Ericka Land (EL): “War Song.” When I turn on the radio and I hear a war song thanking me and my fellow warriors for a job well done, as innocent as it may be, I am filled with tears Not tears of joy, but of pain Excruciating pain that punches me in the chest Pain that stems from those horrific thoughts I have When a thank you war song reminds me of other friends I have lost, my heart begins to palpitate See, I’m reminded of the daily fighting dodging many bullets, the ducking for cover from an incoming mortar I’m reminded of all the little kids who’ve been killed Some of them innocently, some as enemies I’m reminded of the strides that I have taken to not be afraid of children, who want nothing more than to shake a soldier’s hand See, I ask you to not sing me a war song Not because I don’t appreciate it I understand that you want me to know that my fighting was not in vain, and not everyone takes what I’ve done for granted I ask you to not sing me a war song because when I hear one, images begin to kaleidoscope, but see, not in that good, amazing, geometric way Images of blood and guts bouncing, collide off each other. Awakening my other senses that won’t, let me forget the stench of charred flesh The way my comrades body parts felt in my hands, the screens of women, men, children, and my fellow soldiers, a light the way the dirt tasted when it’s splattered on my teeth. after that IED exploded and I was thrown to the dirt. See, I’m not I’m not trying to put a damper on thank you war songs But when I hear one, I find myself crying because I’m filled with emotion that whips into my core I’m reminded of all the friends I have lost and how powerless I was I’m reminded of the many women and men I’ve had to watch transition from this world into the next, offering comfort, but nothing more I could not help them in their last hour I could do nothing about being sent to war I can’t do anything about the tragedies that come along with war, but I can ask you to not sing me another war song Tanner Iskra (TI): Okay. Again, that poem was called “War Song” and it was performed by this week’s guest, Ericka Land. Ericka, thank you for coming on Borne the Battle (EL): Thank you for having me (TI): Absolutely. So real quick, I just want to talk about it for a sec. That was a pretty visceral piece And it not only made me pay attention to each word, but each syllable, and each of the tonalities behind it (EL): I’m glad that you did. That’s what I want people to do when they hear my poetry (TI): What was your inspiration behind “War Song?” Was there a song that you heard that spurred the piece? (EL): So I listened to all genres of music and I was listening to some country music at the moment and a song came on that was thanking soldiers for their service And it was a really happy song, but in hearing it, I broke down I was crying a lot. I couldn’t get up out of the bed because it’s burned so many thoughts from the war It brought up all of this pain that I hadn’t dealt with: friends passing away, people I didn’t know, the injuries that I’d seen, and feeling helpless and hopeless And so, I’m pretty sure I picked up a pen and wrote that last letter, explaining everything, you know, why was I going to take my life, but instead that poem came out

And so everything in the poem is true. I’ve experienced it firsthand or secondhand, seeing it and being there, even though it may have been a battle buddy going through it 90% of it I experienced myself. The poem is really lifesaving (TI): I was going to ask you about that You were in the army as a pharmacy tech, and we’ll get into your deployments in a bit But that poem, there was part of it that was about a convoy And I was going to ask you the exact same thing you just answered: are all your poems personal experiences, or are they inspired by fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, people that you’ve met? (EL): 95% of them are about me, or someone directly adjacent I can recall two right now, that are war-related that I’ve written, that were about two other soldiers But it was things that I witnessed with that soldier that they were going through (TI): Got you. The convoy, was that something that you were part of, or something that you had experienced from a friend’s perspective? No, I wasn’t in a convoy in it. It wasn’t actually a convoy We were in Mosul and they used to bomb us a lot. The scenes about the bombs landing next to you, that’s what it’s about (TI): I can totally understand I was in Al Asad Air Base out in Al Anbar province out West, and the rockets and the mortars—I just remember one hit near the cans so close that it just came out like daylight at one point I can definitely understand, and from a rocket and a mortar perspective, going “well, if it’s my time, it’s my time.” Really impactful poem and I’m glad you sent that to me I had a journalism instructor once tell me that your story needs to be able to stop the person who is chopping celery while cooking dinner, and pay attention And your poem definitely made me stop from chopping my celery (EL): Thank you. I wrote it, it’s true. It’s just this story that came out in a way I did not expect. I wasn’t a poet before I wrote it (TI): That was your first poem? (EL): Yes (TI): Wow (EL): And like I said, it was supposed to be a suicide letter. Apparently, I’m supposed to still be here I just wrote it I hadn’t really been able to talk to anyone about it before And so I don’t know