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ESQUIRE MAGAZINE 2011

July 19, 2011, 7:00 AM

Vetville

More than two million American veterans have served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Many came home wounded, most came back changed, thousands have committed suicide.

Who is trying to help them? At a small farm in Tennessee, marines are taking care of one

another.

BY MIKE SAGER

 

Alan Beaty navigated a rutted road, once again a man on a mission. His eyes tracked grimly side

to side, scanning for irregularities along this dusty and familiar route in the Cumberland Mountains of

Tennessee. Gravel ricocheted off the undercarriage of his battered red Honda CR-V, the springs

squeaked and complained. The half-assed mini-crossover van is a remnant of his former life, when he

was a postmaster and a husband, a full-time father; he'd found it parked outside his empty house

upon his return from his third tour in Iraq.

 

From left: Alan Beaty, Patrick Myers, Keith Hull, Keith Beaty. 
Published in the August 2011 issue

The odometer had already run around twice. It would have

to do. There was no room in the budget for a car payment — inevitably he found himself finishing out

the month on pimento cheese, Wonder bread, and moonshine brewed in a 150-year-old still rescued

from the family homestead that was awarded to his great-great-great-great-grandfather for his

service in the Revolutionary War, at the Battle of Kings Mountain.

Andrew Beaty walked hundreds of miles in 1780 to lend his long rifle to this pivotal victory in the fight

for American independence; history records him as one of the original Overmountain Men, the first

wave of the storied Tennessee Volunteers. The Beaty family has continued the tradition in successive

generations. Alan's father, Keith, endured some of the thickest fighting in Vietnam. Alan himself did

four different stints, the last as a U. S.-government-employed mercenary commanding Ugandan and

Bosnian security forces. Like their ancestor, bitten by a rattlesnake during the final assault on the

British loyalists at Kings Mountain, none of the Beatys returned home from their service unscathed.

Alan's wife is gone. He has no hearing in one ear, a constant ringing. Veterans Affairs gave him one of

those sound-effects radios to help him sleep — and also a ton of prescription pills. The ghosts of his

past are constantly aswirl. They come to him in dreams, they come to him awake: Staff Sergeant

Anthony Goodwin, beloved platoon leader, a Marine's Marine — shot in the face and killed instantly;

Staff Sergeant Kendall Ivy, Goodwin's battlefield replacement — killed two days later, he remembers,

by a small piece of shrapnel that entered just below his ass cheek and nicked an artery, causing him

to bleed out; the men in Ivy's AAV, a large armored troop carrier with tanklike tracks — burned to a

crisp, their bodies had to be peeled from the wreckage.

Beaty and Ivy were good friends. After a mission, they'd hang in Beaty's can at Al Asad air base in

western Iraq and have a shot or two of whiskey — regular shipments from Beaty's dad came

masquerading as Listerine mouthwash. Ivy's wife was pregnant. The night before he was killed, he

and Beaty were watching a DVD of The Alamo, starring Billy Bob Thornton, talking all kinds of shit

about going back in a time machine to kick some Mexican ass — Gotta get us a coonskin cap! They

were U. S. Marines. Brothers in combat. Men trained to hunger for a fight even as they were

recovering from the last, even as they dreaded the next. Now Beaty keeps Ivy's shot glass in a

cabinet in his dining room. One thing that wasn't lost.

After Goodwin, after Ivy, the operational leadership of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force's RCT-2

Jump Platoon — a bodyguarding element assigned to an impossibly tall and fearless colonel whose

mission was to pacify the largely Sunni western Iraq province of Al Anbar — had fallen to Sergeant

Alan Beaty, thirty-one.

Upon receipt of his promotion, Beaty retreated to his can, now devoid of his friend. He'd put his face in

his hands and cried like a little boy. If there's anything you can do to take me out of this, Lord, please

do it now. I don't want the responsibility of these Marines on my hands.

That was 2005, more than six years — and two more deployments — ago. He still can't drive past a

dead dog or a bag of garbage lying by the side of a road. The VA awarded him 100 percent disability:

post-traumatic stress disorder. (Social Security said he's fine: They told him to get a job.) The smell of

burning trash ... the smell of diesel fuel ... the loud report of a firearm in the hollow ... a rubber hose

stretched across a street to count traffic ... a line of slow, stupid, complaining motherfuckers in the

checkout line at the Walmart ... anything can set him off. The way people look at him. The way his

family tried to treat him with kid gloves, like some cripple. The way he couldn't even bond with his

own kids.

It's like he's home but he's not. Like part of him was left behind. Maybe that's why he kept going

back.

