Remembering Cooch.


Chris “Cooch” Couitcher  10/12/1982 – 10/18/2014

I really don’t even know how to start this post. I’m usually not speechless, but I can’t figure out how to start this. I’ve stared at this stupid page for way too long, and I figure if I start typing eventually I’ll figure out what to say next. I guess I can start at how I came to this point.

Tuesday I was tagged on Facebook by a Marine buddy. I got the notification on my phone and figured it was something funny, or a crazy video. I was greeted with the obituary of one of the Marines I deployed to Afghanistan with. I saw his face, read the first line and I lost it. I was immediately overcome with emotion, and that doesn’t happen to me. I don’t really think of myself as someone who “loses it”… I can push back my initial feelings nine times out of ten. Really, up until this past summer while filming a documentary for the son of a fallen Marine I can barely think of the last time I cried.

Chris Couitcher or “Cooch” was one of the Marines who was recalled in 2009 to deploy to Afghanistan with us. He was one of those guys who stood out in the crowd not only because of how he carried himself, but his smile. I wouldn’t describe it as a conventional smile, it was almost a smirk but it was a big smirk. The wheels were always turning, and with his sense of humor he was always able to make us laugh during the worst of times. He had deployed to Iraq and since he was one of guys with deployment experience he was a guy we’d look to for advice and he was always happy to help out.

I was a newly promoted Corporal and his was one of the NCOs who led in a sort of unconventional way, a way I tried to mimic. He wouldn’t yell, he’d talk to you like a man, let you know what was up and that would be enough. Unless you really screwed up, anyway. He had a great laugh, and like previously mentioned he had an awesome sense of humor. Down time around him was always entertaining. He could dish it out and take it back. Our deployment to Afghanistan from October 2009 – April 2010 was his second deployment and if you go to war you leave a little bit of yourself there. Once we all got back, the recalled Marines all went back home to try to pick up where they left off. The fact of the matter is, they didn’t even need to be there. They were supposed to stay stateside. This is something that I will never get over.

I come from a long line of military men and women, and I have seen what war can do to those who survive it. It used to be called “Shellshock”, “Battle Fatigue” and even “Soldiers Heart”. Now, it’s called PTSD. Up until this week I hadn’t experienced how deadly it can be. It was an eye opener to say the least and made me truly do some soul-searching. When I was able to finally get a hold of myself, I texted my buddy Nick. He and I were in the same truck during missions, and he was very close to Cooch. I texted him and by his response I could tell he hadn’t been notified yet so I called him. It was painful, but talking to him to helped me and I think it helped him. We didn’t know what happened yet for sure, but deep down we knew. During the filming of our documentary for the film “For Joshua”, Danny and I were going to visit Cooch up in Michigan but our schedule got really tight and we weren’t able to get in touch with him. I can’t think of the “what if” there, but it’s hard not to.

Chris had been struggling with survivor’s guilt and PTSD, and everything else piled up on him. He couldn’t figure out how to deal with it. I don’t consider him weak, or any of that other crap that is stupidly associated with PTSD. Somehow that acronym is thought of in the military community as a weakness. The feelings you have are ignored because there are veterans out there with physical injuries and you down play it. I know I fall into this category. I know I have survivors guilt. How could I not? Everyone from the company I was deployed with has to have it in some form or fashion. Sgt Cesar B. Ruiz was killed less than a month into our deployment and I immediately thought, “Why him? He has a family. I’m single with no kids, why not me?”

If you are a veteran reading this, and you think some of those feelings apply to you go out and get some help. If you have military buddies who you think are struggling, reach out to them. Those who are silently suffering need our help, we are failing them and it has gone of for far too long.

I have got to the point where I feel like I need to do something about the ignorance that comes from PTSD not only in the military community, but just people in general. I’m not quite sure what I am going to do yet, but I promise this… Cooch will never be forgotten.

The route is set!


The basic route - Port Orford, OR to NYC.

The basic route – Port Orford, OR to New York City.

