SHOOTING GHOSTS:
A U.S. MARINE, A COMBAT PHOTOGRAPHER, AND THEIR JOURNEY BACK FROM WAR

Learn more about our roots in war, trauma and recovery. Read the new joint memoir from The War Horse founder Thomas J. Brennan and conflict photographer Finbarr O’Reilly, whose unlikely friendship helped heal their war-wounded bodies and souls.

Available now in bookstores.

 

 

Listen to "Shooting Ghosts" Authors on NPR's Fresh Air

 

 

"Shooting Ghosts" authors discuss war, Trauma, and loss

 
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Make Cannabis Legal For Veterans

"I want safe, regulated medical cannabis to be a treatment option. Just like the sedatives and amphetamines the V.A. used to send me by mail. And the opioids they still send to my friends."

Read Our story in The New York Times Opinion Section

 
 

Reliving Military Sexual Trauma on Her Last Day of Active Duty

Joy Craig's retirement ceremony was set to take place that day, but first, she had to sit down with an NCIS agent on base and relive sexual assaults she'd been scared to report for fear of retaliation.

Read Joy's story.


Balancing Authority and Understanding as a Young Lieutenant

Nina Semczuk worried that as a new second lieutenant she wouldn't strike the right balance between enforcing the rules and being a compassionate, understanding officer. One private's lunch paid the price. 

Read Nina's story.


His Closest Brush With Combat Was a Dramatic Helicopter Landing

Sam Gisselman was confident of his ability as a rifleman. He'd trained for war and looked forward to going on combat patrol and to proving himself, but it wasn't mean to be.

Read Sam's story.

Explore Our Ongoing Series Veterans Adding Value

The Veterans Adding Value series aims to bridge the military-civilian divide through in-depth, vivid reporting and highlights the resilience, compassion, and selflessness forged through military service.

This ongoing series about veterans bettering the world around them is made possible through a generous grant from the Schultz Family Foundation.

 

 

SHOOTING GHOSTS:
A U.S. MARINE, A COMBAT PHOTOGRAPHER, AND THEIR JOURNEY BACK FROM WAR

A unique joint memoir from The War Horse founder Thomas J. Brennan and conflict photographer Finbarr O’Reilly, whose unlikely friendship helped heal their war-wounded bodies and souls.

Read their story.

Explore the impact of our Marines United investigation

Four months ago, The War Horse and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting broke the Marines United scandal. A lot has happened since then.


He Craved Normalcy, But He Could Think Only of Getting Back to War

When his kid brother came back from war, Marine veteran Drew Pham recognized in him the conflicted yearning to go back and desire to stay away. Drew's brother rejected terms like PTS, calling what he had a "soldier's heart."

Read Drew's story.


ARMED ONLY WITH COLORED FLAGS, HE AND HIS FELLOW MARINES COMBED THE WRECKAGE SITE

When two aircraft collided in midair above North Carolina, Adam Stone and dozens of fellow Marines were tasked with identifying bits of the wreckage, including their brothers.

Read Adam's Story.

 

 
 

 

We gave Esquire exclusive access to our Marines United investigation

"Marine leadership seemed more concerned with killing the story as opposed to striking at the root of the problem," said Thomas J. Brennan, founder of The War Horse.

Four months ago, The War Horse broke the Marines United scandal.

A lot has happened since then.

Our team has been awarded the Society for Features Journalism's second place award for integrated storytelling.

We co-published the award-winning story about the long recovery process of Kyle Carpenter, the youngest living Medal of Honor recipient, with Vanity Fair.

 

 

She Stayed Quiet When Marines' Wives Called Female Marines "Sluts." Then She Met Joy

A chance encounter with a female Marine veteran brought back memories for Liesel Kershul of what it was like to be on the outside of the Marine wives' "sorority."

Read Liesel's story.

 

 

Marines' Wives Are All the Same, She Thought. And Then She Met Liesel

Marine veteran Joy Craig writes an open letter to a new friend and Marine officers' wife, Liesel, about the chasm between the two groups of women—and her desire to change that.

Read Joy's story.

THE ARMY SHE KNEW WASN’T ORDERLY OR DISCIPLINED. IT WAS FILLED WITH MESSY HUMANITY

Nina Semczuk struggled during civilian job interviews to translate how managing soldier drama while leading a 25-soldier platoon more than qualified her for the job.

