Sep 23, 2008 Ami Olson Uncategorized
“I’m going to tell my stories, but understand – I was naive,” began Bryan Casler. “I’m going to tell you stories as they were, and they’re shameful stories, but I’m going to tell you my development of my feelings through my military career.”
Casler was one of three veterans to address the Syracuse Peace Council on Saturday, along with WWII veteran Sam Feld and VietNam vet Joe Heath. In an “Iraq veterans against the war,” t-shirt, the 2002 West Genesee graduate and Camillus native shared with a full room how and why he joined the military, what he experienced during his four years overseas, and why he had taken a stance against the war.
The decision to join
Casler said although he knew his family was “willing to go into debt” for him to attend college, he pushed the idea aside before his senior year of high school, making the decision to enlist in the armed forces after graduation.
” I have a pretty intense personality, and when I was looking at what service to join, it was the Marine Corps, hands down, as being the most intense and involved force in my eyes,” he said. “And there was no recruiting process – I went to the recruiter and I told him I want to join the Marine Corps, I want infantry… I want to be the guy with a rifle and I want to lead a team of guys into combat.”
In August 2002, not yet a year after 9/11, Casler was sent to boot camp, though he said the attack had not impacted his decision to enlist, “there was no doubt at this point as an infantry marine we were going to go to Iraq.”
Throughout three months of boot camp and the following three months of infantry school, Casler said he waited for the “weeding out process” to begin, expecting there to be only the elite few worthy of becoming Marines at the end of the training. During infantry school, he realized the type of personality that excelled was 29
“I was really open. I wasn’t for the war, I wasn’t against the war, I was willing to find out how I felt about it,” he said.
He was deployed in early March of 2003 in support of the invasion of Iraq, and landed in Kuwait. Within two weeks, he arrived in Babylon, Iraq. There, his company set up base, where he remembered locals supporting them.
“Whatever they could do to help, they were really supportive of us,” Casler said of the locals. He shared a violent memory of three local men who would daily walk for hours to a market to retrieve food for the Marines, and only be paid upon return. One night, it became Casler’s duty to send them away before they were paid, and when he did not do so, the men were beaten.
“Later on, I realized we invaded Iraq without a translator,” Casler said at one point. “But it didn’t matter, we didn’t need to communicate we needed to control them.”
Four years later
While in the military, he had rationalized with himself that if he could pick up rank and be promoted he would be able to “fix” the actions of other Marines. Though Casler reflects on being internally conflicted throughout his military career, he also readily admits that he was not willing to act on his feelings, opting instead to mold himself into the personality that he saw excelling within the Marines.
He was discharged on August 5, 2006, a Saturday. He recalls being “dropped into society,” having had six months of training to prepare for the Marines and six hours of classes to reenter society.
“I didn’t really like what I had done, so when I got out I didn’t really fit in with the community and didn’t really fit in with myself,” Casler said. “It took me a few months to get my feet back on the ground.”
For nearly a year after his discharge, Casler remembers his roommate at Rocherster Institute of Technology urging him to check out the anti-war network on campus – Iraq Veterans Against the War – usually when he would catch Casler shouting at FoxNews.
Even after meeting with people in the anti-war movement, Casler was hesitant to get involved. But when he did decide to speak out, he could not be quieted.
The other side
“Maybe it was a surprise because I was actually doing something,” Casler said of his family’s reaction to seeing a photograph of him walking in a Peace March in Syracuse, leading a swarm of IVAW supporters. He remembers hesitantly attending the march, then hesitantly signing up to walk with the organization – then begin asked to carry the banner at the front of the march.
“Within marching ten feet I was so enthusiastic I was the loudest current IVAW member out there,” Casler said, laughing.
Now, Casler serves as the president of the Rochester chapter of IVAW. He has decided to take time off from college to be a “full-time activist,” committing himself to providing accurate accounts of the first-hand experiences of veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For more information about IVAW and the “Winter Soldier: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations” campaign, visit ivaw.org. Bryan Casler can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.