When Doctors Told Him To Get A Hobby, This PTSD-Suffering Vet Photographed The Graffiti Of War


Photo: Jaeson Parsons

Jaeson Parsons made a lot of money on 9/11. His trading desk at Refco in Chicago bet huge when no one else would.”We quoted the market more than 50 ticks wide,” Parsons said. “It was unheard of, but everyone was scared and no one was willing to put their jobs or their money on the line.”

Check out the Graffiti of War >
With their corporate headquarters across the street from Ground Zero, Parsons’ team lost several friends that morning. It was the pain of this loss, combined with the unstoppable thrill of making money, that caused a fissure of guilt to form in Parsons. As the U.S. war on terror commenced, he continued making money and the guilt only grew.

“Volatility provides earning opportunities for market makers,” Parsons says.

“In other words, the harder this war was to our troops, the more unrest, the higher the profits. And that didn’t sit well with me.  It was unspoken for sure, no one said it out loud, but I couldn’t take the silence anymore.”

Parsons was going through a divorce when he gave notice. His bosses and co-workers told him he was having an early mid-life crisis. Thinking there was more to it than that, he enlisted in the Army as a combat medic and went off to Fort Knox for basic training in late June 2005. He was 27.

He served for four years, before an injury put him in an Army hospital where he was told he could accept a staff position or get out. His days as a medic at an end, he opted out. “I loved being a medic, but I got too attached. Too much empathy is not a good quality in a combat medic.”

It is a quality that caused him to carry the missions–and the friends he lost–around with him after coming home. His VA psychiatrist diagnosed him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and suggested he find a hobby, something to take his mind off the killing.

He enrolled at college in West Virginia, his new wife’s home state. He began studying business, but his thoughts lingered on the doctor’s suggestion.

Recalling some artwork on the Jersey barriers back in Iraq, and encouraged by his new wife Melissa and fellow veterans, Parsons contacted publishers to see if there was interest in a coffee table book on the Graffiti of War left by almost a decade of fighting. Maxim assured him that there was.

The artwork is ubiquitous in and around U.S. bases in the theatre. From Sharpy drawings inside Porta-Potties, to unit sponsored art work with a company motto’s and crests, the t-walls and Jersey barriers designed to thwart attack proved the perfect spot to paint.

By March 2010, Parsons had partners, a publisher, and a website. He began collecting donations to pay for a trip back to Iraq for more pictures. By spring 2011, he’d raised about $4,000 toward the $15,000 expedition.

Once he received approval from U.S. Force commanders in Iraq, he used his student loans to cover the  difference and spent a month in Iraq shooting more than 2,500 images.

“Iraq looked the same, smelled the same and tasted the same,” Parsons says, “but it was all different. The Iraqis are doing everything now. Our guys just seem bored.”

It’s a shift that’s being received differently depending on the soldier. “Guys on their first deployment are disappointed, guys on their fourth tour are just grateful they’re in air conditioning,” Parsons says.

Attacks were up in June as the U.S. prepares for a full withdrawal. Parsons says commanders there told him the increased attacks are an effort by Iraqi militants to make it look as if they’ve forced the U.S. out of the country after the scheduled withdrawal.

As local forces take over responsibilities from the U.S., the graffiti is also changing. Local nationals are being encouraged to paint their own murals to promote esprit de corps — putting a new face on the military enforcement.

As it becomes easier for Iraqi forces to paint, it’s getting more difficult for U.S. servicemembers. “There are signs everywhere.” Parsons says, “Even in the Porta-Potties they say it’s illegal to deface government property and can result in prosecution.”

Work from locals and U.S. servicemembers will be included in the book, the release date of which has yet to be announced. “I want this project to help others with PTSD as much as it’s helped me,” Parsons says. “My goal is to donate half of all profits to groups that support post-traumatic veterans.”

Parsons is planning a trip to Afghanistan next year.

Originally from the palace of Darius the Great in Iran, this Lion of Darius is not terribly far from the original in Basrah Iraq

Manhattan skyline by way of the Euphrates

A patriotic silhouette

Jets parked for scrap

Oregon National Guard: The Ducks Arrive, Alpha Company 2-162 Infantry

New Mexico National Guard: The 1115th Transportation Company

Salt Lake City's 200th Medical Detachment

Semper Gumby: unofficial Latin motto for all Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams in the U.S. military

Charlie Company Engineers: The Ghost Riders

Fairbanks, Alaska MEDEVAC Company: Charlie 1-52 Aviation Regiment

Army soldier standing on a defused bomb

On the road to Basrah: A nod to when the city was a water destination on the Tigris River

Poetry is included in many of the murals

An Iraqi mural depicting a scene from Ali Babba and the 40 thieves

Camp Adder in Tallil, on a distant corner of the base next to the flight line, by the base fire dept.

Even a damaged tank isn't immune

One of many Iraqi murals, this one depicts a bored local national against the Iraqi flag

Parsons said this t-wall section, dedicated to the 9/11 attacks, was the one of the most powerful pieces he found

In honour of the Iraqi Special Forces Unit, this mural sits at Camp adder in Basrah

A war fighters pun at Camp Adder, Talil on the back of some barriers

College rivalries persist even in the desert -- The Longhorns

This piece is from the helicopter MEDEVAC unit that transports all wounded, killed, and injured soldiers to treatment

Homesickness expressed on a tracked vehicle

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