From Marine to Matador

October 23, 2015

Drew Lucas served in some of the world’s most dangerous places with the U.S. Marine Corps before coming to CSUN. Now he’s helping other veterans and sharing his experience through spoken word, poetry and music.

Drew LucasCalifornia State University, Northridge student Drew Lucas is not one to hold back. He’s proud of the six and a half years that he served as an infantryman in the Marine Corps, but he doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that facing combat left him emotionally scarred and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. It was going back to school and finding a creative outlet for his emotions that saved him from becoming a statistic. Today, Drew is using his experience to help others through spoken word, poetry and music.

Growing up in the District of Columbia, he was often in trouble, rebelling against his mother and stepfather. In 2008, 20 years old and going nowhere, Drew decided it was time for a change. He joined the Marine Corps and was deployed to Al Anbar province, Iraq. In 2009, he volunteered for a second deployment and was sent to Helmand province, Afghanistan, as part of a massive troop surge.

“At that time it was the most dangerous place in the world,” Drew says.

And the danger found him. On Dec. 26, 2009, he was hit by an improvised explosive devise (IED) blast and suffered traumatic brain injury and hearing loss. He was back in the field only a few days later, with limited electricity and access to showers. On Jan. 23, 2010, Drew’s platoon mounted an assault on a group of Taliban fighters at a bazaar. After most of the Taliban ran off, the bazaar reopened. That’s when a suicide bomber struck, killing three of Drew’s buddies and two Afghan children. He witnessed the attack, and in the aftermath was assigned to help carry away the bodies.

“It still tears me up to hear a woman screaming,” Drew says. “It brings me back to hearing the mother of the children who were killed.”

Emotionally beaten, he left the Marine Corps in 2012 with no clear plan for what would come next. Landing in Los Angeles he started taking community college courses in an attempt to move on, but spent a lot of his time looking back. He was withdrawn and angry, sleeping little, and self-medicating with alcohol.

One night, feeling particularly low, Drew realized he needed to find an emotional outlet before he hurt himself or others. A friend had convinced him to start writing, and there was an open mic night at the community college, so he showed up and started sharing.

“You feel so alone you don’t even know how to begin to speak,” Drew says. “But I was going to share or I was going to kill myself.”

Drew has continued to find his voice since then, performing his words, lyrics and poetry at Southern California veterans’ events and working closely with several veterans’ organizations: the Wounded Warrior Project, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Operation Engage America and The Soldiers Project.

“Looking out into the crowd I can tell who the vets are from their anxiety and tears,” he says. On one occasion Drew performed a piece about survivor guilt, and an emotional Vietnam veteran came up to meet him after the show.

“He thanked me and told me how survivor guilt was something he’d been dealing with [for decades],” Drew says.

As a CSUN student he’s been actively involved with the Veterans Resource Center, and in 2013 he created Battle Class, an event to remember and honor veterans through the arts. This year’s event is scheduled for Nov. 9, 2015, in front of the University Student Union Sol Center.

Last year Drew also joined the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. It was a step outside of his comfort zone but SigEp’s core principles of virtue, diligence and brotherly love were familiar to him.

“I haven’t felt so comfortable [with a group of people] since the Marine Corps,” Drew says.

A tourism, hospitality, and recreation management major, eventually he’d like to get a master’s degree and open a venue for veterans and others coping with emotional challenges, to share and heal through music and art.

“Pain is a universal bond,” Drew says. “When you see the worst in humanity it brings something out in an enlightened way.”

To read some of Drew’s work for yourself and find out how you can get involved in honoring America’s veterans, check out his website, Patrols2poetry.