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December 2, 2021 56 mins

Palmer, AK: Elliott takes a detour from the road trip to fly to Alaska, home to David Richvalsky, Third Squad’s machine gunner. During an ATV trip to a glacier, Richvalsky describes the gaps in his memory caused by concussions from IED blasts—which he says may actually help him avoid dwelling on the worst moments of his deployment.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:00):
Third Squad is a documentary podcast about war. Every episode
contains strong language and descriptions of violence that may not
be suitable for all listeners. I don't want to offend
you with my skepticism. You're not going to because I
like you, man, I like you. I don't want to
be a fucking dick, but you're not a dick. I'm
just saying, what's gonna fucking change? Right? Maybe nothing? Probably nothing?

(00:26):
But you know what will change if I don't do it?
Definitely nothing. I'm Elliott Woods. This is Third Squad Episode seven,
make Peace or Die. Alright, So we've got our side

(00:58):
by side a t V, all geared up, ready for
an adventure. David rich Volsky is behind the wheel, wearing
a mad bomber hat, got our goggles on, shiploads of clothes.
It's what about five degrees outside something like that, all right,
and we are ready to rock. Dude, this thing's gonna

(01:18):
sucking all ass. There's one Third Squad marine we couldn't
reach by road. I mean it was possible, but there
just wasn't time to squeeze an extra five thousand miles
into the itinerer. So I hopped on a flight to
Alaska to meet David rich Volski, who lives about an
hour northeast of Anchorage. Check check, check, Why aren't you

(01:41):
showing on my channels anymore? Tommy had to go home
for a few days, so I'm flying solo on this one,
getting familiar with the recorder while wearing mittens the size
of boxing gloves. Super fun. Ready for me to go? Yeah,
I'm gonna spend the tires to see if I can
see if the fronts turn into Okay, Yeah, Richbolski hits

(02:07):
the gas and soon we're ripping down the Connect River
at fifty miles per hour, looking like a couple of
Mad Max characters. This is so cool. My hands freeze
into claus whenever I have to take off my mittens
to adjust the recorder. But I'm having such a good
time I barely notice we being out here reminds me
of Montana, where I live. Oh Man. Thankfully, the sun

(02:31):
is starting to warm the air when we pull up
to our destination, the Connect Glacier, a massive sheet of
ice that spills down from the chew Gash Mountains, just
ten miles up river from Richbolski's house. Should we jump
out and walk around exactly what I was thinking. We
park on a hill where we can see the four
hund foot calving face where the icebergs break off. I

(02:52):
don't know if I've ever seen anything quite like this before. Man,
I managed to give a fucking World Traveler reporter guy
a fucking first time huh. Yep, there you, of course,
because this is America. There's a guy doing donuts on
the frozen lake in a vintage pickup, and another guy
shooting a flamethrower next to an iceberg that looks like

(03:13):
a giant hunk of frozen wind. As the carbon orgy
clashes a bit with the pristine surroundings, but rich Volsky
digs all of it, living the dream. Rich Volsky, it's
pretty good, man, pretty good. The combination of remote wilderness
and Arctic redneck culture is what made him fall head
over heels for Alaska. I feel like it's one of

(03:35):
the last free states. Honestly, I just have freedom. I
can do what I want. I can come out here
and get out here by myself and cruise around and
hang out. Man, it's a great place to decompress after work.
Rich Bosky grew up in most people's idea of Paradise, Hawaii,

(03:58):
but he had no desire to go there. When he
got out of the Core in two thousand fourteen, he
hit the road for Alaska with the promise of a
job and never looked back. It was around the same
time that I moved to Montana from the East Coast
for some of the same reasons. It took rich Bolski
two weeks to drive all the way from Camp Pembleton's

(04:20):
up through Canada to Anchorage, his first landing spot. Now
he lives in a secluded subdivision near a town called Palmer.
He makes his living as a plumber, working on big
commercial projects all over the state. His hobbies are pretty
full time too. Like me, he's a serious hunter, and
in Alaska that means lots of scouting and planning for

(04:40):
bear and moose hunts. With so much going on, rich
Wolski tells me Afghanistan isn't something he thinks about much anymore,
almost never, almost never do on a different portion of
my life moved on. So when you do think about Afghanistan,
what do you think about? Ah? The funny stuff, sad stuff.

(05:04):
Sometimes I no excitement, you know, adventure is there? Anything
that you miss about it. That's simple, man, a simple
place to be. You know. You get up and walk around,
get shot at, you walk back and sleep and do

(05:25):
it all over again. A lot of people, I think
would be shocked to hear that being at war, even
in a very dangerous place in certain ways, is kind
of easy. It is. It's it's it's definitely easy, you know.
I mean, now I got you know, bills, gotta go
to work, you know, I mean, it never felt like

(05:50):
work to me. As we're talking, heard a moose trots
down the river bed. We're a long way from Hawaii,
and we're even farther from Sangin, where we first had
a decade ago. All right, So the first thing I
need you to do is just introduce yourself in that
kind of outside voice. I'll just see your regular voice,

(06:10):
all right. Um, I'm last Corporal Davids Falsky, and I'm
nineteen years old and not from Hawaii. Great, perfect, Okay.
So number one, why did you join the Marine Corps?
I joined the Marine Corps because I wanted to have
the island. Back then, he was a lanky teenager and
I'm not sure he could have grown a beard if
he tried. Now he's six ft tall and two thirty pounds,

(06:31):
with the righteous beard and thick forearms covered in tattoos.
His hair is still buzz short, but that's about the
only thing that hasn't changed since Sangon. Sitting in the
a t V by the river, I asked him why
he was so eager to get out of Hawaii all
those years ago. I think it's just hot, small, you know,
to go to the beach so often surfing gets quite repetitive.

