To protect the author’s identity, RVDV has withheld the name and biographical information of this Veteran.  He served in the Marine Corps and deployed twice to Iraq as an infantryman.


I served in the Marine Corps from 2000 to 2007.  That last day was one of the hardest of my entire life.

Just a few hours prior, I sat in the confines of a fluorescent lit conference room with 3 field grade officers, all built like brick shithouses, chizzled, professional, determined, yet compassionate, staring back at me.  They were about to read their verdict that I would be demoted to corporal and discharged from the Marine Corps.  Honorably, but career over nonetheless.  “Do you have anything you want to say, Sergeant?”

With my lawyer and a hellbent prosecutor to my left, my face quickly became contorted and a waterfall of tears were on their way.  I couldn’t speak.  It was too much. 

“Do you need a moment, Sergeant?” 

No words, now hyperventilating.

Lawyer:  My client needs a moment.

Marines: Granted.

I got up, stepped outside and hovered around the door.  I took a breath, went to the bathroom, and came back in. 

I knew I had to speak.  I had a moment for God sake.  Crying, then sobbing, I spoke: “I am just sad that I won’t ever get to put my feet into another pair of combat boots.”

I don’t remember what I said after that, but they did listen, and we all learned how much the Marine Corps meant to me. 

Eight months prior I was serving my second deployment on an Air Base in Iraq assigned to front-gate security with a squad of Marines.  I was a sergeant and “assistant squad leader”.  We were on the last leg of our deployment and one evening during guard duty, we found ourselves consuming hard alcohol.  While we would typically only drink off duty, this time we decided to celebrate while on post.  We had a party.  In the days that followed, our command learned of the incident, and began confiscating electronic equipment and taking statements in order to learn more about what happened. 

The senior sergeant and myself were prime suspects during the investigation because we were in charge that night.  All of my belongings, including computers, digital cameras, and personal journals were taken by the company commander.  This captain also happened to be a government prosecutor in his civilian life, so he did not relent in his pursuit of ensuring that “justice” was served.

Of course, he did find video evidence of the night in question. He also found photos of me and other Marines having fun with the Ugandan security force on base.  We would drink alcohol with some of them and simply bond.  They were some of the most special people I’ve ever met. Filled with the kind of heart and spirit that could only be found in Africa I’m sure.  Because of this, myself and others felt comfortable being ourselves and having the kind of crazy fun that only Marines in a combat zone do: we took pictures of ourselves hanging out, and even a few with our trousers pulled down, in our underwear – all in good humor.  You know, normal stuff.

When all of this happened, I was deeply worried and mentally distressed.  We were only a few days away from leaving Iraq, and instead of being excited about returning home, I felt doomed.  On top of that, the captain began spreading rumors about me related to my journal entries.  I journaled a lot about my inner thoughts – anything and everything that came up.  Life goals and hopes, and obstacles that stood in the way of living my values.  He decided to tell Marines he was close to that I had “squirrels running around in my head”.  He also spread ideas about us likely having had homosexual relationships with the Ugandan security force because of the underwear pictures. 

This made me sink even deeper into feeling isolated, angry, and depressed.  “This person is out to get me”, I thought. 

After returning to the states, I began the long process of a summary court martial, and somehow escaped the proceeding with an honorable discharge.  The panel of “judges” claimed that they had no other recourse but to let me go since there was such substantial evidence of negligence while on duty.  The senior sergeant was not so fortunate and was demoted to private, and given a bad conduct discharge.

In retrospect, the punishment seemed a bit too harsh for the violation.

The Marine Corps meant everything to me.  I joined to become part of a family.  I gave my soul to the organization.  Every bit of heart I had.  I risked my life for it.  And in the moment that they read the verdict, I was heartbroken.  It was hard to accept that I would have to leave my family in this way. 

Being a Marine was an important part of my identity, and still is.  In the years since returning home, I felt ashamed for the way that I left.  Rejected.  Kicked out.  Unwanted and unappreciated, despite all I had given to them. 

I am learning, however, that I can and should still be proud of my military service.  I did a lot of good things and served with honor.  One night of “unauthorized” festivities should not taint my self-perception of a career committed to service.

“Take me to the Brig. I want to see the “real Marines”.
– Major General Chesty Puller, USMC – while on a Battalion inspection.

The Heartbreak of Leaving the Marine Corps

The Heartbreak of Leaving the Marine Corps

Just a few hours prior, I sat in the confines of a fluorescent lit conference room with 3 field grade officers, all built like brick shithouses, chizzled, professional, determined, yet compassionate, staring back at me.  They had just stated their...
Read More
Therapy and Shame – Veterans’ Voices

Therapy and Shame – Veterans’ Voices

In this clip, RVDV co-creator, Ryan Berg, talks about his journey though psychotherapy, and why having a therapist is like having and "executive coach.....on steroids".
Read More
The Damaging Affects of Patriarchy

The Damaging Affects of Patriarchy

When I was in Iraq, I saw men holding hands all the time. As you might imagine, most of us Marines assumed there was something homosexual about doing this, and all sorts of jokes sprung up as a result. After...
Read More
Pain Is Never Weakness Leaving the Body

Pain Is Never Weakness Leaving the Body

...You walk into your bedroom and clang your pinky toe on the sturdy, round wooden leg of the bed frame. A mind-numbing ache ascends instantly from your foot to your skull. You lie down on your mattress and clinch hard...
Read More
As a U.S. Marine Infantryman, Psychotherapy Has Made Me Even Stronger

As a U.S. Marine Infantryman, Psychotherapy Has Made Me Even Stronger

The experience of therapy was new to me.  I wasn't used to someone listening.  To caring.  To someone asking questions about my feelings, and affirming the validity of them.  To someone simply being present as I cried about hurtful events...
Read More
Thank God for Emotional Pain

Thank God for Emotional Pain

“Thank God for emotional pain”… was a thought that I had as I entered the park on an afternoon walk a few weeks ago. “Wait, what?”, I said to myself internally. “Did I really just utter that?” Something within me...
Read More
I Stopped Smoking Weed and I’ve Never Felt Happier

I Stopped Smoking Weed and I’ve Never Felt Happier

So I smoked in college, after I graduated, and off an on when I entered professional life.  I would quit because I felt ashamed, and then fire back up again.  It became a vicious cycle.  I realize now that this...
Read More
Veterans’ Next Mission: Topple Patriarchy, Reduce Suicides

Veterans’ Next Mission: Topple Patriarchy, Reduce Suicides

As Veterans, we know all to well what it means to suck it up.  "Embrace the suck" has become so common place that we often live our lives from this place, and even tell our friends in one way or...
Read More
These Muslims Wanted Me to Live

These Muslims Wanted Me to Live

As I sat up against the wall of the roof with my back towards the street where the car was, I was rocked by the most powerful explosion I've ever experienced.  It shook my chest cavity. I passed out for...
Read More
Disobeying Orders: One Man Lives

Disobeying Orders: One Man Lives

It was a bright and sunny morning in 2007 at the downtown Fallujah, Iraq, police station where a dozen or so Marines and I were tasked with providing security for a day of police recruiting.  There seemed to be a...
Read More
On The Road To Nabatiya

On The Road To Nabatiya

ON THE ROAD TO NABATIYA THEY COME TO ME AS IF I’VE CALLED THEM BACK FROM A PLACE I’VE LEFT BEHIND THEIR FACES, YOUNG...
Read More
Leadership and Healing: Creating Space for Transformation

Leadership and Healing: Creating Space for Transformation

The first time we took enemy contact was on our first patrol. We had just arrived in country, and we had not yet gained enough experience to conduct a foot patrol that didn't leave us exhausted.  Despite having trained for...
Read More
Do You Ever Feel Like A Part of You Died in Iraq?

Do You Ever Feel Like A Part of You Died in Iraq?

Connection after service among Marines can be tricky at times. Our relationships were fostered in an environment where feelings and emotions were mostly suppressed, or at least not acknowledged or talked about much. When we come together, it can feel...
Read More
Wake Up Call

Wake Up Call

I felt sickened. While I could see the need to move the man, seeing a machine do it was so disrespectful to human life. I quickly pushed these thoughts down since there was nothing I could do about it, and...
Read More
Warrior…for Love

Warrior…for Love

I served 7 years in the Marine Corps Reserves, deploying twice to Iraq in some of the most dangerous areas, including the Triangle of Death. This is the same place that the modern day terror group, ISIS, was hiding out...
Read More
Remembering to Remember

Remembering to Remember

My point is we’re on edge. We’re worried about those still fighting; we’re trying to find ourselves and other vets; and we’re seeking the care and treatment we need without feeling like it’s a threat to our warrior ethos. We...
Read More

In this clip, RVDV co-creator, Ryan Berg, talks about his journey though psychotherapy, and why having a therapist is like having and “executive coach…..on steroids”.

Ryan Berg is a former U.S. Marine Corps combat infantryman and deployed twice to Iraq.  In 2004, he was with 2/24 Echo company, Weapons Platoon, in Mahmudiyah, Iraq.  In 2006, he served with 1/14 Task Force Military Police and was in Fallujah, Ramadi and Al Asad.

He studied rhetoric at UC Berkeley and completed his MA in Leadership Studies at Saint Mary’s College of California.  He is most interested in understanding the ways that the system of patriarchy in America affects male military Veterans – and argues that this system is fundamental in perpetuating suicides in the Veteran community.  He is married to his wife Nataly, and lives in the SF Bay Area.


Editors note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s own.

When I was in Iraq, I saw men holding hands all the time.  As you might imagine, most of us Marines assumed there was something homosexual about doing this, and all sorts of jokes sprung up as a result.  After more than ten years, and a lot of personal reflection, I don’t believe this anymore.  I’m more inclined to think that Iraqi men were simply comfortable with openly loving one another.  Damn, that must feel good.

Sociology professor at American University of Beirut in Lebanon, Samir Khalaf, said, “Holding hands is the warmest expression of affection between [Arab] men.  It’s a sign of solidarity and kinship.”

