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Interview with Joseph Tyler Gayheart, May 28, 2010

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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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.)

4:02 - 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

18:53 - 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

39:48 - 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

46:36 - Training and Specialization: Hawaii

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Partial Transcript: So I actually got to know this guy, and he was a really good guy. And Hawaii was, I remember getting there, being on the car taking me to bus

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; Hawaii; Indonesia; Liaison Unit; Okinawa; training, friendships, Marine Corps

Subjects: Hawaii; Indonesia; Okinawa Island (Japan)

52:32 - Deployment to Afghanistan

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Partial Transcript: You finally get called and told you are going to Afghanistan, what was going through your head when you hung up the 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

60:49 - 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 on Map
Map Coordinates: 34.874167, 71.152778

Hyperlink: View photo

70:34 - 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

90:52 - 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

102:20 - Intelligence reports and working with Afghanis

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Partial Transcript: 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 A and having difficulties trusting them.

Keywords: fear; interpretors; translators; trucks; trust

Subjects: Afgan War 2001-

GPS: View Map
Map Coordinates: 34.874167, 71.152778

107:15 - 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

111:39 - Transition, 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

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Partial Transcript: I kinda of kept my experiences to myself

Segment Synopsis: a;sldkfjas;df

Keywords: transition, education, civilian, home

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

114:16 - Civilians

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Partial Transcript: There would be times where someone would ask me,

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

Keywords: civilian; conversation; transition

Subjects: Veterans

116:54 - 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


CAMERAMAN: We're on the record. If you wouldn't mind, I need you to do a couple things for me. Can you

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.

CAMERAMAN: Okay. And, Tyler, do we have your full permission


CAMERAMAN: Excellent. All right. Uh, I'm all set.

ABNEY: We're doing interviews for the Nunn Center Project, uh, 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.

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--divorced my father. So I grew up in


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

GAYHEART: My mom worked for the state, and, uh, my father--uh, 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

ABNEY: What was, uh, what was life like for you when you were growing up, uh, in, uh, in high school? Uh,

GAYHEART: My parents separated when I was around three years old. Um, we moved to Frankfort, and my mom was a single mother, uh, up until I was about six or seven. My 2:00mom 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--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 right up to my brother and I and handed us two gloves, two bats 3:00and uh--two balls and said, "You guys don't need to be playing with (laughs) 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, you know, as a--as a man right now it was a, it was a pretty good move on his part, you know. And he's been the best

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,

GAYHEART: High school was erratic for me. I had friends 4:00in 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 do successful, and to be successful in college. So I think I made a decision after I graduated. It--it didn't dawn on me until I had already graduated that--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--at any given time that I wanted to get my education. I just didn't know how 5:00I 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 the state of Kentucky, but I knew upon acceptance that I was neither mature

ABNEY: So you signed up then when you were eighteen, directly

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, uh, right after high school graduation, and it was Sergeant Dustin Barnes, uh, from the recruiter's office in Frankfort. And he wasn't pushy. He 6:00wasn't overbearing. He just called and said, "Hey, what's up?" I said, "Not much." And it was probably during the time of the summer where I was not doing much. 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--I didn't know what it took to be a Marine. I didn't know what the typical Marine was like. So I spent a summer with him training. Uh, we would go running five days a 7:00week. 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, my life. And so I--I spent a good time contemplating before I actually stepped

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 something you could look back on and go, okay.


GAYHEART: In--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--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--wanting to go to VMI. And that was kind of the, I 9:00guess you would say, the, 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 go to college and just kind of had this carefree attitude that, they were going to go to college and go to class and uh, graduate in three to four years or seven years. And, you know, I turned to my parents and I said, "You know, what's it look like?" And they said, "Well, we'll probably have to take some loans out, you know, probably have to, you know, make ends meet, but we--we don't--monetarily we can't support you all the way through college." So I had to make a--a, a quick decision. I think I fell back on my experiences at Millersburg. 10:00And 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 I worked towards, but I think it was absolutely a, a decision that I made over the course of seven, eight years. I just

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

GAYHEART: I am a first generation veteran from my family; however, uh, my grandfather was in the Air Force, a really successful airman and one of the youngest, uh, tech sergeants in uh--in the Air Force at his time. Enlisted, uh, unbeknownst to the Air Force 11:00at seventeen and ended up going to OCS. Um, the sad thing is that I never got to meet him. He--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--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, my grandmother set me down and she said, "Go officer." And at--at that point I'd never received any advice from my grandmother a--as far as military goes up until--up until then, but she looked me square in the eye and she 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 12:00time at Millersburg and I always seemed to uh, think that it was such a respectful thing to do; to serve your country and to--to make the sacrifices that the men and women did. I

ABNEY: What year was it that you enlisted?


