Kourtney and Jon Sladek
My guest columnist is Jon Sladek. He served in the Air Force from 1998-2004 and deployed to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. Jon earned a Journalism degree from Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama and was a staff writer for 3 years at the Maxwell-Gunter Dispatch, an Air Force newspaper in Alabama. His work has appeared in The American Legion Magazine, Lake Erie LifeStyle Magazine, I Love Cats Magazine and the U.S. Air Force Leader Magazine.
They Don’t Tell Their Stories
By Jon Sladek
It could be a neighbor, a coworker or someone who sits next to you in church. Veterans returning from service often assimilate back into society to lead lives of relative anonymity. It is impossible to know how many people you routinely come into contact with were involved in combat operations in Iraq.
The overwhelming majority of veterans did not serve for the privilege of boasting. They do not view themselves as heroes, but rather just another Soldier, Marine, Seaman or Airman doing the job they signed up for.
When I discovered my good friend Jim was involved in one of the bloodiest battles of the Iraq War, I couldn’t help but want to know his story. Not in a morbid way, but because I am a journalist and I so appreciate the sacrifice of the American serviceman and staunchly believe their stories are worthy of telling.
While I did serve six years on active-duty in the Air Force, deploying twice; I was never directly involved in combat. To hear the stories of courage and heroism described by Jim when he recounted his battle experience to me, I knew it was time to put my journalism background to use.
For the last two years, I have been compiling and writing the battlefield stories of local veterans for a book I hope to get published. Searching for veterans willing to tell their story to a complete stranger is not the easiest of tasks, but I consider myself blessed for the people I interviewed and connections I’ve made.
Chagrin Falls Fire Prevention Officer Jim Alunni still doesn’t know how he survived a massive truck bomb that left his body permanently scarred and damaged his hearing. Cleveland Clinic doctor Pat Ginley dealt with the stress of working in a battlefield emergency room by building and repairing bicycles for troops on base during his off time. Egyptian-born Albert Fanous used his language skills to boost morale by procuring various perks for his Army brothers, while witnessing some of the most memorable events of the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Each interview was a life-changing experience. I gained an understanding of what things were really like on the ground in Iraq, beyond the headlines and 24-hour news cycles. I tried to ask the right questions, while remaining mindful of the sensitive nature of the subject. At some point during several of the interviews, I felt the veteran began to appreciate the opportunity to unload some of the things that too many in our society don’t understand.
It is always a joyous occasion when a veteran returns from Iraq to a hero’s welcome at the airport. Sadly, for so many of them, the war does not end the day they set foot in the United States. Reading of the experiences of servicemen in Iraq can forge some understanding of the emotional trauma endured in battle. It also highlights the unmatched camaraderie between military members who form bonds that often last a lifetime.
This project began because I want to write books for a living and the military is obviously one of my top interests. Now I don’t care if this is the only book I ever get published. By recording the stories entrusted to me by our nation’s heroes, I have assumed a great responsibility.
Frank Herda, one of only two living Medal of Honor recipients in Ohio, told me when he graciously agreed to write the forward to my book that his one regret from his service in Vietnam was his failure to keep a daily journal.
With Love You More Than You Know, Janie Reinart and Mary Anne Mayer provided an awesome and unique opportunity to view the war through the eyes of the local mothers who send their beloved sons and daughters to fight for the country. With I Was There, I hope to accomplish the same for local troops.
Jon is accepting stories from vets in the Iraq War. Send your story to firstname.lastname@example.org