After heading an explosive ordnance disposal team during two tours in Iraq. Brian Castner was unprepared for civilian life, as he relates in [embeded attachment not found].
What prompted you to write this memoir? Did you keep journals or notes while deployed?
I had this need to write. I knew one of my grandfathers kept a journal when he marched on Berlin. I thought maybe I would keep journals, but I was bad about it while deployed. Only one scene ended up in the book from a journal. Everything else was the churn in my memory.
Have you come to terms with the fact that you’ve lost personal memories from before the war as a result of what you call “blast-induced memory lapses,” while memories of your deployment remain?
Yes, with the fact that I don’t remember my kids walking and growing up. What’s striking is that many war memories have faded. I’ve given myself the freedom to forget a little since I wrote it all down. It’s a weight off. If I had to reconstruct these scenes from memory [now] it would come out different. It’s still around more than I wish it would be, but it is not in the forefront the way it was.
Did writing help you deal with your stress and would you recommend art for fellow returning vets?
I found the process extremely therapeutic, though nobody wants to read a catharsis. Various VA hospitals have programs for veterans who have trouble putting their feelings into words: drawing, painting, sculpting, and other activities. Art being an outlet was not a conscious choice. I wanted to write a book someday and felt like I had something that would interest people. Things lined up and I have been lucky.
Do you agree it’s difficult for outsiders to understand everyday military responsibilities?
The military is so disconnected from greater American society now. During the cold war we had bases all over the country: now it’s super-bases and all very separate. It’s easier to send an army to war when you don’t know anyone in it. As for our gear, people imagine space marines from Halo, not a shaky 40-year-old helicopter that might fall apart. We use robots and technologies that didn’t exist in 2003 at the same time as stuff left over from WWII.
Today soldiers survive injuries that would’ve killed them in previous wars, but the mental toll is the issue now. Has veterans’ care improved?
The DoD and the VA are learning, maybe not as quickly as we want. In 2006 we got back from Kirkuk and they gave us the same talk as when we returned from Kuwait in ’99, after sitting in the desert for three months because there wasn’t an active war. We looked at the Life Skills doctor like, “Do you have any idea what we have been doing for the last six months?” It’s better now, and hopefully that will continue.