if it was just me listening to the music at that moment that inspired it the way that it came out It really opened up that door for me to be able to express myself, which is what I needed at that time (TI): It’s amazing. So let’s get into your service that began this journey What made you join the service in the first place? Where were you in? What year was it? (EL): I joined before I got out of high school So I joined right before 9/11 happened. So I joined, I think August (TI): So you joined the delayed entry program while you were in high school, in 2000? (EL): Yeah. You know, when I went around and I hadn’t thought about it that much, what that really meant, so when it did, when 9/11 came up, it really put things in perspective (TI): What was your recruiters’ reaction to 9/11? Did they bring it up to you guys? How did they bring it up to you? (EL): They did when we would go and do physical training, and tell us that it’s a real possibility that we may go to war But you’re going to be doing a great thing for the country It’s always just a lot of reassurances, and a lot of speeches, that had to deal with that So, it didn’t deter me (TI): The reason I asked that is because I was in the delayed entry program when we invaded Iraq, in ‘03 And I just remember my recruiter calling us all into the mall and we had a little formation and he pretty much drew a line and was like, “You guys understand what’s going on. I understand what I’m asking of you

If anybody wants to leave right now, no harm, no foul.” And none of us did. I just remember that formation, just all of us staying there The reason I asked that because I feel like we have a similar experience, you were in the delayed entry program during 9/11 I was in during their innovation. And I just wanted to know if you had some kind of experience like that So you entered the army shortly after September 11th While you were in during your entire time at service, give me either a best friend or a greatest mentor (EL): It would have to be Sergeant Smittock, who I’d just run into a few times It was kind of like, just encouragement, every time we passed each other Then we were deployed together And then when we came back, we ended up still being friends, and we are to this day (TI): Do you have a story about you and Sergeant Smittock from back in the day? (EL): She is slightly older than I am But you know, she had been in the military And so I don’t think she was a Sergeant at this time, but we met, and I was trying to hang out and be friends, and she was like, “you’re too young to hang out with me.” [laughter] I can’t go and grab a beer or anything like that as like, you know, I’ll see you, I’ll use some encouraging words, but you’re too young to hang out And so now we’re still friends (TI): Do you remember when you were able to finally go have that first beer with her? (EL): It was after we came back from Iraq I’ve never really been a drinker, but it was after we came back from Iraq, because by that time I was over 21 (TI): Gotcha. I think it’s just a little apropos Once you turn 21, you want to have that experience and it’s good that you got to have that with her after so many times saying go home kid, you know? That’s awesome. So pharmacy tech, correct? (EL): Correct (TI): Now while you were deployed, did you stay in the pharmacy or did you have to work in different places doing different things? For example, when I landed in Iraq, I was admin and then we had too many admin guys and they were like, “hey, go work in an S2 for seven months.” So I did Intel work for seven months. Did you stay pharmacy or did you move around? (EL): I’ve stayed pharmacy. Pharmacy is, you know, in the medical corps, so it’s a little bit different Working in a hospital environment, Pharmacy techs pretty much stay contained to that area But when you’re deployed, you have to just do pretty much anything that needs to be done, outside of having doing surgeries on people I just float around and help in that capacity (TI): Gotcha. Gotcha. So with your deployment, did you move around the hospital, other than the pharmacy area, helping out, doing things? (EL): Yes. Wherever there’s medication needed, and we have to keep track of narcotics and everything I’ve gone into the OR a couple of times, and into the emergency department making sure that I was able to dispense the medications (TI): So you had to keep track of the narcotics that were administered to patients in the ER and OR? (EL): Right (TI): Ericka, what was the difference between the first time that you walked into one of the scenarios, and the last time? (EL): I would say it was a transition from shock to sorrow So when we first got there and you don’t know what to expect, you go from fight or flight It was like, “Oh, this is happening. Everything you’ve learned, you need to try to remember and help these people get through, you know, this medical situation.” You don’t know, you know, what’s going to happen You see the injuries, you get a little bit sick from it, but you say, “This is what I am here for I’m okay. I have to perform a job and figure things out.” The sirens are going off

