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Interview with Joseph Tyler Gayheart, May 28, 2010

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
Ian Jennings Abney, Interviewer | 2010OH057 WW 368
Col. Arthur L. Kelly American Veterans Oral History Collection | From Combat to Kentucky Oral History Project


ABNEY: We're on the record. If you wouldn't mind, I need you to do a couple things for me. Can you say and spell your name?

GAYHEART: It's Joseph Tyler Gayheart, J-o-s-e-p-h T-y-l-e-r G-a-y-h-e-a-r-t.

ABNEY: Okay. And, Tyler, do we have your full permission to use this video any way we see fit?


ABNEY: Excellent. All right. I'm all set. Just make sure everyone's phones are off, and we're good to go. We're doing interviews for the Nunn Center Project Combat to Kentucky, and I'm sitting here with Tyler Gayheart. Tyler, let's get right into it as far as where you grew up. Uh, where were you born and where did you grow up at?

GAYHEART: I'm originally from Frankfort, Kentucky, and I was born in Ashland, Kentucky, uh, but I ended up moving to Frankfort with my mom when, uh, she was 1:00divorced from my father. So I grew up in Frankfort.

ABNEY: Okay. What did your parents do for a living?

GAYHEART: My mom worked for the state, and, uh, my father--who my mom was divorced from and I didn't spend too much time with--was, uh, was an insurance salesman. And my mom still works for the state to this day, and they both live in Frankfort. And my mom has since remarried, and they both work for the state and, uh, live in Frankfort.

ABNEY: What was, uh, what was life like for you when you were growing up, uh, in, uh, in high school? When did your, when did your parents separate?

GAYHEART: My parents separated when I was around three years old. Um, we moved to Frankfort, and my mom was a single mother up until I was about six or seven. 2:00My mom remarried, uh, John Arnett which is now my stepdad, and it's a pretty funny story. They, uh, on the street we lived on, um, there was a, there was a man who lived across the street, and we would always play Sandlot baseball in the back of our house. And there were ten or fifteen kids back there playing baseball, and we played with the typical yellow wiffle bat and a tennis ball and used our hands to catch with. And I remember one afternoon we were out there playing, and I look out in the distance. Coming from across the street there was this man who had just moved in across the street carrying two gloves, two balls and two bats. And my brother was out there playing with me, too, and unannounced he walked up to my brother and I and handed us two gloves, two bats and two balls and said, "You guys don't need to be playing with tennis balls and bats." And, uh, about six months to a year later, he married my mom and he became my stepdad, so, you know, looking back on it as a man right now it was a, 3:00it was a pretty good move on his part, you know. And he's been the best thing that's happened to our family.

ABNEY: When you were in high school--and every veteran, I guess, started out somewhere, has their own story of what high school was like for them--but once you got into high school and you're starting to become more aware of, you know, what it was you were going to do when you got older, um, and you got out, what was life like for you then?

GAYHEART: High school was erratic for me. I had friends in so many different circles--some going to college, some going to college on scholarships, athletic scholarships, some not going to college at all--and I think I fell right there in the middle between that where I had the ability and the intellect to go to college but I was mature enough to know that I was too immature to be.3 4:00successful and to be successful in college. So I think I made a decision after I graduated. It didn't dawn on me until after I had already graduated that I needed to do something with more importance, uh, and something that will put me in the right path to being successful because I knew at any given time that I wanted to get my education. I just didn't know how I was going to do it at eighteen. I didn't have a college fund. I didn't have an athletic scholarship. Um, as far as academics after high school goes, went for me, I was accepted to some of the predominant state schools here in Kentucky, but I knew upon acceptance that I was neither mature or ready to go to college. So--

ABNEY: So you signed up then when you were eighteen, directly out of high school?


GAYHEART: I did. I took, uh, I took the summer and I trained with a recruiter, and from there I went to boot camp. I received a phone call one summer right after high school graduation, and it was Sergeant Dustin Barnes from the recruiter's office in Frankfort. And he wasn't pushy. He wasn't overbearing. He just called and said, "Hey, what's up?" And, "Not much." It was probably during the time in the summer where I was not doing much. I was probably sitting around playing Xbox or something really insignificant, and he said, "Do you want to do something cool? Do you want to do something that means something?" And I said, "Well, teach me about it. Teach me and help me learn exactly what it is that you do as a Marine," because up until then I'd had some military figures in my life but no Marines. I knew that they were an elite group of, of men and women, but I didn't know what it took to be a Marine. I 6:00didn't know what the typical Marine was like. So I spent a summer with him training. We would go running five days a week. He would teach me about the day in the life. He would tell me what my MOS was going to be like. He would tell me what his MOS was going to be like. He would tell me what it was like to be eight years in, and I picked his brain and really, as an eighteen-year-old, made a really informed decision looking back on it. You know, before then I would have just jumped right into something, but I knew this was going to be something really, really serious and it was going to affect my family's life and my life. And so I spent a good time contemplating before I actually stepped in and signed the papers up in Louisville.

ABNEY: So it was more of an actual progression than starting out and then eventually everything falling in place to become a Marine, or was there 7:00something you can look back on and go, Okay. That's one of the, that's one thing that really contributed to--

GAYHEART: In grade school and for a few summers I would go to Millersburg Military Institute, and I would spend what was two summers there. And that's where I got my first taste of the military lifestyle. Even though I was fourteen/fifteen years old, I was living in barracks. I was being supervised and trained by Army, former Army sergeants and NCOs. Uh, so they instilled this kind of regimented attitude in me at a, at a young age, and when I left the first summer, uh, after being in Millersburg, I walked away from that wanting to go to West Point, wanting to go to VMI. And that was kind of the, I guess you would say, the, the big militaristic military influence that I had when I was younger. Um, it didn't really, it didn't really come to realization until I was done with school and I was looking at all my friends who had, you know, plans to 8:00go to college and just kind of had this carefree attitude that, We're going to go to college and go to class and graduate in three or four years or seven years. And, you know, I turned to my parents and said, "You know, what's it look like?" They said, Well, you know, we'll probably have to take some loans out, probably have to, you know, make ends meet, but we don't--monetarily we can't support you all the way through college. So I had to make a quick decision. I think I fell back on my experiences at Millersburg. So I don't think there was a certain point. I'm not going to say that it was always my dream, that it was something that I stayed up at night thinking about and that I worked towards, but I think it was absolutely a, a decision that I made over the course of seven or eight years. I just didn't really know it.


ABNEY: You said that you weren't by yourself. You grew up around military figures. Are you a first generation veteran?

GAYHEART: I am a first generation veteran in my family; however, my grandfather was in the Air Force, a very successful airman and one of the youngest, uh, tech sergeants in the Air Force in his time. Enlisted unbeknownst to the Air Force at seventeen and ended up going to OCS. Um, the sad thing is that I never got to meet him. He died when my sister was born, so I never got to meet him but I'd always hear stories from my grandmother about how she was a, you know, she would go from base to base with him and how he went to, she was with him when he went to OCS; when he went from enlisted to officer. And, and I remember my probably first week back after being in the actual Marine Corps, in the fleet, 10:00my grandmother set me down and she said, "Go officer." And at that point I'd never received any advice from my grandmother as far as military goes up until, up until then, but she looked me square in the eye and said, "Go officer." So, um, I wouldn't say that there was, there was a lot of military men or women in my life, but there was that time at Millersburg and I always seemed to think that it was such a respectful thing to do; to serve your country and to make the sacrifices that the men and women did. I just didn't know what it meant when I was young.

ABNEY: What year was it that you enlisted?

GAYHEART: 2002. August of 2002.

ABNEY: So by that time, we already had 9/11 and then the war in Afghanistan was ongoing, so even given an account that you had been around military before, how did your parents take the fact that you were going to be in the military?

GAYHEART: Well, like I said, I worked with Sergeant Barnes, the recruiter, for three months, and it wasn't a decision that I came to my mom and my dad and I said, "Hey, this is what I'm doing. You don't have anything to do with it. Later. I'm going to boot camp." It was something I warmed them up to, and I think I designed it that way for myself and for my parents, you know, instead of it being a dramatic, "Here it is, I'm leaving. I'm going to boot camp. You really can't do anything about it." I, I knew how my mom was. I knew that it was going to be hard for her to swallow about me going into the military. Um, I told them why I was doing it and I told them that it wasn't because I didn't think that I could make it through college, but I told them it was because I 11:00needed direction and that I needed discipline and that I wanted to be a Marine. After spending three months with Sergeant Barnes, I, I wanted to be a Marine. I wanted to go to boot camp, and I wanted to earn the eagle, globe and anchor. And, and I think they respected that for, for, you know, a seventeen/eighteen-year-old, you know, kid to look at them and say, "This is what I want. I want this respect. I want this, um, I want this title." And I think they looked at me and really respected that. It, I call it--when people ask me about how my parents supported me, I say it was kind of a nervous support. It was kind of cautious support that--and they had no, you know, some parents they don't talk about things. They'll just acknowledge or not even acknowledge. My parents did the opposite. They intensified and asked every single question, at least my mom. She made sure that this was going to happen. She set my, she set my recruiter down in our living room and said, "Will my son go to combat?" And I remember it, and Sergeant Barnes is watching right now. He's a Gunnery Sergeant now, and he's watching right now. He looked my mom dead in the eye and said, "No, ma'am. He will not." (Laughs.) And looking back on that it was, it was comical because there was no way, there was no way for him to know that I would go to, that I would go to Afghanistan, and, you know, and looking back on it I was his second person he recruited. Nathan Noble was the 12:00first. So I don't know if he was hard up for a recruit or, or what, but I can honestly say that I had a really positive experience enlisting in the Marine Corps. It wasn't rushed. It wasn't, you know, done out of impulse. It was, it was a very methodical decision and--yeah.

