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The letter from John

27.03.2014

One of the websites that covered our upcoming game was Kotaku. Not only has this mention brought huge visibility boost to our videos and project overall, but was also a place where an amazing story emerged.

Meet John Keyser aka classykeyser on Kotaku. He's one of hundrends of people who support our game. He's also studying game design to start working in the industry. However, what nobody knew before he decided to share his experiences with Kotaku's readers and us, is that he was a Navy Corpsman (a medic) and took part in the Operation Phantom Fury in the city of Fallujah – one of the scariest places to be in at that time. This is his story:

…and march we did

Before the events of 9/11, people had different concepts of what freedom, PTSD, and war meant. The commonly held ideas about those four things came from movies, books, and men who only told their stories when they’d had too much whiskey. 9/11 was a catalyst for the paths of a great many people’s lives, not just those who witnessed the events firsthand. It has become a narrative, the origin story of what today’s world has become. It didn’t change people’s minds so much as it made them realize what they really believed.

I worked almost exclusively at New York-style pizza restaurants after I graduated high school. It wasn’t out of some principled love for pizza, but because it’s just where I felt comfortable. I ran my first restaurant when I was nineteen years old, and all parties involved agreed that it was far too much responsibility for a perpetually drunk teenager. Like many things, though, it was too late by the time a lot of damage had been done. The drunkenness wasn’t simply a result of a typical teenage partying. It was born of a festering disease. The one job I held that didn’t involve pizza was as a driver for a heating and air company. I was driving a truck (probably immensely hung over) on September 11th, 2001. Everyone remembers what he or she was doing on that day. It was our Pearl Harbor, our 11/22/63. My closest friend and I decided that day to join up, to do something.

I grew up watching movies like Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July. I swore that every time I saw Ron Kovic’s disheveled face and violent tendencies that I would never “grow up” to be someone like him.

Here I am.

I joined the Navy, eventually, in April of 2002. I initially wanted to be a journalist. My personal hero had always been Ernest Hemingway. I liked the idea of chronicling the events of the world from a ship. A romantic notion, to be sure, but military writing is nothing but the purest propaganda. Instead, I became a Hospital Corpsman. For the uninitiated, a Corpsman is a medic. Sometimes they are farmed out to the Marines Corps to provide medical support in combat, usually assigned to a platoon. They are what are designated as FMF (Fleet Marine Force) Corpsman. That’s what I was tasked to do out of recruit training.

I was very libertarian about everything except national defense at the time. I strongly believed that the perpetrators of the attack on the Towers gave us many reasons to lace up our boots and march on Iraq.  I was stationed in Hawaii with 3rd Marines. We were tasked to take part in the invasion of Fallujah, which was called Operation Phantom Fury. The military called it  "some of the heaviest urban combat U.S. Marines have been involved in since the Battle of Hu? City in Vietnam in 1968." It’s well documented at this point. As a Corpsman, my job was to treat injured Marines and civilians. We also had to treat combatants. The first real casualty I saw was a dear friend who had sustained a fatal wound to the head. I was frozen when I saw how death overcame him. Films don’t do death the emotional justice it deserves.

Death must be treated with respect, or life means nothing. Operation Phantom Fury in 2004 becomes the bloodiest battle of the Iraq War, and the bloodiest operation since Vietnam.

Marines and Corpsmen are unique in that they work together to both suppress and heal. It’s a dynamic that doesn’t exist in any other profession. I loved the men I served with like family, myself not having a present family growing up aside from a drunken, neglectful father who pushed me into service and lied to me about his involvement in Vietnam to try and make me respect him. It didn’t work. It made me resentful. The war made me resentful as well. I had seen blood and guts, and that made me respect life and resent the idea that our government felt it necessary to take it from people.

In 2007, I was diagnosed with PTSD and told I was an alcoholic.  The difference between the diagnoses was that I was the one who told me that I was an alcoholic. I began to have nightmares involving the dead. They were everywhere in my dreams like a well realized horror film. There was no suppression at that point. Alcohol drowned them briefly, but not in a way that they’d go away. I started drinking at 7 a.m. remembering the sounds and sights. I lost another friend to a bar fight. He was an old friend who also got caught up in the fighting in Fallujah. He joined the ranks of the dead in my mind.

I started protesting the war in Iraq in different ways. I gave anti-war speeches at rallies and attempted to make that my therapy, but things got noticeably worse. The booze could no longer suppress the demons. They joined the fray of alcohol and instability. I could no longer discern true from false. I became unpredictable and angry. I became something that no longer resembled a human being.

Now, I have completed substance abuse treatment three times and am focusing on being a game designer. My lasers are directed at telling stories through gaming that people haven’t heard before.

That’s how I happened upon This War is Mine by 11Bit Studios, the creators of some of the most innovative games of the past few years. It tells a story that needs to be told. It tells a story that needs to be experienced.