Read Nina's story.

 

 
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LEARNING TO BREATHE THROUGH THE JOURNEY OF ADDICTION AND PTS

Jenny Pacanowski tried to drown out PTS's screams with heroin. She realized she'd have to work on her internal monologue, or die.

Read Jenny's story.

 

 
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DROWN PROOFING, KHAKI SHORTS. SOME THINGS ABOUT DIVE SCHOOL DON'T CHANGE

There was only so much prep work Tenley Lozano could do before Dive School. But how could she prepare for the additional scrutiny women endure.

Read Tenley's story.

 
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WHEN LIFE AS A MILITARY SPOUSE GOT HARD, AMBER WAS ALWAYS THERE

Liesel Kershul weathered three deployments with her now-husband, Tom. When they moved to Germany the isolation became too much, until she and Tom adopted Amber.

Read Liesel's Story.

 

 

The Army Was Hard, Finding a Soul Sister After Returning Home Was Harder

Life in D.C. was impossibly lonely for Elizabeth O'Herrin. She looked to church for community, but struggled to find female friends, until Gina.

Read Elizabeth's story.

War Trauma Spread Through His Family Like a Virus

When John Sims suffered a severe panic attack, he realized he needed help. But he feared that people would think he'd cracked.

This essay is the second in a three-part series.

Read John's story.

 

 

After 30 Years and Four Wars, One Explosion Opened the Floodgates

Before he could heal, John Sims needed to understand that 30 years of service had taken its toll—not just on him, but on his family. 

This essay is the first in a three-part series.

Read John's story.

 

 

They Were Supposed To Be Fighting a War. Instead They Picked Up Gravel.

Dustin Jones prayed for contact, just a little bit of fire, to liven up the day. Imagine being at war in an unprotected position, hoping to draw a little gunfire.

Read Dustin's story.

 

 
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I Leave Out the Part Where We Catch the Man

When he came back, Drew Pham told civilians traumatic stories from his time at war. He learned that people didn't know how to respond. The story he tells has changed.

Read Drew's story.

 

 

CIRCUMSTANCES, MISFORTUNES, OR FORTUNES

At the time, Teresa Fazio was a lapsed Catholic, hiding her beer beneath a tissue in India—polite women don't drink. She received prasad, like communion, and searched for salvation and connectivity amidst memories of Iraq.

Read Teresa's story.

 

 

Sailing the Atlantic Ocean – 2005

Tenley Lozano watched the Barque Eagle's bow cut through the Atlantic Ocean's night waters, swelling with bioluminescence and dolphins.

Read Tenley's story.

 

 

Our Spring 2017 Writing Seminar at Pulitzer Hall

Thanks to a generous donation from the D.J. Edelman Family Foundation, our team brought 15 veterans and family members to Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism for a five-day immersive writing seminar alongside Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, leading veteran's advocates, and mentors to help them share their stories about war and trauma. 

Additional support was provided by the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, Barnes and Noble Booksellers, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Barnes and Noble, Pegasus Books, the 9/11 Memorial Foundation,  The Half King, Hudson Whitman, and our guest speakers.

PHOTOGRAPHING INNOCENCE ADMIST THE CHAOS AND SILENCE OF WAR

"I saw them about a hundred yards away, amid a sparse herd of goats. They were playing, running, chasing each other. I wanted to see them close up. I wanted to photograph them," Dan Bellis writes, "but really, I just wanted to see them. I guess I wanted to play, too."

Read Dan's Story.

 

 

AN ATTACK FROM WITHIN:
MALE MARINES AMBUSH WOMEN IN UNIFORM

The Defense Department is investigating the orchestrated stalking and the deliberate collection, and distribution of photographs of active duty and veteran women. Dozens of victims were identified by their name, rank, and duty station. 

Our exclusive investigation.

 
 

His Torch Beckoned Like A Search Light

Back in the barracks, I ripped off my clothes and threw them into the trash. I sat in the shower for 40 minutes, maybe more. I didn’t care about using all the hot water.

Read Ryan's Story.

 

 
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How One Man Found Peace In Free Fall

If I was seriously injured or arrested, I’d likely be kicked out, owe the U.S. government a lot of money or time, and lose all chance of becoming an officer.

Read Brian's Story.

