Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The war project

In the coming weeks, I'll be launching a new project, The War Project. The site will feature the stories of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Each installment will focus on one veteran. The post will include the veteran's as-told-to story and a photo portrait. I'll be conducting the interviews and taking the photographs. (The site is built on a WordPress blog platform.)

This week, I'll be traveling to Kentucky, where I'll be conducting the first round of interviews. The first story will go live between June 7 and June 14.

In late 2005, I interviewed Army Cpl. J.R. Martinez, who was burned over 40 percent of his body in 2003 when the Humvee he was driving in Iraq hit a landmine and he was trapped inside. I was doing a story for the local newspaper on a fundraiser where J.R. was appearing. I believe he had undergone some 30 surgeries at that time. At one point, I asked him about the knit cap that he was wearing, which he removed, exposing a breast implant inserted under the skin of his skull, expanding the skin that would be grafted onto other parts of his body. We joked that perhaps after he was done with the implant, he could donate it to a stripper in need who had only one implant. He told me what he was thinking about when he thought he was going to die, and where he expected he would go with his life. It was hard to forget him.

A few months previous, I had been living in New Orleans, Louisiana. I had evacuated one day prior to the day that Hurricane Katrina made landfall, but the events surrounding that experience, and my subsequent return to the city to see what was left, resulted in PTSD.

As a freelance journalist for over 13 years, I've covered everything from the building of the Kodak Theater, where the Academy Awards are held, to how the recession has all but destroyed the adult movie industry. Overall, my primary interest is in how individuals navigate extreme life circumstances, whether that is in the San Fernando Valley, Louisville, Kentucky, or Kabala, Iraq.

As this project unfolds, I'll be posting about it here and on True/Slant.

The project itself is located at TheWarProject.com. (For now, you'll find placeholder content until the first story goes live.) The site was designed, illustrated, and built by Chris Bishop, a Washington, DC-based artist, illustrator, and designer who created the Barack Obama Riding a Unicorn T-shirt.

If you're an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran interested in participating in this project, you can email me here.

This post was cross-posted at True/Slant.