Tribute to Wes: Burn Pits and Cancer

Drive On Podcast
Drive On Podcast
Tribute to Wes: Burn Pits and Cancer

On November 7, 2021, Army veteran, Wes Black lost his fight with cancer caused by the burn pits he was exposed to in Iraq and Afghanistan. This episode is a combination of the two episodes I released in 2019 when I spoke with Wes about his experiences.

Rest In Peace, Wes.

Links & Resources


Earlier this week a former guest, Wes Black, lost his fight to cancer. He was one of the first guests on this podcast, where he talked about his battle with cancer, and the toxic fumes he was exposed to as a result of the burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Wes also served with my brother in

the Vermont Army National Guard and deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan with

him. For those of you who are familiar with my brother’s story, Wes was on the

mission where my brother was killed in action. We talk about my brother and

what he was like as well as Wes’ side of what happened on the day my brother

was killed.

When I originally spoke with Wes,

we spoke for about 2 hours. At the time I decided to separate the conversation

into two separate episodes. One of those episodes has become the most listened

to episode this podcast has ever had. The other was in the top 5 out of all the

episodes I’ve recorded. Needless to say, both episodes were incredibly popular.

In this episode I am releasing both

of those episodes combined into one single episode as a tribute to Wes.

Wes had been quite an advocate raising awareness for veteran issues and burn

pit exposure especially. I highly encourage anyone who served overseas near

burn pits to sign up on the VA’s burn pit registry. I’m on it, and I know a lot

of other guys who have signed up for it as well. This isn’t something to be

taken lightly. Wes was a young guy in his 30s who is no longer with us because

of these burn pits. Don’t think it can’t happen to you too.

To Wes’ wife Laura and his son Ronan, you and your family are in our prayers.

With that I’ll get out of the way and let you listen to my interview with Wes.

Scott DeLuzio: Hey everyone, thanks for tuning into the Drive On Podcast today. 

Scott DeLuzio:  My guest is Wes Black, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan with my brother.  Wes is here to tell his story about his time in the military and then serving his community later on as a firefighter and some of the struggles that he's had along the way.  Wes, I don't want to give away too much information about you here; so why don't you tell us a little about yourself and your military service and when you joined and all that kind of stuff, and then we'll go from there. 

Wes Black: Yeah, sure. I enlisted in November of 2003. I was a student in Norwich University. It's actually where I met your brother, Steve, the first time. Not 2003; I met him in 2004 but I enlisted in ‘03 in the Vermont Army National Guard.  I went to basic training that following summer, came back, did another semester at college, and then we got the warning order that we were going to Ramadi, Iraq.  So, we deployed January of ’05, went down to Camp Shelby.  We did six months to train up and then I was in country June or July of 2005 in Ramadi, Iraq, and we served until June of 2006.  [We] came back, I tried to go back to college; it didn't work out for me. 

Wes Black: And then, I actually worked for the Vermont Army National Guard as active duty for specialized work.  ADSW is what we call it.  So, it's a Title 32 order, so it's like active duty, but it's for a year-long term; what we would call a tour.  So, I did that for a couple of years. I worked for the Army Mountain Warfare School as a supply person.  I was helping in the supply room.  Every once in a while, they let me sneak out and I'd kind of go up and help with training, setting it up and taking it down. But I was never an instructor or anything like that.  And then I spent a little bit of time working for the unit when we were getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan.  And then in 2010, we deployed to Paktika Province, Afghanistan. We deployed in October of ‘09, and went to JRTC. Then we deployed to Afghanistan. We were in country like January/February of 2010.  Again, I think it was in January, Scott?

Scott DeLuzio: Oh, it was somewhere. Yeah, towards the end of the year maybe. 

Wes Black: Yeah somewhere around there.   So, I got home from that and did a little bit more time bumming around the guard. And then I was medically retired in 2015 for post-traumatic stress, my back and my knees.  Basically, I couldn't do the infantry job anymore, which is what I went to basic training for.  Some of the schooling stuff that I've done:  I went to sniper school, I went to the army mountain warfare school, I did some small classes like combat lifesaver and javelin and stuff like that, but I wasn't real high speed. Some of the, do you want me to talk about it with like awards and decorations and stuff like that or I'm not sure if you want me to go ahead?

Scott DeLuzio:  Sure, if you want to go ahead. 

Wes Black: So, I had my Combat Infantryman's Badge, I have a Bronze Star with Valor that I got actually the day that Steve got killed.  I have a Purple Heart, I have an ARCOM with Valor, and then just all the blanket award kind of stuff, the deployment ribbons and all the other kinds of fruit salad stuff you get for just showing up and participating.  But we do have from our time when we were under the Marines in Ramadi, we do have a Naval Unit Commendation, which is something that our unit’s really proud of.  And then underneath our 101st Airborne counterparts, when we were in Afghanistan, we actually got the Presidential Unit Citation; the Alpha company did; that was Steven and my unit. So, we've been recognized for our unit as being a pretty valorous unit for our times deployed.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, absolutely. And from what Steven had told me throughout everything, while we were deployed and everything, it seems like you guys were kind of in the middle of quite a bit over there. 

Wes Black: Yeah. it was kind of a running joke, cause if it was a fight, send, Alpha company or send the Mountain Boys because it was the running joke. 

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, well as you know, I was over there at the same time and I don't think we had it nearly as bad as you guys did, in terms of combat and everything like that. But we all thank you guys for everything that you guys did over there

Wes Black:  No, thank you because you were there too, dude.

Scott DeLuzio:  Thanks. You mentioned that you met Steven at Norwich back in ’03 or ’04.

Wes Black: I think it was 2004 because he had transferred in from, he went to Hofstra, didn't he first?

Scott DeLuzio:  That's correct; he went to Hofstra for a year.

Wes Black:  Yeah.  And I think he failed out or did he get kicked out for drinking? 

Scott DeLuzio: Well the way the story went with him was

Wes Black: Because I never got the full story.

Scott DeLuzio:  Because he wasn't focused on school, he was more into the partying and everything else.  So, he came home after, I don't know if it was like on a weekend or something, and he was like, “You know what, I can't go back there.”  He wanted to go to a military school. And at the time he had no idea about Norwich or which military school.  To him, it was kind of irrelevant at that point. He just knew he wanted to go to a military school to kind of get that discipline and kick his ass in gear so that he wasn't doing all that partying and drinking and everything else that was kind of knocking him off course. 

Scott DeLuzio: That's kind of why he went there. One other thing about Steven, just for people who are listening, we're recording this the day before the 9th Anniversary of his death.  Wes said when we first talked about setting up a time to record, he said he wanted to do it around this time, just to talk about Steve and remember him a little bit too.  I appreciate that kind of sentiment as well.

Wes Black: We lost Steve that day and we lost Tristan Southworth as well.  And actually, tomorrow Jason Smith, who was our Platoon Sergeant, he and I are doing a thunder run down to Steve's gravesite in Glastonbury [CT].  And then we're coming back to do a run up to Morrisville [VT] to see Tristan's gravesite as well.  So, my day tomorrow is going to be a little packed with that but we're going to do the thunder run for the boys. 

Scott DeLuzio: Nice.  Well, we appreciate that, that they're obviously not forgotten and people are continuing to pay their respects and everything and that's awesome all these years later

Wes Black: Yeah, wait, I didn't get to it last year because I was a, well, we'll get into it, but I was too sick last year. I couldn't go.  So, this year I'm making a point of going.

Scott DeLuzio: Awesome.

Scott DeLuzio: So talking a little bit about that, your sickness that you are talking about.  I know you've had some health problems stemming from your military service.  And would you mind telling us a little bit about that? 

Wes Black:  January of 2017, I started noticing, I'd been having a lot of bowel issues.  Loose stools, watery stools, abdominal cramps, nothing crazy.  It was uncomfortable. It was kind of annoying. I would eat dinner or lunch or breakfast and then literally within five minutes I'd be running for the bathroom.  The joke was I can clear the firehouse, because I work as a career firefighter, I could clear the firehouse from the bathroom in the back of the bay.  I was eating at a meal, like the guys used to joke that I had two hollow legs because I would eat 5 to 10,000 calories in a meal and I wasn't gaining weight, I wasn't losing weight. 

Wes Black:  I was just eating so much food and it was a running joke that you'd have to take a second mortgage out just to feed me on shift.  January of 2017 I'd actually just come back from Ireland. My wife is from Ireland.  I'd come back early because I didn't have that much time to take off.  So, I don't think we’d gone over for like two weeks and I came into the fire station one night to do what we call coverage, so we have a minimum staffing that's always at the firehouse ready to take on a call, and our minimum staffing right now is three. So, anytime there's only one or two firefighters in the firehouse, we call somebody in to kind of cover and boost our numbers. 

Wes Black: So I came in for coverage because my wife was still in Ireland and I said, oh, I'll come in and just hang out at the firehouse. And I had to go to the bathroom; which isn't a big deal but I went into the bathroom and sat down on the toilet and I had this really awful sounding, smelling kind of thing come out of me and I was like, boy, what the hell was that.  It's going to get gross so I apologize to your listeners.  When I went to clean myself up and when I went to reach for more toilet paper, my hand looked like I had dipped it in some kind of horror movie style pool of blood and I turned around and looked and it looked like somebody had taken an IV bag full of blood, like a blood donation bag like you would do at the Red Cross, and just dumped it in the toilet. 

Wes Black: I thought, oh my God, what the fuck?  I went running out to one of my paramedics and I was like, Keith, you got to come look at this.  He was sitting in one of the chairs and he kind of leans back and he looks at me and he's like, fuck you bro. I am not going to look at your shit no matter how big it is. And he was a lieutenant. I was like Keith, now.  He was like, whoa, and so he got up, walked into the bathroom, took one look in the toilet and he said, get in the fucking ambulance. We're going to the hospital right now.  Where I live in Vermont the VA is actually 10 minutes away from my house, but it's five minutes away from the fire station. 

Wes Black: They ran me up and a couple of tests and colonoscopy and blood tests later, I found out that I have Stage 4 colon cancer with metastatic spread to my liver.  So that was in January of 2017. I had literally just finished my probationary year as a fireman. I was in the middle of the process of buying my home. My son was just about to turn one. I mean, I had everything going right in my life and then all of a sudden, like, you get that big C-word kind of diagnosis and I thought my fucking life was going to fall apart.  And so, it took a long time for me to come to grips with that.  I obviously know that the title of this podcast is “drive on.” 