 
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You Don't Know, And I Don't Wanna Tell Ya

A friend of mine, a Marine from my unit, killed himself in the parking lot of a restaurant in 2013. Two weeks before Christmas.

Read Dustin's Story.

 

 

learning to listen on denali

"It's the prostitution of experience, man," Roger liked to say. He’d go on about how so many vets can't stop posturing and letting the world know that they really were in the shit, as if their characters couldn’t speak for themselves.

Read Pat's Story.

 
 

Losing the Fear That He Abandoned His Men

He told me how he felt his heart drop when he heard what some of the other guys had said about thinking he’d quit.

Read David's Story.

 

 

Sunflowers and Steel Rain

It felt menacing: the head looming down, the wide petal-fringed face contorted into a cruel smile. I couldn’t shake the association. It frustrated me that a once-cheerful flower had come to mean something so dark.

Read Elizabeth's Story.

 

 

IN THE ABSENCE OF TRUST AND CONFIDENCE

He lost respect, trust, and confidence in his Marine leaders. William Gehrung describes the misdiagnoses and maltreatment of injuries in the military.

Read William's Story.

 

 

The Quandary Of Perception Versus Reality

The women couldn’t tell anyone else or risk all of us getting a bad reputation. I wanted to believe that I hadn’t let those onboard the ship dictate what I could or couldn’t do.

Read Tenley's Story.

 

 

INSIDE THE PAINSTAKING RECOVERY PROCESS OF A MEDAL OF HONOR MARINE

Six years ago this month Lance Corporal Kyle Carpenter suffered grievous wounds after shielding another Marine from a grenade blast in Afghanistan. Somehow, he survived. This is the story of his remarkable recovery. 

 

 

NOTHING PREPARES YOU FOR WAR

About halfway through deployment the Taliban delivered a memo to the village saying they would begin attacking the Americans and that the locals ought to leave. A few weeks later Katyusha rockets began raining down.

Read Noah's Story.

 

 
 

 

Why should you donate to support our newsroom team?

Our stories are made possible by generous donors who trust that The War Horse will thoroughlyfairly, and ethically publish journalism that informs the public through storytelling that contextualizes Post-9/11 war and trauma.
Large and small — donations make everything our newsroom does possible. 

Our initial donors on Kickstarter helped us begin our mission. Your donations help us continue what we've started. 
Thank you for your support.

THE DAY I HELD MY FIRE

Then, the JTAC said this on the radio: “The air’s got cold feet.”

Maybe it was impossible for me to understand a soldier’s mindset from an air-conditioned cockpit.

Read Eric's Story.

WHEN TEARFUL GOODBYES WERE FOREIGN

New Marines were being made on the other side of that fence. On this side, I held my DD-214 and headed home for good.

Read Robert's Story.

 

 

Do you know of a Post-9/11 veteran suicide? 

The War Horse is collecting demographic information about verifiable suicides such as name, age at death, place of death, military service data, family contact information, and more. By filling out our confidential form you are helping us identify Post-9/11 suicides and the untold stories from war

 

 
 

 

Service, Sexuality, and Stereotypes Of A Female Veteran

She faced discrimination then, and she can handle the presumptions now. She is proud of her service, and doesn’t regret it, regardless of the invisible injuries it caused.

Read Tenley's Story.

what our writers are saying about us

GUNS, BOOZE, AND SUICIDE:
HOW 'STUPID' SAVED A LIFE

He feels guilty sometimes too about some of what he did and saw, but unless he’s had a drink or two, he doesn’t talk about that stuff.

Read David's Story.

 

 
 

 

REMEMBERING 9/11.
15 YEARS LATER.

We asked fifteen active duty service members, civilians, and veterans to write about 9/11 and how it has changed their lives.

These are their stories.

 

 

MY AFGHAN FRIEND COULD BE MURDERED SOON

He quietly departed his village alone and traveled to Kabul, where he began sleeping on the floor of a friend’s apartment. Without a job, he couldn’t afford to bring his wife and daughter with him, so they remained with Zabi’s father, who swore to protect them.

Read About Zabi.

LOSING SENSE OF SELF ONE SUICIDE AT A TIME

Damn the terrorist groups. And damn the suburbanites back home and their parades of glitter, as if glitter could fill the holes in us or mend the gaps in our platoons when we died in the war, or now, back here, when we died at home.

Read Gerardo's Story.

