"Combat Vet" Yard Signs: Follow Up From a Veteran With a Sign

August 3, 2015  
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Categories: Op-Eds
Tags: Veterans

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About a month ago, Hernandez wrote an op-ed called “Signs, Of Veteran Entitlement.” Since that time he’s been in contact with some of people highlighted. He’s made some corrections and gained some new insights, some of which you may find surprising. We implore you to allow cooler heads to prevail as you read through. And now, the Update. Mad Duo

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“Combat Vet” Yard Signs: Follow Up From a Veteran With a Sign

Chris Hernandez

I was wrong about at least one thing.

In my essay “Signs, of Veteran Entitlement”, I suggested most if not all of those putting “combat veteran, be courteous with fireworks” signs weren’t really combat veterans. I’ve been proven wrong about that. After I published the essay, I was contacted by this man:

PTSD

He emailed to tell me he was a former regular Army infantryman who deployed to Iraq in 2003-2004, and was later recalled to deploy again with the Army National Guard. I’ve spoken to him by phone and Skyped with him, confirmed he is in fact the man in the picture, seen his pictures from deployment, and seen his two DD-214s (one from the regular Army and one from his NG deployment) showing that he served in Iraq and was awarded a Combat Infantryman Badge. I’ve also seen the document from the VA awarding him 100% disability for PTSD.

He asked me not to use his name or face, so I’ll call him Joe. He was emphatic that he was just a regular soldier, not a hero, not an SF operator, but a leg infantryman. He was never wounded or decorated, but he was there and did his job.

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Without question, at least one of the people who put up a “combat vet” sign was actually a combat vet. Undoubtedly there are more. So I was wrong.

I wasn’t the first to write a negative article about veterans who put up the signs, and I wasn’t the first to use Joe’s picture. Joe first read a different article about the signs (which was extremely insulting toward “pogues” and suggested Joe was one), then he read mine. After reading it, he decided to email me.

His email was titled “My picture was used in a story you wrote about the fireworks sign.” I expected to read “I’m a real combat vet, you’re a worthless bastard and if you don’t remove my picture I’ll sue you!” But Joe didn’t want to beat up on me, he wanted to clear the air.

“Upon reading your article I have to say I agree with the biggest part of it. I had never really thought of it the way you did and I now deeply regret ever even getting one of those signs. I used to be part of Military with PTSD, and was actually an admin on their Facebook page. I backed away from them about two years ago, when I started having real questions about them.”

Joe wrote at length about the sign, and why he put his sign up. He obviously doesn’t have an objection about the principle behind the signs; if he did, he wouldn’t have put it up in the first place. I do have a problem with the signs, and Joe has no obligation to agree with me. But Joe wasn’t saying the signs themselves are evil. He said they aren’t worth the negative attention they attract, and more importantly, they don’t work.

“That was the biggest point you made, I think. The signs don’t actually do anything. It’s not like anyone but us cares about us anyway.”

Whether or not the signs had any effect, they have in fact attracted a ton of negative attention. Breach Bang Clear published a critical essay before mine. OAFNation (“Operator As Fuck”) posted a comment on Facebook about the “faggoty ass signs”, along with Joe’s picture. Before Facebook deleted the post, it sparked a heated debate which included comments from a woman who claimed her PTSD-stricken Marine son “grabs his gun and runs outside” when he hears fireworks (sorry mom, but the military doesn’t train or condition us to run into the open when we hear gunfire). Task and Purpose published an essay saying, among others things, “The idea that celebrating your patriotism causes harm to the very men and women who fought for this country evokes a grave sense of injustice. But the negative stereotypes [a combat vet sign] creates about veterans is far more damaging.” OAFNation recently published an essay titled “Collateral Damage: the Typecasting and Self Destruction of the American Veteran” in which they strongly condemned veterans who revel in the stereotype of the damaged, hair-trigger combat vet. Medal of Honor winner Dakota Meyer posted on Facebook that veterans with signs should “Stop the cry for attention and pick a side”.

fireworks_update

I believe the signs deserve negative attention. However, that doesn’t mean Joe intended to create negative attention when he posted his sign and picture. As much as the signs piss me off, as ridiculous as I think they are, I don’t think Joe was trying to do anything wrong when he posted his.

“Man, I didn’t mean to attract attention. Believe me, I don’t want attention. I didn’t even ask for the sign, Military with PTSD just sent it to me because I used to be part of the organization. I got the sign in the mail, and I just did what everyone else was doing, you know, I put up the sign and sent the picture. I’m not saying it wasn’t my decision; I mean, I’m the one who put it up. But I didn’t think it would cause all this. And I didn’t find out until everything blew up that Military with PTSD used my picture as their Facebook cover photo.”

