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Soldier poems 

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Jeff Englehart

July 29, 2004

This was written at a time when, in America, dissent was highly discouraged and Bush's popularity rating was sitting somewhere in the high-70 percentile. Seeing how I wrote this poem while I was sitting on a machine gun, in a sweaty Humvee during the hot Iraqi summer, I felt I was entitled to be a little nasty.

Back then, I just simply could not imagine that, despite all the lies and hate-talk and hysteria going on, a majority of Americans either steadfastly supported such an illegal and immoral war or were flatly apathetic toward it. I got a lot of negative responses after I passed this poem around to friends and family back home.

Looking at it now, I do admit that it is somewhat callous to the American people. But then again, I'm not as angry as I was while I was deployed in Iraq. That, and much has changed in our support for the war and our national psyche toward it since 2004.

"Lemmings"

Boys, oblivious to their own mortality,

Marching in rank and file

To meet their demise.

While ravenous swine pull the strings

To defend their posh social standings.

On the home front,

In front of TV's,

Cheers of victory!

For 1,000 dead

Places carved in history.

The patriotic blind:

Their faces clad in Red White

And Blue,

To hide their pain,

To mask their pride.

Rest assured 1,000 died

To save Amerika.

The ultimate sacrifice,

The perfect disguise.

Garett Reppenhagen

May 2005

A group of soldiers and myself met the Bouncing Souls in Germany one month before we deployed to Iraq. While in Iraq, we wrote the band and they decided to post our e-mails on their Web site on a page called "Letters from Iraq." I wrote the poem about our shared experience; us in Iraq writing letters to our friends that missed us.

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(Editor's note: The poem has since been adapted into a song of the same name, which is on the 2006 Bouncing Souls album The Gold Record.)

"Letters from Iraq"

The hot Sunni sun

passes Moaning Mosque Spire.

B-company's pinned down

and under heavy fire.

Underneath the palms

there's improvised bombs.

Because, Jihad Johnny

knows Yankee is a liar.

On Euphrates east bank

where the desert winds blow,

M 1 Abe

keeps his head down low.

Smoking up Joe,

With a front back go,

Is General Hash,

And his puppet show.

They lost another friend today.

It's getting rough over there.

They say the food tastes like shit.

They miss the pussy, drugs and beer.

They say the whole things fucked.

I wish the boys were back.

At least I know they're still alive.

Another letter from Iraq.

Police Call Kilo's

marching double time.

While, the grease monkeys

sweep the motor pool line.

On guard is Shaming Jay.

Rolls his own every day.

Lifer Lenny's getting fitted

for new box of pine.

On an empty cot,

Presents full of Christmas loot.

All that's left of Bullet Billy

is a pair of bloody boots.

His mom is on the phone.

His girl is all alone.

We all stand in the rain

for a twenty-one gun salute.

They lost another friend today.

It's getting rough over there.

They say the food tastes like shit.

They miss the pussy, drugs and beer.

They say the whole things fucked.

I wish the boys were back.

At least I know they're still alive.

Another letter from Iraq.

Ramadan Rebel

Is in the holding cell.

The brass looks away

while MPs give "em hell.

Guantanamo rulebook.

From Basra to Kirkuk.

Beat "em in a bag,

and drop "em in a well.

Iron Mike's on patrol

his weapon status red.

He rolls out the gate

with a foot full of lead.

Tango's on the hill,

looking for a kill.

Mohammad's got him convinced

he'd be better off dead.

They lost another friend today.

It's getting rough over there.

They say the food tastes like shit.

They miss the pussy, drugs and beer.

They say the whole things fucked.

I wish the boys were back.

At least I know they're still alive.

Another letter from Iraq.

Ali Baba's on the offense

picking up the beat.

Delta needs an e-vac,

but the bird's outta seats.

There's a four man stack

outside the Hajji Shack.

Bradley's zipped in

calling Willie Pete.

There's celebratory fire.

And a purple thumb vote.

Tom cruise is on a sortie

from a gulf love boat.

Smart bombs are a coming.

See the children running.

The dead are all laughing,

but we don't get the joke.

They lost another friend today.

It's getting rough over there.

They say the food tastes like shit.

They miss the pussy, drugs and beer.

They say the whole things fucked.

I wish the boys were back.

At least I know they're still alive.

Another letter from Iraq.

An eye for an eye.

And, blood for Texas Tea.

At the call to prayer

Al Qaeda's on his knees.

Isaac versus Ishmael.

Allah versus Christ.

Basic Training to Route Tampa

rolls in the F-N-Gs.

Marines say Semper Fi

as they cross Highway Ten.