ABNEY: Did your, uh, do you think maybe that your mom kind of supported you but felt as though you were being a little naïve about what it was you were getting into?

GAYHEART: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Um, you know, and I think if I had a child or a son or daughter that was doing the same, I would have felt the, I would have felt the same thing. You know, he's eighteen. They're, they're promising him traveling, uh, uh, the respect, admiration. You're going to be stronger, fitter, faster, sharper. Uh, you're going to be in the best shape of your--and so all these things were laid out on the table, and as a young eighteen-year-old 13:00that, you know, whose worldview didn't leave his front porch, this was something that I salivated at. You know, I wanted to get out of Frankfort. I wanted to go see the world. I wanted to, you know, travel and see things and meet people, and of course, of course when my mom was asking me those twenty questions, of course I'm going to talk about, "Yeah, but I get to do this. I get to do that. It's going to be something I've never experienced, Mom." And I think that they thought I was a little naïve and, and not sure what I was getting myself into, but I think when I came back from boot camp and I had this air of confidence and this, this direction and every time I would come back from, you know, the fleet or deployment and I still had that direction, I still, you know, talked highly of the Marine Corps. I never during my whole time in talked bad about the Marine Corps. It's given me, it gave me and provided me so much, and, um--


ABNEY: I think one of the biggest questions that civilians have about veterans, about people that serve in the military is what makes them tick and what makes them want to go in. Uh, so in regards to that, what were you doing--I know that a lot of people remember exactly with time--but what were you doing on September 11th when, when the attacks happened inside the United States? What was your immediate reaction to that?

GAYHEART: Anger. I was mad. I was confused, and I think as, as a seventeen/eighteen-year-old high school student, like I said, whose worldview didn't leave the high school gym, it didn't leave his parents' front porch, I didn't know what it meant. I honestly didn't know what it meant. I didn't know. I knew that when it happened that, that this was going to mean that the, that the world was going to change, that the United States was going to change and that the way we operate overseas is going to change, but I don't think I 15:00ever reflected on how it made me feel because I didn't understand it. I didn't understand what it was going to take to, to correct what had happened in New York. Um, so I think I had, I had this--you know, the whole country came together that year. People were getting tattoos of tattered flags and tattoos of, of, you know, Bald Eagles on their arms and on their chests, and there was this movement of patriotism that swarmed the United States. It, I guess it takes something like that to bring the United States together, but I think of how naïve I was. This was prior to even fathoming enlisting in the Marine Corps. I didn't know what it meant, and if I did, I would have enlisted right then. And, you know, I felt anger and I, I felt like our whole country was tricked and deceived, and I just, I just didn't know what it meant until I got 16:00to the Marine Corps and, and, you know--

ABNEY: What do you think you were most angry about?

GAYHEART: You know, you, you watch the news and you see the people on television that are in the buildings and they would jump, and to have that level of desperation, you know, to just end your life although you want to live, that hit home for me. That's what I thought about when I would go overseas or I was having a bad morning and I was waking up having to go to PT or I didn't want to put on my camis in the morning or, you know, I would think about why, why we serve and why we represent people; why we represent civilians and the country we live in. And I think that's, that's something that hit home for me.

ABNEY: A lot of people, once they get through the recruiter and they finally get separated away from their parents or their home for the first time and then they finally start getting closer to San Diego or Parris Island or Fort Bragg or Benning or wherever it is that you do that, start to have some immediate reservations or maybe some, uh, real enlightenment about what they actually just got themselves into. Did you ever have a moment like that once you first arrived at boot camp?

GAYHEART: I think everybody does. I, I remember my trip to Parris Island probably more than I remember my deployment to Afghanistan. You're handed this sheet of paper, and this sheet of paper has all of the potential Marines 17:00recruits' names on it that are traveling with you. I remember the hotel I was staying in in Louisville. I remember it was right beside the airport, the, uh, airport, and I could hear planes going all night long. And it was a combination of that and going to Parris Island that kept me up, so I didn't sleep all night. And I woke up and we hopped in this van, about five of us all from Kentucky, and we boarded a plane to go to South Carolina. And we touched down in South Carolina and everything's fine. We get off the plane and we, we go pick up our bags, what little bags we have. I don't even--I think maybe a backpack--I don't even think I had a bag. We went down to the baggage claim, and there was this large man with a smoky bear hat on and this felt that was gold on the front of it and I knew exactly who he was. And he talked in this, yelled and he screamed in this raspy voice that sounded like somebody had taken his throat and just 18:00squeezed it, and he looks at all of us and, "Get over, get over there." And we're scrambling in this airport and people are staring at us, and we get on this bus and it's nighttime. And I remember being on this bus, and it's quiet. The drill instructor's not yelling anymore. I don't even think he's on the bus, and you're on this long, dark South Carolina road. If you've ever been on one, there's these tall trees and all you can see is just trees and the lights of the highway, and, and I remember how hot it was there and how muggy it was. And you pull up to the Marine Corps recruit depot in Parris Island, and you get let off in front of the main, main building. It's this massive building. It's got these pillars that go up, and there's an inscription on the top of it. And when you get off the bus, there's these yellow footprints, and as soon as you get off 19:00there's about five drill instructors that will soon become your platoon drill instructors, your drill instructors. They say, Get on my footsteps. So you put your feet, as simple as it sounds, on these yellow footprints, and that's where it starts.

ABNEY: What do they say to you once you, once you get out there and everybody's, everybody's out and they're all on the yellow footprints?

GAYHEART: Oh, gosh. I can't, I really can't remember. It was, it was like, If 20:00you want to leave now--I can't remember if it was--If you want to leave now, or, You're now at the depot. Uh, this is, you know, they start breaking you down. You can no longer use your, your name. You become "this recruit". Um, they take you in the hall, and you go into this room, this room full of phones. It's a phone bank up against the wall, and they say, Here's a script and it's taped to the wall. They said, Call your parents collect and read exactly what's on the wall. Just fill in your name. And nothing is as calm as what I'm saying. It's all this blur of yelling and screaming and, and chaos, and you pick up the phone, you call collect and you say, "Hi, Mom. This is Tyler. I'm fine. I'm in the Marine Corps base or Marine Corps base at Parris Island. I'm fine. I'm healthy. Please do not call me." And you hang up. And you don't even--all you 21:00hear is "hello" from them, and, and that's when it starts. And that, to me, was the definition of cutting off that communication, that line that, you know, a young eighteen-year-old has with his parents.

ABNEY: What, what did you feel like right then when you realized that now your home and all your safety and everything that you had just left is now completely untouchable and it can't protect you?

GAYHEART: I think I was in, I think I was in autopilot for boot camp. I was in autopilot. I didn't, there was--and this was true with the Marine Corps. This is probably more than likely true with every branch of the service--the schedules that the military and boot camp put you on, you don't have time to 22:00reflect. You're on to the next thing. You don't have time to think, Oh, man. I miss home, or, Oh, man, that was hard. Man, I'm sore. Oh, on to the next thing, and so there's no down time to even reflect on the events that happened. That's why, that's why it's tough getting out of the military because there is time to reflect.

ABNEY: So what did you find in boot camp either about the training or about yourself maybe that you hadn't expected, that you didn't really know that you had inside you or you weren't expecting the training to be, uh, to live up to what it is that you thought it would be? GAYHEART: Standing still. I hated standing still and you had to stand still in formation, and the bugs in Parris Island, the sand fleas were the worst. And I was never one of those recruits 23:00that locked my knees and fell over on his face. Um, actually, I actually kind of took on this sarcastic air about myself in boot camp where nothing was serious. I was like, Boot camp? Why's everybody so serious, seriously? And, you know, there were these squad leaders that would yell out of their mind all day long and then I would look over at them at night when we were in the rack and be like, "Dude, you need to calm down. Seriously." And in that sense, they probably hated me because I made BT a laughable event where--I know that one time we were going for a run around the track and, and I was all the way up front, and I probably wasn't even sweating. I didn't even look like I was having a tough time, and I think the drill instructor was, was really trying to work us in this circuit course, was really trying to work us. And he was like, "Oh, yeah? Really? Well, run circles around us while we run around the track." 24:00So that became my job every time we would go to the circuit course was to run circles around the platoon that was in formation running because he was like, "Well, if you're, if you're that good do this." And it's kind of the reputation that I kind of grew with these kind of drill instructors. And there was one in particular that would always pull me aside, poke me in the side and say, "You think you're better than me, don't you? You think you're bad? Wait until I get fleet. Wait until I get fleet." And I never saw him in the fleet. I never had an encounter with any of my drill instructors, but I would say my big boot camp story would be at the repel tower. And there was red hat or black hat instructors, and--

ABNEY: Who were the black hat instructors?