ABNEY: 2002.

GAYHEART: 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 done Millersburg before, how did--how did your parents take the

GAYHEART: Well, like I said, I--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 13:00what I'm doing. (laughs) 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, in--uh--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--uh, 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--it wasn't because I didn't think that I could make it through college, but I told them it was because I needed 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 14:00boot camp, and I wanted to earn that eagle, globe and anchor. And, and I think they respected that for--for, you know, uh, a seventeen, eighteen-year-old, you know, kid to look at them and say, "This is what I want. This is--I, I--I want this respect. I want this, um, I want this title." And I--I think they looked at, looked at me and, and really respected that. And, it--I call it--when, 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 15:00made sure that this was going to happen. She set my boo--she set my recruiter down in our living room and said, "Will my son go to combat?" And I remember it, and if Sergeant Barnes is watching right now. He's a--he's probably a Gunnery Sergeant now, and if 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--it was comical because there was no way, there was no way for him to know that I would go to, I would go to Afghanistan, and, and you know, looking back on it, I was his second person he recruited. Nathan Noble was the first. So it's--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


ABNEY: Did your, uh--do you think maybe that your mom kind of supported you but felt as though you were being a little

GAYHEART: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Um, you know, and I think if I had a--a child or--uh, a son or daughter that was doing the same, uh, I would have thought the sa--I would have, I would have thought 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--you're going to be in the best shape you've ever been--so--so all these 17:00things were laid out on the table, you know, and you know, as a--as a young eighteen-year-old that, 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--and meet people, and--and--and of course, of course w--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. And it's--it's--it's going to be something I've never experienced, Mom." And--and I think, I think they, they thought that I was a little naive and, and not sure what I was getting myself into, but I think when I came back from boot camp and--and I had this air of confidence and this, this direction 18:00and 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,

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 was going--but what were you doing on September eleventh when--when the attacks happened inside the United States? And,


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, or 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 that we operate overseas is going to over--is going to change, but I don't think I ever reflected on how it made me feel because I didn't understand it. I didn't understand what it was going to 20:00take to--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--that--that year. You know, people were getting tattoos of tattered flags and tattoos of, of, you know, bald eagles on their--on their arms and on their chests, and there was just this movement of patriotism that swarmed the United States. And--and it, it--I guess it takes something like that to bring the United States together, but I think of how naive I was. And 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--I--I felt anger and I, I felt like 21:00our whole country was tricked and--and deceived, and--and I just, I just didn't--I didn't know what it meant until I got to the Marine

ABNEY: What--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 22:00me. 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 that morning or, you know, I would think about why, why we serve and why we represent the people; why we represent civilians and the country we live in. And I think that's,

ABNEY: A lot of people, once they get through the recruiter and they finally get separated away from, um, their parents or their home for the first time and then they finally start getting closer to San Diego or Parris Island or whatever your--or uh, or Fort 23:00Bragg or Benning or wherever it is that you do boot camp at, um, start to have some immediate reservations or maybe some, uh, real enlightenment a--about what they actually just got themselves into. Did you ever have a moment like that once you first arrived at

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 recruits' names on it that are traveling with you. I remember the hotel that I stayed in in Louisville. I remember it was right beside the airpl--the, uh, airport, and I could hear planes going all night long. And it 24:00was 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--it--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 Smokey 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 25:00that sounded like somebody had taken his throat and just squeezed it, and he looks at all of us and is like, "Get in the, g--get over, g--g--g--get over there, get." 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 dar--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 at--in Parris Island, and you 26:00get 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 there's about five drill instructors that will so--soon become your, you know, your platoon drill instructors. They say, "Get on my footsteps." So you put your feet, as simple as it