Wes Black: It's hard to take a hit like that and roll yourself back over, wallow in the dirt for a second, spit the blood out and spit whatever loose teeth are done, rolling around in your face from the blow and then stand back up.  I had to because I still needed to provide for my family. You know my wife is a physical therapist, but she's a stay at home mom right now because she wants to take care of our kid.  I still have a mortgage. I still have car payments and all this other stuff. So in between rounds of chemotherapy, I've actually still been working as a career firefighter, which my doctor looks at me like I have seven heads, because he just doesn't understand. 

Wes Black: He doesn't understand how I do it.  You think of most people you know who are on chemotherapy, they don't look healthy. They look sick.  Right now, I am very fortunate, knock on wood, I'm still very healthy. I'm able to do chemotherapy on a Monday and I'm usually back in work by Friday or Thursday, the earliest. If my lab counts and stuff are going right, I'm back in work on a Thursday working full duty as a fireman, which is fucking unheard of.  Like my guys at the firehouse joke that, I'm either like a biomechanical freak, like superman or fucking Deadpool.  They don't know how to take me, dude.  The thing is that I've had to learn that no matter how hard it is to get this kind of [diagnosis].  I've had setbacks; obviously, the Cancer.   It's contained right now.  That's the kind of best thing I can hope for. But it's still growing a little bit every time I take a break from chemotherapy. I just did my 36th round of chemotherapy on the 19th of July.  I'm scheduled to do Round 37, Wednesday.  It's been a long grueling process.

Scott DeLuzio: Gosh!  And so, before we started recording here, we were chatting a little bit about that whole process of kind of picking yourself back up.  It's amazing to see somebody who has the diagnosis that you had and all the other things going on in your life and how you've managed to pick yourself up and just continue, like you said, to drive on.  Dust yourself off and keep on going and not letting something like this get you down or keep you down anyways. 

Wes Black: And the thing about it, I mean, I don't know if you're familiar with the stages of cancer.  So, Stage one is typically like early diagnosis. There might be a small cell cluster, like a small tumor.  This stage usually means like for colon cancer, like stage one is like a polyp.  Stage two, it means that it's a polyp that's kind of gone into the intestinal wall, but not all the way through full thickness. Stage three is when it's kind of gone full thickness through the intestinal wall and maybe affected some of the lymph nodes around it.  Stage four is when it is actually trans, like transplanted throughout your body, which is what they call metastatic, metastasizing, or metastases.  Depending on the different types of cancer that you can get, typically, if you look at colon cancer, the survival rate for stage one, because obviously it's early detection,

Wes Black:   the survivability rate is like 75 to 90% after five years.  A stage two, the survivability rate is anywhere between 50 to 75% roughly give or take.  Obviously if it's progressed into the wall, they don't know how much it's progressed.  Stage three is borderline of 25 to 50% survivability after five years. Because, if it's gone stage three and it's permeated the wall and into the lymph nodes and obviously there is a chance that it's spread somewhere else. And then a stage four is essentially a death sentence.  Survivability rate after five years is less than 10%.  Granted, if you look at those statistics, it's typically in people who are much older than I am. 

Wes Black:  I'm 33, 34, I just turned 34.  So, I was diagnosed at 31 32.  I've been fighting it for two years. So, my survivability rate might be a little different because I'm younger and doctors can give me a much higher dose of chemotherapy than they can in their stereotypical patient who is 50, 60, 70, who they can't blast with all this chemotherapy and then they can't recover as quickly as I can. So, they have to lower the dose each time. They give it to them not to make the patient too sick. So, I've been pretty fortunate in that aspect.  Essentially, stage four, I got handed a death sentence.

Scott DeLuzio:  I knew somebody who recently, within the last couple of years now, went through pretty heavy doses of chemotherapy and they were only able to go through that just because of the fact that they were so healthy to begin with.  Outside of the cancer that they had, they were able to get the higher dose and that high dose really worked. They are Cancer free now.  So, hopefully, continuing this will help prolong

Wes Black:  Unfortunately, my cancer was tied to the burn pits that we were all exposed to while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And a friend of yours, he gets it, may have served Horn of Africa or anything like that, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, [etc.] Everywhere that trash was burned is considered an open airborne hazard registry area or burn pit area. I actually went down to Dana Farber and the leading doctor at Dana Farber for gastrointestinal cancers basically wrote the letter that service connected me to the burn pit saying that for my age and my aggressive type and form of cancer that I have, there's no way that I would've gotten this any other way than being exposed  to the burn pits.  So, if the guests that are listening and if any of them are our military veterans that have served over in Iraq and Afghanistan, the only thing I would ask is please, please, please go onto the VA website, find the open airborne hazards registry, burn pit registry and sign up. 

Wes Black: It's not necessarily going to get you service connection. You can request a medical appointment, at the very end of it for any sort of health issues that you're having. But it's a data collection point because I think unfortunately, the “burn pits” are going to be our generation's “agent orange.”  We’re already starting to see veterans who are passing away from really strange types of cancer that wouldn't typically happen to people in their age group.  I take, for example, me [getting] stage four colon cancer. They're saying there's no fucking way that a 30 something year old who's perfectly healthy otherwise gets stage four colon cancer without being exposed to something. Vermont has lost two high ranking, Brigadier General Mike Heston and Sergeant Major Mike Cram to cancer.  Their families who are actually part of a piece of legislation that I just helped, I testified on behalf of. 

Wes Black:  We just had it passed that the VA in Vermont now has to contact every Vermont veteran who served overseas and tell them that they may have been exposed to these burn pits and that their health could be compromised. It's the only legislation of its type in the United States, currently.  I was a part of that; so, I'm actually really proud of that, being a part of that. June Heston, whose husband, Brigadier General, Mike Heston passed away from pancreatic cancer is really spearheading it. And I've been very fortunate to be able to work with her and get the word out. But if you have veterans that are listening to this podcast, that's the only thing that I would recommend is if you have any sort of health issue, please, please, please get it checked out. 

Wes Black:   Don't let it sit and fester. If you have a cough that you haven't been able to shake for a year, please just go to the doctor and push and push until they finally do everything. Exhaust every option to ensure that it's not something that's basically like me.  I'd complained to the VA for years that I was having all these issues with my stomach, with my gut, and they kept telling me, “Oh, it's irritable bowel syndrome”, or “Oh, you have Crohn's disease.”  I never had a colonoscopy. No one ever did any sort of real deep testing until I quite literally shit a bucket of blood. That's unfortunate because now I'm facing a really shitty outcome from that.

Scott DeLuzio: It's unfortunate but you need to be your own advocate with regards to your health care.  I've had a similar, not similar to the degree of that type of diagnosis or whatever, but just a misdiagnosis. Where I went into the VA because I was having breathing trouble at one point. They said it was anxiety or stress or something like that that was causing it.  They gave me an anxiety medication to help with it.  After getting a second opinion and also, looking into it on my own; which, by the way, I never took any of the medication that they prescribed me, because I knew it wasn't stress.  The only thing I was stressed about at the time was the fact that I couldn't breathe.  Like you told me with yourself that there was something wrong there.  I looked into it and it turns out like certain kinds of heartburn or acid reflux kind of things could have symptoms of feeling like you're short of breath. So, what I needed was an antacid or something like that, like Tums or whatever to get rid of that. 

Wes Black:   And then they prescribe you anti-anxiety medication. 

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, exactly. I was just at that point that I knew I had to be my own advocate for this type of stuff because they weren’t.  They spent 15 minutes with me and they were checking certain vital signs and stuff like that. And they said, oh yeah, it must be something else.  I knew it wasn't what they were saying it was. So, it was just probably like the most common issue that they see with people, with the symptoms that I had. And they'd probably just threw me into that bucket.

Wes Black: That's the bad thing with the VA is that I used to joke that they delay, deny and hope you die, because they just don't want to help if they can't fix you with a prescription bottle full of pills, then they don't want to deal with you. This is the mentality that I get from a lot of VA visits that I had now that I've gotten as sick as I am, as young as I am, people have started to take notice when I say, “Hey, I'm not feeling good.” People tend to like [screeching sound of putting on the brakes] like what? For a long time, I would walk into the VA and I would tell my primary care doctor, “listen, I am experiencing severe abdominal cramps.” 

Wes Black: “Like what, what is going on? You need to do something.” And she would say, “oh no, it's probably just your IBS.”  At the time I would think, okay, well you're the doctor. I'm not the doctor. So, you know better. Then after a while, nothing was working. None of the medication they were prescribing was helping. None of the stuff was working and I finally just said, “you know what?” I guess I just have to live with this for the rest of my life.” How ironic.  It turned out to be that because I didn't push and I didn't advocate because I didn't know that it's turned, unfortunately rather serious. 

Scott DeLuzio:    Right. Still, despite all of this, the bad diagnosis that you have now and the outcome that you're experiencing here, you still have a positive attitude throughout the whole thing. Which, to me is the most important part in that it is because you're still able to carry on and pick yourself back up. And that's just amazing! 

Wes Black:   Well, I've had to learn that.  So again, I work as a full-time fireman. If you're not getting fucked with at the fire then we don't like you.  When I first got diagnosed everybody was saying, “oh my God!” What do we say to him? For a couple of days guys walked on eggshells. They didn't know how to speak, they didn't know how to approach me, too; they didn't know how to talk to me.  It actually helped that we built a small dollhouse out of plywood to work out fire behavior and it was about two weeks after I had been diagnosed and I had already started chemotherapy and it was like the week of my first round of chemotherapy. 

Wes Black:  And so we were out back doing this dollhouse and what you do is you, light one corner of the doll house on fire with some sticks and some stuff and then you open these little sliders and see how fire flows and travels through a house and it's a way to learn fire behavior and how if you ventilate one certain window, you can actually pull fire. If you close it, you can leave it closed, you can actually trap fire.  Now it's starting to put off a lot of smoke and the assistant chief looks me and he says, “Wesley, you shouldn't be breathing this stuff in.” I finally looked at him and I said, “what's it going to do, Chief give me fucking Cancer. Everybody was like, “Oh, we made a joke.” Well, we made a joke. 

Wes Black:  “Oh Shit, we can make jokes.” Instantly the floodgates opened. I've had to take on that and granted, I do have a very serious diagnosis. At some point, cancer is going to win the fight. But it's going to take me to the ground and I'm going to be a bloody fucking mess before it wins.  I've had to except that no matter what, I still have my wife, I still have my son. I still have my brothers in the fire service, in the military that these guys look at me, not as an example, but these guys aren't used to dealing with people who have cancer. We are in the terms of like treating patients like transporting it from the home to the hospital because they're really sick or because they're actually dying. 

