Sharing Stories: Personal Relationships

Happy Sunday, everyone.

Today is a short writing session for me. I’m being more dedicated to my Iraq memoir writing and I’m sitting around maybe 16-18 pages so far. I’m keeping a steady pace and taking breaks as needed to read from memoir writing books to assist me in writing dialogue, reflecting appropriately on experiences for my intended audience, and ensuring I let my readers see my mistakes and flaws on the page.

Some days my writing sessions are pretty easy. I pick apart artifacts from the deployment and find meaningful ways to connect them to particular events or people such that my audience will remember aspects of his or her own youth and a memory resonates with that person. I understand many people did not desire to serve in the military or more importantly, serve in some capacity in Iraq but so many have watched Iraq from a distance. My job is to remove that distance and remind people this space also served as a home.

It is impossible to talk about a sense of home without talking about people. A number of my close relationships changed as a result of serving overseas, some grew and others faltered. I am spending more time now cultivating permission to share some stories that are not exclusively my own. My willingness to volunteer in Iraq is not a decision shared by my family and there were strains placed on my family to be in a dangerous job in a dangerous region of the world. Thankfully, my family came out stronger, but it took us time to get here.

Out of everyone impacted by my first deployment, it is most difficult to share my past relationship with ex, Nathan. When my dad served in the Navy, my mom was a wife stateside with four children. Nathan and I had a very different challenge of both serving in the same area with the same threats to life and limb, although not always equally distributed. The secret classification of my daily work also meant constantly keeping secrets from him. It was an atypical job assignment and it was not made easier by knowing he was constantly outside the wire with no guarantees of making it back safely. I find this part of the deployment the hardest to craft in memoir.

Like a former husband, I owe him some courtesy in not sharing all details of our relationship. The world doesn’t need every bad habit of ours splashed out on the page to bring sensationalism to the story, but so much of the deployment was shaped by his presence. When I decide to bring a conversation of ours to the public’s eye, it must serve a purpose. What does this conversation indicate about friendship in a time of war? What does this conversation indicate about the burden families encounter when a loved one agrees to take on a dangerous assignment? What does this conversation indicate about work responsibilities and the costs associated with protecting the safety and security of others?

The memoir is not about us as a former couple but our role in each other lives at that time shapes the many conversations about how it feels to serve in a combat zone. When I first started writing to you all years ago, he was one of the first people I discussed. I knew the world might have something (nasty or otherwise) to say about our relationship when he was only legally separated from his former spouse but I could not discuss serving in Iraq without acknowledging the place of this part of my past. Honesty is one of the hardest things to discuss because we all come with biases, values, and judgements regarding what is right and wrong with this world, our actions, and the actions of others. In being honest about my past, I expect my audience to take a step back and realize I’m talking about a vulnerability, a soft spot in my life. It was challenging to constantly fear losing a loved one and still go to work daily with 100% effort as other people are dying and wounded in one of the most complex conflicts this world has ever known.

The good thing about blogging–at least from my experience–is not too many have gone on to comment about my behavior or life choices. The memoir writing books I’ve read lately have mentioned I cannot expect the same when I’m published. Likely, people will rake me over the coals because they have certain attitudes towards relationships, family, religion, work responsibilities, and personal character. I will likely find myself in a position again that others feel my body is theirs to use appropriately for their agenda (i.e. to comment that this is why women shouldn’t serve overseas, to comment about the deteriorating role of families, to comment about how differently my generation conducts themselves in a war zone…blah blah blah).