(06:55):
I was ready to go, you know, independent, young and
looking for adventure. He tells me Hawaii was a great
place to grow up, and he had a happy childhood.
He just never felt like he fit in there. The
military promised away off the island, but like several of
the other members a third Squad, rich Folski was only

(07:15):
seventeen when he started thinking about enlistening, so he needed
his parents permission. I told my dad and he goes, okay,
we'll go talk to some recruiters, right. So we go
to town and there's like an Army and Marine Corps
recruiters right next to each other, like sharing a wall office.

(07:36):
He didn't have a clear idea of what he wanted
to do in the military, let alone which branch. He
wanted to join Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, but first
impression settled things. The Army recruiters were literally fat and nasty,
and the Marine Corps recruiter looked like a guy in
the military. And I hate to say that because the

(07:57):
Marine Corps is all about appearance and the unit form,
and I always hated that about the Marine Corps. But
that was the turning point where we were like, no,
I don't want to be in the Army. You're not
gonna hurt my feelings. Don't worry. I was in the
National Guard, a reserve component of the U. S. Army.
We get made fun of by pretty much everyone, including
the regular army. Anyway. It was two thousand nine when

(08:21):
rich bold Sky and his dad visited the recruiter, and
the war in Afghanistan was barely on the radar for
the average American. But we'd just come through the most
brutal years of the Iraq War. What was your awareness
of of what kind of fighting was going on at
the time, if you can remember when you were in
high school, I mean, I always knew there was fighting.
You see the ship on the news, you know. But

(08:43):
I mean I wasn't come from a family that's in
the military, you know. I didn't. I didn't know anybody,
you know, that was in the military. So my understanding
of what it actually was, you know, was zero. But
I knew for a fact that there was a war,

(09:07):
if that makes sense. Did you know where that war
was in the Middle East? I could, I could narrow
it down to the Middle East at that time. Did
you have a sense of what the war was about,
or how it was going or anything like that. No,
I don't think I have a sense now. I mean
when I tell you right now that I legitimately kind

(09:29):
of still don't understand. I'm serious. No, you know, yeah,
I do know. Rich Foldski's dad, who's also named David,
supported his son's decision to join the Marines. They signed
the paperwork together, and as soon as high school was over,
rich Folsky shipped out for boot camp at Marine Corps

(09:51):
Recruit Depot San Diego. Yeah, that's funny. My My my
first thought was, oh my godly, all these white people.
I just went to a high school. It didn't have
very many white people. Your your school is mostly what
a lot of Filipino, a lot of Asian, uh, you know, Polynesian.

(10:12):
So suddenly you were in a group of people who
looked like you for the first time. For a lot
of recruits, the shock of the first few days of
boot camp is utterly terrifying. Some of them literally pissed
their pants, But not rich Volsky. You kind of thought
it was funny. Everybody's yelling and everybody's running around checking

(10:33):
with their head cut off, all this kind of just
taking her all in. Were you intimidated it all? You know? No,
I really wasn't. I knew I knew what it was
gonna be like, so you kind of knew it was
theater a little bit for sure. After thirteen weeks of

(10:55):
boot camp, rich Volsci went about an hour up the
road to Camp Pendleton for Infantry School, where you learned
how to be what the Marines call an O three
thirty one, a machine gunner. Then it was a short
ride to his new unit, Weapons Platoon, Blackfoot Company, first Battalion,
fifth Marines. He barely had time to settle in before
he shipped out to Afghanistan. In about ten months. He'd

(11:17):
gone from surfing in Hawaii to slipping an m to
forty Bravo machine gun and sang it. Here he is again,
back at patrol based fires. I live in a fucking
mud hut. It's just three ft thick walls of mud
right now. It's actually pretty dirty, just because I've been
discussing and not cleaned it. And uh, I got fleas

(11:40):
because of the fucking chickens that run around. At just
nineteen years old, rich Volski was the youngest guy in
third Squad. He joined the Marines looking for adventure and
he definitely found it. But by the time I arrived
four months into the deployment, the novelty had worn off.
I always like doing my job when I'm shooting. Is
that makes carrying the two forty round not just seemed

(12:04):
like a giant piece of metal that's pulling me into
the air slowly, But like getting shot, It's it's not
it's not fun. It's it's fun when you're shooting. You know,
sometimes you a hammer, sometimes you nail. It's real fun
when you need a hammer. But is it the kind
of fun that you want to keep having for a
long time? Um No, it's it's a kind of fun

(12:27):
where it's like it's like you get really wasted one
night and you do a bunch of stupid ship and
it's fun to talk about, but you don't want to
do it for the rest of your life. No, it's
definitely had way too many close calls to I want
to do that for this my life. Okay, you can
only dodge bullets for so long. Richbolski managed to dodge

(12:51):
bullets for his entire deployment, but the bullets were only
one of the threats, and sang In describe like one
of the scariest or toughest things that you've had to
deal with out here in as much detail as you can,
something that really sticks out in your mind that you
think about kind of like sucked me up. Yeah, it's
probably when I got bought up. I got me pretty good.

