7. Dario DiBattista on Why Veterans Make Great Writers

January 12, 2022

7. Dario DiBattista on Why Veterans Make Great Writers
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In this episode, Tim and Brock speak with Dario DiBattista.

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Dario served in the Marine Corps reserves from 2001 to 2007 with multiple tours to the Middle East in support of OIF. Dario recounts the story of how he got started writing online out of spite. His introduction to blogging was timely as Iraq and Afghanistan veterans sharing their stories online was in its infancy. Publishing his work on the impacts of war led Dario to several unique opportunities including being asked to write a piece on Osama Bin Laden's death for the Washington Post. Dario has an MFA and is currently pursuing his doctoral degree.

Dario now works in academia in support of veterans everywhere. His passion for writing got him involved early in the Veterans Writing Project where he continues to mentor service members in helping to tell their stories. His book, 'Retire the Colors', recounts 19 stories about the residual effects of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The book can be found on Amazon and Kindle here.

Dario's Twitter
Dario's Personal Website

Whether you’re in the service for four years or twenty, you have learned skills, led teams, and learned what it takes to execute under pressure. While those past successes are valuable, they don’t always translate to a life or career when you get your DD214.

Join Tim and Brock as they break down the skills and strategies current and former military members are using to build a successful careers on the outside the service.

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Brock Briggs  0:16  

Hello and welcome to the Scuttlebutt podcast. Our guest today is Dario DiBattista. He’s a former Marine Corps reservist from 01 to 07 with a couple tours and supportive operation Iraqi Freedom. Dario currently works in Academia, a non-profit veteran's writing project and as a writer and editor while working through his doctoral program. Dario, welcome to the show!

Dario DiBattista  0:40  

Thanks for having me, gentlemen!

Tim McCarthy  0:42  

Of course, man. Happy to have you!

Brock Briggs  0:44  

Very good. Do you want to give us a little start out with how you got here? Why did you join? Tell us a little bit about your time in and what brings you here today?

Dario DiBattista  0:57  

Yeah, thanks. Sure. So I'm just kind of a pot smoking hippie kid, just kind of looking for direction in my life.

Brock Briggs  1:07  

Everybody just tuned in.

Tim McCarthy  1:09 

Yeah, yeah, everybody’s here. It's just perked up.

Dario DiBattista  1:13  

I kinda always wanted to join the military. I don't know if it was the backdrop of playing with Army plastic men during the Persian Gulf War. I really liked the bazooka guy. You know, there was no.. 

Tim McCarthy

Oh, yeah. 

Dario DiBattista

There's the sandcrawler guy. It's like, “Oh, I got to do that in real life.” But I was really, really, really undisciplined. I mean, I had a 1.88 GPA to graduate high school. My guidance counselor said it was the lowest she's ever seen somebody successfully graduate. And I was like, “Okay, cool.” 

So I was interested in the services. I wasn't really particularly interested in the Navy or Air Force, just because I didn't know anything about them. And I didn’t know necessarily, that would mean, you'd be on a boat, or you'd be working with planes or whatever. I spoke with an army recruiter. And he was just really, there just wasn't a lot of passion between what he was doing. He showed up to my house. And he had this laptop, and he's like, “Oh, you played the trumpet?” Because I played the trumpet in high school. And he's like, “You want to be in the band?” And like, “I don't know, maybe.” And he showed me this video and it's just a bunch of people in uniform playing trumpet. I was like, “Okay, cool.”

Tim McCarthy  2:27  

Not, not really. No.

Dario DiBattista  2:30  

And you know, there's just other jobs and I was just very nonplussed about it. At the same time, I met somebody who was in the National Guard here in Maryland's, goes on to this day. And he's like, “I was in the National Guard. I just got back from Kosovo. I was there for like two years.” It was like, “Wow, that kind of sucks.” I actually don't really want to join the army, I think. But I was gonna do it. 

So a bunch of my friends had all been joining the Marine Corps. And I thought I'd do my due diligence. And I walked up to the recruiter. I was like, “Hey, man, you know, I'm kind of interested in the Marines, you know. If you got some time, maybe I'll ask a few questions of you.” And he just scoffed at me. It just absolutely scoffed at me. It was like, “Here's my card. Give me a call. If you think you have what it takes.” I was like, “And I'm absolutely giving you a call.” He got me. He got me.

Tim McCarthy  3:16  

Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Brock Briggs  3:17  

Did you have like long hair then? Did you fit the like stereotype of the pot smoking? So he knew he had your number from early on?

Dario DiBattista  3:24  

I absolutely did. I had a moptop. I took that thing with me to boot camp. My head shave took the longest out of anybody, pretty proud of that. But so, you know, at the same time, I'd been watching Full Metal Jacket, which is the ironic, greatest recruiter of Marines ever. And I was like, “Oh, I think I could do that.” 

And there's this weird 2020 special about boot camp. And I had never exercised, my life. And I just went outside and I just started running. And it was icy out and cold. And somebody looked at me like I was crazy and actually said, “What are you doing?” I think this is crazy. And I felt I was on a good path for the Marines. I didn't know anything about it. 

I joined in Peacetime. I actually graduated boot camp on August 24 2001. And just having no military connection or knowledge. I thought it was literally I just go down there and give it the old college try. And if it didn't work out, I just come home. When you get to boot camp, as you guys know, you know, the quickest way off the base is to graduate. So I was like, “Oh shit, I guess I'm gonna be a ring.” 

Tim McCarthy

Yep, yep.

Brock Briggs  4:28  

August of 2001

Dario DiBattista  4:30  

Yeah, August 24th, two and a half weeks before 911.

Tim McCarthy


Brock Briggs  4:34  

I was gonna say that's like, very coincidental timing. When you said Peacetime, I was like, “Hmmm. Okay.”

Dario DiBattista  4:41  

Well for two years, to two weeks of Peacetime. So obviously 911 happened after that. You know, 17 pretty wide eyed. And I was in the Reserves. But given the nature of the war on terror, and it being such a new thing in so many different ways, it was actually a pretty cool time to be a reservist because I could just volunteer for all sorts of different things. I wound up volunteering overseas, got stuck in Kuwait during the first deployment, which was really boring. Just being stuck in Kuwait, getting like Scud missiles like blowing up all around you and over you. 

And I came home, everybody's like, “Oh, how's Iraq was like?” I don't fucking know. Like, it's kind of like that toxic masculinity stuff in hindsight, you're like, okay, like, “I didn't really do anything. Is my service worth it?” You know, really complicated stuff that I know, we all kind of deal with, in some ways. So they were taking volunteers for something called Civil Affairs. And we had a staff sergeant who had done it before, and he's like, “Yeah, you'll be overseas and you'll be with the grunts. And you know, you'll be on the front lines doing peacekeeping stuff.” It's like, “I don't believe that. But sure, I'll sign up and do it.” 

And, lo and behold, I wound up in the first battle of Fallujah, going off the base, doing all sorts of crazy stuff. And then I got sent out to the Syrian border of Iraq as a combat replacement for one of the civil Pharisaism who was in a pretty pretty massive battle. And you know, essentially I was a machine gunner for Third Battalion submarines, doing security for civil affairs meetings, so it was way above my profile and expected experience as a reservist warehouseman.

Brock Briggs  6:34  

Is that like logistics, like MOS or?

Dario DiBattista  6:37  

Civil affairs in the Marine Corps

Brock Briggs  6:41  

No, no. You said warehousemen?

Dario DiBattista  6:43  

That's what I enlisted as, even though I never did warehousing. Yeah. And warehousing is literally counting gear, lift with your legs, verify that gear is there before you sign for it. I mean, to be a warehouseman, though, congratulations! Go forth and sort the warehouse.

