In this episode, Brock speaks with Levi West. Levi is an 0311 in the Marine Corps, but if you ask him, that's definitely not the first way describe himself. He's a writer, a photographer, and an all around creative. He talks about why we need our own identity outside of the military, and how to start down the path of creating that. We also discuss his firsthand account of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the mental toll that that put on the on the ground decision makers. Levi also gets into launching an indie publication called Dirtbag Magazine featuring everything cool.
(01:56) - What Levi is most proud of
(09:04) - The big picture of 'making an impact'
(14:45) - Why he joined the Marine Corps and any regrets
(19:23) - Introduction to photography
(21:57) - Withdrawal from Afghanistan - the good, the bad, and the ugly
(31:58) - Why experience in the military should give an immense appreciation of being an American
(39:15) - The military as an identity
(45:06) - Doing creative work just because and how to get started
(49:35) - Starting Dirtbag magazine
(55:30) - Content and the future of the magazine
(01:05:23) - Q&A from Instagram; vet writing culture, machine gun poets, and more
The Scuttlebutt Podcast - The podcast for service members and veterans building a life outside the military.
The Scuttlebutt Podcast features discussions on lifestyle, careers, business, and resources for service members. Show host, Brock Briggs, talks with a special guest from the community committed to helping military members build a successful life, inside and outside the service.
Get a weekly episode breakdown, a sneak peek of the next episode and other resources in your inbox for free at https://scuttlebutt.substack.com/.
• Brock: @BrockHBriggs
• Instagram: Scuttlebutt_Podcast
• Send me an email: email@example.com
• Episodes & transcripts: Scuttlebuttpodcast.co
Brock Briggs 0:00
Hello and welcome to the Scuttlebutt. I'm your host, Brock Briggs. And every week I bring you a conversation that will make you better. It may encourage you, it may inspire you, it may help you launch that next project you've been thinking about or it might put more money in your pocket. I consider it my job here to make you a better person. Thank you for tuning in to my conversation today with Levi West. Levi's an O311 in the Marine Corps, but if you ask him, that's definitely not the first way he described himself. He's a writer, a photographer and an all around creative. We talk about why we need our own identity outside of the military and how to start down the path of creating that.
We also discuss his firsthand account of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the mental toll that put on the ground decision makers. Levi also gets into launching an indie publication called Dirtbag Magazine featuring everything cool, naturally. I picked up their first issue and love the compilation of great writing, photography and self expression. Love seeing vets put together awesome projects like this. They've got great merch, check out the link in the show notes, be sure to pick up a copy and a beer koozie.
Two quick things you can do to support the show, go check out the show on Youtube and drop a subscribe there, getting all the past videos and episodes up there, including highlight reels where you can check out bite size clips of the best of each episode. If long form isn't for you, that's the place to be. You can also stay up on the newsletter, scuttlebuttpodcast.co to subscribe to that. There you can find free stickers, breakdowns and other interesting content going out every single week. Please enjoy this conversation with Levi West.
One of the things I'd like to start with just to kind of like get to know you a little bit better. We've talked a little bit but what is something that you are the most proud of?
Levi West 2:06
That's actually kind of a hard question. Because I don't really look at a whole lot of things I do with pride, I say, but probably one of the things I take some of the most pride in is at the end of the day, I do everything I can to be a good person. And I know it sounds super cliche, but I have a defining point in my life. I feel like to where I went from just being that dude that kind of looked out for himself and transferred to the dude who just wanted to be that guy that anybody could rely on and be that like “good dude”. And that is in Korea in 2019. I was on deployment. And some dudes were getting into a fight, you know, like Grindstone deployment shit and I just kind of do my best to break it up.
And some people are separate ways. And one of my buddies was talking to me. And he's like, hey, man, like, you’re sort of a pretty self and dumb situation, like getting in a fight and getting into a fight to break up and stuff. But like, you know, you did it because you cared about us. And I was like, yeah, well, like, at the time I was the NCO. I was like, I don't want to get in trouble. And we just kind of went on joking and stuff.And it's sort of a light hearted way to get into like what he said, which is one of the things that has probably impacted me one of the most in my life and it's like, hey, man, I just wanted to let you know that a lot of people will have to spend a life wanting to know if you've made an impact.
And I can tell you that like, since I've met you, you've pushed me to become a better person. And you've changed my life for the better. And when my friend Dylan, who's at the military now said that to me, it kind of made me want to be, you know, somebody who is that good person, someone who's always doing that, like the good thing to help people out, if that makes any sense.
Brock Briggs 4:09
Yeah, no it definitely does. I think on a long enough time scale and like long enough time horizon like looking out into your future really, one of the only things that matters is that making an impact thing, a lot of people that it looks different to other people, but I think that ultimately, it's the same objective, whether it be to have kids. Or usually I think that a lot of people think that kids is relating to impact or they want to, you know, make an impact on the lives of those around them or, you know, they want to go to Mars and like advanced like the human world. Like I think it's something kind of innate to people and as your goals get bigger, I think that they all kind of lead to that.
Levi West 4:59
Yeah.For me, my biggest goal is just be kind of viewed as not necessarily like, oh, I want people to see me as a good person, but just to, like, inherently be a good person, inherently acknowledge other people's existence and their needs and what they need to survive in the world. And like, you know, I can't think of the proper term, but like essentially, these are like, you're not the sole person on this world like, there are other people around you. And you need to acknowledge them and acknowledge that they have the same feelings and fears and emotions that you do.
And then also help them because, you know, if you look across like any species in the world, there's very few that sustain themselves. And human race is not a race that we sustain ourselves our own, like, you can't be one person alone and afraid, doing your own thing. At some point, you're gonna need human intervention or help at some point. And kind of trying to identify those times and just be that person that, hey, it may inconvenience me for 20 minutes to help this person, but hey, like, I don't know what that 20 minutes could or couldn’t a make a difference in their life or vice versa.