Wes Black:  But these guys don't deal with people with cancer all the time and seeing I have to put on that kind of brave face and that strong armor and be like, “Hey, you know what? yeah, sure man, I got fucking cancer, but it's not going to fucking beat me.” And so, I've had to, for my sanity, for their sanity, because if they're miserable at work, then I'm going to be miserable at work. And if I'm miserable at work, I can't do my job. And if I can't do my job, then I start focusing on other things.  I've had work as a way to distract myself from the more serious issue that I'm looking at, which has been really, really helpful.  I've had something else to focus my energy on besides the fact that, oh, I'm sick. 

Wes Black:   I don't have time to sit and wallow in my misery because I have to work a 24 tomorrow or Hey, I'm scheduled to work 12 hours overtime tomorrow night. I don't have time to sit and wallow in pity; plus, I have a three year old.  My kid is always wanting to get up. He's always wanting to run around. He wants to be outside. He wants to be at the playground. Granted, my weeks of chemotherapy, I'm not feeling great, but how do you tell a three year old that we can't go to the park today. Like, daddy doesn't feel good. You can't do it, you have to stand up, you have to be a man, you have to be a father or you have to be a woman. 

Wes Black: You have to be a mom and take your kid to do what your kid wants because that's how you build good memories for your kid, in your family. So, I've, had to, in the sense, grow up really, really fast in that aspect of life, I have to have that mental toughness. I have to have that intestinal fortitude that even when I'm sick as fuck bro, like I could be fucking puking in the toilet and 10 minutes later my kids like Dadda outside and it's like, yeah, Bro. Yup, Yup. Let's go. You want to go outside? Let's go. And I am not going to lie, I might only last five or 10 minutes, but at least my kid says, Dad, come on. And it's like, all right, let's go buddy. You want to, you want to go outside or you want to go in your room and play trucks or you want to do whatever. I'm there too, I'm going to be there for you as your dad.

Scott DeLuzio:  So those five or 10 minutes you might last are 

Scott DeLuzio:  something super funny or something whatever, has that opportunity to happen. Then that little thing that sticks in the back of his mind as he gets older, he'll think back to remember that.  It won't necessarily be dad just kind of crashing on the couch or in bed or whatever, because you didn't feel like getting up.  So those types of memories are the things that will help in the future, help him to remember you in a positive light and all that kind of stuff.  I think back on childhood memories. I think that's kind of the same for anybody. It's good to have that foresight to see how he's going to think about you and things like that.  

Wes Black: I write my son and email every day, or I try to every day, some days I don't get to it because I'm not feeling great or some days, I don't get to it because I'm just tired. But I try to write my son an email every day and the way I write it to him is like I'm sitting there having a dad talk.  I'm actually sitting at the kitchen table having a conversation with my son and I've tried to figure out what age that I think I want him to have access to this email account. So, I've spoken to my wife about it and she and I have actually talked that probably the right age would be about 14 or 15. 

Wes Black:   The reason why is because I'm very blunt when I write.  Tomorrow is the nine-year anniversary [of Steven and Tristan’s death]. I'm going to write him an email about exactly how I feel about things that happened that day. The other days when I've lost friends, other days when significant events happened in my military career and my fire career.  If I have a bad call, I write to my son about it and I talk to him about it and I do that because I want my son to understand who I am. This terminal diagnosis, and I say that I could live with cancer treatments becoming more and more advanced and people are living longer and longer.  The statistics say what they say, but nobody's fits into statistic.  I could live another four years. I could live another 10 years; I could live another 15 to 20 years. But on the off chance that I don't live that long, knock on wood, I want my son to have a way that I communicate to him 

Wes Black: and that he knows who I am, who I was as a person. If I'm not there to teach him these lessons.  I try to tell him how that as a person, I want him to be a good person. If somebody needs help you go and help that person, you don't kick somebody when they're down. That's the kind of morals and values that I want to instill in my son. Obviously, I would love to instill those in him myself, but in the off chance that I'm not able to, that's why I use this email account as a way to talk to him and I talk about current events and I talked to him about things that are going on in the world at my time. I wrote to him and talked about Hong Kong the other day and how Hong Kong is actually going through, for lack of a better term, a political revolution. 

Wes Black:   And I said that this is what freedom is for you to be able to stand up to your government and say, “no, we're not going to, we're not going to take you dictating to us how it's going to be. We are the people that you represent or you are supposed to take care of, you can't just treat us the way you do.” I use current events to talk to him about things and I try to relate messages into them. That's the only thing that I can do to ensure that the values that I would want instilled in my son are instilled in him.  I do it through an email.

Scott DeLuzio: I've heard of people who have done that before where they'll set up an email account for their kids and they'll just write an email to them either every day or every week or month or whatever, or anytime anything significant happens.  I think that's a cool, cool idea to do where you can be sending this stuff. Even if you have no health problems and no terminal diagnosis or anything like that. Like you never know, you might get hit by a bus tomorrow or something.

Wes Black:   I think it's a good idea maybe for veterans to do if they have kids and this might be a way for them to communicate with their children and explain why dad has always kind of had the boogeyman on his shoulder or dad doesn't like crowds. Dad doesn't like fireworks. Dad doesn't like driving with stuff on the side of the road or dad doesn't like to use guns anymore or whatever the reason and I say dad, but because I'm a man. But it could be the same thing for women too. It may be a way for people to be able to communicate not just as a therapy but as a way to communicate to their children. 

Wes Black:  Because you can be completely honest in an email and then you don't have to think about it for four or five, 10 years if you don't want to. And then all of a sudden you hand it to your kid and say, “here, this is yours. I want you to read this. I want you to go through it. If you have questions, I want you to come to me.” That's another way that I think has been very therapeutic for me because I do write exactly how I feel about things.  About the loss of my friends, about the horrible things that I saw in combat, the poverty, the famine, the horrible living conditions, the lack of education and some of the stuff that we tried to do to fix those that were met with some acceptance, some obviously graciousness, 

Wes Black: And then obviously we had some people that rejected it and met it with extreme opposition.  I don't want my son growing up with rose-colored glasses thinking that the world is this happy-go-lucky place and that everybody gets along and nobody fights. Unfortunately, violence is a very real issue in the world. We have been very fortunate in this country that we haven't had to deal with it on a daily basis. Countries like Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan and some of the parts of Africa and even now in South America, there's horrible, horrible things that go on in this world. Unfortunately, a lot of, and I'm sure you see it on Facebook and Instagram I did it for the gram kind of style poses and people are more concerned with how many likes and shares and retweets they got as opposed to what's going on around them. 

Wes Black:   And, and I think Veterans can impart that unique perspective because we've seen that; we know how awful things can be because we've seen it; we've lived in it, we fought in it, we tried to fix it. I think that's another reason why when we come home and there's such a detachment for veterans between us and other civilians because we just don't understand how I can come literally 48 hours ago, I was carrying a rifle in Afghanistan. I land, I'm happy to be home. And the first thing I do is I see this young girl driving down the street, like snapping selfies with her phone as she's driving. “What the fuck are you doing?” She's just doing it for the gram and we're sitting there going, “oh my God, you don't understand how dangerous what you're doing is, you are literally going to kill somebody.” It's tough because all we want to do is go over and fix the problem and we can't, we have to be restrained. We have to, we can't use violence and aggression like we did 48 hours ago in Afghanistan to fix a problem. We can't use that here state side, people don't understand. 

Scott DeLuzio:   One of the things I think a lot of guys and gals that comeback feel they, like you said, they did use violence and aggression to fix problems.  Someone is approaching too close or whatever and you knock them out or you're shoving a gun in their face and everything.  You can't do that here. It's just not how things work. It did work and it was highly effective, like you said, 48 hours ago or whenever or however long ago it was that you were overseas and it was a very effective method of dealing with some of these problems. But you can do those things when you get back. I think a lot of guys and ladies, when they get back, they have trouble figuring out how to deal with those problems that they see, whether they're inconveniences or whatever the case may be, things that happened that they want to try to fix and they just don't know how to deal with that anymore. 

Scott DeLuzio: and I think that's, that's kind of a problem that a lot of people end up with. 

Wes Black:  Well, and I think too especially because we were infantry, like that's what we did. And so, the way we fix problems was through sheer violence, aggression and taking things by force. That's, that's how we solved problems. I use the analogy of she dogs and wolves. The average person, if you will, is a sheep.  They just go about their day. They’re not really concerned with what happens around them unless it immediately affects them but they're afraid of the wolf, right? The Wool comes in and hurts them. You can use a wolf for any kind of analogy, whether it's a bad person or a bad event.  Who protects the sheep from the wolf? The sheep dog.  The sheep dog reminds the sheep too much of the wolf because the sheepdog has teeth the sheep dog has scars and looks kind of bloodied and mangled because what does the, sheep dog do, she thought fights the wolf, right? 

Wes Black:  So in a lot of terms when we come home from combat, and I use this as an analogy as well, it's like taking up a dog fighting dog, right? If you want to use the example of a pit bull imagine your average US infantry Grunt as a pit bull. You have trained this pit bull for nothing else. Don't get me wrong, I love pit bulls. I think pit bulls are a fantastic breed. I'm just using them as an example. I don't think pit bulls are a problem.  But you have trained this dog to do nothing else but fight and you've put it in a couple of fights and this dog has won. It has probably gotten bloodied. It's probably gotten its ass handed to it, but it fought and that's all it knows how to do. 

Wes Black:  And then all of a sudden you take this fighting dog and you shove it back into the Kennel with all these other regular dogs and you tell it, okay, you're done fighting. Don't fight another dog. You can't do that to a dog, but people expect combat veterans to come home and not try and use the skills that they needed to survive oppression, violence, intimidation, use of force. All of a sudden when we come back into state side, because 48 hours ago, that was the way we survived. Now all of a sudden, 48 hours later we're driving down (I live on the east coast) so, I'm driving down I 95 and some fuckhead cuts me off. Well, 48 hours ago, my response would have been that dudes trying to block me into an ambush. 