This reminds me of a conversation I had with a good friend, and Marine Corps Iraq Veteran, recently about patriarchy.  He concluded that patriarchy was not a significant aspect of American society, and that it does not affect males in dangerous ways.

While my jaw dropped internally, I was not surprised that he felt this way.  Most of us can barely define patriarchy.  We recognize that it has something to do with fathers, men, control, and family.  Yet what we cannot see is how the deeper, more insidious and invisible system of patriarchy influences all our lives.  Does it operate in your life?

Patriarchy is not simply a way to organize a family or political system, it is a culture and social system.  A way of thinking and behaving that has led to a lack of male love.  It is about men not being connected to and sharing emotions.  It is about the refusal to change in this way, and the belief that men are built differently – unable to be emotionally aware and conscious.  Patriarchy is about denying the love that can make us feel whole, and how manliness has become: withholding, withdrawing, and refusing. It is about the deep internal grief of males, and the torment of our souls when we are unable to love.

The way that I used to deal with emotional pain or anguish as a U.S. Marine and Veteran in my twenties and early thirties, and believe me, there was a lot of it, was to shut it down.  I got really good at it.  When I would start to have negative feelings, I would close my eyes and imagine a thick zipper located near my belly button.  This cold, metal tab would slowly begin inching its way up from my naval to my gut, and upward towards my chest – where it would tighten relative to the intensity of the feelings coming forth. It acted to seal off my stomach, chest, throat, mouth, and mind from feeling or processing any particle of my pain.  This was a way for me to keep everything inside and push my emotions down and out of the way.  I refused them any breath or light.  It worked too, I was a machine that didn’t have to feel, since I figured out how to control them.  This, of course, led to the demise of my mental health, and I suffered for a long time with depression, anger, and often rage.

The above example is the essence of patriarchy.  bell hooks defines patriarchy as:

Patriarchy is a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence.

Millions of boys in America have their own zipper and inclination towards dominance.  The zipper is formed by a traumatization that begins at a young age: we force boys to feel pain and then deny their feelings.  Men become dominators because mothers, fathers, and society believe that is who they are naturally, and so an environment is fostered where these qualities can thrive.  Patriarchy is a social disease.

This is the reason we have so much male anger in our society today.  Women are angry too, but moreso because they are hungry for male love.  Both genders are collectively yearning for love, which is why it is all the more important to learn about patriarchy, acknowledge it’s affects in our lives, and begin the process of dismantling it.

20 Aug 2019
The Heartbreak of Leaving the Marine Corps
Just a few hours prior, I sat in the confines of a fluorescent lit conference room with 3 field grade officers, all built like brick shithouses, chizzled, professional, determined, yet compassionate, staring back at me.  They had just stated their verdict that I would be discharged from the Marine Corps.  Honorably, but discharged nonetheless.  "Do you have anything you want...
Keep Reading
17 Aug 2019
Therapy and Shame – Veterans’ Voices
In this clip, RVDV co-creator, Ryan Berg, talks about his journey though psychotherapy, and why having a therapist is like having and "executive coach.....on steroids".
Keep Reading
17 Aug 2019
The Damaging Affects of Patriarchy
When I was in Iraq, I saw men holding hands all the time. As you might imagine, most of us Marines assumed there was something homosexual about doing this, and all sorts of jokes sprung up as a result. After more than ten years, and a lot of personal reflection, I’m not so sure that I believe this anymore. I’m...
Keep Reading
15 Aug 2019
Pain Is Never Weakness Leaving the Body
...You walk into your bedroom and clang your pinky toe on the sturdy, round wooden leg of the bed frame. A mind-numbing ache ascends instantly from your foot to your skull. You lie down on your mattress and clinch hard your eyelids as you whisper hateful obscenities. The pangs climax into one loud verbal curse. The pain pulses, but the...
Keep Reading
25 Jul 2019
As a U.S. Marine Infantryman, Psychotherapy Has Made Me Even Stronger
The experience of therapy was new to me.  I wasn't used to someone listening.  To caring.  To someone asking questions about my feelings, and affirming the validity of them.  To someone simply being present as I cried about hurtful events in my life.  We talked a lot about my early years (still do) as a child and adolescent. We painstakingly...
Keep Reading
25 Jul 2019
Thank God for Emotional Pain
“Thank God for emotional pain”… was a thought that I had as I entered the park on an afternoon walk a few weeks ago. “Wait, what?”, I said to myself internally. “Did I really just utter that?” Something within me stood resolute and firm. Was their truth to this utterance? I sat down on the bench in the park as...
Keep Reading
22 Jul 2019
I Stopped Smoking Weed and I’ve Never Felt Happier
So I smoked in college, after I graduated, and off an on when I entered professional life.  I would quit because I felt ashamed, and then fire back up again.  It became a vicious cycle.  I realize now that this viciousness was a result of my unconscious desire to avoid difficult emotions - not to mention the fact that the...
Keep Reading
21 Jul 2019
Veterans’ Next Mission: Topple Patriarchy, Reduce Suicides
As Veterans, we know all to well what it means to suck it up.  "Embrace the suck" has become so common place that we often live our lives from this place, and even tell our friends in one way or another, to do just that.  But what actually are we embracing here?  Are we embracing ourselves in a manner that...
Keep Reading
19 Jul 2019
These Muslims Wanted Me to Live
As I sat up against the wall of the roof with my back towards the street where the car was, I was rocked by the most powerful explosion I've ever experienced.  It shook my chest cavity. I passed out for a nanosecond. I then tried standing up as my head spun, and I instinctively strapped the buckle of my helmet's...
Keep Reading
18 Jul 2019
Disobeying Orders: One Man Lives
It was a bright and sunny morning in 2007 at the downtown Fallujah, Iraq, police station where a dozen or so Marines and I were tasked with providing security for a day of police recruiting.  There seemed to be a over a hundred or more local Iraqi men lined up right outside of the front gate eagerly awaiting to get...
Keep Reading
18 Apr 2019
On The Road To Nabatiya
ON THE ROAD TO NABATIYA THEY COME TO ME AS IF I’VE CALLED THEM BACK FROM A PLACE I’VE LEFT BEHIND THEIR FACES, YOUNG...
Keep Reading
05 Feb 2019
Leadership and Healing: Creating Space for Transformation
The first time we took enemy contact was on our first patrol. We had just arrived in country, and we had not yet gained enough experience to conduct a foot patrol that didn't leave us exhausted.  Despite having trained for the past three months, the sweltering heat, and the weight of carrying a full combat load weighed on us.  We...
Keep Reading
12 Nov 2018
Do You Ever Feel Like A Part of You Died in Iraq?
Connection after service among Marines can be tricky at times. Our relationships were fostered in an environment where feelings and emotions were mostly suppressed, or at least not acknowledged or talked about much. When we come together, it can feel like we are picking up right where we left off. And where did we leave off? We left off at...
Keep Reading
03 Oct 2016
Wake Up Call
I felt sickened. While I could see the need to move the man, seeing a machine do it was so disrespectful to human life. I quickly pushed these thoughts down since there was nothing I could do about it, and then told myself, “hey, it’s war”. And then, BOOM!
Keep Reading
23 Sep 2016
Warrior…for Love
I served 7 years in the Marine Corps Reserves, deploying twice to Iraq in some of the most dangerous areas, including the Triangle of Death. This is the same place that the modern day terror group, ISIS, was hiding out and trying to harm my friends and I. My experiences in country, and the training received to become a Marine,...
Keep Reading
20 Nov 2010
Remembering to Remember
My point is we’re on edge. We’re worried about those still fighting; we’re trying to find ourselves and other vets; and we’re seeking the care and treatment we need without feeling like it’s a threat to our warrior ethos. We often hear today by many that every day is Veterans Day. Is it? ...
Keep Reading

Ryan Berg is a former U.S. Marine Corps combat infantryman and deployed twice to Iraq.  In 2004, he was with 2/24 Echo company, Weapons Platoon, in Mahmudiyah, Iraq.  In 2006, he served with 1/14 Task Force Military Police and was in Fallujah, Ramadi and Al Asad.

He studied rhetoric at UC Berkeley and completed his MA in Leadership Studies at Saint Mary’s College of California.  He is most interested in understanding the ways that the system of patriarchy in America affects male military Veterans – and argues that this system is fundamental in perpetuating suicides in the Veteran community.  He is married to his wife Nataly, and lives in the SF Bay Area.


Editors note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s own.

You walk into your bedroom and clang your pinky toe on the sturdy, round wooden leg of the bed frame.  A mind-numbing ache ascends instantly from your foot to your skull.  You lie down on your mattress and clinch hard your eyelids as you whisper hateful obscenities.  The pangs climax into one loud verbal curse.  The pain pulses, but the worst is over, and a little laugh slips out for there is mercy after all.

Was that experience evidence of your weakness? No, it was a clear sign of your vulnerability in this body, and it hurt. 

Under absolutely no circumstance is emotional or physical pain, weakness. Therefore, it could never be “weakness leaving the body” as I’ve heard some Veterans say.  While the phrase, “Pain is weakness leaving the body”, began as a motivational adage that encouraged us to lean into pain as a way to cultivate strength, it has set up many of us to think that the experience of pain is weakness.  That is the first clause in the sentence after all.

Thinking of emotional pain in these terms is extremely damaging to our well being, because it can cause us to conclude that opening up to, talking about, and experiencing painful feelings is something that a strong person should not do: If pain is weakness leaving the body, then why don’t I just disconnect from it altogether? There, I’m strong.

The only problem with this is that pain demands to be felt.

The reality is that brave and wise people are not only open to the experience of emotional pain, but most importantly, they take action when it is causing them undue, incessant suffering.  Pain is our body attempting to communicate with us. Science writer, Kirstin Weir, reminds us, “Pain tells you what’s happening within the world of your own body, [and] your nervous system is in charge of delivering the news.”

If we act on the pain in the scenario above, we might scooch the bed over a few inches, or consciously move with more grace as we enter the room in order to spare our little toes.

