After graduating from West Point, Andrew Brennan of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania trained to fly UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters and then he deployed to Afghanistan in 2010.
When we kicked the door in Afghanistan, Andrew Brennan admits, the army didn’t have a lot figured out. In the field, missions were—literally—being planned on the hoods of humvees. When Andrew made captain, he left the flight line and became a staff officer at battalion headquarters. The flying was challenging, he admits, but being a staff officer was probably my most difficult experience. “The most stressful thing for any junior officer is dealing with the bureaucracy.”
We first met Andrew Brennan at Christ United Methodist Church in Pittsburgh’s suburban Bethel Park neighborhood. Our mission on that cold but sunny day in late February 2016 was to film interviews for a promotional video for the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation—Andrew’s nonprofit organization spearheading efforts to build a memorial on the National Mall in Washington D.C. to honor our fallen warriors, US services members, their families, and all those who supported our nation’s longest war.
After filming several testimonials from local post-9/11 veterans, we invited Andrew to sit with us for an extended interview to be include in our veterans oral history project.
This interview was conducted by Veteran Voices executive producer Kevin Farkas and recorded by Bryan Chemini.
Those who served since the attacks of September 11, 2001 are called post-9/11 veterans. They number more than 3.7 million and make up nearly 18% of the total veteran population. Nearly 12% of all veterans in Pennsylvania served since 9/11.
Compared to WWII, Korea, and Vietnam-era veterans, post-9/11 veterans are young and more racially, ethnically, and gender diverse. The number of women who’ve served since 9/11 is more than double any previous generation. More than 25% of post-9/11 veterans have a service connected disability, with far more suffering from the psychological trauma of war. About half of all post-9/11 vets served with someone who was killed. The suicide rate among post-9/ll veterans is alarming.
Yet, post-9/11 veterans are among our nation’s best, brightest, patriotic, and productive citizens. As President Obama said, “Across our country, veterans who fought to protect our democracy around the globe are strengthening it here at home. Once leaders in the armed forces, they are now pioneers of industry and pillars of their communities.”
At war or home, the post-9/11 veteran experience is certainly unlike any other. The particular social, economic, and political issues facing our young veterans are, naturally, of our time. Their stories bear this out, revealing experiences that are far more complicated than we assume, understand, or oftentimes accept.
Rather than judge, our aim is to understand the experiences of post-9/11 veterans through their stories, in their own words. That’s why the Veterans Breakfast Club launched its Post-9/11 Veterans Storytelling Project creating communities of listening around post-9/11 veterans and their stories ensuring that their experiences will be shared with and appreciated by the public.
The Longest War podcast is an extension of this effort, featuring stories and conversations about Pittsburgh-area post-9/11 veterans.
Episode 18 was recorded April 10, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pa. Host: Nick Grimes. Guest: Andrew Brennan. Executive Producer: Kevin Farkas. Recordist: Kevin Farkas, Bryan Chemini. Editors: Kevin Farkas, Jonathan Stile. Music (available on Soundcloud.com): Doby0728 (“straysheep2011”), John892 (“Platoon1”). Other sound (available on Vimeo.com): Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Initiative (Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation video). Copyright 2017. All rights reserved.