Wes Black: I'm going to ram this mother fucker. I can't do that. Now I have to use my horn, I have to maybe flip you one and then I have to maybe yell through the steering column, but I can't physically do what my natural response would be because that's a learned, conditioned response. I can't do that here in the states. I think that's where a lot of veterans run into trouble is because they can't, once that switch is turned on, it's very, very hard to switch that off. It takes a long time of consciously making efforts to switch it off. And once it's switched off, I mean it only takes one incident to switch it back on full bore. It could be something small like getting cut off in traffic or I've had a couple of incidents like a couple of days ago I was at Best Buy and it was raining 

Wes Black:   there was a woman who had parked right on the doorway because her elderly mother was in the car and she was trying to let her out.  I get it.  She didn't want grandma to walk in the rain too far.  But she's blocking the entire road.  I go to swerve around her and go pass and I'm sitting there going like, you're a fucking idiot. And this woman comes around the back of the car with the Walker and raises her hand at me as if to say “what the fuck are you doing?” I had high speed come apart. I rolled my window down and said, “what the fuck?” Not the most professional thing to do.  I mean it was one of those things lady, you are blocking a lane of traffic. 

Wes Black:  You are going to cause an accident because what you were trying to do while it is convenient for you, it is not convenient for 99 other people. I understand it's your world. I'm just fucking living in it. But I would like to live in it peacefully and you're not allowing me to do that.  I've had to learn to say “all right man, like you said what you said, drive away” but it's hard to hit. It's very hard to not like want to just go fucking bananas at somebody. I've had to do a lot of therapy a lot of counseling to get used to that. 

Scott DeLuzio:  I've talked about this before where you'll come back and you'll see people who are bitching and complaining about their Starbucks order wasn't right or something like that. And it's like, who cares?

Wes Black:  Drives me crazy.

Scott DeLuzio:  But I've learned to look at it like this; because they don't have worries of cars exploding next to them, because they don't have worries of terrorists coming in and shooting up the place, or RPGs coming flying in from God knows where or airplanes flying into buildings. 

Scott DeLuzio: they can bitch about these things.  I feel because none of that bad shit is happening, they aren't worried about those things. So, I feel like job well done!  We kept the wolf over there, going back to that the sheep dog analogy. We kept them outside of their area and they don't have to worry about it anymore.

Wes Black: It's all a matter of perspective, man. Because our perspective, obviously, like you said fighting that Wolf, we've learned that we have a different perspective. Like we would go days without a shower, right? That's gross. It's disgusting, you smell like, for lack of a better term, it's more like balls and it's not pleasant, right? Or you might've gone a couple of days without chow because of a convoy snafu or your convoy got ambushed and the little combat outpost you're on didn't get food that day or didn't get the food delivery. Now you're eating MREs instead of hot chow, which you know for an infantry guy that that sucks. You look forward to hot chow, you look forward to mail, you look forward to this stuff. When we don't get it, that's an inconvenience, right? 

Wes Black:  Not Getting hot chow, that's inconvenient. But we still had chow so we still got to eat. We didn't go to bed hungry; we didn't starve to death. Okay, he didn't get mail for a couple of days. It's inconvenient. Right? When we come home and misty in front of us gets her fucking order wrong at Starbucks and she complains because her fucking triple soy latte Macchiato is a Vente instead of a Grande, we tend to be like, “are you fucking kidding me? You have the money to be at a Starbucks and you ordered like a half caff macchiato triple soy latte and you didn't get it right and that's what you're going to have a high speed come apart over. That's your fucking moment of the day.” Huh. I see it too and perspectives of firefighting. 

Wes Black: we show up on somebody's worst day; it could be a motor vehicle accident, it could be a fire, it could be any number of instances. But we show up on somebody's worst day and they don't expect two dumb fucks in a pickup truck. They expect four brain surgeons that are triathletes and x-models to show up and fix all their problems. When we've done these horrible incidences and really genuinely taken care of people, we get these people who come to appreciate that there are people out there that are willing to put their lives on the line to save them. It's not that I don't think a lot of people appreciate or don't appreciate soldiers, fire, police law, EMS, dispatchers. 

Wes Black:  But I think people have lost perspective as to what really constitutes somebody to be a hero and role model. Instead you have people like Kim Kardashian and Kanye West who have become or even, what's the other pecker head that's been really mouthy in the news lately?  Oh God, I can't think of his name. He's another Hollywood type, but they're calling for, there's literally too many to mention, but they're calling for all these political actions because they think that their voice carries some sort of significance. They're crying out for justice and reform and they want all these things. l sit there and go, “what the fuck have you done for anybody other than yourself?” 

Wes Black:   What the fuck have you done? You know? Okay, sure. Maybe you've, you've started a charity to help, I don't know, Inner City kids learn music, which is a fantastic program. That's a wonderful program. I'm not taking something away from that. But what have you done that is truly been selfless? Where have you put basically, your ass on the line to help somebody else? Instead you are trying to fix a problem by throwing fucking money at it. And that's not how things get done. And we're starting to see it with the programs in our government. As a veteran I, I tend to lose my mind and I get upset when people just don't appreciate those who wear a badge, carry a rifle or carry a handgun or carry an EMT or a medic bag, or dispatched somebody to help them when they're in trouble. Everybody takes police officers and fire and EMS in the military for granted until, guess what? It's time for them to fucking show up at your door. 

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. Until the guys breaking in your door or whatever because you know there's somebody, a home invasion or something like that. Like that's when you need the police and just 24 hours earlier you were “f” the police and everything else.

Wes Black: I get so upset because everybody thinks that the police are brutal or they're this Gestapo kind of force that's being utilized against the American populace. Well, they're trying to do a job. I work with police officers every single day, man. They are people in a tough position trying to do a hard job. And I had a woman complained to me in the back of the ambulance one day about how the cop had treated her poorly or whatever. She had overdosed on heroin and she was pissed that the cops had been rude to her and she was like, “I'm going to get that mother fucker fired.” And I sat there and I was like, hold a second, just stop for a second that you're mad because that police officer you felt was rude to you and because he stopped you from overdosing. 

Wes Black:   So he gave you Narcan, right? Which took away your high. So, you're probably pissed about that. But now you have the stones to sit here and say that you're going to get him fired for doing his job. Well, if you don't like it, why don't you go to the police academy? Why don't you become a police officer and why don't you fix it?  She was like, why, I can't do that?  Well then don't argue with it. If you're not willing to do it, then don't sit here and tell me that the system needs to change. Well, the only way the system changes is if you get involved in the system.  Once you get involved in this company and guess what, you realize, Holy Shit, there's a lot of people that I don't like. 

Scott DeLuzio:   Exactly. On that topic of change and everything with all the stuff that we talked about earlier with the, the burn pits and all the other stuff, what do you think the Army, the DOD, VA, whoever it should be.  In your opinion, what would be a good step for them to take to do things to prevent stuff like what happened to you from happening in the future? 

Wes Black:   Boy, that's a really good question.  Because I'll be honest with you. I mean, and this was part of the, the stuff that I did with testifying for their legislation that Vermont did. I should say, June Heston had a letter that she had gotten a hold of that says that in 2006 to 2014 there were 14 or 19 incinerators, right? Like garbage incinerators that were shipped to Iraq specifically to burn trash, eliminate trash and reduce it or eliminate toxic pollution. None of them were used because no one knew how to install them. No one knew how to hook them up. No one knew where to put them and no one knew how to use them. So, you have these multimillion-dollar incinerator units basically sitting somewhere in an airfield collecting fucking dust because no one knew how to read the fucking instruction manual. 

Wes Black: So when somebody asked me, how do we affect change, right? I was on a little combat outpost in Afghanistan called COP Herrera and a hundred yards outside of our front gate was our burn pit. We would have the local national come in; he would collect up all the trash every day. He would take it out to the burn pit. He would throw it all in a pile, cover it all up with diesel fuel and light it on fire. And if you were the poor sucker that was standing fucking gate guard that day, guess what you did for an hour and a half; you breathe nothing but trash fumes. There was everything in there, man. All of our trash, you know how much trash Joe generates, right? He's the only guy I know that has a brand-new computer, 

Wes Black:   it gets a crack in the screen, He's like “fuck it, I'm going to throw this away and go buy a new one.”  It gets thrown in the trash, it gets sent out to the trash bin and guess what?  It gets lit on fire and now you're breathing in battery acid, you're breathing in all of the medical stuff that the little combat aid station has had. If they've been treating patients, it's all their biomedical waste. It's all the food waste, it's batteries, plastic, anything and everything that could burn metals, chemicals, right? So, we know that this stuff is like. If you imagine a structure fire, right? Because I'm a firefighter, if you imagine a structure fire, all the stuff in your home is either made from synthetic material or maybe some natural material, but it's probably all glue board and linoleum, laminate or wood floor laminates that's been coated with a polyurethane look. 

Wes Black: It's all this stuff that when it burns, it puts out these really toxic chemicals. We in the fire service know that this is the stuff that's giving firefighters Cancer.  It only magnifies and we wear protective equipment when we go into these environments. We we're not breathing this shit in direct or trying not to. But when we were standing gate guard in Afghanistan, that's all we had to do was stand a gate. Literally you'd be standing there choking, getting basically kicked out of the gate tower because you couldn't breathe, you couldn't see, your eyes were watering and your nose was running and you're coughing because you're breathing this shit in chemicals that are known carcinogens. So, when I say when people ask what, is there anything that we can do to change? 

Wes Black:  I don't know if there really is in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan because they don't subscribe to the same rules and regulations that we do here in the states. Right? There is no, I never saw one single EPA agency representative in Afghanistan despite all my time.  I never saw one in Iraq either. Despite all my time serving in the Middle East, I never once ran into an EPA official.  The only way that these people get rid of and I say these people, I mean Iraqis and Afghans get rid of their trash as they burn it. That's the option they have. Up until probably 60 years ago, that's how most Americans got rid of their trash. And there's still some, I live in Vermont now, there's still some rural woodchucks that's how they get rid of their trash as they bring out back to a little Holler, throw it over the bank and light it on fire because they don't have a dump that's quick access for them. 

Wes Black:   I don't really know if there is a genuine effective way to not expose our service men and women that are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and the Horn of Africa. If there isn't a way to not expose them to these really toxic chemicals, I think there are ways that we can minimize it. I don't know if we can completely eliminate it.  Unfortunately, I really do think that that burn pit exposure is going to be our generations agent orange that we, we saw with all the Vietnam guys, right? Everybody thought that Agent Orange, the defoliant, was this great thing because it cleared out all these large swaths of land.  Do you remember the movie platoon when the guys are standing out there and the agent orange comes flying over him and they're all standing there looking up, looking in the mist and they felt like, “Oh I feel so great?” That's the stuff that was definitely taught. 

