Life After Iraq: Building a Sustainable Partnership

On more than one occasion I’ve heard, “Freedom has a taste the protected will never know.” At one time, I was the protected. The year before I served in Iraq, it did not register, even after I began to meet Marines and one Corpsman shortly before my own Iraq tour. I met people who had been shot and likely shot or killed insurgents. There are many stories I am sure they have to share that I never learned. I embraced them wholly like I would any other person I sought as a friend and companion. I smiled a great deal and appreciated the opportunity to meet these Iraq veterans before I deployed. I didn’t have an understanding of what they had been through, having not experienced it, but we went through life the way friends normally experience it. We’d hang out, maybe drink a little, and complain about barracks rules and so forth. I was a happy person, going out to the movies, dinner, and/or local areas of interest. Just soaking it in as I had any other experience growing up, just being in the moment.

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Being dorky while packing for Iraq (August 2004)

My husband never met this version of me. Some days, that’s the hardest thing for me. He gets a close glimpse of that me several days into a vacation or after a few glasses of wine. He might see it as we relax with fellow veterans at a formal gathering, and he’s definitely a step closer to seeing that me for some of the Marine Corps balls we’ve attended together. On a daily basis though, he gets the quieter me. Not necessarily quiet, but contemplative. I see life differently now.

I came home from Iraq in March 2005 and he joined my unit around May. My husband met me shortly after the high of returning home ended and I grew quite disenchanted with my life as a Marine. Seriously, it was the worst time anyone could have wanted to date me; I was having a terrible year and started to take it out on everyone around me. My life was in disrepair when we met. Like Taylor Swift’s lines from “Delicate” he entered my life when “My reputation’s never been worse, so you must like me for me.” I felt like an outsider around my family, I had been talked down to and treated like a consolation prize by guys I tried to date after Iraq, and things at work weren’t going well. After Iraq, I spent a month on Recruiter’s Assistance in Rhode Island, a month (roughly) at Technical Escort school in Huntsville, Alabama, and a month at Corporal’s Course (spanning part of August and September) where I was jealous Marine Expeditionary Unit guys got to leave to assist in areas hit by Hurricane Katrina. I was burnt out on doing everything for everyone else and feeling invisible and not visible enough.

I wasn’t sure it was possible to have a successful relationship while serving because the situation for me was a bit like living in a fishbowl. A week before I went on my first date with my husband I thought about everything from the year and a half prior. While some guys I worked with were married or in a longterm relationship, I couldn’t seem to make anything stick. I most wanted a partnership to work out and I was in this season of waiting for someone to fight for me and see me the way I wanted to see him, as a longterm commitment; at twenty-one years old, it was a bit embarrassing I could serve in Iraq longer than the length of any relationship to date. With a sense that my career choice was incompatible with dating, I basically resigned myself to the notion I’d be single until my contract ended in 2007.

And then something funny happened. I went on a non-date that became our first date.

I was a woman who served in Iraq with a male partner who hadn’t. I had a feeling others would make the situation awkward, that others would emasculate him when nothing more than our timing of entering the Marine Corps changed who went to Iraq and he hadn’t. I knew well enough, too, being two years older that someone would have something to say about our age difference. No one seems to care when an older guy dates a younger woman but when the shoe is on the other foot, boy do people share their opinions. I also knew being one rank above him and working in the same unit, the situation was ripe for scrutiny.

For the first time, I was truly interested in keeping my relationship under wraps so we could figure out things for ourselves. I needed privacy to make the relationship successful and privacy, in case it wasn’t. While I cannot say we made all the right choices (and no one does), looking back, there are some important things I learned from the failed relationships that are probably more important after having served in Iraq. Our relationship didn’t stay under wraps too long as one of our peers informed our chain of command we were dating, but after a rough start, we made things work on our terms. In building a successful relationship after Iraq, here’s what’s been working for us:

Keeping conflicts offline. I don’t like being badmouthed in person, but being in the middle of a social media fight is worse. Instead of two or three friends, acquaintances, or strangers being privy to a disagreement, imagine having 100, 200, or 300. Everyone has an opinion, and they aren’t always helpful. I had a hard time in 2005 getting caught in “he said, she said” situations. I never had someone antagonize me online and for once, I fought back and said nasty things,too, because I was angry and disappointed. Those things should have been stated privately. An online fight hurts a relationship. It hurts rekindling a relationship. It degrades friendships. It does (or can do) damage to one’s professional reputation. As such, I try to be mindful of not airing our bad moments, unless I do so in jest.