(13:15):
Rich Volski was one of the seventeen who got injured
on June twelve. The blast left him with a slight
stutter and with permanent brain damage. So when he tells
me he doesn't think about Afghanistan much anymore, there's a
caveat my whole memory of all of this is very fuzzy,
you know, but uh, and it's hard for me to

(13:37):
put it in chronological order. Rich Volski's memories all scrambled
from the explosion. When I try to drill down into specifics,
it goes something like this, So just tell me what
your first impression of Afghanistan was, Brown Sandy. He's talking

(13:59):
about Camp leathern Neck, the huge logistics base in the
middle of the Helmon Desert where they stopped over on
their way to sang It Hot. I don't particularly remember
Hot too much when we first got there. Well, it
was probably the perfect time of year. It was like
March right spring. You don't remember, tell me, man, It's
not like his memories got erased. They're just out of

(14:20):
order and smashed together. I think I remember, Uh, somebody
got their foot blown and a half. It was Captain
Frank Is that right? Lost half his foot? But what
was that? Right in the beginning, No, somebody else talked
about that. I forget which I think? Is it the

(14:41):
foot thing though? Or or am or am I wrong?
Rich Volsky's memory trouble stem from a traumatic brain injury,
or t b I. It's a catch all diagnosis that
includes everything from concussions to open head wounds. Rich Volski
had both, and he's still dealing with the effects a

(15:02):
decade later. But well, I have a thought. It's gone.
It's gone. That happens a lot, doesn't it. It does. Yeh.
TV is a bitch man. You know what's really funny
about this whole thing is I feel like, unless you
saw me there, you wouldn't even believe that I did
it because I don't remember all of those bullshit, you know,

(15:28):
because you're asking me questions. I God, I do not know.
You know, good thing, I did see him there, and
I've got photos and audio to prove it. We'll be
back after the break. I stayed with rich Bolski for

(16:02):
a few days and got to meet his wife, Samantha,
and all of his pets. This his mouse. He's a
vicious little bastard. Yeah you don't. You don't like that guy.
You keep an eye on him, okay. Mouse is an
American Eskimo dog. He looks like an overgrown cotton ball
with fangs barely bigger than the cat. Mrs Claus Richbosky

(16:25):
also has a big lazy Bernies mountain dog. Actually they're
polar opposites. This one's sweet, nothing but love, and then
the other one is very skeptical. Of everything, including journalists
who show up with big microphones and headphones. Especially journalist.
I got him trained, you know, journalists, lawyers, auditors, politicians,

(16:48):
that's who we have them. Bite Mouse's training has been
highly affected. Hey, no, that one was a straight up ambush.
I keep an eye on MOUs will Rich Volsky shows
me around the home he's building. I guess you would
call this what open concept, with the living rooms and
the kitchens in the same spot. It's a quantt hut,

(17:09):
a prefab steel shell in the shape of a giant
upside down you similar to the ones cranked out by
the tens of thousands to house American troops during World
War Two. Quant huts are quintessential Alaska, gurable, no frills
shelters for the kinds of frontier characters you find in
Jack London stories. But this one would fit better in
the pages of Martha Stewart living. The three bedroom design

(17:32):
has heated floors, an entire wall of windows looking out
on the mountains, and a deluxe kitchen for Samantha. We
got the old lady a nice big Viking range because
she does love to cook. You know, rich Volsky is
putting the finishing touches on the interior. Now he's one
of those guys who can do pretty much anything that
involves tools. And you did this all yourself? Yes, yeah,

(17:57):
with I mean obviously the help of so my good
friends and co workers and lots of cases of beer,
lots of barbecues. It's been two years since a big
group of his friends helped put up the quantip frame,
and now the end is finally in sight. Are you
ready to be done? Absolutely? Like last year, the new

(18:19):
house doesn't have much furniture yet, so when it's time
to sit down and talk, we walk over to the
one room cabin that was on the property when rich
bold Sky first bought it. It's about as close to
an ideal mountain man hideout as you could imagine, unfinished
lumber walls, a cast iron stove, a bear skull on
the kitchen table, and a double barrel shotgun hanging by

(18:39):
the front door. Rich Bolsky might have stayed in this
place forever if he'd never met Samantha. He pulls down
a bottle of whiskey from the top of the refrigerator
and grabs a couple of glasses. Then he warns me
and I can remember ship in any kind of real order,
and it's going to be frustrating for you. Okay, So

(19:01):
then what's probably necessary is to figure out how you
remember things, like what how does your memory work? I
can get specific moments, and if somebody else's talking about it,
you know, I can go, oh, yeah, you know, like, yeah,

