8. Zach Iscol
One of Stanton’s first subjects, Zach Iscol, is the founder of The Headstrong Project. Iscol shared a personal story with Humans of New York for the feature, and with a fundraising page set up, hopes the series will send some much needed resources their way.
“Humans of New York represents the best of this city,” Iscol posted. “It’s getting people to walk in someone else’s shoes.”
“I went out for beers one night with my battalion commander– Colonel Willy Buhl. He really cared about us. He was one of those leaders who’d remember the name and birthday of every man in his battalion. So we’re sitting at the bar one night, and we’re talking about all the men we’d lost to suicide. A number of Marines from our battalion had killed themselves since we’d been home. And there had been an especially bad one recently. One of our guys had shot himself with his wife and kids downstairs. Colonel Buhl and I realized that there’d soon be a point in time when we’d lost more Marines to suicide than to enemy action. And I knew we had to do something. It’s an epidemic. Every veteran knows another veteran who’s taken their own life. We have to do better. So I approached a top psychiatrist and public health expert named Dr. Ann Beeder, and I asked her a question: Can we take all the friction out of the process of getting help? The Headstrong Project was our answer to that question. We wanted to create a treatment option with zero cost and zero bureaucracy, so that a veteran’s only challenge was showing up. All they have to do is overcome the stigma of PTSD.” ——————————————————-Zach Iscol is the founder of The Headstrong Project, which partnered with HONY to tell the stories of veterans suffering from invisible wounds. Headstrong has ambitious plans to remodel the mental health treatment of veterans, and has already helped hundreds of veterans. But the organization operates with very limited resources. If you’ve been moved by any of these stories, we’re holding a fundraiser to help The Headstrong Project in its fight against PTSD. Please consider making a small donation. Link in bio.
What captivates so many about the work on Humans of New York is its brutal honesty. There are no filters. There is no framing an issue. There is just a human being on camera with nothing to hide.
(1/5) “My father was a platoon sergeant in the Pennsylvania National Guard. But nobody ever thought I’d join the military. I was too sensitive. I was into painting and illustration and theater. Plus I was a total goofball. I barely finished high school. I didn’t have any direction. I got fired from TCBY for giving out too much ice cream. You’re supposed to scoop a certain amount every time and I was just scooping all I could. So nobody thought I’d join the military. But one day I walked into our living room and there was a kid sitting on our couch. My father was giving him advice about joining the military. This kid was a grade below me, and I barely knew him, but my father’s hand was on his shoulder. And I suddenly felt this territorial feeling. Like he had a connection with my dad that should have been mine. And I wanted that too. So I decided to enlist.”
Most of Stanton’s posts include a short interview with the subject for as long or brief as they are comfortable with. Understandably so, “Invisible Wounds” brings up some of the more emotionally charged stories.
(5/6) “I knew the moment Mark came home. The general was with him. That morning I’d seen on the Internet that two soldiers were killed in Iraq. I immediately walked into the bathroom, and Mark was shaving, and I asked him if he thought it could be Jeff. He told me: ‘No way. We’d know by now.’ So when Mark came back home a few hours later, I knew. I started finding pictures of the boys together, and spreading them out on the table. I kept thinking: ‘The boys are together, the boys are together, the boys are together.’ I think I freaked out General Valcourt. He probably thought I was crazy. But saying those words was the only thing holding me together. The boys had always been so close. They were best friends as well as brothers. They did everything together. They even joked that they’d build their houses together, and share a pool, and share a dog. After Kevin’s death, Jeffrey always told me: ‘Don’t worry Mom. He’s with me. I can feel it.’ All of us kept journals when Kevin died. The grief counselor recommended it. But Jeffrey was the only one who kept it up. He addressed every entry to Kevin. They shipped us Jeffrey’s journal when he died, and the last thing he’d written was: ‘I’ll be in touch.’”
“A majority of my audience is international, and many have strong feelings toward the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Stanton told the Washington Post. “Other people have strong feelings toward the military in general, whether positive or negative. It’s hard to talk about war without bringing those feelings out. But on the whole, I’ve found the comments to be remarkably supportive and civil.”
For many of veterans, a little support goes a long way.
(1/4) “I was in charge of 250 Marines during my second deployment. We were assigned to a district called Sangin. Most of Afghanistan’s poppy was grown there, and the heroin it produced funded the Taliban’s war effort. We didn’t have a clear mission. Our job was to establish a ‘presence.’ We were supposed to make the Taliban as uncomfortable as possible. Our mission wasn’t to take any hills or to kill a certain number of enemy combatants. And that lack of clarity could be frustrating. Guys were getting killed but we had no concrete ways to measure our gains. The best I could do was tell them that our mission was to ‘make Sangin a better place.’ Every day I’d send them on patrols. I’d sit in a small mud room, square like this, with maps on the walls and a radio on the table. And the patrols would call back if they needed support. Some days it was chaos in that room. Multiple patrols would come under fire at the same time and they’d all be calling at once. We lost nine guys over those six months. Dozens more lost arms or legs. Others had serious gunshot wounds. I remember sitting on an ammo canister the day before we left, with my head between my knees, wondering if we’d done anything at all. And a village elder came up to the gates of our base. He wanted to thank us for making the area safe enough so that his village could finally return to their homes. That was the only tangible difference that I’d seen in six months. It was the ray of light I needed.”