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Find Your Strengths. I am the emotional one and he’s the practical one in this household. Neither of us will get 100% of what we want all the time, so it’s good to find a middle ground and that’s not always planned. For example, I was deployed to Iraq a second time during his first birthday with us as a married couple. I purchased a replica Scottish Claymore (a type of sword) online and had chosen a particular hilt. As it turned out, that option wasn’t available but I didn’t know it before I deployed and my husband was contacted just before his birthday so the company could find out which alternative option would work for the purchase. I was bummed my surprise was ruined, but he took it in stride and selected something he appreciated it.

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Communicate. Things were pretty easy when we were (and are) together in-person. We can talk, interpret each other’s body language, and work through disagreements and praise each other easily. Text messages and emails complicate things. I don’t always like talking about things after Iraq that bother me, so I am pretty guilty of sneaking those conversations into text messages. It might be a way to open up the conversation and the more confident I feel discussing something, the less I use indirect communication as a crutch.

The hardest thing about indirect communication is feeling like one is understood. I remember how awkward our emails were when my husband’s tour was extended and divorce packages came in left and right for his unit. We spent the first 16 months of our marriage apart and it takes a lot of digging down deep to not be upset over every missed phone call, short emails, or communication gaps when communications are shut off so families notifications can occur through formal channels. It’s hard to push through a brand new marriage worrying that it might fail before you ever really experience what it has to offer because you see others failing.

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Every Relationship Is Different. I was not the more socially outgoing person in past relationships. To this day, I am still surprised by how outgoing I come across when my husband and I go out because I used to be the quiet one watching all the activity and occasionally saying a few things. I’m an introverted person which has made discussing my post-Iraq challenges a slow process. Aside from a few close male Marine veterans and my husband, I don’t give most people a great view of the most difficult days after my first deployment. My husband supports me when I’m willing to share my thoughts outside our small shared circle of friends. He’s attended some public presentations with me–with our daughter in tow–and has never criticized how or when I choose to share this part of my life.

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One of the items he sent to me in the early part of my second tour in Iraq

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Support Takes Many Forms. Years ago, I don’t know how much I would have opened up about my particular role in Iraq. I did not realize how much it would impact my worldview or how much certain things would come back to me after I started working with veterans and lived somewhere with regular fireworks. In the early stages of our partnership, he made sure I had creature comforts to help me feel better during my second Iraq deployment. I had a care package of my favorite pillow, some tv show dvds, a beloved outfit, photos, a digital camera, and Sobe Adrenaline energy drinks. He built our first home with furniture from Walmart. He wrote to me about the first apartment he picked out for us, how it looked, and unpacking my belongings from the barracks to ready our first home. He picked up souvenirs during his deployment to show me I was missed and appreciated. I am not a materialistic person but it was beautiful to receive things that made him think of me from nations I’ve never visited.

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Camp Pendleton, CA circa 2008

We learned how to manage a household together. We learned how to parent together. We learned how to be students together. We learned how to talk politics and religion together. We learned good and bad financial moves together. We learned to move (on multiple occasions) together and to equally despise moving companies for the things they broke or ruined. We learned to laugh and debate together.

But the simple things matter most. We walk together, literally and figuratively.

We get out of the house, out of our bubble, and appreciate our surroundings and explore our opportunities.

I never imagined someone would want to walk through so much in life with me, and actually stay when he sees me on my worst days. He didn’t get the young woman who smiled all the time, the person who was protected from (some of) the ugliness of this world. Instead, he got the most resilient and tenacious version, he got the warfighter and the war veteran.

I got a new best friend October 14th, 2005 and with the new journey, a newfound freedom to become someone I didn’t realize I could be.

