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The War Tapes: Wilkins

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SPECIALIST BRANDON WILKINS shot some of the most dramatic combat footage in THE WAR TAPES. He had just turned his camera on when his squad was attacked by insurgents in Fallujah, capturing the extreme chaos of the moment. He sent this extraordinary message to Deborah on the 28th of May, 2004, calling it the "the Readers Digest Condensed version of my life."


Sorry this took so long, but I have been having trouble with my e-mail. Everything seems to be working now though.

So, about me. Well, I was born in Brunswick, ME on Dec. 6th, 1977. It was a blizzard the night I was born. Actually it was almost on the 7th. The doctor actually asked my mom if she didn't want to wait about 15 min, then I would be born on Pearl Harbor day. She didn't find that too amusing at the time.

So I grew up in Brunswick and went to school there. Brunswick is a great town. There is a lot of history there. They say that the Civil War began and ended in Brunswick. Harriet Beecher Stowe lived in Brunswick when she wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin". And Joshua Chamberlain also lived in Brunswick taught at Bowden Collage. It is a great little town, the people are friendly, and the trees are spectacular in the summer.

I was involved in Scouting since I was 10. My mother and grandmother were my den leaders. As I progressed, my mother continued with me and became a troop committee member. That was a great experience. I think that all boys should be involved in scouting. I attribute scouting to making me the man I am today. Nowhere else to you learn the values and responsibility and have the adventure that you can in scouting.

During high school, I was highly involved in the theater. I started out with acting. I really only acted in two plays (the Crucible, and You Can't Take it With You), and though I never had the lead role, I was told that I did a very good job (and not just by my parents). But soon after that I discovered my true love of the theater... Lighting and Tech.

That is also where I met my best friend Chris. We were working on a production (known to those of us that worked on it as "the show that shall not be named") and I was on the crew. Well, a few weeks into it, a new kid moved into the school. He came in with all these tales of having worked in the theaters for years, and he knew all this great shit, and had all this experience. We saw it as: he was tiring to move in on our turf.

Pam, our director, decided to have him help me run the spot light. Oh great I thought. Because besides him trying to take our jobs, he also tried to move in on my friends' girl. And now I'm going to be stuck in a little balcony at the end of the auditorium, running a spot light with him.

(Now I have to make a little side note. Despite all my experiences in the Boy Scouts, I was not the perfect little kid. I was the chef maker of the "Magic Coffee". Lets just say that it involved a thermos of coffee, and some extra stuff from the top shelf in my parents kitchen. This was a special treat for the crew, no actors were allowed to participate.)

Back to the story. We became really "high tech" with this show. Since the spotlight was so far separated from the rest of the crew, we got radio headsets to talk to them. These things looked like reject from early 80's football coaches.

Despite all the problems Chris and I had, we had a mutual enemy. The Asst. Director Joe. She was the special ed teacher. I think she spent too much time with them, because she treated every student like they were one of them. She was also insulating, too faced, and a general all around bitch.

Well, during our opening night, Chris is talking on the radio to Joe. Then he is having an argument with her. Then he starts swearing at her. He suddenly snatches off the head set, passes it to me, and said "she wants to talk to you!" I was more then a little concerned. She may have been a bitch, but she was still a teacher. You just didn't talk that way to them. With much trepidation, I placed the head set on, pressed the talk button and said "hello?"...."HELLO?"... it was turned off. I almost threw him off the balcony. Instead I shared my coffee with him. We have been best friends ever since, and live together today.

My senior year, Brunswick built a new high school, with a 2 mil. dollar theater. I spent most of that year in there. There are many stories I could tell about that, but that can wait for another time.

After high school, I joined the Army. I wasn't going to. I would never join the Army. If I joined anything, it would be the Cost Guard. But I joined the Army. I went to basic training on July 29th, 1996, at Fort Sill, OK. Then on to Ft. Bliss TX, to learn the Avenge Air Defense System. I loved that machine. It fires 8 stinger missiles, has a .50 cal machine gun with a 250 round belt. Can shoot on the move, and drive over houses. It was great.

About two weeks before the end of AIT, I got my orders to Korea. I was crushed. I don't want to go there for any reason. But I also didn't have much of a choice. In retrospect, Korea was a really good time. It is all of what you make of it there. If you just sit in your room, you're going to have a miserable time. If you get out, and see the city's and have a good time, you will love it, and time will fly.

After Korea, I went to Ft. Campbell, KY and the 101st. Airborne (Air Assault) Div. My cousin was in that div. during Desert Storm, and still lived in the area, so I had family down there. That made things better. I also had fun down there, and I love Nashville.

But all things come to pass, and when my enlistment came up, I decided that it was time to move home. I missed Maine too much. I joined the Maine National Guard in Dec. of 1998. I was going to be a medic in an air ambulance unit. When I got home, and tried to contact them, I discovered that they had been de-commissioned, but they never told the In Service recruiters. So I joined the Engineers in Augusta, and worked in headquarters.

I met a lot of great people there, but the work wasn't really too my likening. I just worked in personal, in an office... not really exciting.

In the mean time, I had started dating a childhood friend. I quickly fell in love with her, and asked her to marry me. Things went great for a long time, but then started to change. She became distant, and then finally broke up with me. A few days after that, she called me back and said she was sorry and asked me to come over. That night I learned that she was pregnant. I was thrilled! I had my love back, and we were going to have a baby!

Unfortunately, her changed mind, didn't last long. A month latter, she left me again. She also told me that she was wasn't pregnant, and the home kit gave a false reading. Oh well, this time I took it better. I moved on.

I lost my job as a security officer at the Maine Mall, but found another one in NH working security for a computer manufacturing plant. The day before I was to move, a knock on the door turned out to be a Sheriffs Deputy, serving me with paternity paperwork. I was more then a little shocked.

And so it came to pass that I was a father. Eventually we worked out our differences, and I get to see my son when ever I want (except for the whole being here in Iraq thing).

As far as the military goes, I left the Maine guard for more adventure (and less taxes) and joined the 744th Trans. Co. out of Somersworth, NH. I got a new family there. I loved the people, and my job. Being a truck driver is fun. I didn't get activated with them however, because I had not finished my training to be an 88M. I was beginning to think I would sit this war out.

I had since moved back to Brunswick, and a new job. It was a Fri. I had just finished my training at Barber Foods in Portland, ME that day. I got out to my Jeep, and had a message from Maj. Slaytor from the NH National Guard. I was being activated, and assigned to C Co. 3/172nd. IN (MTN). That was the day before our records review in Concord.

That came as a bit of a shock to me and my family. But being the tough Mainers that we are, we have all moved through this very well. My parents and grandparents took up a "No Whining" stance.

The company was very good to me, and gave me as much time as they could to go home and break the news to them, and spend time with them.

I've meet some life long friends in C. Company. I couldn't think of any body else that I would rather have to go to war with.

Sorry I didn't write this sooner. If you have any questions about anything, please let me know.