Dan Janosko, U.S. Marine Corps, Sergeant E5, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2005-2010
It was Easter weekend 2012, in the wee hours bleeding into Monday.
This weekend was a lot like other weekends for Dan Janosko. The 25-year-old from Catawba, Va., had been off active duty with the Marines for a little under two years and his drinking had become a problem. He’d jumped right into college after leaving the military, but found little inspiration for the endeavor and dropped out of Colorado State University after a year. He worked in the oil and gas industry for about a year, and at this point in his story, this fateful Easter weekend, he was employed as a roughneck in the North Dakota oil fields.
He’d had multiple brushes with the law since coming back to civilian life, but this night, Janosko ran head first into trouble.
Drunk and angry — Janosko can’t remember what triggered it — he fired 18 rounds into a wall of the house he was living in at the time.
“After your first deployment, you really come in touch with anger a lot,” Janosko says. “In some ways I found myself yelling a lot more. I remember when I got home, somebody’d say something and I’d turn around: ‘You wanna fucking go?’ [They’re] like, ‘What?’ When you’re over there [on combat deployment],” he pauses to think. “I don’t know if it’s necessarily how you handle business, but everybody’s so stressed and frayed that it does happen quite a bit.”
Janosko joined the Marines in 2005 at 17 years old and deployed for Iraq in October of 2007. He was a radio operator, but like every Marine he was a rifleman, and he volunteered to be a turret gunner during his first few days in Iraq. He spent the winter holidays of 2007 living out of a Humvee in northern Iraq, drinking instant coffee and eating Ramen noodles, “happier than a pig in shit.”
But in 2010 he made the choice to come home. He wasn’t interested in further promotions that would have taken him away from the front lines, and college — while he still wasn’t sure it was the right choice for him — was “what you do next.”
“Up until literally the day I got out, my command was like, ‘Do you wanna stay?’” says Janosko. “And had they let me stay for the Afghanistan deployment I would have stayed, but they weren’t allowing Marines to extend. I got out on the first wave of the downsize.”
And so began his rocky road to reintegration.
That incident over Easter, he’s not afraid to say, turned Janosko’s life around. He’s still working through four years of probation, but he’s got a good relationship with his parole officer — he calls her his “state-appointed girlfriend.” As long as he keeps his nose clean, his only charge will be negligent discharge of a weapon. He no longer owns any guns.
And it brought him to Veterans Helping Veterans Now, a nonprofit organization in Longmont that provides free services to vets, from support groups to legal aid to massage therapy. Janosko completed his 200 hours of court-mandated community service at the vet organization in around three months. These days, Janosko works full-time as a policy coordinator and program manager for VHVN through AmeriCorps’ Vista program.
Janosko admits he’s completely stopped listening to the news.
“There’s no point to it. It’s like, ‘Who could’ve believed this shit?’ I don’t know,” he pauses, his words heavy under the weight of sarcasm. “From the day we set up the Green Zone to the day we left the Green Zone, there’s still mortar rounds dropping — OK, let’s be real fucking honest, you know?” “I actually remember being [in Iraq] for the anniversary of the initial invasion,” he says. “The U.S. has been there for five years at that point. This is part of the stuff I struggle with to this day. At that point, you couldn’t be a rah-rah patriot. There’s enough shit on either side, whether it was conspiracy, whether it wasn’t. I remember walking into my battalion building and hearing another guy go, ‘Fuck! It cost us X billion dollars to fucking keep one convoy and infantry battalion in the country.’ And you just kind of …” He throws his hands up and shrugs.
“The esprit d’cour and the morale for being there for each other, the mission at that point was just — I don’t know. It started to fall apart. The stuff we were doing, you know, it’s like putting a Band-Aid on a shotgun wound.
Like here, here’s your Barney Band- Aid. Don’t let it bleed through.”
“Iraq, whether you believe biblically or textbook or whatever, it’s where the cradle of civilization started. I mean the Euphrates and Tigris river valleys. And we’re gonna change something that’s been in place from the dawn of time? We’re going to go in and convert them?
How are we going to go in and create something that’s never been created and it’s gonna take 10 years? Full of shit. What’s gonna happen? What did we expect to happen?” He couldn’t say if he felt like his efforts were wasted in Iraq, but he does know one thing: “There are still days when I wish I’d never left the Marines.”
Jason J. King, Sergeant E-5 U.S. Marine Corps, 2005-2010
I was primarily based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., but overseas I was stationed in Camp Falluja, Iraq [Sept. 2006-April 2007], Camp Al Asad, Iraq , and finally Camp Leatherneck/ Bastion, Afghanistan [April 2009-Nov. 2009]. The first two deployments were scheduled for my unit and I volunteered for the Afghanistan deployment.
“I joined for a few reasons. I had always had a desire to join some type of branch of military when I was
younger and almost enlisted in the Navy after high school. However, I decided to give college a try first and join up if I didn’t like where it was taking me. Well, I really didn’t have a plan for college, I was just taking classes for the sake of taking classes and I started to really dislike it (I was never a huge fan of school to begin with anyways). I saw myself sitting in front of a computer and wasn’t too pleased with that. I also wasn’t too pleased with my state of mind. This meaning that I really didn’t feel like I had much of a purpose or really belonged anywhere. Well, the Marine recruiter must have sensed that and really harped on it. I also figured if I was going to join a branch of the military during a time of war it might as well be the Marines so I got a chance to go overseas.
