A Splinter Classic: Lance Corporal Jason Poole Talks About Nearly Dying in Iraq, Being a “Geeky Nerd,” and The Punisher
When I first met Jason, I was working as an employee of a politician in Palo Alto. He had recently been flown in from Walter Reed, where he had undergone emergency treatment for injuries sustained during an IED attack near the Syrian border in Iraq. At the time, he was barely able to walk, missing an eye, constantly undergoing surgery, recuperating from severe brain injury, and unable to read or speak a complete sentence.
Jason inspired me to start this compilation because when I first met him, I realized that even though there are tens of thousands of people in my generation who are in Iraq and Afghanistan, he was the first person I’d ever met who’d ever been to either place.
We’re publishing this interview as the introduction to The Splinter Generation because the goal of this compilation is to get people in our generation who don’t usually talk to one another to start listening to each other’s stories. Jason has one hell of a story.
If you would like to learn more about why we call ourselves the Splinter Generation, go here.
When I went to meet him for the interview, I hadn’t seen or talked to Jason in three years. I had called an old colleague, the public relations liaison at the Veterans Administration in Palo Alto, and she had given me his information. He was thrilled to hear from me, and after getting lost, I drove up to the parking lot in his apartment complex in Mountain View, California. I could not believe how much better he looked. He walked without assistance, his speech was so improved I could tell he had a British accent (though he still sometimes struggles with finishing his thoughts), he had grown accustomed to his new body, and still, three years later, he was smiling.
His girlfriend Angela Eastman and her brother greeted me at the door, and we chit-chatted while the three of them ate some of the largest hamburgers I’ve ever seen while talking about John Madden NFL, a football video game on the X-Box. After they finished eating, I turned the tape recorder on.
—Seth Fischer for The Splinter Generation
Splinter Generation: You were born in Britain, right?
Jason Poole: Yeah, Bristol. Even right now, my brother and my dad, they live here in California but everybody else, you know, they live in England. So my twin sister lives in England, grandparents, uncles, aunts, my mom, everybody, everybody lives in England. So I go once every year, uh, to England and just chill out with people.
Splinter Generation: So when did you move to the states?
Jason Poole: To the USA? Actually, um, I was born in England, and I actually stayed in England until I was twelve years old. And actually my parents have been divorced since I was six years old, but we saw my dad like every weekend and actually my dad he got a job with HP (Hewlett Packard) so when we were twelve years old actually my dad and my mom were talking and actually my mom had two more kids with John – this good guy – so basically she had five kids in this crappy house living like that. So my dad, he actually transferred his job from HP in Bristol to HP in California, in Moffett Field. And he took myself, my twin sister Lisa, my little brother David and we came over to America in 1994. So I was twelve years old.
(We go and see framed photos of his friends and family. They are surrounded by lots of other pictures from his life.)
Jason Poole: So that’s the pictures. There I am with my football buddy, there’s my dad, there’s Lisa, my twin sister and myself, after the blast, that’s me being crazy, there’s me and my dad and his wife, um, you know, flipping off the White House. (laughter)
(I notice a huge poster for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson)
Splinter Generation: Are you a fan of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? Did you like the movie or the book or both?
Jason Poole: Well, actually, I’ve only ever read a couple of books. You know, and then I got blasted, and then I couldn’t even write my name, you know. But I read Fight Club, that was good. And I read Clockwork Orange. Oh man, the movie was great. You know, great movie. But reading it’s just WOO! Just amazing. Amazing, yeah. And also I have a lot of comic books because I’m a geeky nerd. I’ll show you upstairs in my room, you’re gonna see I have stacks probably this tall of like comic books.
Splinter Generation: What’s your favorite comic?
Jason Poole: I have, it’s you know Punisher. The bad people killed his mother, you know, his kids, and you know he just turns into a psychopath, you know, crazy good person. And he kills everybody bad.
(We spend the next five minutes having the conversation everyone has had about the new Batman movie – about Heath Ledger’s Joker, Christian Bale’s Batman, etc. I have not duplicated it here for the benefit of the reader.)
Splinter Generation: I know that you were born in Britain, went to Cupertino High School, and then you joined the Marines. But did you join the Marines right out of high school?
Jason Poole: Actually, at the end of school, in June. But then I went to England, and then I came back, and on September 17th, 2000, I joined boot camp. Boot camp, you know, was easier than people think. Because I run all the time, I was very fit, things like that, you know? So they left me alone, you know. But everyone else – well, not everyone, but all the fat bodies, they got, you know.
We graduated from Boot Camp on December the 17th, and we actually went home for Christmas, had good times, and then I was an 0311, which is basically infantry. 0311 is basically groundpounder because, uh, you know all we do is aim, shoot or get shot or bombed or something like it.
