Inspired by the experiences of Ethan Gardner

"Helmets Off"

Catherine E. Case
26″ x 26″ • Mixed Media

Artist Statement

Art is precious. Art is intimate. Art is as valuable as any thing can be.
To draw, one must see. To see, one must forget all pre-existing icons, all pre-conceived notions, all rituals, with regards to the subject at hand. The ability to make a mark correctly indicates an understanding not only of the form, not only of the surface, but also of the truth behind the form, behind the surface. This makes art not about sketching or drawing or painting pretty pictures or about holding up a mirror to nature but about a higher level of communication, one that requires contemplation and communion and understanding.
The impact of my work comes not from aesthetic beauty but from psychological authenticity, with all it’s courage, vulnerability, passion and devotion; exposed as one can be. Helmets Off is a tangible narrative, but it is not my intention for others to see what I see. Rather I wish to be a catalyst for those in search of peace, to give a moment of validation, to show the trodden path through this valley, to say, “There must be a reason for this journey.”
Facebook: Catherine E. Case Art
Instagram: @catherineecaseart

The Good Marine

by Carlton Clayton

I saved a man’s life. I don’t believe he considers me a hero for doing so. Nor do I. The nobility is in the attempt. All I wanted was to do the right thing and be a good Marine.
I served in the United States Marine Corps from 2011 to 2015. I was honorably discharged as a corporal. I was not the best Marine. If I could go back and do it all over again, I know the things I would do better. I know the kind of person I wouldn’t be. I know the movements and the decisions that I would have made. But I can’t dwell on the past. I have to keep pushing forward. I appreciate the thank you for your service, but I was not a stellar Marine.
In the beginning I was a young private arriving at my first unit. I was the can’t-get-anything-right kid. A year ago I found out I’ve had ADHD since I was a child. So very possibly that could have played into my inability to just get simple shit right, like showing up to PT on time. Forgetting to wash my white socks and having to go down to PT with black ones on and getting blasted. It wasn’t intentional. I just couldn’t seem to pull it together in my own mind. So, this kind of ostracized me. I had a good group of senior leaders who were close to me, took care of me but also got in my face when they needed to, and for the most part, I didn’t feel welcomed.
We were prepping for a mission to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to reinforce the line there. There was a guy, Lance Corporal Smith. he was a good Marine. But he always seemed to be depressed. He told depressing stories, and he kinda joked about suicide often. He talked about the difficult upbringing he had. He was a, wear-his-heart-on-his sleeve kind of guy.
I mentioned it to some of my buddies, the guys I held in high regard. They told me to shut the fuck up. Stop being a bitch They said nothing was wrong and Corporal Smith was fine.
I never stopped hearing those things from Smith. He and I were not really friends. He was a
charismatic guy and good with the ladies. He was good Marine and cooler than me. But we didn’t really like each other. He was usually a dick, an asshole to me. But there was some jealousy on my part, which made what happened harder for me to process.
One day someone asked where Smith was. Turned out he was in the back of the bunker.
One of the sergeants walked back and found Smith asleep. He was put on blast. He was crushed, destroyed, you know, embarrassed in front of everybody and we felt for him. But we were also like what the fuck are you doing sleeping bro? I mean, I screw up all the time and even I know not to do something like that. Anyway, I’m assigned to set up C wire all around the compound. And Smith was assigned to work with me.
I had a lot of respect for him. The professionalism he showed day in and day out , and the kind of guy that he was. But then things really started to change.
Smith had stories about how terrible his childhood was and how his mother wasn’t around, and his dad was a piece of shit. And you know, he lived on the streets for a time and had a rough upbringing. I don’t know what it was about this particular night, but he just let it all out with me. Listening to his stories made me so sick that he went through this and had these feelings and emotions and yet put on a bold face to our platoon. In reality, this guy had wanted to end his life for many years. I remember once he said, ‘This world is shit. I would just rather be dead than have to deal with any of it.’
One day Smith and I were talking and he brought up the day he was caught sleeping in the back of the bunker.
“You remember when they screamed at me for sleeping in the bunker?”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“Well I wasn’t sleeping.”
He told me he was pretending to be asleep when he heard somebody walking up, but he was actually playing with his M-9 trying to see if today would be the day, if he could do it.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
We were standing there in the middle of the night. The full moon which is how I was able to see things clearly. He pulled an M-9 Luger round out of his grenade pouch.
“I was in there playing with this in the chamber,” he said, “wondering if it was going to be today.”
He said the gun was in his mouth. He had the hammer back, safety off. Just trying to find the courage. He told me the thing that scared him most was not actually killing himself but ending up a vegetable or critically wounded for the rest of his life. He said that was his only fear. And right then I knew this guy was beyond any friend’s help. Beyond anything I could say or do, he was serious.
“I just don’t want to live anymore. This is all such bullshit.”
Right then and there, I decided I had to do something. And everything starts flying around in my head like people are gonna hate me. The platoon already hates me. They’re gonna hate this. He’s gonna get in trouble. He’s going to be moved to medical. He’s going to be forced out of the platoon. People are going to despise me for this. It’s going to be terrible, and all I really want it to be a good Marine.
I leaned forward and grabbed his pistol from its holster. He looked up at me and said,
“What the fuck are you doing, give me back my weapon
“We’re gonna go talk to staff sergeant.
Smith whips me around and a struggle ensues over the M-9.
We were in full kit. Full entire kit. The only thing we didn’t have were live rounds.
Eventually I grabbed it and threw it into the treeline. I didn’t even care that it was serialized gear and knew I would get in trouble for that.
While I was walking away Smith came after me. He shouted that it didn’t matter if they found the M-9 because he’d just off himself with the 556 round that he had in his locker back in the barracks.
I really didn’t know what I was going to do after that. Smith stumbled over to the treeline looking and feeling around for the pistol, while I just stood not knowing what to do. Then, by the grace of whoever the higher power is, as Smith is retrieving the weapon from the bushes, an announcement came over the radio:
“ENDEX, ENDEX. Site X, Over, I repeat, Site X, Over. Pull everyone in for debrief.”
The squad leader who created the watch roster was the person on watch when Smith fell asleep. I knew at that moment it was now or never because Smith might not be here in the morning.
Immediately after ENDEX I blow by everyone and go straight to the staff sergeant.
“Sergeant, I need to talk to you offline. This is extremely important. I believe that Lance Corporal Smith is going to kill himself tonight.”
“Explain yourself,”
I went through the whole story of what had happened over the last several months about how Smith had been in a depressive state, the earlier struggle with the pistol. I told him about the M-9 round Smith had. I brought him up to date on all I knew of Lance Corporal Smith. When I was done the Staff Sergeant explained the situation to the platoon commander.
I want to be a good Marine. I had a restless night. I couldn’t sleep. Word got around. The next morning everyone knew the full story.
Then the craziest thing happened. Guys who didn’t have much respect for me shook my hand and said that I did the right thing, that they loved Lance Corporal Smith, but didn’t have the courage to do anything about his problems. They told me I’d done the right thing. I felt really good about it because, I’d done the right thing, I’d done the good marine thing.