Uncle Sam's in High School

Seeking a "few good men".

Rummy's in the Green Zone.

We'd all rather be home.

Where we can watch the war

On C-N-N.

They lost another friend today.

It's getting rough over there.

They say the food tastes like shit.

They miss the pussy, drugs and beer.

They say the whole things fucked.

I wish the boys were back.

At least I know they're still alive.

Another letter from Iraq.

Joseph Hatcher

Date unknown

"The manifesto"

"The Manifesto" isn't the name of the piece; it's just what my friends at home called it before I joined the Army. I wrote it while working graveyard in a 4-by-6-foot bulletproof kiosk in the deep valley industrial district of Oceanside, Calif., long before Sept. 11, back when I was considering the military as an escape from the poverty and debt cycle that Southern California is notorious for thriving on.

This is my analysis of the system, my consideration of what I would have to become in order to see the inside of a college classroom. Obviously, I knew what I was doing when I joined on Sept. 10, 2001. In basic, I received this poem with some of my other writing with a note to "never forget myself." Once Jeff and Garett heard it, they forcibly made me repeat it until it was memorized. It became my bedtime prayer. It's still a crowd-pleaser. Can it all be so simple, wrong, evil, corrupt, consume and waste, affiliate, hate, ostracize and merge? The world was balanced once and it will balance again but the ends of the extremes seem poised to clap like cymbals after this fuck all crescendo.

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"Why me?" the conglomerates scream at the machine, with green greased palms and I'll fuck you last smiles. False idols, every one. Angry fathers. Man the son who created Him. And He begot the government and government begot business and business bought the government and He was replaced with the angry white Jesus and outer space exploration.

A nation deprived dives deeper in debt and waits for one third-world misstep to cue the waking of the wartime economy. Killing the poor and boosting the DOW. They sleep so well under the blanket of technology, on the pillow of progress.

We'll regress, dumb and lame. Grins and yellow ribbons. Sons in boxes priority mail home for Big Brother's burden of deception and deceit.

So: Stand on the sidelines or step in line to die. When the brainwashing's done no souls will survive. My dirty mind fears the brand name bleach clean that serves to set lead in brass shell casings.

Chain yourself to the trees and they'll nuke you up too. With TV dinner convenience. Two birds, one stone. Endangered species taste so great with mustard gas clouds. The man standing on your neck says "swallow it, and pay sixty percent off through six PM friday!" And you do it. It wasn't you who blew it. Through it all you knew if you did what they asked things would go back to normal. You folded to the bully.

He gets your lunch money on thirty-nine cent Wednesdays that pay for slash and burn third-world dreams of vaccines for the diseases we introduced, vomiting induced, we produced more waste than anyone. First again! Don't forget those vehicle emissions! Look at you with your Valdez SUVs. The Jones are jealous, I'm sure.

Missionaries praise television evangelists. "Eternal salvation for nineteen ninety-five or your money back!" And you're submerged in this shit, but your Lord will keep you sterile. He'll wash your sins away. One quick pass of the collection plate and then we'll start to pray. Not for peace in Israel, no. That's not a priority. Daddy's team needs to win the big game and Jenny needs a pony.

I hope you die the way you're killing the earth. A slow suffocation. Oil coated seas like the bloody afterbirth of industry. Choking black clouds of soot consume the sky. The phoenix was stillborn. From the ashes nothing rise. So get on your knees and pay. Redemption comes at a price. And they'll tell you what it is. It's your sacrifice; this world that was intended for your children ...

When mushrooms of radiation and light fill the sky, I've got a fallout shelter in my mind. When you die, you deal with God. But I will go in(to) Peace.

Amen.

Brad

(Editor's note: As an active-duty soldier, Brad did not want to use his last name for fear of reprimand.)

Early 2005

I wrote this poem after the first time I stared at a human being through my sights with the intent to kill them. They were acting suspiciously and right before I pulled the trigger, I realized they weren't a threat like I initially thought. It was at that point I realized how influential and destructive a 21-year-old kid from Anywhere, USA can be. We could play judge, jury and executioner. Only our conscience and values stand between Iraqis and their death.

"The Pen"

My pen is my sword

My rifle my saber

Both lead charges of murder and death

One to take lives, the other to mourn them

One to pontificate, the other take breath

Both of them black

Made of plastic and metal

Both of them equally lethal

One denies God and all he intended

The other it bows to his steeple

Mark Wilkerson

January 2007

This poem was written when I had turned myself back in to Fort Hood. I was with some friends driving in the town of Killeen, and we drove by a pawn shop. On a sign outside the store, it said, "We buy broken jewelry." I don't know why that affected me so greatly. Just the fact that "why does jewelry get broken"?

