A close friend of a Marine veteran imprisoned in Mexico for the past 70 days said he can hear the heartbreak in his friend’s voice when they talk on the phone.
Former Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi was caught crossing the Mexican border at San Ysidro on March 31 in what he claims was a wrong turn in the dark. In his truck were three firearms registered to him and several dozen rounds of ammunition, all of which are illegal to possess in Mexico. Tahmooressi’s plight has generated widespread public support, with over 100,000 signers to a petition calling for President Obama to intervene to free him, and nearly two dozen U.S. lawmakers petitioning the Mexican government directly for his release.
A friend said Tahmooressi refused to lie about not having been to Mexico before — he had reportedly been there several times, and evidence shows he had returned from Tijuana that night prior to his ill-fated border crossing.
While Tahmooressi has said he’s endured torture and humiliation from his Mexican guards during his imprisonment, his friend and former Marine comrade Brad Meister told Marine Corps Times he is whiling away the captivity through prayer and the stiff upper lip he developed during his two combat tours in the Corps.
“This is really the way that I feel when I talked to Tam: Usually if you’re at home, if you’re the one home and not overseas, you want to act like everyone’s fine and good,” said Meister, 27, who deployed with Tahmooressi to Helmand province, Afghanistan, with 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, in 2012. “You can just hear in their voice that they’re ready to come home and they just put on a front like everyone’s okay. He really does sound like he has this broken heart.”
The two Marines stayed in touch even after they left uniform. When Meister heard through friends that his buddy had been arrested in Mexico, he was horrified. Then, he got a call from Tahmooressi.
“ ‘Hey, how are you, man? How’s school?’ ” Meister recalled Tahmooressi saying. “He was more worried about me than himself.”
In the first phone call, they talked about his situation, which Meister said was dire. Tahmooressi, he said, had been beaten, hit in the face, and even strapped to a pole naked during his early days in the prison.
Hearing his friend’s familiar voice, though, was reassuring, Meister said. Tahmooressi had earned the name “Eeyore” in his unit for his slow, measured way of talking — a mannerism that may have been intensified when he survived an IED blast over a previous deployment to Marjah, Afghanistan.
That blast, and its long-term effects, has been the subject of some controversy in the weeks since Tahmooressi was arrested. His mother, Jill Tahmooressi, said her son had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress as a result of the blast and had been in San Diego for treatment.
In a June 9 letter to Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, said Mexican officials had told him they were willing to bypass an extended prison sentence for the Marine vet if he claimed his accidental border crossing was caused by his PTSD. Hunter called on Amos to reach out to the Mexican government on Tamooressi’s behalf.
“Given the understanding of PTSD among the Marine Corps and the U.S. military altogether, I believe Andrew’s situation provides an opportunity for you — as commandant of the Marine Corps — to match words with action,” Hunter said. “Andrew’s case represents a call to action and we, including the Marine Corps as an institution, have an obligation to ensure he has our full support.”
A spokesman for Amos, Col. Dave Lapan, said his office had received the letter as of June 10, but the commandant had not yet reviewed it.
Meister said he and Tahmooressi had not discussed PTSD during the calls from prison, but he knew Tahmooressi struggled with it. He said if Mexican officials wanted his friend to own up to his symptoms, he didn’t see why Tahmooressi wouldn’t.
“In the predicament he’s in right now, he’s one of the Marines that has it worse than others,” he said.
During the second and third calls Tahmooressi made to Meister — both on the same day — they didn’t talk much about his circumstances or symptoms, Meister said. Instead, they chatted about the times they shared in Afghanistan, prayed together, and talked about what they’d do once Tahmooressi was freed. Meister said his friend’s situation had certainly improved since the case gained public attention, but he still hears Tahmooressi’s sadness when they talk.
“There’s a survival mode that a Marine has to keep himself alive and keep himself steady,” he said. “But I know that he’s hurting.”
For Meister, it’s especially hard to see a friend who he says was known for kindness and helping others get locked away and roughed up over something he believes was just an unfortunate mistake.
“Me and Tam had transferred many detainees overseas,” Meister said. “Never once have I seen Tam mistreat someone or want to mistreat someone. There’s just confusion in his voice.”
Meister said he expects to hear from Tahmooressi again very soon.