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

GAYHEART: Oh, gosh. I can't, I really can't remember. I--it was, it was like, if you want to leave now--I don't--I don't--I can't remember if it was--If you want to leave now, or, 27:00you are now at the depot. Uh, this is, you know, they start--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--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 uh--or Marine Corps recruit depot, Parris Island. I'm fine. I'm healthy. Please do not 28:00call me." And you hang up. And you don't even--all you hear is "hello" from them, and, and that's when it starts. And that--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 it is, that you had just left is now completely untouchable and it--it

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 is 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 reflect. You're on to the next thing. You don't have time to think, oh, man I miss home, or, oh, 29:00man, that was, ha, that was hard. Man, I'm sore. Oh, on to the next thing, and then--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 'cause there is time

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 knew--know that you had inside you or you--you weren't expecting the training to be, uh, to live up to what it is GAYHEART: Standing still. Uh, 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 that locked my knees and fell over flat on 30:00his face. Um, actually, I actually kind of took on this sarcastic air about myself in boot camp where nothing was serious. I was like, shew, we're only at boot camp, why's everybody so serious, seriously? And, you know, there were these squad leaders that would yell out of their mind and--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--and in that sense, they probably hated me because I made PT 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--I--I probably wasn't even sweating. And I didn't even look like I was having a tough time, and I 31:00think the drill instructor was, was really trying to work us in this circuit course, he was really trying to work us. And he was like, "Oh, yeah? Really? Well, run circles around us while we run around the track." So 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--if you're that good, do this." And it's kind of the reputation that I kind of grew with these 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 better? Wait until I get the fleet. Wait until I get to the fleet." And I never saw him in the fleet. I never had uh, an encounter with any of my drill instructors, but I would say my big boot camp story would 32:00be at the repel tower, and--there was red hat--or black hat instructors,

ABNEY: Who were the black hat instructors?

GAYHEART: The--the black hat instructors were, um--they, they taught the technical, um, skills of the Marine, uh, of Marine training. It was, uh, repelling. Uh, 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 uh, a, just a black t-shirt on and--and, you know, it said instructor on it and their name. And--and they were--they were Marines. They were relaxed, everyday Marines. They weren't these regimented drill instructors. So it was 33:00our 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 nev--never at this height, and, um, and I'm watching everybody. And you know, the--you put your feet on this bar. You--you grab the rope, and the black hat--black hat instructor looks 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?" And he--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 34:00yeah, man. That's awesome. You're--you're from South Carolina. That--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--on the bar, mount it, and when you jump out 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 it--there was this dead silence, and about six 35:00drill instructors said, "Wha--what?" And I stopped myself 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--and so I'm--I'm on the ground and, and the drill instructor looks at me and he's--he's--he's just flabbergasted. He--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 on the per--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 he--he 36:00hits me over the arm with it and said, "Woo, what are you thinking?" And I--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 down my face, and he, 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--doesn't know, sir. This recruit doesn't know." And in my mind I'm thinking, like, what the hell is going on? What--what just happened? So I'm sitting there at attention. My nose is, 37:00is--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--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

ABNEY: Why--why do you think he reacted, why do you think

GAYHEART: This was a drill instructor that amongst other drill instructors was pretty highly respected. He was, uh, a good drill instructor. He was, uh--he instilled a lot of discipline and, and was 38:00good at what he did, he--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 reckless, 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 was about--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 (snaps fingers) that, but I think that's--that was my mentality that kind of set the pace for me as a Marine. I didn't, I didn't tell on people. 39:00I 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, s--spread ma--malicious rumors or--or--or things about other Marines. So, um, I think, I think it was a wakeup call, honestly, for me because I, I--I came--I became more serious after that. I took the Marine Corps more serious, and I was always

ABNEY: After boot camp, um, everybody goes to their specialties.

GAYHEART: I was, I enlisted as a, uh, electronic communications, and I went on to Twentynine Palms, California, to uh, the big comm school out there. And I had intentions to do data, and, 40:00uh, 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 in that--in the technical field, and, um, comm school was--was really, really hard to me. Um, technically it was, it was um, it was demanding technically, but it's--it's--to be a non-combat MOS, it was very physically intensive, the way that they trained you because we ran and 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--I graduated third in my class and got to pick a duty station. I had this 41:00long 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--I chose the farthest place I could get,

ABNEY: So was it, did it end up being the job

GAYHEART: No. Not necessarily. I wanted to, after being in I wanted to, I wanted to be a grunt. I wanted to be--I always saw them and, and though, though my job put me in a line company anywhere I went, uh, I was always in the position to where anything technical they could turn to 42:00the comm guy. And I liked it because, you know, I like people relying on me. And I--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 able 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, um, took pride in--in, in what I did and did it to the best