I am nervous about how my writing will intrude on the lives of people I know. For this reason, I’ve continued to let my family and friends know the responsibility I feel with my writing. Every damaged part of our relationships will be seen through the scrutiny of others and it is important for my family and friends to know there is more outside influence that caused those rifts so long ago than personal disagreements between my chosen lifestyle and theirs. My family wasn’t ready for me to serve overseas; I really sprung that opportunity on them. Looking back, I understand their hesitation. My Uncle Paul was impacted by his service in Vietnam as was my grandmother’s boyfriend in her latter years. These two men saw things and experienced things we like to turn a blind eye to but these events happen all the same. With respect to the loss Nathan felt when I left Blue Diamond, he will always be left to share his own experiences. I can only speak for myself in saying it’s difficult to have a best friend walk daily through traumatic events and to arrive home having thousands of mile change that circumstance.

As a new student to memoir, I would share what others seem to be saying over and over again. Have compassion for the authors. It is very difficult for authors to share their personal experiences so that others might not feel alone in this world. It is difficult to share family secrets when there is so much society expects to stay behind closed doors. To my fellow authors, have compassion for your former partners, friends, families, enemies, and allies. We are all flawed people and memoirs are a place to look back and see why things happened the way they did and what was learned as a result. Respect the individuals who walked into your life and what their presence taught you about yourself, them, and the world you encountered.


Schools Need More Than Veteran Memes for Protection

No. No. No.

NO, we should NOT put veterans into schools to offer students protection. These veteran memes are one of the worst ideas to spread in the wake of school shootings. These memes pop up like dandelions after every school shooting and I can’t begin to tell you how infuriating it is to see them spread across social media. The idea and these idiotic memes are placebos. You will not solve a social crisis by throwing a meme out there nor can you effectively solve the rampant problem of school shootings by employing every unemployed (or hell, employed) veteran because it sounded like a good idea at the time.

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There are people far more qualified than I am to vent about the issue of school shootings and in the past week many of them have spoken. They’ve shouted their discontent and allowed their rage to unfold in the aftermath of the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Seventeen individuals lost their lives and we have people throwing memes out there like they can effectively solve school shootings and veteran unemployment with the click of the button and wipe all responsibility onto someone else to design, implement, and evaluate such a solution.

As a parent, I don’t like the idea that my child or any child I know might one day be ambushed and shot at in a school setting. IT SHOULD NEVER HAPPEN. 

I also share this sentiment as a gun owner. I don’t believe everyone who meets the qualifications to own a firearm should necessarily own or handle a weapon. We’ve seen far too often people who abuse their second amendment right.

We have a real problem on our hands when it comes to finding the right solutions to empowering schools, their staff, and our children.  No one person can say what those solutions will be because it takes the investment of many individuals in local communities to assess what the weak areas are in the school system (building, staffing, training, etc.) and our resources (funding, training, personnel, etc.). These conversations must continue to trickle up so as a nation we can reduce and prevent school shootings but respond better when incidents happen on or around school grounds.

For this reason, I want to take a brief second and reaffirm my belief we should not employ veterans on school grounds as a remedy to school violence. On its face, the solution sounds great. The American understanding is school children are protected by the likes of veterans specifically taught firearms safety. Veterans, in need of jobs or purpose after transitioning out of the military, find security and meaning in protecting schoolchildren and Americans are comforted by the fact they’ve done two “good deeds” in one fell swoop.  Although these are oversimplifications, not all veterans are equipped for law enforcement responsibilities. In spite of having firearms safety training, there are numerous qualifications many veterans would lack to step into this role.  Additionally, a number of veterans separated from military service for health, behavioral, or legal reasons that would also not make them well-suited to law enforcement responsibilities on school premises. Would you want Iraqi detainee abuser Lynndie England protecting your children? How about former Marine drill instructor Joseph Felix who abused recruits? I didn’t think so.

At this point, most of us need to listen more than to speak. I have not faced a school shooting directly and I am among those listening now. For those of us on the sidelines, we must help the conversations of those hurting.

Take some time and actively listen to the victims’ stories.

Take some time to look at and think about, what if my child died?

What would you want to happen?



13 Years Later

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We are back to this day again.

