Retired gunnery sergeant Jason Doran spent 20 years as a Marine, part of that time in some of the world’s most conflict-torn regions: the Middle East, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Though he’s home now, safe from his latest stint in the Iraq war, the marine influence remains omnipresent in his life. While talking to a visitor, he drinks his morning coffee in a tin, Marine-issued cup. A wall in his home, affectionately dubbed his “Love Me” wall, displays some of his medals and citations, as well as his most cherished photos.
Sit with Doran for any length of time, and it’s clear this father of three and ex-husband of four has stories to tell.
Last year, Doran compiled some of those stories into a book: “I Am My Brother’s Keeper, Journal of a Gunny in Iraq,” based largely on detailed journal entries he kept while at war.
In his book, published earlier this year, Doran creates a picture – countless pictures, actually – of life as an American Marine at war. He explains how his decision to join the Marines added stability and direction to his life. He writes of the admiration and respect he feels for fellow Marines, whom he calls “brothers.” He talks of the emotions he felt the first time he took a life (of a rabbit when he was 10), and later about what he describes as the businesslike nature of killing in war. He writes of his own fear of being shot and of the hopelessness that permeated his thoughts in particularly perilous situations.
Though he excelled in the military – earning dozens of medals and citations for his service, including the Navy Marine Corps Commendation Medal and the Silver Star – Doran writes of the difficulty of adjusting to civilian life after 20 years in the Marines.
Upon his return, he drank – “and I was good at it,” he writes. He took a solo trip to Ireland, largely to collect his own thoughts. He got on trains and read books or wrote in his journal. The planned two-week trip lasted a month.
“I wanted a normal life,” he says of the transition. “I wanted a house, a 9-to-5 job. When I got back, people told me to take a break, but I didn’t. I have to be doing something.”
Eventually, Doran returned to his hometown of Dallas, things began to settle down, and he found ways to fill the void. He now shares the life with his girlfriend, Lisa Mabli, a kindergarten aide at St. Thomas Aquinas, where he grew up attending mass. He and a partner purchase and renovate homes.
He’s also pursuing a government politics and policy degree at Richland College and hopes to eventually transfer to UT-Dallas.
It’s an achievement that, a couple decades ago, seemed unlikely.
In high school, Doran says he was a troublemaker – a fighter and a drinker. He eventually was expelled from high school for cutting classes.
With few avenues open to him, he decided to enlist, eventually earning his diploma through the Marine Corp’s “Basic Skills Education Program.” To explain the difference the military in his life, he speaks of his father, Frank, who lives down the street from him.
“We’re best friends now,” Doran says. “But when I graduated from boot camp… he probably looked at me and thought – I was a dropout, I wasn’t into athletics – he probably didn’t think I had the discipline for this. I needed a chance to show him I was honorable. Dad wanted me to go to college. He’s proud of me as a Marine, but I think he’s more proud of me for going to college and doing it of my own accord, not because I have to.”
It’s a sense of pride Doran knows well. Recently, his own 18-year-old son Chris enlisted in the Marines.
“I have a lot of pride in the fact that he joined the Marines,” he says. ” At first, he wanted to go to college, and I supported that. Then he said he wanted to join the Air Force. Finally, he called me and told me he wanted to join the Marine Corps.
“I love him as a son, as a brother and as a Marine. I hope Iraq’s over before he gets called up, but of course I’m proud of him.”
When he talks about his own experiences in Iraq, either in print or in person, the emotion in Doran’s voice is unmistakable. As for his book, Doran is the first to point out that he’s not a polished author.
“If you’re looking for a literary masterpiece,” he writes in the book’s forward, “you have picked up the wrong book.”
And, in fact, “I Am My Brother’s Keeper” reads almost like a group of tales that could be heard in the toughest bar in town. The language is at times raw, some of the images described horrific, and the matter-of-fact accounts of death can be chilling.
But the underlying themes that resonate from the book, and from Doran himself, are freedom and loyalty – freedom for the Iraqis and for Americans who agree or disagree with the war, and loyalty to friends, family and his fellow Marines.
“People aren’t going to agree on everything,” Doran said. “For people to be able to disagree on something they feel so strongly about and not strangle each other – that’s freedom.”
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