Emotional pain works the exact same way.  When we feel the stings of internal hurts, our bodies are providing us with valuable bits of data.  Something within the world of our experiences, past or present, is in need of attention, and talking about it is generally the only way out.  Otherwise, these feelings stay trapped in our bodies, and as my psychotherapist likes to say, “feelings don’t flow with nowhere to go.

In other words, if we don’t talk about our feelings with another human being, they have nowhere to land, and can torment us for days, months, or even a lifetime.  Other people, especially empathic professionals, can be a critical part of this process because they can offer us emotional resonance, and a place to “unload” our heavy feelings, so that we don’t have to carry them by ourselves. 

Have you ever awoken to realize that despite having a home, career, a healthy retirement, friends and family, that you’re living a deeply unsatisfying and unhappy life?  That’s because ignoring one’s inner world leads to a life void of feeling, and since living and feeling are one, the result is a deep unfulfillment which can permeate our existence. Life becomes virtually meaningless and dreadful, as nearly each day becomes a metaphorical banging of our emotional toes on the bedpost of a painful past.

Without seeking real support for our deep aches, we never learn to inhabit our inner or outer space with the kind of grace that would permit us to avoid further self-inflicted emotional and psychological pain.  When we refuse to acknowledge the messages our bodies are sending us, we stunt our own growth, and sadly lose out on the profound gift that lies just beneath all those hurts.  We aren’t able to feel true love for ourself and others, or live by our higher values. We cut down the process of cultivating resilience by avoiding these feelings, and actually become weak.

Paradoxically, our hard fought effort to avoid emotional pain to remain strong actually leads to our demise, and we become weak from our core.  Following our trail of tears is the only chance we have of becoming strong and happy. 

Therefore, pain is never weakness.  In fact, pain, if we allow it to, manifests in our bodies to guide, strengthen, and heal us.  Enlisting a professional to help us unearth, feel, and learn from our feelings, can be greatly beneficial because our psyches are complex, and often difficult to understand on our own. 

Pain connects us to our humanity, and humanity is the rich soil we need to experience a deeper and more authentic happiness, joy, and strength.

20 Aug 2019
The Heartbreak of Leaving the Marine Corps
Just a few hours prior, I sat in the confines of a fluorescent lit conference room with 3 field grade officers, all built like brick shithouses, chizzled, professional, determined, yet compassionate, staring back at me.  They had just stated their verdict that I would be discharged from the Marine Corps.  Honorably, but discharged nonetheless.  "Do you have anything you want...
Keep Reading
17 Aug 2019
Therapy and Shame – Veterans’ Voices
In this clip, RVDV co-creator, Ryan Berg, talks about his journey though psychotherapy, and why having a therapist is like having and "executive coach.....on steroids".
Keep Reading
17 Aug 2019
The Damaging Affects of Patriarchy
When I was in Iraq, I saw men holding hands all the time. As you might imagine, most of us Marines assumed there was something homosexual about doing this, and all sorts of jokes sprung up as a result. After more than ten years, and a lot of personal reflection, I’m not so sure that I believe this anymore. I’m...
Keep Reading
15 Aug 2019
Pain Is Never Weakness Leaving the Body
...You walk into your bedroom and clang your pinky toe on the sturdy, round wooden leg of the bed frame. A mind-numbing ache ascends instantly from your foot to your skull. You lie down on your mattress and clinch hard your eyelids as you whisper hateful obscenities. The pangs climax into one loud verbal curse. The pain pulses, but the...
Keep Reading
25 Jul 2019
As a U.S. Marine Infantryman, Psychotherapy Has Made Me Even Stronger
The experience of therapy was new to me.  I wasn't used to someone listening.  To caring.  To someone asking questions about my feelings, and affirming the validity of them.  To someone simply being present as I cried about hurtful events in my life.  We talked a lot about my early years (still do) as a child and adolescent. We painstakingly...
Keep Reading
25 Jul 2019
Thank God for Emotional Pain
“Thank God for emotional pain”… was a thought that I had as I entered the park on an afternoon walk a few weeks ago. “Wait, what?”, I said to myself internally. “Did I really just utter that?” Something within me stood resolute and firm. Was their truth to this utterance? I sat down on the bench in the park as...
Keep Reading
22 Jul 2019
I Stopped Smoking Weed and I’ve Never Felt Happier
So I smoked in college, after I graduated, and off an on when I entered professional life.  I would quit because I felt ashamed, and then fire back up again.  It became a vicious cycle.  I realize now that this viciousness was a result of my unconscious desire to avoid difficult emotions - not to mention the fact that the...
Keep Reading
21 Jul 2019
Veterans’ Next Mission: Topple Patriarchy, Reduce Suicides
As Veterans, we know all to well what it means to suck it up.  "Embrace the suck" has become so common place that we often live our lives from this place, and even tell our friends in one way or another, to do just that.  But what actually are we embracing here?  Are we embracing ourselves in a manner that...
Keep Reading
19 Jul 2019
These Muslims Wanted Me to Live
As I sat up against the wall of the roof with my back towards the street where the car was, I was rocked by the most powerful explosion I've ever experienced.  It shook my chest cavity. I passed out for a nanosecond. I then tried standing up as my head spun, and I instinctively strapped the buckle of my helmet's...
Keep Reading
18 Jul 2019
Disobeying Orders: One Man Lives
It was a bright and sunny morning in 2007 at the downtown Fallujah, Iraq, police station where a dozen or so Marines and I were tasked with providing security for a day of police recruiting.  There seemed to be a over a hundred or more local Iraqi men lined up right outside of the front gate eagerly awaiting to get...
Keep Reading
18 Apr 2019
On The Road To Nabatiya
ON THE ROAD TO NABATIYA THEY COME TO ME AS IF I’VE CALLED THEM BACK FROM A PLACE I’VE LEFT BEHIND THEIR FACES, YOUNG...
Keep Reading
05 Feb 2019
Leadership and Healing: Creating Space for Transformation
The first time we took enemy contact was on our first patrol. We had just arrived in country, and we had not yet gained enough experience to conduct a foot patrol that didn't leave us exhausted.  Despite having trained for the past three months, the sweltering heat, and the weight of carrying a full combat load weighed on us.  We...
Keep Reading
12 Nov 2018
Do You Ever Feel Like A Part of You Died in Iraq?
Connection after service among Marines can be tricky at times. Our relationships were fostered in an environment where feelings and emotions were mostly suppressed, or at least not acknowledged or talked about much. When we come together, it can feel like we are picking up right where we left off. And where did we leave off? We left off at...
Keep Reading
03 Oct 2016
Wake Up Call
I felt sickened. While I could see the need to move the man, seeing a machine do it was so disrespectful to human life. I quickly pushed these thoughts down since there was nothing I could do about it, and then told myself, “hey, it’s war”. And then, BOOM!
Keep Reading
23 Sep 2016
Warrior…for Love
I served 7 years in the Marine Corps Reserves, deploying twice to Iraq in some of the most dangerous areas, including the Triangle of Death. This is the same place that the modern day terror group, ISIS, was hiding out and trying to harm my friends and I. My experiences in country, and the training received to become a Marine,...
Keep Reading
20 Nov 2010
Remembering to Remember
My point is we’re on edge. We’re worried about those still fighting; we’re trying to find ourselves and other vets; and we’re seeking the care and treatment we need without feeling like it’s a threat to our warrior ethos. We often hear today by many that every day is Veterans Day. Is it? ...
Keep Reading

To protect the author’s identity, RVDV has withheld the name and biographical information of this Veteran.  He served in the Marine Corps and deployed twice to Iraq as an infantryman.


Editors note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s own.

As a U.S. Marine who returned home in 2007 from my second deployment to Iraq, it never occurred to me to get professional help. To deal with emotional, psychological, and spiritual pain – if at all –  I would, for example, carry a very heavy boulder up a large hill near my house.  I tied a chain around the rock and then looped the other end around a backpack.  This way, I could put the backpack on and drag 60 pounds to the top of a punishing hill.  I honestly believed that I could become like one of those actors from the movie, “300”.  Ripped to shreds and ready for war.  Looking back, I realize that this was my way of continuing to be a Marine – and a way to view myself as a worthy person.

This went on for a few months at least, and then I met my counselor at the Vet Center here in Northern California.  I told him what I did, and he smirked and said, “that’s probably not the best thing for you to be doing”.  I looked at him as if he was crazy.  “Just because your scrawny ass can’t do it, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t”, I remember thinking.

Those counseling sessions lasted for a few months before I decided I was finished.  I concluded that he needed to see me more than I needed to see him, and to be truthful,  I didn’t find it particularly helpful at the time.  The next time that I would see a therapist would be exactly a decade later. 

Those years in between though were extremely hard for me.  I struggled with multiple failed and unhealthy relationships, serious depression, drug and tobacco use, and profound anger.  I knew no way out.  I did, however, graduate from UC Berkeley (Cal) during this time.  Yet it was really hard to focus and perform well because I had so much going on internally left unaddressed.  I also abused Adderall during my undergraduate years as a way to cope with the competitive environment, and it just simply felt good.  I could rationalize using it because it helped to treat my “ADD”.  Yeah, not really though, I was using drugs legally, getting high. I wasn’t aware of what was really going on with me.  I will say that using Adderall sent me into the deepest and darkest depression I’ve ever experienced. 

In the years leading up to therapy, I had always wondered why each day seemed so gloomy, and why I wasn’t better at achieving my goals and fulfilling my dreams.  I consistently felt stuck, in pain, and unable to break free from my past.

I hit the workforce after graduating from Cal, and five years later found myself in graduate level Leadership program, which I could do while I worked.  During my final thesis project for the degree, my research focused on the benefits yoga within the lives of returning Veterans.

When doing yoga, I felt extremely anxious, and hated following the teacher’s instruction.  I was also simply resistant to the practice – and at times I completely hated doing it – and I didn’t understand why. There were times that I wanted to run out of the room.  But because I was in an experimental mindset for school, I wanted to learn more about myself and this resistance, and so I found myself face to face with an experienced psychotherapist who took a particular interest in working with Veterans.  This time, I wanted to talk.