ABNEY: So you said you got stationed in Hawaii. How--how

GAYHEART: It's 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--a really good friend in school that--that was from Hawaii. And we were on 43:00a 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. And I was like, "Man, I bet it's like a--a--a--a mud hut with like, with drapes, with no doors and outdoor bathrooms and--and you're sitting on a bluff looking over the ocean." And he was like, "No, man. I live in the city." He's like "The beach is like a block away." And I'm like, "Oh, okay." And, and so he really, he really, uh, he really put me on to Hawaii, and from there on out I--I wanted that to be my duty station because of all the--the good stories he would tell me about it and, you know, him--him growing up there--and anybody that you meet from Hawaii loves their home state--and, and I wanted to experience that. And the, the day 44:00I found out I was going to Hawaii, uh, 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--I was stationed there." And he's like--and he--he's a funny person this guy--and he--he looked at me or he, uh, was on the phone with me and he said, he said "You know, you know you--uh, it's a tropical duty station." I said, "Yeah." He was like, "You know, you don't have to check in in your Alphas." And across the Marine Corps and across a lot of u--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, you know, with all the medals and, and, you know, the, the hat and everything. And it's a real--it's a really uncomfortable uniform if you've ever worn it, and--so he 45:00told me over the phone while I was still in California, even before I went, he's like, "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 can check in in that." And I was like, "All right. This is--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 airport 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, "Man you 46:00need to be in your Alphas." So I said, "I don't--I don't--I don't have them. They're in--they're in my C bag, man. They're stuffed in the bottom of my bag, and they're wrinkled." And he said, "All right man. 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 beer for the rest of my four years in the Marine Corps because

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--I remember getting there and being on the bu--being on the, the car taking me into base. And I remember looking up at one of their road signs, and it said the "Likelike Highway". I was 47:00like, 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." I said okay. So there was this whole, new culture to learn, this, you know, new, new place

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

GAYHEART: Initially, I was with the 1st Battalion 12th Marines which

ABNEY: Um-hm.

GAYHEART: And I later on got uh, attached to a liaison

ABNEY: How long was it after you got there to your

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

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

GAYHEART: Uh, a pump is just a six-month tour, and we 48:00would do these rotations amongst the companies, uh, for six months and a full rotation, uh, in an eighteen-month rotation, uh, 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

ABNEY: Why was it that some units were deploying over to

GAYHEART: Well, our unit, my--my liaison unit was--and our artillery battery or, uh, battalion--was unique in the sense that any, any company could 49:00have been picked to go with the grunt battalions with one-three, two-three or three-three, and it just so happened that Charlie Company--and I was in--headquartered in an Alpha--Charlie Company got picked to go support one-three over in Fallujah; not our company. And there were more seasoned forward observers to go over there than, uh--from liaison, than--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--I thought that, I thought for the longest time that I was going to get out without serving overseas 50:00and, 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--I--I kind of had 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 'cause it's like, well, can't I, can't I be uh, 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 51:00I dodged myself. It was just something that--that just kept, kept missing me, and, uh, and I remember I was home on leave and we had just gotten back from Okinawa on a pump, on, on a six-month tour over in Oki--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 said, "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 one-three, Charlie Company." I said--I said, "Awesome--what, seriously?" And he's like, "Yeah. Yeah, they-they needed, they 52:00needed three guys from liaison, and--and we were handpicked to be part

ABNEY: So right then, that point, everything that you had ever done in the military, leading up to 9/11, all your boot camp, um, 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

