Iraq Veteran Turned Author: Johnny Get Your Textbook

Colby Buzzell


With a half empty bottle of cheap wine in one hand (my third of the evening) and a DVD remote in the other, I sat on the sofa—eyes glazed over—numb. I was watching Taxi Driver, pressing the rewind button over and over again, replaying the same scene.

Wearing a Marine Corps shirt while doing pushups and sit-ups in his apartment, Travis Bickle narrates, “I gotta get in shape. Too much sitting has ruined my body. Too much abuse has gone on for too long. From now on there will be 50 pushups each morning, 50 pull ups. There will be no more pills, no more bad food, no more destroyers of my body. From now on there will be total organization. Every muscle must be tight.”

I don’t remember much after that. The next morning with bloodshot eyes raised at half staff, I stared at my beat-up reflection in the mirror. I looked like a retired punching bag—killing myself slowly every night was taking its toll. Not only that, when I took my shirt off, I looked pregnant. After splashing cold water on my face, I wondered how difficult the first day of sobriety was going to be. Somewhere in that drunken fog the night before I promised myself I was done drinking and I intended to keep that promise.

Our unofficial unit motto when we deployed to Iraq in 2003 was “Punish the Deserving,” and shortly after we came back, I was discharged—like an expended 7.62 brass shell casing. From there, I guess you could say I was a functioning alcoholic. One of my inspirations for cleaning up was Sergeant Todd Vance. We served together in Iraq, and after getting out, he was a day laborer. He worked for minimum wage, laying brick all day, which he quit to attend community college courtesy of the GI Bill.  After getting through that, Vance was accepted at a university—all while hitting the gym every day and becoming a competitive kick boxer. During all this time, I opted to self medicate…

Colby Buzzell served as a government trained trigger puller in the United States Army Stryker Brigade Combat Team during the Iraq War 2003-04. He is also the author of My War: Killing Time in Iraq and Lost In America: A Dead End Journey.

This blog is fortunate to have many gifted contributors, but on occasion, I find a writer so strong – the voice must be shared. Above is a portion of Colby Buzzell’s blog entry posted on Vantage Point – the VA’s blog. You can read Buzzell’s complete blog entry HERE.

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