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Denver: Iraq vet’s movie helps him cope with war stress

Robert Weller
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado

DENVER, Colorado ” Counseling and medication weren’t enough help Laef Fox recover from his grim war experience in Iraq, and drugs and alcohol didn’t work either, so he tried making a movie instead.

The result is “Changing Us,” a film about the invasion from a grunt’s point of view. It will be screened in a private Fourth of July preview in Denver.

The 80-minute documentary, made with footage Fox shot while in Iraq, tells what it was like for an average squad assigned to protect the main supply route into Baghdad from frequent attacks launched from bunkers and a network of tunnels. That made his squad the frequent target of attacks.

Fox was in Iraq for six months starting in April 2003, just after the invasion began.

“I had a lot of unexpected explosions go off near me and random gunshots,” he said. When he came home the Veterans Administration diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder and he was given a partial disability.

It “took me three years to get over it,” he said, but he was still antsy during an interview with The Associated Press. He said the slightest noise can shake him and bring back bad memories, and he still has problems with his central nervous system.

“Alcoholism and anger almost overcame me completely,” he said, but a supportive family and girlfriend pushed him to get treatment.

“The treatment helped me climb from the hole I was in,” he said.

Putting the movie together helped him come to grips with what he had seen and done, and filled an urgent need he felt to tell his story.

“I just want to give people knowledge of one unit and the Iraqi experience,” he said.

His mother, Cyndi Fox of Lancaster, Ohio, said that when her son came home, he was so angry and depressed that “for a while I didn’t know him. He had always been the class clown.”

She said the “movie has helped him tremendously.”

“He is still always on the move (since he returned from Iraq). I don’t think he will ever get over it. I just want him to have happy thoughts.”

Now 28, Fox is a video major at the Art Institute of Colorado in Denver.

His movie isn’t sensational, although it includes some nighttime scenes of his convoy being attacked. It is mainly vignettes of what life was one like for one group of soldiers.

In one scene, when his Humvee came under fire by rocket-propelled grenades, Fox is heard saying, “Well, we took fire, we got to find and kill these (expletive deleted). Let’s go roll the (expletive) out.”

It is part tribute to the soldiers he served with. Time after time he describes them as among the finest soldiers in the world.

There is plenty of humor. In one scene, a soldier wrestles a donkey to get control and then rides it back to its owner’s village. It’s an inside joke: The Army’s mascot is a donkey.

Another time the soldiers are seen holding bricks of gold they had found inside a truck and telling jokes. Where the gold came from isn’t explained.

Fox had joined the Army on Sept. 11, 1997. He served in Kosovo, Bosnia and Korea and rose to the rank of sergeant and served in a military police unit.

He was nearing the end of his hitch and had been accepted at Ohio State University when the terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001. In 2002, the Army extended his stay for a year with a stop-loss order, which lets the military keep soldiers during an emergency.

He spent the first six months of his extension guarding the entrance to the Pentagon used by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and then was sent to Iraq during the invasion.

His MP training left him better-prepared than most of his comrades during the chaos after Saddam Hussein’s forces were rolled up, he said.

“I’ll do anything for my country so I sucked it up,” he said.

Six months later, he was told his time was up, but he was reluctant to leave his fellow soldiers behind.

“I tried to extend. It was one of the worst things that every happened to me,” he said. but the Army told him if he wanted to stay he would have to sign up for another two years, and he wanted to do other things with his life.

Fox doesn’t blame the Iraqis for his experience.

“I don’t blame anyone who tried to kill me when I was there. That’s the way I would feel if America was attacked,” he said.


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