Let me give you a little background on what I’m doing here. My name is Cheryl Rinehart and I am currently a first semester graduate student in Arizona State University’s Master’s of Social and Cultural Pedagogy program. I’ve begun a very interesting journey and with the support of Dr. Kimberly Scott and my peers in my “Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation of Social Pedagogy Programs class, I am blogging about the visibility of female veterans and how their respective community members respond to their service.
The conversation for this project stemmed from sharing my interests about veteran reintegration and also how people respond to my military service/veteran status. I served four years as an active duty Marine from July 2003 to July 2007 with 1st Marine Division, specifically Headquarters Battalion, and 3rd MAW, specifically Marine Aircraft Group-16. It is important for me to mention that although I served with a ground unit and a wing unit, I will always consider myself a 1st Marine Division Marine. In class, I’ve mentioned various aspects of my service including details that were normal for me, but as I found out, were very alien to my professor and my two female classmates. One of the challenges I’ve mentioned is the very prominent perception that a veteran is a male and how little conversation seems to exist about female service members/veterans and their contributions, unique needs, etc.
I do not want female service members and veterans to be forgotten. Their stories have shaped history and their histories are stories that need to be heard and shared. I am currently working on an idea to bring greater visibility to those stories through conversational t-shirts based on my experiences and other female veterans who share their stories with me.
An additional aspect of this project started with me wearing my combat boots on campus on October 3, 2014. I wanted to test out whether other students and perhaps staff would acknowledge the fact I was wearing a uniform item because I have seen my husband thanked for his service when someone recognized his combat boots. Below is the collection of notes thus far regarding my efforts; all future notes will be posted individually. I have since transitioned to wearing my dog tags after numerous friends and loved ones commented that the boots are not easily recognizable, thus the inspiration for this blog.
Thank you for being a part of this journey to celebrate and empower female veterans and service members.
October 3, 2014
My Master’s classes are challenging me to constantly change my perception of the world and focus less on the victimization of certain groups and look at the privileged groups to see and explore how one group’s privilege disadvantaged “others.” In particular, I realize instead of focusing on veterans as a marginalized group, I should focus on female veterans as the marginalized group. Thankfully, I am receiving positive feedback on my area of interest and I am begin to find new and creative ways, through guidance, on how to approach my subject.
Last night, as I explained how I would rework my first Master’s paper (on which I got an A-) I discussed the unique prospective of civilians not “noticing” females as veterans. I mentioned one example of how people stop Thomas when he’s wearing combat boots and civilian attire and thank him for his service. I do not normally wear my combat boots but there is typically no follow up from the other people as to whether I served as well. My professor, Dr. Kimberly Scott, thought it would be interesting to see if people would react the same way when I don my combat boots.
Before beginning my experiment, I sent a message to the director of our center, Steve Borden, and my coworker, Joanna Sweatt, as we are both female Marines and we’ve grown exceptionally close in the last few months. I wanted both individuals to be aware of my actions so as to not ruffle their feathers. My dialogue is as follows, with minor corrections to correct errors (I should proofread more often):
October 2, 2014
Tonight in my class, I had an interesting discussion about the societal perception that the notion of veteran is a male in our society and not only that, a very masculine image in that regard. In describing the sometimes “invisibility” of female veterans, I described how people have stopped Thomas before when he wears combat boots with civilian attire and he is thanked for his service. Even though I am in Thomas’ company, I am never asked by such people if I, too, am a veteran.
I normally do not wear combat boots with civilian clothes but my instructor brought up a great question regarding whether people would do the same for a female veteran. I am testing out that idea tomorrow by wearing combat boots with my jeans. I think I would like to test this idea out a couple of Fridays, if you don’t mind, to see if there’s any typical reactions or if my appearance flies under the radar.
See you tomorrow morning.
October 3, 2014
I did notice them right away when we talked this morning. I think it is a great idea. Not only that, I think it would be beneficial, that if wearing the combat boots does not bring about recognition of your service, that you think of a creative way to be just a little more public about your service and continue on that path to find at what point it is recognized and then to see if the comments are the same – i.e. do you get a “thank you” for your service or another comment that confirms the fact that you served but is not a “thank you.”
October 3, 2014
Thank you for your support. The only thing I didn’t consider when I thought about the boots relates to Friday being slow campus traffic days. Maybe I can try boots during my lunches on the other days to see what conversation might transpire.
Our director is truly an amazing supportive man of out-of-the-box thinking. In response to my email, we had a brief discussion in person regarding how to upgrade the visibility of my desire to be “noticed” as a veteran. I joked that I felt it would take wearing combat boots with a skirt to get the conversation rolling, to which I am adverse, but which I feel would do the trick. I think I’d insight some anger from veterans but I’d get a direct response from students. However, I love my uniform. I earned the privilege to wear it and I don’t know if I could effectively wear boots and a skirt and not be 100% uncomfortable with that outfit choice.