Tim McCarthy  7:05  

Reservists are weird because like, in the middle of an active duty side, there are definitely times where like, you're not doing your job, you're doing something totally different. But I feel like in the Reserves, like your MOS, or your rating is like really just like just to get you in and then they put you wherever the hell they need you. Like, you almost never aren't doing your like actual job in the Reserves.

Dario DiBattista  7:28  

Yeah, that was definitely my experience. And you know, I know it's the same Navy and Marine Corps. When your junior enlisted, you're just kind of utilitarian. You know.. 

Tim McCarthy

Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Dario DiBattista

You go do whatever they tell you to do. You know, but I was able to have some stake over that. So I came home, I went from Fallujah to being a waiter at Chili's. And it was a pretty manic transition. And that is, my story is not unique. 

So many people come home and they suffer with transitional challenges. But back then, in 2004, PTSD was not part of the lexicon. It's not something we used and understood. And I was working at a restaurant, it didn't even necessarily connect my military experience to that, because I was working with a bunch of crazy people in restaurants. But I knew something was off. You know, I was having classic combat stress symptoms, hypervigilance, aggressiveness, flashbacks, couldn't sleep. It was irritable. You know, I was paranoid. 

And I didn't really know why. And I just started writing. You know, this is the heyday of Myspace, you know. There was a blog. It was like, “Hey, what's on your mind?” So I would just start writing and you know, I got a lot of encouragement, people were saying, it’s really interesting. It's a really unique perspective. You know, keep with it. I didn't know how to write. I didn't understand anything about it. I just was really honest. And I did it because it made me feel better. 

Writing became a way of kind of reflecting, making meaning, making sense of the things I had done, the places I had been. And wound up sticking with it, got an advanced degree in Poetry and Nonfiction Masters from Johns Hopkins, which leads to be very overqualified for boring again as arguing with people on the internet. 

Tim McCarthy

That's awesome. 

Dario DiBattista

Go on monster.com and type in poet, you will get zero results. It’s not actually a job.

Brock Briggs  9:28  

Kind of more of an idea, you know, more than anything. That's funny. It sounds like you might have been the only person using MySpace for like something purposeful at that time. Because my MySpace profile is just like embarrassing photos and skinny jeans, I think. So it sounds like you are getting some early traction with your writing. At least.

Dario DiBattista  9:52  

The really, really, really embarrassing truth of it is, I was going through a breakup with somebody who was a little bit younger than me. And she had a blog. I didn't even know what a blog was. But she was reading all these mean things about me. So I was like, “Haha, I'm gonna start my own blog and write things about you.” And she was a really good writer, so I just kinda imitated her.

Tim McCarthy  10:11

That's funny. I think that somebody finding my old MySpace in the dark abyss of the internet is probably like, top three fears for me. Like, just below heights would be somebody finding MySpace, because there's a lot of weird pictures on there. I'm sure.

Dario DiBattista  10:29  

There was a golden age where it was really just people and just being open. And before all that and I'm sure it happened from day one, but I mean, I have some friends from MySpace that I had no connection to. It was just, “Hey, you seem like a cool person. I like the music on your page. And you're doing cool.” 

Tim McCarthy


Dario DiBattista

And that's it. And we're.. 

Tim McCarthy

That's cool. 

Dario DiBattista


Brock Briggs  10:53  

Yeah, I think very early stages of being able to meet and connect with other people that are interested in like, I guess, like AOL chat rooms, MySpace, like that was kind of our era of like talking to strangers on the internet. 

Dario DiBattista  11:09  

Yeah, yeah. It's wild. Absolutely. Well, so when I was at grad school, I met a gentleman named Ron Capps. I call him the “godfather”. He hates it. But he's never seen old school. So he doesn't know it's a term of endearment. He created an organization called the Veterans Writing Project. And from day one, I was like, “Yo, I want to be a right hand man. Let me know what I need to do.” 

And for about eight years, we taught writing for veterans, servicemembers, and their adult family members, wherever we could, George Washington University, different public libraries. Last week, last Veterans Day, I taught a workshop in North Carolina at some place called the Coastal Carolina Institute. And I'm teaching the use of Komunyakaa Vietnam vet poetry to actual Vietnam vets. And it's just awesome stuff. 

We taught writing for eight years at Walter Reed as part of an art therapy program for service members who have PTSD and traumatic brain injury. And that work was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. And I never went over when to speak it. You know, because we just had a very small role in this program. But it was so cool to be with 1000s of service members, many of whom whose life was changed. 

In the same way my life was changed by writing and we didn't do anything special for them. We just gave them the tools and they ran with it. But I've had a Navy SEAL tell me now that now that I have writing in my life. I don't want to pull a bullet in my brain anymore. And that's just immensely gratifying to be able to hear and to know and to do that. I would tell the guys they were all crazy humble. You know, it was a unique community of special operations guys in general. You know, they call me shipmate, like “Come on! You don't have to call me shipmate.”

Brock Briggs  13:00  

Shipmate, unlike the Godfather, is not a term of endearment. It's really not.

Tim McCarthy  13:06  

Yeah, typically, it's not.

Dario DiBattista  13:10

It was coming, like in a genuine way, though. It was, you know, was Captain America type, you know what I mean. 

Tim McCarthy

Oh, yeah. Yeah, yup.

Dario DiBattista

It was very cool to be able to do that and have that experience. And I would tell them, the Marine Corps does not need fat, 34 year old Corporal Dario anymore. But this is how I get to continue to serve. And it was good. It was good work but really hard. 

For the last 10 years, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have kind of been on the backdrop. But if you worked at Walter Reed or any military hospital, you know, the words that it ends. And even if it wasn't physical injuries, which were very much was, I've seen some really, really grievous hard to comprehend wounded service people. It was mental stuff, and for the operators who went and deployed 5,10,15,20 times, I mean, maybe 20 is hyperbole. But I know people have deployed 12,13,14 there. Their chain of commands would just send them over. They just assumed they had little health issues. You know, because as you gentlemen know, repeated exposure to trauma is at absolutely some point, but I'm gonna break it down. 

Anyway, while I was there, Walter Reed, I realized there's this really interesting universality about the global war on terror in experience. So I wanted to explore that. So I pitched the idea to a publisher I was talking to at a school in New York called Excelsior College. They have a press called Hudson Whitman, and that became the genesis of Retire The Colors, which is 90 true stories about the aftermath of war from both civilian and veteran perspective. 

I wanted to include combatants, non-combatants, family members, people adjacent to service. Again, less than 1% of America has actually served in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it's created this unfortunate divide. But I wanted to explore for storytelling, how the impact of war ripples communities, families more pronounced way than just the people were over there. So I was very fortunate to be able to put that book together and had some really outstanding writers who contributed to me. And we were gonna make it go. 

Since then, you know, I've just been really passionate about helping people who don't really have a seat at the table, in the military and veteran literature space, helping them amplify their stories. And get the tools for learning the craft of creative writing, and then telling their stories on their own. So that's what I try and do. Again, I was never a good writer at first, I’m just older. When I first started, I just had a unique story. But you know, my story is not unique anymore. There's lots of people who are exploring the impacts of war and their own experiences within it. But I think there's a lot of stories that still have yet to been told. And I want to find ways to help curate that, nurture that, and empower that.

Tim McCarthy  16:32  

So you talked about, obviously, when you came back from your second deployment, you were experiencing what I guess back then people really weren't talking about what was PTSD. And then you started working with your friend, the “godfather” there. And you had a Navy Seal. You said you had a Navy Seal, say he no longer wanted to put a bullet in his brain. 

Now I can only assume that is extremely powerful to hear. And in your mind, you're like, “This is why I'm doing it.” Hearing stuff like that, does that make you want to say, “Okay, how do we take this to the next level?” Or does it say or do or are you thinking yourself, “Okay, we need to double down on this.” Where are you thinking you're going after hearing something like that?