We got there, we arrived in two days later, we had a mass casualty situation, where some soldiers were in a firefight And so we haven’t even fully gotten acclimated to being here on the fob Now we have 10 patients that are coming through the doors And so you have to figure out how to take care of them And so it’s that fight or flight, but then towards the end, you figure out what you’re doing, and you move into having that sorrow, and trying to offer as much comfort to anyone that you can, and not really focusing on yourself (TI): Yeah (EL): You are in the mode of giving everything so that you don’t have to process anything on your own (TI): Incredible. Ericka, when and where did you decide to leave the military? (EL): Actually, when I got injured in that blast, where it fractured my foot extremely bad (TI): Oh my gosh. Run us through that if you can (EL): So we were on fob DiamondBack in the middle of Mosul, in 2005 They were shooting bombs onto the base from the Tigris river And you try to run and take cover after the sirens go off, but one of them landed and it threw me into some rocks on a curb, and my foot caught that and it fractured it But again, with the adrenaline and running around doing everything, you don’t really think about it My bones weren’t sticking out I had my boots on and then after like two days, I knew my foot was really hurting They x-rayed it and gave me a cast. And I just continued to walk on it By the time I came back, my bone healed all weird They had to do surgery to cut the bone out They detached my fourth toe, cut the bone out, put the toe back on and grew the bone back. I pretty much couldn’t run after that So I was medically boarded out (TI): Got you. What year was that for your transition? (EL): I got out in 2009. I had the surgery in 2007, and then I was out by 2009 (TI): So that was kind of right around the Great Recession. What was the transition like for you in 2009? (EL): It wasn’t bad, quite honestly I was in a pilot program that they started, where they were making the transition from the military into the VA system a lot simpler It was fairly easy, and all of the services and stuff were pretty laid out When I got out though, I went to school too soon, after I got out I think that started snowballing everything with the post-traumatic stress disorder I had, and I was exhibiting a lot of symptoms when I first came back, but I never got into a space of being able to heal. It’s been a long, drawn-out process for me (TI): What are some things that you’ve experienced in your post-traumatic stress journey? (EL): We can run the gamut of symptoms, [laughter] every category, you know, I have been through from anger outbursts to having anxiety, depression, lashing out at other people, lashing out at myself, not really caring about anything Feeling guilty about things that happened You name it, I’ve experienced it (TI): What was the catalyst to make you recognize that you had PTSD? To make you take a step back and go, “Yo, this ain’t normal.” Was it somebody else? Was it you? An event? (EL): It was an event I was staying with my friend and a sister and my sister when I came back,

and we were in the car, and I was driving, and we weren’t even that far out of the neighborhood, and I got pulled over My stress level is shot through the roof and, you know, the cop knocked on the window and told me to roll it down and then it goes black And then the next thing I remember is I was sitting on the curb in handcuffs So I don’t know what happened in that timeframe I don’t want to ask them, because I don’t want to rehash things with them But I don’t know what happened And luckily I came out of that situation okay But it was kind of like, how am I on the curb? What happened here? Oh, maybe something is wrong I’ve had a lot of therapy But there were a lot of gaps when I came back that aided this long journey of healing, and me not utilizing all the services were there There were just a lot of gaps (TI): Do you utilize VA services right now? (EL): Yes, I do. I do. And it was contentious at first (TI): Absolutely. I think it’s fair to say that the VA 10 years from now will not be the same VA that it is today I think that’s fair to say And I think it’s fair to say there’s been a lot of progress on that front (EL): Absolutely. Absolutely. And I will say this: as contentious as it has been, the VA has consistently been there I couldn’t be here without them (TI): Is there a service you want to recognize as something that that’s helped you immensely, that some people may not know about, (EL): The art therapy track, like in the mental health division? I’ve had a lot of different types of therapy with the VA But once they started getting me into writing out what happened, into writing therapy and art therapy, that really opened a door for me rather than just being medication-based, or all talk-based I had to be able to talk And so that step was the art therapy and writing it out and processing it that way So now I can go and sit with the therapist and talk to them and verbalize myself (TI): Got you. Got you. I’d never heard that before, that art was a step to be able to talk That’s cool. That’s really cool. So getting into writing, is that how you got to the letter that enabled you to discover poetry? (EL): No, that was after I wrote it and held onto it for a long time And then I decided to share it with someone, and it was very eye-opening for them, because even though I’m struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, so are the other people adjacent to me and around me You may not realize how much they have to deal with it too, their roller coaster, with your PTSD It was like, wow, maybe you should share this with other people too And I did that and then got into programs and was able to start writing it out And then I wrote a poetry book, which was totally unexpected in my life (TI): Well, you are described as a war poet. You’re someone that delves into vocabulary a lot, obviously. What does that term mean to you? (EL): Someone who’s able to channel their war experiences through the tradition of written poetry A lot of different things, to me, are considered poetry, but they’re written traditional forms of poetry being able to, You know, speak on what happened and create that capsule for other people (TI): I haven’t really delved into poetry much in my life, but I think you’re the second person I really sat down and talked about poetry with, the other person being a friend of my dad’s, and we call him the poet of death