He asked me if I’ve carried around a military style backpack with me, as other veterans do, which students might notice more. I have domes so previously but with no response from my non-veteran peers. I brought, on several occasions, Thomas’ war bag from boot camp; it is a simple brown backpack with an EGA on it and USMC written near the top. I am not sure if our university’s presence of ROTC units complicates my experience; maybe there is general apathy towards military service and combat experiences. Maybe society is exhausted at this point of “caring” (and I am being facetious) about our War on Terror and ready to wipe their hands “clean” of this time period in history. Who knows. However, I am bound and determined to see what it takes for someone (namely, the non-veterans) to pay attention and ask me a question or make a comment.
Below, I will outline some of my behaviors to direct notice to my footwear choice and what does/does not transpire:
October 3, 2014 (Today is an important date to note because exactly 10 years ago today, I was at Camp Blue Diamond outside Ramadi, Iraq)
I have intentionally feminized myself (makeup, curled hair, dressy top, fashionable jeans) in attempt to make my combat boots stick out; I think the juxtaposition of the boots and girly manner of dress should inspire people to ask. Last night my instructor was forward in saying she didn’t think people would respond to my wearing of combat boots.
I went to my daughter’s preschool for her first ILP at 6:40 am. Her teacher is a sweetheart and takes no notice of the boots but gives us her prompt attention to my daughter’s school progress. Just after 7am, Thomas drops me off at the shuttle stop on the Poly campus. Today is a slow day but the few students there make no comment nor does the shuttle stop attendant.
On the shuttle drive, I curl my legs up on the seat so my boots are exposed more fully but the woman sitting across the aisle could potentially see my boots. No comments are made. She is absorbed in her book and I don’t blame her. My shuttle time is my escape time, too.
I arrive at the Tempe campus just before 8am and I walk to the Memorial Union building where I work. After my peers arrive, I discuss quite generally my ambition of wearing combat boots today. Because I work with male veterans who have infantry combat experience, I want to ensure they are not offended by my actions. Liam and RJ are very supportive and listen; I really love that I work with and am around Marines like these guys. They do not treat me like my combat experience is less because I did not actively engage the enemy or participate in patrols. My experience is just different.
The few students who came into our Veteran Center today do not make reference to the boots. That’s ok. They are not my targeted audience, but their comments are equally important.
Around 11:30 I notice one of the workstudys who wasn’t in earlier in the day is seated in our lounge space. I always try to greet our work studys because they are vital members of the team and I would say most of us have great rapport with each other. As we begin to talk, he makes a comment about my boots. He asks if I am wearing my Marine boots, to which I say yes. He follows up his question by asking when I left the Marine Corps. I left in 2007. We end our conversation after talking briefly about his service in the Navy.
During my lunch break, I attended an event in West Hall on the topic of Ethnic Studies. The group of ASU professors and students in attendance numbered probably 20 something to 30 something individuals. A very broad range of disciplines. I specifically mention I am working on a Master’s in Social and Cultural Pedagogy and that I work in the Pat Tillman Veterans Center. During the hour and roughly 15 minutes I am there, no one comments on the boots. I find this striking (a little) because my classmate from last night’s class is in attendance and she doesn’t comment on the boots! I might joke with her next Thursday about not observing the boots, but perhaps she was trying not to influence the social experiment based on insider knowledge.
The rest of my day the boots go unnoticed. I went out to Blue Wasabi with Thomas for dinner and drinks and walked around the San Tan Mall (8pm or so). We stopped into Barnes and Noble to look around and I am drawn into the “Military History” section. I recall about six people moving through this small section of the store and no one comments on the boots, even when I kneel and take up visible floorspace. I even grabbed a book on the battle of Fallujah, which I might buy later because it looked awesome and hell, I was in Iraq for Operation Phantom Fury. There is 1 book on female soldiers and 3 referring to military spouses/coming home. Seriously?! The phrase, WTF, doesn’t honestly describe how embarrassing it is that military wives get more books on the shelves than females in the service. As a side note, I am also peeved the book on female soldiers is about women in the National Guard. Why do part timers get more notice than people who served active duty? I knew there would be few offerings on the shelves, but now I’m intrigued to look at the online Barnes and Nobles “book shelves” to see what other offerings are available. I must make a mental note to also check ASU’s libraries for subject material. is society as a whole ignoring the concept of females in uniform?
When I returned home, Thomas and I talked briefly about using his digital pattern bag to up the visibility of my person. I scouted through some old Marine Corps mementoes to see if I had “Rinehart” name tapes cut off from my old camis. I have one from my maiden name, dog tapes wrapped in black electrical tape (for silencing purposes), Iraqi forces paraphernalia, Iraqi coins, some Babylon brick shards, and something old I had forgotten entirely. I found one of my dog tag chains with one of my dog tags along with one of the dog tags from my boyfriend at MOS school. Silly find of the day but it would be a great story to share later with my daughter as she gets into her dating years.
October 4, 2014 (A Day at the MIM, Scottsdale, AZ)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today Thomas and I went to the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Scottsdale to see a film screening of Girl Rising. My professor, Dr. Kimberly Scott, was one of the panelists for the film and she invited myself and my peers to attend this event. While my goal of this note is to speak about the boots project, it is important to share the message behind the film that educating girls changes everything; the film was ripe with statistics of the social injustices girls face in the developing world and the social improvements that can take place when we empower girls to receive an education. One of my favorite statistics relates to how a child is “50% more likely to survive past the age of 5” when he or she is born to a literate mother (Pearson Foundation, 2013).