The experience of therapy was new to me.  I wasn’t used to someone listening.  To caring.  To someone asking questions about my feelings, and affirming the validity of them.  To someone simply being present as I cried about hurtful events in my life.  On top of that my therapist was a woman, which felt doubly scary – yet triply supportive I would come to learn.

Turns out, it wasn’t simply anxiety that I needed to address.  Anxiety was just the tip of the iceberg, and underneath lay a whole host, a reservoir, of emotions that I had never been able to psychologically and emotionally process from my past.  The fear and trauma of being deployed twice to a war zone I needed to talk about for sure, but the main source of my pain and depression was primarily the life I had prior to joining the Marines.

We talked a lot about my early years (still do) as a child and adolescent. We painstakingly went back to moments when I was physically abused as a child. The horror. The shame. The embarrassment. The intense physical pain I endured as a little boy. The abandonment I felt by my mother. All of that, and more.  My early experiences and relationships have had a profound impact on my life, and becoming aware of those influences – and talking about them – has helped me to understand and see myself more clearly, dynamically, and take steps in directions that make me happier.  Even without specifically memorable trauma, I have learned that our parents, family members, and others we had contact with, can have lasting effects on how we relate to ourselves and the world.

I’ve experienced some of the most excruciating emotionally and psychically painful moments of my entire life as a result of therapy (still do at times). Reliving the past in order to eradicate its negative affects from my soul.  It is the most difficult work I’ve ever done, despite two deployments to Iraq.  Talking about painful experiences opened the door to a world of emotions that I never knew existed.  That world had always been pushed down, remaining outside of my awareness, yet controlling nearly every aspect of my life.  My shadow. 

This statement (from this article) illustrates what releasing inner pain has felt like:

After the first painful release of negative emotions, you will find a certain relief in the realization that poisonous matter has left your system in a manner that was not destructive for you or for others. After thus having gained insight and understanding, new warm, good emotions will come out of you that could not express themselves as long as the negative emotions were held in check.

To note, much of the actual healing work happens after therapy sessions end and you go home. It’s wholly unlike a Swedish massage, where you typically leave feeling better (although at times I did and do). Nearly every time for the first six months, after I got home, emotions flooded my whole being and I would often beg for it to stop. 

The feelings that I never had a chance to process as a child often came flooding forth, and I would be left feeling like a vulnerable little boy who wanted nothing more than to be in the arms of his mother. But that couldn’t happen and wasn’t meant to since I’m an adult now.  The realization that these feelings were for me to feel sunk in over time, and I eventually succumbed to their full potential.

Through therapy I have truly gotten in touch with my heart again.  I’ve learned to cry again (which feels so good by the way), to feel my feelings and not be afraid, to ditch harmful substances and addictions that don’t contribute to my well-being.  My sleep has improved exponentially, which I attribute to having released a 60 pound pack of psychic pain I had been carrying.  I’ve realized that the body truly does remember, and what’s often beneficial is to talk about our experiences with qualified people in order to release, process, and integrate those old feelings.  

What I’ve take from therapy is the single most important thing any of us have.  My life.  My joy, happiness, and security.  I still have painful moments, but I also now have the most joyous ones.  I am able to connect with people on a level I never before knew.  I feel a joy pulse through me almost every day I pop out of bed.  I no longer use addictive substances, I’m sensitive to others, and I share my feelings with my wife all the time – making our relationship rich and fulfilling.

Talking about a painful past and present with a professional, and feeling our emotions can be vitally important to living fulfilling and happy lives.  We might have a tendency to think that therapy should be reserved as a last resort, yet if you had an open wound that required stitches or even staples, you would probably see someone qualified to help you sew that up rather quickly – before it progressively got worse.  Perhaps you have an internal tape that plays which says, “I’m fine, I’m fine”.  As Veterans who might be hurting, we must venture to begin the journey of acknowledging the sea of depression we can sometimes find ourselves in, and arouse the courage to be vulnerable enough to catch the ring buoy being thrown to us.  We are reminded that real security comes from this process of looking within ourselves (from this article):

So, build your true security. You have nothing to fear from becoming aware of what is already in you. Looking away from what is does not cause it to cease to exist. Therefore, it is wise on your part to want to look at, to face, and to acknowledge what is in you — no more and no less! To believe that it harms you more to know what you feel and are than not to know is extremely foolish.

20 Aug 2019
The Heartbreak of Leaving the Marine Corps
Just a few hours prior, I sat in the confines of a fluorescent lit conference room with 3 field grade officers, all built like brick shithouses, chizzled, professional, determined, yet compassionate, staring back at me.  They had just stated their verdict that I would be discharged from the Marine Corps.  Honorably, but discharged nonetheless.  "Do you have anything you want...
Keep Reading
17 Aug 2019
Therapy and Shame – Veterans’ Voices
In this clip, RVDV co-creator, Ryan Berg, talks about his journey though psychotherapy, and why having a therapist is like having and "executive coach.....on steroids".
Keep Reading
17 Aug 2019
The Damaging Affects of Patriarchy
When I was in Iraq, I saw men holding hands all the time. As you might imagine, most of us Marines assumed there was something homosexual about doing this, and all sorts of jokes sprung up as a result. After more than ten years, and a lot of personal reflection, I’m not so sure that I believe this anymore. I’m...
Keep Reading
15 Aug 2019
Pain Is Never Weakness Leaving the Body
...You walk into your bedroom and clang your pinky toe on the sturdy, round wooden leg of the bed frame. A mind-numbing ache ascends instantly from your foot to your skull. You lie down on your mattress and clinch hard your eyelids as you whisper hateful obscenities. The pangs climax into one loud verbal curse. The pain pulses, but the...
Keep Reading
25 Jul 2019
As a U.S. Marine Infantryman, Psychotherapy Has Made Me Even Stronger
The experience of therapy was new to me.  I wasn't used to someone listening.  To caring.  To someone asking questions about my feelings, and affirming the validity of them.  To someone simply being present as I cried about hurtful events in my life.  We talked a lot about my early years (still do) as a child and adolescent. We painstakingly...
Keep Reading
25 Jul 2019
Thank God for Emotional Pain
“Thank God for emotional pain”… was a thought that I had as I entered the park on an afternoon walk a few weeks ago. “Wait, what?”, I said to myself internally. “Did I really just utter that?” Something within me stood resolute and firm. Was their truth to this utterance? I sat down on the bench in the park as...
Keep Reading
22 Jul 2019
I Stopped Smoking Weed and I’ve Never Felt Happier
So I smoked in college, after I graduated, and off an on when I entered professional life.  I would quit because I felt ashamed, and then fire back up again.  It became a vicious cycle.  I realize now that this viciousness was a result of my unconscious desire to avoid difficult emotions - not to mention the fact that the...
Keep Reading
21 Jul 2019
Veterans’ Next Mission: Topple Patriarchy, Reduce Suicides
As Veterans, we know all to well what it means to suck it up.  "Embrace the suck" has become so common place that we often live our lives from this place, and even tell our friends in one way or another, to do just that.  But what actually are we embracing here?  Are we embracing ourselves in a manner that...
Keep Reading
19 Jul 2019
These Muslims Wanted Me to Live
As I sat up against the wall of the roof with my back towards the street where the car was, I was rocked by the most powerful explosion I've ever experienced.  It shook my chest cavity. I passed out for a nanosecond. I then tried standing up as my head spun, and I instinctively strapped the buckle of my helmet's...
Keep Reading
18 Jul 2019
Disobeying Orders: One Man Lives
It was a bright and sunny morning in 2007 at the downtown Fallujah, Iraq, police station where a dozen or so Marines and I were tasked with providing security for a day of police recruiting.  There seemed to be a over a hundred or more local Iraqi men lined up right outside of the front gate eagerly awaiting to get...
Keep Reading
18 Apr 2019
On The Road To Nabatiya
ON THE ROAD TO NABATIYA THEY COME TO ME AS IF I’VE CALLED THEM BACK FROM A PLACE I’VE LEFT BEHIND THEIR FACES, YOUNG...
Keep Reading
05 Feb 2019
Leadership and Healing: Creating Space for Transformation
The first time we took enemy contact was on our first patrol. We had just arrived in country, and we had not yet gained enough experience to conduct a foot patrol that didn't leave us exhausted.  Despite having trained for the past three months, the sweltering heat, and the weight of carrying a full combat load weighed on us.  We...
Keep Reading
12 Nov 2018
Do You Ever Feel Like A Part of You Died in Iraq?
Connection after service among Marines can be tricky at times. Our relationships were fostered in an environment where feelings and emotions were mostly suppressed, or at least not acknowledged or talked about much. When we come together, it can feel like we are picking up right where we left off. And where did we leave off? We left off at...
Keep Reading
03 Oct 2016
Wake Up Call
I felt sickened. While I could see the need to move the man, seeing a machine do it was so disrespectful to human life. I quickly pushed these thoughts down since there was nothing I could do about it, and then told myself, “hey, it’s war”. And then, BOOM!
Keep Reading
23 Sep 2016
Warrior…for Love
I served 7 years in the Marine Corps Reserves, deploying twice to Iraq in some of the most dangerous areas, including the Triangle of Death. This is the same place that the modern day terror group, ISIS, was hiding out and trying to harm my friends and I. My experiences in country, and the training received to become a Marine,...
Keep Reading
20 Nov 2010
Remembering to Remember
My point is we’re on edge. We’re worried about those still fighting; we’re trying to find ourselves and other vets; and we’re seeking the care and treatment we need without feeling like it’s a threat to our warrior ethos. We often hear today by many that every day is Veterans Day. Is it? ...
Keep Reading

Ryan Berg is a former U.S. Marine Corps combat infantryman and deployed twice to Iraq.  In 2004, he was with 2/24 Echo company, Weapons Platoon, in Mahmudiyah, Iraq.  In 2006, he served with 1/14 Task Force Military Police and was in Fallujah, Ramadi and Al Asad.