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So I thought of an image of a husband or wife throwing their rings, or breaking them out of anger. I pictured broken homes, broken hearts and this pawn shop was taking advantage of that, like it was profiting off others' pain. So I went back to my barracks room and wrote this.

"Broken Toy Soldiers"

We buy broken hearts, and boil them in white pots

We mix 'em up, cook 'em up, and feed them to our dogs.

And when the dogs have had their fill, and say they've had enough

We wait until they shit 'em out, and gather up the stuff.

We put the hearts in buckets, and give 'em to the chefs,

Who roll them out on baking sheets, and stick on top the chips.

Then they throw them in the oven, and cook them till they're well

Then we feed them to the kiddies, who say "Gee sir, they're swell!"

Then we hand the kids a little flag, which they begin to wave

Stick 'em in the audience of a Veteran's Day Parade.

As the troops go marching by, with flashbacks in their eyes,

They see the bright-eyed angels, and they begin to sigh.

For once a long, long time ago, they stood on the side,

Till a recruiter came to them and told them all his lies.

Then they're standing in an office, standing proud and tall

They look all around 'em, see a hundred others in the hall.

They hold up their right hands, they say they'll do it all,

Then we send them off to war, they see all around them fall,

Kids, soldiers, dreams, hopes,

Till all that stands are broken toy soldiers.

Yes we buy broken hearts of now-childless moms,

And sell them in ribbons in booths at strip malls.

We buy broken hearts of now-widowed wives,

Who work hard everyday to keep her kids alive.

We buy broken hearts of now-broken men,

Then make them re-enlist, for heartless men will do it again.

We buy broken hearts of now-fatherless sons,

Wait till they grow up, and sell them all our guns,

Send them off to fight in a different-but-same war,

Tell them "Hadji killed your dad," so they'll kill more and more,

Yes, we buy broken hearts and stick 'em in our songs,

We buy broken hearts and insert 'em in our speeches,

We buy broken hearts and stick 'em on the back of our pickup trucks,

We buy broken hearts to help our war machine go round,

And soon one day we'll buy yours, and throw you in the ground.

Garett Reppenhagen

Feb. 6, 2005

This was written on my last day at my forward operating base after cleaning out my quarters, a metal shipping crate called a "connex." It was strange to put away my equipment and wonder what it was like to be in the real world again. Wonder where I would be and what it would feel like, unpacking these bags.

"Duffle Bags"

As I leave my metal box, that I have called home for the last year, I carry two duffle bags. The first is full of the gear and clothing that has offered me survival and protection. The other bag is harder to see with the uncompassionate eye. I have filled the second with guilt. The shame for the part I have played in this campaign in Iraq. It is more useless then the first. However, it is a burden I must carry.

The ritual a soldier goes through to fill a duffle with the maximum amount of gear is a wrestling match. It took every trick in the book to fit all my soul debt into the long green bag. First I rolled everything tight and squeezed it down pinching and tucking to wedge it in. As it filled I punched the sides. I held the edges and smashed my foot into the opening. I dropped it again and again like packing cigarettes. After fitting all my bad karma inside I had to sit on it while pulling and straining to clip the top closed. Out of breath I finally collapsed on top of the bulging bundle.

The duffle will be dragged around with me perhaps for the rest of my life. From home to home. Town to town. Until I am too old to lift it. Then I will lay down beside the large duffle and crawl inside to die.

So when you see a soldier returning home with a duffle bag at a bus stop, an airport baggage claim, or being stuffed into a taxi, think about what is inside the bag. It might be rolled clothing of browns and tans. Or, it could be dark secrets that he will never reveal to his family.

The soldier will not put his burden upon you. But if you feel any responsibility for the weight of it you may carry it for a while if it would make you feel more decent. And if you forced him to open it perhaps every one can take a little with them to relieve the strain of those who served. It might be a reminder that we are all at fault for America's role in the violence in the Middle East. However, a soldier is trained to sacrifice. He will take the burden to the grave or make a grave out of it if he must.

Ben Schrader

Date unknown

This one I actually wrote while I was on an airplane headed back from a Vets4Vets workshop in Miami. It was an amazing experience, but I was confused about how or what I needed to do to help those in need. I was still very bitter with the attitude of the country at the time, and frustrated that things weren't changing and Bush wasn't behind bars. FYI: This was written after I was out, but looking for a way to help end the war!

"Passage of Time"

Flying high above the cities,

All the little lights.

People sleeping, dreaming, making love.

