Warren native tells vets’ story

Special to the Tribune Chronicle/Jeff Forman Jaymes Poling, a Warren native who served eight years in the U.S. Army and did three tours in Afghanistan, tells his story as a combat veteran in "Modern Warrior."

When Jaymes Poling left the U.S. Army after eight years and three tours in Afghanistan, he didn’t see himself as a hero veteran.

The Warren native and 2005 LaBrae High School graduate worried that made him a damaged veteran, because those are the only extremes regularly seen in the popular culture and the media.

He moved to Cleveland after his discharge to pursue his educational and professional goals, he said, “But I didn’t know anyone in Cleveland. I didn’t have any positive veteran examples. I know I’m not a hero veteran, but I have all of these shared experiences with the liability veteran or the damaged veteran.

“I was a bartender for a year and wasn’t doing anything except processing my past, and that was rough. There were times I thought, ‘Am I going to be one of these guys I see on TV, veterans I’m supposed to feel sorry for?'”

Instead he co-created a theatrical work called “Modern Warrior” that he hopes will educate the civilian community and help veterans make the transition back home more smoothly.

“Everything I’ve gone through in the military set me up for success in the real world,” Poling said. “I wasn’t able to see it because there was no one to help me to frame it. We think there’s growth in adversity. We believe people are stronger having survived cancer, and we can apply that same logic to combat. There’s a grieving process but also a growth opportunity.”

“Modern Warrior” will make its public debut this week at the Simon and Rose Mandel Theatre on the eastern campus of Cuyahoga Community College and it’s already booked in additional cities.

Tri-C is where “Modern Warrior” started. Poling enrolled in classes in the fall of 2014, and one of his first English assignments was to write a memoir. He doubled the length requirement in telling his story about serving as an infantry staff sergeant in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. The essay led to him being asked to be Tri-C’s Veterans Day speaker, and his professors there pushed him to do more writing before he transferred to John Carroll University, where he is a senior with a double major in finance and economics and serves as its veterans liaison.

Poling first met co-creator, musician Dominick Farinacci, a Cleveland-area jazz trumpet player who studied at the Juilliard School in New York and is signed to Mack Avenue Records, when a mutual friend asked him to appear in a video Farinacci was planning for his instrumental version of Tom Waits’ “Soldier’s Things.” Poling was afraid the video would deal with some of the stereotypes he wanted to debunk, so he decided to say no, but he wanted to explain why he wouldn’t do it.

“He said at the end of the conversation, ‘If you do this with me, I’ll give you final edit. Let’s say what you want to say,'” Poling said. “I almost felt obligated. How can I complain about the veteran narrative and turn down the opportunity to do something to change it? I realized how genuine he was. This was not a marketing ploy, he was really invested in this. It made it easy to trust him and trust the team.”

“Modern Warrior” grew out of the experience making the video.

“I’m writing the narratives and he’s doing the music, but it’s a true collaboration,” Poling said.

They raised more than $10,000 through a Kickstarter campaign to produce a 20-minute video to give potential investors a better idea of what the show would entail.

“‘Modern Warrior’ follows my life, starting at 17 and carries on through training, deployments, hard times with the guys, coming home, the transition period and after the transition period when I started feeling better,” he said. “I share as much as I can with ‘Modern Warrior,’ but part of publicly sharing stories is what stories belong to us and what stories don’t. I’ve lost friends. Maybe I could tell those stories, get through it without breaking down, but it wouldn’t be fair to their families and friends to do that.”

While Wednesday and Thursday will be the first public performances, “Modern Warrior” was staged earlier this year for an invited audience, including veterans from recent conflicts all the way back to those who served in World War II. Poling said their reactions let him know they were on the right course.

“Seeing them start to tear up, that really got to me,” Poling said. “One thing that surprised me abut the veteran reaction was how universal it was. To have Vietnam veterans come up and say they could relate to my experience, coming back to a world so different than the one I came back to, surprised me. I had people tell me their fathers came back from World War II and acted a certain way, and now they felt they understood their parents more. The universality of it caught me off guard in a good way.”