Doc Oliver was medically retired as a Navy Corpsman following two back-to-back deployments to Afghanistan. On his last deployment he survived a green-on-blue attack by Afghan soldiers. Now he is a singer-songwriter based out of Central Coast California, playing outlaw country music. On August 31, 2021 – the day the US pulled out of Afghanistan – Doc released his first full-length record “Welcome Home.” It was not a coincidence. The album is an autobiographical record about his life pre-, during, and post-Operation Enduring Freedom. The record was engineered by Grammy winner Mark Rains at his studio Station House in Los Angeles, and Mastered by multi Grammy Winner Pete Lyman in Nashville.
Listen to the Savage Wonder episode with him here.
Follow Doc Oliver here.
“Therapy for Doc Oliver was sitting in his garage with a guitar, a pen and paper, and working on a song. He has quite a bit to write about. The Central Coast-California based Americana singer/songwriter served 2 tours in Afghanistan with the U.S. Marine Corps as his team’s Corpsman, a Combat Medic. He earned the nickname “Doc” from stitching-up wounded soldiers and civilians alike.
Following a severe mass casualty incident in 2012 he was medically retired/ honorably discharged, suffering PTSD after being ambushed, injured by the Taliban, and losing three of his best friends in the event. Shortly after returning home his mother was diagnosed with cancer, and she passed away at age 57, just 2 days after Docs 30th birthday. He uses songwriting as a means of coping with his trauma, and the difficult events he has experienced in his life.
Doc now lives in a small town called Old Orcutt in Santa Barbara County, CA with his wife and three children. In 2019 he released an EP “Helmand”, and two singles “Too Far Gone” and “Vietnam Man” in digital stores. He and his band recorded a full album early 2021 which is his first full length album called “Welcome Home” at the Station House recording studio in Los Angeles with Grammy Award Winning engineer Mark Raines, and Mastering Engineer Pete Lyman. Doc decided to self release this album months in advance when he discovered the US was completely pulling out of Afghanistan by August 31st; the Album was released on that day.
After releasing an EP, 2 singles, and a full-length record in 2020, Doc began realizing that not only was he healing his own wounds, but he was healing the wounds of others. Though Oliver was in the military, his music is relatable not only to the veteran community, but so many more. “The harder the life, the more beautiful the song.”
Lloyd Baggs of LR Baggs was an early advocate, tapping him for the company’s prestigious “LR Baggs Presents” series. When they first met at a concert they spoke about music and the military, Baggs recounts, “Doc sent me a link to a few of his songs the next day, but there was no way I was prepared for what I was about to hear. Within minutes I knew that I was personally going to do everything I could to help him bring his beautifully raw, poignant songs to a much wider audience. After hearing his songs, I hope others will be compelled as I now am to help Doc reach other brave soldiers with PTSD and stitch their lives back together with his moving music.”– Colin Montemarano, American Songwriter 2021:
Anthony Roberts is a veteran of Baltimore and Afghanistan. He currently lives in New Jersey in a home with beautiful views and interlocking fields of fire.
It’s not every 30-year veteran that will leave the military as an equally pedigreed poet. But, with an MFA degree, multiple professorships under his belt and a Pushcart Prize-nominated debut book, that is just what Anthony Roberts is. Articulate, erudite and thoughtful, Anthony and I nerd out on the various forms of poetry, analyze the intersection of sobriety and art, and dive into what brought him to the brink of suicide. From the mechanics of poetry to the beauty of a life well lived, this is an episode you don’t want to miss. You can listen to our Savage Wonder episode here.
Follow Anthony here.
Amy Sexauer is a poet and author of Poppies published by Dead Reckoning Collective. She is a West Point graduate who spent nine years on active duty in Military Police and Psychological Operations units. She is currently in the Army Reserves.
Amy’s debut book, Poppies, covers a lot of ground – West Point, motherhood, war, loss, toxic relationships, femininity, and all the places she’s peed…the list goes on. I could say Amy’s work is unpretentious and brilliantly executed with real insight into so many personal moments and structured in enough of a chronological narrative to make it a page-turner. But what really struck me about her writing was her ability to surprise the reader almost every time with a misdirection or right-turn into a new conclusion or an unexpected summation. She also happens to be a great conversationalist and it was a real pleasure to discuss various aspects of her writing process, her warriorship and her evolution as a writer. You can listen to our Savage Wonder episode with her here.