GAYHEART: The black hat instructors were, um, they, they taught the technical, 25:00um, skills of the Marine, of Marine training. It was, uh, repelling. They had, uh, range instructors and, um, uh, land nav instructors and guys, Marines that weren't drill instructors but they were black hat instructors. They had a, just a black t-shirt on and, you know, it said instructor on it and their name. They were Marines. They were relaxed, everyday Marines. They weren't these regimented drill instructors.

So it was our turn to go do the repel tower, and, and I get up to the top of the platform and I'm in line. And, you know, you're supposed to--you know, I'm watching everybody. I'm kind of studying what they're doing because I had never repelled from this height. Um, I repelled at Millersburg Military Academy a few times but never at this height, and, um, and I'm watching everybody. You know, you put your feet on this bar. You grab the rope, and the black hat instructor 26:00looks at you and says, "You ready? All right. Go." And then you jump out, you catch yourself with your right hand and then you just kind of slowly repel down, and he was asking everybody as they went down, he said, "Where you from, boy?" He was probably from Louisiana or somewhere down south, and he was asking everybody where they were from. And anybody that was from the south, he was like, "Oh, man. Well, well, hell yeah, man. That's awesome. You're from South Carolina. Man, that's killer." And when it came my time, he said, "Son, where you from?" And I said, "I'm from Kentucky." And he said, "Well, hell yeah." He said, "Well, when you get over there on the bar, mount it, and when you jump give me a big old 'Hell yeah'." And I don't think I really thought twice about it, and mind you that as we're up on the repel tower there's a pit of drill instructors down at the bottom. And so I looked at him and said, "All right. I'll give you a big hell yeah." So I mounted the bar and grabbed the rope, and as I jumped out, I put my hand out like a cowboy and said, "Hell yeah." And all I remember is just hearing this, like--I mean, it was outside--but there was this dead silence, and about six drill instructors said, What? And I stopped 27:00myself and looked down, and I saw my drill instructor look up at me. He said, "Gayheart, get down here. What are you thinking?" And I slowly let myself down, and so I'm on the ground and, and the drill instructor looks at me and he's just flabbergasted. He can't believe what he just heard, um, because you're not supposed to have any candid speech much less slang or cursing or expression of oneself in boot camp at all, you know, much less outside on the repel tower amongst other drill instructors. And he grabs me by the arm and he takes me over to the fence line, and he, and he takes my helmet off me and hits me over the arm with it and said, "What are you thinking?" And I said, "This recruit doesn't know." And at that point, I was at attention. I said, "This recruit doesn't know. This recruit doesn't know." And he said, "Boy. Boy," and he reached his hand out and he grabbed my nose and he pinched it and he twists. And at that point, I just had this rush come over my head and blood ran 28:00down my face, and he, and he looked at me and he said, "Look what you made me do. Look what you made me do." And I said, "This, this recruit, this recruit doesn't know, sir. This recruit doesn't know." And in my mind I'm thinking, What the hell is going on? What just happened? So I'm sitting there at attention. My nose is, is throbbing. There's blood dripping all over my camis, and he takes me into the bathroom and he says, "Look what you made the recruit--uh--the drill instructor do. Look what you made him do." And he pointed at myself in the mirror--blood everywhere--and he grabbed two paper towels and he threw them at me, and he said, "Clean up. Get outside." And so I spent the rest of the three weeks in boot camp with a broken nose. Yeah.

ABNEY: Why do you think he reacted, why do you think he reacted that way?


GAYHEART: This was a drill instructor that amongst other drill instructors was pretty out-respected. He was, uh, a good drill instructor. He was, uh, he instilled a lot of discipline and, and was good at what he did, and, but he had a really quick temper. And I think when he, when he realized that, he felt out of control. He felt as though his recruit/platoon was recluse, and I think his emotions got away from him. And I think about it all--excuse me--I think about it all the time, about why he did it because I'm about his age now when he did it and how I would react. And I wish I saw him in the fleet. I wish I did because I would have, you know, looking back on it, I could have ruined his career like that, but I think that's, that kind of set the mentality for me as a Marine. I didn't, I didn't tell on people. I made things right, but I didn't tell on people. I didn't ruin anybody's time in service. I didn't ruin any or try to, you know, spread malicious rumors or things about other Marines. So, um, I think, I think it was a wakeup call, honestly, for me because I, I became 30:00more serious after that. I took the Marine Corps a little more serious, and I was always able after that to, to focus in on the serious matters.

ABNEY: After boot camp, um, everybody goes to their specialties. What was your specialty?

GAYHEART: I was, I enlisted as a, uh, electronic communications, and I went on to Twentynine Palms, California, to the big comm. school out there. And I had intentions to do data, and, uh, I ended up going to a radio course and doing, uh, field radio operator and some satellite communications. And I ended up going out there and really excelling at that in the technical field, and, um, comm. school was really, really hard to me. Um, technically it was, it was demanding technically, but it's--to be a non-combat MOS, it was very physically 31:00intensive the way that they trained you because you ran and ran and ran and ran in the hills of Twentynine Palms where you don't sweat. And, um, I did really well. I graduated third in my class and got to pick a duty station. I had this long dream sheet of where I wanted to go, and I was thinking about how my worldview didn't leave, you know, 468 McDowell in Frankfort, Kentucky. So I chose the farthest place I could get which is Hawaii.

ABNEY: So was it, did it end up being the job you wanted to have?

GAYHEART: No. Not necessarily. I wanted to, after being in I wanted to, I wanted to be a -----?? I wanted to be--I always saw them and, and though, though my job put me in a comm. company anywhere I wanted, uh, I was always in the position to where anything technical they could turn to the comm. guy. And I liked it because people could rely on me. I liked being the go-to guy for a lot of things, but, um, there were times where, where I just wanted to, to be 32:00able to, to do my job and go home at the end of the night sometimes. But that's not to say that, you know, I really took pride in what I did and did it to the best of my ability.

ABNEY: So you said you got stationed in Hawaii. How is it over there in the middle of the Pacific?

GAYHEART: It's a vacation station. I got a lot of advice from my recruiter because my recruiter was stationed in Hawaii. It all kind of stems from him, but I had a, a really good friend in school that was from Hawaii. We were on a bus one time, and he was telling me about where he lived. And, and I always imagined it, you know, a kid from Kentucky, I always imagined Hawaii as--he was telling me about his house. I was like, "Man, I bet it's like a, a mud hut with drapes and no doors and outdoor bathrooms and you're sitting on a bluff 33:00overlooking the ocean." And he was like, "No, man. I live in the city. The beach is like a block away." I was like, "Oh, okay." And, and so he really, he really, uh, he really put me on to Hawaii, and from there on out I wanted that to be my duty station because of all the good stories he would tell me about it and, you know, him going up there--and anybody that you meet from Hawaii loves their home state--and, and I wanted to experience that. And the, the day I found out I was going to Hawaii, I called my recruiter, and I told him. I said, "I'm getting stationed in Hawaii." He said, "Oh, man. That's awesome. I was stationed there." And he was like--and he's a funny person this guy--and he looked at me or he, uh, was on the phone with me and he said, "You know, uh, it's a tropical duty station." I said, "Yeah." He was like, "You know, you 34:00don't have to check in in your Alphas." And across the Marine Corps and across a lot of military branches, when you formally check into a unit as a new member of that unit, you check in in your service uniform, the full green uniform with all the medals and, and, you know, the hat and everything. And it's a really uncomfortable uniform if you've never worn it, and so he told me over the phone while I was still in California even before I went, he said, "Man, you can check in in your Charlies. It's a tropical duty station. You can wear your Charlies." It's a short-sleeved shirt with, you know, your green slacks and, you know, "You can check in in that." I was like, "All right. This is starting out, this is starting off my Marine Corps career right," because I kind of had that laid back, everything's kind of a joke attitude. And, um, so I went home on leave, and when I was getting ready to go back out to or go to Hawaii, I prepped my Charlies and didn't prep my service uniform. And I got to the 35:00airport in Hawaii and the duty driver picked me up, another Marine, and I was in my Charlies. He said, "What are you wearing?" I said, "I'm in my Charlie's, man. This is a duty station or this is a tropical duty station." He said, "You know you need to be in your Alphas." So I said, "I don't have them. They're in my C bag, man. They're stuffed in the bottom of my bag wrinkled." He said, "All right. I got you." And he took me all the way out to his apartment and he gave me his uniform, let me check in, let me check in in his uniform nicely pressed, and I bought that man a beer for the rest of my four years in the Marine Corps because I, that would happen.

ABNEY: So you got to know this guy?

GAYHEART: So I got to know this guy and, and, you know, he's a really good guy, and, and Hawaii was--I remember getting there and being on the, being on the, the car taking me into base. And I remember looking up at one of their road signs, and it said "Likelike Highway". I was like, in probably my best country voice I said, "What is the Likelike Highway?" And the guy looked at me and he said, "Man, it's the Likelike." So there was this whole culture to learn, this, you know, new, new place to explore so I was really excited about it.

ABNEY: Well, what unit were you in, stationed with over there in Hawaii?

GAYHEART: Initially, I was with the 1st Battalion 12th Marines which is an artillery battery, and I later on got attached to a liaison unit that, uh, 36:00operated with, uh, line companies and grunt fire.