Splinter Generation: So you said you joined on September 17th, 2000, that’s almost a year before September 11. How did being a Marine change?
Jason Poole: Well, it’s like this. We were getting ready to go to the field. Do some training, whatever, but then we’re watching TV, you know, as we’re getting dressed. Jahoco, I believe it was, another Marine, was watching the news because he’s really smart, so then he was watching it, and he said, “Whoa, a plane hit the New York, um World Trade Center.” So we stopped, what the fuck? Whatever. And everyone was like what the? And it was crazy. But then the second one hit the trade center and so then we’re watching. And the Gunny said “Alright, guys, stay in your rooms.” And it was like alright cool.
So it was crazy, and then the President, he spoke, and it was like this is crazy, I don’t understand, but we’re going to war (laughter). So uh me and my boys were just like, “Going to war. Going to war boys.” So we’re just like yep, yeah, yeah! Everybody in the Marines was just like yeah, hell yeah, let’s get some war, yeah. And uh, even though everybody was truly scared shitless. But hey. We’re jarheads, so it’s just like yeah, you know.
So we went on like three tours.
Splinter Generation: Was your first tour in Afghanistan or Iraq?
Jason Poole: No, no, it was actually, the first tour was the Westpac, you know, on the ship. So we went to Thailand, Hawaii, Australia, bla blah. So we went and we came back. So then I believe, um, 2002 in December actually we left earlier than the rest of the campaign, than the rest of everybody else. We went early (to Kuwait), so we could stand guard you know? So we were there for a month, month and a half.
Splinter Generation: So you were one of the first groups in?
Jason Poole: Yeah, we were, and then for the next eight months we stormed all the way up from Kuwait to uh Baghdad and then came down to Al Hillah. Killed a lot of people, you know, they were bad people, they were bad people, but yeah we killed a lot of people. A whole bunch of guys, a whole bunch of boys really, but with guns shooting at us. And we put ‘em down. I’m like, uh, now that I think about it, I’m like, damn dude, I didn’t really want to kill all these people. You know, but that’s what they wanted us to do. But hey, we killed their people, supposedly bad people, then we put them down.
But anyway, you know, it was a war, welcome to war, you know. But actually, um, the second tour in Iraq, all the people, were saying “Good American, good American” and I felt damn happy, even though I’m English, you know (laughs).
So good American, good American, so I’m like, yeah, I’m really happy. So then I went home for Christmas, and everybody’s like Yay! I’m so glad you’re back. And I’m just like yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ll be doing guard at Camp Pendleton.
But, I think it was around March 2004, actually. I’m a guard, you know. I’m starting to think about gettin’ out, you know, thinking of the crazy stuff I was gonna do. And the gunny, and he called a formation, and he actually “voluntold” us, you know, “voluntold!” (Points finger). You know, they say, “You are going to Iraq for the second tour.” And I was just like, alright. So, uh, went over for the second tour in Iraq but it was up in, it was very north, northwest, so it was Syria slash Iraq border. But, they truly truly hated us. They were killing Marines, they were killing Army guys every day, you know.
So then we got hit with a massive massive IED, but I don’t remember that one day. I’m glad I don’t remember that one day. It killed the two Iraq guards, and the interpreter, they got killed, and um I was down, I was just saying, I remember this because the gunny he told me later on in hospital, I was just like “Oh my God Oh my God Oh my God” And I was out for about two months, so yeah.
So from there, they called up the helicopter and flew me to um, to um Baghdad, and then they flew me over to Germany, and then they flew me over to Bethesda, Maryland. And then I was in a coma for two months. This is a little weird, but actually, the doctor in Bethesda, they flew my mom and my twin sister Lisa, and my Dad, and my girlfriend. Different girlfriend. Girlfriend from before this all happened.
Splinter Generation: So the Marines flew them over, or did they just come over by themselves?
Jason Poole: No it was the VA, actually. Yeah, the VA at Bethesda. And then the doctor, he said, he was going, well I was in a coma so I don’t know, but he said Jason’s dying. Actually he’s died 40%. 60% is healthy but 40% is dying. And they’re going to try a brand new surgery that they’ve never ever done. They’re going to try. But my family, and everything like that, he told them to uh say goodbye (laughs). Say goodbye to Jason. So they’re all crying, and it’s just I love you.
So I went under for surgery, and two days after, uh, I woke up, you know, so. And uh, they checked my brain and everything like that and it was 100% good. And I was healthy. So that was pretty good. I was pretty happy. So, um, but um, I have these things. I’m deaf in my left ear, I’m blind in my left eye, I’ve got shrapnel all over my body. Um, I’ve got in the left side of my brain is damaged so like reading, writing, spelling, talking. I had to start all over again. I got this one, on my arm, it’s just like a huge huge huge scar. And all this other stuff, you know I got blasted. But the right arm actually is from Germany because a nurse or doctor they injected my veins and they injected it wrong. So it got two to three times too big, and then they sliced it, cut it, and there’s the scar.