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Post-Boot Camp Training: Marine Combat Training

Back in June of this year, I gave you all a few sneak peeks into behind the scenes life at boot camp using my letters from July, AugustSeptember , and October 2003. I know it’s time to also share photos from follow-on training opportunities. I am also including my journal entry on the my experience at Marine Combat Training with minor editing. My apologies for the poor quality of the photos. I took these on disposal 35mm cameras and now that I no longer have a scanner, I photographed them using my iPhone and had to crop the images manually (and obviously, you can see in some of these, I was lazy and didn’t bother cropping the images so you do not see the top of my kitchen island.)

Take care and have a great Friday, everyone.

~Cheryl

Marine Combat Training

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The woman on the right was also one of our instructors.
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Another instructor. I believe he was the senior Marine in charge of us.
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One of our instructors, Cpl Bevens. He’s the only instructors’ name I can recall.

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I couldn’t wait for the chance to launder my camis; these things look so disgusting from being out in the field.

24 December 2003

 

It’s been awhile since I graduated from Marine Corps Recruit Training Depot Parris Island, S.C. (October 10th) but I’m still learning how to be a Marine.

Since the time I left Parris Island, I have traveled to Camp Lejeune, N.C. for Marine Combat Training (actually conducted at Camp Devil Dog and in-processing and out-processing at Camp Geiger) or MCT.

MCT lasted for twenty-one days, of which two weeks were actually spent out in the field. In that time period, I’ve been the dirtiest I’ve ever been in my life. Unlike most of my fellow Marines, I only had two pairs of camis I could wear in the field whereas they had four. My woodland cover was broken from boot camp so I threw it out expecting I could purchase a new one at MCT. Unknown to me at the time, Camp Lejeune had no covers in my size so the only uniform I could wear was the desert camis until I got a cover at the end of my training from one of my instructors.

 

In the field we really had no facilities to wash our camis, although I got desperate and washed one in the shower with me. There is nothing that could really explain how disgusting we got. I resorted to buying enough underwear so I could just throw them away at the end of the day. We kept wet wipes on hand and used them in place of a shower at times (the females at least had ice cold showers for the duration of our field experience) and stocked up on the toilet paper from our MRE’s since the bathroom facilities lacked it.

You’d think most of us females would be uncomfortable being dirty around the males, but after awhile we just didn’t care; it didn’t quite matter was there was little we we could do to fix our situation. And MCT, in itself, was an experience simply for the fact it was the first time we worked with the opposite sex [in the Marine Corps]. As a result, we heard stories of how desperate some of the Marines got and how they resorted to sex in the woods or the portajohns.

MCT was harder than I expected. We didn’t PT (physical training) as I thought we would (which sucked in itself since I gained fifteen pounds from the fattening MRE’s) but did hikes instead. I’ve never been terribly good at hiking (even in boot camp) but this time I had to lug about sixty-five pounds on my back for a ten-mile and a fifteen-mile hike. I was sick for both of them and ended up falling out on the fifteen mile hike. I later got remediated was told to pack pillows in my MOLLE pack and we marched around Camp Geiger.  [Seriously, I am so embarrassed looking back on this experience to admit this situation, but I’m not sure who told us to pack pillows but they obviously didn’t get about us doing the hike properly…just needed it done, I guess.]

We also got to use a lot of weapons which was weird to get acclimated to since all I shot before was the M16. We got to use weapons like the .50 cal, M203 grenade launcher, the AT4 (with training round although we got to see one of our instructors shoot off a real one), hand grenades, and squad automatic weapons. I still enjoyed shooting the M16 the best. WE did some close range combat shooting (fifty yards or so) at paper targets. The grenades were cool though, although we duck behind a wall after throwing them. It would have been interested if from a distant we could have watched them when other Marines were throwing them.

And of course, as part of our training, before we could even use the weapons we did have to learn about them just as we did with the M16. I don’t remember much of it because I haven’t studied any of it since leaving MCT but basically we learned the nomenclature, the range and the effective range of the weapon, and distinguishing features of the weapon like rates of fire. The weapons are pretty bad ass. We learned about smoke grenades, incendiary grenades, and CS grenades.