(19:23):
I remember that clear as fucking day, you know what
I mean. But it's also it's almost gotta be planted
or or dug up, if that makes sense. We decided
to dig up some of those memories together, which means
we have to go back to Sangin. As a member
of Weapons Platoon, rich Volsky was technically an attachment to

(19:44):
third Squad, not one of its original members. As the
machine gunner, his weapon was critical whenever the squad got
into a firefight. I was normally towards the front of
the patrol, so that when the sweeper and uh the
spot or right term there. Yeah, the sweeper and the

(20:06):
spotter would poke through a tree line, you know, and
if they got shot, I was normally towards the front,
so I could pop up there real quick and uh
start laying suppression down. The Only time it wasn't effective
is if it came from the rear, and then that's
where you're automatic rifleman Moody was was fucking handling that portion,

(20:29):
and he carried a slightly while lighter machine gun. Yeah. So,
while Moody took care of the rear with his saw,
the M two four nine squad automatic weapon, rich Volsky
was at the front with his M two forty Bravo,
a nearly four ft long belt fed beast. The gun
and ammo weighed around sixty pounds. It was a lot

(20:50):
to be hauling around in the Afghan heat, but it
was worth it. The first thing I do is, uh,
I make noise, even if I'm just flying ship in
the wrong direction. You know, entirely I am. I'm making noise.
I'm basically allowing the rest of the guys to move

(21:11):
by keeping the enemy's head down. Most of the guys
in the squad carried M four car beans, semi automatic
rifles that fire a small, high velocity round that's barely
bigger than twenty two rounds used for hunting squirrels. If
you've ever seen a picture of an A R fifteen,
then you know what an M four looks like. They're
lightweight and easy to shoot quickly and accurately, but they

(21:32):
lack the intimidation factor of machine guns like the two
forty and the fifty Cow, which fires around big enough
to take out a truck engine. So tell me if
you were on the other side of that, why would
that be intimidating to you? I guess the only way
to put it would be, you know, twenty two long
rifle will kill you, but a fifty cow makes you
feel like you'll be more dead, you know. Yeah, I

(21:56):
mean it'll make you It'll make you more dead. That's
the psychological effect it gotta be. Yeah. So do you
remember the first time that you fired your M two
forty Bravo and a firefight? Yeah, I was shooting out
a building. What do you feel like? It's just a great,
great feeling to just let a let her up. Man.

(22:16):
I always loved, I always love shooting machine guns. I mean,
even in training, it was a it was great. So
did did you get to fire your machine? Got a
lot after the fighting season started. There's a lot of shooting.
It's what you wanted to do, right, absolutely, I guess
the shooting is exactly what I wanted to do. And
the blowing up is not what I wanted to do,

(22:37):
and that was the unavoidable part. So tell me about that.
Tell me about when that happened. It was shortly after
the ninth, But it feels like like when I when
I think about it, it feels like we had just
got back in from picking up O'Brien. In my memory,

(23:03):
it feels like it was those those two days between
the nine and the twelfth just don't exist. The the
unimportant part just gets gone, if that makes sense. It
was June twelve, two th eleven, the day Joshua McDaniels died.
In sixteen other Marines got wounded in a series of
I D blasts. Rich Volsky got knocked to the ground

(23:26):
by the explosion that hit McDaniels. Then he got hit
again moments later by a secondary blast that knocked him unconscious.
The pock marks from shrapnel and debris were still visible
on his face when he told me about it back
in Sangin. When I came to, I was just laying
face down the sand. It's like pull of blood and Sheer,

(23:49):
last corporal Sheer rolled me over and he has, hey, man,
you got all your limbs, got your legs. I don't
know how you did it. I was like, you can
be okay, and I was like what because I I
had a severe concussion. Um, I just got knocked straight retarded,
and uh he started dragging me out in his cabin.

(24:13):
Ten years later, I asked rich bold Sky what he
still remembers about that day. I remember when I heard
the first explosion, Uh, trying to I heard the first explosion,
and then there was like just the dust, you know,

(24:34):
and then just like kind of silence, kind of put
my dick in the dirt, you know, and uh, just quiet,
and I'm going, fuck, you know. And then I remember
hearing McDaniels screaming, and uh that was like, holy fuck man,
this is bad. So I screwed up that direction best

(24:58):
I can, and uh, I get up there and I
see McDaniels and looking at him, I'm I'm thinking, uh,
I can't believe that he can make that much noise
with how small he is. He was essentially blown in
a half. Yeah he was. I remember him making an
insane amount of noise for for how much of him

(25:20):
was left, and I thought that was crazy. So I
was talking to him, but it was I'm not sure
if I got to him first or if Lopez got
to him first, But I remember Lopez being there. He's
talking about Jeffrey Lopez, one of Third squads riflemen. And
this is where it gets real fuzzy, like I'm not

(25:42):
sure about a lot of this, you know what I mean.
But I remember Lopez being there in that moment before
we blow up again, right, and I think what happened
next was well, I mean, I know what happened next.
The I D fucking went off when Elliott hit it
because he was coming running up from the rear towards

(26:04):
us and stepped on another I D. The route that
I took to McDaniels just happened to be better than
the route that Elliott took to McDaniels. Cody Elliott supervised
all the platoons machine gunners, including rich Wolski. He floated
between squads and happened to be out with Third Squad
that day. I can remember looking at him as it

(26:30):
as he ran up to me and blew up. I
can I can see it in my mind, you know
what I mean. That's one of those ones that's burned
into me. You know. It's just like just like looking
at McDaniels, that one's burned into me too. The explosion
from Elliott's I d erupted in a cone shape, widening
with intensifying force as it moved upward from the ground.