Please watch Girl Rising; it will not only educate you on your own place of privilege in this word but might inspire you to do something transformative in your own community or abroad based on your interests. I almost hate to delve back into my original subject because today’s messages were so incredibly powerful, but I know this boots project is important along those lines in a different way. We should value girls and women in all walks of life and this empowerment starts at the individual level and spreads outward like ripples in a pond. My greatest interest just so happens to be with my female military veterans, but I do feel greatly about other forms of injustices women and girls face in so many aspects of their lives.
My combat boots project didn’t pick up as early today because Thomas and I took a walk this morning around the Agritopia neighborhood in Gilbert. Originally, we planned to jog so I didn’t wear my combat boots; my left ankle has less flexibility than my right I didn’t feel like injuring myself in order to prove a point. I did wear my boots to the MIM today however to continue with my social experiment.
We got to the MIM around 12:40p.m. and walked around a bit before the theater opened. No one commented about the boots and we made it through the panel and screening without any notice. At the Intel hosted reception afterwards, I discussed yesterday’s outing with Dr.Scott and one of my classmates; in the course of our discussion, three ladies off to my right overheard us (and please note, I wasn’t trying to draw others into the conversation) and started their own conversation regarding my boots. Out of the corner of my eye, one gestured to my boots.
The timeframe was just after 4, I presume, and the ladies politely engaged themselves into our conversation referencing hearing about my boots. (Yeah, people are interested!). Because I am working on a Master’s in Social and Cultural Pedagogy, please take it kindly that I mention now that they were three Caucasian ladies in probably their late 40’s to 50’s. One lady was a panelist for the screening and works for Intel and the other two are sisters; I did not get the sisters’ occupations during the course of the conversation. I was thanked by one of the sisters for my service, looked genuinely in the eye, and she shook my hand with both her hands enveloping mine. She also firmly held my hand in both hers for a brief moment after the handshake was clearly over. I think this fact is important to mention because our society has certain social scripts for body contact with strangers, but she felt comfortable ignoring this social construct.
We discussed the idea behind wearing the boots and how my last job failure focused my effort to work with veterans. I also had the opportunity to talk briefly with the panelist who discussed Intel’s interest in veteran workers. She was kind enough to give me her business card and now I can go back to my director with a networking opportunity for our veteran students. He is always on the lookout for businesses that provide real career opportunities for our veteran population.
In closing, I am happy to report today saw some measures of progress even though it was sparked by a conversation I had and not a civilian’s uninitated response to my footwear choice.
October 5, 2014 (Sunday)
I was a little more bold today! I wore my Marines shirt that reads ‘Pain is Weakness Leaving the Body’ and the combat boots. Want to guess what happened?! Nothing. Not that I want Americans to laud veterans for simply walking on this earth, but I am curious as to when conversations about military service started to disipate. And more importantly, what conversations, if they are happening elsewhere, are focused on our female veterans. Back in 2007 when I left the Marine Corps, I wasn’t asking these questions or thinking critically about the issue of veterans, and female veterans in particular, reintegrating back into society. I was living that experience! I am still living that experience.
One of the most important lessons I’m learning in my classes now is to not take an essentialist approach. I can’t begin to believe the notion that all females navigate reintegration on the same level and I know I should equally understand that not Americans were taught or think to thank a veteran. By the way, I feel it’s a little weird to be thanked for one’s service, but I am curious to see how Americans might show appreciate for female veterans’ contributions. Are they generally interested in knowing what female military service experiences are like? Do they perceive that our war experiences are inferior or on par with our male comrades as far as the importance to overall mission accomplishment?
Today I thought I might get a little more notice for wearing two items that reflect military service but I want you to know I am not disappointed. I know each day that I am lucky to be alive. Not all service members come home. Just today the MSN news very briefly posted a story about Marine Corporal Jordan Spears. He is presumed dead as the result of jumping out of an Osprey into the sea when it appeared the aircraft might crash. The news stated he is considered the first American casualty in our nation’s operations against ISIS.
Just the other day, Thomas mentioned this young man to me (he was 21 years old) because he heard about Jordan being lost at sea as a result of the potential crash and he was surprised the story wasn’t discussed yet on the news. Jordan had done recruiters assistance with part of my husband’s recruiting command.
I did not know him but my heart goes out to his family; as a parent, I can’t imagine the heartache his parents will forever endure. There are things I see on Facebook that discuss how our society has no words to describe one’s position after a child’s death; in comparison, spouses become widows and widowers and children become orphans when their parents pass away. I can only hope his parents have an incredible support system as they grieve Jordan’s death so they might not feel entirely alone.