I always wonder how his family gets through today. I was a Lance Corporal on deployment and didn’t know Captain Brock personally although we sat closely to each other. Sometimes, I feel pretty stupid to say I sat next to him but I didn’t know him. I don’t think it’s something my civilian peers would understand especially in light of how much the manner of his death affects me. We spent so much of the deployment having close calls until we finally had this incident that took Captain Brock from our team. His assailant doesn’t wear a face I would know and although we worked on the same shift most of my deployment, in the weeks leading up to his death I was reassigned to our night shift.

I don’t think people generally consider how important it for Marines to be there for each other. It wasn’t my decision to leave day shift and while the logical part of me understands there’s nothing I could have done to help, it still bugs me that I wasn’t there in case there is something I could have done. It frustrates me that after dealing with deaths over and over again via our computer screens, one of our team members became a number on the screen.

His family and friends have an honorable mission in continuing Captain Brock’s legacy and I know it’s probably a difficult journey. Captain Brock doesn’t have the name recognition with the American people the way Pat Tillman did, but his service is no less important. I hope as the years progress the foundation in his name thrives; it’s a wonderful mission to help make higher education a more attainable goal to children of killed or injured .

If you have the ability to donate, feel free to check out


Semper Fi,



2018: Personal and Professional Growth

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Operation Iraqi Freedom 5-7 (Camp Al Asad)

I think one of the best things I did during my time in the Marine Corps was chronicling my journey for family and friends.  Looking back, I see so much about my personality that I’m embarrassed to admit right now and my growing frustration with people who I would not naturally pick as coworkers. I had frustrating situations both at 1st Marine Division and 3rd MarDiv when I worked with MAG-16, but I was more disgruntled with my assignment at MAG-16.  We had a particularly difficult guy in our shop who grated on me for the duration of the deployment.

While I won’t say my feedback on the situation (demonstrated below) is how we should talk about work problems, I was 23 years old at the time and not skilled in communicating my work issues in an effective problem solving matter. I take ownership of this reality and share my vulnerabilities because it was a crucial point in my Marine Corps career.  As I neared my end of active service (EAS) for that enlistment period, I was  more critical of the personal interactions that marred my feelings about the Marine Corps.

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Prior to the deployment, my husband and I discussed the possibility of me enlisting one more time to establish financial security for our family.  At that point, we didn’t foresee the economic downfall in 2008.  If you want to read something interesting about this time period check out The Great Recession by Robert Rich (November 22, 2013).  When we were reunited in 2007, my husband and I saw the benefits of a downturned economy, not the flaws of the situation. As newlyweds, we explored the housing market in southern California (particularly the Oceanside area) that previously would have been out of our reach. I ultimately decided to not reenlist at one of the worst time periods possibly because I knew I didn’t want  another four years when I might be stuck with another (or multiple) like-minded person(s) to the man I described above.

The Marine Corps is a smaller organization compared to our sister service branches.  I knew in my last year with the Marine Corps my ability to find a better workgroup would ultimately be limited.  My Military Occupational Specialty field (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Defense) is not a particularly large job field.  I also made the bad career decision to move from 1st Marine Division to 3rd Marine Division under the assumption of re-enlisting.  When I returned stateside, I don’t think an opportunity to change units again would have been available.  Each unit is only permitted a certain number of personnel for each respective EAS; of additional concern, my husband and I were dual military couple.  He re-enlisted during his deployment and was staying in California.

After much discussion, I had his support our family would be better served if I left the Marine Corps.  My ability to attend school using the Montgomery GI Bill supplemented by additional payments from the Buy Up Program and the Marine Corps College Fund provided a means to leave the Marine Corps without much (immediate) financial regret.  For a full month of school attendance, I received $1,739.89 to pay for school and living expenses.  We managed our finances without a significant drop in our quality of life by my decision to also attend a community college.  I supplemented our income by also working part-time where I was paid $10.50 an hour and worked approximately 30 hours a week.