GAYHEART: Don't tell anyone because I was at home. I thought about--there was this, the--these rush of--of, of happenings went through my head; like, all right. I'm going to Afghanistan. I'm getting 53:00to go to the show. I'm--I get to go put all of this, this training, this, this hard work to good, well, you know, to use. And I immediately thought about telling my mom and my--my family. They always had these reflecting 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 54:00the, like on the--uh the washer, and I was like--and I thought about those things. And I thought, about--all right, these are, these--this is good. This is a good thing. I get to, get 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--I get to go carry a--carry my weight. And then I thought about the, 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 it 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--and those are the things I thought about before I 55:00went and got my stepdad. I said, I went upstairs and said, "Come back downstairs with me." And he said, "What's up?" And I said, "I'm going to Afghanistan." This was, like, 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--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, uh, training for, you know, CAST missions, artillery, air. Um, we went to the, we would go to the war classroom. 56:00We would do, uh, simulations in, in, in the classrooms and um, three or four month, uh, Mojave Viper out in Twentynine Palms, a big training exercise, and, and from--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--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 the best lieutenants--now captains--that I have ever worked with. He was indispensible as a, as a leader and, um, a fellow corporal that he and I 57:00worked ve--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 uh, 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 communicate--communicated to her the caliber of the men that I was going 58:00over there--you know, the caliber of the unit that I was going with and communicated the confidence that I had in--in--in my team and, and how, how much I looked up to and trusted my lieutenant before going over there, and like I said, that she had this--this--this

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

GAYHEART: I felt bad for not telling her. You know, I was--I had done a full workup in Twentynine Palms and uh 59:00uh, uh, 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, I think that, you know, the--the type of relationship I have with my family is that, you know, we--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's a diabetic, and so we didn't tell her because she was having this fluttering heart. And, and it was like--an--and it might have been selfish at the time, but who--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 60:00on it, I did feel bad that I didn't tell her about it. You know, I was, I was in--I was in units with guys that didn't tell their parents they were in Iraq until they were in Iraq or--or if they were in Afghanistan until they were in Afghanistan. They didn't tell them about their deployments. I had a--had a roommate that didn't tell his, his parents that he was in Okinawa for four months, and by no means did--was I going to do that but, but I wanted to set things straight. And I do feel kind of bad that I didn't tell her from the get-go, but I think it was a necessary

ABNEY: (Coughs.) --we stop?

CAMERAMAN: I'm sorry?

ABNEY: Can we stop?


[Pause in recording.]

CAMERAMAN: We are rolling.

ABNEY: So when you--when you first got to Afghanistan, what were

GAYHEART: Rural. That's what I thought about. We got 61:00there 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, you know--you move when they sleep basically. And I remember going through the town and going through 62:00the different villages and--and making our way up there--because it was--it was--it was--it was an all night trip. It took about five hours, um, to get all the way up to our operating base and--and I was in the back of a truck and staring out onto the, you know, the--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 others, you know, other sides of

ABNEY: You mean the--the Marines or the Taliban?

GAYHEART: The--the Taliban. That's the way that they would--you know, in our training they would tell us that, you know, they're--they're not a very sophisticated group of terrorists. They're--use very archaic ways to 63:00communicate, 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 about--of IEDs [1] 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, uh, modern-day, uh, in their position where we're traveling on the roads and we're fighting against, you know, the Taliban who can maneuver up and down these hills and--and--and know these hills like the back of their hand. And, and they defeated the Russians really badly with some pretty 64:00sophisticated, coordinated attacks, and, and, 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 turn--you go into country and, um, before you get in the trucks, you know, everybody's doing their, uh, their checks. They're checking everybody's gear, and, and, you know, you're making sure that you've got all your rounds and your--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 65:00you 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, it's a different feeling when you pull that rack back and it's almost like a (snaps fingers) light switch. It's

ABNEY: Is that how it is most of the time, condition four? Not having a round in the chamber. Is that

GAYHEART: Uh-hm. 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, get out and go to the truck and about to 66:00hop in this convoy and pull your rack back and you go condition one, that think--thinking, you know, looking back on it that's, 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

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

GAYHEART: No. My--my role which is, um, as a fire support team was pretty consistent in Afghanistan but it kept me really busy. Um, we started operating, you know, the, the third or fourth day we got to our forward operating base. Um, you know, the night that--the--the--the day that we got there we had--we had 67:00heard about--we had replaced a, uh, 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 68:00I don't think any of us collectively looked at each other and was like, man, that's serious. That's, their first--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--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 twenty-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. 69:00It gave me a lot of anx--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

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--there's a lot of situations that you get in to where small arms fire is just--is just not feasible from the distance that you are away from the enemy. It's--it's effective but, but not as, not as effective as two five hundred pound JDAMs (Joint Direct 70:00Attack Munitions). Um, so I went on as many missions as I could. Uh, they would come down the pike and always say, "Hey, we need--we need two FOs or uh a FIST team to go with this--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 went out with would rest, we'd get a day of rest and go back out with them. And, and it, it was--it was--being on the road in Afghanistan was the most nerve-wracking thing