Wes Black: I mean it's the same way now. Like, I have friends that I've made through the process of this legislation bill that are Vietnam veterans. They told me stories of how they would be sitting in the middle of the fucking jungle and KC 130 would come flying over the top of them, drop agent orange and they'd be eating a sea rat and they would get this film, this oily film from the agent orange over the top of their food in their sea rat can. And they would literally scoop it out, throw it away and continue eating. Now, we're wondering why Vietnam veterans are dying of cancer, diabetes all these other things that most people don't get until they're in later stages of life. Vietnam veterans were coming home, if they had fought in the 60s in the 70s and the 80s, they were dying from Type two diabetes, the type that most people don't develop until they're in their late stages of life in their 50s or 60s because they've just been generally eating like crap. 

Wes Black:   And their body can't do it. These were young, healthy, 30-year olds that are dying of diabetes or pancreatic cancer or lymphoma or all these other conditions because of the links to agent orange and the government for years tried to deny and say it's not agent orange. It's not us. We didn't do it. And the Department of Defense is doing the same thing right now with burn pits. And the reason is because they know if they admit that they are culpable for it, it would literally bankrupt the Department of Defense to treat every US veteran. Every, I should say every US combat veteran, that is, who served where these burn pits were an exposure to treat them to early diagnosis and to take care of them. It would literally, it would not only bankrupt the VA, it would probably bankrupt the Department of Defense. So, their solution is delay, deny and hope you die. Because if you die, then you don't fight. You're not fighting them to take care of you 

Scott DeLuzio: and it doesn't cost anymore at that point. 

Wes Black: Exactly.

Scott DeLuzio: It's hard and I can definitely as a veteran who's been over there. We had a burn pit on our FOB as well.  I was exposed to some of that stuff too.  I am on the burn pit registry that you talked about earlier. It's hard because like what else do you do with it? They don't have landfills there where you can send the trash off to and have it dumped in there or anything like that. It's same way of life. What do you do? I guess the only option at that point is to just burn it. It sort of sucks. I can see from the government, whichever agency you want to point at, I can see from their point of view too, is how do they handle that? 

Scott DeLuzio: They only have so much funding and what are they realistically supposed to do?  I'm not sure; I don't know if I have a better answer than you on that either. What people are supposed to actually do about any of that. I think taking health concerns seriously and not just writing them off as you must have a sore throat or something like that because you're coughing all the time or whatever. To not just write it off as something minor; actually, take the time to maybe look into it and run a couple of tests that might show what someone might actually have that might be a step in the right direction at least.

Scott DeLuzio:  But that's just one guy's opinion, I guess. What advice would you have for somebody who's maybe considering joining the military? Is there anything that you would have wished someone would have told you before you joined?

Wes Black:   Join the Air Force. 

Wes Black:  It's funny because I actually come from a very long line of military men on my father and mother's sides of the family. My brother, my father and I all served.  Actually, my brother was at COP Harrera with me in Afghanistan, which never should have fucking happened; but he was, he was there. 

Scott DeLuzio:  We had a couple of sets of brothers on the same base too;

Wes Black:  It never should have fucking happened after the Sullivan brothers died on the Arizona in Pearl Harbor. The US government made a law that siblings do not serve in the same assignment, let alone the same theater of operations or if they are in the same theater of operations that are under different commands. My brother being right on the same base did wonders for my parents in relieving their stress, but didn't do anything to relieve mine or his stress because every time I would go on a mission or where he would go on a mission, one of us would be sitting in the talk, listening intently and actually it worked out negatively 

Wes Black: on the 22nd of August, 2010 when we got ambushed because my brother was sitting in the talk listening and when everything started to go down, he was kicked out of the talk by the first sergeant, thankfully. Because the first sergeant was paying attention and realized what platoon exactly it was. It was getting ambushed and told my brother because if my name came across the radio, he didn't want my brother to find out that way.  and so, I do cherish the fact that he was on the same base as me, but at the same time, I can't believe somebody in a chain of command somewhere, didn't sit there and say, hold up. If I was to give advice to anybody going into the military or, well, I started to tell his story about a long line of military family, but if I was to give advice to anybody going into the military, I would say, if you truly wish to serve, if that is something that you want to do, and this is an email that I've actually sent to my son, I won't ever discourage my son from serving. 

Wes Black: Like I said, my father and my brother and I served, my grandfather served during Vietnam. He was assigned state side. Unfortunately, he didn't get to go. Well, fortunately for him, if you ask him, he didn't deploy to Vietnam. He was assigned state side and then his father actually jumped into <inaudible> with 82nd and fought all the way through Europe.  I come from 

Wes Black: a very long line of military tradition on my father's side. And My mother's father was a P 38 pilot during the during World War II.  He had immigrated from Ireland, decided he wanted to help and joined the Royal Army Air Corps and flew P38s.  My son is not expected to serve. I don't expect my son to join the military.  I do expect my son to serve his community in some fashion. If he doesn't want to join the military, then that's fine. But he should become a firefighter or a police officer or a dispatcher like he should be some other fashion of a community supporter.  I think that the only way that people can genuinely make things better is if they serve others before themselves. So, if I were to give advice to anybody going into the military, my first thing would say are you doing it for the right reason? 

Wes Black:  Are you doing it because you genuinely want to be there or are you doing it because it's your last option. If it's your last option, then pick a skillset that's going to give you something to do after the military.  Go in and become trained up in IT or communications or give yourself something that when you get out of the military, you have a skill set, you have training that you can then turn around and say the military trained me how to do this. I know how to do this. They gave me a skill set that gave me a way to put food on my table. If you genuinely want to be there and depending on what you want to do, if you really want to serve in a combat zone, you want to do the whole airborne, ranger, special forces, navy seal, whatever you want to do. 

Wes Black:  If that's genuinely what you want to do, then my advice would be you better take a deep hard look at what you want to do. Because those jobs, those combat operations jobs, they will hold a mirror up to you and show you exactly who you are. Combat shows you exactly who you are, you will either do fine in combat or you will fall apart. And there is no in between there.  I was very fortunate, I served with a lot of men because typically in the war, traditionally infantry is all men.  I've met with a lot of men that were very, very good in a firefight. I did not serve with very many that were not and that to me has been a credit of the unit, the mountain unit that I was assigned to.  I would say to somebody wanting to go in, if you really want to put your stuff on the table and measure it up, you better be ready because it's combat; it is not forgiving. 

Wes Black:   It is scary. It is intense. It is terrifying. It is hours and hours and hours of boredom and moments of sheer terror. And if you are willing to accept that and you feel like you're ready and you can do that, then by all means, pick up a rifle and go join a combat infantry unit or a combat unit and go do the whole airborne ranger and special forces or navy seals or whatever you want to do. If you want to be that member of the elite, then that's what you need to do. But you need to take a good, hard look at yourself before you decide, because the last thing you want to do is figure out you're in the wrong spot in the middle of a firefight that you shouldn't be where you are. So that is way too late at that point. 

Wes Black: Yeah. So that would be, that would be my, my, I guess, advice to somebody wanting to go in.  Is if you genuinely want to go in, I support anybody that wants to put a uniform on and serve their country. I am so proud of anybody that wants to do that because it really is a selective, rare breed of a person that wants to do it. And it's an even smaller select, rare breed of those of us who become infantry and want to fight are combat arms and want to fight. And it's very, very enlightening. The first time you realize that the bullets are going both ways.  It's scary the first time you realize somebody actually genuinely is trying to kill you. It's terrifying.

Scott DeLuzio:  It's not just a little green man on a range that you're shooting. They fall down. 

Wes Black:   The first time I ever had an insurgent blow an IED at my vehicle I was in Iraq and actually it was right about this time frame that actually it was the 20th of August in 2005. And it was the first time I ever got ambushed with an IED. And thankfully, he blew it too early. It blew in front of our vehicle by about 50 yards. A little closer, probably 25 yards but it bubbled up on the asphalt and blew a bunch of asphalt into the air and I ducked down, thankfully. Because I was in the turret, I had enough time to duck down. I didn't get a face full of asphalt.  I was like, “Whoa, holy fuck.  Like somebody just tried to fucking kill us.” 

Wes Black: Scott Matthiessen, my squad leader looks at me and he goes, “you alright?” And I'm like,” yeah, why?” And he goes, “well, good, get up there and start fucking shit.” It's like I finally realized like, Oh shit. Oh Shit. This is real. It's a terrifying thought. Had that person just waited another five seconds, not even, we would have been right on top of that bomb. It's terrifying to realize; it's that somebody you don't even know, like you've never met them, wants to kill you based off of an ideology that is genuinely scary. I don't know if a lot of people who enlist in the military, I mean, I think they're aware of that fact, but they're not, they're not ready to understand that fact. And that would be something. And that's what I've tried to convey to my son in emails is if you want to do this, man, you better be ready. 

Scott DeLuzio   Okay. Well I think that's great advice and great information to pass on to the future ranks of the military. The people who are maybe juniors, seniors in high school considering a military career or whatever. I think that's great advice to have 

Wes Black: and join the Air Force because they’re way better.

Scott DeLuzio:  Yeah. 

Scott DeLuzio: We talked a little bit about, how you guys met at Norwich [University].  You said you had already been in the guard. You already went to basic training at the point where you met him.  Were you one of the guys who talked him into joining the guard or, 

Wes Black: So I was not, I was not one of the guys that talked Steve into joining. Steve at the first time I met Steve was actually at a drill weekend and it was Halloween weekend and it was like a MUDA4, so, it was a Saturday, Sunday non-remain overnight. And so, Saturday night we got cut loose. And so, because I had been in the unit for a little over a year, I knew to bring civilian clothes to the drill. Because if we got released, we'd go out into Burlington and raise hell. And so, it's Halloween night. Right? And Steve looks at me and he's like, Bro, I don't have any clothes. I don't have any civilian clothes. Because at the time he was a freshman at Norwich, so freshmen aren't allowed according to the Rook, you're not allowed to have civilian clothes. 

Wes Black:   You could if you were in the guard. But Steven only recently just come to drill and didn't know the rules. And so, I said, I was like, fuck it man. It's Halloween. Like, just tell everybody you're a soldier. At the time it was 2004 and I was like, just tell everybody you're a fucking soldier. Everybody loves fucking soldiers. I mean, we're fucking heroes, man. Just fucking go as a soldier. So, he says, all right, so we go downtown, right? And I'm in civilian clothes. I think I had stopped and grabbed a stupid mask or something at one of the Halloween party stores. So, we're downtown in Burlington eating pizza and drinking beer at, oh, what was it? Manhattan pizza or Mr. Mix or something like one of the pizza shops. 