Well, I got to go now. Need to shower (gotta love being able to do that) as I’m planning on going to the Brook’s Christmas Party. Later on I hope to see J. to give him his present. I got him Ka-Bar 100 years commemorative USMC fighting/utility knife. It’s such an awesome looking knife. I’m sure he’ll like it as he and his brothers say you can’t go wrong with weapons. he said he got me one because I don’t own one so I’m sure he’ll be surprised when he receives one from me.

Movie Watching with a Significant Other

I’m taking a little detour from my usual writing today. During my last memoir writing sessions, I read through several entries written from June 2005 to September 2005 and skimmed some from September through December 2005. While I think I’ve covered this subject a little here and there, I do not know how much I’ve reinforced how deployments were times in my life that I fell behind significantly on popular culture in the form of movie going. I worked so much during my first deployment, I never thought to check and see if our recreation center had movies for everyone to watch as part of their off hours activities. During the second tour, I worked a regular shift, but my husband sent me boxed sets of the shows, “That 70’s Show” and “Monk,” that I would occasionally watch with my coworkers.

Unexpectedly, in my life, movie watching became a particular pastime with my husband and I, starting in our dating years. We started working together approximately May 2005 but went on our first date October 14th of that year. I caught some movies that year with friends like “Constantine”, but on September 15th, I wrote this excerpt in a larger Myspace entry reflecting on lost love and what I wanted in someone to be my partner.

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I thought about sharing these sentiments last week but being so close to the anniversary of September 11th and also with September being Suicide Prevention month, I was hesitate to share something so lighthearted. This week it feels ok to take a detour.

I am not a passionate person when it comes to moviegoing. I grew up as one of four kids and later one of six when my step siblings joined my life. It was far too expensive as a family to see movies often and I never imagined as an adult seeing movies would become a regular part of my life. Serving in the Marine Corps and having a pretty substantial regular paycheck due to little debt and no one to support gave me more discretionary income than I think most of my friends in college had around the same time.

When my husband came into my life, a common weekend date routine for us was a trip to Barnes and Noble, a dinner (or two out) and a movie, when and if something we’d like was out in theaters. It’s funny, too, that periods of our military service are reasons why I remember certain movies instead of certain movies reminding me about us also serving at the same time. We saw “Jarhead” with our fellow Marines in November 2005 in the worst seats in the theater. As CBRN Marines, the scene where the guys play football in MOPP is one of my favorites.  The movie, “WALL-E,” stands out for me as we watched it in our hotel room during the 2008 Marine Corps ball weekend in Anaheim. We were experiencing fires in southern California and were advised to stay indoors. We had some great room service which was a delight after the catering for the ball disappointed me. Honestly, who serves apple pie for dessert when the occasion is the Marine Corps birthday?!

2008 Marine Corps ball
2008 Marine Corps ball

 

Movies have continued to play an important part of our weekend activities. By and large, I like comedies and Thomas encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone to see Marvel and DC Comics movies. He put up with watching “Memoirs of a Geisha” with me because I loved the book. We both were pained by the excessive frolicking in the woods during “The New World” and I think every other person in the audience was just as disappointed by the excessive length of the film. It needed more editing. I was embarrassed for a bit by picking out two movies that disappointed us that for a short while, I stopped recommending movies for us to watch.

Our silliest movie adventure was probably the time we ended up seeing “27 Dresses” in theater. We purchased tickets for something else and were misdirected to this theater. When the film began, we contemplated leaving but we sat through the film.

I’ve lost track of all the movies we’ve seen over the years, but I’ve found this person who stands beside me treats me how I wanted to be treated all those years ago, like a princess. He’s helped me cope with anxiety from my first deployment and unpacking those experiences for academic endeavors, building my claim with the VA, and in my work with veterans. We sent love letters and emails when the Marine Corps kept us apart. During one anniversary, he picked up some of our favorite things from Blue Wasabi, including my favorite soft shell crab. I cannot recall the many Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks films we’ve enjoyed over the years. He started a family with me and to give you a small peek into our family life, he was the one to master swaddling our daughter in her infancy. Our first adventure playing in snow was during our June 2006 adventure to see his family in Wyoming. We played in snow along the side of the road. We don’t live in an area where we rake our leaves, but we’ve done it before in Wyoming. Walks make up the majority of our exercise habits. We walked our dogs around the neighborhood during our apartment living days; we traipsed around town in Cody, Wyoming even around those uneven sidewalks damaged by tree roots; and it is really only the summer here in Arizona that keeps us from daily walks. We may like some pampering experiences but a lot of our best days are hanging around which doesn’t cost a thing. And how do I know he loves my family like I do? He helped my parents surprise my daughter and I when we planned our Disney trip last year. He lends an ear when I need support about how to a better sibling to my sisters and brother. He listens to me when I feel like a failure as a mother.