Dario DiBattista  17:22  

I would just say both storytelling, particularly nonfiction, the very act of it is therapeutic. You're writing about a past version of yourself as a different version of yourself. It forces you to make meaning of your story, make shape of it, and reflect upon it. Not very dissimilar than what a therapist will do. If you're chatting with them, what's going on? What are you thinking? 

Tim McCarthy


Dario DiBattista

It forces you to challenge your worldview. It forces you to consider different perspectives. And sometimes, it forces you to put yourself outside your story, to understand the impact of your actions on others. All of that is great for personal growth across the board. The cool thing about Walter Reed is we know arts can change people's lives and make them better and help them heal. I know that from experience. But they're doing like the hard data there of like how that actually happens, hooking people up to MRIs. “Hey, go do artwork. Now, I'll hook your brain up to this. And let's see what happens.” 

Literally getting the quantitative mix made of mixed methods, qualitative arts based epistemology, logical approaches to really understand this, do the data and prove it across the board. One thing I find absolutely incredulous is there's no writing therapy program that exists in the US. You can do music therapy. You can do dance therapy. You can do expressive arts. You know, but there's no writing therapy. And I would like to see to answer your question, more emphasis on that. 

If implied like yes, you can kind of use it as your practice or yes. You can maybe use this as what are your tools for your clients and the people you're working with your patients. But I would like to see it become more pronounced, more codified legitimized and for actual academic programs and institutions and departments to embrace writings therapy. Because I've seen it across the board. At this point, I thought, everybody from 14 year olds to 99 year old Rosie the Riveters, and every one of them has had their lives changed by the act of writing in a positive way.

Brock Briggs  19:41  

When you were starting to put together your book, Retire The Colors, what was going through your head in terms of goals that you were looking to accomplish with putting the book together? Was that well, actually, I guess let me rewind, how much of that book is written by you? Because you said it's a compilation of like other writers and stuff like that.

Dario DiBattista  20:03  

Yeah, I hope this is not a hot take. But I think it's kind of tacky when you're an editor to include your own writing in your own anthology. So I didn't actually include one of my stories, but because I'm a child of the 90s, I did include a Jerry Springer's final thought. So I did write kind of like a reflection at the end, you know. What is the exclamation point? What is the eureka moment, as my old poetry professor would say, the takeaway from this. And it was just basically a call for people to listen more to the stories. 

You know, it doesn't matter what the story is. Literature is really incredibly impactful as a medium. It's a new way of understanding, new experience, a new empathy that somebody doesn't have until they engage with it. And I think we need to do more of this for veteran other marginalized voices, all sorts of different communities who are dying for people to listen to just try and understand their experiences. And never fully know, which is just understand and care.

Brock Briggs  21:14  

So I guess maybe not so much with your Retire The Colors. But other of your other pieces of your own personal work, maybe in the early days was the validation and the mental processing of like your experiences. Was that something that you were seeking out from the beginning? Or was that like a byproduct of something that kind of came from doing it?

Dario DiBattista  21:38  

I started writing because I was fucked up. And I didn't know I was fucked up. But writing was a way of me kind of making sense of that and expressing that to others. We have such a cacophonous, cantankerous, conflicting culture. When we all want the same thing, every time you open your mouth, you're expressing a need or one. Otherwise you would not express you open your mouth from the first point. 

So I think there's something authentic in that. And something that should be appreciated about that, regardless of the medium or the presenter of it. I wanted people to know, this is my experience. I wanted to know, this is what I did. This is how it impacted me. Not for a special consideration, or to get their sadness or compassion, to make them understand the impact of war. Because war to me is a democratic process. The military does not choose for it. The people we elect are the ones who make those decisions. So sometimes you have your trolls on the internet are like “Ha ha, ha, you know, good job fighting for oil.” It's like, “Alright, man, you got a problem with what I did. Just remember, you hired me to do it.” 

Tim McCarthy  22:56 

It's a really interesting way to look at it. I've never really heard it, put that way. That's kind of a funny rebuttal too, like you make them feel like an idiot.

Dario DiBattista  23:08 

It was great that you got into college guy, you know what I mean. 

Tim McCarthy  23:11  

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Dario DiBattista  23:15  

You can't absolve yourself of this. If you're an American living in this nation, what is done in your name, is done in your name. And if you want to turn a blind eye to that, that's up to you. But, you know, regardless, I didn't ask to go to Iraq. Why? I mean, I volunteered. But military, as a vehicle, did not ask for it. We were told to go. So we did.

Brock Briggs  23:40  

That's one thing that I think is really funny, too, about how people talk about the military in general. Like, the people that are very anti military will shit on our actions overseas all day long. But then you're like, “Okay, so, you know, like, fuck you to all of the people that 1% of people that are, you know, serving.” 

“Oh, well, no, no, I support the veterans, but just not that.” It's like, well, isn't that the same thing? Like, how can you? I don't think that you can separate those two.

Dario DiBattista  24:13  

I found the last several months incredibly triggering, if I'm being honest with you. You know, I still work with veterans. I'm an advocate. I'm in the veteran space. And when the 13 service members were killed in the suicide bombing during the evacuation of Afghanistan, my phone was blowing up. And it came from a good place. But it made me really upset because like, where the fuck you been? I've written about this. I published about this. I share all the time, military narratives of other people and not myself. We lost 13 and that is awful. But we lost 1000s in Afghanistan, 1000s in Iraq. That doesn't even include the 10s of 1000s of wounded, some incredibly grievous wounds, talking about my experience in Walter Reed. 

There's a service member I saw who had a hint. He had a hand and a torso. That was his body. He would move with a joystick sitting on a table, absolutely horrifying, to the imagery. And I've heard stories about that service member and he's positive. He's great. And that's awesome. But I'm angry for you.

Tim McCarthy  25:21  

And, you're saying he was missing both legs and his other arm?

Dario DiBattista  25:25  

Yeah. And he literally only get by. He was like, it's very sad images, his torso on a table moving the joystick to get around. You know, and then the hundreds of 1000s of mentally wounded, right? You know, the VA estimates a prevalence rate of PTSD, that's plus or minus 18%. All right, that seems low to me, but fine. 

If you take that number and do the math, that's the population of Atlanta. And imagine an entire city of people with PTSD that's affecting their lives, affecting their relationships, affecting their families. And what did we get out of it? You know, I think it's the question needs to be asked, and it's question I want to ask other people. You know, if you're telling me that you support the troops, but you don't have an opinion on Iraq or Afghanistan, you don't know what TBI means, like I'm dubious about your support. You know, it's not an armchair thing to me. I think people can and should be engaged about the military and what they're doing on their behalf, as I've already said.

Tim McCarthy  26:29  

So when you're talking about the past few months have been super triggering. And when those 13 were killed by the suicide bomber, and you say like, “Where have you been?” You mean, like, almost kind of like, well, now you care because it's big news? And you haven't cared the past 10 years? Is that kind of like, where you're going with it?

Dario DiBattista  26:50  

Yeah, that's where I'm at with that. 

Tim McCarthy


Dario DiBattista

Oh, and the whole thing as I'm not a partisan, but it has like, been God's deep vibes to me, you know.

Tim McCarthy  26:59  

Oh, 100%. I couldn't agree more. Yeah.

Dario DiBattista  27:03  

It was like, “Oh, my God! 13 people died in this thing.” And we can certainly, as reasonable people debate the withdrawal, which I think certainly there's lots of fair criticisms of. There was a lot of things that did not go well. I never speak outside my role, guys. I was a corporal in the Marines. I did two years of junior enlisted. I stood behind a machine gun and had a very small role and a very small part of a very large bore. 

Regardless, you know, I'm a reasonable person who can read the news and follows people who are over there and commentating on it and sharing their opinions. And yes, the withdrawal was bad in a lot of ways. But again, it's the sense of, now I'm trying to take these steps and use them for my own political agenda. And it's just upsetting to me.

