Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

By Betty Vanderwielen

Chadwick disillusioned with America

Veteran Spotlight


Photo provided

In Khowst, Afghanistan the day before Chadwick and his unit began Operation: Mountain Sweep, the largest mission in Afghanistan to that point.

SEELEY LAKE – Seeley Lake resident Jesse Chadwick was a card-carrying, flag-waving, all-in American when he joined the United States Army in 2000. By the time his military stint was over in 2003, he had combat PTSD and was completely disillusioned with the avowed American values of "liberty" and "justice for all."

Chadwick began with positive feelings about the military. His high school education had taken a side turn to the Montana National Guard Youth Challenge Program (now Montana Youth Challenge Academy). He described it as "a military school to put a kid who wasn't on his path back on the path."

He considered it a wonderful experience. "It helped change a lot of the things I needed to change in life. Great program. I really believe in it."

That pre-exposure to military life, plus the fact that his biological father had served in the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army-a group that specializes in parachute assault operations into hostile areas-influenced Chadwick's decision to join the Army immediately after the Challenge Program.

As he tells it, "I was 17 years old, and I was invincible. So, I was like, sign me up. I want to go airborne infantry." He laughingly added, "Seventeen-year-old children should not be able to make decisions like that!"

For Army infantry, basic training was a solid 19-week course at Ft. Benning, Georgia. It was a new and stimulating experience for Chadwick, as was airborne school which came next. Deployment to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, followed that. There he continued training, including repeated drills on such things as taking apart and reassembling various weapons in darkness or under other adverse circumstances.

Chadwick said he enjoyed the training. He also enjoyed down time and took full advantage of nearby vacation spots like Myrtle Beach.

After the attacks on Sept. 11, everything immediately changed. Chadwick said his unit's cell phones were confiscated, cable access was cut, they were issued new equipment and body armor and told to stand in readiness to go to Iraq.

As it turned out, his unit would not deploy until the spring of 2002, and would go not to Iraq but to Afghanistan. According to Chadwick, before Sept. 11 the program had so little money available, they did not even fire blanks during training. Suddenly money was being shoveled into the program and training became intense.

Chadwick's entry into the war began with a tactical landing into Kandahar in the middle of the night, necessitated because of regular attacks on the base and the risk of surface-to-air missiles.

The first week was spent setting up gear and getting acclimatized. The weather was extremely hot and dry. Chadwick recalled seeing a thermometer on July 6 that read 144 degrees.

Early operations, Chadwick said, consisted of aiding in skirmishes where troops needed extra help or assisting with downed aircraft missions.

"We didn't interact with the public very much on good terms," Chadwick said. "They were terrified of us, and we were always told that every one of them had a suicide vest."

But when they started doing foot patrols, that was when Chadwick said he began to feel a dichotomy between what he had been told and what he saw for himself. Nothing he saw suggested these people were capable of orchestrating a mass attack using multiple commercial airlines. What he saw were just human beings, women and children and men who often got into disputes that reminded Chadwick of the forkloric bitter recurring feud between the Hatfields and McCoys.

"In many ways," Chadwick said, "they were just like Montanan's – everybody's got guns. Everybody doesn't want you [trespassing] on their property."

He also saw a lot of cultural differences between Americans and Afghans. They cultivated opium fields. They cared deeply about some things that Americans didn't care about at all.

Chadwick recalled an incident when he was in the small town of Khowst. Afghans came running into the outpost. The military assumed the base was under attack and started shooting them.

"I didn't take a shot," Chadwick said, "because they didn't look or act like enemy combatants."

It turned out to be a Hatfields-and-McCoy type dispute. The group of Afghans were actually running to the soldiers for help. There was a CIA base at Khowst. Chadwick said they covered up the incident, reporting the tragedy as enemy combatants killed.

Chadwick said he received articles his mother-in-law clipped from the newspaper that praised the eighty-second airborne for doing a great job in this or that instance and he would think, "this is all crap, this whole thing is garbage."

Another disturbing incident occurred when he was guarding a prisoner in Khowst. An American soldier asked Chadwick to take a picture of him putting a pistol in the prisoner's mouth.

Chadwick said, "I was just like blown away!"

In retrospect, Chadwick wishes he had reported the incident, but he said, "The nail that stands up in the military always gets hammered. But from that point, my attitude about the United States as a whole started to change. I started to question things that I normally wasn't questioning."

His whole focus became to stay alive and make it home. That didn't mean he had to believe the misinformation which was being spread around.

"All the time I was in Afghanistan," Chadwick said, "I personally did not encounter anybody who was Taliban or Al Qaeda. In the end, I kind of thought that was just the name we gave people that we shot."

Betty Vanderwielen, Pathfinder

Chadwick bears a number of tatoos. The one across his chest reads "Damaged Goods." Down his right arm is a seahorse drawn by his son Connor. Like the male seahorse who raises his young, Jesse has raised his son since he was four months old. Below that is a rifle drawn by his biological father who also served in the 82nd Airborne Division. On his left arm is a Hemingway quote: "For a hill, men would kill / Why, they do not know." His hands and feet bear Led Zepplin sigils. On his fingers are the alchemy symbols for carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur-which are all essential for life to occur-plus the four elements: fire, earth, air and water.

Another troubling incident remains his worst memory of his experience in the service. A fellow from South America was a member of their unit. Though he had trouble speaking English, he and Chadwick had become close friends. He had joined the Army because he wanted to fast track his path to American citizenship. Though the unit had been told they would be home for Christmas and had their gear and equipment packed for departure, at the last minute that order was rescinded. They were assigned another mission instead. As they unpacked and set up their gear and were reissued ammunition, someone in the unit accidentally shot and killed Chadwick's friend.

Immediately following that incident, they had to go on the mission, which Chadwick described as harassing more Afghan people, confiscating items like copper wire, maps and radios.

Chadwick said, "Most oppressive thing I had ever seen. I kept thinking what about 'liberty and justice for all.' Is that not even real? Is that just what we say?"

Chadwick ended his military service Mar. 21, 2003, the day before the U.S. invaded Iraq.

Concerning his experience in the military, Chadwick said, "It bent me in a whole different direction. I'm not into firearms now. I want to melt every one of them."

He has been officially diagnosed with PTSD and continues to participate in both group therapy and individual therapy. He said, "I'm at a pretty good place now with it, but I just don't think those kind of things ever go way."

Chadwick said he is aware some of the things he reported in this article could be disturbing to some people, He said, "I regularly get harassed for my political beliefs. The truth is worth a little bit of that."


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