ABNEY: You were on the road did you have uh, a lot of contact with locals at all? What was that contact

GAYHEART: Just passing by. Um, there would be--when our unit, 71:00when a convoy would go through a, uh--uh village it would be almost like a presidential motorcade. That's how the people would come out and watch you as you drive by; military-age males, uh, uh, young females, older females in, in burqas, um, which--which was, 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--your cami pocket, or--and it was more of a playful adolescent en--encounter. But other times, we would go through villages, and there would be military-age


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

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 haven'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 73:00up their opin--opinion of, of our occupancy 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

ABNEY: Did you or anybody else in your unit receive any

GAYHEART: No. No. Not really. Um, you know, you--you would have expressions for the first three or four months, uh, taped to your butt stock, but that--that--that ceased really quickly because I found out that they didn't mess with us; not face to face, not behind our backs. As we would pass them, it was just a look. Who's, who's to know if they didn't plant an IED there the--the day before, but we--we had, I had no 74:00negative encounters other than when we, we were, um, we took some, uh, PUCs in a, in a village--person under--person under U.S. control--and, um, it was kind of interesting because it was my first time ever dealing with any type of, uh--uh, well--they started calling them detainees. And it was my first time ever dealing with any, uh, PUC, and, uh, there was this whole protocol that we kind of had to go by after, uh, you know, it--when we went through a village one time we found a huge cache of weapons and hundreds 75:00of pounds of drugs, and there was supposed to be this HVT, this high value target in this--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, so--or flexi-cuffs so we would have to daisy-chain them together and then carefully walk them down the hill and they went off 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--and for the most

ABNEY: You were talking about how you were always constantly worried about IEDs or mines or whatever. Was that the biggest threat


GAYHEART: Psychologically. Um, psychologically I think it was, uh--it, I think it wore on every Marine's mind. We had been there, it was January twenty-eighth--twenty-seventh, 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, there was this, uh, there was this real--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 to not be seen when you're digging through there, um, 77:00no 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--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--in a 78:00unit where somebody had--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--what's river city?" And he was like, "All communications cut off. You can't call out. You can't get

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--of the deceased, of the fall--of the KIA--doesn't find out from another Marine or another person on the base.

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 had--and 79:00he 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, it's really tough, but I've got a mission tomorrow. I've got to pack my bag and go back out, but, uh, then again it's--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. 80:00You 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--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 a peace of mind. 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--your uh, crotch protector that goes to your 81:00thighs--but when you're in a truck, you--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--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 was, that didn't have three--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


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--a six-hour, to save five or six hours, if it saves a life. And I started to have animosity towards the, 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--as--it's as rudimentary and as elementary as it--it sounds--they would get out in front of the trucks--get out in front of the patrols 83:00or in front of the uh, 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, and--over the same road and we'd find an IED on a path that we just got done walking over a day earlier. So it was real. It was a--it wasn't a myth that they were planting

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, you think,


GAYHEART: Well, we didn't have he--we didn't have air support because of the, uh, earthquake in Pakistan. We were really, really, really limited on air support as far as troop carriers, uh, sea birds, because of the--they were supporting the, uh, the people in Pakistan. So when you did get it, when you did get a helo drop 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--there was a fear of, of the rockets. Um, I don't know if you've ever seen Charlie Wilson's War. It was uh--it was when the Mujahedeen had--had really started to win the battle against the Soviets when they got rockets that were able to shoot down the, uh, 85:00helicopters, and--and they continued to do so in Afghanistan. They did with, you know, that, that tragedy that 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, and in--in that respect the tow--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 86:00have everything that goes with you, and it was the most physically

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--you might

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 may--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 87:00guy 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--in the back of the truck, and the guy from--across from him would go, "BOOM!" (claps hands together) 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 gonna happen, it's gonna happen it's gonna 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 to 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 88:00IEDs. And it made you want to, it made you want to get out in the hills and--and find the enemy and--and find those big cache of dynamite and, you know, raid a, uh, IED factory in the middle of the city. It would--it would--it would motivate you. You know, when they asked who wanted to go on that--that mission to raid the IED factory, pah, I'm on it. Let's take these guys out. So that was, that was just a, that was just a, uh, 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--it was 89:00that we did sustain some but they were, they were at the

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

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 I--no unit I was ever with, nobody got hurt. There was some other--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, 90:00nobody ever got hurt. And I walked away from that deployment

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

GAYHEART: Yeah. Absolutely. Um, even when you're in the hills--we had a--we had uh, about a--a twenty-five day mission where we were providing uh over-watch for a, a--a platoon that was going into 91:00this, 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--(sighs)--the Taliban were never known for probing your lines. They were never--they were never really known for probing your lines, but there were a few instances up on our OPs (observation post) at our base where they would go out in the morning and they would look at their claymores and they would

ABNEY: What was that like?

