One soldier documents his experiences
By Karin Fleming
The soldier pokes through a fire pit, pointing out the remains of the person whose body was burned there. He points the camera at different bones buried in the ashes–the femur, the toes and the arch of a foot. The camera then turns its attention to a hole in the ground while the soldier tells the man behind it that more bodies can be found inside.
This is Iraq. The scene is part of a film, Deconstructed, produced by 29-year-old Casey J. Porter, a specialist in the U.S. Army. It’s one of many of Porter’s films created with the purpose of showing the public his experiences as a deployed soldier.
“I’m going into this deployment, I’m against the war, but I don’t want to throw away my life going AWOL,” says Porter. “But I have to do something. I would like to live with myself. So I decided to make these films.”
Porter joined the military in 2004 after becoming burned out trying to establish a career in the film industry. He was working one nickel-and-dime job after another and decided it was time to try something different. Porter says he joined the Army because he wanted to “try to radically change the world around me.”
While he had reservations about the war in Iraq, he enlisted knowing that he was going to be sent to the country. “I didn’t ask myself that key question,” says Porter. “And that question was: Do I believe in the fight?”
His answer came during his first deployment from December 2005 to November 2006. “I saw [the war] for what it was,” says Porter. “And I didn’t like it.”
After returning to his home in Austin, Texas, Porter decided to use video footage and photos he had taken or gathered from fellow soldiers in order to chronicle his experiences in Iraq. He took his interest in film making and used the bits and pieces he had gathered to create his first films–one that showed the memorial services of fallen comrades and another that documented the story of two dogs his company had adopted. He posted the videos on video-sharing Web sites, such as YouTube and Live Leak. During this time he also joined the national organization Iraq Veterans Against the War and co-founded the Fort Hood (Texas) chapter.
Now, Porter is currently serving his second tour in Iraq–this one under the controversial stop-loss policy, which has extended many soldiers’ contracts, often by sending them back overseas.
“I was drafted,” says Porter, whose contract was supposed to expire in January 2008. “That’s essentially what it is, they can call it what they want but it is a draft and it is wrong.”
Once Porter realized he would be returning to Iraq, he decided this time he would use the experience to further his activism. After getting in touch with a lawyer through IVAW- who now screens all his films before they are posted online to make sure no laws are broken–Porter left for his second deployment armed with his digital camera and the motivation to show the world how soldiers really feel about the mission.
“With the exception of some dirty looks, everyone who comes up and talks to me love it,” says Porter of the people he serves with. “What the Army doesn’t understand is that they join the Army to be a part of something. And when they get in the Army and they see the mission is screwed up, that Iraq is a mess and it’s not what they were told it is, those feelings get stripped away.”
Now soldiers actively participate in his films by donating footage and photographs they have taken and talking candidly about how they feel about the war. In the film Day of the Mechanic, Porter asks soldiers on camera if they believe in the mission, the resounding answer “no.” He also has video of a soldier working on a vehicle saying “Fuck the Army,” a common anti-war mantra from the Vietnam Era. This footage is juxtaposed with video of the same men running from incoming rocket and mortar fire, an appropriate illustration of the precarious position the government has placed the lives of these men for a cause they don’t believe in.
From highlighting the injustice inherent in the stop-loss policy, to the corporate profits on military bases in Iraq, to the deplorable living conditions soldiers must deal with, Porter’s films take the issues that he, and his fellow soldiers, care about and make them available for the world to see.
“When you join the Army, you sign your life over to the government and they take a lot from you,” says Porter. “But when you take and you take, eventually a lot of these guys start thinking, ‘I have nothing to lose now. If I decide to speak out, what are you going to do? Are you going to fire me?’ And fortunately, I’m in the position where I don’t have a wife, I don’t have any kids, I don’t have any debt… so when they take everything from you you’re free to do anything that you want.”
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Karin Fleming is a senior journalism major. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.