He writes poetry for funerals, for people that have died And when he wrote, he may have never even known them, but just talking with their friends and family, he is able to capture the essence of that person in a poem He wrote one for my grandfather and performed it at his funeral. And I broke down Talk to me about the power of poetry that you’ve seen, because you currently, before COVID-19, before coronavirus, you were traveling all over the country Talk to me about some of the power of poetry from your perspective, from what you’ve seen (EL): Poetry is a window into the soul for me It’s a reflection of life Whether that be your life, capturing someone else’s life, or just the nature of life around us And a lot of times we aren’t able to express things verbally and talk to each other Poetry allows me to connect with people, and to realize that I’m not the only one going through this, and there is someone else who may be going through this It’s just a written form of saying all of that (TI): Have people come to you and said, “I know exactly what you’re talking about in your poetry?” (EL): Every time I perform I think that’s because it’s true poetry This has really happened in life It makes people stop and listen because they could experience it, or they know someone that has Life isn’t always rainbows and sunflower fields and stuff like that (TI): Hershey kisses and unicorns (EL): Right. And so it’s a metaphor. It’s a reflection Poetry’s metaphor is a reflection of what’s going on This is a reflection of a soul, and we all have those, and we can connect and it can be lifesaving (TI): Lifesaving in what way? (EL): Opening that door for people who didn’t know they had a voice Or for people who try to hide things and bury them deep It’s a way to say art can be whatever you want it to be, just express yourself When I say I’m an artist, most people think that I paint, and they’re like, what do you paint? And I’m like, no, I am a poet and I write it and I speak it It opens up that door of anything can be art If you love to build engines, engines are a work of art You can do that You can express yourself and just pour it into that, you know, and channel that energy And I think that it can open so many doors (TI): I completely agree. Anything could be an art I look at my profession as a video editor, as an art, of course I mean, look at print, you talk about the spoken word Look at prints, with the artists, right Absolutely 120% agree with you on that I want to get into the business a little bit of being a poet Now I was supposed to interview you in person and I regrettably can’t, but talk to me about the road Where do you go? Where do you want to go? How do you find your gigs? You know, how does all that work? (EL): A lot of time, energy, and determination on my part I’m a dreamer and believed that, you know, if I want to make it happen, I have to do that because at the moment I don’t have anyone else to help me, and I may never have anyone to help me But I need to share my story, so that I can hopefully help in save someone else I book all the shows myself I do a lot of internet searching for theaters, and try to find cheap ones Then I call them and I book them

Most of the time it’s for one day because I can’t afford to do a week theater run for $3,000, but I can get in there for one day for $300 (TI): Are you booking these yourself? You’re marketing yourself You’re just straight cold calling theaters? (EL): Yes, and sending emails. I’ll try to set the tour up I travel in an RV and that makes it a lot easier because it’s just like a tour bus I have all my equipment and everything, and I don’t have to get hotels And not too many flights. So I just look around for areas that have military I look for cheap theaters, all of them in the area, pick one, call them, and ask them if a date’s available, and then just make my way out there So I try to look for festivals and contests, and try to enter those and travel to them (TI): Gotcha. I mean, Ericka, I feel like you and I are a little bit of a kindred spirit When I first got out of the Marine Corps, I was in Seattle and I totally thought about buying an RV and hooking it up as a video editing station and going up to Vancouver, I knew they were making films, and just try to freelance my way in there It’s incredible. You talk about an RV I’m like, “I’ve had that.” I’ve literally had the same idea (EL): Yeah (TI): But you’re doing it. You’re doing it (EL): Yeah. It takes a lot of time and energy, and I don’t have a marketing team I try to send emails to people saying, “Hey, can you come to this show?” You know, sometimes people show up, a lot of times people don’t show up, but I figured that there’s that one person in the audience who I was supposed to read to tonight (TI): Absolutely. 