In a week from now, on May 16th Danny Sousa will fly out from NYC to a little airport in North Bend, OR. On Monday, May 19th we will pick up our rental car and our first interview is scheduled for the next day. We would not have been able to do this without the support of each and every one of you. Those who donated and bought t-shirts have enabled us to create something for the son of fallen Marine that will last forever. There are 35 Marines on board to be interviewed! We intend to share the legacy of Sgt Cesar B. Ruiz with as many people who will listen, and probably some of those who might not want to listen.

This film started as an idea I had in 2010, and it has slowly evolved. Once Kimberly Ruiz gave me her blessing the wheels were put in motion. I am lucky enough to have an amazing team working with me. Danny Sousa is the lighting/audio/video editing guru and will accompany me during this 10,000 plus mile trip. Tim Orendain is definitely the man behind the scenes and I am very thankful for his help and guidance. Mark Berrier is a Marine veteran who will provide the narration for this film and was the final piece of the puzzle. Our team is an all Marine crew and I think that is important for this project. Maybe that alone will change the preconceived notions people have of Marines.

It hasn’t been an easy journey getting to this point, but for the most part we have got here without that many bumps in the road. The good has most definitely outweighed the bad or difficult. I was able to meet Kimberly and Joshua Ruiz in February and it was nothing short of amazing. I am also the photographer for the incredible book Kimberly is writing. It tells the story of the sacrifice the children of fallen military members go through and I am very proud to be able to help Kimberly with it.

If we can educate and inspire just one person through our film we have succeeded. I’m not setting the bar that low though.

Please visit http://www.for-joshua.com for more on this project. If you are a military widow with children, please visit the website for the book Kimberly Ruiz is writing http://www.forgotten-sacrifice.com

It’s Super Bowl Sunday and the Indiegogo pitch is live!


Good Grief Camp - Ft Hood, TX

Good Grief Camp – Ft Hood, TX

For Joshua – Indiegogo Please share!

I had intended on waiting a bit before I “went live” with our indiegogo pitch, but in just a few short days it was obvious that there was indeed an audience for the film. We don’t really need a ton of money. Between myself and Danny we have everything we need with the exception of audio and lighting equipment. The rest of the funds contributed will go towards travel costs. I am 100 percent confident we can film, edit and finish this movie for $5,000. That’s a drop in the bucket in comparison to what the final product will accomplish. Especially on Super Bowl sunday when millions are spent on silly commercials.

What will “For Joshua” accomplish? It will provide Joshua with a new way to get to know his father. It will tell the story of a Marine who had deployed to Afghanistan once, was honorably discharged and then was recalled to deploy again. He had the option to not deploy, but a Marine like Sgt Ruiz doesn’t do that. “For Joshua” will tell the story of the Marines who served with Sgt Ruiz and how they are dealing with life after war. It will serve as a stepping stone to talk through any PTSD or survivors guilt they are experiencing.

This is the kind of story that could have been told since the very first casualty of war. The Ruiz family is every military family that has lost a family member. They celebrate holidays, birthdays, life events all the while with an emptiness that is always there. A family member they love and miss every single day. Unfortunately we cannot fill that void, but our intention with this film is to keep the legacy of Sgt Ruiz alive and honor his sacrifice. Those who had the privilege to know him won’t forget him.

If we make this film a reality, you won’t either.

The new mission.


The Route

If you are a regular reader of my blog you know the story of Sgt Cesar B Ruiz. If you aren’t please take the time to read the linked post and then come on back here. – What Halloween means to me.

Welcome back! This will serve as the first of many of my behind the scenes/work in progress posts about the film myself and two other Marines are working on. It is titled “For Joshua” and has been something I have wanted to do since I made my first post here about Sgt Ruiz. I was surprised by the feedback from the 2012 post and thought if I can get people talking about a blog post in this day and age then I could potentially bring Sgt Ruiz to a different medium and a larger audience.