It was only a year ago now that Beaty rode his favorite horse eighteen miles out from his farm into

the wilderness, a .40-cal pistol hanging from the pommel horn of his saddle. He was broke and

depressed. He felt a little bit guilty about some of the stuff that was done over there, and angry about

other stuff. As part of a post-Blackwater crackdown on contract mercenaries, he'd been arrested and

jailed on inflated charges involving an assault committed by a man under his command. The charges

were finally dropped; his dad had borne the burden of paying for most of his defense. He'd felt useless

and unproductive and off, you know? Just off. Like nothing was ever quite right. And so goddamn

tired. What he would do for some sleep.

He was FUBAR, as they say in the corps.

Fucked-Up Beyond All Repair.

He just couldn't handle it no more.

So he'd planned carefully. Thought it through. It became kind of an obsession, getting all the details

right. Something to keep him busy, to keep him slogging forward, one foot in front of the other. He

considered slitting his wrists in the bathtub, taking an overdose of his prescription drugs. He decided

he didn't want anybody he knew to find him dead.

At last he'd settled on Leonides — half Arabian, half saddlebred. Leo knows his way all over the

mountain. He is famously ground tied — you can drop the reins and he'll stand for six hours in one

place till you get back. Alan had figured Leo would stand over his body awhile, wondering in his loyal

equine pea brain what to do next. Eventually he'd get hungry and go back to the barn. They'd send

out a search party. Let the professionals deal with such things...

Now, driving the Honda, Beaty worried his goatee; along with his dark expressive brows and chocolate

eyes, it gives him a rakish look much enjoyed by the local ladies, who seem none too stressed about

his strict no-toothbrush policy — he also has experienced a bit of a problem bonding with women, if no

trouble coupling, now that he's off some of the meds. Up before dawn, he was nearing the end of a

six-hour round-trip to the Nashville airport. Of course, he would have driven six days. One of my

Marines is in trouble. He glanced to his right, checking the welfare of his passenger. His name was Pat

Myers. As far as Beaty was concerned, what had happened to Myers was on him:

I was extremely uncomfortable with the new platoon sergeant who was succeeding me, Beaty would

explain later. He wasn't the guy for the job. He was scared to go outside the wire. He didn't know how

to run a convoy. He'd never get in a lead vehicle, because that's the one that always got hit. He didn't

know how to do any of that crap and he didn't want to learn.

And then I leave him alone for twelve hours, not even that, and he's done wounded three of my

Marines.

Beaty had spotted Myers right away at the farthest bay of the baggage claim. He saw the wheelchair,

recognized the tattoo on the back of his right arm, a big cross that covers his whole triceps. They'd

served together for nearly a year, run eighty-four documented mobile combat patrols, always in

vehicle two of the convoy. Beaty rode in the passenger seat. Lance Corporal Myers sat right behind.

Rated as a radio operator, Myers never once touched the comms — instead he carried a 12-gauge

shotgun, the door breacher. Myers was known in the platoon as the guy who could always make

everyone laugh with his irreverent humor. No matter how dark things got, he always had some smartass

quip to lighten the mood. He'd saved Beaty's ass on Route Uranium, between the city of Hit and Al

Asad, when he noticed their Humvee was parked directly on top of a thin green wire connected to

three 120mm rockets buried in the sand. Seeing his tattoo across the airport concourse, it had

occurred to Beaty how many times he had followed that cross straight into the asshole of the

unknown.

The last time Beaty had seen Myers was the Marine Corps birthday, November 10, 2005. Elsewhere in

the world, Marines in dress blues were attending formal balls to honor their beloved branch. Lance

Corporal Myers, twenty-two, was mounting up for patrol, his first in nearly two months.

For all his joking around, Myers was clearly a troubled kid. His father had been career Army, medical

discharge. His mother was a nurse. The family moved around a lot — Indiana, Alaska, Texas. "My dad

was an ass," Myers would later say. "He just expected way too much of me. When I was a teenager, I

went to church. I played nearly every sport. I was even in band. He never came to one concert, one

game, nothing. He was one of those guys, no matter how hard I tried to please him, it was never

enough. I could never get it right with him. I always made these standards for myself, and they never,

ever met his."

Jonathan Torgovnik 
Myers rolling down the ramp he built at the farm.

Three years after high school, Myers was working in a grocery store. He met a local recruiter. "My dad

told me I wasn't man enough to be a Marine," Myers recalled. "That's the main reason I joined."

 

Natural athlete that he was, Myers flew through basic training and the School of Infantry. Eventually

he was assigned to the jump platoon. He thought he'd found his place. Until he encountered an

unexpected complication: He fell in love with a female Marine.