110% (EL): And I do it. Every show I do, someone comes up and thanks me for sharing that story One of my shows in Atlanta, this gentleman was in town from Maryland, and he was 76 years old And he was like, “The things you went through, I went through in Vietnam, and it’s still the same I want to go back and tell the guys in my talk therapy group about the show.” So that’s what it’s about. That one person (TI): We all share the same story How about your partner in crime? How is she involved? Does she help out? (EL): She does. I couldn’t pull it off without her because she runs my tech She is pretty much the roadie, setting the theaters up, packing up the equipment, driving when I’m tired She makes sure I’ve hit all the checkpoints But most importantly, like I said, she sits there and – I have it set up like on a slide show – so she’ll make sure I run it, and make sure that my mics are good, and she switches the mics when it needs to be (TI): Straight roadie. What’s your wife’s name? (EL): Carissa (TI): Carissa. Shout out to all the wives I’m the dreamer like you and I look at the clouds and I dream about what’s in the clouds and my wife will build the ladder That’s my wife, because she’s the ladder builder So shout out to all the wives out there Ericka, what’s one thing that you learned in service – and we ask this from everybody in Borne the Battle – what’s one thing that you learned in service that you carry with you and what you do today? (EL): My life is important to the mission, whatever that is. It’s taught me how to think outside of myself Any action that I take, I’ve learned, is important to everyone else in us accomplishing that mission So what I have to do is tread carefully and make sure that the things I’m trying to do will positively impact what’s going on around me Because quite honestly, before going to Iraq, I was young and selfish, and it was all about me and what I wanted to do And the military, you know, helped me see that it’s not just me in this world (TI): Check (EL): We have to help other people

(TI): Got you. Going back to being on the road, do you charge people to come in? Are you ever sponsored where there’s free tickets for veterans? You’re spending money to go out there (EL): Right. And I give them away for free That’s the one thing my wife is like, “Okay, if you’re going to give the tickets away, maybe we can figure out how to sell some books,” then (TI): So for you this ain’t about the money (EL): It’s not. I’m trying to change my thinking on that because I do have a family, but I didn’t write that first poem for the money, and I realized that my story is other people I go to these places and I give the tickets to veterans Sometimes I might sell them for a dollar to veterans, depending on how expensive the theater is Because I was in a medical field, it’s also geared toward them – the police officers, the people that work in hospitals, the firefighters, they also deal with PTSD. This story is for anyone that has PTSD And I give too many tickets away because it’s a show to help people (TI): You didn’t start this as a business model, you started this as a way to just help you, or help you help others (EL): Yeah. And I’ve been told, like when I did it in Plano, the lady came up to me and she said, “I want you to know something.” She said, “This show is not just for people that have PTSD. It’s also for people who are dealing with that person that has PTSD And it’s not just for victims, it’s for people on the other side of that also.” She was dealing with an abusive relationship and saw how it could be helpful to the abuser She was saying that it’s truly something for everyone, because it’s an honest outlook and I’m really honest These are some of the things that happened It wasn’t all pretty on my end You know, there were things that I was putting onto people and expressing anger towards them because I was hurting so bad on the inside (TI): She said it was therapy for the abuser? (EL): Yes (TI): Wow. So, do you think this is more therapy for your audience, or for you, or both? (EL): Both. Every time I perform the play, I get a little bit better because I’m telling it and people ask me questions about things that I hadn’t processed yet It’s giving me that opportunity to process it, because it’s not just about me going to perform and collect money So I have a talk back in United States, and talk with people as long as I have that theater, about it They can ask me in a gamut of things, I’ll try to answer everything I have my limitations! I let people ask me and try to give them information about what PTSD is The VA has provided me with hundreds of information packets about post-traumatic stress disorder I’ve got magnets from the VA with the PTSD hotline on it (TI): I think sometimes the VA doesn’t realize you give that to a veteran, they’re able to communicate that to even more veterans So there’s a force multiplier in there when you’re able to do something like that That’s awesome to hear Ericka, is there a veteran, nonprofit, or individual that you’ve worked with in the veteran community, that you have an experience with, whom you’d like to mention? (EL): Yes. So the Veterans’ Empowerment Organization is the very first one that I worked with in Atlanta They took a chance on me, walking into their office and saying, “Hey, this is what I’m trying to do.”