ABNEY: How long was it after you got there with your unit that you ended up going overseas?

GAYHEART: Oh, it was after my third year in the Marine Corps, and I was doing constant deployments, uh, over to--I did a pump over to Okinawa.

ABNEY: What's a, what's a pump?

GAYHEART: Uh, a pump is just a six-month tour, and we would do these rotations amongst the companies, uh, for six months and a full rotation, uh, an 37:00eighteen-month rotation, over to Okinawa. And I spent six months there, and from there we would go to, uh, Thailand and Australia. And, uh, our unit was, participated in the tsunami relief over in Indonesia off the U.S.S. Essex, and, um, so I did a lot of training missions, uh, up until I went to Afghanistan. And, and, uh, it took three years in until I got the call to go, so--

ABNEY: Why was it that some units were deploying over to Afghanistan and Iraq while other ones weren't?

GAYHEART: Well, our unit, my liaison unit was--and our artillery battery or, 38:00uh, battalion--was unique in the sense that any, any company could have been picked to go with the grunt battalions with 1/3, 2/3 or 3/3, and it just so happened that Charlie Company--and I was in headquarters in an Alpha--Charlie Company got picked to go over and support 1/3 in Fallujah; not our company. And there were more seasoned fort observers to go over there than, from liaison, than the rest of the guys in our unit. So we just kept missing, missing the boat to go over, and so we trained. And we were stationed in Hawaii, and I thought that, I thought for the longest time that I was going to get out without serving overseas and, you know, as everybody else would say, dodging the bullet, dodging the deployment. And I worked really, really hard at my job. I tried to be the resident expert in anything that I would try to do, and, and I kind of 39:00got a name for myself. So, you know, the reason that--when I asked to go to Charlie Company, you know, to go overseas--they were like, You're too much of an asset right here. And you get mixed feelings when you hear that because it's like, Well, can't I, can't I be an asset overseas, you know, fighting the enemy or, you know, supporting the war and, instead of doing, like, training or monotonous tasks in Garrison? And so that, that--it wasn't anything that I'd done to myself. It was just something that kept, kept missing me, and, uh, and I remember I was home on leave and we had just gotten back from Okinawa on pump, on, on a six-month tour over in Okinawa. And my buddy called me and I was in the basement of my parents' house in Frankfort doing laundry, and I got a phone call from, from my buddy Lao Chan. And, um--(laughs)--he said, he said, "What's up?" I was like, "Not much, man." And he's like, "Well, we just got out of formation, and you, me and Larr all got picked to go to Afghanistan with 1/3 Charlie Company." I said, "Awesome. Seriously?" And he was like, "Yeah. 40:00Yeah. They needed, they needed three guys from liaison, and we were handpicked to be part of the fire support team."

ABNEY: So right then at that point, everything that you had ever done in the military, leading up to 9/11, all your boot camp, your training, three years in the Marines and everybody has, around you has dodged the bullet so to say, and you finally get called up and told you're going to go to Afghanistan. What was going through your head when you hung up that phone?

GAYHEART: Don't tell anyone because I was at home. I thought about--there was this, these rush of, of happenings went through my head; like, All right. I'm going to Afghanistan. I'm going to go to the show. I get to go put all of this, this training, this, this hard work to good, you know, to use. And I immediately thought about telling my mom and my family. They always have these 41:00reflecting moments in the living room or in the kitchen and say, "I'm just so glad you're not in Iraq or Afghanistan." That's what I thought about. Well, I've got something to tell them now, and at that moment I hung up the phone and I think I finished folding a shirt. And I kind of put my hands on the, on the washer, and I thought about those things. And I thought, All right. This is good. This is a good thing. I get to, to go finally serve my country on the front lines; not only at a duty station or in uniform or on a ship or in the barracks. I get to go carry a, carry my weight. And then I thought about the, Who's going to be in my unit? Who's going to be--because those FIST teams are three- or four-man units. I was like, Who's going to be--I started thinking, Well, what if it's him? Gosh, I hope it's not him, and, What if it's him? I hope it's him. And those are the things I thought about before I went and got my stepdad. I said, I went upstairs and I said, "Come back downstairs with me." And he said, "What's up?" And I said, "I'm going to Afghanistan." This was, 42:00like, five minutes after I got off the phone. He said, "What?" I said, "I'm going to Afghanistan." He was like, "We can't tell your mom." (Laughs.) And he had the same sentiment as I did, um, because we knew that, that it would have done nothing but cause anxiety and pain, and, and I still had seven months of workup to do. So I went, I went back to my unit, and it was on this fast track to, you know, uh, training for, you know, CAST missions, artillery, air. Um, we went to the, we would go to the war classroom. We would do, uh, simulations in, in the classrooms and three- or four-month, uh, Mojave Viper out in Twentynine Palms, a big training exercise, and, and from there I, I really felt confident. I felt confident in the unit I was going with. I was going with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion 3rd Marines which they were, they were a big force over in Fallujah, and the majority of these, these guys were Fallujah vets except for the, some of the senior ones that were getting out as we were going to Afghanistan. So I had this, this really good sense of confidence, and I had a really, really good team. I had a really, really good fire support team, one of 43:00the best lieutenants--now captains--that I had ever worked with. He was indispensible as a, as a leader and, um, a fellow corporal that he and I worked very well together. So I was, I was really, really confident when going over to Afghanistan.

And about three months before I was about to deploy, we told my mom, and just with anything, um, she had a million questions. Who are you going with? What are you doing over there? What's your mission? What's your job? What's your--and I couldn't tell her much because you don't know, even as a, even after all the training you still don't know, yourself, what the environment's going to be like, what the province is going to be like, what the people are going to be like. And I just, I think I communicated to her that caliber of the men that I was going, you know, the caliber of the unit that I was going with and communicated the confidence that I had in my team and, and how, how much I looked up to and trusted my lieutenant before going over there, and like I said, she had this nervous support; this apprehensive support.

ABNEY: So when you finally told her do you think it was more anxiety or do you think it was more of a burden lifted up off of you?

GAYHEART: I felt bad for not telling her. You know, I was, had done a full workup in Twentynine Palms and Bridgeport cold weather training, and in my head I was already there. In my head, I had already, I had already deployed. So I think when I told her it was just, it was really matter of factly. You know, I, I gave those supportive comments, but I, I think that, you know, the type of relationship I have with my family is that, you know, we, we take heed to the things that we say, you know, especially with my mom because she's got health issues. And at that time, before that, she was having this fluttering heart. She was a diabetic, and so we didn't tell her because she was having this fluttering heart. And, and it was like--and it might have been selfish at the time, but who would have known what her health would have been like if we did tell her and she had six months to stew on it. And, you know, looking back on it, I did feel bad that I didn't tell her about it.

You know, I was, I was in units with guys that didn't tell their parents they were in Iraq until they were in Iraq or they were in Afghanistan until they were in Afghanistan. They didn't tell them about their deployments. I had a roommate that didn't tell his, his parents that he was in Okinawa for four 44:00months, and by no means was I going to do that but, but I wanted to set things straight. And I do feel bad that I didn't tell her from the get-go, but I think it was a necessary evil.

ABNEY: (Coughs.) I'm sorry. Can we stop?


[Pause in recording.]

ABNEY: So when you first got to Afghanistan, what were your impressions of the country immediately?


GAYHEART: Rural. That's what I thought about. We got there at night, and we stayed in, uh, the large air force base in Kabul for four days and then we hopped a flight and went to, um, an air base, uh, and stayed there for another week. And then we made a convoy movement at night all the way to our forward operating base in Asadabad in the Kunar province, and at night that's when most of us would travel to and from the FOBs because that's when, you know, you move when they sleep basically. And I remember going through the town and going through the different villages and making our way up there--because it was an 46:00all night trip. It took about five hours, um, to get all the way up to our operating base--and I was in the back of a truck and staring out onto the, you know, the scenery at night. You really can't see anything but flashing lights, and they told us that they have very archaic ways of communicating in Afghanistan and a lot of the times they would take up Morse code or just use very simple code by flashing lights to communicate with other, you know, other sides of the mountain; you know, just like I'm here.

ABNEY: You mean the Marines or the Taliban?

GAYHEART: The Taliban. That's the way that they would--you know, in our 47:00training they would tell us that, you know, they're not a very sophisticated group of terrorists. They use very archaic ways of communicating, so they would use a lot of Morse code or flashing of the lights. And, you know, being in the vehicle and you're a week old in Afghanistan and driving for four hours in the back of a truck--and you've heard the stories of IEDs and you've heard the stories of ambushes--and, um, I had, I had read a lot about the Soviet War and the tactics that Mujahedeen had used on the Soviets, and, and we were the Soviets modern-day in the position where we're traveling on the roads and we're fighting against the Taliban who can maneuver up and down these hills and, and know these hills like the back of their hand. And, and they defeated the Russians really badly with some pretty sophisticated, coordinated attacks, and, 48:00and, uh, that's all I thought about on the way up to our operating base was that, Oh, there's a flashing light. What is that? You know, it's different because you go in a country and, um, before you get in the trucks, you know, everybody's doing their checks. They're checking everybody's gear, and, you know, you're making sure that you've got all your rounds and all your stuff's tight and you've got enough batteries in your NVGs. And, um, you know, they say "go condition one" and condition one is when you rack your rifle back and a round goes in the chamber, and that's, that's when you know it's real because you're about to get in the truck and you just--with a loaded weapon. And up until then, you're in training. You're in condition four which is no round in the chamber. It's, it's a different feeling when you pull that rack back and 49:00it's almost like a light switch. It's on.

