I went to high school with Keith Johnson. We were in the same Mennonite youth group together. After he went to school for awhile, he decided to enlist in the army. Keith just returned from the war in Iraq and we talked about his experiences there and what he’s planning on doing next. This conversation was recorded on February 7th 2006.

So, are you recording it?
Can you give me some time before I answer questions so I know what I’m going to say?
Sure…well, it should come naturally.
It won’t if I know I’m being recorded. I’ll be all nervous.
Well, I’ll turn it off.
When I was, we had to call in rounds…
You had to what?
When the radar picked up rounds, we had to call it in on the radio. Even though there was no one there I knew there were people listening and I still got nervous and I got tongue-tied.
What did you call in about?
Counter fire. Counter fire, counter fire, counter fire. Target number. Yankee, Yankee. We send it over the net to the gun line.
What’s the gun line?
Uh, cannon…artillery.
So did you only work inside the compound? You didn’t go out and do work?
Not much actually.
Did you carry a gun.
Yeah, I carried my M-16 to church. With 30 rounds.
Really? You carried that wherever you went?
Even if you were in a radar station underneath a desk, you would have your gun nearby.
Mmm-huh. It was always on.
Did you have a bayonet?
I didn’t. I didn’t get issued one. Other people did but I didn’t. I just had a gun. My drill instructor and basic trainer had stabbed somebody so hard that the rifle, it went in up to the front sight post. That far. It got stuck.
How do you get that close to the enemy?
That’s when you either run out of ammunition or hand to hand combat.
I didn’t think they even did hand to hand combat anymore.
Sometimes you get into a lot of trouble. When you shoot the wrong guy you’ll here on the news these soldiers getting into trouble. And somebody’s got to take the blame. The Army will, it depends on the situation, but they will help, it’s not like you going and committing murder. Unless it’s intentional. And they prove it. There’s a lot of times where in a split second…you know…I shot a grandma in training.
A fake person?
Yeah, it was a silhouette in a building. Steel containers.
When you were over there were you just thinking about being there? Were you living in the moment or were you looking forward to coming home?
My job was a lot of boredom and not much excitement.
So you were looking forward to getting back?
Yeah. The most excitement I had was we chased a dust devil. They are big over there. We chased it across…its all desert, even our post. We chased it across the open field. It was a big ball. I was sitting in the bed [of the truck] and I was flipped up and landed on my back. That was one of the funnest times.
That was sort of like a mini-tornado?
When you were over there you were just thinking of coming back here and getting an apartment, getting a car…
Buying a farm. Getting animals and tractors.
So your parents have a farm?
I grew up on a farm. And I was thinking about organic farming.
Oh really?
Yes. But I think you have to let the ground sit for three years. I was thinking about goats or sheep because the ethnic people, my dad told me, I didn’t know this; the sheep is the most milked animal in the world. So there’s a lot of foreign people from the Middle East who are over here who would be interested in sheep. There would be a market for it. The vegetables would take a lot of work. And I wouldn’t have the tools or machines to go and pick it. Like tomatoes. That would be a job done with hands.
Yeah, I know a few people up by Goshen who do organic farming and they’re doing well. A lot of them do it form the perspective of living simply. Sort of a hippie mentality. And there are a lot of traditional farmer types who are starting to go organic.
What I’m afraid of is everything is starting to turn. I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of the traditional type of farming. It’s just like everything else; the market is going to get flooded soon. I know that’s what happened with hogs a few years back. The price was really good so everyone started building hog barns so the price goes way down. The only people that could afford to stay in are the ones that are already set up or the bigger corporations can get better prices just with the quantity. And they will be able to produce a product cheaper than anyone else. That’s what’s happening to a lot of small farmers.
Is that what happened to your parents?
Pretty much. And I don’t know what dad was really thinking I guess. I never asked him. I don’t know if he was ready to get out of the hogs. They were a pain.

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