Brock Briggs 6:21
What do you think that that looks like on a day to day basis? Is that something that you're like, waking up and thinking like, how am I going to make an impact on those around me today? Or is it there's some underlying vehicle that you're looking to do that in? Or maybe do you look at the Marines as your way of doing that?
Levi West 6:45
I mean, for me, I never look at. I never go out inherently like, I'm going to help somebody today. Because I feel like that's very disingenuous, but I'll go back to like, one day. I went out, just sort of exploring around and taking photos and stuff. And I stopped off at Publix because I needed to do some grocery shopping at the end of the day and went in, done all my grocery shopping and came back and was loading my groceries in my truck. And this lady walked up to me says, hey, you, by any chance have jumper cables? Like, my car won't start, you know, like, she basically kind of gave me a little sob story not to like, downplay it at all, but just a sad story about like, how her day has been going. I was like, oh, like, I got jumper cables with a hook, so put my truck around and try to jump your car.
Car wouldn’t jump, ended up running into another person who was there who worked at like an auto parts store down the road and was gonna go to try and grab a battery test real quick, went down to grab a bite with a battery tester came back, figured out her battery was fine. And that there was another issue and we sit there and tried to, you know, work on it, ended up paying on the starter a little bit to get it started and got her car started. So she made it home. And, you know, I could have looked at her and been like, no, I don't have jumper cables, leave me alone. Like I have groceries to go and put away. But instead I tried to put myself in her perspective tried to see like, okay, there's somebody who's coming to me for help, like, I'm more of an extroverted person at that same time. I'm not going to ask somebody for help. I just haven't been able to humble myself enough to ask for help, unless I really, really need it.
You know, I kind of just recognize the signs of like, hey, there's somebody who needs help. I'm going to stop and help them. And I stopped and helped them and whether, you know, it made a difference in their life or not, whether it made a difference in my life or not. I just recognize that, hey, this is a person in need and I have the ability to help them. So why not help them? And so that's kind of how I go about it.
Brock Briggs 9:04
What do you think that that looks like on a big picture? Because I think at a certain point, there's, we're in an entire world of people who need help, like you know, there are way more people that need help than there are those that are willing to give it and I think that it's very easy if you're very giving of your time and money and service and whatever it is to give to the point where you don't have anything and I think that that turns some people off. What do you think about giving to the point of, you know, having nothing left for yourself?
Levi West 9:51
Honestly, and it's maybe sort of a sheltered or not a great perspective to see it as but it's kind of a the old leadership principle lead by example. And that's one of the things that I also try and do with the Dirtbag Magazine to that more in a little bit. But like, my first article that I wrote for Dirtbag Magazine was one about picking up litter, it's really not a good article. I wouldn't recommend going reading it unless you want to see like my first published article out there. But somewhere in it, I say something along the lines of, you know, hey, you know, we're never going to completely cut out littering as an issue like those human issue.
But if you went out today and you picked up one piece of trash, then that would remove, you know, if every American went out today and picked up one piece of trash that would remove approximately 330 million pieces of trash from the United States that's littered in the streets. And, you know, if I wrote that article and it inspired 5 or 10 people to like, not throw when they step out through a window or to see a straw wrapper blowing on the sidewalk or a Walmart trash bag, and they picked it up and threw it in a proper trash receptacle. That's kind of the view that I look and take to the big picture. Because, you know, me being one person, I don't feel like I can make that much of an impact. But if I can inspire other people to help me make that impact, then that's how I can do it on a larger scale.
Brock Briggs 11:30
I think that a lot of people have similar beliefs and ideas about making an impact on the world and whatever avenue or environment that they feel strongly about. But I think a lot of people get intimidated by like, oh, well, you know, I don't have a big following or this isn't going to reach anybody. And I think that that is, it's valid. It's not a reason to not do it. But I think that enough of those small reverberations, you know, enough of those one off articles, enough of those kind of like, small little acts of service, that's probably the best way to put it. And eventually, it makes a big impact over time.
Levi West 12:18
Yeah, and you know, I don't have a big following. At least I don't feel I do. My personal Instagram has, like 160-170 followers. So I like don't approach the world. Like,I approach the world like, I have like a big following because I don't care if I have 100 followers or if I have 100,000 followers. Like, I can put something out and it can inspire one person as long as it inspires one person to do something if like, I do this entire podcast with you. And I say one positive thing that helps out one positive person, then it was completely worth all of my time and effort to be here. If that's kind of my views on it. And to me, it's not about followings. It's not about, you know, views or money or likes or anything like that. It's purely at, you never know when you're going to say the right thing at the right time to the right person to get it to click for them. And that click could change their entire life.And, yeah.
Brock Briggs 13:24
Before we started recording, you're talking about some of the most underappreciated things in life. And I think that that viewpoint is extremely underappreciated.
Levi West 13:43
It's the viewpoint that I have and I can't say that I came up with it alone. I have like, I have a great family back home, where I'm from and my parents were, they would volunteer to help out with anything. And my parents were always involved in like, the youth sports, whether it be football, baseball. My dad was the shrine or all the way through and my entire life and still is. My mom's a high school teacher and volunteered at a lot of things that she could and so it's just sort of the viewpoint that I was raised up with. And you know, one of the things that my parents really taught me to whether they intentionally tried teaching me or if they just showed me it through their actions. It's just one of the big things that I've gotten from them that I've kept throughout my whole life.
Brock Briggs 14:36
Did that attitude of service manifests itself in you joining the core? Or was there something else that kind of drove that?
Levi West 14:45
So I kind of hate to say it because I know people who have like really cool stories on why they join the Marine Corps. And my story is as simple as when I was in fifth grade, we were in like a computer class. So when we were learning to use like PowerPoint or something, something really simple or maybe it was typing. And we had like 30 minutes of free time because I got done with my work. And I was like typing in something. And then like the Marines, like marines.com popped up somehow. And I just started looking around, I was like, yo, this is cool. And I came home and like, you can hit up my mom and ask her this, like in fifth grade, I came home and I said, hey, mom, it would be really cool if I was a United States Marine. And she'd be like, that would be really cool but you're in fifth grade.