 

 
 

 

The Redemptive Power Of Lying

Coming home in itself can be retraumatizing. Veterans tell their loved ones massaged truths about what they’ve been through and who they’ve become, as they struggle to find out themselves.

Read David's Story

Understanding Veteran Suicide

The War Horse is collecting demographic information about verifiable suicides among Post-9/11 veterans. By filling out our confidential form you are helping us identify suicides and other untold stories from war. 

Take Our Survey

 

 
 

 

RELICS OF WAR AND THE STORIES THEY SHARE

The As military kids, they've endured moves every few years and experienced me leaving for long periods. They've visited countless battlefields, monuments, and war museums. We've been at war for their entire lives. 

Read Brandon's Story

 

 

My Religion Of Death And Praying To Kill

The Marine Corps taught me that despair and violence was renewing. In boot camp I shouted “kill” 100 times a day, and went to two church services back-to-back on Sundays. I prayed to kill. It would mark me, and yes, I believed, it would save me.

Read Peter's Story

THE AFGHAN GIRLS I COULDN'T SAVE

The reality, I think, is that I made no difference at all. They were never going to understand American-style policing. As long as the Afghans thought it was OK to treat women like property, like killing a woman was equivalent to killing a goat, then they were never going to understand higher-level concepts like voting, or free speech, or feminism. 

Read Tim's Story.

 

 

What Our Readers Are Saying

BECOMING A VETERAN WITHOUT WAR

To me, "veteran" was synonymous with "warrior." 

  And the warless, like me, are not. But the idea that only warriors or those directly affected by war in obvious ways can speak to war's effects with authority isn't true.

Read Nate's Story.

 

 

A WAR THAT BEGAN AS CHILDREN

Wars were small, quick affairs involving special operators, U.N. peacekeepers and long-range bombers. A decade later, I found myself going back and forth with an antiwar protestor after covering a rally at the University of Massachusetts Amherst for the student newspaper. I was learning an early lesson in journalism: admit personal views at your own risk.
Read Derrick and Ian's story.

THE MAN WITH HALF A HEAD

The man with half a head had a wife and two sweet little children. The children were playing on the floor of his hospital room while his wife looked out the window. She didn’t say anything when I rearranged his pillow, or even when I left the room.
Read more.

 

 

A family portrait of the Ortiz Rivera family in Williamsburg, Virginia on April 16, 2016, nearly six years after the death of Javier Ortiz Rivera, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010. Bottom Left, Anthony Ortiz Rivera, 8, above Andrew Ortiz Rivera, 11, Juan "Junior" Vasquez Jr., Veronica Ortiz Rivera, Kaleb Vasquez, 16 months and Alyssa Ortiz Rivera. 

A family portrait of the Ortiz Rivera family in Williamsburg, Virginia on April 16, 2016, nearly six years after the death of Javier Ortiz Rivera, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010. Bottom Left, Anthony Ortiz Rivera, 8, above Andrew Ortiz Rivera, 11, Juan "Junior" Vasquez Jr., Veronica Ortiz Rivera, Kaleb Vasquez, 16 months and Alyssa Ortiz Rivera. 

JAVIER ORTIZ RIVERA

King. Papi. Marine.

  Alyssa’s teacher took her to the counselor’s office where Veronica was waiting. “My mom looked at me and told me Papi wasn’t coming home,” Alyssa said. “I didn’t know what she meant. She just looked at me and said, ‘He died.’”

  Things were the same for Anthony, who was three. He walked into pre-school that morning expecting good news. Instead, he was told he’d never see his father again.

This is their story.

 

 

REBUILDING HONOR:
HOW KYLE CARPENTER CAME BACK FROM DEATH

His fellow Marines, doctors and his family questioned whether he would survive, or if he did, what his quality of life would be. This is the story of his recovery.

Coming Soon!

 

 

A CENTURIES-LONG BATTLE TO SOLVE THE AMBIGUITY OF WAR

What do war crimes, Sun Tzu, General James N. Mattis, and Enhanced Interrogation have in common?

Read and find out.

 

 

Years Later, Loss at War Resonates At Home

“I hate war,” he said.  “I don’t have my dad.” Anthony’s father was killed in Afghanistan five years ago. Anthony is now eight.
Read his story.
 


OUR PLEDGE

Our detailed standards for trauma reporting are inspired by The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.