Follow her here.
Here is a blurb about Mason’s upcoming debut book Rock Eater:
“The Marines are a cult that works. They are a gang that’s lawful.” These words played on a PBS documentary about the Marine Corps while Mason sat on a couch wondering what to do after college. In search of something unnamed, the poems in Rock Eater tell the story of what he found as a Machine Gunner in the Marine Corps. It is a love letter to Marines and a middle finger to everything else. It is an exploration of identity, loyalty, culture, violence, love, hate, loss, addiction, trauma, forgiveness, and healing through poetry. Above all, Rock Eater is an answer to the question, “what happens when a man gets turned into a weapon and aimed at nothing?”
In a crowded field of veteran poets, Dex stands out. Sure, there are not a lot of former Marine MPs writing poetry, but that’s not what sets her apart. And she doesn’t just stand apart because of her eloquent, poignant writing. I think what makes her exceptional is the diversity of subjects she tackles: motherhood, family history, the expectations of being a wife, the expectations of being a woman – and the way they intersect, conflict, or harmonize with her warrior self. Listen to our Savage Wonder podcast episode with Dex here.
Follow her here.
Marshall McGurk is currently on active duty. He has served in the 4th Infantry Division and two Special Forces Groups and is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Leilani Squire is a writer, certified creativity coach, and works with active duty, veterans and their families to help them tell their stories through the written word. She is founder and CEO of the nonprofit Returning Soldiers Speak and a company member of EST/LA where she is also part of their playwrighting unit. She is also a member of The Dramatists Guild.
Leilani helps veterans tell their stories through prose and poetry. She also coaches the stop-and-start creative to find a consistent and fulfilling creative life.
After a 30-year performing career, Leilani turned her creative attention to writing. Her poetry and short shorts have been published in The Sun, Gentle Strength Quarterly, The Taylor Trust and Eclipse. She has been a featured poet in the Los Angeles area and a facilitator at Beyond Baroque in Venice. Her second screenplay was optioned for its edgy subject matter. She has been a juror for The HUMANITAS Prize since 1999. She facilitates a creative writing workshop for veterans at the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration. One of her students placed 2nd nationally in the Personal Experience, Patriotic category for the 2011 Department of Veterans Affairs National Veterans Creative Arts Festival. Her student gave her his silver medal, which is one of the highest honors she has ever received.
Leilani is a CCA Certified Creativity Coach and member of the Creativity Coaching Association. She has been trained in the new profession of creativity coaching with Eric Maisel, Beverly R. Down, Lisa Riley and Sharon Good. She has also completed Eric Maisel’s course in Natural Psychology, a new psychology and philosophy of meaning. Leilani doesn’t have a lot of letters after her name but because she has lived a life in the arts she understands the imaginative and the discursive processes and what it takes to survive a creative life in the arts with balance and hope.
s.p. burke has only just begun to deconstruct and unpack the significant emotional events of a 20-year Army career. Listen to our Savage Wonder podcast episode with him here. I got the sense, in speaking with him, that his writing is just trying to catch a waterfall in a cup and he will be mining his life experiences for years. I was also struck by how nakedly partisan he is about poetry. He is a true aficionado of poetry – not just its poignancy and beauty, but also its form and structure. We talked craft, we talked about how poetry has affected his life, and we talked about his future plans with it. I ended the interview feeling that s.p. burke will be a significant writer for a very long time. It was a privilege to catch up with him and take stock at this point in his journey.
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From his early days in juvie to his time as an Army infantryman to his lonely New Year’s Eve in Guatemala with a missing toenail, Buck has always been a writer and a wanderer. His life has become a seething cauldron of experiences from which he draws inspiration. He is resentful of poetry’s consistent intrusion into his life – not to mention, disruption of his novel writing. Yet, at the same time, he is fully burdened to wring as much writing out his life as he can. A really entertaining, lively, discussion with this prolific Appalachian-American. His first book “Sober Man’s Thoughts” is out right now and it is just the beginning. He has so many projects in the hopper, so many ideas waiting to be birthed, there is little doubt in my mind that he is a writer to watch. Listen to our Savage Wonder episode here.