So you know that is an option. But you know, we'll see what happens. And then in 2016, I like came home one day and I was like, hey, mom, like you need to talk to this guy. His name is Staff Sergeant McCool. I’m joining the Marine Corps. And she was like, okay, you're actually doing this. That's cool. And yeah, that's pretty much like the story. I mean, I will say, I did come from a patriotic family, a very small town of Christian conservative. And that's how it is. And so the patriotism in my upbringing definitely was there. But I don't have like a huge military service in my family.
Brock Briggs 16:17
Don't feel bad about the story thing, man. I think I had like, laughed so hard. And normally, I don't really get into people's like backstory about why they joined in anymore. At the beginning, I really did. Because I think that I thought that that was really critical to like, understand where people came from. But what I slowly found out is like, nobody actually has a cool story. It's all the same fucking story over and over and over again. But in the attitude that like, we're all kind of like the hero in our own story. Everybody kind of thinks that it's really unique. But in reality, it kind of isn't. And that may like bothers some people, but whatever. But no, I think that understanding that the kind of driving force behind that hidden stuff is cool and good to acknowledge. Do you have any regrets about joining?
Levi West 17:15
No, I don't really. No, I don't have any regrets because everything in my life is now is because of, you know, what I've done over the past five, six years. Six years ago when I joined the Marine Corps, I was a small town hit country kid that couldn't give a rat's ass about art and just wanted to wake up every single day and go to like, the country boy stuff. And I don't know a better way to put that. But literally, me and my friends were the, you know, go sneak down mudding on the weekends or work on farms or the oil patch or whatever, like that. And I joined the military, I got away from it. And I met, started meeting like really cool people that do different arts and stuff and got really big and into, you know, writing and photography. And you know, had I not joined the military, the Marine Corps, I wouldn't be sitting here today, you know, on a podcast talking about the things I'm passionate about.
Brock Briggs 18:25
It's interesting, I don't think that a lot of people would say, oh, you know, the military gave me this appreciation for the arts. But when you think about the backgrounds that we come from and if there was no prior exposure to something like that and having the chance to meet cool people and see and do cool things, they kind of it alters you in a way, not only is there the life change of like what the military kind of instills in you those values and work ethic and all that kind of BS that everybody touts. But it's also developing your personality in a way too.
What was the initial drive there? Was there somebody in your unit that had a camera and was really into photography? Or what was that kind of like first kick that got you to start doing something?
Levi West 19:23
So my interest in photography started in 2018. I was going on my first deployment and I wanted a camera to like take pictures of things. And so I bought like a cheap little like 300 or $400 camera and really just kind of got disinterested with it. There's always been something that I wanted to get into. And fast forward to my last deployment in 2021. I was in the first eighth Marines and we were sitting in Kuwait when we got a call like, actually, we didn't get a call. I saw a tweet from Joe Biden and said, I am deploying 3000 troops to Afghanistan to support the withdrawal. And all my buddies looked at each other and kind of like, ah, like, we are troops, like wow! He just tweeted this out. And, you know, we were there for like two or three weeks not a long time, but just saw a lot of like horribleness in humanity.
And around this time, like prior to deployment and during deployment is when I started getting, delving a lot more into the arts and you know, sort of talking to sort of these veteran writers and stuff. And when I got back, I just kind of decided that after seeing all the things that we did over there, I wanted an outlet to sort of remind myself that there still is beauty in the world, there still is good things, there is still all this. Because, you know, not to say that I had like a whole lot of issues, but it did like sort of skew my viewpoint on humanity. And it really made me hate people for or hate a certain type of people for a while.
But I just decided to come home and I was gonna buy a camera and like, do this for real. And so I went out and spent like $1,000 on a camera, set it up and just started taking pictures. And, you know, the rest is history. Now I have several cameras and I'm doing photo shoots for families on the weekends or going taking pictures at a wildlife sanctuary that I started volunteering at or just walking into the woods trying to, you know, find some cool bird or something like that photograph. So that's really like the origin story, I guess, on me being a photographer.
Brock Briggs 21:57
What were some of the major issues that you saw in the Afghanistan withdrawal? I think we'll kind of circle back around to kind of photography and how that's kind of developed over time. But while you brought it up, I'd love to talk about it if you're game for that.
Levi West 22:15
So without getting too deep into it, I don't think it was handled extremely well. Not on our end, I think like the Marines that were there, I saw a lot of like 18, 19, 20 year olds making a lot like really tough decisions and witnessing a lot of like, you know, bad things for the betterment of other people. And it is kind of like, kind of differ from like the common experiences that people that I grew up in the Marine Corps, people sharing, but it was more of, you know, watching people who were kids because I mean, I was only 21, 22. I still felt like a kid at the time. But very much like seeing kids putting themselves in dangerous situations, just so this like, one off Afghanistan civilian who helped America 15 years ago was like a translator could get their family to safety.
And so I think for like the Marine Corps side, it was pretty cool and great thing to see and actually witness that, you know, what Marines can do for people, but at the same time I feel like if we had more time to be there, it would have been as dangerous. We've probably gotten more people to safety is one of the things that like I'll never forget is after we stopped taking people and looking out into the crowd and saying, like American passports, American driver's license, which you can only possess if you are an American citizen, still standing amongst the crowds and knowing that, you know, August 31 when we're wheels up, like we're leaving Americans and Afghanistan where we had already seen the Taliban or ISIS execute them in the street for trying to leave you know, what were they gonna be left to.
Brock Briggs 24:29
You said that you saw a lot of presumably young men and women having to make difficult decisions. What kind of difficult decisions?
Levi West 24:45
I wouldn't say difficult and per se like the you know, that we knew threats were out there like we were getting shot all the time or anything like that, but just threatening as then like you know, every single day, we get reports of like IEDs coming through, you know. Hey, there's a gold Toyota Camry that's suspected of, you know, carrying an IED. And the gate that I was on is right next to a road and we get word that, hey, a gold camry is coming down the road. And we kind of understood like, okay, well, we can do one of two things. We can either go back into the big Alaskan barrier concrete area where we would be fine. Or we can stay out here and we can hold this gate because we are actively being overrun by scared civilians. And, you know, when it came down to those times, I don't think there's one person that would have willingly gone back inside, knowing that they'd be 100% safe, but knowing that, you know, all the hard work we've done to gain the ground and hold the gate would get lost.
