Vets survive after service

Vets+survive+after+service

Adam Burkhart

San Diego City College Veterans For Peace hosted its Arlington West memorial event in Gorton Quad Nov. 8, remembering veterans who have sacrificed their lives in the line of duty and the plight of veterans at home and overseas.

Donald Louis Stiles, retired Marine veteran of the Iraq war, fought back tears as he told the story of his friend and fellow Marine Jeremy Austin.

“It embarrassed me that I wasn’t as strong as my buddy Jeremy Austin,” Stiles said. “Staff Sergeant Jeremy Austin, second forces reconnaissance Marine; second forces reconnaissance Marine I should have been had I not made the decision to leave the Marine Corps after eight years.”

“That was part of my survivor’s guilt, of why I was not a marine anymore, I was still deploying overseas and looking for the glorious death that I thought I should have,” he said.

Stiles said that Austin was the only one injured when the vehicle he was riding in rolled over an explosive device during a deployment to Afghanistan in 2009.

“When I finally saw him at Walter Reed … without his legs … sort of solidified how weak and how not-macho of a Marine that I was,” Stiles said.

Stiles said that he was compelled to leave the unit he and Austin were both in because of a court martial he was facing for driving under the influence, which eventually motivated his decision to leave the Marine Corps altogether.

“If I couldn’t be part of the ‘community’ anymore (the elite second forces reconnaissance unit) then I didn’t want to play,” he said, preferring civilian life to a desk job or other less elite position.  

He left and commenced to redeploy to the Middle East as a private contractor, disabling roadside bombs just as he had done as a Marine. 

He said he cannot remember when it was he first heard of Austin’s injury.

“It was something I didn’t want to acknowledge,” he said. “I lost contact with him because I was ashamed. I felt like a little f—–g b—h that I couldn’t call him.”

During his speech to students and staff gathered in Gorton Quad, Stiles choked on his words when he spoke of the strength Austin evinced while in the hospital.

“(He said) that he remembered that he has a son and that in order for him to get better he needed to view this as: I am strong enough to survive this, I will recover for my son and for my wife, I will be nothing but positive in my rehabilitation,” Stiles said. 

Stiles said that he and Austin are now in contact.

“I feel at 31 years old I’m finally growing up,” he said. “I’m starting to now love myself.” 

He said he plans to deploy to Afghanistan as a private contractor in December.

Jan A. Ruhman, president of the Hugh Thompson Memorial chapter of Veterans For Peace, decried what he considers the profligacy of the United States military budget and the political motivations behind it. 

He charged that politicians frequently present defense spending as a percentage of total government spending, including expenditures funded by revenues from citizens contributions to Social Security and Medicare in the form of payroll taxes.

A chart on the San Diego Veterans for Peace website shows military spending for fiscal year 2013 to be 57 percent of discretionary spending, once mandatory spending under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act is excluded.

Ruhman launched invective at the small crowd, the mostly somber event momentarily tense. 

“Politicians are lying to us, they’re wasting our money. Some politicians will tell you that entitlements are out of control. Every tax dollar that goes to Washington, 57 cents goes to the military. Fifty-seven cents of every dollar.” he said.

He lauded the re-election of President Barack Obama, and the local victory of mayor-elect Bob Filner, praising Filner in particular for his work on the Post 9/11 GI-Bill, which provides financial aid to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who return to school.