GI blues

A former Army medic tells his story
By CLEA SIMON  |  December 1, 2009

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Stress and dysfunction in the military existed before the Fort Hood shootings. In his new book, Mass Casualties: A Young Medic's True Story of Death, Deception, and Dishonor in Iraq (Adams Media), Specialist Michael Anthony, a Bridgewater native, writes about the problems behind the front lines. In this free-flowing first-person account, which was taken largely from journals he kept during his tour of duty, Anthony reveals the creaky lumbering of the military and how he almost got crushed beneath its wheels — stories not just of the gruesome field surgery that came with his job but of boredom, drug dependency, and a dispute over questionable orders that nearly landed him in jail.

Why did you enlist?
I come from a poor family, and I had no money saved up. I'd been working since I was 14, but I didn't have that much money saved up, and I really — I didn't see another choice. I joined when I was 17, I was getting old, turning 18, and I had to leave the house and do my own thing. I'd seen my four older brothers join the military. So it just seemed like that step into adulthood.

Had you thought about being a writer?
I had always wanted to be a writer, but I hadn't thought I could actually be a writer. There was a motivation that came with this book, to get this specific book out there. About two months after I was home, I was on this date with this girl, and she starts telling me about this article she read in the newspaper, this article about a soldier in Iraq and how it makes this guy sound like he's the epitome of the American hero, as if the film G.I. Joe were based on this guy. And it turns out this guy was in my unit. He's one of the people who tried to send me to jail. It made me sick to my stomach, and that gave me the motivation to write, to get this story out there.

You wanted to set the story straight?
There was so much false heroism out there. I mean, it's a great change from Vietnam, from people spitting on soldiers. But at the same time, if we close a blind eye and pretend everyone is perfect, well, then we're not going to be able to make any improvements in the military.

You were being bombarded constantly, but the way you write about it, your real enemy is the staff sergeant.
There was a joke that a bunch of us had: we're here to get the enemy, but the real people we hate are in our unit. We were so far away from the war, and to really hate someone, you have to live with them. You've got to hate the way they chew, hate the way they breathe, hate the way they treat people. I can understand Iraqis not wanting us in their country. I can understand them not wanting a foreign government giving them all these rules and everything. What I couldn't understand was how the military could cover up all these crimes and put on all this false praise — "You're doing a great job" — for Americans.

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