Brock Briggs 25:59
Why do you think that those decisions and actions were different than maybe prior experiences that you've had experiences that you've heard other people tell you about?
Levi West 26:16
Because we weren't really there for a combat oriented mission. We were there for humanitarian, we were just, you know, glorified PMO just another country, just checking IDs and letting people in that deserve to be in. But obviously, we were in a combat zone, we were in a dangerous place. But it was just kind of different, you know, I was getting ready to take Rifle Squad and, you know, connect firemen and run over an enemy. We were standing in a static area and trying to just complete our mission as best we could.
Brock Briggs 26:55
With all of the people trying to evacuate and leave, was there ever a sense or a feeling of responsibility about choosing who gets still live and potentially who has to stay and maybe pay the ultimate sacrifice that doesn't need to?
Levi West 27:16
I didn't really feel much ever, like my responsibility towards that was. So the gates where we were, we were just checking identification basically, if they had some sort of documentation that showed that they were American, whether that be a visa, a green card, we would send them through. And then there were special vetting teams at the airport that actually verify you know, go into the systems, I can't remember what this is called right now. But see if you know that people are, you know, international criminals, if they're listed with any terrorist organizations or anything like that.
So for us, it was mostly just, hey, show me your ID, hand it back. And then our biggest thing was just when we were searching, conducting, like the hasty searches and stuff just to ensure that there was nothing dangerous on them. Because we would find, we found a couple things that kind of resembled IEDs. I don't really want to put too much stock on if they were IEDs or not, but you know, he opened something and had a weird substance in it and a whole bunch of wires coming out. You call somebody who knows what IED is and come, take a look at it. And that's just kind of how it went.
Brock Briggs 28:41
In your opinion, what do you think led to such a? I don't know if I would use the word disastrous but a kind of a less than ideal exit from country? Was it the hastiness that you guys were under? I mean, it's interesting to me that we've spent 20 years in a country and then all of a sudden, it's like, we have no time to leave. You know, it's not like this kind of it's there's phasing out to my knowledge and this isn't totally my area of expertise military wise, but just from what I read and who I'm talking to, it's like, wow, we spent all this time there and then all of a sudden, it's like snap your fingers and sign and leave. Of course, it's not gonna go very smoothly when you do it that way.
Levi West 29:38
For me, the big thing that I'm just gonna attribute to is the brief window of time that we got to do it. Do I think that, you know, had we had more time that there were not going to be more attacks that would have been planned or do I think it could have saved lives? Yes and no, you know, had we been there longer than the short time that we had, though probably would have given more time for them to see our weaknesses in trying to attack us. But at the same time, I believe that on the flip side that we would have been able to establish like TTPs on, you know, how to go about things, how to, you know, make situations more safe and sort of harden ourselves to be better protected.
So, I like to say that the time is, you know, for me and my unit, I'm not gonna speak for everyone I know, like, for myself, it was no surprise that we got called because we had been getting told and briefed about it or said, like, hey, this might be a possibility for months. And you know, if like, the first time we got briefed about it, we just went and we had several months to take care of it. I think it could have gone more smoothly. But at the same time, I'm E-5. I'm a sergeant. I'm not a huge planner, I don't have a strong color. I'm just a dude.
Brock Briggs 31:14
Just the dude being told what to do. And it's such a challenging thing. And I imagine extremely difficult even that a lot of fairly high ranking people come on the podcast and they honestly talk in a very similar way. It's we're serving this entity that is much bigger than any one person individually. And I think that people struggle with that same idea all the way up and down the chain.
Levi West 31:49
Yeah. I feel like that's how we all feel. We all just get our mission, our commander's intent, we just go and execute it however best we can. And that's just life in the military.
Brock Briggs 31:58
You said that the experience help channel and you're kind of drive in pursuit of photography. Has it changed your viewpoints about anything else in life?
Levi West 32:15
I have to say what the biggest thing to change in my mind about is, as cliche as it may sound, is how lucky people are to be Americans. And you see it all the time. And I hate politics. I'm never going to dislike someone because of their political views. And I think that if you dislike someone just because, you know, they have different political views, then you're a shallow person, then you should like rethink your existence or not your existence, rethink your train of thought. But I do know that the vocal minority, you know, the people that are being loud and being outspoken about things anymore, it's really common to hate this country. And, you know, one of the things that has really ingrained in myself is I watched people die trying to become an American.
And that is something that whenever you come home and you see somebody, like burning the American flag because they don't feel like they have the rights that they feel like they're oppressed. You know, there's no like comparing oppression to like someone dying to be in your shoes, someone sacrificing their life to be where you are. And then to come back to America and see people complain about, you know, housing is too much or you know, we have this problem or that problem. So I hate this, let's just move to Europe or I’ll revoke my citizenship and move here. You know, it's really just disheartening because a lot of those people have never been to those countries.
And I can tell you from the perspective of somebody who's been to other countries, who's been to Europe, Asia, the Middle East, probably the greatest place that I've ever been is America because this is the land of the free and you are free to do whatever you want. Whether that, you know, puts your life in shambles or it doesn't. You still have those freedoms and a lot of other places you don't have half the freedoms. You know, people hate guns, but in America, you can own a gun. You can't do that in most other places. You can also say whatever you want. If it wasn't for freedom of the press, Dirtbag Magazine wouldn't exist at all. But me and, you know, Buck can make a magazine because we have freedom of the press. And that's amazing. And a lot of people don't understand that, you know, the rights they have to them. And so that's one of my viewpoints. It's like fastly changes, just sort of more pride to be an American. And then a distaste for the people who want to hate this country.
