Memories of an Iraq War Veteran: Corporal Antoine Douglas
In the aftermath of the September 11 events, when military actions in Afghanistan and then Iraq, began to occur, Corporal Antoine Douglas was too young to be enlisted. But in 2006, he chose the US Marine Corps, because he wanted to travel. He wanted to see the world.
From his home in Michigan, Douglas was stationed at Parris Island, South Carolina, for boot camp, like thousands of other Marines before him. Men who tread the same ground, going in many directions, including Vietnam and the Persian Gulf. “But we didn’t see much of the Island,” he says. “It wasn’t until my last week there that I fully understood the place.” What he recalls is “some fun” he had while there: “I’m still best friends with all those guys.”
After boot camp, junior Marines are given the choice of a preference to be stationed overseas, or on the east or west coasts. Douglas chose overseas. He was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, with Marine Wing Support Squadron 172. “It was the other side of the world. The buildings, the signs, the cars, the letters – Everything was different. I found out how close we were to the beach – only a mile and a half – so I went the first afternoon. I’m from Detroit; I’d never seen the ocean before. It was … uncontrollable.” Douglas was stationed in Okinawa for one year before receiving orders to Iraq.
Douglas had to leave his young wife, who was three months pregnant at the time. “It was definitely hard seeing it on slow, skippy, DSL-speed Skype video,” he recalls of the pregnancy. Part of the time, he was attached to a ground unit that was patrolling on house-to-house searches. “It was by far one of the most intense things I’ve ever been through. The fear. The aspect of something happening. You’re always on edge.” Always, in the back of his mind, was the thought of his unborn son.
Corporal Douglas was in Iraq for eight months for his first tour. “The best thing about being there,” he recalls, “was the chow hall. The worst thing was going out on a convoy.” He remembers the heat, the sun, the sand, and the hyper-masculine surroundings. “I didn’t see one woman anywhere in the small villages or anywhere outside the base. Men, boys, dudes with AK-47s – everybody has them. But no women.”
He returned to Okinawa when his son was only two days old. “I’m 22 at the time. I see this little bitty bundle. I was still in the dirty clothes I just travelled in – didn’t shower yet. I couldn’t even touch him, but I’m just looking at him like ‘oh, that’s me.’”
Four months in Okinawa was followed by four months back in Iraq and Kuwait, and then a final return to Okinawa. When the time came to re-enlist or receive an honorable discharge, Douglas chose to return to civilian life. He recalls of his days in the Marine Corps: “I met some of the best people I’ve ever met in my life. To this day, I can call on any of them, and they still have it for me. And definitely vice versa.”
With a return to civilian life, Douglas found that the opinions regarding the military from the people around him shifted. He feels that by 2011, many people were disillusioned with the invasions, and dialogue between his enlisted and non-enlisted friends became highly polarized. Although, he attributes much of this misunderstanding to what military and non-military people focus on: “It’s a different subculture.”
But Douglas understands. He remembers. Although his unit suffered light casualties, he felt the weight of all the men through Parris Island, through Okinawa, throughout the world, who walked a similar path to his, but did not make it home. He recounts an IED explosion, a unit member’s suicide, and even men suffering intense responses to the physical conditions when traveling to dangerous, extreme conditions “outside the wire.”
Those who do make it home, he feels are taken care of for “awhile – for so long – with a time limit,” but that the skills he learned as a veteran are keeping him progressing through the final stages of his undergraduate degree. Considering continuing for a Master’s in Film Production, Douglas is now a father of two – his daughter’s first birthday is November 7th, just in time for Veteran’s Day.
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