(26:51):
Fortunately for rich fold Sky and Lopez, they were crouched
down low when it went off. I think if I
was standing, I probably would have died or something. I
don't know, or it would have been incredibly worse than
it was worse for rich bol Sky, that is, it
was plenty bad for Elliott. He lost his left leg
and took shrapnel all over his body and face. Parts

(27:11):
of Elliott's gear and bones slammed into rich Bollski, like
you know, your temple's got a little whole. It's a
little a little piece of shrapnel went in like an
upward angle and scoot it in the hole and like
the perfect way to like not kill me pretty much,
but would have it were went straight in, I mean
I would have been dead. Oh wow, it was inside

(27:33):
your skull. Yes, wow, I didn't know that. Rich Bolski
has a shadow box on the cabin wall with this
Camo name tape, his dog tags, his purple heart metal
and a little plastic tube with that piece of shrapnel
inside of it. It was removed by a field trauma
surgeon at Camp leather Neck, where he got meta ACT
along with some of the other serious casualties from that day.

(27:54):
It was actually kind of cool because I'm fucking rolling
in there and uh, it was like a reunion and
we're coming in on the gurney and it's like, what's up, man, Like, Hey,
you know, I know everybody in the yard, you know
what I mean, high fives all around. Yeah, pretty much. Yeah.
I remember the nurses got rid of the little fucking

(28:17):
separator sheets because we're all yelling back and forth to
each other talking. Rich Basky thinks he had two surgeries,
but he can't remember for sure. His condition was serious
enough that he was laid up in the hospital for
a couple of weeks. Here we are again, back at
patrol based fires, not long after the incident, and what
was the recovery? Like, it really wasn't that bad. I mean,

(28:40):
it didn't really hurt until the next day. Yeah, because
I was I was just so confused and out of
it from the concussion at h It's kind of just
a daze the whole time, and that you are and
like in the exciting care awards and stuff. I didn't
really start getting my memory back or anything like that

(29:02):
until like a week later. Rich Foldsky's shrapnel wound healed
quickly enough, but his memory would never be the same.
At the time, that was the least of his concerns.
He was desperate to get back to the squad, even
if he had doubts about the bigger mission. Tell me
about how you wanted to get out of the hospital
and come back, Like you probably could have gone home

(29:24):
if you cried a little bit and told him that's
what you wanted to do. I end up coming back,
like not not because I wanted to fight anymore. Oh yeah,
I want to find more because I kind of a
serious problem with the Taliban, you know. But uh, I
had some revenge to get with them. But it's really
not it's really not about that I came back because

(29:48):
of these guys, the guys I'm out here with, Like
this really isn't this really isn't my fight. It's not
really America's fight either. We're kind just here, so I mean,
it's not for that reason. It's only because I still
got boys out here that I wanted to come back.

(30:09):
Two weeks in the hospital was long enough for rich
Bollski to feel like he was letting the squad down. Now,
he tells me he still feels bad about being away.
One thing that I found out afterwards that kind of
really made me sad, Oh man, is that a h

(30:30):
put a moody in a spot where you do carry
the machine gun. Yep, that was my responsibility, not his. Yeah,

(31:02):
sorry to get back rich Falskis. Memories maybe out of
order and fuzzy around the edges, but dates and place
names don't matter much. In the end. It was the
people who mattered back and sang in the PB fires Marines,

(31:24):
especially the guys in the squad, And it's the people
who mattered to rich ball Ski all these years later too.
He throws another log into the wood stove, and then
he tells me about Dutch glasses. It's a guy who
can do smart stuff. Happens a lot in the Marine Corps.

(31:47):
Guys who have glasses get tasked with smart people's stuff.
For sure. That's funny. He is a sweet human being man.
The word I would put on him was sweet, loving, caring,
not what you would expect of a marine or what

(32:09):
of a marine where we were good human being a
lot better than me. Do you remember the day that
he got killed? What do you remember about that day?
Remember the fucking explosion. I remember the crack, I remember

(32:29):
the dust. By that day, September eleven, rich Volski had
already survived one near death experience. Instinct took over. I
had one of them gut feelings. Man, afterwards, he had
already blown up at this point. But that's one of

(32:51):
the few times I remember having a intense gut feeling
that said, do not fucking move. Then I didn't. War
is usually about force, not choices. Marines are told where

(33:15):
to go and what to do when they get there.
Sometimes that means rushing headlong into machine gun fire. But
this time rich Volsky did make a choice. While other
third Squad marines rushed up to help Dutch, rich Volsky
stayed glued to the dirt behind his gun. It may
be one of the tougher things I've done. I guess

(33:36):
is not go, But I didn't. Something fucking told me
don't fucking go over there. Tactically, I made the right choice. Morally,
maybe not. What could you have done differently if you
had rushed up and gotten closer, clogged it up, kutting

(33:59):
in the way, gotten in the way, hit another I
again again. Yeah, as we've been talking about all this,
I can't help noticing how even keeled rich Foldsky is.
And it isn't just the whiskey. Rich Foldski was laid
back and sang into like he was just rolling with
the punches. Do you ever get angry? Do you ever? No?