But then, after I woke up, I didn’t say anything because I couldn’t talk, you know, or I couldn’t walk because my legs were out for two months. So, uh, actually we flew over from Bethesda over to Palo Alto VA, yeah, and I’ve been trying to make my life, you know, ever since.
Splinter Generation: I have a couple more questions about Iraq, because obviously I’ve never been there, and a lot of people I know have never been there. It seems totally foreign to almost everyone I know. Can you tell me anymore about what your average day was like over there?
Jason Poole: A random day, ok. I wake up at 4AM, you know, and we open up the MRE, you know, we eat it, and then get your clothes on. And then we’re going on patrol. We go out from 5 until yeah, for three hours, and it’s pretty cool, but it’s pretty early, and we’re playing football with little kids, and we give em candy, and stuff like that. And so, that’s cool. So then we came back, you know, to our base, and actually for the next three hours we’re chilling or sleeping or on the internet and stuff like that. But then at twelve o’clock is patrol time. And I think the hottest day, I felt, was 140 degrees. It was sweltering. Of course there’s sand, because that’s all there is, and the heat was just terrible. And many Marines were just a passing out because of dehydration. But of course, I drank plenty of plenty of water. But uh went on patrol. Looked around. Hey yeah, you know, just trying to nicely speak to Iraqis, but of course they didn’t talk to us. (laughs) And so then it was three o’clock so then for the next three hours from 3 to 6 we were doing it, just making everybody laugh and tell jokes so then at 6, you know, patrol again. So basically you’re going on patrol for twelve hours in a day. Each three hours, you know, it’s patrol. So about every few hours was just like trying to get some sleep. Basically, you smoke so many cigarettes because there’s nothing to do. There is nothing to do. In America you can go out, you can play video games, you can play games, you can hang out with your friends, blah blah blah, but in Iraq we were just chilling with ourselves. That’s all we could do, is just chilling with your Marine buddies.
Splinter Generation: Did you get to know any Iraqi people while you were there?
Jason Poole: We knew, like, the Iraqi police, well not police but military, so we’re trying to train them to do our jobs. It was fun. Actually, I think, we went to one of the Iraqi guys, we went to his house, and then we had schwarmas, and then we had, it’s not tea, it’s like chai?
Splinter Generation: Chai tea?
Jason Poole: Yeah, as I say, the Iraqi, uh, Marines, or whatever, they were good people, but everybody else, you know, nobody talked. So that was really bad. It’s weird, you know, it’s weird that we’re trying to defend their Iraq but the people in Iraq hate us and they want to destroy us. But I’m like hey, that doesn’t add up, you know? We are pawns…
Splinter Generation: Are you against the war?
Jason Poole: Now, now I am. After I got blasted, yeah. But actually I thought like everyone wanted the war, but I don’t really want it, but it’s just like voluntold. That’s us, you know. That’s the Marine Corps, baby. Marine Corps … we always have to stick together, so we stuck together.
Splinter Generation: Do you wanna talk at all about the group of men you served with? You said to me once that you were really close with them. I don’t know if there’s one or two in particular you want to talk about.
Jason Poole: Uh, first is Peters. Corporal Peters. Or, we were, you could see that we both went to the same platoon for the second and third tour. In the second and third tour we were just having a great time. Actually, I miss him so much. Actually, he lives in Spokane, Spokane Washington. So we just like talk once every three months, talking like good old days. Actually, Cotton, Kurt Cotton. I think he lived in Louisiana, so we’ll start talking, right now, actually he moved to Oakland. Actually I went to his marriage as the best man. So I have the girdle, you know Cotton’s wife, I have it on my wall, you know? I talked to him online, you know, a week ago. So it was good. But the same things, it’s just like Peters, Mazola, Harman, Jahoco, I’m sorry, a whole bunch of guys they were fantastic. You know (laughs) it’s just like the only thing about the Marine Corps is my friends. My friends are my blood. Perez, and uh, you know, we had good times, and we talked so much shit to each other. And when the shit hits the fan, we are the tightest friends ever. You know, it’s like they’re trying to shoot us, trying to bomb us. We each got someone’s back. Even though when I got bombed, when Peters heard probably five minutes after he started crying so hard. So hard. Because it’s just like your boys are your boys.