Beaty had seen this kind of thing before. He preached to the kid; of course he wouldn't listen — never

mind that now. Everyone who has ever been around Marines knows this: They do love the same way

they do war. They went on a $7,000 cruise together. After two seemingly blissful weeks, on the

gangplank exiting, she told him she'd found somebody else.

When he returned to Al Asad, Myers was a train wreck. He'd come over to Beaty's can and cry —

Beaty actually gave him two weeks off to get his shit together, unofficial time away from duty. During

this time, Myers didn't shave, didn't shower, didn't do shit but mope around and act demented. One

day he was walking across the base wearing civvies, sporting a full beard. As it happened, he passed

Colonel Stephen W. Davis, the regimental commander he was being paid by the Marine Corps to

protect.

Colonel Davis did a double take. "Are you okay, Myers?"

"What's up?" Myers called. He issued a goofy wave and kept on strolling.

Within three minutes Beaty's radio was blowing up. The sergeant major chewed his ass. Myers was

pulled from the jump, given gate guard duty — six hours on, six hours off.

Six long weeks. Whenever the jump convoy would return from a mission, Myers would be waving

them into the gate. And us throwing bottles at him and stuff. Giving him a ton of shit. Ha ha, look at

you, gate guard.

Finally Myers could take no more. He begged with tears in his eyes, "Please let me get back on the

jump."

Beaty talked to the sergeant major, went to the mat for the kid. Myers got the thumbs-up.

There was only one problem: Beaty wouldn't be there to supervise. His deployment was over. He was

one wake-up from going home.

Myers reported for duty the next morning. He had shaved ... everything except his mustache.

The sergeant major went batshit. As soon as we get back, you're gonna shave your fuckin' face,

Marine!

Then the new platoon sergeant informed Myers that someone else now carried the 12-gauge. Myers

would be driving vehicle five, the caboose. He'd driven only once before. His Humvee was hit by a

roadside bomb; he'd narrowly escaped death; he'd vowed never to drive again.

Not that anybody gave two shits what he'd vowed.

All he remembers is a huge explosion. It was like the ground came up to meet him; then everything

went black.

He woke up clear of the wreckage. He knew he was fucked: The tough-as-nails sergeant major was

holding his hand like somebody's mommy. "I guess this means I don't have to shave," Myers said, and

everybody laughed.

In the Nashville airport, Myers pivoted his chair to face Beaty, each hand working a wheel in

opposition. Beaty couldn't believe what he saw. Both of Myers's legs were gone above the knee, a

couple of fingers were missing. He was heavier than Beaty remembered; his jug-eared face wore signs

of successive generations of fights. He looked like shit, really, like he just didn't care no more, didn't

have nothing in the world to look forward to. He'd gotten so fucked-up, he'd left his wheelchair in the

parking lot of a roadhouse in Fort Worth. He'd driven home fine, but then he had to crawl up the

driveway to his house.

The next morning, after a call from a concerned friend, a Marine gunnery sergeant assigned his case

by the corps's Wounded Warrior Regiment, let herself into Myers's house with a key he'd given her for

these kinds of occasions, which were becoming too numerous to count. He was already facing a DUI.

He seemed to have hit rock bottom.

After rousing him the best she could, Gunny Teresa Grandinetti pulled out her cell phone and dialed a

number. She handed it to Myers.

"Who is this?" Myers demanded insolently.

The Tennessee twang was unmistakable: "This is Sergeant Beaty."

Myers got real quiet. "Sarge, I'm really fucked-up." He burst into tears.

"You wanna come out here and stay with me awhile?"

"Can I come tonight?"

As it happened, Gunny Grandinetti's husband is an employee of Southwest Airlines; he finagled Myers

a free ticket. They had him on a plane the next day.

Now he was in Beaty's battered red Honda CR-V, an artifact of another man's tortured history. They

were on their way to Beaty's farm, 260 acres of cleared fields and forest and untended walnut trees

deep in a hollow near Oneida, Tennessee, a hamlet of thirty-eight hundred in the far north central part

of the state, just across the border from Kentucky.

The instant the men had laid eyes on each other in the airport, they'd both wept. That must have

been a sight, Beaty was thinking as he drove. And then he thought: Holy shit, another mouth to feed.

And then he thought: Who knows where he'd have ended up if I didn't come get him.

Maybe like Keith Hull, living under a bridge before he came to crash with Beaty. Or Jason Delong. He

was in the turret of a truck when it hit a double-stacked antitank mine; he flew in from California just

to spend two days. Or Adam Hand, another turret gunner, living hand-to-mouth in Washington, D. C.

