War vet starts GCC student group

August 12, 2010

GREENFIELD — Morgan Buchanan-Gauthier never feels more at peace than when he is with people he was in the Marines with.

“I would say that’s true to all vets,” said Buchanan-Gauthier, 26, who was deployed to Iraq three times. “You make some really great friends in the military.”

Morgan Buchanan-Gauthier sits at a desk at Greenfield Community College. Buchanan-Gauthier served three tours in Irag with the Marines and has since helped create the Veterans Network at the college.
Recorder/Peter MacDonald

 “Being around other vets is good; everyone has a different experience in the military but we all share many experiences as well,” he said.

Buchanan-Gauthier is now a student at Greenfield Community College, working on his liberal arts degree. At GCC, he helped spearhead the creation of the college’s Veterans Network, which was started last summer. The group now has about a dozen veterans, who have been meeting a few times each month.

The group is not meeting in the summer, but will be this fall.

“The goals of the student/veteran group are mainly to ensure that the veteran population has a voice and that our needs are being met,” he said. “If a veteran on campus has a problem or needs some information, it’s a great resource to have available.”

He said he would also like to incorporate community service into the group and that the group has had conversations with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s veterans group about doing some joint work.

Buchanan-Gauthier, who grew up in Conway, has been back and living in western Massachusetts for about four years. He is also working now at Zoar Outdoor, working on their zip lines and is living with friends in Greenfield.

He joined the Marines when he was 18, in October 2001. He said, at that time, he didn’t think college was an option for him.

In August 2002, he left for boot camp in South Carolina for 13 weeks, which included drills, physical fitness, learning about riffles and basic infantry skills.

After boot camp, he went to the School of Infantry in North Carolina for about two months, where he specialized in mortars, a muzzle-loading fire weapon that fires shells.

Then, he went to his unit, the 2nd Battalion 6th Marines, at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, and that’s where he remained stationed for the rest of his tenure in the Marines. About a month later, he was shipped to Kuwait, before the initial push into Iraq. He went into Iraq about two to three weeks, where he mostly did patrols, he said.

He described the war in Iraq as more of policing effort, rather than direct combat. He said prolonged fire fights were not a common thing when he was there. He said he did many patrols, including at vehicle check points.

“In Iraq, it isn’t that 50 guys go out and 25 come back,” he said.

He returned to North Carolina in June 2003 and then was deployed to Japan from September 2003 to April 2004, where he was training. In September 2004, he volunteered to go to Iraq, as they needed Marines with expertise in operating mortars.

He remained in Iraq for seven months, where he was on a base outside of Fallujah.

After being back in the United States for five months, he returned to Iraq, which he said was more dangerous and risky than his first two deployments.

“It was awful,” he said.

He said one of his friends was killed and someone died who he was in charge of during his last deployment.

In April 2006, he returned from Iraq and was discharged from the Marines in August, after his contract was up and decided not to reenlist.

He said one of the appealing aspects of being a Marine was meeting people and developing strong bonds. If he had reenlisted, he wouldn’t have been with the people he had been stationed with. “And, you don’t want to push your luck,” he said.

When he came back to Massachusetts, it wasn’t an easy transition. He started drinking and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, which is an anxiety disorder that can occur after someone has been through a traumatic event.

Experts thinks PTSD occurs in about 11 to 20 percent of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

He also ended up homeless for a period of time and lived at the Northampton VA Medical Center in Leeds.

But, he said he knew that he needed to get some help and turn things around when his problems just kept escalating and became more and more unmanageable.

“It really starting affecting every aspect of my life.”

So, at that time, knowing he was risking his friendships and his health, he made a decision to make some changes.

“There are a lot of people that didn’t get a chance, so I am trying to live my life the right way for them.”

He participated in a program at the VA to help him quit drinking.

He started taking a few night classes and then became a fulltime college student.

“Things are better now than they were yesterday or two years ago,” he said. “Things are definitely on the up and not the down.”

“Work is good, life is good.”

By MacKenzie Issler, Recorder Staff