Bob, Nick. You sell anything?” They’ve made a carny friend. She gives them funnel cake and beer. “Maybe three copies.” We make a few more sales, shut down, and hit the road.

In Dallas we roam Main Street until well after last call at the bars. It’s hot and we sleep in an empty parking lot downtown. I lie on the floor and fight Bob for leg room. Scratching my sweaty hide reminds me of heat sleep in Iraq, reminds me of the austerities of being on a mission.

We can’t open the door to our budget hotel room in Galveston. The guy in the room next to us burns plastic in a barbeque, commenting, “You guys are vets huh? I’m a vet.”

He looks awful. “Vietnam?”

“No,” he says, “Gulf War.” His fat kid steps outside in only his underwear and stares at us.

We find a rusty razor blade and a screwdriver bit in the bed. The headboard falls off the wall the moment we touch it. The place is a flophouse. I plant myself in front of the laptop, drink beer, and catch up on business while Bob and Nick hit the bars.

We haven’t really eaten all day and when they come back at 2:00 we’re all hungry. I’m resolved to a “beer dinner” but Bob remembers the pasta in the Van. We cook it up in his fuel stove in the hotel room and wash the dishes in the shower. Van life.

At a small bookstore in Houston I chat with the nice lady who runs the store and pick up a copy of Toqueville’s Democracy in America. Sales for the day are low, but the first book sold is to a friend from the Army who makes a special point of driving out to see us, buys the book, and invites us to a fajita dinner.

Delicious meal, my friend, and good war stories.

And then it’s back on the road.

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Iraq War Stories: A Veteran’s Catharsis

Here’s the latest story to feature Zarqawi’s Ice Cream. Iraq War Stories: A Veteran’s Catharsis was written by B.L. Turek and published on Articles Base April 18, 2011:

Andrew Goldsmith was one year into community college when he was hit with a revelation:

“Join the army, go to war,” were the words that popped into his head as he sat bored in Economics class. “It never left me,” he recalls, recounting the initial epiphany. Four months later, Goldsmith enlisted in the United States Armed Forces. He was 19.

Goldsmith served in the army from 2004 to 2009, deploying to Iraq twice for year-long tours. He was a machine gunner for an Infantry fire team during the first tour; the second time around, he was a team leader and squad leader, steadily climbing the ranks from “Private” to “Sergeant” over the course of those five years.

“I thought the Infantry was going to be more hardcore, harder somehow then it was,” he admits. “Iraq was similar: I thought somehow that there would be more combat, and that it would be more glorious.”

Still, his time in the army left a deep imprint on Goldsmith’s psyche. Upon leaving the military, he moved to Hawaii and began attending school on the G.I. Bill, studying philosophy. He also began to write…and write some more. War stories poured from his mind and onto paper, compiling into hundreds of pages worth of firsthand tales. The result is Zarqawi’s Ice Cream, a personal account of Goldsmith’s time in Iraq.

“It’s not as if I wanted to write this book,” Goldsmith says. “I had to write this book.”

Writing Zarqawi’s Ice Cream was Goldsmith’s means to a catharsis, a way to make sense of what he experienced as a soldier. The book is broken down into five parts, sequentially written from the time leading up to his enlistment to military training to combat in Iraq to Ranger School to combat again and finally, to his journey home.

“Making stories out of traumatic, stressful, and extremely influential events in our lives helps us to process them, learn from them, and live with them,” he says.

Since leaving the army and attempting to reintegrate back into civilian life, Goldsmith has been faced with a number of challenges, and in many ways, feels as though he hasn’t really left at all.

“Getting used to the mundane, steady pace of normal life is hard, and so is finding people willing to listen,” he confides. “Sometimes it seems as if I have very little in common with the people around me, especially on the college campus.”

The approximate release date of Zarqawi’s Ice Cream is May of 2011. Goldsmith will then embark on a 10,000 mile cross-country road trip for two months, promoting his book on military bases as well as in book stores.

“I’m looking forward to exchanging outrageous stories [with other soldiers and veterans], meeting people and hearing their stories, life on the road, finishing this damn [book], and seeing how people react.”

Aside from writing and philosophy, Goldsmith practices Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, a passion he began cultivating nearly ten years ago while growing up in Redondo Beach, CA.

“I also like to ride my skateboard, read a lot, and take any opportunity I can to travel,” he enthuses. His impending book tour should satisfy the latter quite sufficiently!

To learn more about Zarqawi’s Ice Cream and Andrew Goldsmith’s cross-country book tour, visit http://www.iraqwarstories.wordpress.com.

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Read more: http://www.articlesbase.com/non-fiction-articles/iraq-war-stories-a-veterans-catharsis-4627284.html#ixzz1KJACsGZP

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