After that first entry I was able to connect with Mrs. Kimberly Ruiz. I kept thinking about how I would go about creating this film and once I received her blessing I knew this was a project I had to give my all. I reached out to two Marines who have a background in film that I deployed with and they jumped on board immediately. I then sent out messages to those Marines I am still in contact with and the response was amazing. I was a little concerned that it might be hard to convince them to be interviewed but it definitely was an easy sell. Suddenly there was nothing standing in the way of taking this from a thought to reality.

The basic premise of this documentary is to tell the story of our deployment, Sgt Ruiz and life after the Marine Corps. The majority of the Marines have served out the length of their enlistment, have transitioned back into civilian life and are now scattered throughout the US. The film will be dedicated to Joshua Cesar Ruiz and we hope it serves as a way for him to learn about his father from the Marines who served with him and to share our experiences with the viewer.

I have since set out to give the film an online presence. I created a website, a Facebook “fan” page and also a project entry on FilmBreak. That was just a few days ago and I have already received numerous emails, most of them from the widows of military members and it reminds me of how much of a duty and now what I would consider an obligation to do this right. After creating a list of the Marines who have committed to the film and their locations I put together a rough estimate of the route we will take. My right hand man, Danny Sousa lives in Mt. Vernon, NY and will fly out to me on the Oregon coast. Once Danny arrives we will rent a car and hit the road. Our route will take us through at least 30 states and we will cover a minimum of 9,800 miles. Production will begin in the middle of May and we estimate it should take about a month.

Danny and I became friends in 29 Palms in the Mojave Desert in California during pre-deployment training in 2009 when we bonded over hip-hop and baseball. He loves import cars and the New York Yankees. I drive a 1970 Chevrolet truck and am a die-hard Atlanta Braves fan. Normally, that would make us pretty much polar opposites. I risk sounding very cliche here, but we are brothers in arms. In Afghanistan we were turret gunners during security convoys. That was our mission then, now our mission is to create this film. No matter what it takes.

Here are a few links relating to the film, please feel free to share and get the word out.

Official Website – For Joshua

For Joshua – Facebook Fan Page

For Joshua – FilmBreak

The newest Greatest Generation.


On Veterans Day I do like most and I think about those who have served their country. I come from a very long line of military men and women. My father, sister and myself all signed up. On both sides of my family there are more veterans than not!

The generation of men and women who fought during World War II are commonly referred as “The Greatest Generation”, and I don’t think anyone can really dispute that. Japan attacked and America fought back. There are unfortunately only a few of them left to pass on their experiences and knowledge. Those veterans who fought during all the other conflicts after the end of World War II and Vietnam definitely do not get the recognition they deserve.  You just have to know a little bit about the battles fought in Korea and in Vietnam and I think you’d agree. The troops who fought in Korea are largely ignored, and the Vietnam vets were treated absolutely terribly. America owes them a huge apology every day in my opinion. 

However, I do think that the current generation of those who volunteered after the attacks on September 11th are the newest greatest generation. The numbers were down. Those who were currently enlisted in the military in 2001 with combat experience was very low since Desert Storm was the most recent conflict. Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan began October 7th, 2001 and Operation Iraqi Freedom started March 20th, 2003. One major difference with this war? It has been televised. The media coverage started on day one and continued with embedded journalists. The horrors of war were no secret, it was all happening in real time.

Young Americans stormed the offices of recruiters after September 11th. Those who had recently been discharged signed back up. They knew why they were signing up, what they were putting on the line and they did it without hesitation. There were rumors of a draft, but it never happened. It didn’t need to happen. These men and women went to boot camp trained to go to war and they continue to this day to do just that. 

They are the newest Greatest Generation.

 

What Halloween means to me. (2013)

Running is supposed to hurt.


I’ll start off by saying I have had quite a strange relationship with running. I was born on the Oregon coast and grew up on a 30 acre farm. I ran everywhere. I don’t remember being sore while I ran. I remember loving the feeling of just simply running. If I was up the river, I was barefoot and running up and over the rocks. I played baseball and I stole many a base. Speed and my ability to run was something I was very proud of. My parents weren’t able to afford expensive shoes so I had basic shoes growing up.