October 6, 2014 (Making Friends)
Today I co-facilitated a portion of my Social Pedagogy class. It’s amazing and a little nerve wrecking because I am still so new to these concepts and in this privileged space, I am given some “authority” to present materials to my peers. One of our co-facilitators was unable to attend class tonight but we still managed to have a cohesive presentation; I didn’t originally plan on incorporating my Marine Corps service into the presentation but there was a point where it naturally fit and so I included some brief statements. I hope my co-facilitator didn’t feel as though I took over the presentation but it was hard for me to engage how respectful I was of her time while I tried to mentally remember the cues I had for myself. She’s great though and the presentation she put together matched the outline I submitted on Saturday.
I didn’t mention my boots experiment in class; we chose to have our audience participate by sitting on the floor and at times, we also sat on the floor with them. I know my boots were quite apparent especially given the white jeans I wore today, but I am determined to try and let the boots initiate the conversation and I can continue it. Class tonight just wasn’t the right time or place. I discussed matters on how I was privileged in certain contexts (a Marine serving in Iraq) and also disenfranchised in others (being a female Marine serving in Iraq). As we also discussed the use of spirituality in adult education, I wove my concern over Muslim female students having the right to wear their hijab and how in other countries, there has been intense debate over the right to wear the hijab amid concerns over Islamic terrorism. There is so much to discuss, but our audience today were great participants and I learned as much by their insights as I did by the opportunity to stand (and sit) before them as a presenter. One classmate, Brandon, reflected awhile back our class attitude in the following statement: “You’re awesome and you’re awesome and you’re awesome.” He’s right. We all have great goals and plans to create action in our chosen communities of interest and believing in one another with such positive sentiment and appropriate direction will serve us well to making the social change we hope to see in our world.
After leaving class today, I realized I still hadn’t taken my daily photo in boots so I asked the shuttle driver whom I’ve gotten to know if he would take a photo for a social experiment. There was a group of three younger ASU students in his company and they were more than willing to take the photo so long as I divulged the experiment to them. I discussed my challenge of bringing notice to female veterans given how citizens who recognize combat boots will thank my male veteran peers. I specifically asked them, probably more dramatically than I should, however to not thank me. That it wasn’t my purpose.
As I’ve mentioned before, I am looking to see if civilians notice our female veterans and what transpires in whatever conversation might occur. I don’t want a pat on the back or a “thank you.” I am honestly curious if people notice us and think anything of our service. The three individuals I met were interested in me also taking their photo and I emailed the resulting photo to one of the individuals.
We talked briefly about the boots and one guy mentioned that he could barely see them, which has been a common observance by friends and family in-person and via our Facebook comments. In some pants, the boots are more noticeable than in others and I’m not blousing my boots to give them more attention. Instead, I will take my director’s suggestion to incorporate more items to see how my visibility might improve. I did learn that these young individuals are aware of issues affecting veterans; David, the one who asked for the photo, mentioned how he met a veteran dealing with homelessness. I was short on time and so I couldn’t continue the conversation, but it is encouraging that non-veterans are aware of some transition struggles.
October 7, 2014
Nothing new really to report. I added the Marine Corps assault bag to my daily outfit; it’s actually Thomas’ because I didn’t keep one for myself. It’s almost ten and I’m exhausted. I went to a female veterans writing workshop in Phoenix after work and so I didn’t get back home until after 9:30pm. On the ride home, I noticed a guy wearing an Army style assault bag but it had a embroidered patch on it that was clearly non-military. I asked him if I could take a photo of it and I researched the item when I came home. It’s for an airsoft gun company called Airsplat. Honestly, I am starting to think more critically about the uniform items issues now. If we are having non-veterans wearing digital style patterns, we have another variable that complicates things. It really is becoming “fashionable” or “cool” to wear these patterns with little regard for the fact that real service members earn the privilege of wearing the true patterns “inspiring” these fashion or hobby items.
And our military branches are not the only ones affected; an article came out today about H & M creating a jumpsuit that looks like female Kurdish fighter uniforms; the article I read can be found here:
October 8, 2014 (Changing Things Up a Little)
I’ve gotten some feedback that the boots just aren’t visible. It makes sense. I am 5’2″ and I usually am more comfortable wearing pants that are a little longer so I look taller. To change things up, I wore dog tags and the assault bag today instead of the combat boots and the assault bag. Still no response from the general student population at ASU. My work study students mentioned my lack of combat boots today since they know of the experiment; I do appreciate their notice. They are an awesome bunch.
I think I will alternate the boots and dog tags during the week as appropriate; I do have some clothes that just aren’t appropriate to match with combat boots i.e. my skirts, which would be utterly offensive to match with boots.
While I don’t notice a response from other students or ASU staff members, I do notice a change in my own behavior. I try to be very cognizant of my posture and tend to roll my shoulders back periodically during the day. I try to be mindful of not walking and eating food. It’s not a lot but I realize as I wear these items, I may be the first impression someone has of a Marine veteran and so I should conduct myself accordingly.
I’ve mentioned to people (across various spectrums) before how important it is for me to get good sleep because it allows me to conduct myself better. I don’t like to get overly emotional-either crying or flying off the handle mad. To keep those emotions in check, I like to go to bed at 9p.m. and wake up at 6a.m., however I like in Mesa and work in Tempe. I typically go to bed between 9-10p.m. and wake up (or try to) at 5a.m. My work study students laugh when I talk about exhaustion and I went to bed at 9:30 the night before. I willing choose less of a social life so I can get sufficient sleep.
