Same war. Same platoon. Two paths since leaving Iraq.
Travis Pinn and Vincent Emanuele served side by side in Anbar Province. Now civilians again, one just wants the quiet life; the other aspires to help end the war.
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Two months later Emanuele and Pinn were back in the United States, and their experiences, though shared, started to move them in different directions.Skip to next paragraph
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The girlfriend Emanuele had left eight months earlier barely recognized the man he had become. No longer a high school jock and self-described "ignorant kid," he was reading books and writing poetry.
"I had educated myself to contextualize these events" witnessed in Iraq, says Emanuele. "When I think of the person I was, it's night and day." They soon broke up.
To decompress, he took a job in Chicago as an ironworker, the same work his father had done while a union organizer there in the 1980s.
A few months after being discharged from the Marine Corps in January 2006, Emanuele edged, shyly, into a seat at the back of an auditorium at Valparaiso University in Indiana to listen to a panel discussion on the Iraq war. None of the speakers had been to Iraq. At the end of the talk he raised his hand.
"I wanted people to know this one guy [on the panel] was right," he recalls.
He could see the heads whip around as he spoke. His firsthand knowledge of the war seemed to grab their attention.
He suddenly had an audience, and it caught him by surprise, he says. But it also was the moment he realized that "I did have a voice and I could speak out."
After the discussion, a Vietnam veteran approached and encouraged him to join Iraq Veterans Against the War. The group had formed about two years earlier, and it now claims some 800 members nationwide. Emanuele has become Indiana's IVAW organizer.
Out of the military and without dependents, Emanuele says he doesn't feel constrained, as other veterans might, about criticizing the US government's prosecution of the Iraq war. He was tired of hearing generals and pundits discussing it – and wanted to contribute a critique informed by his on-the-ground view.
If service members "truly take their oath [of enlistment] to heart," he says, "then you understand this is a responsibility to speak out and tell the truth about what happened."
It's an atypical stance in the Marines, where the training reinforces loyalty to the service and the importance of protecting its image. Last weekend in Silver Spring, Md., IVAW held a conference called Winter Soldier, similar to the 1971 event for Vietnam veterans who had become disillusioned with America's role in the Southeast Asia conflict. Emanuele and dozens of other Iraq and Afghanistan veterans spoke aloud of transgressions they had witnessed – and committed – during the wars, things they once could barely whisper to their closest friends.
"It takes a mental and emotional toll to speak out. No one is here for fun," Emanuele said at the Winter Soldier conference. "This is a very difficult process to open the scabs again and talk about the person I used to be."
Pinn was not there.
He is no less moved by his experiences in war, but the return to civilian life has turned him inward.
"I have a lot to say about [Iraq], but I don't want it to be my whole life," he says. "I just want to focus on getting a stable job … just enjoy my [everyday] experiences."