He stayed for a few weeks. Now he's a mall cop; he's thinking of coming back down. Or Spencer

Pellecer, still on active duty at the School of Infantry at Camp Lejeune, who finds his way every

holiday to Beaty's copious and embracing leather couch — Pellecer's mother calls Beaty for updates.

Or the score of other Marines who have found work, camaraderie, and refuge at Beaty's farm since

June of 2008, a sort of do-it-yourself halfway house for Marines broken by war. Some stay for a week;

some stay for months; one guy is working on year two. Though Beaty has been asked informally by

the Marines to help out from time to time, he has up to now gotten no formal support or guidance

from them or the government; lately he's been thinking about applying for grants, soliciting

contributions — something to help make his idea more serviceable than the sets of bunk beds in his

kids' room. For now, it's a jerry-rigged operation. Whatever it takes, they make it work.

If only there was room for all of them.

The GPS signal cut out about a mile from the house, at the clearing by an antique whitewashed church

where the congregants are said to handle snakes. The cell phone died a few hundred yards later — the

Honda was picked up instead by a pack of abandoned dogs Beaty has adopted, barking and yipping

and running alongside like a welcoming committee. (His old blind dog waited behind. You can kick a

deflated soccer ball anywhere in the field and he'll find it and bring it back to you ... eventually.)

Beaty pulled up in the gravel before his modest cracker-box house. Horses grazed in the field behind;

mountains rise in the middle distance. A small rickety porch with three steps framed the doorway. Off

to one side was a pile of fresh lumber, two-bys and four-bys and such.

The engine hiccupped to a stop. "Look Devil Dog, I ain't lifting your fat ass up into the house," Beaty

said, a tone of command once again swelling the barrel of his chest. He gestured toward the lumber

pile. "You're gonna have to build your own ramp."

Hungover, fucked-up, possibly suicidal, Myers stared at his former platoon leader. It was hot as hell,

the sun was beating down, fat bees were buzzing everywhere. He was twenty-five years old. He'd

been blown up and bled out. His lungs had collapsed, his heart had stopped three times. When he'd

awakened from his medically induced coma, he'd found himself in a hospital in Washington, D. C. The

first person he'd seen was his mother. I asked her if my junk was still there. After that he'd spent two

years in an army hospital in San Antonio.

Beaty climbed out of the truck and shut his door, headed for the house. "When you get the ramp built,

you can roll yourself inside and I'll pour you a drink of whiskey and we'll talk about the war."

Myers sat there a moment, considering his options.

Then he clambered down from the Honda and went to work.

Jonathan Torgovnik
Myers, Beaty, and Hull inside the cracker-box house that has become a sanctuary.

On a somnolent afternoon at Beaty's farm, rain drums relentlessly on the roof overhanging the

back porch; dense fog looms, obscuring the thickly forested mountains. A war flick plays at low

volume on the big screen in the living room, King Leonidas leading his elite Spartans into battle

against a vastly superior force. The sounds of children's laughter and video games drift out from one

of the bedrooms, Beaty's three kids in residence for the weekend.

Four men sprawl on sofas around a big old wood-burning stove, sipping beer and moonshine. His first

night in the house alone, Beaty slept on the wall-to-wall carpet by the stove, too heavy for his wife to

move, he supposes. Now there's a hardwood floor. Myers put that in, too. (Beaty worked by his side

... as he'd ended up doing with the ramp.)

Myers left after four months. He's back in Fort Worth, has a girlfriend and a baby; he and a partner

are working on a plan to train vets as mechanics. He still visits from time to time — you should have

seen him driving the hay wagon with broom handles duct-taped to his stumps so he could work the

pedals. Later they duct-taped him onto a smooth-gaited Tennessee walking horse and took him for a

ride up the mountain. Obviously his time with Beaty, and the camaraderie of the Marines who are

always coming and going from the place, helped turn him around. The truth is, you come home and

nobody understands. While you've been out killing and trying to survive, they've been shopping for

groceries, ordering wine in fancy restaurants, attending to math homework. (It helped also that

Gunny Grandinetti finally got the military to send him a pair of prosthetic legs.)

More recently, Myers's room at the farm has been occupied by Keith Hull. Skeleton thin with

dreadlocks, the former sergeant is wearing his usual surfer shorts and rubber flip-flops despite the

cold. Hull was raised in private schools, the rebellious son of a successful insurance man. He tried

high-rise steel construction before he joined the corps in 1998. Following 9/11, he was assigned to

Task Force 58, the first Marines on the deck in Afghanistan; they pushed straight through to

Kandahar. After mustering out, Hull attempted college for several years. When he was recalled by the

Marines in 2004, he was assigned to the jump as a turret gunner — "The best platoon the Marine

Corps has ever made up," he says.