Brock Briggs 35:28
It's certainly a difficult conversation. And my experience hearing from and talking to people that say, really divisive things like that is a very similar. It does bother me because I think from the outsider perspective, I question how big their worldview is saying things like that. I don't think that it really appreciates the benefit of being born into a place that we do. I think the flip side of that is difficult for me simultaneously, though, because I don't think that we should ever use that idea as a way to be complacent.
Yeah, we live in a really fantastic place. But that doesn't make us immune from continuing to raise the bar higher. There's a reason that we're kind of this perceived, like world power entity or up in that threshold. And it's because of some of the ways that we operate and for us to continue to be in that place. I think that elevating the rights of citizens and putting those things at the first and foremost priority over the long term is what it will continue to require to stay in that position.
Levi West 36:55
And I wholeheartedly agree, but kind of viewpoint that I look at it as if you buy your dream home, you know, that's gonna be a great dream home, but at some point, a light bulb is gonna burn out. You know, the washer and dryer are gonna go out, you're gonna have a pipe burst. Are you gonna sit there and complain about like, how terrible the houses because you know, it has this issue? Or you just gonna like, sit down, shut up and figure out what it takes to fix it. And I do believe that right now in America, we need to sit down, shut up and figure out how to fix a lot of things.
And I think it's gonna take maturing from both sides of the aisle. Because you know, this isn't a Republican country. This is not a democratic country. This is a country, this is America, it's not to benefit one party over the other, it's to benefit Americans. And I think that is something that is vastly forgotten. And every politician or most politicians that I see today, they are only trying to support, you know, the side that's going to make their interests wealthier, in turn, making them wealthier. And we don't have anybody wanting to just do what's right for America and the American citizen.
Brock Briggs 38:18
The military has a really great way of broadening your worldview by putting you in very interesting places with very interesting people that kind of challenge the things that you know and believe about where you're from. You were talking about being raised in this small town, country kid. And then now it has given you this kind of unique eye for art and all of that. And I think that just seeing your own personal progression, a lot of people don't see that. They don't have the opportunity to kind of get out and like experience a bunch of different things. And it's humbling in a way.
Levi West 39:03
It really is. And it sort of lets you know how small we are as like an individual person and that there's a bigger world around us that's going on every single day.
Brock Briggs 39:15
You've been pursuing these creative kind of endeavors while you're in the service. First off, I want to kind of tip my hat to you on that one because I think that pursuing creative work while you're in the service is extremely difficult. I don't think that nearly enough people are doing things for themselves and creating an identity for themselves outside of service. You have some strong feelings about people having the military become their entire identity. I would love to hear your two cents on that.
Levi West 39:53
Yeah, so coming out of the Marine Corps, I was the kid that made the military sort of more of my personality. It took probably three years for me to grow out of that. But I was that dude that would stay in the barracks that would say knowledge that would you know, go over my 3 talk 11. For new 0311s out there, you know what that is and just, you know, study doctrine andplay TD jeezmyself and at one point just got tiring. And I had somebody sit there and tell me like, hey, man, like, this doesn't have to be your personality. This doesn't have to be like this a job, this isn't your personality. And so ever since then, I haven't done like everything I can to make it not be my personality.
But it has really taught me a lot to be like at the end of day, the military is the job. You know, all the schools you do, the training you do, the awards you get it like it's, at the end of the day, like this is just a job. And one of these days, you're going to leave this job. And, you know, you might get a call shadowbox. But that's about it. And so I really strive to just build an identity outside of the military. And that's one of the big reasons why I've gotten into art and photography and writing and all sorts of stuff. Because it's, you know, it takes me away, takes me out of the barracks per se, it takes me away from base to go out and find something in the world or do something. And it's where the majority of my enjoyment comes from these days because, you know, it's helped me to just sort of go out and find things in life and enjoy.
Brock Briggs 41:52
What do you think is the first step towards walking down that path? I think a lot of people are maybe in that or struggling with that sort of realization or acceptance. The military is a job but certainly a job that requires much more of you than maybe a traditional one. And it's easy to kind of continue to pour more and more of yourself into it. But as you said, when you get out, you're going to probably be a little bit disappointed if you've given everything and that's kind of what you walk away with. Not that you walk away with some good stuff, I would argue it's more than a shadowbox. But there are certainly fewer things that like kind of continue to endure on other than like, internal things. So I guess I'm curious what do you think was that first kick down the road? And how do people kind of start doing that themselves?
Levi West 42:57
Whether this sounds like good advice or not, but it's ultimately just doing it. You know, one thing that I was recommended to once I got out of this mindset and I found stuff outside of just the military, my personality. It really just sort of, I just sort of did it. And I started impressing all my Marines like, hey, find something that has nothing to do with the military. Because you know, all these kids are 18, 19 years old. They may have, you know, hobbies, they may have something they did back home, but they really don't have a lot of adult world experience. So I'd tell them all like, find something that has nothing to do with the military.
Like you can sit in your barracks room, you can play video games, you can, you know, walk down the street, the gym, you can lift weights, you can go running, that's all sort of like still military century. Find something that has nothing to do with the military. For me, I bought a camera and I went to the intercoastal and I just started taking pictures. And you know, for a long time, I did sit in my room and look at cameras on the internet and watch YouTube videos and wish I could be that person that would go out and do these things. And literally, all it took was me just going and doing it. Because I, you know, went to or I started taking photos. And then I went to an event for PB Abbate.
And I ran into a guy named William Bolyard. And I was like, yeah, man, I write and take photos but I'm nobody. And he goes, oh, you sound pretty cool. You know, let's keep in contact and then you know, a couple months after that me and him were flying to New York to go and hang out for the weekend and I was the photographer for like I was his personal photographer for the weekend. And then now, we run a magazine together. So it literally is just getting over what is holding you back from doing that and just going out and doing it.
Brock Briggs 45:06
I think that there's a lot of illusions that get in the way of people doing that. It's kind of people are like maybe interested in starting a business or writing or getting into photography. But there's this looming fear of like, well, what if I'm not like the best or because there were so ingrained and just this idea, like, if you're going to pursue something, you need to pursue it with everything that you have. And you know, you need to strive to be so good.