I share these details of my life because personal and professional growth occurs more “behind the scenes” than upfront in a glamorous fashion.  My particular transition required working with a partner.  I could not feel satisfied making a decision about my professional trajectory without also communicating with him about what I wanted to do and why I wanted to make those changes in my life because those decisions ultimately affected him as well.  Not all partnerships look like mine, but I also didn’t want someone to suddenly have a change a heart about our relationship because I needed a change of direction in my professional life.

A former coworker of mine once told me we spend more time with our work counterparts than we do with our own families, and it’s true.  When we are able to work full-time, we devote typically 40 hours a week on tasks and work connections that takes time away from our significant other, children, parents, siblings, and friends (in no particular order of priority because these relationships vary by our situations).  We have 168 hours a week to split up among our relationships, responsibilities, and self-care interests.  For my most of my first deployment, I spent 84 hours a week working; half of my weekly hours were devoted to a mission and placed many burdens on my personal life.  I am grateful the second deployment was not the same level of commitment, but the work environment taught me I didn’t want to serve the Marine Corps anymore.

My personal and professional lives were suffering.  I was unhappy beyond belief.  I had a string of unsuccessful relationships because the demands of Marine Corps life meant making unpopular decisions.  Not all friends and romantic partners wanted to be on this journey with me.  I also felt strained by the pressure to work on my academic goals.  The Marine Corps, like other service branches, offered tuition assistance and I jumped into a short-lived journey with American Military University without fully considering my work demands.  During my second deployment, I found it was unrealistic to continue my online coursework as I did not have reliably consistent access to computer time.

I don’t seek your pity in sharing these seemingly small trials.  We all have them.  I didn’t know who I could become in this world.  My 2007 self reveals a lot of anger, frustration, confusion, and self-doubt.  I am happy here in early 2018 to see how much I’ve changed, the confidence I’ve developed as a result of many mistakes. I have a better focus on financial investments I want to make over time.  I challenged myself to complete a graduate degree. The 2007 me was barely confident to complete a bachelor’s degree!  I no longer seek self-help materials because I think there is a flaw with me fitting in this world.  Instead, I look to mentors who show how to interpret positive and negative situations.  They help me see how to minimize negative consequences.  They also remind me to appreciate my blessings.

I’m learning to see each day as an opportunity for “do overs” when things don’t go my way and as baby steps towards my desired goals.  There is a lot of uncertainty in my future this year as to whether the VA will approve my disability claim regarding my chest pains.There is also uncertainty in my work life as we await the introduction of two new team members.  There is also uncertainty as I explore the additional steps needed if my husband and I decide to bring a second child into this world next year (or even the year after). There is less uncertainty regarding my additional coursework this year for my second graduate program.   There is less uncertainty for me regarding what I want in my next home.  There is less uncertainty in how I feel about my public role in educating others about modern service and veteran experiences.

My life will never be 100% balanced, but I now feel more confident about my personal and professional growth. I look back on where I was and how I felt about uncontrollable circumstances and how little I invested in controllable variables.  I often stepped in my own way of progress. I ignored my intuition.  I let my lack of confidence encourage me to stay in unhealthy situations because I didn’t believe I deserved better.  Now, I say “no” to the things that don’t require my attention or for which I am not interested.  I seek help for those matters I cannot fully control on my own (like the chest pains).  I ask others for their advice when I know they are stronger in an area I want to develop my skills.  These are not weaknesses.  They are signs I value my time, relationships, and opportunities.

2018 is waiting for all of us.  Find what makes you happy, allows you to live out your purpose, and teaches you to be a better human being.


January 2018
At home in Gilbert, AZ (January 14, 2018)




2018: Looking Forward and Backward

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Fireworks “season” is over and I couldn’t be happier.

This year’s festivities haven’t been as traumatic for me as years past, but there are a lot of behind the scenes work this year to get through 24 December to 3 January when fireworks are permitted here.  It doesn’t matter to (many) fellow Arizonans the mortar tube style fireworks with report are illegal, and those are the ones I must contend with this time of year and from 24 June to July 6th.