"Everybody was experienced," Hull remembers. "Everybody had a different MOS. It was like a James

Bond platoon: No matter what situation we were in — say there was a tank to be moved or a piece of

equipment that needed to be fixed, what have you — there was always somebody who knew how."

Out of twenty-three in the platoon during his deployment, two were killed, four wounded. The psychic

toll is yet untallied. Several months after his return, the sergeant who replaced Beaty was thrown

from his motorcycle after driving off a road. There were a lot of rumors about a suicide note in his

back pocket. Only the family knows for sure.

According to a recent federal-appeals-court ruling that took the VA to task for failing to care for

veterans suffering from PTSD, an average of eighteen vets (from all eras) commit suicide every day.

Of 1.6 million Iraq/Afghan-war vets, according to a 2008 Rand Corporation study cited by the U. S.

9th Circuit Court of Appeals, 300,000 suffered from PTSD or major depression. As of 2011, the

number of vets from those wars has surpassed two million.

By the time Hull came to Beaty's farm, he'd spiraled into homelessness. A proud and intelligent man

with a gift for cleverly bending a truth, he'll tell you he was "stealth camping" while working as a bar

bouncer, getting paid off the books in drugs and alcohol. That he ended up sleeping under bridges, he

explains, was inspired by a Web site he came across. Admittedly he was a sorry case. His apartment

was gone; he'd donated all his furniture to needy neighbors. His girlfriend was gone and so was most

of the contents of his bank account. (He'd have given her the money if she'd only asked.) He'd lost his

job as a janitor in a small restaurant — he worked the night shift because he couldn't stand to be

around so many people; a can of beans would fall off a shelf and he'd dive for cover. He was drunk or

high all the time. He'd gotten to the point where he'd asked his father to lock up his guns. He still

hasn't seen his young son in a while. "I was ready to go the way of the dodo," he says.

Now Hull is chillin' in Beaty's living room, where he's pretty much been part of the furniture for the

last nine months, helping play host to the dignitary who's just come limping up Myers's front ramp.

(At least he's not in the bedroom staring at the popcorn ceiling. In the beginning, that's all he did. It

was Beaty who finally dragged him to the VA.)

Lieutenant Colonel Tim Maxwell, forty-six, is one of the highest-ranking Marines to be seriously

wounded in Iraq; he was on his sixth overseas tour, October 2004. While in the hospital recovering

from traumatic brain and other injuries, he began ministering to wounded Devil Dogs, going from bed

to bed in his bathrobe. Eventually he saw to fruition his dream of creating a Wounded Warrior

Regiment, a unit to keep account of Marines after they'd been injured — a series of barracks and

facilities and social services where the wounded can begin their recovery in the embrace of their

fellows. (See "Wounded Battalion," Esquire, December 2007.) The first such barracks, at Camp

Lejeune in North Carolina, was named in his honor.

Like many wounded vets, Maxwell has discovered that what's broken can never really be fixed. There

are ongoing complications, constant tinkerings with meds, weird side effects, oddly unexplainable

medical breakdowns, revisionary surgeries. In 2008, Maxwell had an operation to remove some of the

remaining shrapnel from his brain — originally the doctors thought it was embedded too deep to risk

extracting. As it turned out, the toxins leaching from the metal were cooking his noodle — How do you

like that? He had reached the point where he was losing more function every day.

The surgery, followed by a long and tortured rehab, eased some of Maxwell's speech, behavioral, and

cognitive problems. But it also left the strapping former triathlete without use of his right arm, with

tenuous balance, and with a greatly reduced field of vision on his right side. More recently he needed

further surgery on his rebuilt left elbow — all the metal had attracted a horrendous infection. "The doc

wanted to put me in a cast for six weeks. I said, 'You're talking about me having to have somebody

wipe my butt again. I'm not okay with that,' " Maxwell will later recall over dinner, having opted for

lasagna at the best steakhouse in Oneida because he couldn't cut the meat with one hand, and

because he was too proud to let somebody do it for him.

A few months ago, Maxwell flew from his home in northern Virginia to the Marine base at Camp

Pendleton, north of San Diego, to try out for a Wounded Warriors Paralympics team. Despite his

balance problems, he managed to ride his bike one-armed for eighteen miles without crashing.

Swimming proved more difficult. Sank like a stone. A guy he met wants to teach him how to swim

with one arm. Maxwell doesn't want to learn. Neither does he want to learn to write with his left hand.

He is convinced he can rehab the damn right limb if he just keeps working. Already he can make his

fingers move a little.