Wes Black: I had actually scratched my ID, the back of my military ID because I was born in 1985. I had scratched it where the five connects down to the bottom, I scratched away that side. And then on the other side I scratched it so it looked like a three and then used the sharpie to color it in like a fine point Sharpie. So, I actually had an ID that said I was like two or three years older than I really was and I was 19. So, I said I was 21. So, I could get into all these clubs and drink and I could go up to the bar and get drinks.  In case the police are listening, I only did it once.  So anyway, we're out, we're drinking. I had set Steve up in the corner and I was like, hey listen, I'm going to go to the bar, I'm going to get us a couple of drinks, I'm going to get us some food. 

Wes Black: And so at the time, I think he was with Leeza and so I come back and Steve was always a charmer, like he could strike up a conversation with the fucking wall and he really could. So, I come back and there's these three women standing around the table that Steve is at. And I'm like, fuck. I was like, yeah, this is going to be a good night. So, I sit down and I was like, Hey, what's going on? So. we were sitting there chatting and chatting and I look at Steve and I'm like, Yo man, you gonna bring these girls home. He looks at me and he's like, no, I got a girlfriend. And I'm like, WHAT? so sure enough, man, we went back to the fucking hotel room and I'm sitting there going, are you fucking, are you fucking kidding me? 

Wes Black:  Sure enough he called Leeza. Hey, how's it going, honey?  I was like, oh my God. So I road his ass a little bit about that. And so, to give you another side of Steve is after we had come back from Iraq, I tried to go back to Norwich and I just couldn't do it. So, I bummed around the Vermont guard for a long time. And so, when we were getting ready to train up to go to Afghanistan, Steve and I were in the same platoon. We were both team leaders, so we were both sergeants. I think he was assigned to first squad or maybe second squad and I was third squad.  I was the third squad Alpha team leader. I think he was like the first squad, Bravo team leader or first or second squad, Bravo team leader. 

Wes Black:   And so, we were out one day at Fort Polk getting ready to train our guys. We'd set up a glass house, which is just tape on the dirt in the shape of a house and we were going to do these close quarter battle drills and train our guys on how to move through houses. And so, we go walking out and I turned to Steve and I went to check him, right. Because Steve was a hockey player. He's a phenomenal hockey player. And he happened to get just low enough on me that when he and I went to check each other, he actually popped my right shoulder out, like dislocated it. And all of a sudden I'm like, oh fuck. And my shoulder's killing me. 

Wes Black: And of course Steve feels bad instantly. He is like, oh my God, Bro. I'm so sorry. And so, he gets me over to the aid station house basically carry my arm and we get over to the aid station, the doc puts it back in, the docs like, all right, listen, you got to take it easy over the next day or two. Just ice it, relax it, I'm going to give you, some compression bandage to put over it. I really want you to take it easy. So, I'm like, okay. So, we go back out, we do the training, we go back inside to sit down and we had these big open barracks with built these little cots, right? And so, I'm sitting on my cot and Eric Kilburn, who was one of the guys, he was a in second platoon, very funny guy, very funny guy. 

Wes Black:  Love to just joke around with anybody. And Steve was the kind of person where he would make fun of anyone mercilessly. Right. If he knew how to push your buttons. That's exactly what he would do.

Scott DeLuzio:  the slightest opening he would dig.

Wes Black:  Oh yeah and he would dig. But I will tell you what, only Steve was allowed to do it because if somebody else started doing it, Steve was the first person to be like, Yo motherfuckers, shut the fuck shit. Like he would, he was very adamant that like, he was the only one that could fucking needle you. And so I'm sitting on my cot, minding my own business. I think I actually had my headphones on. I wasn't paying attention. I was watching a movie, Killie comes up with this pillow, right. 

Wes Black:   And he just whacks me across the back. He's trying to be funny. Like he's trying to start a pillow fight except it pops my shoulder back out because I had literally just had it put back in. And so, of course I instantly buckle. I start crying because of the pain, like it fucking hurt man. And so, Kellie looks at me, he's like, Yo, you all right. Bro? And I pull my headphones on and I'm like mother fucker. So, Steve comes flying over like literally puts his hands on Kilbourn. He's like, Yo mother Fucker, what's your fucking problem? And so, Kelly's like, whoa, Whoa, Whoa, I'm sorry I had no idea. And I'm like, it's okay man. Don't worry about it. So, Steve actually helps me get my shoulder popped back into place because if he'd watched the doctor do it so Steve knows how to do it. 

Wes Black: So Steve Helps me get popped back into place. Right. It feels better. So, he sits down next to me and I literally have like tears rolling down my face from the pain. It hurts so bad. And he looks at me and he goes, y'all right. I was like, yeah, Bro, just fucking hurts man. He goes, all right, he kind of slaps me on the knee and he goes, good, get yourself fixed up because you look like you just took second place in a drag race and fucking stands up and walks away. I was like, you mother fucker. That was the kind of person he was like, he would make sure you were okay, but he would make sure that he got one in as he was walking away.

Scott DeLuzio:  And so, the last day 

Scott DeLuzio:   that I was at a Camp Atterbury you guys were there and we, after we left Camp Atterbury, we went down to Fort Polk. And so, we had all of our shit, packed up, ready to go and everything. And, and we only had like so much space on the buses that took us down there. And so, like if you had extra stuff that was not issued or on the packing list or whatever you had to carry it, like it wasn't going in the other bags, there just was no room for it. And so, while we were waiting for the buses to get loaded up and everything, we had a few minutes before the buses left. And so, we were able to come grab some chow. 

Scott DeLuzio: It was not at our designated time or whatever but I walked in and Steve was in there, so it was your unit's time to be in there. And I walked in and I managed to actually eat a dinner that night with him. And a few of the other guys that you guys are with. I don't know specifically who at the time was there so, I came in my assault pack and it has shit hanging off of it. I look like a Hobo walking around with all this crap. And he just ripped into me like, where the fuck are you going?  Into summer camp or something. You need a little pillow, you need, all this other shit. In front of a group of guys I'd never met before in my life. And he's just like, ripping it into me. And it was like one of the funniest things, but it's exactly what you said. Like he'll rip into you. 

Wes Black:  but I guarantee you had anybody else said anything, Steve would've been the first part. We'll be like, Yo, shut the fuck up. That's my brother. Shut up. 

Scott DeLuzio:  Yeah. He was totally like that. That was definitely him. 

Wes Black:   Yeah. So now that we've given a little background story on Steve, Steve was always a comedian and so the day that Steven and Tristan got hit in Afghanistan.  We had actually planned this mission a number of times to go and conduct, it was supposed to be done by an air assault. We were supposed to get airlifted into a high ground. We had gone into this village a couple of times and every time we had gone in, we had had a firefight.  We had had troops in contact and we had been lucky the first two times that we didn't get caught with our pants down.  But the third time we went in we did.  It was supposed to be an air assault. We were supposed to get dropped off on the high point and basically do a hammer and anvil with two platoons. 

Wes Black: Basically, conducting this sweeping operation around this little, draw that was coming down off a mountain. And so, plans change it goes from an air assault. We're going to drive in, right? So, this is the third time we've conducted an operation in this village and third time we've driven into the village. And so, we take the same route in that we've taken every other time because it gives us a nice little bit of, <inaudible> to get into the village, there's a bit of open space that we had to cross. And so, we threw smoke grenades, we threw some shots in two or three smoke grenades to kind of give us a little bit of cover as we moved across, our concealment I should say, not cover. And so, we get up on this peninsula, this draw that we were supposed to get up on and be air assaulted onto. 

Wes Black:   We finally get up on top. And so, my platoon was conducting the sweep operation, so I was on the top. Actually, Steve and I were kind of in the middle of the top tier of the operation. our lieutenant was at the very tip because he was coordinating this whole pendulum swing  of his platoon.   Jason Smith, my platoon sergeant was down below coordinating the weapon.  First and second squad I think was who was down there. And then third and weapons were up top. And so, we're working with our ANA Afghan national army counterparts.  We had literally just gotten up onto the draw. And we are taking a tactical pause because we were waiting for first and second squad to catch up and swing around the draw. 

Wes Black: Because they were obviously fighting the terrain, but they were also fighting a couple of houses that were in their way. So, they were having to clear the houses and go along. So, we're taking a tactical pause, I'm on a knee and all of a sudden I hear some shouting it's in Farsi or Pashtoon and I hear pop pop and then I hear kachunk and I was like, fuck what the fuck is that. And one of our ANA counterparts had actually walked up on somebody who was hiding in a ditch and went to engage them. And basically, he had told him like, drop your weapon. Went to engage him, pulled his trigger shot two rounds and his weapon jammed. The guy who, the insurgent, stitched him with his AK 47, pretty much, right there. At which point the whole fucking hill exploded.  I remember trying to figure out where my guys were because the terrain was such that I couldn't see any of my guys from my squad. So, I knew I had two guys in front of me that were right there. I just couldn't see them. And then all of a sudden I hear that Steven has been hit.  And so, I got 

Wes  Black:  up and ran to find him, because he was my best friend. And I crested a little. I don't even like a drainage ditch. And I actually ran into Southworth and one of our guys, Mike Leonard.  Southworth was the 240 Bravo machine gunner and Southie just pointed and said, he's over there. Sarge is hit. And so, I ran up and I got to your brother and I don't know if he was still alive, but I firmly believe that Steve died in my arms, man.  [Emotional Sniffling] Sorry.    

Scott DeLuzio:   I can imagine the emotion they're going through not only then but now even still. Thinking back on it has to be hard for anybody. Yeah. 

Wes Black:  Yeah. It's tough but I got to him, I rolled him over, basically held him for a minute and then I realized that somebody was shooting at me or shooting at us and because I could see puffs of dirt kicking up around me as I was holding Steve I looked up and sure enough there were two guys that were shooting at me from like a hundred yards away. And I picked up my rifle and I took care of business and I immediately yelled up to lieutenant that Steve was KIA, at which point it goes from a combat operation to a recovery operation to get our fallen angel out of there.  So, we continued to fight for a few more minutes. There was a little bit more confusion. 