Tim McCarthy


Brock Briggs  27:50  

I will have you're just going through this whole process, talking to probably hundreds, if not 1000s of veterans over the last 10,15 years, since you've been out. How has your opinion changed about maybe how we operate overseas like foreign domestic policy? How we handle stuff like at the VA with like mental health? How are those processes changed with you, just from speaking with people?

Dario DiBattista  28:25  

So I've made peace with this is obviously me speaking for Dario, veteran myself, the meaninglessness and purposelessness of my experience. Again, I don't want to elevate myself or woos me or same my experience. But I was with an infantry battalion that lost lots of people, and had many injured. I go to Purple Heart ceremonies all the time. I go to memorial ceremonies all the time. The very first one I went to was for Corporal Dunham, Marine who earned a medal of honor in Iraq, the first one since Vietnam. 

And I've lost friends. I've lost a lot of friends, people I carried with, people I served with. And it sucks to be like, “Okay, what was the point of that? What do we get out of it?” The cool thing about storytelling and writing is you get to realize your role in the world, your place within it, and your own personal story. And you get to shape the meaning of it. 

And for me, I tried to spin it positively. Like yes, all that sucks. But I can take all the bad experiences. The lessons learned from them and apply them to my everyday life, to be a veterans advocate, to be a better person, to be a better citizen. And that's what I tried to do. But I can't help but think about, particularly in recent times and America kind of failing the major stress test of the pandemic, how much we're not serving ourselves. 

And again, we spent trillions in Iraq and Afghanistan and I live here in Baltimore City. And it's like, what if instead of trillions, we spent billions, small b, instead of 2 trillion in Iraq, 3 trillion Afghanistan. I don't know what the exact numbers are, as it's trillions. It's a credible, credible amount spent. We spent 10 billion on West Point, 25 billion in Chicago, 15 billion in Detroit, and we just invested in ourselves. We wouldn't have the same inequities. We wouldn't have the same democracy hanging by a thread. We'd be empowered. And we'd be strong. And we'd be unified. 

If we hadn't gone on this foolhardy mission adventure that was generations long, generations long. As far as the VA goes, VA care is great if you can get it. And the VA is not an evil organization. It's just an overwhelmed organization. You have World War II, Korea, Vietnam, reaching end of life sort of cares, which are more cumbersome and burdensome on the system. They didn't approve of 20 years of warfare for brand new generation to endure injuries. And they're just flooded. I think, probably in the next 10, 15 years as the population of veterans sinks. VA healthcare is going to be a premium. And people are going to be jealous of veterans who have access to it. But that's not where we're at right now.

Tim McCarthy  31:44  

That's how it is out here in Boise, Idaho. I think Boise where I live is like the number one rated VA in the country. And I've lived out here for about three years now, had to go there a handful times. And it actually is rad. Like it's super good service. And I've heard horror stories of almost everywhere else. So I feel spoiled, being able to have that good experience with them. But I've definitely heard the poor experiences too, just like you said, they're just overrun. They're busy, you know.

Dario DiBattista  32:19  

And the VA is doing great things. I mean, the new GI Bill is absolutely transformational. And I want to remind anybody listening about chapter 31 benefits. It used to be called Vocational Rehabilitation, which didn't make any fucking sense. So change the name to Veteran Readiness and Employment, which makes a little more sense. But you can use it for college. You can absolutely use it for college and you can double it. You need a 20% disability rating, and you can use it for whatever education that you want. Not at the same time as the GI Bill, but maybe afterward or later on or for whatever your goals are. Too many veterans don't know about this benefit, which is incredibly underutilized.

Tim McCarthy  33:01 

Brocky, you were gonna use that, weren’t you? 

Brock Briggs  33:04  

Yeah. I have it approved and went through the process there. Dario, you also have done it, right?

Dario DiBattista  33:11  

No, I need to get to the VA disability writing chronic sinusitis and rhinitis, which I thought was just a product of living in Maryland. As it turns out, it's presumptive because I don't know all the shit I burned in Iran. 

Brock Briggs


Dario DiBattista

Actually, true story. I lived next to a sulfur phosphor, a phosphate fertilizer plant. We had literally yellow rocks of sulfur on our base. And every time we need to go on a mission, I would go by burning piles of sulfur. You know, I've been rocking the mask way before it was cool.

Brock Briggs  33:49  

Way, way, way before it was cool at for a much, much different reason. Yeah, I would echo the same thing on the VA care. I had a similar experience there in Boise, like you said, Tim. But recently, I actually had to go to the VA here in Norfolk. And I understood instantly what everybody has been saying about having trouble getting access to care, time, weights. It's insane. And I mean, there's a lot of like retired military here. So a really high concentration of Navy, certainly, but other branches as well. And you can easily see why it's overwhelmed.

Dario DiBattista  34:37  

It's a good time to be a veteran too. There is a lot of goodwill out there. And there are a lot of people that are willing to help. And I meet a lot of veterans who don't want to take advantage of it for whatever reason. But it seems foolhardy to me. If I told you you're going on patrol and you get to pick whatever gear you want. Why would you not take whatever is being offered to you? It's senseless. I've done all sorts of cool things as a veteran that I had never imagined I would do. I did stand up comedy through a group called the Armed Services, our partnership here in DC. That was like a six week intensive thing. 

I went up on the same stage where comedians like Dave Chappelle perform, and it was freaking great. And it was absolutely life changing experience. And it cost me nothing, just for being that. People can take advantage of the veterans reading product projects, veteransreading.org. You know, we are getting back into full force after the pandemic, which is still obviously ongoing. But I've been doing more workshops and getting back out in the community. And there's people across the board that are willing to help. So even if you don't want to use the VA, for whatever reason, take advantage of the resources that are being offered to you.

Brock Briggs  35:55  

I think that that's something that I hear a lot. And if you wouldn't mind, I'd love to hear your take on how people can be aware of those types of things. I think closing out active duty, they were like, you know, there's all these benefits that you can do all these things like discounts, or this type of care, or like this type of schooling or whatever. 

But I think that there's a very large gap in knowing where to start, like pursue those resources. There are so many things. And one of the goals, I guess, of this show is to like highlight some specific things. So I appreciate you mentioning those. But there are so many things that I've been out and like I feel relatively plugged into veterans resources and like the military community still. However, there are just so many things I don't know. And I hear about them like, “Oh, wow! Like I've never heard of that before.” So I'd love to hear your take and thoughts about how people can approach that and like, try to get plugged in with those types of resources.

Dario DiBattista  37:05  

No doubt, Brock! And my God, this isn't very similar. The same was true story. I bought a home recently for the VA home loan. I had no idea what the VA home loan was. I thought it was just like a good rate that you got. I didn't realize it meant you could buy a home with no money down, right?

Tim McCarthy  37:22  

Yeah, yeah. 

Dario DiBattista  37:23  

Well, I've been renting for 20 years when I absolutely would have bought a house 6,7,8 years ago. If I had known that I had the option in my head, the impediment was, oh, I'm never gonna save 30k for a down payment. So how am I going to do it? I don't know what the easy answer is. Because while there are a lot of veteran service organizations, like literally ten thousands of them, and many of them are well many of them do the same thing. And they do it at different sort of efficacies. 

I found a lot of, I know this is corny and people have big feelings about it. But I learned a lot from the Mil Twitter community. And I don't even know how Mil Twitter came about, or how I became a part of this community. Maybe just because I wouldn't shut up about the forever wars for a very long time. But that's a great resource and place to go. And again, if you find somebody who you think knows some things, just reach out to them. That's help. That's the same way when we were in the service. Your shipmates would look after you. No, no, no, no, Clark there. Your platoon mates, your what other people will call each other, your flying friends.

Tim McCarthy  38:43  

I think they call it their cuddle buddy. But I could be wrong. I don't know.