ABNEY: Is that how it is most of the time, condition four? Not having a round in the chamber. Is that what it was like before you got to Afghanistan?

GAYHEART: Uh-huh. In training you don't, you don't necessarily train--there's live firing ranges, but you don't walk around in a truck, on a base, in any type of training environment with a loaded weapon. You usually do it with SIM rounds or you do it with some type of blank, uh, firing apparatus. So for me to leave, 50:00get out and go to the truck and about to hop in this convoy and pull your rack back and you go condition one, that thinking, you know, looking back on it that, that's when you know it's real. That's when you know that you're in-country and it's, it's serious. You've got a round that's waiting for your finger to just pull the trigger, and that's all that's keeping you from--

ABNEY: How did your role, how did your MOS and your role with your MOS change once you got to Afghanistan or did it?

GAYHEART: No. My, my role which is, um, as a fire support team was pretty consistent in Afghanistan but it kept me pretty busy. Um, we started operating, you know, the, the third or fourth day we got to our forward operating base. 51:00Um, you know, the night, the day that we got there we had, we had heard about--we had replaced an Army unit, and we had heard about their convoy back, you know, back to the air base and, um, how they got hit by an IED and about a quarter into the trip and their first sergeant was killed. So we get to our operating base, we get to our FOB, and we're greeted with this mangled Humvee; whole engine block gone. The truck looked like it had just been grabbed and pulled apart, and, and I don't think any of us collectively looked at each other and was like, Man, that's serious. That's, their first sergeant died. The one guy that's probably the most protected individual in the unit, he's like the father, he's not supposed to get hurt. He's the first sergeant. He's, he's supposed to be safe. He's supposed to give everybody else direction and give--and, you know, he had been killed. Twenty years in service or 52:00twenty-two/three years in service, and he was gone. And that, that really, uh, gave me a lot of anxiety about getting on the roads. I didn't care about hiking. I didn't care about being in the helo. It gave me a lot of that, you know, a lot of anxiety about being on those roads because of the fear, because of the frequency of IEDs that were there, and my MOS was, was perfect for hiking. It was perfect for being in the hills?

ABNEY: Why is that?

GAYHEART: Because we would be responsible for all of the artillery missions and all of the air missions that the line company would need, and in Afghanistan, they operate and rely heavily on artillery fire because there's a lot of situations that you get in to where small arms fire is just not feasible for the 53:00distance that you are away from the enemy. It's effective but, but not as, not as effective as two five hundred pound -----?? Um, so I went on as many missions as I could. Uh, they would come down the pike and always say, Hey, we need two FOs or we need a FIST team to go with this platoon. Lieutenant Ortiz, Corporal Gayheart, do you want to go? Yes. We'd go out for a seven-day mission, come back, the next platoon would be going out. The platoon we're going out with would rest, we'd get a day of rest and go back out with them. And, and it, it was--being on the road in Afghanistan was the most nerve-wracking thing that I have ever experienced in my life.

ABNEY: When you were on the road did you have a lot of contact with locals at 54:00all? What was that contact like?

GAYHEART: Just passing by. Um, there would be--when our unit, when a convoy would go through a village it would be almost like a presidential motorcade. That's how the people would just come out and watch you as you drive by; military-age males, uh, young females, older females in burqas which was interesting because there would be times where we would just be on foot and we'd patrol through the village, and some villages were, you got a warm welcome. Some villages you've got little kids coming up to you and pulling on your shoestrings or pulling on your cami pocket, and it was more of a playful 55:00adolescent encounter. But other times, we would go through villages, and there would be military-age males that would stare at you very--

ABNEY: What's the implication behind "military-age male"? What is a military-age male?

GAYHEART: Military-age male is somebody that's about my age and just is not an elder, looks like he would not have a problem getting up and down the hills, um, maybe a new father who just started a family maybe needing to make money for his family. Um, it's a real impressionable age, you know, eighteen to twenty-nine/eighteen to twenty-seven. So those were the ones that looked at Americans as a negative for their country, um, because they hadn't seen, they didn't experience the Soviet War. They didn't experience the things that their parents did, so they had this, they had to make up their opinion of, of our 56:00occupancy in their own way. And they absolutely communicated with their eye contact and their body language, and you as a Marine would always be on guard when, when you would come across men of that, you know, age group.

ABNEY: Did you or anybody else in your unit receive any kind of training for learning how to communicate with them?

GAYHEART: No. No. Not really. Um, you know, you would have expressions for the first three or four months, uh, -----??-----, but that ceased really quickly because I found out that they didn't mess with us; not face to face, not behind our backs. If we would pass them, it was just a look. Who's, who's to know if they didn't plant an IED there the day before, but we had, I had no negative encounters other than when we, we were, um, we took some, uh, PUCs in a, in a village--person under U.S. control--and, um, it was kind of interesting because it was my first time dealing with any kind of, uh, they started calling them detainees. And it was my first time dealing with an PUC, and, uh, there was this whole protocol that we kind of had to go by after, uh, you know--when we went through a village one time we found a huge cache of weapons and hundreds of pounds of drugs, and there was supposed to be this HVT, this high value target in this village and we had kind of set up a cordon around it. And, uh, we ended up going in and pulling some, some, uh, PUCs and putting bags over their heads, and, um, we didn't have enough handcuffs or flexi-cuffs so we would have to daisy-chain them together and carefully walk them down the hill and they went on for processing. But that was a, that was an interesting experience, but other than that I had no encounter with military-age males--no negative encounter--and for the most part they cooperated. They cooperated very, very easily.

ABNEY: You were talking about how you were always constantly worried about IEDs 57:00or mines or whatever. Was that the biggest threat you faced day to day?

GAYHEART: Psychologically. Um, psychologically I think it was, I think it wore on every Marine's mind. We had been there, it was January 28th, 27th, and I was out on a mission in the southern part of our province. And, um, another part of our unit was up in the northern part of the province that was over by the Pech River Valley, and, uh, there was this one stretch of road called "IED Alley" and, uh, or "IED Cliff". And it's this bend in the road that it's really easy 58:00to not be seen when you're digging through there, um, no matter--since there's so much construction on this part of the road, there's no way to ever tell if it's been cut up or it's been dug into. So there's no way to tell if there's a raise in the earth or if there's fresh dirt on it so there's no way to tell if there was an IED planted right there. And a convoy was going through there and an IED went off, and Lance Corporal Brigsley immediately, um, was taken back to our base. Both of his legs were amputated, and he was taken to Germany and he died a day later. And that, that word came back to our unit, and it was my first time ever being on a base where or in a unit where somebody had died due to combat reasons. And the base goes River City--and I didn't know what River City meant, and I was like, "What's River City?" And he was like, "All communications cut off. You can't call out. You can't get on the internet. You can't, can't do anything."

ABNEY: What did they do that for?

GAYHEART: It's so that the press or a family member or another--or the family member of the deceased, of the KIA--doesn't find out from another Marine or another person on the base. They completely cut off communications.

ABNEY: Did you know Brigsley?

GAYHEART: I didn't know him. I knew of him. Um, there was--my roommate was really good friends with him, and he had shared stories about him. And, and, but you--I didn't really digest it too much. I was like, you know, He was a Marine. He died. He was really tough, but I've got a mission tomorrow. I've 59:00got to pack my bag and go back out, but, uh, then again it's completely recycled that apprehension that I have about being on the roads. The whole time you're sitting in this truck you're thinking, I'm going to blow up. I'm going to blow up. I'm going to blow up. I'm going to blow up. I'm going to blow up. And you don't know when it's going to happen. You have ECCMs. You have these electronic counter measures, electronic counter counter-measures. You have these, these devices that are in your trucks that are supposed to shield you from the signals that are sent to these IEDs, but Lance Corporal Brigsley and that first sergeant both had ECMs on their trucks. Somehow the IED was triggered through these electronic counter measures that are installed on the trucks. They still were hit by an IED, so even that didn't give you peace of 60:00mind. Even your chest plate and your, your body armor that you wear--because when you're operating out in the hills you don't, don't wear your throat protector. You don't wear your arm guard. You don't wear your, uh, crotch protector that goes to your thighs--but when you're in a truck, you suit up because those things could potentially save your life or save a limb. And we didn't have A/C. You didn't roll the window down because if a blast from the side of a hill went off you would get peppered, and the worst was being in a truck that was, that didn't have three-inch glass and wasn't up-armored. The worst would be when you're exposed in the back of a, uh, just the back of a truck with just nothing but, like, steel to hold you, and they design them perfectly so your head stuck right over the edge of it. So the IEDs were, were a huge point of stress for me every time I got on the roads. I would--what's that?

ABNEY: Sorry. Go ahead.