Thanks for joining me for this little detour in writing today. I’m not ready yet to do homework and wanted to share a little positive story this morning.

Have a great Sunday!

World Suicide Prevention Day

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In the past, I’ve touched on September being Suicide Prevention month. In no way have I been the best educator on suicide prevention but I’ve opened my heart and platform to join others in reducing the stigma associated with mental health and suicide ideation, prevention, attempts, and victims. It is the single most difficult subject which I write about and therefore, I do not write about it often.

For the past ten days I’ve wondering should I write? This year, in particular, the world has lost a lot of average people like you and I and there was an outrage that followed the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Some people were angry that privileged people who succumbed to their demons absorbed so much attention. I think what gets lost is that it was so easy for many people to feel a sense of loss because we’ve grown to know their names and faces, their stories have transformed our own ways of understanding the world and our identities. It is not that their deaths were more important; it was the fact that so many of us felt like we lost a family member, not a public face.

I think this is how we need to understand suicide within our individual cultures and between our cultures. We experience a lot of the same stresses, underlying health conditions, and at times, add traumatic experience(s) on top of an already burdened life, that starting over seems impossible. Each community member in trouble is someone who needs treatment as one would treat a loved family member. There should not be judgement for “failing,” for expressing self-doubt, for “taking the easy way out.”

I am just as guilty for making those mistaken assumptions. I felt that way when news reached me a Marine committed suicide outside my barracks in Iraq. I slept through it. I was too wrapped in my own sense of self to understand I did not know him, I did not know his past, and I did not know what ailed him to think he had no way out of it. It took time to understand and feel compassion and I believe if I grew up in a different world that did not shame people the way we have towards someone who has struggled with suicidal thoughts or attempts or lost a family member this way, I would not have made those harsh initial judgements.

But we can start over today. All over the internet and perhaps in your local newspaper, you will find stories of survivors. Take a small chunk out of your day to understand someone else’s life. Read one of these stories. It is difficult for the reader but it is more difficult for the person who has chosen to share his or her story of struggle. He or she is no longer a statistic, but a face and a name.

Last month I learned National Geographic would be covering the story of a suicide survivor. The photos are graphic so think of your surroundings and what you need to read and see someone transformed by trauma. If you cannot finish the article today, thank you for attempting to change your current viewpoint surrounding suicide. I do not judge you if it may take you several tries to read her story and see the photos. (I still cannot bring myself to watch a number of war movies, so I have my own fires to walk through.) Honestly, I’m sweaty just thinking about reading the story from beginning to end and I’ve only skimmed it as I write to you today.

On my deployment our chaplain said to us, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Please keep this advice in mind for any struggles you have and for the struggles of those around you. We do not always see our problems as temporary, but suicide is 100% preventable. When our communities take the time to share a difficult subject like this, it is because there is power in numbers.

Support each other. Educate. Help someone feel valued today. You never know the difference you can make until you try.

 

 

Kirstie Ennis Foundation

She keeps moving, and she keeps learning. More than those feats, she keeps building others up. The woman I speak of is a fellow Marine veteran. We’ve never met but I’ve enjoyed watching her accomplish her dreams via Instagram@kirstie_ennis. I love seeing the discipline she applies to her life and her willingness to share her recovery from her helicopter crash in Afghanistan to her trials and successes getting back into physical activities after becoming an amputee. She impresses me immensely so when I found out she was at Shot Show this year, I told one of my girlfriends who was in attendance to hunt Kirstie down and say hi. I think Kirstie is a great representative of our generation and her community work inspiring. You can also catch a glimpse of what she does at Adventures Enabled if you don’t use Instagram (or check out the myriad of articles written about her, for that matter).