He studied rhetoric at UC Berkeley and completed his MA in Leadership Studies at Saint Mary’s College of California.  He is most interested in understanding the ways that the system of patriarchy in America affects male military Veterans – and argues that this system is fundamental in perpetuating suicides in the Veteran community.  He is married to his wife Nataly, and lives in Concord, CA.


Editors note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s own.

“Thank God for emotional pain”… was a thought that I had as I entered the park on an afternoon walk a few weeks ago. “Wait, what?”, I said to myself internally. “Did I really just utter that?” Something within me stood resolute and firm. Was their truth to this utterance?  I sat down on the bench in the park as a deeply intense sadness pulsed through my body, and a warmth took over my skull.  Do you know the kind? 
 
“What is this”, I thought?  “Doesn’t matter, it’s time to feel, not think”, I replied.  I sat on that bench for about ten minutes until I felt the waves of emotion reduce to low-tide.  I stood up and tried to take in the air I needed, as if I’d just popped my head up from being submerged under water. 
 
I later decided that, yes, it’s true, I’m so incredibly grateful for emotional pain.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sadistic, or happy that bad things happen.  Just glad I’m connected to myself.
 
I’m thankful for being capable of growing and maturing as a human being.  I’m thankful for being able to allow feelings to manifest in my body and reach surface awareness, so that I can come to fully experience my own vulnerability and humanity – a process that actually makes me stronger and capable of living by my highest values.  Through my feelings, I am led to spiritual, intellectual, and emotional maturity. I’m thankful that I feel closer to myself when I allow myself to feel – a kind of intimacy with myself that, while sometimes feels heart-breakingly lonesome, also inevitably leads to a richer connection to myself and the world.
 
In other words, internal pain is valuable. Spiritual gold if we recognize it as such.
 
It’s obvious that we humans would rather avoid internal pain.  We do it all the time.  Who wants to hurt?  While each of us reading this knows that emotional pain is, at times, excruciating – if we were to think of it as just another necessary process of life, like breathing, perhaps we could use it to guide us in the direction of re-kindling with who we really are, and a happiness that we all want.
 
I love how lucid and to the point the following excerpt from this article describes why humans often neglect this aspect of themselves:
 
In the world of feeling you experience the good and the bad, the happy and the unhappy, pleasure and pain. Contrary to just registering such impressions mentally, emotional experience really touches you. Since your struggle is primarily for happiness, and since immature emotions lead to unhappiness, your secondary aim becomes the avoidance of unhappiness. This creates the early, mostly unconscious conclusion:  “If I do not feel, then I will not be unhappy.”  In other words, instead of taking the courageous and appropriate step to live through negative, immature emotions in order to afford them the opportunity to grow and thus become mature and constructive, the childish emotions are suppressed, put out of awareness and buried, so that they remain inadequate and destructive, even though the person is unaware of their existence.

“If I do not feel then I will not be unhappy.”  Wow.  We often avoid feeling because we think that will lead to unhappiness. What a heartbreaking conclusion. When you’re alone, do you ever wish you could be happier?  Does it ever feel like you’re chasing happiness, without ever finding true fulfillment?  I think that’s because we often place so little value on our “emotionality”.  When we begin to recognize the truth of and absorb the following statement, I think we will begin to place more value on this aspect of ourselves (taken from same article as above):

The capacity to experience feeling is synonymous with the capacity to give and receive happiness. To the degree you shy away from any kind of emotional experience, to that extent you also close the door to the experience of happiness.

So, yes, thank God for emotional pain. Without that pain, I wouldn’t have a heart. Without a heart, I wouldn’t be alive. I am learning that I need to feel that pain in order to have direction and joy in my life. 

20 Aug 2019
The Heartbreak of Leaving the Marine Corps
Just a few hours prior, I sat in the confines of a fluorescent lit conference room with 3 field grade officers, all built like brick shithouses, chizzled, professional, determined, yet compassionate, staring back at me.  They had just stated their verdict that I would be discharged from the Marine Corps.  Honorably, but discharged nonetheless.  "Do you have anything you want...
Keep Reading
17 Aug 2019
Therapy and Shame – Veterans’ Voices
In this clip, RVDV co-creator, Ryan Berg, talks about his journey though psychotherapy, and why having a therapist is like having and "executive coach.....on steroids".
Keep Reading
17 Aug 2019
The Damaging Affects of Patriarchy
When I was in Iraq, I saw men holding hands all the time. As you might imagine, most of us Marines assumed there was something homosexual about doing this, and all sorts of jokes sprung up as a result. After more than ten years, and a lot of personal reflection, I’m not so sure that I believe this anymore. I’m...
Keep Reading
15 Aug 2019
Pain Is Never Weakness Leaving the Body
...You walk into your bedroom and clang your pinky toe on the sturdy, round wooden leg of the bed frame. A mind-numbing ache ascends instantly from your foot to your skull. You lie down on your mattress and clinch hard your eyelids as you whisper hateful obscenities. The pangs climax into one loud verbal curse. The pain pulses, but the...
Keep Reading
25 Jul 2019
As a U.S. Marine Infantryman, Psychotherapy Has Made Me Even Stronger
The experience of therapy was new to me.  I wasn't used to someone listening.  To caring.  To someone asking questions about my feelings, and affirming the validity of them.  To someone simply being present as I cried about hurtful events in my life.  We talked a lot about my early years (still do) as a child and adolescent. We painstakingly...
Keep Reading
25 Jul 2019
Thank God for Emotional Pain
“Thank God for emotional pain”… was a thought that I had as I entered the park on an afternoon walk a few weeks ago. “Wait, what?”, I said to myself internally. “Did I really just utter that?” Something within me stood resolute and firm. Was their truth to this utterance? I sat down on the bench in the park as...
Keep Reading
22 Jul 2019
I Stopped Smoking Weed and I’ve Never Felt Happier
So I smoked in college, after I graduated, and off an on when I entered professional life.  I would quit because I felt ashamed, and then fire back up again.  It became a vicious cycle.  I realize now that this viciousness was a result of my unconscious desire to avoid difficult emotions - not to mention the fact that the...
Keep Reading
21 Jul 2019
Veterans’ Next Mission: Topple Patriarchy, Reduce Suicides
As Veterans, we know all to well what it means to suck it up.  "Embrace the suck" has become so common place that we often live our lives from this place, and even tell our friends in one way or another, to do just that.  But what actually are we embracing here?  Are we embracing ourselves in a manner that...
Keep Reading
19 Jul 2019
These Muslims Wanted Me to Live
As I sat up against the wall of the roof with my back towards the street where the car was, I was rocked by the most powerful explosion I've ever experienced.  It shook my chest cavity. I passed out for a nanosecond. I then tried standing up as my head spun, and I instinctively strapped the buckle of my helmet's...
Keep Reading
18 Jul 2019
Disobeying Orders: One Man Lives
It was a bright and sunny morning in 2007 at the downtown Fallujah, Iraq, police station where a dozen or so Marines and I were tasked with providing security for a day of police recruiting.  There seemed to be a over a hundred or more local Iraqi men lined up right outside of the front gate eagerly awaiting to get...
Keep Reading
18 Apr 2019
On The Road To Nabatiya
ON THE ROAD TO NABATIYA THEY COME TO ME AS IF I’VE CALLED THEM BACK FROM A PLACE I’VE LEFT BEHIND THEIR FACES, YOUNG...
Keep Reading
05 Feb 2019
Leadership and Healing: Creating Space for Transformation
The first time we took enemy contact was on our first patrol. We had just arrived in country, and we had not yet gained enough experience to conduct a foot patrol that didn't leave us exhausted.  Despite having trained for the past three months, the sweltering heat, and the weight of carrying a full combat load weighed on us.  We...
Keep Reading
12 Nov 2018
Do You Ever Feel Like A Part of You Died in Iraq?
Connection after service among Marines can be tricky at times. Our relationships were fostered in an environment where feelings and emotions were mostly suppressed, or at least not acknowledged or talked about much. When we come together, it can feel like we are picking up right where we left off. And where did we leave off? We left off at...
Keep Reading
03 Oct 2016
Wake Up Call
I felt sickened. While I could see the need to move the man, seeing a machine do it was so disrespectful to human life. I quickly pushed these thoughts down since there was nothing I could do about it, and then told myself, “hey, it’s war”. And then, BOOM!
Keep Reading
23 Sep 2016
Warrior…for Love
I served 7 years in the Marine Corps Reserves, deploying twice to Iraq in some of the most dangerous areas, including the Triangle of Death. This is the same place that the modern day terror group, ISIS, was hiding out and trying to harm my friends and I. My experiences in country, and the training received to become a Marine,...
Keep Reading
20 Nov 2010
Remembering to Remember
My point is we’re on edge. We’re worried about those still fighting; we’re trying to find ourselves and other vets; and we’re seeking the care and treatment we need without feeling like it’s a threat to our warrior ethos. We often hear today by many that every day is Veterans Day. Is it? ...
Keep Reading

To protect the author’s identity, RVDV has withheld the name and biographical information of this Veteran.  He served in the Marine Corps and deployed twice to Iraq as an infantryman.


Editors note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s own.

Ever since I stopped smoking marijuana, I’ve never felt better.  Marijuana was a habit that began when I was an adolescent.  My mother provided me with the drug when I was a very young teenager as a way to cope with hard times we were having.  We grew up without a lot of money, and were constantly moving around.  One particular day, it was insufferably hot, and the house we were living in was a complete dump, and without air conditioner.  My mom came down the stairs and offered a small bud to my brother and I.  We accepted, and the next few hours were pleasant, in a dreamy, numbing kind of way.

That was not the last time I smoked pot as a teenager.  Of course, I stopped alltogether when I joined the Marines.  For one, I couldn’t smoke or I would get kicked out, and second, I didn’t really feel those urges – not to mention the moral indoctrination the military provided to stay away from illegal activity.

After getting out of the Marines in 2007, I was still strongly personally opposed to doing it – instead I preferred to do things like run and lift weights to ease my stresses.  However, once I transferred from junior college to the powerhouse institution of UC Berkeley, something changed within me.  I gave myself permission to smoke marijuana, and smoke I did.  The environment was stressful, competitive, and high quality weed very accessible.  I remember falling in love with it again the same way I did back on that hot day in Omaha, Nebraska as my youthful teenager self laid out on the couch, smiling, and wandered-off.