Splinter Generation: You described your day in Iraq. While you were doing that, I was working in Palo Alto at the same time, and you know, it’s such a different existence that it almost feels like it’s a different universe. Right? You were waking up at 4; I was waking up at 6. It was the same earth. (We both laugh.) I was waking up at six, driving over Highway 17, going to work, writing memos, working, whatever, driving around, I was dating a woman named Danielle, you know. It was pretty normal. So what would you wanna say to the people who didn’t go through that? Who don’t know anyone who’s in war.
Jason Poole: I probably say, uh, I know these people, and stuff like that, you live a great life, and stuff like that. But the military people that fought in the war, in Iraq or somewhere else, those are some really good people. Or, I’ve already met WWII, Vietnam, or Iraq the first time, it’s like we click. It’s like, “I was a gunner in double u double u II.” And I’ll be like, “I was in Iraq.” And we have such chemistry. It’s just great.
But also I truly, truly don’t like the way my face looks. Remember my pictures, I was a little hot boy (laughs). Muscles, you know, and cute face and everything like that. But then this is my new face. I truly hate it. But especially with the blast and everything like that. IED in my face. My face looked horrible. Actually, all the skin and everything was good, but inside, the bone, it was all smashed up, you know. So I’ve been through seven surgeries for my face, or something like that, so that’s alright. But I believe my face is ok, and that’s fine.
Also, I want to say this, I walk around, and a whole bunch of strangers are just staring at me. You know, because I look a war, fighting. My face is all scarred up, you know. Scars all over my body, you know. And uh, you know, but they won’t say anything. So it’s just like I’m walking past this guy, this stranger, he’ll look at me, he’ll look forward, then he looks at me again, sorry, and then, he walks on. But he’s thinking, “I wonder what happened to his face?” Did he get in a car accident, blah blah blah, but I’m a very open person, so if anybody is just like, “Hey, I was just wanting to ask you a question. What’s wrong? What happened to your face?” You know, I would love to tell them. Just you know, “Hey, I was in Iraq, I was in the Marine Corps, I got blown up, and then it’s me.” You know? And then it’s a lot easier to just tell.
Splinter Generation: So have you met a lot of people who haven’t been affected by the war?
Jason Poole: Yeah, I met Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, you know, I met his wife.
Splinter Generation: Maria Schriver! When was that?
Jason Poole: Um, 2005. Yeah, I’ve got all the articles and blah, actually I’m a superstar. Actually on TV I did like ten times, Fox, ABC, CBS, you know it’s just all of them. And then, on the newspaper, I was probably like 9 times. Of course The New York Times the front page it’s got my face. You know, San Jose Mercury, or San Francisco Chronicle, or everything like that. Or I’ve been on the internet like twice. Everywhere, it’s like superstar, you know. I’m a very humble person, please thank you blah blah blah. Well, when people are like Jason, thank you for blah blah blah. I’m just like, “It’s cool. It’s cool” I feel really embarrassed. But you know, so.
Splinter Generation: I guess my last question is that I read in the Times article that you wanted to be a teacher’s aide. Are you still hoping to do that?
Jason Poole: Actually, I’ve already done it.
Splinter Generation: Oh, you have?!
Jason Poole: Actually, um, I two and a half months ago I saw a bunch of kids at the VA, you know. So I walked in there and said “Can I speak to your highest paid person?” And she said, “Yeah, she’s over there.” You know, so then it was like, she asked, “Do you need some help?” And I said, “My name is Jason Poole. I’m not too sure because I’ve never ever done this before, but uh, I want to be a volunteer and help with little kids and everything like that.” And she was ecstatic and everything like that. Of course she knew me from the newspapers, the tv and everything, and um, you know, it was amazing. Actually, um, the next week I was in there for five year old kids. And five year old kids are so innocent and so funny. It’s great. So, uh, for the past two and a half months I go there on Monday and Friday from nine o’clock until ten o’clock.
And the kids, they love me. As well as staff. Because I’m in the Marine Corps, you know, blah blah blah, but I’m the only man there, the only black man, because they’re all women. But um, there’s me, and I’m trying to help, and actually I help them a lot.
Splinter Generation: That’s awesome.
Jason Poole: Yeah, actually I have all those little kids, little boys and little girls. I play tag, I play hide and go seek, I play all these little games. I play Monster, it’s my made up game. It’s just like I was a monster, so I’m gonna chase you also. So it’s just like (groans like a zombie) and chase them around.
Splinter Generation: Well I’m taking the CBEST exam on October 4th so if I get a teaching job I’ll give you a call. (The CBEST is the entrance exam to get your teaching certificate in California.)
Jason Poole (Laughter) Yeah, awesome. Awesome.
Splinter Generation: Well thank you.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This was reprinted in March of 2010 in honor of the Iraq War’s 7th Anniversary. It was originally published in September of 2008.