Don’t mind the fact I will probably complain about these two timeframes for as long as it takes for my brain to adapt to these circumstances.

Aside from this seasonal frustration, things are looking up lately.  I have some changes going on at work, but this change represents an opportunity to take on more responsibility.  Hello, extra responsibility always looks good on a resume.  Not that I’m changing careers anytime soon. I like working with veterans and I like where I am working. This opportunity is a chance to grow and explore.

The VA recently received my Notice of Disagreement as well.  Yes, I’m nervous about traveling down the road with the VA again, as it often leads to disappointment.  The first time I submitted medical documentation to the VA in 2007, I thought the process would be somewhat smooth.  I felt the VA could make a connection between my service in Iraq and the chest pains I developed in March 2005.  (Joke’s on you “2005” me…the VA isn’t that great at making natural connections.  They need LOTS and LOTS of documentation to have that “aha” moment.)

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The funny thing is when I saw a civilian care provider in late 2007 or early 2008 who told me my chest pains were stress induced, I did not believe her.  It sounded like the craziest thing someone ever told me, more so because I didn’t experience them on my first deployment. They developed shortly after returning stateside.  For many years, I figured there must have been some environmental exposure (chemical/substance/etc.) that caused me this significant discomfort, but I was unwilling to open up to other medical care providers other than to indicate the issue was part of my medical history.  No one pushed me to step outside my comfort zone and these pains persisted.

These pains continue however my willingness to work with care providers now to address anxiety-related chest pains and the triggers in my life is making a difference.  I do not know if I would have been willing prior to 2015, but losing a friend to suicide became my impetus to change.  Losing him was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever experienced. Losing him reminded me of the personal guilt I felt on deployment not being able to prevent our forces from losing service members.  After knowing him as long as I did, I felt I should have seen something and I didn’t.  The first semester after losing him was the hardest because everywhere I walked on ASU’s Tempe campus reminded me of where we would run into each other.  I don’t know if I have enough words to convey the high level of stress I felt going to work each day knowing he wasn’t there and would never be back.  There is no way I could have successfully dealt with my grief without support from the medical community and to do so meant opening up about a lot of my personal struggles after serving in Iraq from August 2004 to February 2005.

In the last few months of 2017, I took a somewhat unconventional approach to share my personal struggles with the VA. My military medical record was insufficient for the VA to make the connection in 2007.  Instead, I’ve drawn a picture for the VA through a personal narrative because classified work is not an easy thing to document in the military.  This area of my life was far from black and white when I served. I knew the rules between who had a “need to know” on deployment but it was quite unclear for care-related purposes how to communicate what I experienced and why it impacted my life the way it did.  I am just as much to blame as the military medical community I worked with during that part of my life.

At this point, I can only wait for the VA’s answer.  I might terrify them a bit with all the casualty information I presented.  The VA might terrify me a bit and ask for an in-person meeting, requiring me to speak about this difficult life experience.  It’s all a waiting game so I am working on my positive aspects of my life.

I am shedding my hesitance to write a memoir.  There’s a lot for society to learn about digesting war on a social and personal level.  I don’t have much to share on my progress right now, but it’s a lot of free writing and getting emotion on the paper.  My goal is to complete a few pages during the weeks I’m in class.  When I’m not in school, nightly writing is my assignment.  If I can spend the first six months of this year tackling this project, I will be happy.  I spent far too much time worrying that others would criticize me for having a voice and sharing those sentiments.  Now it’s time to be serious and maintain momentum.

It may take a few years to publish, and I’m ok with that reality.  I’m not in a rush for that part of  the project.  I am devoted to another representation of war to be publicly visible and I can only do so if I find the right partners for the job.

Here’s to 2018.



Consumer Fireworks 2017: Round Two

Good evening, it’s almost the end of 2017!!!