Dario DiBattista  38:48  

You know, if anybody comes across this podcast and you have questions, reach out to me. My DMs are open. That's how I wound up on the show. You know, I feel like I need to put that on my Twitter bio, because I want to help and I want to connect people. And your question is good, Brock, because there are so many services out there. But which ones are the best and who are doing it? Well, there's also a lot of predatory services, which makes me angry. You know, I work with veterans and many different roles. 

And oftentimes people are like, “Hey, Dario, can you promote this website?” which is just a sales funnel for alcohol rehab. When it's like, “why are you going to charge these people all of this and not give them any opportunity to look at their different options other than what you're providing,” when maybe the VA might offer that for them at no cost, right? It's really kind of messed up. And sometimes these people are really pushy. Like, I'll ignore their email to the fourth time. And they'll be like, “Oh, we're doing this for veterans.” Like, “Okay, let's go with this.” 

Tim McCarthy

Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Dario DiBattista

Like, why do you do this? Are you aware that this already exists for benefits? And they never respond to me. And it's like, yeah, that's not cool, you know.

Tim McCarthy  40:06  

I think like as a veteran, but when it comes to those benefits, that is one of the most frustrating things is that you just you're like, I don't know where to start. Like, I've heard that there's this benefit for X, whatever the case may be. I don't know where to go. I don't know how to get registered for that. I don't know how to use that benefit. So I guess I'm just not going to use it. Like that is super, super frustrating. I feel like there needs to be just like a central hub, like just one website where you can go and like this is everything you can use as a veteran, like, “Are you looking to go on a trip? Are you looking to buy glasses, are you looking for blah, blah, blah, like, whatever?” They're just like, everywhere. And they're so hard to find and so hard to use.

Brock Briggs  40:56  

Well, and like you said, it's very, I don't know what the word is, but it's broken out, like all of the resources and stuff are there. If you know exactly the key words to write in. And then you kind of need to go to some website that's like maybe doesn't even look military affiliated. Or the ones that do look military affiliated are trying to sell you a stupid t-shirt or something like that. And the information is just all over the place. 

And then God help you if you have to use the VA website. Oh, my God! You're never gonna find what you're looking for there. But yeah, it definitely is broken out and just kind of all over the place. And like you said, pointed out, Dario talking to somebody that's done it. I think that one of the more valuable things is being able to hear from somebody like, “Oh, hey, this form says that you need to do this, but that's actually not right.” And which is just an anecdote for the military, because it's the exact same way like, “Oh, hey, I'm trying to like, put in this paperwork to go here. Or like, do some kind of weird extra curricular thing while you're in.” You have to talk to somebody who's done it. 

Because nine times out of 10, you go to like, put it up through the chain of command and say, “Hey, here's my request for this and like, here's the instruction or whatever it's called.” And they're like, they've never seen it either. And so it's like, there's this huge breakdown, and like, nobody knows actually how to do that. We have instructions for everything. But somehow that still can't get us to the end result.

Dario DiBattista  42:37  

Yeah, it's you know, use the military analogy. It's kind of like, you just kinda zero in. And when I was getting out of the Marines, I reached out to a bunch of different services. One was a thing called Marine For Life, which is just a network of people or Marines who have offered to be mentors. 

And that was absolutely life changing. But I wouldn't have known until I tried. And I had tried other resources and benefits that were less than useful. And it's frustrating. I think the key here is just to learn to advocate for yourself, because it's not going to come to you necessarily. And I'm realizing this is somebody who just turned 38 too, so many of the conversations I have now, as I'm talking to people about money, and retirement and health. And these were people a little bit older than me, who are friends that I've had. And maybe for a long time, and it's like, why are we just talking about this now? 

It's probably would have been useful for me to know, a long time. And I'm embracing these conversations because I'm learning all sorts of new things. And, you know, I think sometimes people, particularly men, you know, stereotypical classical men, whatever, just maybe you're kind of closed off and reticent. And it's like, no, we're all struggling. Things are hard. Be open about where you're at, what you're looking for, and what you need. Because life comes at you quick. And at some point, you don't want to be scratching your head about something you should have known 5,10 years ago.

Brock Briggs  44:10  

Yup. And I think that goes, that extends past just like looking for help and stuff with resources. But like you were saying, to kind of bring back in the writing thing like working on your own mental health and like doing whatever you need to be doing to process your time in or whatever it may be. Not waiting and pushing that off to later because it's not helping to not deal with it.

Dario DiBattista  44:39  

I will add this if you want to be a writer and you're a veteran, you are overqualified to do it and do it well.

Brock Briggs  44:46  

Why do you think that is?

Dario DiBattista  44:49  

Many reasons. Number one, all stories are about conflicts. If you read a story about somebody having won a lottery, like nobody gives a shit. You read a story about somebody wins the lottery, and now the mafia is at them, “Okay, I'm interested in that story.” I don't mean to say this lightly, because I know many service members have very significant conflicts. I mean, what's bigger stakes than life and death for war. But all of that can inform your material. 

Stories are about people. You understand people better than maybe most just because of the nature of your military experience. You're being connected with people all over the world, from all corners of America, from all walks of life. And you have to figure out who they are and where they're best suited to be. When I'm a bartender and my co-bartenders having a pissy day, I just leave them alone, like, it's fine. But if you're on a ship, or you're on patrol, or you're in the air getting ready to do a bombing mission, you need to know like, “Hey, where's your head at? What's going on?” My fans, every time I talk about military, I do my fans.

You know, who is the point and why? Who do you have the machine gun to and why? Who is the radio guide, why? And also what's going on in their life that might affect them and take them off this focus? You uniquely understand leadership, which is motivating people to a joint task, joint purpose, joint mission. Then there's also the aspect of writing. It is a very lonely, okay, you're gonna spend a lot of time with yourself on a computer with a notepad, whatever your medium is, with no unnecessary, not necessarily any sense of reward, satisfaction, return. Use that discipline that you have. Lean into it to do it. Figure out what that regimen is. You can train your brain the same way you can train yourself for a physical fitness regimen. 

Like I said, I taught writing at Walter Reed for eight years. And everyone, we did that. Everyone is at three and when did you know it. At three o'clock when we would teach this reading workshop session. And then we would have everybody write. I would write with them, and my brain would just become creative. It just got used to being creative, that exact pocket of time and that exact moment and that exact space, the same way that if I had ran every Monday at six in the morning for months. And then I stopped doing it, you get that itch, like what's going on? Something's not right here. 

And I think the nature of military experiences, and how we're oriented is you can kind of get to what's really going on quicker, right? When you go into a room like okay, what's really going on. Some writers might spend a lot of time talking about the trees outside the house. They'll talk about the gentle blades of grass, with the wind going through. It's all fluff. Just just get to the fucking story. What's going on, man? But I've seen it. I've seen it across the board. I've seen so many veterans who have sat down to apply to the crafts and learn and have instrumentally, exponentially become really good at it much quicker than people have seen without that experience. And you know, I'm not that much special, whatever. The unique experiences you have definitely formed this particular skill.

Tim McCarthy  48:19  

So let me ask you this, let's say you're giving 10 years ago Dario experience. However long ago, you started writing, and you want to get into writing and you want people to be able to read your pieces. Where do you start? Like, how do you get going on that to get your material out there? What's the best route? What's the blueprint, if you will?

Dario DiBattista  48:44  

Honestly, I would have done exactly what I did. Again, the key here is writing is a skill. If I gave you a basketball, and I had to shoot three free throws for an hour every day, within six months, you'd be, I don't know, top 10% in the world at free throws. Sorry, I lost my two front teeth when I was younger, so I have..

Tim McCarthy

It’s okay. 

Dario DiBattista

So I have to teach them anyway. I swear to you, if you write for 30 minutes a day, every day, five years from now, you're gonna be a really damn good writer. 