So I smoked in college, after I graduated, and off an on when I entered professional life.  I would periodically quit because I felt ashamed, and then fire back up again.  It became a vicious cycle.  I realize now that this viciousness was a result of my unconscious desire to avoid difficult emotions – not to mention the fact that the habit was engineered into my brain as an acceptable response to life-difficulties by my mother who provided it to me at an impressionable young age.

I was addicted to numbing this way, yet truthfully unhappy with my life.  I loved marijuana.  Literally, it was how I felt better about myself, life, my feelings, and everything in between.  Even as I entered psychotherapy a few years ago, I would show up stoned, pretend I wasn’t, and act like I was doing the work I needed to be doing.  Perhaps I was in some way – you know, manifesting my issues in front of a therapist – as a way to resolve them. 

Even after many months in therapy, I still didn’t quit.  Sometimes I would drive directly to the dispensary after a session, as a way to reward myself for having gone, and light up.  It wasn’t until I left my corporate job, and came face to face with all that I had been avoiding in my life, that I finally decided to quit, forever.  I realized one particular day that I needed to grow up and get serious about life.  Get serious about feeling joy and happiness again.  Get serious about a career that I can fall in love with.

So I stopped.

All together.  No more.  The emotional work is more important I said to myself.  I will state now: quitting was one of the most psychologically and emotionally difficult things I have ever done in my life.  All of the pain that I had never felt  because I was either busy working or numbing came oozing forth.  At first slowly, and then overwhelmingly – punishing waves of grief, fear, and sadness took me under.  “Help me.  I’ll smoke a little, it won’t hurt.” “No, I can do this.  I’ve been on 20 mile hikes that nearly killed me, I can do this.”  At last, I made the connection that my next mission was purely emotional.  I directed the turret gun of my soul on connecting with and feeling internal pain – and a month or so later, something changed.  Something big.

I actually began to feel happy.

20 Aug 2019
The Heartbreak of Leaving the Marine Corps
Just a few hours prior, I sat in the confines of a fluorescent lit conference room with 3 field grade officers, all built like brick shithouses, chizzled, professional, determined, yet compassionate, staring back at me.  They had just stated their verdict that I would be discharged from the Marine Corps.  Honorably, but discharged nonetheless.  "Do you have anything you want...
Keep Reading
17 Aug 2019
Therapy and Shame – Veterans’ Voices
In this clip, RVDV co-creator, Ryan Berg, talks about his journey though psychotherapy, and why having a therapist is like having and "executive coach.....on steroids".
Keep Reading
17 Aug 2019
The Damaging Affects of Patriarchy
When I was in Iraq, I saw men holding hands all the time. As you might imagine, most of us Marines assumed there was something homosexual about doing this, and all sorts of jokes sprung up as a result. After more than ten years, and a lot of personal reflection, I’m not so sure that I believe this anymore. I’m...
Keep Reading
15 Aug 2019
Pain Is Never Weakness Leaving the Body
...You walk into your bedroom and clang your pinky toe on the sturdy, round wooden leg of the bed frame. A mind-numbing ache ascends instantly from your foot to your skull. You lie down on your mattress and clinch hard your eyelids as you whisper hateful obscenities. The pangs climax into one loud verbal curse. The pain pulses, but the...
Keep Reading
25 Jul 2019
As a U.S. Marine Infantryman, Psychotherapy Has Made Me Even Stronger
The experience of therapy was new to me.  I wasn't used to someone listening.  To caring.  To someone asking questions about my feelings, and affirming the validity of them.  To someone simply being present as I cried about hurtful events in my life.  We talked a lot about my early years (still do) as a child and adolescent. We painstakingly...
Keep Reading
25 Jul 2019
Thank God for Emotional Pain
“Thank God for emotional pain”… was a thought that I had as I entered the park on an afternoon walk a few weeks ago. “Wait, what?”, I said to myself internally. “Did I really just utter that?” Something within me stood resolute and firm. Was their truth to this utterance? I sat down on the bench in the park as...
Keep Reading
22 Jul 2019
I Stopped Smoking Weed and I’ve Never Felt Happier
So I smoked in college, after I graduated, and off an on when I entered professional life.  I would quit because I felt ashamed, and then fire back up again.  It became a vicious cycle.  I realize now that this viciousness was a result of my unconscious desire to avoid difficult emotions - not to mention the fact that the...
Keep Reading
21 Jul 2019
Veterans’ Next Mission: Topple Patriarchy, Reduce Suicides
As Veterans, we know all to well what it means to suck it up.  "Embrace the suck" has become so common place that we often live our lives from this place, and even tell our friends in one way or another, to do just that.  But what actually are we embracing here?  Are we embracing ourselves in a manner that...
Keep Reading
19 Jul 2019
These Muslims Wanted Me to Live
As I sat up against the wall of the roof with my back towards the street where the car was, I was rocked by the most powerful explosion I've ever experienced.  It shook my chest cavity. I passed out for a nanosecond. I then tried standing up as my head spun, and I instinctively strapped the buckle of my helmet's...
Keep Reading
18 Jul 2019
Disobeying Orders: One Man Lives
It was a bright and sunny morning in 2007 at the downtown Fallujah, Iraq, police station where a dozen or so Marines and I were tasked with providing security for a day of police recruiting.  There seemed to be a over a hundred or more local Iraqi men lined up right outside of the front gate eagerly awaiting to get...
Keep Reading
18 Apr 2019
On The Road To Nabatiya
ON THE ROAD TO NABATIYA THEY COME TO ME AS IF I’VE CALLED THEM BACK FROM A PLACE I’VE LEFT BEHIND THEIR FACES, YOUNG...
Keep Reading
05 Feb 2019
Leadership and Healing: Creating Space for Transformation
The first time we took enemy contact was on our first patrol. We had just arrived in country, and we had not yet gained enough experience to conduct a foot patrol that didn't leave us exhausted.  Despite having trained for the past three months, the sweltering heat, and the weight of carrying a full combat load weighed on us.  We...
Keep Reading
12 Nov 2018
Do You Ever Feel Like A Part of You Died in Iraq?
Connection after service among Marines can be tricky at times. Our relationships were fostered in an environment where feelings and emotions were mostly suppressed, or at least not acknowledged or talked about much. When we come together, it can feel like we are picking up right where we left off. And where did we leave off? We left off at...
Keep Reading
03 Oct 2016
Wake Up Call
I felt sickened. While I could see the need to move the man, seeing a machine do it was so disrespectful to human life. I quickly pushed these thoughts down since there was nothing I could do about it, and then told myself, “hey, it’s war”. And then, BOOM!
Keep Reading
23 Sep 2016
Warrior…for Love
I served 7 years in the Marine Corps Reserves, deploying twice to Iraq in some of the most dangerous areas, including the Triangle of Death. This is the same place that the modern day terror group, ISIS, was hiding out and trying to harm my friends and I. My experiences in country, and the training received to become a Marine,...
Keep Reading
20 Nov 2010
Remembering to Remember
My point is we’re on edge. We’re worried about those still fighting; we’re trying to find ourselves and other vets; and we’re seeking the care and treatment we need without feeling like it’s a threat to our warrior ethos. We often hear today by many that every day is Veterans Day. Is it? ...
Keep Reading

Ryan Berg is a former U.S. Marine Corps combat infantryman and deployed twice to Iraq.  In 2004, he was with 2/24 Echo company, Weapons Platoon, in Mahmudiyah, Iraq.  In 2006, he served with 1/14 Task Force Military Police and was in Fallujah, Ramadi and Al Asad.

He studied rhetoric at UC Berkeley and completed his MA in Leadership Studies at Saint Mary’s College of California.  He is most interested in understanding the ways that the system of patriarchy in America affects male military Veterans – and argues that this system is fundamental in perpetuating suicides in the Veteran community.  He is married to his wife Nataly, and lives in Concord, CA.

Editors note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s own.

No one gets excited about being vulnerable – and many men have been trained to stay away from it.  Vulnerability feels weak, and so as men, and Veterans particularly, we avoid feeling that (from feeling at all really) –  especially since  we live in a male-dominated, patriarchal society. 

I had a conversation with a Marine buddy recently who said that, “Being vulnerable means telling your friends how you feel…how you really feel.  That’s scary, because you think they’ll judge you.”

Yes, we men do often live in a state of fear around our feelings.  In fact, so much so, that we often fully disconnect from them in order to assume our position among other boys, and prove our allegiance to the patriarchy.  We are socialized at a young age by other males to believe that being in touch with our emotions is unacceptable.  bell hooks points out that:

Since shaming is often used to socialize boys away from their feeling selves toward the patriarchal male mask, many grown men have an internal shaming voice.

Many male Veterans are often ashamed to acknowledge their inner-most feelings and sensations. I lived this way for a very long time.  We’re barely inside of our bodies, instead we choose to hang out in our heads, and our hearts are simply abandoned.  We self-mutilate our emotional world in service of what patriarchy has told us it means to be man – at the expense of our own humanity, and happiness.  hooks describes how we got here:

The way we “turn boys into men” is through injury: We sever them from their mothers, research tells us, far too early. We pull them away from their own expressiveness, from their feelings, from sensitivity to others. The very phrase “Be a man” means suck it up and keep going. Disconnection is not fallout from traditional masculinity. Disconnection is masculinity.

As Veterans, we know all to well what it means to suck it up.  “Embrace the suck” has become so common place that we often live our lives from this place, and even tell our friends in one way or another, to do just that.  But what actually are we embracing here?  Are we embracing ourselves in a manner that leads to our own happiness, or are we simply trying to love what our lives have become, without calling any of it into question?

We need to stop “sucking it up” and instead start giving ourselves what we really need, which most integrally includes feeling – and getting in touch with ourselves on a deeper, more intimate level.  We’ve done far too much “sucking up”, and it’s time to start giving back to ourselves what the military and others have “sucked” from us.  It’s time to start a very serious self-care practice, not to pamper ourselves, but one that gives us the best chance thrive in our lives as civilians.