(34:24):
I don't. I do not have rage. I did a
lot of thinking about it. I think is is what
it was, you know, of whether I wanted to be
piste off about it or not. There's a short period
of time after I got blown up, after the ninth,
after the twelve brooded. That that brood took a long time,

(34:47):
more than more than most of my broods. But yeah,
came up with no, no, what, I don't have any
hatred towards them. By them, rich Foldski means the Taliban,
like fucking it's it's ward is just some guys killing
each other, and it's that's the way it's supposed to
be human nature. That's what it is. Dudes have been

(35:10):
killing each other since the beginning of time, and we
will continue killing each other till the end of time.
That's not gonna change, man, you know, so there's no
real grudge to be had. You know, this is pretty
close to what Rich Bolski told me back in Sangin.
What do you think about about Taliban? Why do you
think they're fighting? What do you think they're their purposes?

(35:34):
I'm sure if I was fucking born in Afghanistan, i'd
probably be Taliban. Yeah, it's their deal, this is my deal.
I remember being surprised by rich Boldski's sober view of
the war. Back then. He didn't say anything about good
guys or bad guys, nothing about good or evil. He
didn't hold himself for America's cause up to be morally superior.

(35:58):
And after all these years, outlook hasn't really changed, you know.
I honestly believe they probably hated us more than I
hated down Uh, because I'd really hate a guy that
was fucking landed on my property coming up into your village. Yep,
this is mine, you know. And yet his lack of

(36:21):
hatred for the enemy does not imply an abundance of sympathy.
I would have gladly killed any race of people for
that any religion for that purpose of war at the time.
If we were going anywhere else in the world, it

(36:43):
wouldn't have mattered what the opposition was. All it is
is opposition the enemy, right, Yeah, yeah, all that's all that.
That's all it would have ever been. You know, it
didn't matter that they were in Muslim, didn't matter that
they were you know, brown, It didn't matter man, that
was the enemy at the time. It would be comforting

(37:06):
to think that seventeen and eighteen year olds and lists
out of patriotism and a deep commitment to service. But
in my experience, the U. S Military, especially the Marine
Corps Infantry, is chock full of rich Bolski's young men
looking for adventure, who want to fight and don't really
care where the war is happening or why, like Brian

(37:26):
Sheer doing pull ups in the recruiter's office when he
was eight years old, for John Bollinger, who just wanted
to fight. Some guys have doubts farther down the road
once they've had a taste of the big sock, but
not rich Volski. For him, the war happened and now
it's over. He proved himself in the ancient right of combat,

(37:47):
made some great friends, and now he's home. Time to
move on. I asked rich Volski if he thinks of
what helps some of the other guys, if they learned
to view their own war experiences dispassionately the way he does,
to let go of their hatred of the enemy, for example.

(38:07):
I don't know, man, I don't know if that would
help him. I do not know. I think some people,
some people need there to be a demon there to
justify their feelings and their actions. Huh. I just don't
need that. I don't go to sleep at night and

(38:29):
wonder if I'm a good person or not, you know
what I mean. I can look at myself and know
that I'm a good person, regardless of whether you know
I did some killing or not. Rich Volski tells me
about one specific time in Sangin when he shot and
killed a man on a roof the way he remembers it,
the guy was setting up to shoot at Brian Scher.

(38:51):
When you squeeze the trigger and took that life, did
you feel like it was muscle memory, like it was
doing your job or not. It's fucking exhilarating. It's good,
it really is, you know, because that motherfucker was about
to kill Sheer. So yeah, it's good, and it's still good,

(39:20):
still good to this day. I like Shear Mourner, like
that motherfucker. It will be easy to apply the word
dehumanizing here. Rich Volsky had dehumanized the enemy, and therefore
killing was easy. Rich Volski himself had been dehumanized by
the military before he even arrived in Sangin, and therefore
killing was easy and so on. But it's only dehumanizing

(39:44):
if you believe that the capacity to kill for whatever
reason is alien to human nature rather than part of
what makes us human. Well, what's interesting to me about
you versus the other people I've talked to so far
is I think you're will nus to say that you
don't hold a grudge, your willingness to say even back then, Hey,

(40:06):
if people like us showed up in my hometown, I'd
be fighting them too. You were willing back then and
are still willing now to say that your enemy was
doing something that made sense to you. Your enemy was
basically human. And yet you're also willing to say that

(40:28):
you felt exhilarated when you neutralize the threat, when you
got to do your job, when you got to fire
your machine gun, particularly when you got to eliminate the threat,
when you got to kill the person who was trying
to kill you. That that felt good. It's primal, man.
The surge of adrenaline that comes with that primal experience

(40:51):
is intoxicating, and I know how addictive it can be.
The feeling of being the hunter and the hunted in
a place where life isn't precious and the future isn't guaranteed,
and you feel more alive because you're always ready to die.