GAYHEART: That would be something that I came to hate in Afghanistan was getting in a convoy. I would have, I would have much rather hiked for thirty, forty, fifty clicks as opposed to getting in a truck to save a six-hour, to save five or six hours. It saves a life, and I started to have animosity towards them, you know, the commander that would put us in these trucks and take us up and down these roads. And then I think, I think they started listening to our unit, and the engineers would get out there in the front. And it's--as rudimentary and elementary as it sounds--they would get out in front of the patrols or in front of the hikes and sweep with their metal detectors in a, in a sector that completely covered the whole road, and there would be times where we would stop for twenty minutes at a time. They'd do a controlled det. and get rid of the, get rid of that, uh, that IED, and, you know, there would be times where we would walk back over the same road and we'd find an IED on a path that 62:00we just got done walking over a day earlier. So it was real. It wasn't a myth that they were planting IEDs on us every single day.

ABNEY: Why do you think it was that we kept on using trucks to get around when we knew that eventually we were going to run into IEDs? Why didn't we always go on hikes or take helicopters or something else?

GAYHEART: Well, we didn't have air support because of the earthquake in Pakistan. We were really, really, really limited on air support as far as troop carriers, uh, Sea Birds, because they were supporting the, uh, the people in Pakistan. So when you did get it, when you did get a helo dropped or you did get dropped by helo it was like, it was a good day because you didn't have to carry your pack. You didn't have to get in a truck, and there was a fear of, of the rockets. Um, I don't know if you've ever seen Charlie Wilson's War. It was when the Mujahedeen had really started to win the battle against the Soviets when they got rockets that were able to shoot down the helicopters, and they continued to do so in Afghanistan. They did with, you know, that, that tragedy 63:00that happened with the Navy Seal team, um, and that was another reason why when we even did get, uh, helos that it would be, they would be used, it would be rationed. So in that respect towards the end of our deployment we started operating completely on foot, and I was sore and it was probably the most physically demanding thing that I've ever, ever experienced because when you go out for a thirty-day mission you have to take twenty, thirty days worth of gear. And whether it's fifteen clicks or fifty clicks you've got to hike it. You've got to have your ammo. You've got to have everything that goes with you, and it was the most physically demanding place that I've ever been to in the world.

ABNEY: How did the rest of your unit stand up to all the stress that was put on them? How did you guys manage to somehow deal with the knowledge that you might get hit with an IED or a mine this time out?


GAYHEART: I think after, after the fear wore off it just became kind of this comedic joke, you know, this, uh, fearful laugh that you would always have. You'd always have guys sitting in the back of the truck, and you would have one guy that might be new or he might just be just this nervous kind of guy that didn't like being in trucks and you'd have the guy over there. The typical Marines or typical kind of garage talk was going on and then there'd be a quiet guy sitting there in the back of the truck, and the guy across from him would go, "BOOM!" And--(laughs)--you know, and I think that's the kind of attitude that everybody had was that if it's going to happen, it's going to happen, it's going to happen. If it's not, it's not, and it's a roll of the dice with those IEDs and that's what's so scary about them. And I think in my mind I quit worrying about getting blown up. Towards the end of the deployment I was putting down my window, putting my arms out, hanging out because if it was going 65:00to happen, it was going to happen, and it, I wasn't going to mentally drain myself every time I stepped in a vehicle to think about, This is my last ride because of these IEDs. And it made you want to, it made you want to get out in the hills and find the enemy and find those big cash of dynamite and, you know, raid a, an IED factory in the middle of the city. It would motivate you. You know, when they asked who wanted to go on that mission to raid the IED factory, I'm on it. Let's take these guys out. So that was, that was just a, that was just a, a big point. It wasn't constant small arms fire. It wasn't, you know, that we had sustained multiple casualties or KIAs. It was that, it was that we did sustain some but they were, they were at the mercy of those roads.


ABNEY: So all that time you were thinking, When is it going to happen? When is it going to happen, did it ever happen?

GAYHEART: No. And thank God. I was, I had a, had an angel on my shoulder the whole time I was over there and our unit did, my team did because nobody, no unit I was ever with, nobody ever got hurt--or platoon. There were some other platoons where some Marines had been hurt, and there was another company where a Marine was killed. And you had the Marine that had, had been killed in the IED, but every platoon that I was with, though we were in fire fights, though we were in some pretty sticky situations sometimes, nobody ever got hurt. And I walked away from that deployment lucky.

ABNEY: There's another aspect, uh, of guerilla warfare; striking at an enemy that can't fight you back. That is, in many ways, psychological and maybe it can produce psychological types of wounds even if it doesn't produce physical ones. So do you think that at any time either you or anybody that you were with ever sustained any of those from that constant stress?

GAYHEART: Yeah. Absolutely. Um, even when you're in the hills--we had about a twenty-five day mission where we were providing an over-watch for a, a platoon that was going into this, every day going into this village and, uh, and capturing some high value targets. And, uh, and every night before I would go to bed I would have these--the Taliban were never known for probing your lines. They were never really known for probing your lines, but there were a few 67:00instances up on our OPs at our base where they would go out in the morning and they would look at their claim orders and they would be facing towards them.

ABNEY: What was that like?

GAYHEART: Knowing that somebody's out there doing something and you have no clue and they're doing it in such a way that--I don't know. Like I said, when it, when it got dark at night and I would pull out my sleeping bag and sleep in 68:00the side of the hill, I didn't have anything but a rock on the other side of me. And, um, even though I had a line of Marines that were keeping the line, keeping a twenty-four hour watch, the thought of them probing our lines always kind of, you know, rushed through my head. So out in the field I didn't sleep so well. Back on base, back on base I slept more than I've ever slept in my whole entire life. I would take thirty days out in the field, two or three days off, and for those two or three days I would sleep constantly. I would only wake up to eat and shower. And I would have this--before I went, I would have this reoccurring dream, this dream that I would anticipate combat, and I had never been to combat. It was this dream that I was sleeping in this, I had made myself this body-shaped hole in the ground, and I had slept in it, you know, to kind of keep the heat in. And I had put my mat down in it and put my sleeping 69:00bag, and I was sleeping in it. And it was, and there was this rock. There was this rock about the size of my, the length of my body and about, you know, six inches high that was keeping me protected, you know, and I would sleep behind that. This was before I had even gone to Afghanistan, and I would have this reoccurring dream where I would, I would rack out and I would go to bed and I would wake up to these, these muzzle flashes in the distance and I would see the top of this rock just chipping and, you know, it sounded like something out of a movie that pings. And then I would wake up, and this was in the barracks in Hawaii that I would have these dreams. And, and as I went to Afghanistan and got on this hill and was on this mission for about twenty-five days, sure enough 70:00I got--the rock was bigger--but I dug myself a small little trench, laid my bag in it, went down and went to sleep at night, and every night before the sun would go down, and the sun would be in our faces, they would hit us. The Taliban would fire upon us, and it was simply and solely because we couldn't see them because the sun was in our eyes. And I found cover behind this rock which was so ironic for me, and there were plenty of times where, there were plenty of times where, um, I would take cover behind the rock and, and use, uh, a radio to call in fire support, you know, indirect fire support from the artillery. And we had sixty, uh, 60 mm mortars down below us, and, um, so I would call in for fire support and give them a grid because we had registered targets and just give them a number. They already had the distance and the direction, the grid, 71:00and, uh, and they would fire upon the, the pre-planned targets. And sometimes they would, it would be off. You would have to do a correction; you know, add five, right five. And they would, you would walk the ground onto them, and sometimes it would be short and I wouldn't be able to get from around this rock to get my corrections through my binos. And I would have the gun line do it for me. I would have the guys that were, you know, with the automatic weapons out front, you know, give me, you know, "He's running right. Add five hundred. Add a hundred." And, uh, and there would be times where I would step out and get a good eye, and after one particular mission or after one particular fire fight there was--you know, during a fire fight you don't think, you don't really realize that the dust is flying up around you or that there's really much going on. Um, you just kind of focus in on what you're doing--and after the fire fight was over I had been in the prone position looking through my binos with my weapon, uh, and after the fire fight was over I looked at the tree behind me and it was peppered with rounds. I mean, it was right behind me, and I just 72:00remember one of the guys I was with, he was like, "That tree is, were you right there?" And I was like, "Yeah." And I didn't realize it, so--

ABNEY: Do you ever have that dream since then?

GAYHEART: I have it seldomly, but the dream is real. The dream is not, uh, a fabricated, uh, version of what I thought combat would be like. It's a, it's a fire fight. It's a really random, really uncontrolled, sloppy fire fight, and, um, it's not as graceful. It wasn't as graceful as I thought it would be. It wasn't as--

ABNEY: What do you mean by, by graceful?

GAYHEART: You shoot on these ranges and you use this right form, and all the, all the targets that you hit have a nice group of holes in them. And when you look through the binos you, you get your grid and you, um, do your corrections, and over the radio you're, you're smooth and, and rehearsed and precise in training, you know. You know, "You, this is me. Adjust fire. Over." And it's just this rehearsed fire mission that you've done a thousand times. In combat, whew. Where's my pen? You know, and I wasn't--training kicked in--but I wasn't as smooth, and I wasn't as precise. Um, my, I had--the rounds didn't land as on 73:00target as they probably would have in training, so when I said it wasn't graceful, it was just, it was chaotic. It was a mess. It was, um, yeah.

ABNEY: So if you could go back with the experience you have now and change something as far as how the U.S., um, conducted the war in Afghanistan at least as much as you saw, what would it be that you would change?