Disconnection is masculinity.  Read that again.  We’re not only talking about disconnection from our feelings, but so too from ourselves.  As men, we must stop shaming other men who are in touch with their feelings. We must stop ridiculing them and participating in the patriarchal system, which convinces males to shut that part of themselves down. Doing so is the single most damaging thing that we do to ourselves and our friends.

We have to find a way, any way at all, to make it back to ourselves – to that playful little child we all once knew so well in our early years.  That path begins with experiencing and talking about our emotions as they manifest in us presently.  We need to learn emotional literacy, expression, and re-connect with the profound value of our feelings. As a male Marine Corps combat Veteran myself, I am giving you permission to do this work – you will be OK and a ton happier.  To begin, I recommend reading this article titled, Emotional Growth and It’s Function – to understand the profound value of feeling and its relationship to moving forward and living a happy life.

20 Aug 2019
The Heartbreak of Leaving the Marine Corps
Just a few hours prior, I sat in the confines of a fluorescent lit conference room with 3 field grade officers, all built like brick shithouses, chizzled, professional, determined, yet compassionate, staring back at me.  They had just stated their verdict that I would be discharged from the Marine Corps.  Honorably, but discharged nonetheless.  "Do you have anything you want...
Keep Reading
17 Aug 2019
Therapy and Shame – Veterans’ Voices
In this clip, RVDV co-creator, Ryan Berg, talks about his journey though psychotherapy, and why having a therapist is like having and "executive coach.....on steroids".
Keep Reading
17 Aug 2019
The Damaging Affects of Patriarchy
When I was in Iraq, I saw men holding hands all the time. As you might imagine, most of us Marines assumed there was something homosexual about doing this, and all sorts of jokes sprung up as a result. After more than ten years, and a lot of personal reflection, I’m not so sure that I believe this anymore. I’m...
Keep Reading
15 Aug 2019
Pain Is Never Weakness Leaving the Body
...You walk into your bedroom and clang your pinky toe on the sturdy, round wooden leg of the bed frame. A mind-numbing ache ascends instantly from your foot to your skull. You lie down on your mattress and clinch hard your eyelids as you whisper hateful obscenities. The pangs climax into one loud verbal curse. The pain pulses, but the...
Keep Reading
25 Jul 2019
As a U.S. Marine Infantryman, Psychotherapy Has Made Me Even Stronger
The experience of therapy was new to me.  I wasn't used to someone listening.  To caring.  To someone asking questions about my feelings, and affirming the validity of them.  To someone simply being present as I cried about hurtful events in my life.  We talked a lot about my early years (still do) as a child and adolescent. We painstakingly...
Keep Reading
25 Jul 2019
Thank God for Emotional Pain
“Thank God for emotional pain”… was a thought that I had as I entered the park on an afternoon walk a few weeks ago. “Wait, what?”, I said to myself internally. “Did I really just utter that?” Something within me stood resolute and firm. Was their truth to this utterance? I sat down on the bench in the park as...
Keep Reading
22 Jul 2019
I Stopped Smoking Weed and I’ve Never Felt Happier
So I smoked in college, after I graduated, and off an on when I entered professional life.  I would quit because I felt ashamed, and then fire back up again.  It became a vicious cycle.  I realize now that this viciousness was a result of my unconscious desire to avoid difficult emotions - not to mention the fact that the...
Keep Reading
21 Jul 2019
Veterans’ Next Mission: Topple Patriarchy, Reduce Suicides
As Veterans, we know all to well what it means to suck it up.  "Embrace the suck" has become so common place that we often live our lives from this place, and even tell our friends in one way or another, to do just that.  But what actually are we embracing here?  Are we embracing ourselves in a manner that...
Keep Reading
19 Jul 2019
These Muslims Wanted Me to Live
As I sat up against the wall of the roof with my back towards the street where the car was, I was rocked by the most powerful explosion I've ever experienced.  It shook my chest cavity. I passed out for a nanosecond. I then tried standing up as my head spun, and I instinctively strapped the buckle of my helmet's...
Keep Reading
18 Jul 2019
Disobeying Orders: One Man Lives
It was a bright and sunny morning in 2007 at the downtown Fallujah, Iraq, police station where a dozen or so Marines and I were tasked with providing security for a day of police recruiting.  There seemed to be a over a hundred or more local Iraqi men lined up right outside of the front gate eagerly awaiting to get...
Keep Reading
18 Apr 2019
On The Road To Nabatiya
ON THE ROAD TO NABATIYA THEY COME TO ME AS IF I’VE CALLED THEM BACK FROM A PLACE I’VE LEFT BEHIND THEIR FACES, YOUNG...
Keep Reading
05 Feb 2019
Leadership and Healing: Creating Space for Transformation
The first time we took enemy contact was on our first patrol. We had just arrived in country, and we had not yet gained enough experience to conduct a foot patrol that didn't leave us exhausted.  Despite having trained for the past three months, the sweltering heat, and the weight of carrying a full combat load weighed on us.  We...
Keep Reading
12 Nov 2018
Do You Ever Feel Like A Part of You Died in Iraq?
Connection after service among Marines can be tricky at times. Our relationships were fostered in an environment where feelings and emotions were mostly suppressed, or at least not acknowledged or talked about much. When we come together, it can feel like we are picking up right where we left off. And where did we leave off? We left off at...
Keep Reading
03 Oct 2016
Wake Up Call
I felt sickened. While I could see the need to move the man, seeing a machine do it was so disrespectful to human life. I quickly pushed these thoughts down since there was nothing I could do about it, and then told myself, “hey, it’s war”. And then, BOOM!
Keep Reading
23 Sep 2016
Warrior…for Love
I served 7 years in the Marine Corps Reserves, deploying twice to Iraq in some of the most dangerous areas, including the Triangle of Death. This is the same place that the modern day terror group, ISIS, was hiding out and trying to harm my friends and I. My experiences in country, and the training received to become a Marine,...
Keep Reading
20 Nov 2010
Remembering to Remember
My point is we’re on edge. We’re worried about those still fighting; we’re trying to find ourselves and other vets; and we’re seeking the care and treatment we need without feeling like it’s a threat to our warrior ethos. We often hear today by many that every day is Veterans Day. Is it? ...
Keep Reading

Ryan Berg is a former U.S. Marine Corps combat infantryman and deployed twice to Iraq.  In 2004, he was with 2/24 Echo company, Weapons Platoon, in Mahmudiyah, Iraq.  In 2006, he served with 1/14 Task Force Military Police and was in Fallujah, Ramadi and Al Asad.

He studied rhetoric at UC Berkeley and completed his MA in Leadership Studies at Saint Mary’s College of California.  He is most interested in understanding the ways that the system of patriarchy in America affects male military Veterans – and argues that this system is fundamental in perpetuating suicides in the Veteran community.  He is married to his wife Nataly, and lives in Concord, CA.

It was a seemingly normal day in Iraq, in 2004, on a foot patrol alongside a dozen of  my fellow U.S. Marines. We were about halfway finished and in downtown Mahmudiyah – a deadly little town that sat 20 miles south of the capital, Baghdad. Every moment of those patrols was surreal for me – I mean, I’m a 20 something year old kid really – marching around one of the most hostile places on Earth, following my best friends around, looking for “bad guys”. Scared shitless to be truthful, fighting my way through the hell-like heat, heavy gear, and musculoskeletal throbbing- confronting the extremely real possibility that something will explode underneath, or near me, at any moment.

On this particular patrol, as we were walking along, I remember several Iraqis, including women, children, and men, who approached our patrol absolutely insisting that we did not continue walking in the direction we were headed. “Don’t go, don’ go”, as they pointed ahead to an intersection about 150 yards ahead.

The local’s insistence forced us to bridge the language gap, and we did so quickly. Sadly, we learned that a group of insurgents had shot a man’s wife several times in front of him while they were in their vehicle, at which point the man was taken away and kidnapped. Even more alarming to us was the fact that there allegedly lay a large bomb in the trunk of the vehicle.

As this picture developed, we quickly began to take positions on the top of homes and behind well-covered areas that would shield us from a large blast. At this point, there was another squad we linked up with in the area who helped us cordon off the area.

We immediately radioed for our military partners to come and dismantle the bomb, or simply blow it up them selves.  5 Marines or so and myself sat atop the roof of a home, and every now and then peaked over the top to see what was going on.  Despite having a plan to address the explosives, the situation was active.  Insurgents would often blow up bombs remotely using their cell phones.  This is why it was critical not to go anywhere near the vehicle, for that could be fatal. 

As I sat up against the wall of the roof with my back towards the street where the car was, I was rocked by the most powerful explosion I’ve ever experienced.  It shook my chest cavity. I passed out for a nanosecond. I then tried standing up a bit dazed, and I instinctively strapped the buckle of my helmet’s chinstrap.  Immediately, I heard one of the Marines say, “there were Marines over there”.  In a panicky voice, I replied, “what do you mean there were Marines over there?” As he began to explain, his voice faded, and I popped up over the wall to see what appeared to be two Marines laying on the ground, not far from the vehicle.  I couldn’t believe it.  How did they get there?  The plan was to secure the area and wait for explosives ordinance disposal.  I knew that there were car parts about to come raining down on us. As the larger pieces drifted to the ground, missing us, the debris became dust, and an explosive haze filled the area.

I then stood up after I realized what happened, and saw the engine block laying there smoldering as the two Marines lay their barely moving on the ground, with their flak jackets and helmets narrowly hanging on to them.  Are they dead? I asked myself.

Apparently what actually happened is that a Marine Sergeant and Naval medical Corpsman decided to act on suspicions that the woman was still alive. Through their binoculars, they were convinced that they saw air bubbles coming from her nose. Against all protocol, they approached the vehicle, and just as they pulled the woman out of it, someone in the distance remotely detonated the bomb.  Both men survived without major injuries, and were scolded by their superiors upon returning to base.  They were both awarded silver stars for their actions many years later.