But I think that early on is an acceptance that's required that at this beginning, your stuff is just kind of sucks, especially in the creative world. I look back on some of, I kind of have been recently going back through some of my original podcast episodes to kind of create clips and things like that. And it's almost embarrassing. It's like, wow, you know, that early work is not good. But it's required to kind of get to another point. And you're always a work in progress. But you have to just start, like you said.
Levi West 46:13
Yeah and it doesn't matter if you're good or not, you know, none of us are like, great. And if you sit there and you say, like, oh, I'm the greatest then hey, man, you got like, doing something different than I am. Because like, I will like last weekend, I did a photo shoot for a friend, took probably 150 photos and like, 40 of them are good, you know. And that's just kind of how it goes, you know, not everything's gonna be great, you're not always gonna be the best. But to me, what really matters is are you going to sit there and realize that you're not the best and then figure out how to become better?
Or do you get to sit there and realize you're not the best, but then be like, I don't care. I'm here for the ride. Because, you know, I don't care if I am the best photographer. I don't care if I'm the best writer. I really only care if you know, there's a few people out there who enjoy my work, enjoy what I do. And more importantly, if I enjoy it because a lot of this stuff like my photography, my writing at Dirtbag Magazine, it's not necessarily the fact of you know, if we have a million supporters or if I had million supporters. It's like, if I have, you know, if I get enjoyment from it, if that makes sense.
Brock Briggs 47:44
Yeah, it's not always a competitive thing. It's, hey, do you actually enjoy doing this or not? And if so, you should keep doing it. And inadvertently over time, you will get better. I think that the competitive nature and like desire to be good, maybe that's just an affliction that I deal with. That's something that I have been working to kind of overcome in a lot of these pursuits for myself. But yeah, I think that everybody's going to face something different when trying to pursue something new.
Levi West 48:19
Yeah, and the last thing I'll say, sorry, last thing I'll say for anybody is like, if you are new aspiring person when you go out and do stuff, do like be a photographer. There are days that I will go out and I will take, you know, a whole bunch of photos. And I'll come back home and edit them and not a single one of them will be good. There'll be days that I'll go out trying to find something to photograph and I'll take like two pictures. You know, I hate it. But then I'll have a day that I'll go out and I'll see, you know, I'll just see that like perfect composition or I can take like a really cool photo.
And then I'm like, hey, this is really cool. And then I turn into like that three year old that like, figured out how to glue mac on paper for the first time and I like want to go running, like show my mom or anybody that's around like look at this. This is so cool. And like it's those moments like that, that is ultimately makes it worth it. And it's not like any art that you get into, it's not always gonna be glamorous and it's not always gonna be fun. But it's gonna have those moments where you're like, this is so cool. And that's really what it's all about.
Brock Briggs 49:35
Finding something that you won't shut up about to your friends, that's a very cool underrated way to put it. What was the inspiration for Dirtbag? Let's talk about that.
Levi West 49:46
So, the inspiration for Dirtbag. It kind of go back to me and Buck becoming buddies. So me and Buck were, you know, I was always like for several months, I was a kid those kind of around me who would chat and stuff. And you know, I've like ever since I found out who Buck was. I was a fan of pissed off and sort of his lifestyle. I was like, that's right dude. And then I remember in April 2020, I went to selection for MARSOC, which is Marine Special Operations and I didn't get selected. And I remember like hitting Buck up on like, the Tuesday or Wednesday, whenever he comes back. I was like, yeah, man, I didn't get selected. And you know, that sucks.
And then, like without missing a beat Buck was like, well, what are you doing this weekend? Like, I don't know, man, probably like crying in my room, like my dream is dead. And he goes, well, if you don't want to do that, you can come up to New York City, come to Savage Wonder Fest and just hang out with like me and some friends. I was like, all right. And so literally, within a couple hours, I just bought a plane ticket, put it on leave requests and like what's in New York. And that's one of those times when like me and Buck really got to know each other and knew that we sort of in some ways, were the same person or not the same person but had the same belief. So a lot of things.
And really just kind of having this passion for like, getting away from military and like, going back to like real art. And over the course of the next couple of months and some like angry, long phone calls. He just hit me up one day, I was like, yeah, we're like, I'm gonna do this thing, you in or not. And I was like, yeah, I'm in. And we, you know, we started Dirtbag Magazine. And I think Buck put it in really good way when he was on the podcast talking about how we're trying to do like a Rolling Stones meets advice kind of thing. But the big thing to me that I like and that I'm trying to do to keep us be something different from them is one of things I hate about the journalism world. And that's like selling out. And Buck hates like being a sought to where, you know. You're, you know, I'm wearing a Nirvana t shirt and Kurt Cobain hated journalists.
And you know, I'll say I hate journalists, too. I'm not a journalist. I write about the stuff that I like to write about. And I know that Buck writes about the stuff that he likes to write about. If we put something in a magazine or if we put something published an article about something, it's because like, you know, it's never gonna be something to get clicks or get likes, it's gonna be because it's cool. And that was sort of the inspiration of like, hey, there's nothing like this out there. And, you know, Buck’s more connected into the writing circle than I am. And so with him talking to other writers, we all just kind of realized that there is a need for something like this out there.
Because, you know, for all the veteran writers, there's only certain publications and they all tailor to, hey, you have to write about, you know, this latest military scandal or this new policy change or this or that, and, you know, there's dudes out there like me and him. They're like, listen, man, I like, I just want to write an article about this band saw or like, I'm writing about something that I like hunting or like, whatever I'm passionate about. And you know, that sort of how Dirtbag Magazine was born with just the old homage from like skiers in the 1970s or 80s, where you know, there were these dirty, crusty people that just did whatever they could to live out their passion, you know, really didn't fit in these like millionaire scenes. That's really where it comes from. And we're trying to like, reinvent that or just stay in line with that to this day and making a publication that's just dedicated to that.