Wes Black:   The fight stopped for whatever reason, I think, probably there was enough confusion that the initial unit that had contacted us had been disrupted. They didn't really know where we were; because again, you've got to remember that the entire time first and second platoon had been pivoting to sweep the lower part of the hill. So, as more of my platoon was getting involved in the fight, I think the insurgence realized we may have bit off a little bit more than we could chew.  So, my Doc Mulcahy, our medic comes flying up the fucking hill, man. He had been down with first and second squad and 

Wes Black: he did, he came flying up the fucking hill.  I had never seen anybody move up, literally almost vertical terrain as fast as he did which is a credit to him because he was, rule number one for Doc. Doc doesn't let good men die.  Rule number two, doc will do everything he can to break rule number one, or rather prevent number one from happening.  He will fucking do anything he can to prevent rule number one from happening. And by the time Doc got there, obviously it was too late. But the funny thing about that moment that I remember vividly was at the beginning of the mission, when we got out of the trucks, Steve had jumped out of the truck and ripped his pants.  So, he wasn't wearing underwear that day. And he turned and jokingly said, hey, Wes, do you want some bubblegum? And he held it. 

Wes Black: And so I of course laughed. And when we were packaging Steve up to get him off of the hill, I happen to notice that his balls were hanging out of his pants. And I remember laughing and the guys must've thought I was insane because obviously it's really tragic, horrible event. And then I'm laughing like hysterically and they're looking at me like, what the fuck are you laughing at? And I said, because he used to do it. Like he would walk up to people and pull his ball sack out and say, Hey, want some bubblegum? And I just pointed down and I said, you want some bubble gum? And, of course, everybody looks, sees Steve's balls hanging out. And, of course, we all start laughing because that was the way Steve was. And we all laughed at that. That's exactly how Steve would have gone out. And so, 

Scott DeLuzio:  I mean, even as a kid, we’re growing up, he was maybe a teenager or whatever we'd be hanging out at home or whatever, and he just gets up off the couch or gets up, goes walking across the kitchen or whatever and his ass would be hanging out. And we look over, it's like, what the F, what are you doing? And so, that doesn't surprise me, like at all, like he did that, it didn't matter. And he did other stupid shit like that too. But you'd be telling him a story and it didn't quite interest him or whatever, or it was a boring story to him. And he'd be standing there and he would literally fall down to the ground, pretend like he was sleeping, like just collapsed to the ground and just fall asleep. That does not surprise me at all that he would, with his balls out or whatever to just get a laugh out of people. 

Wes Black: Yeah. That was so classic man. So, we got Steve packaged up and where we're actually starting to head down the hill.  So, the LZ, we called them the evacuation bird, or called up to higher that we needed a medivac bird to get Steve out of there. And so, as we're starting to come down the hill, we're on this kind of focal point of the draw and it was really open and exposed. It wasn't a very good tactical place for us to be walking, but it was the only clear path where we could have four guys carrying a polis litter with our fallen angel. And so, I was on Steve's left side, well I was on the left side carrying, so it would have been Steve's right and I was carrying his legs. 

Wes Black: And as we start to traverse down the hill, all of a sudden, we get hit again with automatic machine gun fire, RPGs, very accurate, very high-volume fire. And so, we all hit the dirt and Steve gets dropped on the trail. And so, we all scrambled for cover and realize that Steve is still laying.  So, we all get back up and bring him down into where we all jumped into this little ditch, this drainage ditch that was next to the path. So, we're under extremely high-volume fire. And I heard again that we had taken somebody who was wounded.  Then I heard an RPG round impact and I heard that somebody else was wounded and I basically realized that we were sitting fucking ducks. 

Wes Black: And so I took it upon myself.  I grabbed our two mortar guys that we had assigned to us. I ran down the hill, I set them up and I started directing fire for them to engage this machine gun team that was firing at us from another ridge line almost like 500, 600 yards away. And they were doing an extremely good job of putting accurate fire on our position. And so, these guys expend their mortar rounds. The machine gun goes quiet for a few minutes. I get up, I run back up the hill and I forget who I told one of the guys that I was going to find us a house to basically collect all our casualties. Because at this point, I had heard that we had three more wounded. And so, I heard three more wounded, but I think in total they had said that we had three wounded. And so, I run down the hill, I find this house and I grabbed two of my Joe's as I'm going down and we clear this fucking building and it's a house and we cleared it. There was a small family in it that was mostly women and children.  Anyway, we secure the place and I run back up the hill to get like all of my guys to start moving down the hill 

Wes Black: to this position. So they're out of fire.  And as they're coming down, as I'm like running up the hill, they're coming down. They'd followed me down. And I grabbed this body and I start pulling and I thought it was Steve and I was like, why is fucking Steve not in the litter? And I realized that it wasn't Steve. It was Tristan Southworth.  He had in the initial volley, he was again, like I said, he was our 240 gunner.  In the initial volley, he had actually taken a round underneath his left armpit and it had gone straight out through his right armpit and basically, double-lunged and heart the kid.  He was dead  instantly and Smitty had had been walking probably six men positions behind me in the formation as we were moving out, actually, had a RPG explode right in front of him and the shrapnel actually came up and hit him in the face and knocked out most of his teeth. 

Wes Black:   And I said to you, he has all this blood coming from his face.  So, we had some guys that performed really, really valorously that day.  Specialist Brandon, who was one of my guys, actually, took the 240 from Southworth’s body and actually started engaging targets and he won the Silver Star that day for his actions.  Smitty won the Bronze Star with Valor. Because, of the fact that he still maintained control over platoon while wounded, Specialist Pallotta, who actually wound up committing suicide a few years ago, after we got home, he won an ARCOM with Valor. He was one of the guys that I had directed Specialist Goobek. He won an ARCOM with Valor. He was another one of the mortar guys.  I received the Bronze Star. 

Wes Black: Doc actually received the Bronze Star with Valor for treating patients under fire.  Mainly, Smitty and a couple other guys won some awards for their bravery and heroism. And at the end of the day when we finally totaled up and our losses and we got down into the house, we realized that we had two fallen angels and a couple of knocked up or knocked around angels.  So, we had some pretty serious wounds to lick that day. And at the end of the day we expected to be taken out of the village, to be medivaced out or well not medivaced out, but like, evacuated out. We were expecting to get pulled out of the village that night and they actually wound up keeping us in the fucking village on the main road in our fucking trucks overnight because it's, yes. 

Wes Black: So, we had to spend the night in the fucking village that we just lost two fucking guys sleeping on the main road in our fucking truck because when we were starting to consolidate that company back down, it was like 6: 30 at night and higher command, battalion-level command decided that it was too late for us to move and that they couldn't get air assets to get the quick reaction force platoon out. So, they didn't want us to leave the quick reaction force on the ground by themselves. So, our entire company had to stay to basically overwatch the acting battalion commander because the real battalion commander was on leave. The acting battalion commander was a Major Landerman and the quick reaction force platoon had to stay and basically safeguard them until the next day when they could get air assets and to get us out.  That was a rough fucking rough 24 hours. So 

Scott DeLuzio: I could only imagine how all that went down and being in there. I know when that day I was out on a mission too, and we were basically like flew in.  We had helicopters land on top of a mountain outside of a village and we worked our way down the village and we were going through clearing it. And at one point during our mission, a Black Hawk comes in and lands like at the bottom of the hill, outside of the village. And like a US general, I forgot how many stars, but I know he was a general came off the bird and a couple of French soldiers as well came off and they were like walking around and they came over to us and they were talking to us and something came over the radio to one of the people. I think it was to the general who was there and he had said that they had just lost two soldiers earlier that day. 

Scott DeLuzio:  And he was in a weird way, he was talking to me about it.  And I was a sergeant, nothing. I didn't really, I was there, but I didn't really have any sort of importance. It just happened to be I was the guy he was talking to and he was telling me about that, but he had no idea who was, he had no idea who was killed or anything. And so, later that day after I got the news about Steven and everything, they called for Blackhawks to come take me and a couple of guys who were wounded that day.  Take them off the mountain and once when we were wrapping up with everything.  The Black Hawk, I ended up getting on that same general who had talked to me earlier that day was sitting right across from me. And he looked at me, he goes, didn't I talk to you, you seem fine, what's going on? I was like, yeah, my brother was KIA and he goes, that was your brother? And we just talked, a couple of hours earlier. It was like such a strange coincidence.  But know it was the same person who talked to me earlier that day and he had no idea who I was or who Steven was or anything like that. But it was bizarre. 

Wes Black: I don't identify as a particularly religious man. I believe in a higher power. I don't go to church every Sunday. I don't follow with an organized religion, but I do believe that there is something good after, all of this. There has to be, because I've seen so much horrible fucking shit for there not to be something on the other end. And it's funny because you have to know that it's, I firmly believe that that was Steve's way of bracing you for the news that was to come. 

Scott DeLuzio:   I've reflected on that quite a bit over the years and thought to myself “why did things work out the way they did?”  And like you said, it's like I sort of feel everything happens for a reason and that they don't believe that that was a coincidence that that guy was there and that we talked, he specifically talked to me.  You know about that type of stuff.  Soften the blow a little bit because in the back of your head you have to think, it could have been, but even though that wasn't necessarily the thought that I had, that it was Steve necessarily because out of the thousands of other soldiers, who would've thought it would necessarily been him, but no, it softened it a little bit. I even remember after I got to Bagram after all that happened and everybody there was totally taking care of everything for me. They were trying to make sure everything was okay for me. And,    

Wes Black:  5 32 okay. 

Scott DeLuzio:   I was all like torn up and everything from the mission that we’re on uniform and everything like that. So, I look like hell, but they told me to go take a shower and everything.  I remember standing there in the shower, it was just me in this particular room.  I remember just verbally going, why, why, why?  I don't know if I was talking to God at that moment or if I was talking to Steve or whatever. But in the moment I realized that these things happen for a reason and that, I may not understand that reason. The situation might suck, but everything I felt happens for a reason. I just have to trust it and go with it.  No amount of questioning it is going to change. And so, you have to, 

Wes Black: That's the attitude that we had to take.  Obviously, we were as a platoon we're fucking devastated. I mean it's okay. It took us a good solid month to finally get back to being even a semi functional fucking unit.  I mean, I say that, but it probably was only a couple of weeks before we were back on doing missions, but we weren't the same.  I think everybody kind of got that realization that we were very, very, very fucking mortal.  We had been extremely lucky our entire deployment that no one had really gotten hurt. No one had really gotten injured. Certainly no one had gotten killed before August 22nd. And so, we had quite a bit of confidence that had built up because we thought, for lack of a better term, we were fucking invincible man. 