In 2005, I was a passenger in a car accident and broke my left leg. Five months later I was at Marine Corps boot camp and that’s when my hatred for running began. I’d say it’s pretty much human nature to really dislike being forced to do something and being forced to do something that causes pain is especially annoying. While I would run my left foot would go numb after a mile or so and then I would get terrible shin splints and lower back pain. Not knowing much about the cause of my pain I bought a running shoe with the largest heel I could find thinking this would help. Of course, it didn’t. When I brought up the extreme amount of pain I would be in I was actually told “Running is supposed to hurt, just push through it”. Eventually I found the Nike Free and was surprised at how much they helped with my numbness and shin splints but my symptoms didn’t go away completely.

Somehow I stumbled upon Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and it was an eye opening read. It made me think about how when I was young I had basic shoes with no heel support and I could run with no pain. I started researching minimalist shoes and the premise behind the whole thing was so simple! Our feet aren’t made to sit in a shoe with a huge heel. When I ran I relied on the shoe to tell me what my foot was designed and was supposed to tell me. I was listening to the shoe, and my body hated me for it. In theory I was convinced. I read reviews, watched videos and finally decided on a pair of Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon LS. The first time I ran in them it was amazing. Breath of fresh air, a whole new world and any other way to describe something so eye opening.

If there is anything negative I can find about the FiveFingers it is that I can’t wear them for any official PT sessions in the Oregon National Guard because as the order goes they “detract from a professional military image”. I can’t ever see myself going back to the high heel “conventional” running shoe so I have a pair of New Balance MR00 Minimus Road shoes on the way that should fit the bill perfectly. Since wearing the FiveFingers on an almost daily basis my knee and lower back pain is much more manageable at the end of the day and I suddenly have a healthy hobby. I used to hate running.

I followed the advice of those online on forums and Vibram and took it slow at first. I concentrated on my form and in no time I was I was striking with my forefoot and not my heel. I felt like I was ready and this morning I went on a 4 mile run. The only thing that forced me to turn around was the combination of a February morning on the Oregon coast and a lack of a decent pair of running pants. On the run I felt great. No shin splints. No numbness. No back pain. Just running in the early morning as the sun came up with David Bowie in my ear from my iPod.

Running isn’t supposed to hurt.

Quit Complaining.



The past few days I have seen more complaining by adults than ever before. If you were born in the United States, you have it good. If you can complain on social media, you have it good. There are way more people who have it worse, so be thankful for what you have. Can it be better? Yes, of course. It can always be better. The USA isn’t perfect. No country is, but we have it so much better than the rest of the world. People get so wrapped up in these complaints they lose sight of how great we have it.

I was raised middle class in a rural area. My parents had to struggle sometimes, but they had the opportunity to succeed because they had one real large advantage. That advantage being that they lived in the United States. The women in the USA have rights. They can go to school, vote, run companies, hold office in government and much more. In other countries young girls have to worry about acid attacks, rape and being killed just for wanting an education. It has been reported that approximately 61 million school age children are denied education.

Recently the world was introduced to Malala Yousafzai. All she wants is an education, and the opportunity to become a doctor. She was attempting to help other girls go to school and was shot by the Taliban. A little girl with dreams of an education and a career is enough of a threat to these cowards that they have to attempt to assassinate her. Fortunately, they failed. If you live in the USA imagine this happening to your Mother, or sister. We take these simple things for granted.

November 10th is Malala Day. Everyone should honor this very brave young girl. A girl who stood up for what she believed in when so many were afraid. She didn’t complain, she took it upon herself to do something about it. Thats what makes her the true definition of a hero to me.

Instead of dwelling on the bad, take time to think about the good. No problems were ever solved just by complaining. Complaining is easy. Doing something about your problems is much harder. I guess thats why complaining is so popular in the United States?

If you want to know more about Malala I urge you to watch this video the New York Times put together.

What Halloween means to me.


This is something I have thought about writing for awhile, but couldn’t really bring myself to sit down and put together. It’ll probably take me a couple days to finish it. I know I will write, take a break and then write more.