GAYHEART: I didn't like how we contracted the hired help to construct the buildings on our base. I didn't feel comfortable going out and running fire missions and shooting into the hills and then coming back and seeing Afghanis, military-age males, older males on our base building the building that I'm about 74:00to sleep in and go eat food in. And there were several occasions where we would find out that they would be informants. See, on the ECMs, on the electronic counter measures there's a certain frequency that you set them to, and if you don't know that frequency, you can't turn up the juice or turn down the level of frequency of which the button that you push to blow up the IED. And that was my fear. I was always worried that you have this device that generates this random number or generates all these numbers that we think that the Taliban are using to transmit on this frequency that's going to trigger this bomb. They're low-level frequencies, um, and we would get these intel reports that it's blah, blah, blah, blah, blah on these different frequencies and we would all enter these into our ECMs in our trucks. And these frequencies in a sense were going to save our lives, but if there's an Afghani working on our base running around our trucks, working around our trucks, working around Marines, how can I be sure that they didn't take one of those numbers back to the Taliban or change the 75:00numbers or put a bomb in the truck before we go operate? So there was, you know, we would buy things from them. They had a, they had a small shop down in the bottom of the base, and there was, you know, it created a little bit of commerce between them and, uh, and the Marines and the people that were stationed or on that base. And I'm sure it was good for that regional economy. You know, we'd come in and we'd buy twenty dollars worth of DVDs or they would cook rice and lamb for us, and, you know, there would probably be some type of economic incentive. But I couldn't, I couldn't get past that. If I could change one thing, it would have been the way that that was, that that was conducted; not only for the sake of the mission itself but for the, for the morale and for the confidence of the unit because that was something that I thought about a lot. Why is this, why is this guy on our base? He could be turning around later that evening--because not only is he pulling income from 76:00the federal government or from the OGA or ODA or whoever's paying him, but he's probably turning around and giving information about, Oh, well, uh, they're rolling out right now without this, or, you know, uh, There's a six-car, um, convoy leaving right now, or, A six-truck convoy leaving right now. You know, so--and it had to happen--so that would be one thing I would change.

ABNEY: So you make it through Afghanistan. You've done your, you've done your deployment to Afghanistan, and it's all over and said and done with and you're back home. When it was all over with Afghanistan was it how you expected it to be or was it what you imagined war would be like even?

GAYHEART: Um, I expected it to be faster, constant chaos, because that's what you see on TV and that's how you train. You don't train for a fire fight to 77:00last fifteen minutes and then to not happen again for three days or to not--you don't train to potentially get hit by an IED or to walk down a road and have one blow up behind you. You don't, you don't train for that, so the training, the training is repetitious so you build muscle memory and so you are precise and so you are scripted on the radio and perform your actions without thinking. That's, that's where the training kicks in, but the dull, lull of war, of missions is something I didn't anticipate.

ABNEY: So had you, you got out of the military. Had you always planned on staying in or had you planned on going to college?

GAYHEART: Like I said, like I said, my, my grandmother sat me down right after boot camp, right after I was in the fleet for a little while and said, "Go officer. That's where the money's at. You'll get your education." And I seriously considered it. I had always made my education a priority in the Marine Corps. I had always made it, always kept some class in my back pocket because I knew that was, that was the ultimate goal. It's not that I avoided college. It's that I put it on hold while I was in. So when I was in Okinawa on a pump, I took two classes there. When I was in Hawaii back in Garrison training, I took three classes there at Hawaii Pacific. Before I deployed out to Afghanistan, believe it or not, I signed up for a pilot program through the Coastline Community College to do correspondent work over in Afghanistan. I received my psychology and biology credit in Afghanistan in between missions. I 78:00would--it was a correspondent program. It was a pilot one that, uh, I was the first person to use it overseas apparently. You take--they give you a PDA and they give you an SD card, and all your course work is on this PDA. And at the end of it, you take a proctored test--and I had a book to go along with it, too--but so that was kind of my routine. Uh, I would go on a mission. I would sleep, uh, like I said, a lot in between missions, but the, the other side, my other time was spent finishing my biology class. And we have this--the only time I could typically get a quiet time in would be at night around, you know, midnight, and the Afghan Special Forces would operate at night. And there was this Russian tank that they would run fire missions from. As the Special Force, Afghan Special Forces were out in the hills, they would call in and do fire mission with this old Soviet tank and it would shake the base. And so I would be in my room learning about cell structure, and you would hear this insane boom, you know. Dust would fly up, and I'd get distracted. But, but it was 79:00something that, that took a lot. I don't think I would have been able to finish it if I didn't have the discipline that the Marine Corps had taught me.

ABNEY: So you were a combat student also?

GAYHEART: A combat student. (Laughs.) I've never heard of it like that. I would get, I would, I would--I didn't really tell anybody I was taking classes over there because, well, you know, it probably would have been like, Classes? What are you doing? And especially the mindset that the Marine Corps always wants you to be in; mission-ready all the time. Eat, go to sleep, think about 80:00the next mission or don't go, and, um, so I kind of kept that a secret. And that's why I said that I had such a good lieutenant is because he was a huge advocate for that, and he was my, he was my proctor for it. So he was a huge advocate of me taking classes over there.

ABNEY: So did you find that taking classes over there in the military, did it help at all once you got back or did your military experience help?

GAYHEART: No. (Laughs.) I mean, it got me in the, it got me in this, this routine of studying under extreme circumstances or under really non-traditional circumstances. Um, you know, I would take my PDA out with me out in the hills of the Korengal, and, uh, but I would say that that discipline, that discipline carried over in college quite a bit.

ABNEY: What was your impression of your classmates once you got back?

GAYHEART: When I got out, I had planned for months. I had learned about this program that the United States Postal Service was doing in Louisville where they would pay you to work third shift and then pay for a hundred percent of your classes and a hundred percent of your books, and I knew I was getting the GI Bill so I took that job third shift. And I worked in the operations plant, basically a bean counter, data input, and, um, I would go to work at--and mind you I didn't grow up in Louisville. I grew up in Frankfort, so I didn't know anybody in Louisville. I just moved there because of the opportunity, and, um, I, I think I wanted to be away from, from the mainstream. I wanted to kind of 81:00transition and adjust myself, so my schedule became I would go to work at 10:00 at night until 3:00 in the morning and then I would go home and sleep from 3:00 until 8:00 and I would go to class from 8:00 until 5:00 in the afternoon. And then I would sleep from 5:00 to 10:00, and I did that for a year and that was harder than the Marine Corps.

ABNEY: Were you even, did you even have time to, to make any type of interaction with any of your classmates at all?

GAYHEART: No. And I think that's why I did it. I think that's why I did it. I mean, there were some classes that I had taken that it required me to be 82:00engaged with the other students, but I always played it off. I always was like, tried to find ways to not talk about me being in the military. I didn't want any opinions being falsely put on me or I didn't want somebody talking about me while I was leaving class or even in class. So I, I kind of kept this, my experiences to myself. I mean, there would be times where somebody would ask me, "Why are you twenty-four and just, you know, in school," or, you know, just general conversation, and I would tell them, you know, "I was in the Marines."

ABNEY: What was it that you were afraid that they would ask you?

GAYHEART: Well, if you've ever heard a conversation that a combat veteran has 83:00or even a veteran has with a student or a civilian about their, their time in or their time overseas you, it--one hundred percent of the time or probably nine-tenths of the time the veteran is more uncomfortable than the civilian because they don't know what to say. They don't know how to word things because we have a whole different terminology and an aspect on things. I, I avoided it because I didn't want to see myself put in a situation that I didn't know how to get out of because I have a certain rhetoric with my Marine buddies and I can talk about things in the way I talk about them, and it's harder for me to communicate those experiences or ideas or ideologies or feelings to somebody that doesn't.

ABNEY: So what are you majoring in?

GAYHEART: I'm actually a graduate of the University of Kentucky with a bachelor's in marketing and telecommunications, and I'm currently pursuing an MBA at UK.

ABNEY: So you had a grandfather that you never knew, right, that was a, was an airman, and you said what was his job that he did there?

GAYHEART: I'm not sure. Uh, I think he was, he was in the airmen, I think maybe.

ABNEY: Did he have a technical job?

GAYHEART: I believe he was--I really don't, I really don't recall.

ABNEY: Well, so your experience in the Marine Corps was technical, and that seems to at least in some way carried over to your, to your degree. Is there, what's, what do you have in mind for your future?

GAYHEART: I want to finish my graduate work, and I've had a really good experience and humbling experience helping veterans and improving upon services at the University of Kentucky. And it, it's a humbling feeling to know that you're making a, a change in a large institution that so many people go in and out of--students and employees and faculty--that don't bat an eye at some of the 84:00issues, that don't bat an eye at some of the things that are wrong; that they just come in and out and say, That's just the way it is. It's a bureaucracy. And I, I tend to have a, uh, when I think about a problem I don't think about how bad it is. I think about how to fix it, and I'm always thinking about the next step. I'm always thinking about--I look at a situation and, and see what's wrong with it and how I can fix it in a diplomatic way, uh, and in a responsible way, and I, I felt that I've been pretty successful with that with the student organization and the issues that it's brought up in the University of Kentucky. And whether it's in a capacity that I'm dealing with veterans or not, I want to contribute towards UK because it's, it's a school and an environment that I really became fond of, and one day I'd like to teach in the evenings and be an administrator by day at UK.

