The new documentary about U.S. soldiers in Iraq, Occupation: Dreamland, recalls Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, except with real kids. One of them, Joseph Wood, 23, is now part of a world that, post-Iraq, must seem almost as strange: He’s a fashion student at Parsons.
So how did you end up in the Army?
I grew up in Virginia in a really conservative household. I was really interested in shoes—I was drawing my own versions of Air Jordans. I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer. But by my senior year, I didn’t have any college money. So I thought, I’ll go into the Army. This was prior to 9/11.
Did other soldiers freak out when you revealed your career goals?
Yeah. Everybody knows the stereotype of a male designer is that he’s gay. I’m not. But I had to explain this. And you’ve got all kinds of guys in the Army. You’ve got roughnecks who believe they were built for war. But when I told them, they’d be like, “What? That’s weird. But okay.”
It must be almost as weird to tell your fellow students you served in Iraq.
Not everyone knows.
Did you see much combat?
I was infantry in Afghanistan, but I was really only in one firefight. By the time I got to Iraq, my job was armorer. I was in charge of keeping track of all the weapons.
But what if you’d had to shoot people?
It comes down to, you’re fighting with your buddies, not about how you feel about the war. It’s about keeping yourself alive.
Does the Army really put as much pressure on soldiers to reenlist as the film suggests?
That was just a snippet. They put on the pressure to the point where the soldier who had no problems throughout his career is shunned because he doesn’t want to reenlist. It’s like [you’re] a traitor.
What did you do the first day you got out?
I started to grow a beard. And I didn’t cut my hair for a year. That was my act of demilitarization.
So just how odd an adjustment was Parsons?
I was in Fallujah. Fast-forward a year and half and I’m going to fashion school with a bunch of 18-year-olds. And they’re all girls.