My brother has now started his service for the Army and is stationed in the Midwest as a chemical specialist, but these letters below were written while he was still in basic training. Back then, I had the idea that publishing his letters in Vice would be a way for us to make something good out of the tragedy that was his joining the Army. He and I had a ton of fights about this. He called me a lot and yelled at me for “stealing his fire,” and he demanded money in exchange for his letters.
He is smarter than me, in that he knew no one would sympathize with him and that there was only one good thing that would come out of publishing his letters: Money. Also, he is really, really pissed that I exposed him as a criminal pervert.
Anyhoo, I want to tell you a story about my brother, and since he can't hate me any more than he does right now, I'll make it this one. In high school my brother had a crush on this adopted Korean girl. They were in the same homeroom and for months they just stared at each other and said nothing. The tension was miraculously exciting for my brother, so he decided to write a note to the Korean girl. He wrote exactly these words: “I'm always looking at you and you're always looking at me, so let's hook up.” The note was passed to the girl, and she took it to her white parents who took it to the stressed out black homeroom teacher. There was an intervention. My brother was suspended and the incident went on his record as “sexual harassment.” The homeroom teacher made my brother sign a paper that said he would never talk to the Korean girl again, and that he would never look at her or touch her or say her name or do anything.
I should tell you, my brother is not some little chicken-shit. He's a big, strong, manly guy. He spent the next week at home, watching TV and lamenting. He really liked that girl. On the last day of his suspension, my brother disappeared. My mom freaked out until the police called. My brother had gone to the station to file a report against his homeroom teacher. My mom says, when she arrived at the police station to take him home, the cops were all sitting around him at this conference table, high-fiving and laughing with my brother, and my brother was just sitting there, like, “That's what's up. Bitch’s crazy.” Here are the last letters from his time in basic training. They may be his last letters ever. He doesn't like the comments section, let's put it mildly.
Dear Vice magazine,
How are you guys? I am OK. I’m glad someone is interested in my life and what is going on. I’m happy to be in your magazine as an anonymous soldier but want to make a few things clear. I’m loyal to the Army and my country and won’t say anything negative about what the Army does. In my personal opinion we’re not doing anything wrong. People don’t understand what we’re trying to achieve and aren’t well informed. In Iraq we’re trying to get the evil out of power and give the people of Iraq a better place to live where they don’t need to live in fear the whole time. We put Saddam Hussein out of power, and now we’re stuck there because of insurgents and suicide bombers. We fight for their freedom because they won’t or can’t fight for their own. I think it’s terrible when innocent civilians get caught in the crossfire of the maniacs or when a suicide bomber or IED kills them or our soldiers, Iraqi police, or anyone else helping us do our job. This coming week we’re doing an urban ops simulation of modern day Iraq and the rules of engagement. I’m going to be a 74 Delta, also known as a chemical operations specialist. There is a high chance of me going to Iraq and assisting the infantry with their missions as a nuclear, biological, and chemical man. I’m in basic training right now and will graduate in a week and a half, in an infantry regiment. They’re training us well in infantry tactics and soldiering skills. I’m confident and brave.
How are you? I’m okay. I felt better today because I got a break and talked to you and dad on the phone. I misunderstood what you were trying to do with this Vice magazine stuff because of the lack of detail in your letter. I’m sorry I yelled at you on the phone. I’m totally calm now.
Yesterday we got qualified in hand grenades and learned all the kinds of grenades the Army uses: Smoke grenades, riot control grenades, incendiary grenades, and fragmentation grenades. Some smoke grenades are used for making the enemy unable to see where troops are moving. Some are used for signaling different things with different colors: Red, green, yellow, and purple smoke mean different things. Red would be a sign of a major disaster to alert everyone. We practiced pulling the pin out of grenades and fuses with no explosives in it, which were composition B grenades. After that we threw two live grenades—M37 fragmentation grenades. When I threw my first one, my sergeant walked me through the steps. I pulled the pin out and kept a tight grip to make sure the other safety pin didn’t get loose, leaned back with my left hand at a 45 degree angle and my right six inches behind my head, went forward and threw the grenade as far as possible. Five seconds later it went “BOOM,” and shrapnel went everywhere. We had to duck immediately after throwing them. It was the funnest part of basic training for me so far. It got my adrenaline pumping and I breathed a lot after. It was a huge rush. Our drill sergeant told us when someone is next to a grenade and it goes off they’re there one second then they disappear—it’s that powerful—with a kill radius of five meters, shrapnel flies a little over 200 meters. I felt like a God.
Next week we have FTX 3, a field training exercise that runs from Monday to Thursday with only two hours to zero hours of sleep each night with a 15K road march there and a 10K road march back. Then we have our rites of passage Thursday night with live rounds going over our heads while crawling 250 meters under barbed wire. We become soldiers and are recognized as soldiers on Thursday night. Monday through Thursday we’re being gassed with tear gas grenades, doing pushups, sit-ups, and doing combat simulation, as well as a simulation of Iraq.