I’m delighted and nervous about 2017 ending so soon.  My anxiety over large fireworks is still present (no surprise here), but I am making strides in coping better with this situation. Multiple roadside stands and small novelties crop up around mid-December and this year, we made the decision to pick up small novelties.  This change is a huge improvement for me as I normally get really anxiety just driving by the fireworks stands.

Earlier this year, we discussed picking up roman candles as a possibility to help tackle my aversion to fireworks (and use those outside of our area as they are not permitted for consumer use in town limits).  My husband is keen on paying attention to how my fireworks-related fears have ruined holidays for me.  Although the Fourth of July has been difficult for years as that was the day my friend Bart was murdered, I loved New Year’s Eve when I was growing up.  I looked forward to watching the ball drop year after year.  I loved seeing the images of different nation’s fireworks displays just as much.

Honestly, I had bucket list dreams I could see the ball drop in-person at least once in my life, although from the safety and comfort of a fancy hotel room balcony.  I’m not one of  those people who could deal with those kinds of crowds and the cold temps would ruin the experience for me.  It was 30 degrees this morning in Gilbert, Arizona.  I don’t know if my fireworks anxiety will ever dissipate enough that I could tackle my fears this head on.

For now, it’s all about the baby steps.

I did pretty good this year going to a friend’s house for the Fourth of July.  The fireworks were still pretty stressful but his former neighborhood is more spread out than mine so we didn’t have fireworks as close by.  We can home rather late, but still encountered people in our neighborhood doing fireworks later in the evening.  I found that experience to be a bit more challenging.  I struggle more when fireworks are set off as I’m trying to sleep or after I’ve fallen asleep.  Being woken up by fireworks is pretty terrifying for me.  (I never experienced mortar attacks at night on deployment, but I find it harder to cope with them when they disrupt my sleep.)

I’ve had chest pains nearly daily since first seeing fireworks for sale at the grocery store on December 12th, but I know I am coping better than 2015 when I first experienced fireworks in my rental neighborhood.  On the 24th, we’ll start the 11 days of approved consumer fireworks use so I probably won’t be around to write.  I try to decompress a lot during this time period, and who wants to listen to a crabby writer?!  Not me.

Since I likely won’t be writing, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.  See you in 2018.



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What Went into My Notice of Disagreement with the Department of Veterans Affairs: Building My Case and Speaking of Support Services Deployment Work


I’ve wanted to talk for a bit about the intentionality behind pushing (yet again) back on the Department of Veterans Affairs.  When I started this journey back in 2007, there were a number of actions I took two years prior that hurt making my case with the VA and I’m at the point of paying for it now because it’s harder to educate the VA regarding my deployment and the health consequences that came after that experience. I believed a lot of the dangerous cultural aspects of Marine Corps (ie. going to sick call means you are malingering) and let my personal health suffer, in various ways, from the end of the first deployment through the end of the second deployment.

Although I recognized something was wrong with my body from the chest pains that developed in March 2005, I let the setbacks at BAS (battalion aid station) and the staff’s medical incompetence keep me from pushing for a diagnosis.  I wanted to continue my work, and I wanted to go back to Iraq.

I minimized my frustrations to remain deployable.  In particular, I tried to minimize how the chest pains hurt to participate in the Technical Escort school in 2005.  The documentation to attend this school references chest pains as a disqualifying factor (I don’t have information to spell it out verbatim) but I decided to attend anyways.

The Technical Escort course was in Huntsville, Alabama at the time, but it’s now located in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  I tried pulling information from the Army’s Ft. Leonard Wood website and the Marine Corps detachment page for Ft. Leonard Wood but links for the Technical Escort course are dead right now, so you might need to backtrack if you want to learn more about this education course.