“My mental state has changed dramatically over time. It’s changed from deployment to deployment and is still changing since I’ve separated from active duty.
After my first deployment I was incredibly bitter and resentful. I was angry. I was angry because I had changed and experienced and accomplished so much in seven months while my friends and people back home were partying and continuing with their lives. I felt like my life had been put on hold. It sucked. I watched through Myspace people throwing parties and generally living out their lives. Then to come home all excited to join back in the fun and have nothing going on was rather disappointing. It felt like a lot of my friends kind of looked at me differently, too; hard to really explain that but it felt like they just looked at me in a new light. People wanted to ask me ‘Did you kill anyone?’ or ‘Are you alright mentally?’ Don’t get me wrong, they still hung out with me and talked to me but something just seemed different. Who knows… maybe it was just me.
“My second deployment was much easier. I was on a larger, nicer base that even had an ‘indoor pool’ where we had mandatory PT sessions. By then I had a much better understanding of the whole process — going to and leaving a war zone. When I got back, all I wanted to do was just go out and have a good time or sit and relax in my parent’s backyard — the backyard is like a sanctuary; nice and peaceful — and drink.
“I volunteered for my third deployment for two reasons: The second deployment left a bad taste in my mouth. It was really pretty boring (which can be viewed as a good thing, too). And, secondly, I wanted to go to Afghanistan. Never been before and I had a chance. I wanted to see what it was all about. When I got home from this last deployment I was no longer super resentful towards everyone else. Instead, I understood there was a strong disconnect between military and civilian and I just accepted it for what it was.
I left active duty about five months after that deployment with no real plan to do much. I figured I would eventually go to school and use the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which not only pays for school, but also pays us a monthly living stipend to assist in covering bills or whatnot. But for the majority of the summer in 2010 I sat around and did a lot of drinking (a portion of that drinking was just out of boredom) and played a lot of video games.
I managed to pick up a job at a private paintball field running games for private parties, which only took up a few days a week. I made a few trips out to the shore to see a buddy of mine during the summer who eventually helped me get into the school down there.
“School was something else. Here I was, a 25-year-old combat veteran, sitting next to a bunch of kids who have never experienced life outside of their parent’s protection. Many times I wanted to get in their face for being disrespectful to the professor (like talking during a lecture or blatantly playing on their phone) but I kept my cool and found myself connecting better with the professor rather than the other students. The students’ priorities were drinking and partying; I was past all that, I was there to learn. I didn’t make too many friends through school. I really only talked to other veterans (of all branches) at the school and we had a pretty close-knit group that participated in the Student Veteran’s Group. I didn’t work until my last semester of school because the mentality was that school was my job. But the fact that I legitimately got accepted for a position was pretty satisfying, even though it was for a food store as a produce guy.
“Anyways, I’ve got a lot to be thankful for because of my girlfriend. I met her in 2010 and started dating later than year and she’s been absolutely great to me. She’s helped me through so much: I used to smoke and I used to drink a lot (alcohol abuse was a common trend after deployments and separation from service). I didn’t have much direction — I didn’t really care at all for anything. But she has helped me deal with a lot of garbage. She’s helped me get through college, quit smoking, cut back on drinking and helped me get a job. She’s gotten me to realize that not everyone has experienced the things I have and I need to accept that and so much more.
“I’ve never been a part of something where I’ve had to fight so hard for a piece of land — I’ve really only been a part of missions where I’ve been passing through areas or we go to it, complete a task and get out. So to see Iraq fall apart like it is… it sucks but not on the same level as other veterans may feel. I hate the fact that the Iraqi forces we trained and spent so much time protecting and building up are failing. To see so much time and effort wasted on a group of people who don’t care as much as you do is a huge let down and demoralizer. Now that we have ‘advisors’ on the ground over there brings a slight relief to me, but at the same time I feel like the Iraqis need to fix this themselves and leave American forces out of the game. They are failing because they don’t want it as much as we do, I suppose.
“When you spend months or even years around the same people, as you are on a military deployment, you’ll talk about nearly everything, politics included. Sure we questioned the decisions of our superiors all the way up the chain but it never kept us from doing our jobs.
“There are a ridiculous amount of resources at my disposal both online and face-to-face. The thing I had an issue with is what to actually use to help me. Everything seems to be the same thing and everyone wants to help. It’s a great feeling to have so much support behind me but it’s almost like being dropped in the middle of the sea and asked to pick a direction to shore; you almost can’t go wrong either way.
“A large issue I had trouble with was finding a real job. I had been in charge of multiple people’s lives and equipment worth more than most people’s houses and I felt I could absolutely take on any challenge that was thrown at me. However, trying to convey that on a resumé was different story. No one cares about the things you were in charge of; they care about whether they need to train you for the job you are applying for. It sucked, but after seeing a management position from the inside I understood that I didn’t have the necessary knowledge to really effectively hold that title. It was a shot to my pride, but after a while I got over it and did my best to absorb as much information as possible so that I became an asset for the company instead of just another part-time employee.
“There really isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss some aspect of the Marines. I miss the guys, I miss the action, I miss the fact that every day was different than the last, I miss the training, I miss the deployments, I miss being accountable for other people, and I even miss the bullshit where I got punished for other people’s mistakes. But at the same time, that last reason was a part of why I didn’t reenlist. Also got tired of living out of a bag.
I never owned much so it was easy for me to move around or deploy but I was getting to a point I wanted to settle in somewhere.”
King is now employed by Veteran’s Affairs (VA).