And they did not close the door to me They received me as a small donor, as if I were a big donor For this show, I donate to an organization (TI): Carissa is like, great gas money. And you’re like, no. What does veteran empowerment do? What’s their mission? (EL): They help homeless veterans, and they focus on their healthcare, with making sure they get the mental health services, and making sure that they go to the doctors and they offer shuttles back and forth They provide housing They have women’s housing and men’s housing to help get homeless veterans off of the streets And so they were the first organization I partnered with And when I go to each city, wherever the show is, I’ll find a homeless veterans’ program to donate money to them And then if I can’t find one, the fallback is always the Veterans’ Empowerment Organization in Atlanta for me to donate the proceeds of the show to Just so I can help, because there are many times that I could have been homeless and again, either my family, or their VA, or an offshoot of the VA was able to help keep me afloat, to get to the space that I’m in today It’s just my way of giving back and hopefully helping, and I give them tickets to the show I’m like, if you think a veteran is mentally sound enough to come in and endure listening to the story, here’s a ticket for them to come for free (TI): So that’s a way for you to pay it forward. Gotcha. Is Atlanta your hometown? (EL): It is (TI): Figured. I try to figure the connection there (EL): I’m a traveler (TI): Yeah. I feel. I’m from Seattle I feel you the same exact way. Absolutely Ericka, is there anything else that I haven’t asked that you think is important to share? (EL): I really want everyone to find a way to express themselves, and don’t think that you have to follow anyone else’s pattern It doesn’t even have to be acceptable to someone Just do something to channel the energy that you have into something positive I’m a big advocate of art therapy Like I said, that can be anything that you like to do You just want to sit and cut small squares of paper? If it makes you feel good, then you can do that So just try to find ways to be happy every day (TI): Awesome. I might end it there Or do you have a poem that you’d like to go out with? (EL): Mmm, no, no. I wrote a poem Here’s the thing. I wrote a poem. It’s not polished, so I can try to read it for you (TI): Absolutely (EL): It’s not polished, but it’s for…just everyone. First responders, military. It doesn’t have a title yet Strength can’t be measured along the distance of a timeline It can’t be pinpointed to any specific time And I know that you have been a servant of the people for a long time And so I thank you and I ask you to please remember, long before you were a warrior, before you were taught to be Atlas, before you were taught to be their attorneys of power, before you were trained to supply medical aid, before you were equipped with how to put out fires, before you learn how to sanitize the remnants of what’s left behind, you were taught to stand and be the face of adversity To be selfless under Star Spangled Banners To be a quiet ambassador for those in need The elementary part of you knew to be selfless, knew that you would be a servant of nourishment on so many levels Knew that you were going to be the best to do your job, and to be strong enough to navigate circumstances that make us all blue? And so I thank you, and ask you to remember,

to please be proud to wear the rainbow of stripes that make up the servant’s core Because at your core, you are here to make the world go around And even though you work in the shadows, and maybe pass by without being seen, your work behind the scenes is the most honorable fight I’ve ever seen So I encourage you to keep putting up a good fight and I appreciate you, and so does the rest of humankind