(41:19):
We'll be back after the break. In the decades since
rich Bollski came home from Sangin, he says he's cried
exactly twice. He was hammered drunk both times, and with

(41:42):
other veterans, though not guys he served with. I asked
him what brought on the tears? I just wish everybody
would have come back. That would be what brings the sadness?
And are there questions related to that? Uh? Like what

(42:08):
I mean? Example? Can you give me an example? The
simplest example would be why did I come back and
they didn't. I do not have that question though, because
life's a bit man. That's the way it works. So
another question would be, and this is a question that

(42:29):
a lot of your squad mates asked themselves, is could
I have done something different? That's also one that doesn't
doesn't get to me either. I accept my actions, man,
So what what would you say to guys who put
that personal responsibility on themselves, who are asking themselves that question,

(42:50):
could I have done something different? Or maybe if I
had done this and not that, so and so would
be here? What would you say to people who are
kind of tortured by that? Make east with it, bud,
and they're never gonna fucking change. Rich Volski is adding
a new layer of meaning to the motto of the

(43:11):
first Battalion, Fifth Marines, make peace or die, or maybe
he's got a new motto altogether, make peace and live
your life. It's fucking ten years later. If you're still
blaming yourself, you better accept that it's your fucking fault.
At this point, you gotta move on with your life.

(43:31):
That sounds fucking savage, I know, to fucking say that
a better way, Well, don't you think it would be
better for them to accept the other side of it,
which is accept that it's not my fault. Just I
do think that's better, you know, And that's the side
of it that I think is the truth. But it's

(43:52):
been a fucking while now, and I feel like if
you're still on that one, I think you need to
figure a way to live with yourself because you may
not be able to change it at this point. So
correct me if I'm wrong. And I don't want to,

(44:13):
I don't want to say this the wrong way, but
correct me if I'm wrong that you've had an easier
time making peace with things than some of your friends.
I would say, do you ever wonder about why that is?
Do you ever or do you have any ideas about
why that is? The The only answer to that question
that I can give you is when I saw the Wizard,

(44:37):
I only went to one once ever, and uh, she said,
you had a good childhood, essentially, and that's why you're
all right. So the whether there's a truth behind that
or not, I don't know how anybody could her. No,

(45:01):
you know, I don't know how a psychiatrist knows anything,
because in my opinion, you can't be in anybody's brain.
I think your brain is your brain, and I don't
care how much science you'll throw at it. Fucking nobody's
ever been in here but me, Like, you know what

(45:22):
I mean? So the wizard this is a fun expression.
What does the wizard mean? That's the shrink psychiatrists. You know.
I remember being there. I feel like I just played,
I played the game, you know. Uh Like I felt

(45:43):
like I knew the answers that she wanted, you know,
and I just I went with that, you know, And
then she was like, all right, good you go. Richbolski
and the rest of third Squad had to go see
the Wizard after they got home from Sangon as part
of a routine post deployant health screening. What were the
answers that you thought she wanted to hear? What were

(46:06):
the questions? Oh, there's a lot about guilt. I mean,
funk man, you could be a psychiatrist. Hey, you're talking
to me about all the same bullshit she did. You know.
I swear to God, I believe this is it. It's
not a very It's not all that different when you
get down to it. Yeah, yeah, this is it. This

(46:28):
is what we fucking did, except what we're putting it
on audio. Well, also, you're not telling me what you
think I want to hear. Are you no good? Because
I don't want that. Like Michael Miner and Brian Sheer,
rich ball Ski doesn't think the mental health profession has
much to offer him. Do I think it's a bad thing. No,
I think it's a good thing for people who need it.

(46:50):
I just I don't think I needed it, and I
didn't want to get roped into a thing. I feel
like I could have easily got prescribed some fucking weird
brain drugs to fucking make my brain crazy. I didn't
like it. Shrinks aren't the only people rich Volsky is
skeptical of. Should I'm skeptical about you, Bud. Tell me

(47:11):
about that. Tell me about what what your skepticism is,
because you weren't. You weren't skeptical of me when I
was in Afghanistan. Yeah, I know I was. I was
young and dumb. But you're skeptical of me now? Yes.
I think there's a lot of ways to twist everything
that I've said in the last hour, and it uh

(47:37):
worries me that you're gonna do that. Rich Volski is
built a quiet life for himself up here in Alaska,
and he wants to keep it that way. When I
first got in touch with him. He told me I
could come visit and that we could talk, but he
said he didn't really want to be the story and
he didn't want to get too political. Now that I'm here,
he tells me what he thinks I need to focus on.