So I took what I call the Rockstar approach. I started a blog. I just put it out there for the world. I didn't care that it was like, you know, early days Modest Mouse grunge nasty didn't really make sense. It was probably pretty weird. You know, I just did it. And I committed to it and I would get out there. I would do readings anywhere and wherever I could be. Any reading community I could find that would volunteer I would participate. I started writing for blogs that became opportunities to be features which you know, then led to getting in touch with publishers and agents. 

It doesn't really happen unless you put yourself out there. And it's mind numbing, I get it. But you got to have the sensibilities of a networker, as much as you have the sensibilities of being an artist. That's the unfortunate real truth. But it really starts with putting you out there and committing to it. I wrote over 700 Myspace blogs. I transferred that to another blog that became 100, which eventually became an opportunity to write for a Washington Post blog, which I wild because I had spent so much time on the craft and training and learning it. 

And then, because of my connection with that Washington Post blog, they asked me to write about Bin Laden's killing two years later. I mean, my God, what an opportunity. 

Tim McCarthy


Dario DiBattista

I'm actually in class at the time. It's my last semester at Hopkins. And I'm like, “Yeah, I gotta go. The Washington Post has asked me to write a story about, you know, Bin Laden stuff.” 

Tim McCarthy

That’s massive.

Dario DiBattista

You know, one of the biggest stories of the 21st century, got read by millions. And I had hundreds of people reading back to me. It was gratifying and rewarding. You know, but you also got to level, set your expectations. I need $300 for that piece.

Brock Briggs  51:12  

There are a lot of writers that really talk about how they're rolling in cash. 

Tim McCarthy  51:18  

That's very true.

Dario DiBattista  51:19  

People come to me all the time. Like, I got a story to tell. I'm like, “Okay.” Like, “Can you help?” I'm like, “Alright, what's going on? What do you want to do? What do you want to talk about?” And the very point I'm making them up front is like, if you do this for money, you're probably not in the right game. If you're doing this because you have a story that you're passionate about, you want to connect with a community, you want to share something important and put it out in the world, go forth and do it, and I will work with you. But if your goal is financial success, maybe you can teach me something.

Tim McCarthy  51:52  

I think that that's true with just about every form of content, or whatever you wanna call it. I think every time I've ever talked to that successful YouTuber, a successful writer, videographer, painter, whatever, they all say the same thing. Like if you're getting in this to get rich, just stop now. Like you need to do it because you love it not and then the money might come down the road. You can't do it with the idea of you're gonna be rich in a year. Would you say that it's easier now with social media than it was for you when you first started? Obviously, you had social media. You had MySpace and stuff like that, but..

Dario DiBattista  52:35  

We weren't going to talk about it after I brought it up, that one. 

Tim McCarthy  52:38  

Yeah. But obviously, you know, you have Instagram. You have Twitter. You have Snapchat, even TikTok, YouTube. I mean, do you think it would be easier for somebody starting out now if they utilize those platforms?

Dario DiBattista  52:52  

I mean, I've seen people have great success. I was friends with a Marine vet on Twitter, who we’re just friends because he was a Marine vet. And he was really into sports content. And he just blew up. You know, he was envious of my account or whatever, which I only got because one time I said something, and people cared. 

Most of the time, people don't care. And he rocked it. He absolutely rocked it. I was like, “Oh, my God, you're really good at this Twitter thing.” But I would say he probably would spend three or four hours a day on Twitter. And now he's not even on there anymore. Because I don't know if it'd became a too much of a mental emotional health thing or what, so it's kind of always fraught. I think there's more opportunities to get your voice out there. I think there's more places to get published. 

And I think there are more communities and all of that can be great. You know, but I'll default back to what I just said earlier, just put yourself out there and see what happens. I tell those to our workshop participants every time. I've been writing since 2005, 17 years now. At no point did anybody show up and give me a writer's card, right? Nobody's like, “Oh, you're part of the club now.”

Tim McCarthy

You have this

Dario DiBattista

You know, I tell them like, “Listen, you guys just spent a beautiful weekend, six hours a day on a Saturday and Sunday with me learning to write. You are writers. You could have been doing anything else. And this is what you chose to do. You need to embrace that. Create a website. Make this your thing. Let everybody know, you're a writer. You're doing writing. And you're putting it out there.” 

And I think it's just kind of a sense of that ownership of it, into your point, yeah. To me, it could be I'm a YouTuber. I'm a podcaster. I'm a woodsmith. Whatever it is just on it, get it out there and people will come back to you with that same sort of thing. You know, it gets annoying. It gets obnoxious, sometimes the brands or whatever. But it doesn't matter if you read a Pulitzer Prize winning piece of material, if it's not in a publication that's known and has a great headline and a great photo with a great deck, probably never going to be read.

Brock Briggs  55:13  

Yeah, well, and I think one of the beauties of especially getting your content out online, at whatever method of delivery you choose to is, you kind of naturally attract people who are interested in that. 

And like, it sometimes maybe feels like you're talking to an abyss, like, there's just the echo chamber, I guess, so to speak. Like, there's nothing coming back. But in the background, like there's work being done by putting words to paper, online, or whatever. And people are seeing it, regardless of what you think. 

So I think that that's really true. For maybe those that are interested, and as selfishly, I am a little bit interested. Can you walk us through a little bit about the route that you went with publishing your book? Talk a little bit about, you know, self publishing, maybe versus going the traditional route. And then kind of the economics of that, like you said that it's not for money. But maybe just give us a sense of, you know, what that looks like as a royalty based thing and how that plays into the publishing aspect?

Dario DiBattista  56:25  

Sure. The other point I made clear to writers from the beginning is, if you want to write whatever it is you want to write, and you're doing it for yourself, there's nothing to stop you from doing that. You can start. You can grab a journal and write whatever you want. You can take that journal and put it in a PDF and upload it on Amazon. And they will make it into a book for you at no cost to yourself. You can do that. 

But when you start thinking about it as a product that you want in other people's hands, then it becomes a different thing. You have to consider your audience, who they are, what they want, what their purchasing power is. All those sorts of things, publishers and agents and editors are probably not altruistic, you know. They're not going to share your story, because it's important. If it sells well, I get my money back. And is it useful for whatever our mission purpose is, as it stands. Excelsior College has a heavy military veteran population. So their publishing press within their college publishes stories about military and veteran stuff. 

So that was the connection. There was not necessarily a strong “Oh, we got to get our money back.” It was, we want to amplify the experience of this population of our students. You know, and then it's just a give and take. It's a massive give and take. I promised I would curate a collection of stories about the aftermath of war. And I got in huge disagreements with my publisher, because her agenda was, we're highlighting our students population. 

And because of that, there's a sense of honoring this population. So all the stories need to have a sort of redemptive quality, like, yeah, “I went to war and it sucks. But here's my lesson that I learned from it.” I have no agenda about uplifting the experience of war, right? We're kinda what people, you know, a lot of VSOs that I work with, who are interested in doing creative stuff, they're like, “We don't want to perpetrate the myth of the broken vet.” And I'm like, “Well, sorry. I know some people were fucked up for us for life because they did mess some shit in Iraq. Sorry, that's not my agenda.” Yes, I don't want to perpetuate any things. But like war cannon does mess people up. 

There were a lot of essays that I included that were, I wanted to include that she would not let me include. One was about somebody's sexual dysfunction. Sexual inability, because of the PTSD medication that they were on. Another person wrote kind of a day in the life story about their experience at the VA, called cookie cutter, whiskey breath, and they just talked about, they're just showing up drunk. Everybody's treating them like shit. They're asking very casually, do you want to kill yourself or somebody else just in a perfunctory way, not actually genuinely caring about them. 

And I thought that was like a really powerful, true, authentic narrative. But then it didn't have any redemptive quality. So it wasn't there. There was a moment where she was willing to walk away from it. But I was able to get some friends. Do some favors me get some big name, military back, people who did have positive things to say. So we were able to salvage it. But it took a long time. It took probably about three and a half years to get that book out. You know, and as part of this, you got to figure out what your values are. I don't have a lot of firm values. But I believe very much in paying people for their time. So I'm very proud that we were able to pay the writers something. 