Fighting, living, dieing.

It makes me question what to do,

Do I live a good life?

Am I a good person?

I know I try!

But I see so much pain as I look down.

Is it just in me or can everyone feel it?

Hunger, War, Violence.

Where does it end?

I tell myself that I can make a difference!

I can change the world!

But can I?

How many before me have said the same?

How many feel the way I feel?

Are there others like me?

Or am I alone?

I hope not ...

Where do I go,

Do I try to find love?

Try to find peace?

Money, prosperity, what's the answer?

I'm a hopeless romantic, in search of true love.

I want truth, peace, and equality!

Will I ever find any of these things?

I can only pray.

But to whom do I pray?

God, Allah, Buddha?

All stories of man.

All filled with hope, lies, and deceit.

So much blood and agony.

So many tears.

Lives and loves lost,

Friends and families torn.

When will it end?

I will never know.

For I am a pebble in the passage of time.

All I can hope for is a peace of mind!!!

Mark Wilkerson

Feb. 11, 2007

This was written soon after I saw a recruiting commercial on the TV. This was just a week before my court-martial, and I was upset about the production quality of the recruiting commercials, and I felt (and still do) that the commercials paint a pretty picture over a very dangerous, sometimes very ugly career: that of a soldier.

"One Of Us"

One of us, one of us,

Do you really want to be one of us?

Look at where we're at, look at how we live.

A never-ending rush, anything to add that edge

To a life that is all but failed already.

Dead at 20, nothing to fill the void after the spirit left.

Oh so long ago ... oh so long ago ...

Oh so long ago we died trying to find a way to live,

Trying to find a way to justify just what we did.

The what, where, why, and how we got here is irrelevant, long forgotten.

Forgotten in a river of booze and broken bottles.

To dream what we dream, to feel what we feel, would make you dead too.

So come to our side, live as one of us.

Dream our dreams, sleep our sleep.

Come and be whatever the hell you want to be, in the army

Join the army, join the army

Fill the ranks, you're fresh meat for their grinder,

You're fresh blood for their veins.

Jared Hood

July 2007

What was going through my head when I wrote it ... was recovery, plain and simple. I had just gone through quite an ordeal, as in June I had gone AWOL from my National Guard unit and been arrested at my work on June 23. I felt like they didn't care about me as a human being.

I had asked for a leave of absence from our two-week annual training due to the death of an immediate family member in June; I mean, I had broken down crying on the phone with my squad leader when I spoke with him about it. I gave four years of my life to the Army, one of which was spent on active duty. I had never been given a bad conduct discipline, and I was loyal.

Then, when something profoundly troubling had happened in my life that severely affected my mental state, they did not care one bit. In fact, they might as well have spit in my face.

So for me it felt as though I was just part of the machine, not a human, not a valued employee of the Army, just a piece of metal and gears that provided to a machine that carried out war. I have really never felt as humiliated, and humbled at the same time, as I did after that event. It was truly a moment of clarity and self-purification, and that's what the poem represents.

"Machine, Mechanism ...parts"

I am a hero if I kill other men. I am a coward if my conscience keeps me from killing other men. What sordid brutal excuse of a world is it that we live in when this WARPED version of reality is acceptable?

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The machine runs with the sole purpose of inflicting destruction, death, racism and false authority. And when one mechanical part of the machine ceases to operate properly (as with myself) the machine does not care about the human value of that mechanical part (me). Nor does it care what human reason caused the part (me) to fail to operate any longer and contribute to the machine. I am that mechanical part, not a human. Bottom line ... that's all the Army has is a bottom line. There is no value for life in the Army. No one is equal. No one is free. No one has the right to think for themselves. Iraqi civilians are not people. They do not work to provide nourishment for their families like Americans. And when they strap a bomb to their chest or set off an IED they are terrorists, not humans that are defending their homeland to a brutal occupation force. Hajjis, camel-jockeys, towel heads and sand niggers that's all they are; these names are used to measure their worth, to dehumanize.

The machine convinces me, so that I will shoot at them, kill them and then laugh at them as I walk past their mutilated corpse. Then there's the award ceremony, medals for killing. I return home a ... hero? This machine ... is nothing more than glorified organized crime. They used me, used me as a mechanism to contribute to a selfish machine of incomprehensible malice. I am not a mechanism ... parts. I am taking back those parts, all of them, the parts of my soul that contributed to the machine. I am leaving the family never to return. I have had enough of organized crime. Recovery and self-discovery are what I face. But slowly, steadily and hopefully I will be whole again. I will take back who I am at my core, a human being with a soul and I will stop acting for and thinking like the machine.

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