Having heard much talk of Beaty's farm, Maxwell has driven his specially equipped camper van

(license plate BUMR) nearly six hundred miles from Camp Lejeune, where he was attending the

dedication of a brand-new Wounded Warrior barracks. After Maxwell founded the first barracks in

2007, an entire Wounded Warrior Regiment was formed. There's a command center at Quantico,

Virginia, now a second barracks at Camp Pendleton, and satellite offices around the country. Since its

inception, Maxwell's regiment has helped nearly twenty-seven thousand wounded Marines. But the

program benefits primarily Marines still on active duty. For those who have left the service, support is

hard to find.

Retired now from the corps, Maxwell runs SemperMax.com, a nonprofit support group for wounded

Marines, both active and vets. He has a Web site and a zillion contacts. (As does his wife, Shannon,

also active in helping wounded families. She has recently authored a children's book, Our Daddy Is

Invincible!, aimed at helping kids cope when their parents suffer injuries at war.) Each day brings

Maxwell a different project, a different hard-luck tale, another wounded Marine with a problem to

solve — which means that each day Maxwell has something important to do. He would have arrived at

Beaty's place sooner, but he couldn't drive straight through; he doesn't see very well in the dark

anymore.

Of course, he drove some distance in the dark anyway.

"After six and a half years, the doctors are starting to tell me they don't know what to do for me,"

Maxwell is telling the others. Though his speech is slurred and he likes to play himself off as a humble,

brain-damaged crip, Maxwell's mind is sharp, his ideas run well before the wind, his gruff irreverence

is intact. "Doctors never say, 'I don't know.' Those three words: They're frickin' restricted from saying

that."

"They might lose their status as gods," Hull quips.

"The most irritating thing to me is the doctors grouping PTSD and traumatic brain injuries together

because they know so little about the damn brain. They're saying we got the same problems, me and

you. Well, hello? Our problems are totally different. They both suck. But they suck different. Like with

my injury, my brain is whacked. Shrapnel is what got me, not the kaboom."

"There's an actual physical injury," Beaty says.

"Exactly," says Hull.

"I know I'm supposed to be a dumbass grunt, but even I can tell the difference between who's got

what," Maxwell says. Though he was born in Ohio, he has a southern accent that showed up after the

initial injury, the result of an enemy mortar round that landed serendipitously within the sandbagged

doorway of his tent inside a command base. "When I was in the Wounded Warrior barracks, you'd see

the PTSD guys up talking to each other at 2:00 A.M. None of them could sleep. What about you?"

Hull shrugs. Who gives a shit?

"You're kind of new at it — you have to learn how to fight the fight," Maxwell says.

"That's the thing that's so jacked up about PTSD," Hull says. "It's a mental degradation that you can't

describe. If you hurt your arm, you have a mark. But if you hurt your mind ... it's like, Whatthefuck,

you know? I'm like, I've been through some bad shit before, much worse shit than this. Why can't I fix

myself now?"

"I think everybody who goes through combat has PTSD," Maxwell says.

"The experts say it's like 20 percent," Beaty offers.

Maxwell screws up his face like he's smelled something bad. "That's 'cause when you go to treatment,

they ask the wrong questions. The first thing they should ask is: Did you experience combat? Did you

have to return fire? Then they should ask: Did you ever lose a friend? 'Cause when you see a dude get

whacked, a friend of yours, a stranger, it don't matter — it always fucks you up."

"What person in combat ain't lost a friend?" Hull asks.

"Exactly," says Beaty.

"You spend the rest of your life lying awake at night thinking: If I didn't do such and such, then

Tommy Smith wouldn't be dead," Maxwell says. "It's always: my fault, my fault, my fault. I should've

been on the left side of the Hummer. I should have been on the right. I should have gone first through

the door. There's no way around it."

"The problem is getting guys into treatment," Beaty says. "My dad was a Marine in Vietnam. A Suicide

Charley guy. Served in 1968. Purple Heart. He's had PTSD his whole life — but he only just started to

get treatment when I did. He's been gutting it out for like thirty, forty years. Bad dreams, cold sweats,

the whole nine. And he never told a soul."

"It's damn embarrassing," Maxwell says. "You've got to convince a guy he's got PTSD. You gotta be

like: 'Don't feel like a wuss. It's a real injury.' "

Hull: "The docs are like, 'Tell me about your issues.' But it's hard to explain. Because sometimes I

don't even have words to express how it makes me feel. And the docs are like, 'Well, you gotta come

up with something.' And I'm just like, Fuck, you know? It feels like something's trying to come out of

my chest. Like in Alien? That's how I think of it — it feels like something is trying to rip through my

chest. It's like: I don't understand it either, motherfucker! I just know I'm fucked-up and I need help.

I'm just really at the point where I want to fucking get my shit together and move on."