ABNEY: Traditionally, there's always been a lack of use of the Montgomery GI 85:00Bill for veterans to pursue a further education. Um, with your work, uh, that you've done with UK MVA, um, and you said yourself that you like to fix things, what, what do you think could be fixed about maybe some of the veterans that are getting out of their branch of service and are trying to decide what to do with the rest of their lives? Whether or not they should go to school or get a job. What do you think that could be done about, about that?

GAYHEART: I remember going through it, and it was a wringer. It was a jack in the box. You're so scripted. Nobody was in it. Nobody was passionate. And what's really, really, really motivating about this, this decade or these past five years is that there are some really, really passionate people that are involved with veterans issues. There are some really passionate veterans that want to help other veterans, and they need to have that mentality when getting 86:00out of active duty. Soldiers helping soldiers. Marines helping Marines. They need to get away from that stigma that you're getting out, you're a bad person. No. You served your country. Let me prepare you to do even greater things, and that, that is lost. That is just completely awash in the military because as soon as you make the decision to get out, you're ousted. You're not necessarily ousted, but you're, you become useless.

ABNEY: To the military?

GAYHEART: To the military. To the unit. To the, to the mission. And, and that's something that needs to be addressed, I think, in the Army, in the big Marine Corps, in the big Navy because the transition out won't be that you let your unit down or that you still feel like a rigid Marine or a rigid soldier 87:00and so that transition into the classroom won't be so harsh. They don't, you can't, you can't teach or you can't water down a Marine's or a soldier's or a sailor's or a Coast Guard's experience or a person's experience. You can't water down those experiences. You can't take away from those experiences to make that, to make that classroom or to make that civilian trans--you know, uh, shoot. I lost my train of thought--to make that civilian transition easier. You can't water down a person's experiences to make it easier on them in the, in the civilian world, but to prepare them for what it's going to be like and to be more cautious in those classes is something that just, it's just something that needs to be stepped up in the military because those transition classes, those TAPs that they send you to by mandatory have just become a check in the box and 88:00they haven't done anything useful because you and I or another veteran out there can attest to that; that we all had a hard transition. And maybe it would have been better if there had been some passionate people in these programs, but there's not. There's, they usually throw the lowest common denominator in these programs, and they just teach the stuff just to get to the end of the day and they don't really engage these Marines and they don't engage these soldiers to, 89:00to really get ready for what's about to hit them which is, You need a job. Are you going to get an education? Oh, well, you can use this, this, this and that. And it's sad that so many of these non-profits and so many of these special interest groups have had to be so involved with the veterans' transition outside of the military that the military doesn't work harder on trying to fix it before they get out. So I think one thing that's so great about the nation right now is how the nation has wrapped their arms around veterans' issues, and a project like this that with no agenda just wants to hear a story like mine and to be able to sit here behind a camera and talk about this is, is insanely humbling; to be able to share my story at such a young age that's worthy of being put on a 90:00website or worthy of being put on, on film is, is humbling. And if I could get a message out there to say that, that the military just needs to be more aware of what they're putting out into the civilian world, they need to be more cautious and more passionate about prepping for that transition.

ABNEY: Well, I want to thank you for coming out and sharing your story today, and I want to thank you for your service to your country. Um, if you could give me your name and age, branch of service and, um, the war that you're a veteran of.

GAYHEART: My name's Tyler Gayheart. I'm from Frankfort, Kentucky. I served in the United States Marine Corps in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. I'm a University of Kentucky alumni, and I'm also pursing my MBA at the University of Kentucky. Is that right? What'd I forget?

[End of interview.]


0:44 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: Where were you born and where did you grow up?

Segment Synopsis: Gayheart discusses childhood and family life in Frankfort, Kentucky.

Keywords: Childhood and family background; high school

Subjects: Childhood Family life Frankfort (Ky.)

4:04 - The commitment

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Partial Transcript: I had friends in so many different circles. Some going to college

Segment Synopsis: Considering a college education in high school and deciding to make the commitment to enter into the military. Discusses interaction with the recruiter and the decision to enter into the Marines. Recalls preparation leading up to signing the paperwork.

Keywords: College; Enlistment; Marine Corps; Recruiter; USMC

Subjects: Education Higher education Marines

18:54 - 9/11

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Partial Transcript: What were you doing on Septermber 11, when the attacks happened inside the United States?

Segment Synopsis: Discusses personal impact of September 11 attacks in New York City.

Keywords: personal impact; September 11, 2001; Terrorism; World Trade Center

Subjects: New York (N.Y.)

23:34 - Bootcamp

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Partial Transcript: I remember my trip to Parris Island more than I remember my deployment to Afghanistan.

Segment Synopsis: Details of bootcamp experience, travel to South Carolina, First impressions; drill sergeants; instructors. Describes the initial experience as "chaotic."

Keywords: Bootcamp; Parris Island; South Carolina

Subjects: Marines

39:46 - Training and specialization

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Partial Transcript: After bootcamp, everybody goes to their specialties. What was your specialty?

Segment Synopsis: Discusses specialization in electronic communications, field radio operations and satellite communications.

Keywords: Electronic communications; specialization


46:39 - Training and specialization: Hawaii

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Partial Transcript: So you got to know this guy?

Segment Synopsis: Discusses additional training in Hawaii, "Pump" or six month deployments to Indonesia, Okinawa. Was not deployed to Afghanistan until three years into the Marines.

Keywords: 1st Battalion 12th Marines; Artillery Battery; friendships; Hawaii; Indonesia; Liaison Unit; Marine Corps; Okinawa; training

Subjects: Hawaii Indonesia Okinawa Island (Japan)

52:31 - Deployment to Afghanistan

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Partial Transcript: And you finally get called and told you are going to Afghanistan, what was going through your head when you hung up that phone?

Segment Synopsis: Describes getting the call about his deployment to Afghanistan and revealing the news to his parents.

Keywords: Asadabad, Afghanistan; Deployment; Forward Operating Base (FOB); Kunar Province

Subjects: Afgan War 2001- Afghanistan

60:52 - Afghanistan

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Partial Transcript: So, when you first got to Afghanistan, what were your first impressions?

Segment Synopsis: Describes first impressions of Afghanistan in his first week. Talks about how he had read much about the Soviets in Afghanistan and his awareness of tactics used in that war in the present day.

Keywords: Afghanistan; Asadabad, Afghanistan; Forward Operating Base; Forward Operating Base (FOB); Kabul; Kunar Province; Taliban

Subjects: Kunar (Afghanistan : Province)

GPS: View Map
Map Coordinates: 34.874167, 71.152778

Hyperlink: View photo

70:39 - Convoys in Afghanistan

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Partial Transcript: Being on the road in Afghanistan was the most nervewracking thing I have ever experience in my life

Segment Synopsis: Describes convoys and danger and fear involved during those missions.

Keywords: convoy; danger; transport

Subjects: Afghanistan

90:55 - Guerilla warfare

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Partial Transcript: Even when you are in the hills--

Segment Synopsis: Gayheart describes tactics utilized by the Taliban in the morning.

Keywords: high value targets; Taliban

Subjects: Afghanistan

102:21 - Intelligence reports and working with Afghanis

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Partial Transcript: And we would get these intel reports that its "blah, blah, blah, blah, blah," these different frequencies and we would all enter these into our ECMs in our trucks. And these frequencies were, in a sense, going to save our lives.

Segment Synopsis: Gayheart describes his interactions with local Afghan citizens at the base in Afghanistan and having difficulties trusting them.

Keywords: fear; interpretors; translators; trucks; trust

Subjects: Afgan War 2001-

GPS: View Map
Map Coordinates: 34.874167, 71.152778

107:17 - Education

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Partial Transcript: I had always made my education a priority in the Marine Corps

Segment Synopsis: Gayheart talks about taking classes and enriching his education while in the Marine Corps. Describes studying in between missions on base and the discipline necessary to complete the courses. Applies the Marine Corps concept of "Mission Ready" to his studies. Describes as "combat student."

Keywords: correspondence; distance education; studying

Subjects: Education

111:43 - Transition home: employment and education

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Partial Transcript: When I got out, I had planned for months, I had learned about this program that the United States Postal Service was doing in Louisivlle.

Segment Synopsis: Describes taking his first job after leaving the Marine Corps working for the U.S. Postal Service balancing working third shift and continuing his studies.


Subjects: Employment--Kentucky Louisville (Ky.)

114:11 - Transition home: civilians

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Partial Transcript: I kind of kept this--my experiences to myself.

Segment Synopsis: Describes difficulties during his transition talking to "civilians" about his experiences.

Keywords: civilian; conversation; education; home; transition

Subjects: Veterans--Education (Higher)--Kentucky

116:58 - Working with Veterans at University of Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: I want to finish my graduate work.

Segment Synopsis: Gayheart talks about working with veterans at the University of Kentucky and helping to improves services for veterans. Working with the student veterans organization. Expresses interest in a career in higher education administration.

Keywords: education; faculty; higher education; Transition; veterans

Subjects: Students Veterans--Education (Higher)--Kentucky

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