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A Retired Marine And A Photojournalist Confront War’s ‘Invisible Injuries’

A U.S. Marine from a 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, Alpha Company looks out as an dusk charge gathers above an outpost nearby Kunjak, in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters/Viking


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Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters/Viking

A U.S. Marine from a 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, Alpha Company looks out as an dusk charge gathers above an outpost nearby Kunjak, in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters/Viking

After Marine Sgt. Thomas (“TJ”) Brennan was strike by a blast from a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan in 2010, he suffered a dire mind damage that left him incompetent to remember many of his evident past — including, during times, a name of his possess daughter.

“When we got blown up, it erased a lot of my memories,” Brennan says.

Brennan began therapies to residence his TBI. He used a 200 letters he had exchanged with his mother to put together a extended account of his time during war. When it came to a grenade blast itself, Brennan pieced together a method of events surrounding his damage with a assistance of Finbarr O’Reilly, a photographer who had embedded with Brennan’s section in Afghanistan.

“I have a whole method documented of him,” O’Reilly says. “One of a things we … [photographed] was this Afghan inhabitant policeman who dismissed a rocket that eventually went erroneous and blew adult unequivocally tighten to TJ, knocking him comatose … and a blast afterwards, and a guys who went to redeem TJ.”

Back in a U.S., both group struggled with a aftereffects of war. Brennan suffered from PTSD and debilitating depression, while O’Reilly grappled with a psychological fee of years spent documenting tellurian savagery in dispute zones opposite a world. Together, they collaborated on a memoir, called Shooting Ghosts, about what Brennan refers to as a “invisible injuries” of war.

Interview Highlights

On since O’Reilly followed photojournalism and how many of it is about a disturb of journey

Finbarr O’Reilly: we think, on some level, if we’re wholly honest with ourselves as photographers, yes, we do wish adventure. We do find out that thrill. The fact that that incentive matches with something that is deliberate a eminent pursuit — truth-telling, or photojournalism as a contention — these are all estimable things to do, though it does pull people, such as myself, who did go in hunt of things that would give us a clarity of purpose and definition that was matched by a enterprise for journey or for thrills. Initially during least.

When we started out we did wish to have an engaging life. we did wish to be in places where things were happening. we had traveled, after university, by easterly and Central Africa down to South Africa. And this is in 1994 — as a Rwandan genocide was commencement to occur — and afterwards we was in South Africa when Mandela was elected. These were unequivocally heated practice for me as a immature individual, and we wanted to keep experiencing those kinds of things, and broadcasting seemed like a best approach to do that.

Photographer Finbarr O’Reilly says he was drawn to Afghanistan’s “rugged, cinematic dried landscape.”

Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters/Viking


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Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters/Viking

Photographer Finbarr O’Reilly says he was drawn to Afghanistan’s “rugged, cinematic dried landscape.”

Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters/Viking

On photographing a blast that left TJ with a dire mind injury

O’Reilly: My pursuit in these situations is initial of all not to get in a approach of what’s happening, while also perplexing to sojourn protected myself. So we was unequivocally focused on my purpose while these guys were focused on theirs. So we would usually sketch things unfolding.

On what it is like to live with a dire mind damage

A Daughter Explores Her Father's PTSD, From Vietnam Until Today

TJ Brennan: we was perplexing to take off my boots to take my initial showering in a few months, when we initial arrived during Camp Bastion [now Shorabak]. And there’s something unequivocally frightful about being inside your possess conduct and revelation your hands to extricate your laces — and they won’t listen.

You know what you’re ostensible to be doing. You’re revelation yourself what you’re ostensible to be doing. And your fingers are working, though something’s not connecting. And a tension and a fear that we felt in that impulse and meaningful that we had a formidable time recalling my possess daughter’s name usually an hour ago during a sanatorium — like, that was unequivocally scary. There are times now where we have [what] we call … “bad mind days,” and that initial day in a sanatorium was one of my initial bad mind days that we had.

On returning to his patrol and pang from residual symptoms of his TBI

Now late from a Marines, TJ Brennan is a unchanging writer to The New York Times’ At War blog. He is also a owner of The War Horse, a nonprofit online newsroom covering a effects of a wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cindy Shepers/Viking


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Cindy Shepers/Viking

Now late from a Marines, TJ Brennan is a unchanging writer to The New York Times’ At War blog. He is also a owner of The War Horse, a nonprofit online newsroom covering a effects of a wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cindy Shepers/Viking

Brennan: The infancy of dire mind injuries, they leave residuals. But not everybody practice residual symptoms of their dire mind injury, so we suspicion that we was going to be OK when we went behind out to my guys. And then, when it came time to me doing [what] we call … a basis of being a Marine sailor — carrying my squad’s marker numbers memorized, carrying their blood forms memorized … when we went behind and we started doing my precombat checks and precombat inspections, we was carrying a tough time remembering those.

That’s a real, “Oh, crap” moment, when you’re obliged for 15 lives. But we didn’t wish to be labeled as a malingerer for observant we was carrying issues. Because, for me — my TBI — a symptoms perceptible in a unequivocally earthy approach for me. But they’re unequivocally invisible to a lot of people, so it’s easy for people to bonus invisible injuries.

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On not seeking assistance for his mishap initially

Brennan: we abandoned removing assistance for distant too long. One of a categorical reasons since we wanted to write a book was since we know how it feels to feel alone, like you’re a usually maestro or use member going by an issue. It feels like you’re surrounded by intensely clever people who are wearing a same uniform that we are, and we don’t wish to let them down. And that’s a lot of since we couldn’t move myself to get help.

On determining to be open about his possess PTSD after a personality in a corps collected a section to impugn a associate Marine for carrying PTSD


Shooting Ghosts

Brennan: There was somebody in a corps who was bitching [about] … pulling a PTSD “punk card.” And that was a mystic impulse to me, since it was [about] a tarnish toward mental health diagnosis in movement — possibly it was 100 percent destined during me or not.

I immediately [felt like I] had been labeled a square of damaged gear. … That’s substantially a best thing that could have happened to me in hindsight, since we knew it was possibly we travel behind inside and say, “I’m not removing help, and I’m going to muster behind to Afghanistan with these guys in 7 months” or “I need to steel my solve and go down a highway of removing help, since we usually need to accept that my career is over.”

I wish to make one thing clear: The opinion that that “leader” showed that day, that’s not deputy of each Marine. That’s not deputy of each use member.

On assisting another late Marine by his essay

Brennan: What means a many to me was, after we wrote about my self-murder try for The New York Times — we consider it was 2013 — we had a Marine maestro strech out to me.

He called me on my bureau line while we was operative during The Daily News in North Carolina. He unequivocally didn’t tell me too many other than a fact that he was an Iraqi newcomer that after assimilated adult and served as a linguist during a wars. When he came home, his family disowned him. And it had substantially been about 7 or 10 days after a story had published, though he told me that he Googled “painless, discerning suicide” or some arrange of Google hunt about how to kill himself painlessly and not leave a large disaster for his family. And a SEO — a hunt engine optimization — for The New York Times story done that a initial thing that popped adult [in his online search]. And he called me to tell me that my story renewed his joining to stay alive.

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Lauren Krenzel and Mooj Zadie constructed and edited this talk for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Deborah Franklin blending it for a Web.