October 9, 2014 (Opening Up the Conversation)
I learn something new every day. Honestly, we all probably do even if we don’t admit it to ourselves. It is ok to humble ourselves and realize we have so much information thrown at us every day in the form of news, media, marketing, personal conversations, etc. We are busy. I am not offended that my project is receiving little notice; if it’s noticed, no one’s talking about it, save for me and the few around me involved in the process. Thank you to you all for listening!!!!
As I mentioned, I learn something new every day and recently I learned that an Army Sergeant, Leigh Ann Hester, in the Kentucky National Guard was awarded the Silver Star in 2005 and was the first female service member to be awarded it since World War II. Maybe it’s because I came back in 2005 and was distracted by other things that her actions and her award didn’t reach me until I recently talked about this project and her story was shared with me. You can find the link to her story below; I am glad that every member of their squad was fortunate to survive:
Granted, I can’t say that I know too much about other individuals who have any of the top three awards given for valor in a combat zone. I am, however, very proud of a former coworker of mine who earned the Navy Distinguished Cross, the second highest award for valor. I didn’t know this fact when I started to work with him but immediately he was someone I enjoyed working with and was proud to “serve” with in our jobs at ASU. There are those people that you meet and you know if something crazy happened, you’d take a bullet for them and I think every Marine in our office feels that way about him. He is that kind of Marine. He served in Fallujah while I served just outside of Ramadi during the same time period on my first deployment. I was originally very disappointed when he left his job at ASU but in the recent past, he’s a regular in our office again while he concentrates more on his collegiate studies. As loquacious as I am, there are few words that truly express how happy I am to have him around again. He is humble, friendly, honest, funny, and all around an exceptionally great person. He is one of the best Marine veterans I’ve ever been privileged to meet.
I know I take a more light-hearted approach to my deployment because of the circumstances I was in and the people that I met. I created a series of cartoons with a dry humor slant to share among friends and it was a good means at understanding my perspective and embracing the situation. Today in class, I brought up the idea of making t-shirts of these cartoons as a way of perhaps increasing the visibility of female veterans.
Yes, I am still determined to bring some visibility to my cause. Once again, I do not (and I repeat do not) discredit the great work of all men and women in our service but I do recognize there is less visibility for our female service members. Men are very much the face of war because they are more often thrust into the harsh combat environments we’ve come to expect. The situations are very real and the role of men in infantry and artillery units are a great reason why men are what we perceive when we think of war. There are lesser known services provided in combat zones and men and women fulfill many of these “behind the scenes” roles.
We can thank them,too, but more than thanking them, we should realize the value of their service. They help keep the individuals at the front supplied, transported, and provide them access to lifesaving medical support. The war is full of many warriors and we should recognize our bias of male service members and veterans because they are only part of the picture of our military service branches.
October 10, 2014 (Planning)
I feel a little bad to write this post on October 11th, but I was exceptionally exhausted last night. I woke up at 2:30a.m. yesterday morning and found it difficult to go back to sleep. I’ve felt overwhelmed by all the things on my plate and I am the sort of person who starts to plan/be concerned with their day the moment I’m awake. This whole week has been exhausting. I do hope I sleep more regularly this week coming up.
Tangent over now. Back to the project-there hasn’t been an notice thus far. I did discuss the t-shirt idea with one of my work study students to bring more visibility to female veterans’ service. I think there’s still a lot to develop this idea further but one thing I’d like to do is not only bring awareness to the overall service of female veterans, but respect the individual experience. I think it would be interesting to develop the shirt concepts based off of stories shared by female veterans. The idea would be to create characters in humorous settings similar to what I did to express my own military experience and interpretation of that service. I would like the shirts to have an “Inspired By” statement on the shirt with the individual service member’s name as a way to respect that woman’s service.
I would like to come up with my first shirt some time in November. That would give me some time to test out the idea before the school semester draws to a close. I’m not sure yet if it’s a realistic timeframe given my other obligations, but it’s worth considering.
Oh, and in my exhausted state, I didn’t take a photo to record this day.
October 11, 2014 (Noticing Other Veterans)
Today was better. I slept the whole night through even though my kid woke me up at 5:12a.m. She was entirely too jubilant at that hour. I wanted to report that no one has made any mention of my service items. Today I wore my dog tags and the boots and we went to the Orange Monster park in the Eastmark neighborhood (Mesa, AZ), Michaels, Target, and Joe’s Farm Grill in the Agritopia neighborhood (Gilbert, AZ).
I’ve noticed a few male veterans this week. On Tuesday, I saw a male veteran wearing an Operation Desert Storm on the Metro Light Rail. Today I saw an older guy with a grey USMC shirt and the digital pattern camelback working out at Eastmark and at Joe’s Farm Grill there was a much older biker with a Marine Corps biker jacket and a Marine Corps skullcap (Thomas informed me that’s what the item was called). He had numerous pins on his jacket but I wasn’t close enough to see them clearly. In all these situations though, I did notice that none of the veterans were thanked for their service and they seemed relatively unnoticed by their civilian peers.