I told Joe his picture got so much attention because he was wearing a t-shirt that said “I am comfortable with violence” while standing in front of a sign saying, in effect, he was too sensitive to handle fireworks. He understood that. “I just happened to be wearing that t-shirt that day. I always wear t-shirts from GruntStyle, 11Bravo and companies like that. I didn’t even think about what I was wearing.”

I checked Joe’s Facebook page, and there are several pictures of him wearing infantry-themed shirts. There are also plenty of pictures of him in Iraq. As I said, he’s the real thing and I was wrong to suggest everyone who posted the signs was a phony.

However, I was also right about something.

As I said in my original essay, I strongly suspect most of those who put “combat vet” signs in their yards aren’t combat vets at all. So let’s look at another veteran who posted a sign in his front yard. In fact, let’s look at a particularly significant veteran with a sign in his yard. Let’s look at the THE guy, the CEO of Military with PTSD, Justin Gourley.

Here’s Gourley with his sign:

fireworks_update1

 

Gourley served in the US Navy from 2000 to 2004 aboard the USS George Washington. He appears to have served honorably. Some have questioned Gourley’s service, but fortunately for Gourley a record of his honorable service is available on a military-themed web site. Unfortunately for Gourley, that web site is This Ain’t Hell, which is dedicated to exposing stolen valor and military fakers.

TAH’s article, titled “Sailor catches the PTSD”, doesn’t lay out an accusation that Gourley is exaggerating; instead, it repeats Gourley’s own account of his service. Gourley’s horrible trauma apparently began with an experience so brutal, former Hanoi Hilton residents are probably thankful they weren’t in Gourley’s shoes.

Justin Gourley first developed symptoms of PTSD after … wait for it … attending a Navy antiterrorism class.

Justin and his wife even wrote a book about living with PTSD, in which Justin described how the antiterrorism class changed him. As I read his words, I nearly burst into tears. His description of the class was like looking straight into hell.

“They taught us how terrorist can make a bomb out of things that you would never expect. Then we learned about how they would use women and children to sneak bombs past security. We ran drill after drill until we stopped hesitating and acting on emotion when it came to everyone. Everything I thought I knew about people changed then. No one could be trusted. My view on life now was simple, everyone is the enemy.”

Justin-Gourley-catches-the-PTSD2

Being around such a highly-trained killer must have been terrifying for his wife.

“He talked about his weapon qualifications and how well he’d done on the sniper test. And he also told me that he got promoted to the rapid response team leader. Sitting there talking to him gave me the chills. There was no emotion in his voice and his eyes were black as the night. The fun-loving Justin I knew my whole life, had been transformed into a well-trained highly skilled machine that could kill without thinking twice.”

Justin wrote about other traumatic experiences: an aircraft accident that injured several sailors, another accident that killed a sailor, and the rescue of a fishing boat that caught fire, resulting in the death of one fisherman (whose body Gourley had to recover). The ship’s records confirm a sailor was killed in an accident. But oddly enough, the George Washington’s logs say it was in port for six months at the time Gourley was dragging a dead fisherman from a burned boat. Must be a misprint.

thisainthell.com

thisainthell.com

Gourley’s book: “In September 2003 a major mishap aboard the USS George Washington happened when a plane was landing on the flight deck. Justin had to secure the area and help the wounded.”

Joe, the infantry combat vet formerly of Military with PTSD, had heard about the plane crash. “Justin never talked about it, but the word around Military with PTSD was that a plane crashed onto the deck and a bunch of sailors died. I could understand that. I mean, people get PTSD from car accidents and stuff. So I get it that Justin had PTSD from seeing his friends burn to death.”

The problem? The ship’s logs don’t mention a fiery crash that killed sailors. A plane was landing, the arresting wire broke, the pilot ejected and seven sailors were injured. “September 11, An F/A-18D, assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106, crashed into sea, off Virginia Capes, after the #4 arresting wire broke during landing aboard the GW. Lt. Rich Rivera ejected safely. Seven members of flight deck crew were injured.”

When I told Joe about that, he shook his head in apparent disgust. “That’s not what we were led to believe.”

Gourley’s carrier also deployed to the Middle East to support Operation Enduring Freedom. According to his own book, he saw no action (see previous screenshot of “Justin’s Naval Career”).