She recently announced on Instagram her organization, Kirstie Ennis Foundation, is ready and I encourage you all to check it out and (if you use Instagram) give her a follow @thekirstieennisfoundation. Please also take the time to share with others about her foundation so we can help get the word out.

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Trauma Sharing & Seeing Resiliency

It’s 10:30p.m. but I wanted to sneak in a little hello to everyone. We took my daughter to see Alpha in theaters today and one of the previews that caught my eye is for a sequel to Unbroken. My husband and I watched Unbroken when it was in theaters and I was surprised today to learn there was a sequel, Unbroken: Path to Redemption, coming out in September. Based on seeing the first movie, I have no doubt this movie will likely do well in theaters. More importantly, I hope it does well for expanding conversations about trauma, post-traumatic stress, and resiliency.

I realize I’m not always great at sharing my reactions–in a timely manner–regarding the military genre films and shows I’ve seen, but there are some I truly care for. To give you a sense of my (sometimes) poor follow through, I started a blog entry on watching Megan Leavey September 5, 2017 and I never posted it!  I liked the movie but I am glad I made the decision to not see it in theaters due to the explosion scenes. The reason I never finished my post about seeing the movie had more to do with researching comparable war genre films than discussing how it felt to see Iraq come alive on the screen again.  Sometimes, the worst thing I do is go down a rabbit hole of researching something so I feel I can talk about a subject with some authority, and I struggle to find what point of researching is a good stopping point.

I know trauma is something we all go through at some point, although not all of us will face trauma related to combat experiences. This issue is part of why I wanted to look at the popularity of different recently produced war movies and my unfinished draft was intended a starting point for a conversation about what Americans look for in war movies and what conversations and representations we really need regarding war and resiliency after traumatic events. So diving in, here’s what I wrote, without any editing:

This past Labor Day weekend my husband and I sat down to watch ‘Megan Leavey.’  Anyone who has followed my writing for awhile knows I wanted to watch this film but I also recognized–given my background–watching it in a movie theater would be stressful.  What follows is a very simple reflection regarding the movie.  I am not a film critic, but I am hopeful in sharing my sentiments others can see why I see the film has significant value as an education tool regarding  alternative deployment experiences.

War films are not new as a film genre but the growing divide between those who served and others, through choice or circumstances, who haven’t makes the type of film more worthy of elevated discussion.  I am fairly certain the movie does not attract the same kind of audience as drawn to American Sniper and Lone Survivor but it is important to look at some data before I continue my conversation (all pieces of information and visuals are taken directly from IMBD’s website).

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Money

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Here’s some updated info on Megan Leavey (again straight from IMDb)

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I was very disappointed to see the movie error “Al Ambar” by the way.

IMDb lists $350,126,372 comparatively as the Gross USA for “American Sniper” and $125,095,601 for “Lone Survivor.” I think it’s important to notice the male centric movies are both rated “R” and labeled as “Action, Biography, Drama” while “Megan Leavey” is labeled “Biography, Drama, War” with a PG-13 rating. Hopefully, the latter movie will creep up in popularity with American viewers.

I truly enjoyed seeing how Megan’s life pre-Marine Corps, deployment, and transition out of active duty was handled on-screen. I haven’t seen the movie since to have better notes on hand, but there are details that stuck with me. We learn why she joined, always an important factor in my mind. We see this moment on deployment (spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the movie) where she receives criticism for sharing her MP dog’s name to Iraqis during a vehicle search. We see her in group therapy post separation that is invaluable to reducing the stigma regarding mental health. There is this trauma shown in the film that created individual brokenness on a physical, mental, and emotional level but more importantly, there is a representation that empowerment is critical. Empowerment helps forge resiliency. I don’t think that reality can be stressed enough.

Lastly, it was truly important to me for a female Marine (and her struggles) to receive such public recognition in film. Our nation needs to see women serving–and the trials of their service and veteran transition–as a normal life experience like it does for the men that join our military service branches.   It opens doors for understanding war, camaraderie, traumatic events, and recovery. It allows women to be formally recognized for their sacrifices and achievements. That representation is crucial.