October 12, 2014 (Got Noticed!)
Yesterday (I know I am once again behind!) I went to Michael’s to return some supplies I bought for a work project and I got noticed for my service by one of the workers there. He saw my “Marines” shirt and asked me if I served. I told him yes and he said “Semper Fi”, which is a shortened version of the Marine Corps motto, Semper Fidelis (Always Faithful). I thanked him for his comment and he went back to work. I was incredibly thankful that a male Marine veteran whom I didn’t know showed appreciation for my service. Out of all the service branches, I am glad I chose the Marine Corps. Like my director said, Marines have a more embedded attitude regarding our core values (Honor, Courage, and Commitment) and he sees that we, generally speaking, still remain true to these values once we become veterans.
Oct. 13, 2014 (Talk about Procrastinating!)
I am on a roll for getting behind. My sincerest apologies. I’ve felt overwhelmed lately with my additional duties of grading Veterans Education Fund scholarship applications among my other responsibilities. I will be forever grateful when our office hires a new School Certifying Official and work responsibilities are distributed out more evenly again. I am eager to stay more on track with my responsibilities, which feels like a daily challenge currently.
Honestly, I can say Monday was a bit of a blur and I didn’t even expect anyone to notice the dog tags or my Marine Corps bag; it was Columbus Day and the campus was quite deserted.
October 14, 2014 (Restructuring Obligations)
Today was another one of those blurry days. Thomas accidentally elbowed me pretty hard in the temple last night while he slept, waking me up suddenly, which impacted (no pun intended) my ability to go back to sleep. It sounds ridiculous but I have a bit of an elbow imprint on my right temple now; I am pretty fortunate the run-in didn’t severely bruise my temple. I bruise incredibly easily.
I was dressed pretty conservatively today so my dog tags weren’t quite visible. We did have a Marine officer come in today for a meeting with staff members of the Office ofVeteran and Military Academic Engagement. I’m always a bit giddy and then incredibly embarrassed by my delight to be around active duty Marines. I do miss that lifestyle (sometimes). Really I miss the deployment experience. It can be exceptionally thrilling when it’s not full of some terrifying moments. Some of the Marines I used to work with would chide me for constantly starting conversations with the phrase, “This one time in Iraq…” but honestly, going into a combat zone is a life changing experience. I don’t regret it. My life, and many of the blessings I enjoy, has been shaped by these volunteer deployments. RJ, our former Office Assistant, talked to the Marine about who the Marines are in the office (apparently the two are friends) and the Marine’s response to my answer of duty stations, 1st Marine Division and 3rd MAW, was “Giddy up.” Not really sure why.
(Ok, I’m a dork. I Googled “3rd MAW and giddyup” and this is one of my search results:
I didn’t know it was related to the CH-53 Super Stallions. I blame my naiveté on the fact that I don’t consider myself a Wing Marine. I had the privilege of being a Ground Marine with 1st MarDiv, whose motto is “No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy” and that’s the command I think of when I talk most about what it means to be a Marine.
However, getting back to CH-53’s real quick, I had a pretty awesome experience of seeing one set off trip flares along the Euphrates on my first deployment. The helicopter rotor wash created such a hazy scene reminiscent out of a scary movie; I only wish I had a photo of that moment. Seriously, it sounded like the bird was landing on our Command Center and I don’t know how many other people had the opportunity to see this awe-inspiring sight.
Getting back on topic, I am focusing my idea for my first t-shirt. There was a moment on my first deployment where I was the only “sober” junior Marine available to work my shift; there are numerous expletives that came to mind during that experience but looking back, it’s funny now because I wasn’t getting yelled at for breaking the rules. The rule I speak of is not drinking 8 hours or less prior to one’s shift; our base celebrated the Marine Corps belatedly in December of 2004 and all the Marines were allowed 2 birthday beers. My peers drank theirs 5 hours prior to their shift and however things transpired, word got around to the higher ups. As punishment, the guys were forced to be the cleaning crew and I sat working surrounded by their empty chairs. This is the story I wish to share.
I do need some name feedback; what do you think of “Shirt Stories” as a brand idea? I like the idea of a brand statement along the lines, War is a personal experience. What’s your story?
I like the idea of outreaching to other female vets to hear the fun stories of their deployments that they wish to share. I think something that we could consider is for each shirt, assuming we can launch this idea off the ground, a portion is donated to that veteran’s female veteran charity of choice.
October 15th (Where did the Day go?)
The day was incredibly busy and I honestly have nothing to report for my plans. I spent the day “locked up” in my office. I graded Veterans Education Fund scholarship applications with my peers and my supervisor. Last year, we had numerous exceptionally qualified candidates and this year, there weren’t as many people, I feel, who stood out. It’s a shame though because I always hold higher expectations for the veteran community than the rest of the collegiate population. I feel that anyone who goes to Iraq or Afghanistan should be capable of putting together an exceptional scholarship package. I know and own up to my veteran bias; however, I feel that veterans are disenfranchised in numerous aspects of their post-service life that they would naturally step up to the plate and take this moment to shine-it’s a scholarship opportunity SPECIFICALLY for veterans, why not?!