As the only female in my class, I tried–like I often did during my Marine Corps service–to juggle my biological differences against the needs of the Marine Corps.  To reduce the amount of changing time during our first training exercise, I “changed over” in the same room as my male peers.  To protect my privacy, I tried to keep my skivvy shirt (aka a green t-shirt) on under my PICS shirt.  The PICS shirt is worn under the hazmat suit to keep your body cool; it is connected to an ice block and the network of tubing on the shirt allows the cooled water to keep one cool, in our case, during exercises.  During the exercise my body wasn’t cooling down properly, and sure enough, my chest pains kicked in; although it became necessary to reveal to the cadre I suffered from chest pains, I was permitted to stay for the course so long as I didn’t have any other episodes.

The medical staff at Redstone Arsenal took EKG’s while I was there. They were unable to find any underlying issue so I continued with my training, knowing I owed it to the cadre to inform them if something happened again.

I tell you these things because we were all looking in the wrong direction for the source of my chest pains when I was in the Marine Corps; the concern was something was amiss with my heart.  My medical team was not making any connection to the stress of serving in Iraq, and my trust in finding the cause disintegrated significantly.  I started to believe it was something that would just be a lifelong issue so it wasn’t worth my effort to go back to someone who couldn’t tell me what the problem was or how to solve it.  I persevered through it, but the chest pains did not go away.  I took a second set of EKG’s during my second tour in Iraq.  Still no definitive answers.  The chest x-ray didn’t reveal anything either.

When I left the Marine Corps and talked to a civilian medical provider in 2007, she told me the chest pains sounded like they were stress-related as they were not triggered by physical exertion.  I didn’t believe her.  At the time, I told my husband and he didn’t believe her either.  We figured there must have been some environment exposure, but the last few years working with my medical providers here has taught me she was right.

There hasn’t been a good way to explain my first Iraq deployment to the VA though.  My Marine Corps medical record was sparse, and this reality made it quite easy for the VA to say there is no service connection in 2007.  After that frustrating setback, I avoided reaching out to the VA again for years.  I felt it was a continuation of the poor support I had during the Marine Corps.

When I lost Kiernan in November 2015, I watched and felt my life fall apart again for months like it had after returning from Iraq in 2005.  I had the hardest time going to work every day at ASU’s Tempe campus because it was where I saw Kiernan often preceding his death.  The pain it evoked reminded me a lot of the struggle working in and around our command center after Captain Brock’s death.  At the same time, I was finally looking at the US casualties for my deployment. I knew we lost a lot of people on deployment, but it was killing me inside to look at everyone’s photos and reading their stories.  After struggling to fall and stay asleep on numerous occasions and suffering through a chest pain that woke me up in the middle of the night (which feels like a heart attack, by the way!) I spoke with my nurse practitioner for support.

Again, I was not confident anxiety was the root of my chest pains.  I saw a cardiologist last year to rule out any heart issues as I did not have a full cardiac workup while in the Marine Corps.  Three years ago, I would have been too nervous to share these things with you, but if sharing my vulnerabilities helps another veteran (or someone else) who dealt with significant trauma in his or her life, I am happy something positive comes out of this trial.

It is much easier for me to write about my experiences than to verbalize them, which is part of why you’ll never find me in group therapy.  Please do not attack the way in which I share my experiences.  It has been a long process to understand how survivor’s guilt has traveled with me all these years and seeped into how I conduct myself in relationships, personal and professional.  I am better at seeing the situations that trigger my anxiety, but I’ve worked on it for two years now.  I am not an expert at coping and utilizing coping mechanisms or how to communicate your service to others; the tools at my disposal help me focus which has been a big help in constructing my notice of disagreement with the VA, but I can’t say what works for me will be the right solution for someone else.

Just like I had to change my approach regarding my chest pains, I reframed how I discussed my trauma with the VA.  The claims examiner didn’t give me the space to talk at length about the mortar attacks, the activity reports, or Captain Brock’s death when we met.  This information is something other people in the VA’s system need to know.  It’s ridiculous to ask about my childhood experiences, friends, family, work and school successes and failures, but to ask zero questions about my military service is a downright oversight.