You can follow Buck here.
Native Rhode Islander and self-proclaimed Renaissance Man, Iraq veteran Benjamin Fortier is a multi-talented writer, musician, and technology geek. He is currently in school (again) studying computer networking and cybersecurity. His day job is in service to his rescue dog, Princess Peppa Pig the American Bully. He is the author of Stones of the Wooded Valley and The Silent Whispers of Omens.
Born to a military family, Natasha Conti is an actor, educator, and story doula living in New York City by way of Montana and Arizona. She geeks out about classical verse, new play development, and inclusive narratives.
Recent acting credits include the Presenter in an adaptation of The Glass Menagerie for English Language Learners; God in a digitally-enhanced production of Carol Ann Duffy’s adaptation of Everyman; Rosalind in a traditional production of As You Like It, as her MFA thesis role; and Miss Stephanie in To Kill a Mockingbird, on an international tour to China.
She has performed in readings of more than a dozen new plays, as part of Montana Rep’s Missoula Colony and elsewhere. She directed and produced a sold-out workshop production of The Book of Us. She taught IB English at a minority-majority high school in Tucson and acting, dramatic literature, and stage makeup at the University of Montana. She is the Director of Education for Forcing Function, which teaches executive peak performance. She has helped edit and develop novels (one of which was named a Kirkus Reviews Best of 2020), short story collections, a workbook, a memoir, and countless essays. She currently writes Postcards From New York, and, at every opportunity, dances Argentine tango and blues.
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Shairi won AITAF’s Bridge Award in 2019 for her play Tampons, Dead Dogs and Other Disposable Things. In judging Shairi’s work, some guy named Tony Kushner called it “…a tough, disturbing, enraging, consistently surprising, smart, very funny and ultimately moving and revelatory play. It’s a powerful, unsparing exploration of the nature of traumatic memory that fully and bravely confronts intractability while discovering within despair an ambiguous but possible opportunity to hope. The writing is rich and vivid, the characters are original and unpredictable, and it’s propelled dramatically, through conflict and action, with a deeply serious purpose. Central to the play is a device that almost never succeeds; I won’t specify what the device is, because flat description can’t do justice to the deft way Ms. Engle handles it or the theatricality and meaning she derives from it. The play is marvelously stageworthy, but it’s also literature, written to be read – that understanding of playwriting is rarer than it should be, and encountering a playwright who gets it is an occasion to rejoice.”
Listen to the Savage Wonder episode with Shairi here.
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Ayman Kafel is a frequent contributor to Havok Journal. He grew up in the shadow of two civil wars – in his native Liberia and his familial home of Lebanon – and came to the US as a refugee. He is a former US Army combat veteran and current law enforcement officer. He is also the host of Project Sapient, a podcast dedicated to law enforcement and military issues, and the Director of Networking for 22 Mohawks.
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Dave joined the Army in 2001 and served in various light infantry units until his separation in 2016. In 2009, he passed Ranger School and was deployed with the Golden Dragons 2/14In, 10th Mountain Division to Iraq. After his honorable discharge in 2016, he attended Suffolk University in Boston where he majored in Finance and now serves as a Financial Advisor with Northwestern Mutual and a financial planning team based in Wellesley, Ma.He currently lives with his daughter, Isabella, and dog Winston in Millis, MA.
After his separation from the Army, David began to notice that more and more service members were taking their own lives and felt compelled to start the non-profit, 22Mohawks. The main goal of 22Mohawks is to bring awareness to veteran suicide. They sponsor multiple events each year that bring veterans and their families together. Their mission is to create and keep the bond between veterans so that everyone knows that they have someone with similar experiences they can lean on. A big part of that bond and connection is lost after separation from the military and believing fully in their mission to reinforce and maintain that sense of community.
Follow Dave here.