Wes Black:  and then for us to have that super devastating blow come, it really knocked quite a few of us on our ass.  Me especially, because Anthony Ames, Chuck Ames, Steve and I were best friends and it was a very, very hard, hard blow for Chuck and I.  We were the three fucking amigos, man. Now that was who we were. And so, even today like Chuck and I talk but you can tell that there is a very big hole in our relationship, I don't want to say that but you can tell that there is a very big space because of the pain that the two of us have for losing our friend. 

Wes Black:   I can only imagine how much it is for you and your family losing your brother and your son.  It's funny because everybody in combat understands how we are brothers and we become family.  You take people from all different walks of life and you literally throw them into this melting pot, this crucible pot and you turn them out into a family of people and to lose not just one but two brothers in a day. It did a wonderful job bonding the rest of us. But it did an amazing job of smashing a lot of us. And it was really, really hard to recover from. And some of us still haven't recovered.  That's part of the message here is that you have to, no matter what life throws at you in terms of blows, life is going to hit you in the teeth multiple times. 

Wes Black:   That's when you have to,  lay on the ground for a second, you catch your breath, you spit your blood and teeth out, and then you got to roll back over and get on your hands and knees and you've got to find that strength to put that foot forward and just stand back up. And I've had to learn from not just Steve's death, but from my friends in Iraq who were killed.  Mark Dooley, who was my platoon leader who got killed actually in my truck spot five days after I got wounded. He was in the spot that I was in because I had gotten wounded five days before I had that was the first time I ever got knocked on my fucking ass. And it was really, really hard to pick myself back up because the night before he had spent time with me sitting in a truck smoking a cigar and gave me his ranger tab because I had wanted to go to ranger school literally the night before. You got fucking killed in my spot and he gave me his fucking ranger tab and told me to put it in my hat when I went to ranger school and look at it. And I still have that ranger tab. It's downstairs in all my stuff. And I'm in the process of renovating my basement and building the bar and someday when my bar is done, I'm going to hang that very proudly next to all the other military memorabilia and pictures that I have of all my friends. 

Wes Black:   Now that we've talked and been somber, I do have a very funny story about Steve. So, a couple months ago, do you remember the church that your parents grew up in? They were Eucharistic ministers down in Glastonbury.  What was the name of that church?

Scott DeLuzio:  St. Dunstans

Wes Black:  Okay. So, my aunt who married into my family, so my uncle Neil, my mother's brother, his wife had a family member pass away. I think it was her brother. And he had been a member of the local Glastonbury community for a long time. He was a member of Glastonbury, Connecticut Country Club, I don't know, whatever the country club is there. My wife and I and my son went down to support her for the funeral.  So, I'm in church and I'm sitting in the back and I'm looking around and it was a really nice church a really beautiful church. 

Wes Black:  And, of course, I see my cousins, I see my aunt and my uncle and I'm waving hi and my kid starts getting fussy because three-year-olds don't like to sit still and sit quiet. My wife gets up and she walks out and takes him into the lobby and I'm sitting there and the next thing I know, I feel a tap on my shoulder and I turn and I look and it's my wife and she's holding my son and she hands me Steven's memorial card from his funeral, nine years after the fact.  Of course, I have at the time, I have no idea that this is the church that you and Steve and your parents grew up in and were Eucharistic ministers and so I'm like fucking flat out shocked, right? Like all the fucking churches in all the fucking county of Glastonbury, Connecticut. 

Wes Black:   I find the one that has a picture of Steve in it, right. And my wife had actually walked out and as she was walking out, she looked up and she saw Steve's picture and she goes, oh, hi Steve. And so, she pulled the picture down, brought it in to me. And, of course, I start like fucking giggling and laughing, right? Because I'm like, you motherfucker, of course. And so, we walk out of the church service and I walk up to my aunt, my uncle, and my cousins and Laura is telling them the story of how she found the prayer card. And, of course, my aunt is like wicked superstitious and she's like, “oh my God, it's a sign.”  And so I start laughing and I'm like, all right. It's a sign. Yeah. Yeah, I know. And so, we went to the country club for the luncheon after the funeral. Right. And so I'm sitting there and I was in a really nice suit. It was an older suit, like one of the first suits that I had bought. And so, Ronan, my son, gets up and starts running from one end of the country club banquet hall to the other.  Of course, I have to run after him, right. Because he's taken off running towards the front door. And so, just as I catch Ronin, 

Wes Black: I go to a step and block him and the seat of my pants splits wide open. Right? Only Wes Black at a fucking funeral banquet, splits the seam of his pants wide open. And, of course, not wearing underwear. And what do you think is hanging out of the bottom of my fucking pants? And so, I literally start laughing because I can't do anything else, right?  I'm holding my kid trying to like pull my pants together so you don't see my ass. And I walked back in and my wife's like, you all right. And I'm like, no, my fucking pants just split my pants. So, I give Ronan to her and say that I've got to go get my jacket. Because it was probably February or March, it was cold. And so, I go get my fancy dress jacket and I literally tie it around my waist, like a sweatshirt, you know? 

Wes Black:  And my aunt is like, “oh my God.” So, I tell my uncle the story of Steve when he died and how he had his bubble gum out and my uncles starts fucking howling laughing and he goes, you have to be shitting me? And I'm like, no.  And he goes, motherfucker, if that isn't a fucking sign, I don't know what is. And so, I actually went to visit Steve not long after the funeral service because I had planned on it because we were literally 10 minutes away from Steve's headstone. And so, I went to see Steve and I kneel over his grave and I'm like, you mother fucker. And so, I introduced Steve to Ronan for their first time, but I'll tell you man, I couldn't stop laughing.  I called your dad, actually, that night to tell him the story and even he was laughing his ass off going, oh it's too classic.  There's no way it wasn't Steve. And he goes even if it wasn't him Steve was dying laughing like laughing his ass off. 

Scott DeLuzio:   Oh sure. Yeah, exactly. And it's funny because the Glastonbury country club is where you said you were at is the same place that we had the same banquet kind of reception after Steve's funeral.  That's where we did a golf tournament for the first few years after he passed away to raise some money for charity stuff. And,    

Wes Black:  the first year I came was, I think the year before you guys stopped doing because you guys had moved out to Arizona. 

Scott DeLuzio:   Yeah. So, we did it there.  I think we did it five years, afterwards and so all five years it was at the, the Glastonbury Country Club there.  Growing up as kids, we played golf there and everything. That was part of our lives too.  It's funny how it continues to have Steve's presence even to this day.  You know with your pants ripping. 

Wes Black: Well it's funny man because the only reason I ever picked up the game of golf and actually I've actually become, I don't want to say a good Golfer an okay Golfer. I don't have a fantastic handicap. I have a 15 handicap but I've only been playing for a few years. And the only reason I picked up golf clubs was because I wanted to play in Steve's tournament and I started playing, I do think it was the second year or the like the year before your parents and you guys had moved out to Arizona because you were hitting balls on one of the tees for like 10 bucks or something.  You hit a golf drive for people and I remember playing, because I played with Jean Enriques and Mark Slade because we'd all gone down to play. So, that was the only reason why I play golf now is to be able to get to heaven and kick your brother's ass at fucking golf. 

Scott DeLuzio: Well, we've stopped doing the golf tournament. It got to be quite a bit of work to put on an event like that, now that we're all living out here, it's hard to do that type of thing remotely. But we are actually planning more of a banquet dinner type thing the weekend after Memorial Day, I think May 30th of this coming year 2020, in Connecticut.  We're all going back for that. And so, we're looking forward to having that. So, if anybody who is available to come down, who wants to join us or whatever, we will have more information coming out in the next few weeks. 

Wes Black:   No, I tell you right now, man, I guarantee you 90% of my platoon will show up for it. Yeah. We were talking a bunch of dudes ready to show up and go to that. I guarantee it. 

Scott DeLuzio:  Great. All right this has been amazing chat with you about everything and share some memories about Steve and everything. And I think that's a fitting way to, 

Scott DeLuzio:   mark the anniversary nine years now, since his passing. And so, thank you for coming on and sharing, your thoughts and your memories about all of this stuff.  So, thanks. Thanks for coming on. 

Wes Black:  I'm really happy I got to come on, man. I thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about Steve and I hope that whoever's listening to this, if you're a veteran and you feel like you literally have run out of any options, I read a really good comment or picture meme and him on Facebook the other day, but I would rather sit and listen for four and a half hours for you to get out everything that you need to get out and talk about and make you feel better than spend 15 minutes listening to your eulogy. And that there isn't a fucking truer statement. I don't think about any veteran would be willing to do anything for another vet. So, if you're a veteran listening to this or if you're not a veteran listening to this and you're going through some sort of mental health crisis, reach out to somebody.  There's always somebody willing to listen. Because I tell you I really would, I'd rather spend 12 hours on the phone with you walking you through something that's going on than sit and listen to a eulogy for 15 minutes. 

Scott DeLuzio:   I don't know really anybody who would disagree with that, that sentiment. 

Wes Black:  Yeah. 

Wes Black: Well, and you told me right before we started the show that you've had members of your unit that have committed suicide and we actually had two, one from our unit and one from a sister unit that have committed suicide since returning home from Afghanistan. And it's 22 a day is what they say. The average is for veterans committing suicide. And that's too many.  One is too many, but 22 is definitely way too many. I would like to say that if anybody needs it, reach out. There's tons of options for reaching out to a battle buddy.  If somebody that is listening to this that knows me, reach out to me,  if you're listening to this, you obviously know Scott, reach out to Scott.  Please, please, please do not make a permanent solution for a temporary problem. 

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, absolutely. I don't think truer words have been spoken on this show. Because that definitely needs to get across. And I think that's part of why I'm doing this.  I can't stand seeing people make those permanent decisions and not have any way to get out of it. 

Wes Black: And I don't mean to toot my own horn, that's not why I'm on here. But if I can go through everything that I'm going through the post-traumatic stress, the TBI, the fact that I've been handed this terminal diagnosis, some of the shit that I've seen on the fire side, some of the shit that I've seen on the military side, if I can find the strength every morning to get up and put my two fucking feet on the floor, guess what? You can too. And I don't care who is listening to this, if I can do it, so can you and you need to be able to do it every single day and maybe fucking the hardest thing you do, but you need to put your two feet on the floor. 

Scott DeLuzio: Absolutely. Amen to that. So, all right, well let's wrap it up and thank you again for joining me and

Wes Black:   Thank you, Scott

Scott DeLuzio:  And for everything else that's been going on. So, thanks.

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