 

Memoir Writing: Using PTO for Personal Success

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From A Year of Writing Dangerously by Barbara Abercrombie
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From A Year of Writing Dangerously by Barbara Abercrombie

The endeavor I set for myself to write a memoir about Iraq conflicts with a lot of life responsibilities. I work 40 hours a week. I am a wife. I am a mom. I am (also) a dog mom. I am a graduate student (again). I am a friend, daughter, and sibling. I am a coworker. I am a homeowner. I write in an often cluttered workspace that signifies my relationships with others. There are dishes, laundry, bills, phone calls (or text messages, Facebook notifications, etc.), and regular house cleaning silently screaming for my attention along with the bodies that reside in the same house as me.

When I write, I constantly cross two worlds. I face Iraq and stateside life circa 2004 to 2005 as it exists in preserved packages (photo album, journal entries, and souvenirs). I also navigate over my current life, a house cluttered with dog toys and empty or partially filled coffee mugs. I might get a hundred words on the page reconstructing my deployment before I realize some nagging household responsibility gnawing at me. I must try and ignore household responsibilities that infringe on my writing time and space. I am not a full-time writer who can send everyone away off to school and/or work all the time nor can I afford a hotel stay for uninterrupted writing time. I am creative though with my resources.

Yesterday I took a PTO day and used almost 2.5 hours strictly for writing. I set the stove timer in hour increments. My goal was to write about my most difficult feelings after returning home from Iraq in 2005; in fact, I confided to a close friend recently I’ve contemplated this writing assignment at least ten times in the past three years. The trajectory of this memoir originally was to only focus on the deployment, but now I feel doing so robs the reader of seeing the experience full-circle. I owe the reader a sneak peek at life back stateside.

I have a plethora of Myspace entries from back then chronicling my return and the whirlwind first few months home. My life was a mess and it’s not surprising, I was also a mess. I was bitter and heartbroken. I was exhausted from constantly switching gears. I was academically competitive and frustrated when I couldn’t outperform others. I returned home in March but by sometime in June, I was on a break from drinking alcohol. My journal entries went from happy to angry to grateful in a cyclical pattern and I wasn’t too shy to name names on who pissed me off on certain days. Mostly, I was lonely. Homecoming was a short-lived happy experience and a lot of days after were empty.

I’m not sure yet I can fully encapsulate the social isolation, but it explains why I desired returning to Iraq. I felt needed in Iraq and at home, I no longer felt that way. I was just there because the deployment was over. I made the rounds seeing family and college friends before jumping back into training schools (Technical Escort followed by Corporals’ Course) when the logical thing would have been to slow down. It’s probably most important to mention I didn’t have a best friend the way I expected I would when I returned home. I think that’s why I’ve changed a lot in how I treat others.

It’s not as though I ever felt I had to take First Marine Division’s “No Better Friend” to heart; I loved having close connections with my friends growing up, but I didn’t have a consistent confidante in my life after returning home. The Myspace entries make that issue evident. Yesterday’s writing session also made me realize much of those journal entries are too “in the moment” to share. My thoughts are messy. I had moments of high school drama. I rambled for the sake of filling my time. As much as I wish I wrote more yesterday, I know it’s important to discover my sense of loss was connected not just to the deployment but going through a period in my life where “best friend” friendship was lacking. I cannot think of any other time in my life where I felt I was missing a best friend.

I am not one to share pieces of the memoir in progress, but I’ll close with just a few things on how I’m building this part of the book. I recognize some parts will be rewritten a lot but at this point, I do not feel I could use anything directly from the May 2005 to July 2005 journal entries concerning a failed relationship. The hot and cold “He loves me, he loves me not.” sentiments I felt at the time can be spelled out better if shared from a teaching perspective. There are three journal entries (June 23, 2005; June 24, 2005; and one from July 5th, 2005) worth folding into the memoir as my raw conversational voice covering this time period. Lastly, I am on the fence about how much I want my audience to see me as alone during this part of homecoming.