Again, this was not groundbreaking money. But it was an investment on a really nice laptop. Or it was a really nice dinner with your significant other. And, you know, just the sense of getting it out there. And the other thing about doing your work today is, again, the promotion marketing part that you're gonna have to do on your own. Honestly, even with a major press, you're gonna have to get out there. You're gonna have to represent. Book signings don't happen on their own. Opportunities to speak to the media, don't happen on their own. Just got to kind of be shameless and reach out to people like, “Hey, listen Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, here's my book about Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps you would like to read it and interview me,” you know, which did happen. And just being shameless about it.

I have, you know, some writers are good at it. Some are not. Some people have a viral story that went crazy. And they have a huge Twitter following. And whatever they publish, people write, you know, it's kind of hit or miss. But again, it starts with number one, knowing what you're doing. Number two, the actual writing part. Number two, having a good story, send it to people you know, who you trust, who will be merciless to you about it. I'm really into Stephen King sense of ideal reader, the one person your life you like, “This is a cool person. And anytime I'm talking about movies with this person, I really agree with them. And we really jive.” Send your story. It doesn't matter if they have an MFA or not. They'll be honest with you like, “And I didn't really like it for this reason.” You know, they might not be like, the narrative arc of this character goes off kilter here for this reason. But they can articulate something that you can use. And, you know, I get a lot of like, “How did you make that happen?”

I have failed a lot, for a very long time. I had been rejected hundreds of times. I still get rejected today. It's putting it out there. It's being tenacious. It's being humble and willing to take advantage of the goodwill of others. Everybody will give you a chance, they will. But they're only gonna give you one. So you want to make sure when you have that time, you have a well-polished product as possible to present to them.

Brock Briggs  1:02:35  

Yep, I think that that's right. Well, I kind of have to loop in something that we were talking about earlier with writing online. There's something that kind of validates you. I think that shows that you're serious about it when you approach people for like, “Hey, I'd like you to interview me,” like that's a big ask, you know. You're asking, “Hey, I need you to take care and like take time out of your day to do something for me.” 

And I've felt that with this podcast, too. It's like reaching out to other veterans to like, come on, and like talk about what they're doing. And try to say like, “Hey, this is helping other people,” a chance to like, highlight what you're doing or whatever. But having something publicly available that people can reference, and they can be like, “Oh, you know, that they're not just making this up.” You kind of create your own resume online with whatever, whether you're writing, you're making videos or whatever.

Dario DiBattista  1:03:35  

I think, you know, I really do think the secret is good people are good people. And there are lots of good people. And most people in every profession, who were not born with a silver spoon, they worked hard to get where they're at. And a lot of that was people doing them favors, so they're happy to repay. One of my, there was somebody who helped me out a lot when I first started is Kelly Kennedy. She's the managing editor of thewarhorse.org, which does really great stuff. It's like pro publica for military veteran community. She just wanted like a credible word. She's the best. I didn't know her from anybody. I just came across her and her works. And, you know, I was interested in maybe deploying as a combat correspondent. And I knew she had done that. And she gave me all the time in the world. I sat with her for an hour at a coffee shop. 

And it was just a transformational discussion with somebody who had true insider knowledge. And it was cool. People were willing to do that. But again, back to values. Mine is, don't take something for nothing. And the time since then, I've been able to welcome Kelly to speak to my college classes or college students I'm working with. And we've been able to pay her. It's like, “Okay, great, thanks. Really cool. But here's money for you for your time,” you know. And it's cool. It's really cool to be able to do that. And she never looks for that. She never wanted that back. She would never expect it. But I wanted her to know, it was really cool what you did for me. I'm going to do whatever I can in a small way to give it back to you. And I want you to know that I'm doing it for others. You know, and that's why I'm so happy to do things like this. 

I never want to be in a place where it's like, “No, no. I'm too bothered by this. I'm incredibly flattered to be here. And I'm credibly flooded to speak.” And, you know, people are like, “How did you do this? How did you do that? How did you get verified?” Oh, man, it just all just happened. I'm like, “Well, you don't have emoji stuff?”

Brock Briggs  1:05:49  

I’m gonna say this guy's got a blue checkmark. He's probably going to push me to the, to his PR person or whatever, to schedule something.

Dario DiBattista  1:05:57  

It's never gonna be me. It's never who I am. And that's why I'm gonna be relatively obscure for my entire life. But that's fine. Because my bottom line with military veteran writing is sharing important stories, getting them out to the world. And now, like I said, helping uplift others. And I hope people are listening to this and have questions and want to come to a veteran's writing workshop or have questions about NFAs or have questions about publishing. I can't give all my time. You know, I'm a doctoral student, as well, work full time, do a million things, bartend, whatever. But I'm happy to point you in the right place, or make the connection or answer those questions. So please don't hesitate to reach out to me. DMS are open.

Brock Briggs  1:06:43  

There's the open invite.

Tim McCarthy  1:06:45  

Yeah. And that kind of seems to be like the general consensus, you know. And Brock and I, six months ago, we're talking about starting this podcast. It was kind of like, well even veterans with a large following or whatever veterans are almost I say almost because obviously we've gotten our very fair share of knows or ignores or whatever. But a majority of veterans are very willing to help other veterans.

Brock Briggs  1:07:11  

Think it's because veterans aren't silver spoon people. 

Tim McCarthy


Brock Briggs

Conrad mentioned this in one of our other interviews. He was like, “Look at the demographics of people who joined the military. It's not the top 1% of wealthy people. It's blue collar people, primarily.”

Tim McCarthy  1:07:28  

Yeah. How many people are signing up to get potentially their legs blown off or whatever, for what $20,000 a year and maybe a $10,000 sign on bonus? And that's 100%. Plus, once you've been there, and you've had those experiences, you immediately connect with somebody who's like, “Oh, yeah. I was in the military. I work in sales.” 

And the amount of times I've had a customer that comes in whatever, where maybe it's working with somebody else, or starts out work with me. And they just seem like an asshole for the lack of better terms. But I've gotten used to that. And I know how to recognize it, where in my head I'm like, “You're a veteran.” And then I'll bring something up about the military. And they'll kind of like light up about “Oh, yeah. I was in Vietnam, or I was in at this time.” And I'm like, “Oh, me too, man,” or like, this is “I served for this long.” And it's just like a totally different person. 

And now we're like, immediately best friends, even though I'm trying to sell them something. They immediately trust me. Because we've had those similar experiences. You know what I mean? And I think that I just really think that veterans are always willing to help other veterans. So you're right on the button there.

Dario DiBattista  1:08:43  

I do and I see it across the board. And you know, I wish this weren't the case. And this is a firearm. I forget at the end of the day, vets have to take care of vets. I think it's pretty clear. Your average American is indifferent, unwilling, disconnected. You know, they tend to see us as a monolith, they use us for political points, whatever. I really do think it's kind of up to us to take care of each other. And then very soberly, and honestly embrace that. What can I do for you? What can we do for each other? 

You know, there's a lot of great people who don't have military service, who I know who do great things. The guy who founded that Comedy Bootcamp, Armed Services Arts Partnership, just as near as I can tell us overspill millennial with no connection to military whatsoever. He's like, “I just want to do something good.” And I was like, “Yeah, that's fucking awesome man!” My friend Melissa, who teaches at Walter Reed, and you can watch her TED talk about the art therapy she does there. Melissa Walker, it's awesome. You know, she just was interested in the community and did it. 

But 95% of the time, I'm a veteran. I served. I get it, or my dad was a veteran or my sister served or whatever. And that creates the connection. And it's fine. It is what it is. But I think we do. We are uniquely charged to take care of each other because other people aren't doing it. You know, and I can tell you now as an academic or genuine scholarly academic. Now that I'm in a doctoral program, I'm looking at the data and I'm looking the research and nobody's doing it. Nobody's doing it. 