It was in 2009 that Halloween totally changed its meaning for me. Before that it meant what it means for so many other people. The candy, pumpkin carving, scary movies and basically, a good time. I was deployed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan from October 2009 – April 2010. If you have read my blog before, you may or may not know that. I was enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and was a machine gunner with a security company.

We left the US on October 2nd and after a few stops arrived at Camp Leatherneck where under the cover of darkness we flew to Camp Dwyer. There is a transition period of the changeover of units and it took a week or so before anything significant could happen. My platoon was one of the first to go out on a mission and we did that mission for two weeks. I took it upon myself to write notes while I was deployed and put them together here when I got back. You can find that entry farther down my blog. I’ll quote part of that in a bit.

When we arrived back on Camp Dwyer the first Marine I ran into was Sgt Ruiz. He gave us all hugs, shook our hands, asked how the mission went and we BS’d about what we missed while gone. I remember asking him about the World Series and football. Here are a few quotes from the earlier mentioned notes –

“Well, yesterday was the first really bad day for us here. It was all a very surreal thing how it all played out. I woke up around 0800, went to the head and on the way back ran into a friend of mine. He was all geared up and he said the other section in his platoon got hit, so they were headed to the motor pool. About 20 minutes later we were told anyone with O positive blood needed to head up to give blood. After that rumors started flying and we weren’t sure what to think.We knew it was an IED hit, and the Marine was on foot when he was hit. Around noon we were told the news. Sgt Ruiz was on a sweep team, searching for IEDs when he stepped on an anti-personnel mine. Everyone did the best they could, but the damage was too extensive and he died. He left behind a wife and a 14 month old son. He was an IRR Marine, meaning he served his contract and when Bush did the “back draft” he was recalled back to duty. Sgt Ruiz was a great man, and very well respected. I really don’t think anyone could say anything bad about him. When we came back from our mission he was the first person I saw from Security Co. He greeted us with handshakes, saying how glad he was that we made it back, asking how it was, etc. I never saw the man not with a smile on his face. A memorial is planned for next saturday. Less than a month, and one Marine dead. Six months to go? We had the memorial for Sgt Ruiz and the whole thing was very surreal. They were recording it so that his son when he got old enough would be able to see it. It was also determined later that all the recalled Marines were not even supposed to be in Afghanistan. They were only supposed to take the empty spots from Marines who were deploying and stay stateside.”

Reading that isn’t easy for me. The death of Sgt Ruiz is the reason Halloween changed for me. I have a hard time celebrating such a silly holiday on the death of such a great man. I think about his family. How his son will never get to go trick or treating with his Dad. It sounds cliche, but if you were around him you couldn’t help but be affected by his great attitude. He was a shining example of what a Marine is. A great leader, mentor and all around stand up guy. He had already deployed to Afghanistan and could have opted out of the recall. He didn’t do that. He knew the dangers and went anyway. He was 26 years old, and any time someone dies that is younger than me I always wonder why.

I will remember that day for the rest of my life. I have never felt so sad, angry and scared at the same time. While we were getting briefed later that day one of my best friends turned to me and said, “Shit, man… we haven’t even been here a month.” It was an eye opening statement, and the deployment wasn’t near as exciting or fun as it had been. It was for real.

I’ve been told by people when I explain to them my reason for not wanting to party or whatever on Halloween to lighten up. I won’t lighten up. That train of thought is just about the stupidest thing I can think of. I will, however never forget the man. I will do my damnedest to tell other people about him.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Banksy –

“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.”

Sgt Cesar B. Ruiz, I promise to not let your sacrifice be forgotten.

“Don’t take my fucking picture!”


Most street photographers have probably heard some form of the title of this post while out and about with camera in hand. Recently I was on the receiving end of a verbal lashing that seemed to be scripted by the likes of Quentin Tarantino. I won’t tell this story in his style though. I will start at the beginning!

