Interview with CJ Grisham of A Soldier’s Perspective
Back in early 2013, MilitaryVALoan.com had the opportunity to interview CJ Grisham, a well-known veteran blogger and proponent of free speech. We talked to CJ about his blog, his beliefs, and his experiences that came as a result of serving in the US Armed Forces, including his experiences using VA loans and other VA funded benefits.
1. Tell us a little about your site, A Soldier’s Perspective. How did it get started?
I started ASP in 2005 as a way of dealing with what eventually was diagnosed as PTSD. I had a lot of stuff going through my head and didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone about it. So, I started writing as a way of dealing with what I went through in combat. It was sort of my way of talking to someone without really talking to anyone.
2. What do you hope to achieve through your blog and posts?
Initially, I just wanted to get thoughts out of my head, but as the blog gained readership I just felt like I needed to tell the Army story. I wrote about mundane things and exciting things that troops do on a daily basis, both in combat and back at home. Then, I felt like the media was telling a very different story from what I knew as reality. I used my blog to correct the media message or at least give it some perspective and context. Now, I just write about things that interest me, whether they are related to my military life or not.
3. You’ve attracted quite a bit of controversy about freedom of speech, which is another topic in itself. How would you sum up your experience with free speech issues and what has been the outcome?
The Army is not as friendly to bloggers as it once was, so telling the Army story has become difficult. It used to be okay to cover the good, the bad, and ugly. Unfortunately, commanders only want to hear the good and censor the bad now.
When I took my oath of enlistment, I took it seriously. While I understand that there are rules that Soldiers have to live by that the general populace doesn’t, I haven’t believed and don’t believe that Soldiers surrender ANY of their rights when they sign up to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. It’s counterintuitive to think that we fight to defend rights we don’t enjoy. Who in their right mind would give up rights to secure them for others? My father once told me, “CJ, as long as you always do the right thing, you’ll never have anything to worry about.” He told me that there will always be people that don’t like what I do or what I have to say, but if I’m not breaking any rules or laws I will come out ahead in the end. Speaking my mind hasn’t been popular among many, especially commanders. There is a saying that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” It’s been my experience that the reality is more like “the squeaky wheel gets changed out.”
The Army is a great profession. I’ve learned a lot from my more than 18 years of service. I learned how to be self-sufficient. I learned discipline. I learned some skills. I learned respect, courtesy, maturity, and strengthened values I already held dear when I joined. It’s been a very positive experience, but not all of it was positive. Unfortunately, while I think the military is a noble profession that every American should serve in at least one term, I no longer recommend it as a career. It’s become too politically correct. We are a social experiment. Our values have shifted and become more self-centered. Leadership is more about how something will be perceived than whether or not it is right.
4. Give us a little background on your experience in the military.
I probably should have read all the questions before I started answering. I think I answered this on in the previous question. I initially signed up as a Spanish Linguist. I had the opportunity to go on short “deployments” to Panama and Ecuador to take advantage of the language training I received. I didn’t know a lick of Spanish prior to attending the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, California, but came out of it practically fluent.
I was deployed to Kuwait in 2002 as part of the buildup to convince Saddam Hussein to step down for the sake of the Iraqi people. I was with the 3/7 Cavalry Regiment who crossed the border at 2359 on the evening of March 19, 2003. We fought our way up to As Samawah and then I was transferred to 4-64 Armor for a feint operation near An Hillah and was awarded a Bronze Star with V device during the battle. We then fought our way up to Baghdad and I was transferred to 1-64 Armor for the Thunder Runs into Baghdad. When Baghdad fell, I was again transferred to 3-15 Infantry and remained with them in Baghdad and, later, Fallujah. When we returned home, I was sent to Fort Irwin to stand up the IED Task Force to train our troops in recognition and avoidance of IEDs. After that, I was promoted to 1SG and had the privilege of leading some of the best troops the Army has whose mission was to find terrorists and others.
5. What is the most memorable thing you have learned from serving?
I learned how to lead and mentor others to accomplish very difficult tasks. I had some great leaders as a young Soldier who taught me how to put the needs of my troops before my own. I learned to always choose the hard right over the easy wrong and the benefits that come from doing a job with the highest quality possible. I also learned time management skills I didn’t have before.
6. If you started over, would you do anything differently?
7. What is your experience with VA benefits? Have you ever used your VA loan benefits?
Yes. My wife and I bought a house in Georgia using our VA benefits. Not having to worry about a costly down payment was a major contributor to earning the title “home owner” that I probably wouldn’t have had without it. I probably should sell it, but it’s our FIRST HOUSE! There is sentimental value in that. I have also used many of my education benefits since joining the military. I’ve only had to pay for books and have gotten some good, quality education. I plan to use my GI Bill to get some certifications when I retire.
8. What are your thoughts on the system?
I’ve had nothing but positive experiences. Would you change anything if you could? The only thing I would change is what happens when you PCS. When we purchased our house in Georgia, we fully expected to live in it for a long time. Unfortunately, I came down on orders within two years of buying the house and it was hassle to get permission to rent out the house. However, the VA worked with us and understood once I had an opportunity to explain that it wasn’t my intent to use the VA loan to just purchase an investment house. We planned to live there for at least another three years.
CJ Grisham is retired from the Army. He served for 17 years and his last rank was Master Sergeant.