(47:58):
I don't think it's the killing that needs to be
touched on. I don't think it's uh why we got
sent there that needs to be touched on. I don't
think any of that fucking matters. The only part of
this that would matter would be the guys who didn't
come back, that didn't get to the side, if they

(48:19):
want to be fucked up or if they want to
fucking build a house. I think that's the part of
the news to be touched on. Like well, I would
be a very dishonest person if I told you that
that's all I was going to touch on, I would
be lying to you. I know, I know, because why
you got sent there, the sense that you all made

(48:46):
of it at the time, how you remember it, the
nitty gritty, bad, sad, terrible things that happened, the killing,
the aftermath, what you've all done since all of that
stuff is is the story, right? I think a little uh,

(49:12):
distrust on my end. It needs to go in there
because I'm sure I'm not the only one. There's there's
no fucking way, you know. I think you need to
show that. It makes us feel weird to tell the story.
It's not just that rich Volsky is skeptical of how

(49:32):
I'm going to tell his story. It's also that he
doesn't really see the point. I don't want to offend
you with my skepticism. You're not going to because I
like you, man, I like you. I don't want to
be a fucking dick, but you're not a dick. I'm
just saying that what's gonna fucking change, right? Maybe nothing?
Probably nothing, But you know what will change if I

(49:54):
don't do it? Definitely nothing. I doubt the Third Squad
Marines were thinking about their historical legacy when they were
in the thick of the fight and sang in they
had more urgent concerns. But they are a part of history,
and I think it's important to hear their stories. Rich

(50:17):
Volski would just as soon close the book, and he's
not tortured by his memories or his feelings about the
war like some of the other guys. Why some people
struggle more than others after a traumatic experience is one
of the great unanswered questions. In rich Volski's case, his
tb I induced memory problems might actually be a blessing,

(50:38):
like the fact that there isn't this very clear, organized
set of memories that you go back to over and
over and over. I'm wondering if that doesn't help you
in a certain way, sure does. Nothing is forced upon
me repetitively by my own brain. Rich Volsky's tb I

(51:01):
symptoms are relatively mild, but not everyone is so lucky.
T b ies can cause serious problems like amnesia, seizures,
chronic fatigue, and increased risk of dementia, as well as
a host of emotional issues like violent mood swings, anxiety, depression,
and sexual dysfunction. T b I and PTSD often go

(51:22):
hand in hand, and veterans with t b ies are
more than twice as likely to commit suicide. World War
One veterans who showed similar symptoms in the aftermath of
artillery barrages were said to have shell shock, the signature
injury of trench warfare. Almost a century later, t B
eyes emerged as the signature injury of the post nine
eleven Wars because of troops frequent exposure to i EB explosions.

(51:47):
According to the Department of Defense, more than four hundred
thousand U S service members experienced to t b I
in the past two decades, including as many as one
in every five I Rock and Afghanistan veterans. Rich Volski
has come to view his tv I is something that
helps him more than it hurts him, and there may
be other reasons why he seems so unburdened by the war.

(52:09):
Like the Wizard said, he might have bounced back because
he had a good childhood in a supportive family. Or
maybe it's just his laid back Hawaiian side shining through
his gruff Alaskan exterior. I've made peace, man. You know,
I'm at peace with myself. I'm at peace with where
I'm at in my life. I'm good. Hi Ho, Hi Ho.

(52:40):
It's off to work. We go. It's so much better
of a drive when there's not anybody else. It's single
digits and pitch black outside. The next morning, when rich
Revolski and I climb into the cab of his pickup,
I've got an early flight out of anchorage, and he
has to be at work by seven am. On the drive,
we keep our eyes peeled for moose. We swap hunting

(53:02):
stories and talk about our mutual love for the wilderness,
the mountains, rivers and wildlife that demand respect and deliver
swift punishment to anyone who doesn't give it. Do you
feel free? You know, no distractions, nobody around you, rely
on yourself. Being out there in those vast and unforgiving

(53:24):
places is exhilarating, but nothing matches the high of being
at war. Unfortunately, that high and its soul shaping effect
came at the steepest price. For us to have that
primal experience that made us who we are, others had
to die. Next time on third Squad, I'll be back

(54:20):
in the lower forty eight visiting Scott mccitchen in Kentucky.
I got kicked to the curb because I made one
poor choice after fallless service, I would say when I
got kicked out, I had no benefits or no direction
or guideline, or none of my friends I had served
with around me or in my life. I started selling cocaine,

(54:40):
so I mean, and I was going to school as well,
But how the hell else am I going to payper.
I'm back to square one. What did that feel like
for you? Suck felt like fucking defeat. I would describe
it like the same way a guy feels when he
walks in on his fucking wife Lane in bed with

(55:01):
another dude. It felt that shitty. Third Squad is written
and produced by Elliott Woods, Tommy Andres, and Maria Burne.
It's an Heirloom Media production distributed by iHeart Media. Funding
support for Third Squad comes from the National Endowment for

(55:23):
the Humanities in collaboration with the Center for Warren Society
at San Diego State University. If you're interested in supporting
our work, please visit the donate page at third squad
dot com, where you'll also find photographs from Sangin and
from our road trip. Original music for Third Squad by
Mondo Boys, editing and sound designed by John Ward, fact

(55:45):
checking by Ben Kalin. Special thanks to Scott Carrier, Marianne Andre,
Ted Genoways, Benjamin Bush, Caitlin esh Kerry, Gracie, Kevin Connolly,
and Lena Ferguson. If you got a minute, please leave
us a rating in your preferred podcast app. It will
help other people find the show. You can Find me
on Instagram and Twitter at Elliott Woods.
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