GAYHEART: Knowing that somebody's out there doing something and you have 92:00no clue and they're doing it in such a way that--I don't know. Like I said, when it, when it got--when it got dark at night and I would pull out my sleeping bag and s--sleep on the side of the hill, I didn't have anything but a--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 93:00field, 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 an--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 bag, 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 that was--and about, you know, six inches high that was keeping me protected, you know, and uh, I would sleep 94:00behind that. This was before I'd even gone to Afghanistan, and--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 (snapping fingers) and, you know, it sounded like something out of a movie that pings. And--and then I would wake up, and this was in a 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 I got--the rock was bigger--but I dug myself a small little trench, laid my bag in it, 95:00went down and went to sleep at night, and before--every night before the sun would go down, and the sun would be in our faces, they would--they would hit us. The Taliban would fire upon us, and it was be--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, fire--indirect fire support from the artillery. And we had sixty mil--uh, sixty uh, millimeter mortars down below us, and, um, so I would call in for 96:00fire support and give them a grid because we had registered targets and just give them a number. And we--they already had the distance and the direction, the grid, and, 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--add five-zero, right five-zero. And--and they would, you'd 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--the guys that were, you know, out--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 at 'em, and after one particular mission 97:00there--or after one particular fire fight there was--you know, during a fire fight you don't--you don't think, you don't really realize that the dust is flying up around you or there's--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 mission--after the fire fight was over I looked in the tree behind me and it was peppered with rounds. I mean, it was right behind me, and I just remember one of the guys I was with, he was like, "Man that tree is, were you--were you right there?" And I was like, "Yeah." And I didn't realize

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, 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. (laughs) It wasn't as graceful as I thought it

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 are--have a nice group of holes in them. And when you look through the binos you, you get your grid and you--you, um, do your corrections, 99:00and--and over the radio you're, you're, uh, smooth and, and rehearsed and precise in training, you know. You, th--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--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--as--as on--on--on target 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,

ABNEY: So if you could go back with the experience you 100:00have now and change something as far as how the U.S. um, conducted the war in Afghanistan, at least as much as you saw,

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 101:00coming back and seeing Afghanista--Afghanis, military-age males, older males on our base building the building that I'm about to sleep in or go eat food in. And there were several occasions where we would find out that they would be informants. See, the--on the--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 up--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, it generates this random number or generates all 102:00these numbers that we think that the Taliban are using to trans--to transmit on this frequency that's going to trigger this bomb. They're low--they're low-level frequencies, um, and we would--we would get these intel reports that it's blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, 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 a Marines, how can I be sure that they didn't take one of those numbers back to the 103:00Taliban or change the numbers 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--in the bottom of the base, and there was, you know, it crea--created a little bit of commerce between them and--them and, uh, and the Marines and the, it got--people that were stationed on--or on that base. And--and I'm sure it was good for that regional economy. You know, we'd come in and we'd--we'd buy twenty dollars worth of DVDs or they would cook rice and--and--and lamb for us, and, you know, there would probably be some type of economic, uh, incentive. But I couldn't, I couldn't get past that. And 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--of the mission itself but for the, for the morale 104:00and for the confidence of the unit because that was something that--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 his--from the federal government or from the OGA or ODA or whoever's--whoever's paying him, but he's probably turning around and--and giving information about, oh, well, uh, they're--they're--they're rolling out right now without this, or, you know, uh, there's a--there's a six--six-car, um, convoy leaving right now, or, a six-truck convoy leaving right now, or, you know, um. so--and it had--it had to happen--so


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

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 last 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 106:00a road and have one blow up behind you. You don't, you don't train for that, so the training, the training is--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

ABNEY: So had you, you got out of the military. You--had you always planned on staying in or had you planned on