While visiting the Southern Oregon coast (the area I grew up in) word of a man with his dog pushing a huge world down the highway traveled fast. Sightings of him popped up on Facebook friends pages and in local newspapers. On Sunday, the 22nd my sister, her boyfriend and I were travelling north toward Bandon, Oregon on Highway 101. We had seen him on our trip down towards Port Orford and had planned to stop on the way back north.

About 6 miles from Bandon we saw him stopped, taking a water break. I introduced myself, and asked if I could ask him some questions and take a few pictures. He agreed, so I began to ask him the basics. Eric Bendl has walked all over the United States with his dog and the huge world. He does it because he lost his Mom to diabetes and it’s his way to raise awareness for the disease. This trip started in Seattle and will end in San Francisco. He is a very polite and humble man, with a great sense of humor. He told me a few of his stories from his recent trip through Coos Bay/North Bend and explained the story of the world and it’s construction. Canvas, a water bed mattress and a ton of paint.

His dog, the aptly named “Nice” is one of the most well behaved animals I have come across. I began to shoot pictures of Eric, his dog and the world when a woman drove up in a minivan. I attempted to move out of her way but she stopped right in front of us. She got out of the car and asked what we were doing trespassing on her property. Initially I thought she was kidding. Boy, was I wrong. She then started to walk towards Eric and started screaming obscenities of all sorts. She threatened to call the Sheriff and get us thrown in jail, and then went back to the obscenities.

Let me take a moment to give a quick little background of myself if this is the first time you have read my blog. I am a former United States Marine and I spent my enlistment as a Military Policeman. That job gave me the opportunity to interact with a wide variety of types of people. I have a pretty solid grasp on local and state laws. I also know my rights as a photographer, and I always say I have a pretty good amount of common sense. I tried to explain to her that we were indeed on public property because we were standing on the shoulder of Highway 101, but we would move. This only infuriated her more and caused her to switch her tirade upon me.

At this point I shook Eric’s hand, wished him safe travels and thanked him for his time. He turned, and continued on down the road. She began to walk towards me and call me every name under the sun. I was using my Sony a77 and was holding it in my right hand. I then moved the camera to my chest with both hands. When she finally noticed the camera that’s when she used the quote in the subject line. I was raised to treat people how I wanted to be treated, and I find this to be a very good way to live. I also try to put myself in someones shoes and decide if the way they are reacting makes sense. I blame my parents for that. That being said, some people were not raised that way and this woman was a shining example of this. I can’t speak for what was going through her mind, but she was treating two total strangers in the most ugly way she could.

I switched the camera to burst mode, raised it to my eye and held down the shutter. The Sony a77 is capable of something very amazing. Twelve full resolution, 25″ x 16″, 24.3 megapixel raw shots in a second. Inside the camera a dizzying whir of technology occurs and the photographer is greeted with the very satisfying sound of the shutter going to work so fast it is amazing.

Yes, she told me not to take her picture. My usual reaction when someone says this to me is to comply with their wishes. I don’t have to, but I do usually. In this case, I felt that I needed to document her. To document her ugliness, and I don’t mean how she looks. It wouldn’t have mattered if she was a bikini model straight off the pages of the SI Swimsuit issue. There was no reason for her to treat us that way and I wasn’t going to give her a pass. After I took the photos I told her to have a wonderful day and we left. I will be mailing her a print of the photograph and will thank her for the experience.

I was amazed that I was able to meet two people that were on the complete opposite of what I would call the “Humanity Spectrum”. That woman is a perfect example of the completely wrong way to treat another human being. I could come up with reasons for why she would get to this mindset, but I think the story and image of her does a good enough job.

Eric Bendl is a fine example of a great person. He has experienced tragedy and is using it to fuel his passion for life. What he is doing is something that I consider very inspirational. The short meeting we had has caused me to think about the things in my life and how I would try and raise awareness for them. I have been in email contact with Eric and the advice he has given me and his experiences are helping to give new meaning to these ideas.

That is all it takes to take the inspiration you get and turn it into your passion.

Connect with people. Listen to their experiences. Treat them how you wish to be treated.

Simple, right?

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