"Are you taking your meds?"

"I take something for my rage issues — so I know that works. And then I only take my other ones

when I have panic attacks. Those pills are weird. It's like they make my insides calm down but it

doesn't make my brain stop working. You know what I'm saying? It's like my brain is still going, What

the fuck? What the fuck? What the fuck?"

Maxwell takes a swig of his beer. "I have days where I just sit there and ... " his voice trails off. The

lamplight catches the jagged scar on the side of his head, just below the hedge line of his high-andtight

military fade.

Reportage by Getty Images
Clockwise from top left: Beaty leading his team in the city of hit in 2005; Myers, left, after handing out soccer balls and candy to kids in Iraq; Myers, Beaty, Jason DeLong, and Hull at their base in Al Anbar.

 

Beaty and Maxwell judder back down the rutted road on the way to town for an early dinner. Hull

has volunteered to stay home with the kids, the oldest of whom is now fifteen. The sky has cleared

and the moon has risen, presiding over the twilight and bare trees. With the windows down, you can

hear the water in Stanley Creek, more of a rush than a babble.

Beaty points out his barn, a circa-1960s corncrib renovated by Marines, and the locust fence posts —

harvested, hauled down the mountain, and set in place by Marines. "And see right here on the left?

Keith Hull cleared that entire field. It was nothing but woods when he started. He disked it up and

sowed it and did everything by himself." Most of the fields were cleared

by Marines.

"It's not me asking them to come work," Beaty says. "That's the funny thing. They just show up

because they want a place to go." He shakes his head, the way a person does when he feels both

blessed and perplexed. "Sometimes it gets a little bit crowded."

"I'm sure there's plenty of work to be done," Maxwell says.

"There's camaraderie," Beaty says. "There's people here that understand 'em, other combat Marines.

We sit around at night, and I'm not gonna lie, we sit around and have a drink or three and talk about

the war. It's huge for them. This is their home."

"It's hard to feel comfortable anywhere else," Maxwell says.

Beaty scratches his head, resets his trucker cap. "When they teach you to be a Marine, they teach you

to focus, because you can't be emotional in combat. You learn to be able to put things out of your

mind. You learn to build walls. We've been trained to just keep functioning, to operate without

emotion, without conscience. That's what you need in war.

"But once you get back to society," Beaty continues, "the walls are still up. It's hard to have an

emotional attachment to people. Because in your mind, you've been trained to know that this right

here could be your last day on earth. So why allow myself to be connected to this woman? Why allow

myself to be connected to my children? Lucky I got an amazing woman therapist now at the VA. It's

only in the last few months that I'm learning how to take the walls down."

"The main strength of the Marine Corps is also the main weakness," Maxwell says matter-of-factly.

"We're too well trained."

"They make 'em Marines, but nobody ever turns them back into civilians," Beaty says. "Even prisoners

get halfway houses. Druggies get sober living."

Maxwell looks out the window. Crisscrossing the country, he's heard it all a million times before. He

grinds his jaw, the wheels turn.

"Let's just estimate," Maxwell says at last. "What if we got a hundred grand? You'd be amazed with

what we could do in this place with 100k. We make a campsite. When each kid comes in, we give him

some lumber and we let him build his own cabin. We could have ten, twelve cabins, a rec hall — "

"I could sure put 'em to work," Beaty says. "Right now the only thing we're taking off the farm is hay.

I thought about turning it into a tomato farm. And I got enough walnut trees to fill fifteen dump trucks

with walnuts. But it's too labor-intensive. Right now I just have to let shit rot."

"It's like that movie. With that actor, you know? He builds the whatchacallit behind his — " Maxwell

knits his brow, searching for a proper noun. People, places, things. It's called aphasia. It's part of the

brain injury; there's no escaping it.

"Field of Dreams?" Beaty offers gingerly.

"If you build it, they will come," Maxwell says, pleased to have remembered the damn quote.

Yes! Yes! Yes! Beaty is thinking.

Turning his farm into a haven for Marines — it's one of the reasons he decided to ride his horse back

down the mountain that fateful day.

Jonathan Torgovnik

Left: Tim Maxwell, next to his specially equipped van earlier this year. Right: John Cybula, with Chelsea at home in Tennessee.

 

Seventy miles south of Alan Beaty's farm, John Cybula is sitting at a picnic table on the back deck of

a house belonging to his girlfriend's mom. His stealth-black, Hi-Point 9mm semiautomatic pistol is

broken down on the table; we've just finished emptying a few mags of hollow points into an

assortment of car-stereo amps and tree stumps and other unfortunate objects that live for that

purpose in the backyard. In a little while he'll demonstrate how fast he can put it back together with

his eyes shut. Like he says, "Gotta stay sharp."

