So, were you really in the Army?
Yes, I joined the US Army when I turned 18, and served on Active Duty in the Infantry. I got out, went into the Reserves, and have stayed there ever since.
So, you’re in the National Guard?
I’m in the Army Reserves, which is different from the National Guard. The National Guard is run at the state level, so if the Governor of a state needs extra manpower to meet a state emergency, he or she can call up the National Guard. They can find lost hikers, fight forest fires, distribute aide in natural disasters, that sort of thing. The Reserves, on the other hand, remains part of the national Army and can’t be called up unless there’s a declared Federal emergency by Washington, D.C.
To most civilians, the two organizations look much the same: we attend drill one weekend a month, and two weeks out of the year. But there are a lot of differences, most of which have to do with politics and budgeting and how defense priorities are percieved– the kind of thing that most civilians won’t see when, one weekend a month, a bunch of sleepy people in uniform are crowding the local Starbucks on the way to the local base.
Is BOHICA Blues based on real events? Are these real Army units?
Mostly, yes. I was in the Reserves as a Combat Engineer in Boise, Idaho when I got called up to help fill an under-strength Battalion in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. I went to Ft. McCoy, Wisconsin to train during the winter, and served in Iraq for a year before coming home. BOHICA Blues flips this around a bit: in the comic, a Boise unit is mobilized, and other Reservists –including a bunch of people from Pennsylvania, as well as other places– are sent to Boise to fill the ranks. I did this because Boise is my home– and people will talk about their homes while deployed, and will visit when on leave, so I wanted to be able to provide accurate details for those events.
The 213th Combat Engineer Battalion is not a real unit, although they will mention actual units like the 1st Cavalry Division or the 4th Infantry, for example, or actual bases such as Ft. Hood or Grafenwöhr, Germany. I don’t want people to think I’m trying to write about a particular unit or it’s exploits; I’m using actual materiel to support a fictional comic. Safe to say, it is “inspired by actual events” rather than “based on actual events”.
Are the characters based on real people? Is Joe Rock supposed to be you?
None of the characters in BOHICA Blues is directly based on any individual person. I take parts of peoples’ personalities or features and combine them to make whole new characters. There is no actual person represented by “Joe Rock”, “Sergeant Ransom” or “Sergeant-Major Hoddson”, for example. Some of them represent bigger-then-life stereotypes that haunt the dreams of the average Soldier, but that’s about it. I use a lot of personal aspects for Joe Rock himself, but that’s mostly to make it easier for me to portray him.
The idea behind the comic is that these people could represent almost anybody who’s had to be deployed. In fact, I used elements and inspirations from one person I served with in real life to create two totally different characters– Staff-Sergeant Paul Purdue and Staff-Sergean June Ransom are both spun off from elements of the same person. Some characters are partially inspired by people I met in other units, across decades of time served, and even non-service personnel.
Are you trying to be political, or make fun of the suffering the soldiers or Iraqis went through?
When I first started this webcomic, I said I wasn’t interested in staking out a political position, although it will be impossible to avoid politics due to the subject matter. While the Army overall is a fairly conservative institution, people of all political persuasions join and sooner or later you’re bound to meet someone with views that aren’t the same as yours. When we were mobilized, we were all very aware that the Iraq war was a political hot potato, protested by many and supported by many at the same time. We met a lot of Iraqis that alternately were glad we were there (for a variety of reasons) or who were very angry about our presence.
BOHICA Blues wasn’t made with the intention of grinding any political axes, and every point of view that was encountered by us (or among us) will be seen, just like it was in real life. If anything, the only “politics” I thought I’d get into intentionally is the ever-present confusion within the Army itself, where troops try to figure out the rationale behind things they are asked to do by higher-ups. That said, I look back and realize that I have taken sides, and there is a bit of political teeth-grinding, but I think it is more in what isn’t there rather than what is: the hero-worship of the individual servicemember or veteran.
Actually, it seems like you avoid making a political statement– are you trying to soft-pedal the war, or make it look like it was okay?
The truth is, as troops in the field we rarely talked about politics. It just wasn’t an immediate concern, and if we talked about home events at all, we preferred to talk about things we liked instead of things that annoyed us or were guaranteed to start arguments. As far as ideologies were concerned, we were amazingly conflict-avoidant. In some ways, the influence of TV and Hollywood, especially shows like M*A*S*H, is counter-productive; it gives the impression that soldiers in the field engage in a lot of introspective thought about war in general, the particular war they’re in, and the moral philosophies at play. But very little of that took place among us in Iraq, and complex introspection took a back seat to immediate needs like survival and scratching out moments of candor and relaxation when they were available.
So, BOHICA Blues is more akin to a “slice-of-life” comic in a war setting, showing a humorous interpretation of the things we went through on a day to day basis. Hard subjects aren’t avoided– characters are killed, and characters kill, and it affects them. If there’s any political statement to be taken from BOHICA Blues, it’s to take away some of the “hero” aspect that’s been built up and remind people that these are humans.