Brock Briggs 54:24
I think that there's something incredibly cool and raw about I don't know if I'd call it maybe it is, but category creation of taking the combination of things that you're interested in and combining them in a unique way that puts it together and something that is interesting and valuable to others. And ultimately, it doesn't have to be something for everybody. It can be something for a few people or even just yourself. And I think that there's a ton of value in just like putting something together that takes time and effort beyond kind of what your normal day to day is, like you're talking about not having the military be your personality, like this is something you've got a physical, something that represents you in a large way and represents a ton of time and work and effort. And that's badass.
Levi West 55:30
Yea, and like, our main plans or our main theme now is like, every single magazine is just kind of like centralized topic. And then we're gonna have like, some recurring things like, Album of the month, which is my little, that's the article that I'm going to try to write. And get on more music a little bit. But Rosen had like a main theme album of the month, have some sort of RAD cover shoot, like our first cover was, you know me and Buck talking to Bigfoot in the middle of the woods. And our sort of mindset on that, it's like, yeah, if you're just like, if you just see this and you're just like, yo, these dudes just talking to Bigfoot, like, what's Dirtbag. But we want it to be for just anybody.
And the next upcoming years, we're trying to get more into like extreme lifestyle adventures. Something like extreme sports type stuffs and get into like, some combat corresponding and stuff, we have some really cool things coming up. But sort of as the old name of like, you never know what our next move is gonna be like, we'll keep you guessing like, Dirtbag magazine is going to always keep people guessing. And, you know, we may write about something that you're not interested or interested in. But you are gonna want to buy every single issue because you never know where we're going to be or what we're going to be doing, what we're going to be writing about. And the only way to find out is if you buy our magazine because we do limited runs. And one of these days, I'm going to have a horrible run with a hard drive and I'm gonna lose everything. So if you don't buy one now, then you probably will never have your own.
Brock Briggs 57:16
Right. Where did the name come from? Have you settled on that?
Levi West 57:23
That was Buck’s doing. And it went back to the old you know, like I said, like the dirt bags or like the origin of the name dirt bag, where it was just sort of like these people who, you know, they were skiers or snowboarders or skateboarders, rock climbers, the likes that, you know, sort of, you know, went off living in a van so they could go chase that next till the climber slipped to ski on. Or that, you know, just people doing whatever they could do dying to keep their passion alive and die, keep chasing it. And that's kind of how, you know, I feel a lot of these days because I'll go work my day job Monday through Friday.
And then I'd be like to take off somewhere to go and, you know, photograph something or, you know, work on something with Buck. Yeah, I've had days where I'll wake up, do a photoshoot, go at photos for a bit, come back, work on the magazine a little bit or like, do some other work and then go out like playing music at a bar that night. And so I'm hitting like three different things at the same time. But at the same time, I'm just doing whatever it takes to keep my passion alive and just sort of, you know, disregarding a lot of other responsibilities in life just to keep like, well, I'm passionate about life. And that's sort of what Dirtbag is all about.
Brock Briggs 58:57
As I was reading it, when I got my issue back in December, I was like really reliving a lot of like, I grew up going to like hardcore shows and like really kind of grew up in the music scene in the city that I come from. And I was like, reading this thing. I was like, this magazine is so fucking punk rock. It's like just not even funny. I love it so much and just get an interesting take on music and a lot of really cool stuff. I really admire what you guys are doing and if anybody listening hasn't picked up a copy, they really need to.
I think what you said about keeping your passion alive is really interesting because it takes a lot of work. It's not something that people that end up kind of being really good at their craft or really enjoying and getting a lot out of life. It doesn't come without sacrifice, like you pointed out. It's like I end up neglecting a lot of other things in life to pursue my passion. And sometimes that's what it takes. And it's certainly not for everybody.
Levi West 1:00:07
No, yeah. And you know, if anybody checks out Dirtbag, one of my big things is like, I despise clickbaity journalism. You will never see myself and if I can help a Dirtbag magazine ever putting out some cringy clickbait article to get likes or comments or subscribes or to buy I hate that. With me, like the only thing that I sit down to write about is shit that I am like 100% passionate about, that I 100% care about. My first article in the magazine was album of the month artists by Superheaven. And you know, I didn't contact Superheaven about anything. I didn't tell them I was doing this. I did it because I wanted to write about my favorite like artist for the first album of the month. And when it comes down to it is like Superheaven. You know, I kind of post something on my Instagram story last night. It's like 1659 days, over 2100 songs and over 350,000 or 50,000 minutes of streaming music.
And there is one band that is my number one band. And one song is my number one song and that is Superheaven. Youngest Daughter by Superheaven is my all time favorite song and it has been my most played song on Spotify since I found it like 2019. And so if you ever pick up a issue of Dirtbag Magazine and you read it, the people that wrote those stories in there are the people that have the passion like that, that the stuff that they're writing about is no shit, their favorite thing in the world, is their fucking passion. It's not gonna be some clickbait like stupid, like, oh, here's like this, you know, the latest Kardashian news or like the latest, now it's gonna be some like 20, 30, 40 year old dude, writing about like one of the things that keeps him going every single day.
And that is one of the things that I think is the most badass thing about what me and Buck have created as we are taking five news and Rolling Stones and making it like, less sell out and more just like raw. This is what we care about. I’m saying is we know cool. And we say that because like we know a cool shit is but like, everything we give you is gonna be what's cool because we know cool. And so that's sort of like my big thing on it is in no way is it 100% journalism. It's just, you know, dudes writing about rad shit.
Brock Briggs 1:02:57
Hearing you and Buck and several other like real strong creative types come on the show, I frequently harken back to a conversation I've had very early on in the podcast with Keith and Tyler from Dead Reckoning Collective. And they talk a lot about finding other people who are crazy passionate about what they called it building a creative guild, but looking for other people who are just super obsessed with their craft and kind of surrounding yourself with those people. Because lackluster or people who aren't interested or aren't obsessed aren't going to help spur you on to the things that you wanna do. You need to hang out with other people who are really, really into what they're doing. And I think by default, you can't help but create and write and take photographs or whatever your thing is.
