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Re-Defining a Life After Fighting the Taliban

Short Stories: “Soldier’s Things” (OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO PREMIER)


By Dominick Farinacci

“I dreamed of eventually being successful not only professionally, but as a father and husband. The issue was, as I looked around, there was no example being shown. For a time I could only find handouts, when what I needed was a hand up.” — Jaymes Poling, 82nd Airborne Division

As a performing artist, I’m fortunate to travel all over the globe. Through the years, music has gone from something that was just fun to do to as much a part of my life as breathing. It’s become increasingly clear to me that it has the power to bring people of different walks of life together, to help foster a deeper understanding of each other, to bring comfort to those going through a difficult time, and to shine a light on an important topic. These experiences are the culmination of a new series called Short Stories — bringing together music and real life stories to encourage dialogue around an important message in our society.

I’ve spent the past six months getting to know Staff Sergeant Jaymes Poling, a former infantryman with the 82nd Airborne Division, who served three tours in Afghanistan. I learned about him through a mutual friend around our hometown of Cleveland, and wanted to hear his story and what it was like returning home after being on the front line fighting the Taliban.

What prompted this curiosity was hearing a song called Soldier’s Things by Tom Waits from his 1983 album Swordfishtrombones. Instantly it emotionally immersed me in a world I knew nothing about. I was working on recording my own version and wanted to know everything about what the lyrics meant. They portray a soldier coming home from war, gathering all of the things that were once a part of his life and putting them in a box saying, “Everything’s a dollar in this box.”

The first time I met Jaymes, he talked for seven hours straight about his experience, and I got to know what an intelligent, humble, caring & well-spoken young man he is. His story is complicated: it’s sad, bittersweet and heartbreaking, yet told through the lens of unflagging optimism. To me, these were the precise qualities I heard in the song itself.

As I learn more about his world and become aware of my interaction with him, I look at that box the lyrics refer to as a metaphor for various challenges around a soldier returning from war: the box around military culture of not talking openly about struggle, the box ordinary civilians (myself included) sometimes unintentionally put veterans in by not knowing how to interact with them beyond saying “thank you for your service,” or the clean-cut ‘damaged veteran’ box our society and media often put them in.

The night we met, we were both at first hesitant. I was nervous about what to ask (or not to ask), and he didn’t really know what my intentions were. The next morning we mutually agreed to collaborate in telling his story and putting forward a different message:

“When I left the military at 26, I was entering a society that I hadn’t been a part of since I was 17. I was tough, calloused, overconfident, and stubborn. These qualities made me a successful fighter in Afghanistan, but now I had a different fight if I wanted to find success again. I dreamed of eventually being successful not only professionally, but as a father and husband. The issue was, as I looked around there was no example being shown. Instead there were individuals ready to tell me that it was okay that I was struggling, and that people would understand. It wasn’t their fault. Everywhere you look veterans are either valorous heroes, or objects of sadness. I couldn’t find any middle ground in the media, no healthy example or any open-minded discussions. For a time I could only find handouts, when what I needed was a hand up.”

This music video is a glimpse into Jaymes’ journey once he returned from Afghanistan. Every scene in the video has an in-depth and nuanced story to it that gives real insight to the complex nature of his journey. Amidst unimaginable adversity, he has stepped up to help fellow veterans in meaningful ways while finding his own way. We’ve decided to begin a monthly series sharing Jaymes’ stories. On my side, I want to share an artist’s experience of getting to know him and hearing these stories as someone who comes from a very different place, and down the road compose a ‘suite’ of music built around each chapter.

Through this transparent collaborative series we hope to break through the various ‘boxes’ that have been built on both the veteran and civilian sides in an effort to motivate a constructive and empathetic dialogue culminating with better support for returning veterans.