For the individuals who will receive their awards, I hope they do great things with that monetary investment in their education. We, as a community, need to show civilians that their support as allies is important and that we will honor their investment.
October 16th (Can I get a Little Emotional?)
I am stepping outside my comfort zone more and more each day and vocalizing to others my plans to create a series of shirts that honors female veterans. Today I was pleasantly surprised by the encouragement I received from our new batch of work study students. Everyone seems to find the project idea to be interesting and a unique way to lend support to female veterans to share their stories. My classes are teaching me how to approach my privilege; I have time, resources, and support for this goal and so I can accomplish it! It will take hard work but I can use the lessons learned in class to build on my knowledge of issues facing veterans and find creative ways to bring visibility to the community and hopefully change the way in which our society values female military service.
Tonight’s class was one of my best experiences today. This month I placed an exceptional amount of burdens on my shoulders and quickly realized my own limitations, which I vocalized in class tonight. It’s hard for me to want to commit to something and then realize I just can’t manage it because of the burdens it places in other areas of my life. Without delving into too many details, I’ve been stressed lately over the fact that my desire to be successful and contribute as a team member in my endeavors seems to also be used against me. I find that my initiative brings extra responsibilities onto my shoulders and relieves others of burdens that are rightfully theirs to own.
Maybe if the mountain of responsibilities had come in another week, I’d feel less stressed. I’ve been balancing an exceptional amount of projects without realizing success to the level I hold myself to; I know I’m human and only have so many hours of time to invest, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling like these momentary failures are a reflection of myself. This week is particularly hard for me because it splits two signficant occasions on the same day; October 14th is my ex-boyfriend’s birthday and the anniversary of my first date with my husband, Thomas. While the ex and I have developed a respectable friendship, which blows the minds of strangers all the time, we never once have seen each other in person since leaving Iraq. It’s taken years to be friends and civilians can’t understand why, as Marines, this friendship and regaining the friendship has been important to my peace of mind.
My husband, bless his heart, is not threatened by my friendships with three ex-boyfriends. In describing our first date, it’s important to note, it wasn’t planned, but kickstarted a very different mindset I developed for relationships. I started to value my contribution to a couple pairing and how my partnership also supports my personal goals. We shared (and still do share) a love of books and trips to Barnes and Noble, where we went on our first date, is now a family activity instead of just a couple thing. Today, we belated celebrated this first anniversary by enjoying birthday cake pops from Starbucks. In the eight years we’ve been married, we’ve overcome numerous challenges; supported each other’s personal, professional, and educational goals; and continue to plan for the various trips abroad we hope to take when we’re back to being a true dual income family.
I was 21 years old when we started dating and it was amazing to me to learn that if I wanted a relationship to last, I had to start planning for that success. In my classes now, some of that behavior change starts to make more sense. There are many examples in the military (and certainly so, in the civilian community as well) of relationship failures that are a result of differences of opinions, stubborn attitudes, etc. Being a partner meant also reaffirming to the other person that his ideas and goals were as important as my own. He is my ally and I am his and whatever the world throws at us, we are walking this path together. So, naturally, I was a bit worried when an opportunity presented itself for the ex and I to talk about the stress we encountered in Iraq; I felt it threatened the homeostasis of my marriage and also compounded the stress I was under as a new parent. It’s taken a significant time to understand why it’s ok to have this friendship and to let others’ opinions of it be their problem and not my own.
I always find as a female veteran, I have more negative connotations about maintaining friendships with men, particularly when they are exes, than when I retain friendships with women who may have wronged me or I them in the past. It takes time to find a comfortable balance between the past romance to the friendship stage, but it astonishes me how many people feel it is their place to tell me how to live my life. Unpacking my combat experience is very different than other veterans; all combat experiences are different but when the significant other, as he was back then, also dealt with mortar attacks, getting shot at, etc. I intimately understood the danger the person was in and that’s something civilian partners don’t understand. Coming home and never seeing that person face to face felt like a figurative death. You know the other person exists, but you haven’t seen the tangible proof to support it and civilian partners do understand that issue, on their own level because they can see changes to their partners’ behavior.
As far as the friendship goes, we continue to make great strides the days we talk about our new lives. I share with him information about my house hunting adventures with Thomas and my struggles to feel like an effective parent. I, in turn, encourage him to enjoy his adult dating life and to approach it with optimism; he has found someone who I feel might be strong enough in her own right to accept his combat experiences without being scared by the unknowns that aren’t shared with her. I think as veterans, it’s always challenging to balance what you say to civilians, what they want to hear, and what you are comfortable sharing with them. Once I became a Marine, I never dated a civilian (numerous variables contributed to my dating preferences, but thats a different story for another time) so I do not understand the burden of having a partner who doesn’t understand my experiences.