We don't even know the questions or the answers because academic research is generative. You can't jump ahead and be like, “Okay, what about Gen Z vets and their issues? It's like, we haven't even figured out 

Brock Briggs

Vietnam, yet. 

Dario DiBattista

Like your average veteran in college today. We haven't even figured out your average veteran in the workplace today, whatever it is. We just don't have the data. Because nobody's gonna.

Tim McCarthy  1:10:57  

I know we are, we're kind of coming up to the end of our time here. And I would like to kind of dive into this just to give the listeners who, you know, maybe do potentially want to turn writing into a career or whatever. What with your book, what does the financial aspect of that look like? Just like Brock was saying, is it a royalty? Is it a pay per unit kind of thing? And what does that money kind of look like? If you don't mind going into it? I know that that's kind of a personal question. But what does the money look like? And how does it work?

Dario DiBattista  1:11:33  

It's fine. So this was a small academic press. I made 2500 for the final manuscript. And I made 2500 at the completion of the projects. Each writer, I think, was paid $250, which I was cool with. And for every 5,000 in sales, I think I would have made another 1000. But I don't think we got there.

Tim McCarthy  1:12:05  

Is that 5000 units or $5,000? Gross profit or revenue?

Dario DiBattista  1:12:09  

5000 units. Yeah. 

Tim McCarthy

Okay, gotcha.

Dario DiBattista

You know, it's to my point, then unfortunately, something that people are just not interested in. You know, you back to the blue check thing. I had this book come out. And I made a tweet about the Muslim ban, which is a picture of me and a little Iraqi girl. And I said, no longer welcome in my country. So I sent it to hers. It went viral. Whenever I was interviewed by many different countries. There was an Alice made about it that got a million views. There was celebrities, Patton Oswald, Misha Collins, all these people retweeting it. Zayn Malik, from One Direction follows me on Twitter. And I'm like, “I don't even know what the fuck that has been.”

Tim McCarthy  1:13:04  

I'd be telling everybody I'd be like, “Hey, I'm Tim. Dude from One Direction follows me.”

Dario DiBattista  1:13:10  

It was number one on Reddit, one point. Like, you can't win PR like that. Guys, I fucking won the internet. 

Tim McCarthy


Dario DiBattista

And I sold at most

Brock Briggs  1:13:24  

That's crazy. That's there's such a disconnect there like within reach and like what actual is.

Dario DiBattista  1:13:28  

Like I care about the story. And I care about the topic. And it's timely. And it speaks to my political sensibilities, even though I don't think I was making a political statement. I was just thinking about the enmity of sending people overseas for other people's freedoms and not allow them to get freedom in any way they choose afterwards, regardless. But you know, that is what it is. 

And, you know, I've tried so hard to make people care. And you know, I think some do and I think some get it. And I think people are willing to listen and they're willing to understand. But I think vets need to stand up and understand that not enough people are, so we have to take care of each other. And we have to become the experts of our own experience to support one another.

As far as the writing as a business, the best advice I have for you is figure out your niche, whatever it is. And just be humble. You know, if somebody gives you an opportunity to work a beat, it doesn't matter what the beat is. Do it even if it's very tiny as local county paper. Do it. I've seen people rise from the Carroll County Times Ravens football team reporter to ESPN. It can and does happen. 

You know, be willing to be a fact checker, volunteer for literary journals. They all need readers. They all need editors. You can build up your cache and connections with those. There are plenty of writing jobs and writing and publishing copy editing, editorial layout design. Learn all of it across the board. 

But understand, at the end of the day, you're either going to make money for your brands, or for your expertise in teaching writing. I haven't made a lot of money in my actual physical writing as far as what I get paid for publications. But I've been paid a lot to teach writing. And I've been able to make a career out of I'm a vet guy who understands vets. And I'm a  “subject matter expert.” You know, I think a lot of people have that experience, where what they write about becomes the platform, which gives them the opportunity to make a living.

Brock Briggs  1:15:41  

It's not like, that's just the gateway into whatever the next step is.

Dario DiBattista


Brock Briggs

I gotcha.

Dario DiBattista  1:15:47  

You know, if you really peel it back, guys, all your favorite writers have, like, really wealthy significant others. You know, they have trust funds. You know, it's not a secret, right? Who can become the beat journalist at the Baltimore Sun making $28,000 a year, somebody whose parents are paying their rent you know.

Tim McCarthy

Yea, yeah.

Dario DiBattista

It sucks, you know.

Tim McCarthy  1:16:15  

Moral of this story is marry a sugar mama.

Dario DiBattista  1:16:18  

Oh, yeah. I'm all about that. DMS, open from that as well.

Brock Briggs  1:16:22  

Yeah, we'll be sure to include the link in the show notes for you.

Tim McCarthy  1:16:28  

My wife listens to the show. So my DMs are closed.

Brock Briggs  1:16:35  

Okay, so you basically laid out a really strong thesis as to why somebody should not be a writer in terms of the monetary aspect. It's obviously not easy. Like, you have to wade through a lot of things. If you want to work through with a publisher. You know, you're fighting for other, your needs versus other people's needs, all these things. Let's say that somebody listening is through all that they don't care. And I'm imagining this would be something that you would start out with one of your workshops in. What is a prompt or maybe something that you would say at the beginning of a workshop to get people who have never put pen to paper? How do they start? What's the first thing that they should think about when they pick up a pen?

Dario DiBattista  1:17:30  

Why do you want to be a writer, that has to be where it starts.

Brock Briggs  1:17:36  

Figure out what the end goal is before

Dario DiBattista  1:17:38  

And you don't have to know that to start. But it should be an impulse behind every word you put on the page. What are you doing this for? And for what? You don't have to know what your story is. You don't have to know what your brand does. You don't even necessarily need to know what you're going to write about. But you should be considering why you're reading it, why you're doing it.

Brock Briggs  1:18:11  

Think that does do so much more than just writing, figure out what the end goal is. And then consider how the actions that you take every day or every week, support that end goal.

Dario DiBattista  1:18:26  

But I want to tell you, Brock. I'm not discouraging anybody. If you're a veteran and you have a story, I want you to tell it. Because even if it only impacts five people, or 50, or 5000, or God bless you, you get in front of 5 million voices. I want that bridge to be knocked down. And I want people to understand us as an identity group more and understand their role in our lives.

Brock Briggs  1:18:52  

That's good and powerful. My limited experience writing and my limited time connecting with veteran writers has shown me that this is like it's a powerful network. And I haven't gotten tired of reading other people's experiences, even though they're different than mine, different viewpoints. It feels good to be supporting and like I don't know, establishing that kind of that network there. And like you said, taking care of each other. 

To kind of wrap up here, Tim, I guess do you have anything else?

Tim McCarthy  1:19:33  

No, I think I'm good. Dario, I appreciate it, man. This was really awesome. I appreciate you kind of going into all the detail on your history. And if you want to be a writer, how to do it, and where to start and that's good. You've been awesome, man. Thank you so much.

Dario DiBattista  1:19:50  

Thanks, Tim. Thanks, Brock. Please connect anybody with me. If they have any questions, let me know how I can support you guys. Happy to share and blast this out, and promote you guys as much as I can.

Brock Briggs  1:20:03  

Awesome. Well, will you kind of give us and listeners a little bit of a breakdown on where people can go to stay up with you, website, where they can find the book. Any other kind of like contact information you want to give out is great.

Dario DiBattista  1:20:19  

It's 1800marines

Brock Briggs  1:20:23  

Your country needs you today. 

Tim McCarthy


Dario DiBattista  1:20:27  

@32, so for Twitter and my website is dariodibattista.com and you can find everything about me on this. 

Brock Briggs

This has been awesome. Dario, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it.