Recently I had the pleasure of co-hosting a radio show with Bonnie Kay of Books of Excellence. We interviewed Marc Philip Yablonka who wrote Distant War, Recollections of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
Yablonka served with the California State Military Reserve, a support brigade to the California National Guard and U.S. Army Reserves between 2001 and 2008 and it’s an honor for me to salute his service. .
What was your MOS?
My duty station was the Joint Forces Training Base at Los Alamitos, CA, though I also traveled to several National Guard armories in my capacity as a 46-Quebec (military journalist). When I entered the unit, I was an E-5 (sergeant). When I left the unit, basically to write my book “Distant War: Recollections of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia,” I mustered out as a CWO-2 (Chief Warrant Officer-2),
What was the training and prep for your MOS?
Online coursework from DINFOS, the Defense Information School, now at Ft. Meade, MD. In addition, I graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Public Affairs “C” Course up at Coast Guard Island, CA. I also completed all three phases of Warrant Officer School at Camp San Luis Obispo, CA and Fort B.T. Collins, Sacramento, CA.
What were/are your duties?
My duties were to write stories and take photographs in support of our troops mobilizing for and demobilizing from Iraq and Afghanistan. My stories and photos ran in publications such as American Veteran (quarterly of the AMVETS organization), Soldiers (the official magazine of the U.S. Army), The Grizzly (magazine of the California National Guard), The Blade (official publication of the 63rd Regional Readiness Command, U.S. Army Reserves), Hawaii Army Weekly (newspaper of the 25th Infantry Division) and others.
What did you like most about serving?
The fact that I was able to tell the Army’s story in a positive light. Also the fact that I was able to right a wrong because I had not served when I should have during the Vietnam War. It was also great to be in a unit that was comprised of many Vietnam veterans who were still compelled to wear our country’s uniform so many years after their service in Vietnam because I have long admired and respected them for doing what I should have done in the late 1960s.
What prompted you to serve?
Two numbers: 9-11. I had spent years feeling an emptiness inside as an American because I had not worn our country’s uniform. After 9-11, a friend who was an Army veteran and who had been a photojournalist in Vietnam, called me up and told me that his unit (the above-mentioned California State Military Reserve) needed public affairs officers. I was incredulous at the time because I was then 50 years old. My friend told me that age was not a factor in that unit. So I signed up!
What was some of the greatest challenges you faced?
Learning Army parlance and figuring out whom to salute and whom not to! LOL
What was the most rewarding experience?
Telling the Army’s story and getting it right. The funnest experience I had was the several rides I had in helicopters–chiefly Blackhawks–on local National Guard missions I was tasked with.
How did serving affect your family? Did they find their part of service rewarding?
I think my family was basically proud of me. My father is a World War II veteran of the Army Air Corps (he was a radio man on Saipan in the South Pacific), who later went on to a Cold War career in aeronautics, so he was especially proud at the time.
What opportunities or advantages or disadvantages did you have after reentering civilian life?
I never left civilian life when I served in the California State Military Reserve. While I did get tasked with state active duty a number of times, I was never deployed overseas and was able to continue my dual careers as an educator and military journalist. Because I was never federalized. I supported the Army Guard and Reserves in what I did. I was a member of a “State Defense Force” (SDFs number into the high 30s in throughout the country), not the Army itself. My Commanders-in-Chief during the time I served were Govs. Grey Davis and Arnold Schwarzeneggar rather than President Bush. Because I had no prior military service before joining the CA SMR, I do not qualify for veterans benefits.
What is your advice to someone thinking about serving their country?
I want to say, “Do it.” The benefits you will reap both during and after your service will mean so much to you. At the same time, I’m fully aware that advice coming from a person like me who was never deployed, and while I have written, both in and out of uniform, about wars and warriors, have never served directly in harm’s way, may sound hollow. I only wish someone had been there for me to give me this advice in 1968 when I graduated from high school. I’m not ashamed of the path I followed (to university and a career as a teacher), but I just wish I had been able to add the word “Soldier” to my resume many years before I did!
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE!
A freelance journalist’s observations and recollections of Southeast Asia, in the decades following the Vietnam War. Part exploratory journalism and part unofficial history, Distant War combines photographs, interviews, and personal insights from people on both sides of the conflict to reveal a side of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia that few Americans have ever seen. Marc Yablonka pulls back the curtain on a region struggling to understand its past and determine the course of its future.
“I didn’t know how little I knew about this period of time until I picked up this book. I highly recommend everyone to read Distant War. It truly gives a rare look into the heroes that served in a war few ever really understood.” –