20 Aug 2019
The Heartbreak of Leaving the Marine Corps
Just a few hours prior, I sat in the confines of a fluorescent lit conference room with 3 field grade officers, all built like brick shithouses, chizzled, professional, determined, yet compassionate, staring back at me.  They had just stated their verdict that I would be discharged from the Marine Corps.  Honorably, but discharged nonetheless.  "Do you have anything you want...
Keep Reading
17 Aug 2019
Therapy and Shame – Veterans’ Voices
In this clip, RVDV co-creator, Ryan Berg, talks about his journey though psychotherapy, and why having a therapist is like having and "executive coach.....on steroids".
Keep Reading
17 Aug 2019
The Damaging Affects of Patriarchy
When I was in Iraq, I saw men holding hands all the time. As you might imagine, most of us Marines assumed there was something homosexual about doing this, and all sorts of jokes sprung up as a result. After more than ten years, and a lot of personal reflection, I’m not so sure that I believe this anymore. I’m...
Keep Reading
15 Aug 2019
Pain Is Never Weakness Leaving the Body
...You walk into your bedroom and clang your pinky toe on the sturdy, round wooden leg of the bed frame. A mind-numbing ache ascends instantly from your foot to your skull. You lie down on your mattress and clinch hard your eyelids as you whisper hateful obscenities. The pangs climax into one loud verbal curse. The pain pulses, but the...
Keep Reading
25 Jul 2019
As a U.S. Marine Infantryman, Psychotherapy Has Made Me Even Stronger
The experience of therapy was new to me.  I wasn't used to someone listening.  To caring.  To someone asking questions about my feelings, and affirming the validity of them.  To someone simply being present as I cried about hurtful events in my life.  We talked a lot about my early years (still do) as a child and adolescent. We painstakingly...
Keep Reading
25 Jul 2019
Thank God for Emotional Pain
“Thank God for emotional pain”… was a thought that I had as I entered the park on an afternoon walk a few weeks ago. “Wait, what?”, I said to myself internally. “Did I really just utter that?” Something within me stood resolute and firm. Was their truth to this utterance? I sat down on the bench in the park as...
Keep Reading
22 Jul 2019
I Stopped Smoking Weed and I’ve Never Felt Happier
So I smoked in college, after I graduated, and off an on when I entered professional life.  I would quit because I felt ashamed, and then fire back up again.  It became a vicious cycle.  I realize now that this viciousness was a result of my unconscious desire to avoid difficult emotions - not to mention the fact that the...
Keep Reading
21 Jul 2019
Veterans’ Next Mission: Topple Patriarchy, Reduce Suicides
As Veterans, we know all to well what it means to suck it up.  "Embrace the suck" has become so common place that we often live our lives from this place, and even tell our friends in one way or another, to do just that.  But what actually are we embracing here?  Are we embracing ourselves in a manner that...
Keep Reading
19 Jul 2019
These Muslims Wanted Me to Live
As I sat up against the wall of the roof with my back towards the street where the car was, I was rocked by the most powerful explosion I've ever experienced.  It shook my chest cavity. I passed out for a nanosecond. I then tried standing up as my head spun, and I instinctively strapped the buckle of my helmet's...
Keep Reading
18 Jul 2019
Disobeying Orders: One Man Lives
It was a bright and sunny morning in 2007 at the downtown Fallujah, Iraq, police station where a dozen or so Marines and I were tasked with providing security for a day of police recruiting.  There seemed to be a over a hundred or more local Iraqi men lined up right outside of the front gate eagerly awaiting to get...
Keep Reading
18 Apr 2019
On The Road To Nabatiya
ON THE ROAD TO NABATIYA THEY COME TO ME AS IF I’VE CALLED THEM BACK FROM A PLACE I’VE LEFT BEHIND THEIR FACES, YOUNG...
Keep Reading
05 Feb 2019
Leadership and Healing: Creating Space for Transformation
The first time we took enemy contact was on our first patrol. We had just arrived in country, and we had not yet gained enough experience to conduct a foot patrol that didn't leave us exhausted.  Despite having trained for the past three months, the sweltering heat, and the weight of carrying a full combat load weighed on us.  We...
Keep Reading
12 Nov 2018
Do You Ever Feel Like A Part of You Died in Iraq?
Connection after service among Marines can be tricky at times. Our relationships were fostered in an environment where feelings and emotions were mostly suppressed, or at least not acknowledged or talked about much. When we come together, it can feel like we are picking up right where we left off. And where did we leave off? We left off at...
Keep Reading
03 Oct 2016
Wake Up Call
I felt sickened. While I could see the need to move the man, seeing a machine do it was so disrespectful to human life. I quickly pushed these thoughts down since there was nothing I could do about it, and then told myself, “hey, it’s war”. And then, BOOM!
Keep Reading
23 Sep 2016
Warrior…for Love
I served 7 years in the Marine Corps Reserves, deploying twice to Iraq in some of the most dangerous areas, including the Triangle of Death. This is the same place that the modern day terror group, ISIS, was hiding out and trying to harm my friends and I. My experiences in country, and the training received to become a Marine,...
Keep Reading
20 Nov 2010
Remembering to Remember
My point is we’re on edge. We’re worried about those still fighting; we’re trying to find ourselves and other vets; and we’re seeking the care and treatment we need without feeling like it’s a threat to our warrior ethos. We often hear today by many that every day is Veterans Day. Is it? ...
Keep Reading

Ryan Berg is a former U.S. Marine Corps combat infantryman and deployed twice to Iraq.  In 2004, he was with 2/24 Echo company, Weapons Platoon, in Mahmudiyah, Iraq.  In 2006, he served with 1/14 Task Force Military Police and was in Fallujah, Ramadi and Al Asad.

He studied rhetoric at UC Berkeley and completed his MA in Leadership Studies at Saint Mary’s College of California.  He is most interested in understanding the ways that the system of patriarchy in America affects male military Veterans – and argues that this system is fundamental in perpetuating suicides in the Veteran community.  He is married to his wife Nataly, and lives in Concord, CA.

It was a bright and sunny morning in 2007 at the downtown Fallujah, Iraq, police station where a dozen or so Marines and I were tasked with providing security for a day of police recruiting.  There seemed to be over a hundred or more local Iraqi men lined up right outside of the front gate eagerly awaiting to get inside and begin the process of becoming police recruits.

This was a picture taken from that day. Our team was outside coordinating with local police.

Our task wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for Marines – it required frisking, looking tough, remaining alert for anything suspicious, and to shoot back if we were getting shot at.  What happened that day caught most of us off guard.

About 20 minutes after we opened the gates to the base, we were checking ID’s, searching locals for weapons, and getting each of them ready to escort onto the base for processing. One man, who was cleared to enter, walked up to me and said in not-so-clear English, “ that man over there wasn’t searched!”, as he urgently pointed at a man in our secure area.  Of course this sent me into serious alarm given where we were, and I began to walk towards the man to confront him.

As I began to walk towards him, I heard a very loud explosion and felt the concussion of a blast about 20 meters from where I was. For a brief moment, it rained blood just outside our front gate, and body parts were everywhere: legs, hands, arms, heads, guts, torsos, and ripped and charred skin – still warm and alive. A suicide bomber had detonated himself.

As I write this, my head spins a little bit.  I am back in that space of time and moment.  I did not enjoy this experience, nor am I particularly pleased about writing it.  I was hesitant to share the bloody details of this incident, but decided that I need to look at it, and others need to hear about our experiences in war.  Some will relish in the violent details because they’re so cut off from themselves and their own emotions that they find it arousing and pleasing.  Some will find it triggering or hard to read.  It should be that.  Some Veterans will turn away from reading this because they feel it threatens their self-worth – perhaps they served but experienced very little violence.  They feel this way because in our culture those who witness and carry out violence, in settings like war, is how we measure manhood.  We live in a system of patriarchy that has made us this way, and until we call out this system for what it is, and begin to get in touch with our loving selves, nothing will change.  bell hooks reminds us that:

As our culture prepares males to embrace war, they must be all the more indoctrinated into patriarchal thinking that tells them that it is their nature to kill and to enjoy killing. Bombarded by news about male violence, we hear no news about men and love.

Moderate chaos erupted.  Iraqi’s began firing their weapons in seemingly any direction, which signaled to me that we were being attacked in some coordinated fashion – so I dropped to the ground and flipped my safety off.  The Iraqi police were screaming, yelling, and shooting indiscriminately.  Potential recruits were bleeding, crawling, and running away, while some begged for us to let them into the base.

One man was trying to crawl into the base for safety, and so I zeroed in on his face with the sight of my weapon.  I was in survival mode and unsure if I was going to let anybody into the base should they not be wearing desert Marine Corps cammies or an Iraqi police uniform.  He was clearly in agony as blood streamed down his forehead and grey dust covered his black hair.  As bullets flew a few feet above his head, his mouth moved open and closed as his elbows scraped against the dry dirt and rocks inching ever closer into the base – probably unsure if he’d be killed for doing so. 

We locked eyes as we both lay on our bellies staring back at each other.  I had to order him to stop, so I did so with the muzzle of my weapon punctuating a non-verbal request, a slight nod of my head from left to right.  Yelling at him to stop was futile given the sound of gunfire, nor did I have the energy.  I had my rifle pointed at him, and that communicated what I needed it to.

One of my superiors, who was behind me in the prone position ordered me to shoot him, at which point I gladly disobeyed, and the man lived.

After the incident, we all went out to assess the damage and secure the scene as Iraqi police officers began throwing torsos and body parts in the back of a white truck.  My gut wrenched as I stared down at the ground at what was left of these precious human beings.  It felt like their consciousness silently hung around even as their bodies lay completely ripped apart.  I could hear their screams despite their absence.  I heard my own internal screams. I was scared and in shock.  It was beyond saddening and devastating.  Just a moment ago, they were alive, talking, excited, bustling about, awaiting their turn to serve their country.  It was the most horrific thing I had ever seen in my life. 

At least seven civilians were killed and 11 people were hurt.

Here’s a link to a Washington Post article that reported the incident.