Cybula is twenty-five. He brings to mind Elvis Presley in his thirties, a handsome devil gone a little bit

puffy, a certain darkness around the eyes, his hair carefully gelled and spiked. Chelsea is by his side;

they share a pack of cigs. She is twenty-one, sweet as can be, taking the semester off from

community college — she's thinking either forestry or nursing. She's got blue eyes and a rockin' little

bod, an asymmetrical haircut with a pink swath dyed into the back, about as fashionista as it gets

around Madisonville, Tennessee, a town so small that you can be shopping for a toothbrush at 2:00

A.M. at the local Walmart and be recognized by the local cop, who is aware that you are wanted for a

probation violation. (He lets you kiss your girl and takes you to jail without cuffs.)

Cybula followed his granddad into the Marine Corps at seventeen, another boy from another family of

Tennessee Volunteers — a high school quarterback who majored in cheerleaders, who wanted payback

for 9/11. When we first met, in the summer of 2007, he was twenty-one. He'd been wounded in

Fallujah, caught a bullet in the hip. The impact knocked him off a roof; he fell three stories and broke

his pelvis. Young and gung ho, not wanting to be the weak link in the chain, he tried to rejoin his unit

before his injuries had properly healed. He ended up at the Wounded Warrior barracks at Camp

Lejeune, eating a fistful of meds every day.

The sky is blue, the sun is unseasonably warm, a dog sleeps at his feet. "When I first got out, I was

really lost," Cybula says. "I didn't know what to do. I was on all those pain meds. It hurt to stand or

sit or lie down. The only thing I was trained to do since I was seventeen was how to kill somebody.

But it's not really a marketable skill. It kind of works against you, even.

"Like, I got in a fight with my stepdad. He came at me with a baseball bat. He swung and I caught it

and I jerked it away from him. And you should have seen the look in his face. He knew he'd done the

wrong thing. I just destroyed him. He had some messed-up vertebras in his neck, I broke his jaw,

broke his eye socket, broke a couple of his ribs.

"When the police came, I explained it to them — he came at me with a baseball bat, you know? Selfdefense.

But they arrested me for aggravated assault, assault with a deadly weapon, because of my

Marine Corps training.

"After that, I started abusing drugs bad again — I ain't going to lie to you, I started shooting up

OxyContin and crap like that. I was on drugs so bad like I had to pawn my TV, my car, everything I

had. It's just like, I don't know. I went to war, I did this, I did that. I have lots of feelings inside my

head; I try to tuck them away — but they always come out. I don't know how to deal with these

feelings. You can ask her: Sometimes I'll just flip out and like our dog will do the littlest thing and like,

what was it? What did Roxy-dog do that one night where I was wanting to take her out back and like

just like blow her head off?"

Chelsea: "I don't remember what she did."

"She did something to me and I was just so pissed that I was like — "

"The one thing we fight about is the dogs," Chelsea says. "There's a difference between discipline and

beating them, you know?"

"I don't like hurting her," Cybula says. He looks down the barrel of his weapon, making sure the

chamber is clean. "I'm going to the VA now. They put me on Xanax so I'm more chill."

"He still has the worst dreams," Chelsea says.

"Tell him about the time you got up without telling me. Remember I grabbed you?"

"He sometimes just starts crying. And like, at first, I didn't want to wake him up, you know? I was

afraid or whatever. So I finally asked him, I was like, 'If you have a bad dream, do you want me to

wake you up?' And he was like, 'I feel like such a pussy for crying.' "

"And then I've also sleepwalked," Cybula says. "Like I woke up in my boxers standing out in the

woods here behind the house. And I was like, What am I doing outside? It was crazy. Sometimes I

can be so happy. Like, alive? And then all of the sudden I'll just be like, my head is down. And she'll

be like, 'What's wrong?' And I'll just be like, 'Nothin,' and then I'll cry or something. And then

sometimes I'll just be really, really mad. And she'll go, 'What's wrong, honey?' And I'll just be like,

'Don't talk to me.' That's why I got this pistol. Believe it or not, I don't want to hurt nobody. It's like

an outlet, you know? Like when I get pissed, I'll come outside and shoot it. That's what we did in the

Marine Corps. We let our stuff off by shooting guns and stuff like that."

Chelsea takes two cigarettes from the pack, hands one to her man. Gallantly he lights hers first; she

smiles at him adoringly. They don't know it yet, but she's pregnant.

If you'd like to contact Alan Beaty and the other vets on the Tennessee farm, you can use the

following mailing address:

Vetville

PO Box 4402

Oneida, TN 37841