So let’s ignore the cynical skepticism I have toward many PTSD claims. For the sake of argument, I’ll agree that Justin Gourley really does have PTSD from a Navy antiterrorism class, an accident which did not result in a fiery crash that killed any of his friends, and the loss of a friend in a different accident.

But why would I consider him a combat veteran?

Combat can be hard to define. I had a hard time calling myself a combat veteran after Iraq (where I had a couple of IED and small arms close calls but was never in a firefight). But I gave myself credit for having been on real missions, with real danger from a real enemy who really wanted to kill us. It wasn’t until after big firefights in Afghanistan that I really considered myself a combat veteran. But I understand there are degrees of combat; one isn’t required to kick in doors and shoot enemy in the face to have been in combat.

But the sailor who never set foot in a war zone and never heard a shot fired in anger isn’t a combat vet. Period. Call me judgmental if you want, because in this case I am. If you haven’t been in combat, you’re not a combat vet.

The Rachel Dolezal #wrongskin principle doesn’t apply here. There is no such thing as being born with #wrongveteranstatus, and no such creature as a combat veteran-kin (like “otherkin”: “Otherkin are people who identify as partially or entirely non-human.”). Maybe Justin Gourley “caught the PTSD” from a shipboard accident and/or the terror of an antiterrorism class. But he didn’t catch combat experience. ‬

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Now that July 4th has passed, we won’t see “combat vet” signs again until New Year’s Eve. Chances are before then we’ll read the same stories and see the same pictures we did a few weeks ago. Well-meaning people will share tragic stories of traumatized veterans on their Facebook pages, reminding their friends that we’re fragile eggshells requiring the most delicate handling.

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Media outlets will publish articles urging the public to protect pets and veterans from fireworks noise.

Radio stations will broadcast messages like one heard by another Breach Bang Clear writer: “This 4th of July, remember pets and vets,” as if we’re no different than a scared Pomeranian.

scared pom

Concerned citizens who see us as damaged victims will share pictures like these.

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heartlikeadog.com

whisperdotsh

Fourth Of July: Keep Safety In Mind For Santa Clarita Valley Pet

Every time Americans see these signs, every time another media outlet reminds the public to tiptoe around us, every time a “concerned citizen” unintentionally reduces us to the level of terrified lapdogs, our honor and the public’s respect for veterans die a little. And we die a little with them.

I’ve said this before, and it bears repeating: these signs are harmful. They make the public think we’re poor, damaged victims worth of pity but not respect. They perpetuate the (false) stereotype of the psychologically damaged, hair-trigger loser that so stigmatized Vietnam veterans. That stigma is why a fellow aspiring writer, upon learning I was a combat vet during a friendly conversation, quietly asked, “Are you okay?” That stigma is why my coworker nervously commented, “You seem so normal for having been in Afghanistan.” That stigma is why my former supervisor announced, just as I was passing his door, “We don’t want to hire any of them war veterans. They all got mental problems.” And some veterans relish that stigma.

mwptsdbs

A few people have commented that I have no room to speak on this subject because I don’t have PTSD. Fine. I’ll defer to my friend Justin Watt, who does have PTSD after deployment to Iraq’s “Triangle of Death” in 2005-2006. Justin lost his best friend to an IED and had seven soldiers killed in his platoon, including two abducted and tortured to death. Worse than that, Justin literally risked his life to turn in four members of his platoon who raped and murdered a teenage girl after murdering her parents and sister.

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“I had some real problems after Iraq,” Justin said. “I’ve had to call for emergency help before. I’ve thought about eating my pistol. But every time I needed help, I got it. I handled my problems, I didn’t expect everyone else to change for me. I’d never put one of those signs in my yard, because I don’t want anyone to think of me and other veterans as broken toys. We gave up the right to be victims when we joined the military during a war. If you’re a veteran and you can’t see the harm these signs cause, I don’t know what to tell you.”

When I learned that Joe was actually a combat vet with PTSD and sign on his door, I was surprised. When I learned that Justin Gourley wasn’t a combat vet but had a combat vet sign in his yard, I wasn’t surprised at all. I still strongly suspect most of those with signs either aren’t combat vets, or so stretch the definition of combat as to make it meaningless. But whether they’re combat veterans or not, those who post these signs aren’t helping. At a time when America and its military are under attack both abroad and at home, when our nation expects us to stand in its defense, some veterans put up signs saying we’re the helpless victims who need to be defended.

This is America. Put one of those signs in your yard if you want. I never will, and Joe tells me he never will again.