GAYHEART: Like I said, like I said, my, my grandmother sat me down right after boot camp, right after I was in the 107:00fleet for a little while and said, "Go officer. You need--that's where the money's at. You'll get your education." And I seriously considered it. I had always made uh--I had always made my education a priority in the--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--when I was in Okinawa on a--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. Uh, 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 108:00received my psychology and biology credit in Afghanistan in-between missions. I would--it was a correspondent program. It was a pilot one that was, uh--I was the first person to use it overseas apparently. Uh, 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, like I said, a lot, uh, in-between missions, but the, the other side, the other--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 109:00know, midnight, and the Afghan Special Forces would operate at night. And there was this Russian tank that they would run fire missions from. As they were out--as the Special Force, Af--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 something that, that took a lot. I don't think I would have been able to finish it if I didn't have the discipline


ABNEY: So you were a combat student, then too, 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 'cause, well, you know, it probably would have been like, like; classes? What are you doing? And especially the--the mindset that the Marine Corps always wants you to be in; mission ready all the time. Eat, go to sleep, think about the 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

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

GAYHEART: No. (laughs) Um, I mean, it--it got me in the--it got me in this, this routine of studying under extreme circumstances or 111:00under really uh, 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--that discipline, that discipline carried

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

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 112:00a hundred percent of your books, and I knew I was getting the MGI Bill, so I took that job, third shift. And I worked in operations planning, basically a bean counter, data input, and, um, I would go to work at--and mind you I--I--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--I think I wanted to be away from, from the mainstream. I wanted to kind of transition and adjust myself, so my schedule became I would go to work at ten o'clock at night until three o'clock in the morning and then I would go home and sleep from three until s--eight and I would go 113:00from class from eight until five o'clock in the afternoon. And then I would sleep from five to ten, and I did that

ABNEY: Were you even, did you even have time to--


ABNEY: --to make any type of interaction with any of your

GAYHEART: No, and I think that's why I did it. I think that's why I did it. I mean, there were--there were some classes that I had taken that it--it required me to be engaged 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 114:00while 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, why--just general conversation, and I would tell them, you know, "I was in--I was

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

GAYHEART: Well, if you've ever heard a conversation that a combat veteran has or 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 115:00veteran 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--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 to how--knew 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

ABNEY: So what are you majoring in now?

GAYHEART: I'm actually a graduate, uh, of the University of Kentucky 116:00with a bachelor's in marketing and telecommunications, and I'm currently pursuing a

ABNEY: So you had a grandfather that you never knew, right, that was a, was an airman, and you--you said what was his

GAYHEART: I'm not sure. Uh, I think he was, he

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

GAYHEART: I want to finish my graduate work, and I've had 117:00a really good experience and humbling experience helping veterans and uh, and im--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 co--go in and out of--students and employees and faculty--that don't bat an eye at some of the issues, 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. 118:00I'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 at the University of Kentucky. And whether it's in a capacity that I'm dealing with veterans or not, I want to contribute towards U.K. because it's, it's 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

ABNEY: Traditionally, there's always been a lack of use of the Montgomery GI Bill by veterans and to pursue a, uh, further education. 119:00Um, with your work, with--uh, that you've done with the UK MVA, um, and you said your--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--or get a job. What do you think that could be done about, about

GAYHEART: I remember going through it, and it was a ringer. It was a check in the box. It was so scripted. Nobody was in it. Nobody was passionate. And what's really, really--really motivating about this, this decade or these--these past five years is that there are some really, really passionate people that are 120:00involved with veterans issues. There are some really passionate veterans that want to help other veterans, and they need to have that mentality when getting out 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

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 big Army, the big Marine Corps, in the big Navy because the transition out won't be that you let your unit 121:00down or that your--you still feel like a rigid Marine or a rigid soldier and uh, and--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 uh, 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, um--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 122:00easier 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--those transition classes, those TAPs that they send you to by mandatory have just become a check in the box and they haven't done anything useful because you--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 would 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--they just teach the stuff just to 123:00get to the end of the day and they don't really engage these Marines and they don't engage these soldiers to, to 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 veterans' transition outside of the military that the military doesn't work harder on trying to--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 124:00and 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 website 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

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


GAYHEART: My name's Tyler Gayheart. I'm from Frankfort, Kentucky. I--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?

[End of interview.]

1."IED" is an acronym for "Improvised Explosive Device."