Levi West 1:04:01
Oh, yeah. And you know, that's one of my things that as long as somebody can be passionate and if it's not something that I'm personally passionate, but you know, everyone has something that's passionate and everyone has something that they're passionate. And if you're passionate about something, then you know, don't be afraid to let people know about it. And that's kind of what Dirtbag Magazine is all about. So I'm pretty certain we take articles on people writing about whatever it is you're passionate about and why they should be passionate about it and why we should give that thing a shot.
And one thing that I will add about like the creative community is I really haven't met anybody to like put me down about anything yet. Everybody's like really supportive, even if it's kind of like that, you know I don't want to say like fake support, but kind of like that, guiding you in a different direction like hey, this idea might be a little bit better. But everybody's like really supportive, really great. You know, this community is kind of outstanding. I don't just want to say like the veteran artists community because I don't view myself in a veteran artist community, I just kind of view myself like the artists community. And it's a great community to be in.
Brock Briggs 1:05:23
I think other artists will call them understand how difficult it is, anyway. And any kind of feedback that may be perceived negative is going to be constructive. It's like, hey, you know, here's how you can be better and like, want to help spur you on to bigger and better things. So I think that when you find those type of people, you know, right from the beginning. I want to feel the couple of questions I got on Instagram when I said that I was having you on.
Levi West 1:05:53
Brock Briggs 1:05:56
What do you think of vet writing culture?
Levi West 1:06:04
If you're a vet and you write, I think that's really cool. I think that a lot of people only a lot of veteran writers feel like they can only write about the military. And, you know, a lot of people will obsess themselves with being, you know, a war poet or a war writer. And, you know, hey, if that is your thing and that's just your thing, there's nothing wrong with that. Trying to think the right words, just say this, but just sort of, if you're a veteran writer, don't just write about being a veteran. Don't just write about the work. Don't just write about, you know, wars that make me sad, like, all this sort of notion that your idea that it's kind of attached to veteran writers today and then just be a writer who happens to be a veteran, if that makes sense.
Brock Briggs 1:06:58
No, it definitely does. I think that being a vet means a lot more than just having that and your experience and understanding about the world gives you way more interesting things to think and like talk about than you think, gives you some interesting lens on humanity, decision making, and what really drives people. And it's much more than I think, what people think.
Levi West 1:07:29
And I think also a lot of like, veteran writers feel like their only platform that they have is to talk about being a veteran. And at the end of the day, that's not the case. You know, if you're a good writer because you can write about what you did in the military or what you witnessed, then just start trying to write about other things. It doesn't always have to be just the military. All points and I know I keep bringing up William Bolyard Buck, like, he's a veteran author, but I've heard him do like one poem about like or one piece of writing about anything he's done in the military. And it's taken me like, well over a year being his friend to learn a lot about his military career. And I think that's kind of sick because like, you know, we don't make it our personality to just, you know, talk about the military.
Brock Briggs 1:08:34
Another question here, what's your endgame with Dirtbag? What's the next 5 to 10 years of working on this project look like? Or what do you think you'd like it to look like?
Levi West 1:08:48
We would, we want it to sort of turn into kind of a Vice News is, in a way. We want to start getting into video documentaries and doing that sort of stuff. But then we always want to come up with print issues because there's nothing cooler than a printed magazine. I think I'm probably one of the few 23 year olds that like goes and buys print magazines anymore, but hey, I do it. And I think that's one of the raddest things ever. You know, magazines have played a huge part in American culture from you know, I think Esquire was like the first big like, men's magazine to like then Playboy and then now transferring are also like Rolling Stones, a huge one. Cream magazine.
Like, to me magazines are just cool. And so we're always gonna keep doing the printed magazine thing. But we really want to get more into combat correspondents, taking Dirtbag out of the country and finding things to write about in the world, travel, extreme lifestyle and making documentaries. So this is just where we're at right now is just the Infancy have to do to, you know, get a couple of hours on the weekends to figure out something. And so we go and figure it out. But you know if this is what we can do when all we have is a weekend, I'd hate to see what we can do when we have all of our free time to play with.
Brock Briggs 1:10:22
Last question, who's your favorite machine gun poet?
Levi West 1:10:35
I know who said this. I never said this question. Yeah, but I have to say my favorite machine gun poet is probably the only machine gun poet I know. And that's good old dead gunner poetry. So let's stick with that. And it's actually kind of funny because gunner poetry or Mason is one of the dudes that sort of got me more into poetry. He was like the first like, Marine Corps dude that was putting stuff out. And I was writing at a time but I wasn't like showing it off to anybody but yeah. So just kind of cool that he went off and got a book published.
Brock Briggs 1:11:36
Levi, this has been a really fun conversation getting to know you, learning from you, hearing about your experience. I appreciate you coming on and spending some time with me. What can the listeners or myself do to be useful to you?
Levi West 1:11:55
Go follow Dirtbag magazine. If you want to follow my photography page. I'm horrible with social media. Buck Ron Dirtbag Magazine social media. But you can find me at like last saw artifacts in my personal Instagram, you can follow that one. Dead Shutter Designs is like my business photography account or Dirtbag Magazine. I have access to all those social media so I'm just terrible at social media. But just follow along and, you know, follow the ride and see where it takes us, go buy a magazine. We have some cool merch packs out that you can buy. But I don't know, just follow along.
Don't be afraid to buy and take the trip with us. Because, you know, me and Buck may be sitting down making a documentary 50 years on like the rise and fall Dirtbag magazine or we could crash and go bankrupt in the next year. And ultimately, neither me or him care. Because we're just doing this because we think it's cool. And it's just something that we want to do. So if you guys want to follow along for somebody that could be rad or could be a disaster like hey, at the end of the day, it's just gonna be something fun for you guys to watch. So just follow along and see what happens.
Brock Briggs 1:13:11
Oh, yeah! Levi, I really appreciate it. Thanks so much, man.
Levi West 1:13:13
Yeah, thanks for having me on.