P.S. “Joe” is in the Columbus, Ohio area, and wouldn’t mind finding a few vets to hang out with. If you’re interested, please email me at [email protected] and I’ll let him know.

Mad Duo, Breach-Bang& CLEAR!

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breachbangclear.com_site_images_Chris_Hernandez_Author_BreachBangClear4Chris Hernandez Mad Duo Chris (seen here on patrol in Afghanistan) may just be the crustiest member of the eeeee-LIGHT writin’ team here at Breach-Bang-Clear. He is a veteran of both the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a veteran police officer of two decades who spent a long (and eye-opening) deployment as part of a UN police mission in Kosovo. He is the author of White Flags & Dropped Rifles – the Real Truth About Working With the French Army and The Military Within the Military as well as the modern military fiction novels Line in the Valley and Proof of Our Resolve. When he isn’t groaning about a change in the weather and snacking on Osteo Bi-Flex he writes on his own blog, Iron Mike Magazine, Kit Up! and Under the Radar. You can find his author page here on Tactical 16.

Chris Hernandez

Chris Hernandez

About the Author

Chris Hernandez may just be the crustiest member of the eeeee-LITE writin' team here at Breach-Bang-Clear. He is a veteran of both the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a veteran police officer of two decades who spent a long (and eye-opening) deployment as part of a UN police mission in Kosovo. He is the author of White Flags & Dropped Rifles - the Real Truth About Working With the French Army and The Military Within the Military as well as the modern military fiction novels Line in the Valley, Proof of Our Resolve and Safe From the War. When he isn't groaning about a change in the weather and snacking on Osteo Bi-Flex he writes on his own blog. You can find his author page here on Tactical 16.

10 Comments

  1. michmike

    Yea I do not even know where to begin with the signs as I just find them laughable and to be honest it makes me think people who put them out just want to be seen as different. “Yea the guys is all kinds of messed up so you had better watch yourself around him”. He is the ultimate badass! lol

    In regards to Justin, I was in the navy and was a helicopter rescue swimmer and made several rescues and yes I saw dead bodies etc and other nasty things. I do not have any long standing psych issues because of that (i do have few odd things from going through SERE school though – lol)but I do have plenty of orthopedic ones! lol I understand we all deal with these thing differently but being exposed at a class to hypothetical terrorism is even hard for me to fathom and god forbid someone in his family is injured as Justin might be found in the corner rocking himself in fetal position.

    Now, I will not disagree that being exposed to injured people or death can cause problems for some people. My belief is that the people who react to things like the terrorism class have some type of underlying pathology. Perhaps they suffer from self esteem issues or depression or just feel marginalized in general. This is a way to say “hey look at me” and makes them feel special in someway. I have always been suspicious of those guys who parade their being ex-military around and make sure everyone knows about it. I tell my wife that these are the guys who were yeomen or some low risk rate. Even the ones who who claim to be something that they are not in terms of actual service or the ones that make it up, I see as just sad and pathetic.

    I do not like the attention from having been in the military. It makes me very uncomfortable when I am asked by the Dr how I was injured and I tell him I was in the military and I get the thanks for your service. I cannot lie in that I just wanted to get away after high school and do something that looked interesting and challenging but definitely not for some patriotic reason! My service was total selfishness as I went in because I was not going to college then and damn the recruiting posters look cool.

    Yea save the yard signs as they scream to anyone who knows better that the person is most likely a poser plain and simple.

    That is the end of my rant but I really cannot believe Justin wrote a book about his PTSD. That is some shit right there. lol

    Reply
    • Mad Duo Chris

      Thanks Mich. I see your point, someone can have a reaction to something that wouldn’t bother others, and some veteran advocates have talked about how the army recruited a lot of substandard soldiers during the height of the Iraq War who were predisposed to psychological issues. Maybe that’s at play here, I don’t know. But I also see “free money” being an incentive for tons of people to claim problems they don’t really have.

      Reply
      • Michmike

        I agree completely about money being at play here so the people like Justin not only get the attention they crave but they get the government to give them money. This d-bag is most likely the one out there saying all people on government assistance are just scammers and just need to get a job. It makes me very angry that he is drawing 70% disability and I truly wish something could be done about it. I see a day when our governments obligations for payouts cannot be met and just look at the VA budget and how it grows. I have a small disability from training accidents and some ortho damage but i get my care through my outside insurance. Every time I go to the VA I am amazed at how many people are there and we have the personal resources for me not to burden the system.