Based on my experiences with her, I looked on the VA’s website for regulations on compensation.  If  someone is going to assess me, I know I can’t leave things up to interpretation.  I have to speak the VA’s language if they are going to understand me. The Code of Federal Regulations is something I found to be far more useful than sitting down with the DAV again.  While this might not be true of everyone, the DAV reps have been ineffective middlemen for me.  I brought in my documentation last year and the guy wrote a paragraph for me that I could have written without their involvement.

The local rep I saw cannot help me in this situation because my experiences do not look like anything he would have encountered in Vietnam.  The technology available on my deployment to do my job and to also communicate back home didn’t exist when he served.  I was on the phone at my barracks with my grandmother when the mortar attack that killed Captain Brock impacted on our base.  I had to keep calm with her while not knowing if we sustained any casualties so she wouldn’t freak out.  These are the kind of things that the VA needs to hear directly.  I lived in a world where I had a foot into two different worlds and couldn’t share information about my daily work without compromising our situation and my career.

I used the information below to help me determine how to communicate why my deployment was so stressful and how it affects my life today.  The clarification should also help non-veterans to see why it is harmful to hold stereotypes that veterans are either heroic or broken.  As you can see below, there are varying degrees of functionality for someone dealing with mental conditions.

For anyone who knows me personally or who has read my blog for awhile, you know I kill it in academia.  I graduated with a 3.96 GPA for my first Master’s degree and I am currently working on my second graduate program.  I like the mental challenge and I appreciate the opportunity to better understand society from this perspective.

At the same time, you’ve also had the chance to read how fireworks in my neighborhood brings me right back to the day Captain Brock was killed.  I do like fireworks, but not in close proximity.   I drank three 20 something ounce beers earlier this year shortly before ASU’s October 14th game against Washington because we were going to be around the stadium before the game and around half time.  Although I had the fireworks schedule (which excludes unplanned fireworks for touchdowns), I had trouble calming myself down, worried I’d have a panic attack in front of complete strangers if a firework went off.

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The new packet of information I provided to the VA is substantial, but it was done this way to help clarify why I couldn’t have my deployment and the sensitive nature of this work appropriately compiled in my medical record.  The packet includes:

-An explanation of my job on deployment

-An explanation regarding the classification of my work

-Journal records I kept during the deployment

-Information about software for our job that allows us to constantly receive information from units regarding killed and wounded persons

-A copy of my Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (NAM) citation to show them how the job is explained in euphemistic manner

-Every United States service member’s casualty bio listed on Military Times’ Honor the Fallen webpage for the time period matching my deployment dates listed on the NAM citation and who was killed in the Al Anbar province

-Information about my town’s permitted consumer fireworks timeframes (June 24th-July 6th and again from December 24th-January 3rd)

-Fireworks notifications I receive for permitted public fireworks displays near my home

-Civilian medical records to show my current treatment plan


I am proud of the strides I’ve made the last few years in coping better with stress, but I know there is a lot of work remaining.  This reason is why it was appropriate to push back on the VA again.  I need them to see and understand my experiences.  I need them to see what I am working on to process these experiences but it’s only possible if I also let them see the way these issues disrupt my life.

I know what triggers are present for me in my current work and home environment and I have to work through them; some days are just better than others.

I’m sharing them below so you can see these are large and small things; some can be planned for, but others require working through in the moment. 

-Fireworks and sometimes explosions on the news, in movies or on tv shows (reminds me of mortar attacks)

-Losing student veterans to suicide (reminds me of losing service members on deployment)

-Being startled by people when I don’t hear them but suddenly they are near me (reminds me of accidentally running into third country nationals on base)

-Sudden loud noises (again, another mortar-like sound)

-Leaving home for extended trips–>Not really the easiest to explain, but it brings out anxiety in me about “what if something happens while I’m away”.


Take care and good night.  Thanks for stopping by.