        PTSD has become a seemingly easy way to collect money. We have someone in our family who gets 60% disability but does skilled physical labor that he should not be able to do if he is is having that many problems.

        This is part of a larger conversation I suppose.

        I just want to say that I really enjoy your personal website and I am amazed that you have addressed some of the issue that you have especially the last one about religion. Sometimes I feel like the odd man out as my political beliefs do not fall in line with either party all of the time and tend to be nuanced. So, thanks!

        Does not mean we are going to hug or anything! Lol

        Reply
        • Mad Duo Chris

          Mike,

          No hug? WTF, bro? 🙂

          Reply
  2. MM1

    That tool Gourley was in my division (reactor department, M-div) on the GW before going over to work in the master-at-arms shop. I don’t remember much about him, other than that he picked up a DUI while he was with us. As far as his twamatic experiences, I call bullshit. That whole arresting gear cable failure thing was fucked up, and yeah, I can see it if he was standing next to one of the people whole got whacked by the wire when it parted (word was that a chief got flown out on medevac in critical condition, but I never heard how he ended up) but this dude was most likely just blocking a passageway to keep people out of the way for the corpsman to do their thing. I admit, hearing “mass casualty” announced over the 1MC was a bit jolting for everyone, but to take it and twist it into a CEO gig at a PTSD charity?? That’s one disgraceful attention grubbing piece of shit, right there. With leadership like that, and this whole sign thing, it makes it really hard to take that organization seriously, despite the seriousness of its claimed focus. I spent ten years in active navy, nearly six of them on that rust bucket and I would be the first in line to kick the shit out of some punk like this dude (a borderline shitbag during his time in m-div, by the way) who going around claiming to be a combat vet or PTSD. We did our part, and that’s worthy of some pride, but there is a world of difference between working in the engine room and what I hear and imagine that you guys in green have had to go through. Fuck Gourley.

    Just the two bits from a guy who was there.

    Keep up the great work, guys.

    Very respectfully,

    MM1 (SW/AW) Koz

    Reply
    • Mad Duo Chris

      MM1,

      Thanks for your comment and insight, I appreciate that. I’ve heard a few things about Military With PTSD along the lines of fraud and threats of lawsuits, but I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of any of it. I have no idea how Gourley appears in a CNN article with a combat vet sign, yet doesn’t get challenged about whether or not he was ever in combat.

      Reply
      • MM1

        Chris,

        I really appreciate you bringing that group and its CEO to my attention. I’ve put out the word to guys that were there with me and the response so far has been rather fiery. I’d like to think that we take care of our own, good or bad, even when we are no longer in the same berthing. John Kerry and the whole swift boat thing comes quickly to mind. These two (husband and wife) are pretty clearly just a couple of con artists, working the system and peoples sympathies, not to mention drawing in a healthy portion of people with their same mindset. I say that, but I fully recognize that there are most likely some good dudes with real issues who have just been duped into turning to the wrong organization for support (like the guy you talked about in your article). And then there are the other ones. There are people who qualify as a waste of skin in every place and position on earth, and it always kind of irked me that the general public just assume that the military was somehow immune. Unfortunately, I’d expect that you’ve seen the same kind that I have: the liars, the cheaters, the con men, and the thieves. That piece you wrote about the whistle blower and what he experienced is a prime example. In this case, I am getting the impression that this dude and his wife got lost in their greed (I’d LOVE to know how much of the “administrative costs” end up in their pockets) and forgot that there were people who knew him along the way, and that it was only a matter of time until the truth comes out and the con falls flat. Karma is a mean bitch, but sometimes she needs a little extra help. That’s where we come in. I’ll keep you posted.

        in any event, I really do appreciate your even handed approach to all of this in your writings. You and the rest of the staff are doing a great job, so please keep it going.

        V/R,

        MM1

        Reply
        • Mad Duo Chris

          MM1,

          Thank you, and please keep us informed. I would LOVE to hear how this shakes out.

          Reply
        • vetswife

          MM1,

          Good to see you bringing some personal clarity to this situation since you were actually there. Is it safe to say then that Justin was not a “Military Policeman” as he and his wife have claimed many times… and that he didn’t “run the ship with an iron fist” as he claims in their book? Is it safe to say he did not have to “clean up” dead bodies on the ship, to specifically include responsibility for “bagging and tagging” them (their terminology)?

          Reply
      • Melanie

        Thank you so much for this article. We get away from this organization as quickly as we could. They have hurt so many vets. MM1 I would really like to speak to you if you don’t mind. Hit me up on FB Melanie Mitchell Morse.

        Reply

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