I can talk to my partner about the moments where I just want to be away from people without having to explain myself. He gets it. I can blatantly say I need a drink because working out or venting is not enough to give me the patience to deal with people. I don’t abuse alcohol but he is aware of those times that a glass of wine and enough quiet time to drink is is going to keep me from being exceptionally cruel hearted to people who get in my way or who are close to me and bear the brunt of me being ticked off. He understands that sleep is important to me and is just as happy to crawl into bed before ten instead of out doing a pub crawl. We have a unique partnership that is built on understanding, goal setting, and respect. It’s not perfect but we engaged in a conversation a long time ago about coming from divorced households and we understand that statically that makes us more at-risk for divorce. I think our military experiences also constantly reminds us that we’ve been through worse and so there’s nothing we can’t get through.
I didn’t mean for today’s entry to be more about myself, but I was emotionally frustrated before class and class today had quite a calming effect on me. The companionship I develop in my classes reminds me that I gain something of value each day, whether it’s respect for another individual or understanding of other social problems. I am not alone in the multiple burdens I juggle each day even though I have a tendency to feel as a veteran that I have more burdens than my civilian counterparts.
October 17th, Friday
Nothing new to report. I am glad the week is over. It’s been insanely busy and next week will be more of the same.
October 18th, Saturday
Today I had the noble intention of starting my first cartoon shirt; however, I was a bit distracted by some news shared earlier today on Facebook and I haven’t made progress on the shirt as planned. I learned that Marine Corps veteran Cpl. Casey Owens, a Marine I have never met, committed suicide Wednesday of this week. He was 32 years old. It is sad that our beloved Corps has lost another one of its own. For anyone who thinks PTSD is made up, you are sadly mistaken.
Please take the time to read a local article that was written about his death:
And more so, please read his 2008 testimony regarding receiving inadequate care from the VA and the non-profit agencies that provided the care he needed:
Before I left Iraq the first time, I had a transition brief with the rest of the Marines going home. Our chaplain made the following statement regarding suicide, “It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” On average, 22 veterans/service members commit suicide a day; they do not feel their problems are temporary. In fact, we had a Marine commit suicide on our base outside my barracks and on my second deployment, I was also informed of another individual who committed suicide. We were taught to look for certain indicators in our Marines that signal a Marine might be struggling upon returning home.
Coming home doesn’t automatically mean that a service member has access to the resources he or she needs and Casey’s story is proof this inadequacy exists. A compounding issue that civilians might not always realize is the stigma service members face in their military duties regarding treatment. Sadly, Marines (and I’m certain other service members as well) deal with a bit of a double-edged sword regarding medical treatment. There is one side where we are taught that going to medical will result in us being viewed as “malingerers” and the other is that medical treatment could delay a service member leaving the military on time.
Please keep Casey’s family and friends in your thoughts. Once again, I didn’t know him or his family, but as a Marine, it’s important to embrace his family and friends in their time of grief.
I do apologize for not regularly including photos in my emails. I take them on my iPhone and don’t always think to include them; as well, I feel a bit silly taking selfies. I don’t mind posed group shots out and about but just taking photos of myself seems a bit ridiculous. I am more comfortable when I either have someone else take my photo or bring someone else into the shot with me.
Today was a pretty good day. My husband and I went to Men’s Wearhouse and we were helped by a Marine Corps veteran who served in the 70’s. I originally sat down in a chair when Thomas browsed around the store and later on, after he tried on a few things, I rejoined him and Curt, the veteran who was helping him. I was asked if I served too and Curt and I started up a conversation about our time in the service, my MOS (military occupational specialty), and some of our feelings about leaving the Marine Corps. It was fun telling him how Thomas and I met at the same command and how life has moved forward from our first date. Curt, like us, left the Marine Corps to better serve the needs of his family.
It’s a shame I didn’t have a tape recorder. I know I can’t remember all the details of our conversation but I think there is a great conversational tone that exists when Marines start swapping stories. We are strangers like any one else on the street but once the conversation starts towards our service, there is an easy comfort that takes over in the conversation. We talk about deployments, units we serve with, random crap like crummy duty assignments, etc. Even if our stories aren’t important to other people, we enjoy sharing them with our fellow Marines and we take a moment to listen to their stories as well.
Don’t judge! I know I’m behind. Life is crazy; last week I was helping to grade Veterans Education Fund scholarship applications and this week I’ve been working on phone interviews as a collateral duty during the day. I’ve felt pretty wiped out at the end of the day and two days this week we went to look at potential houses with a realtor. Let’s just say even though we qualify for a VA loan our prospects aren’t looking very good for the area where we want to purchase. Unfortunately, Avery’s daycare counts as a debt against us and our pretty awesome additional income of housing allowances (a combined total of $2,483.70 for a full month of attendance) don’t count in lender’s eyes as sources of income. It’s a little ironic that a housing allowance can’t be used to support purchasing a home. It makes me wonder how entrepreneurs can be found qualified for loans when their income is more sporadic than ours. Right now, it’s looking more and more like our goal is about six more months out. However, we are planning to look at a few places over the weekend so if my discussion with a lender tomorrow reveals better news, we are more prepared.
In discussing our military service and desire to use a VA loan, our realtor discussed her feelings over her uncle and the challenges he faced before with VA medical care. Thomas and I are not surprised, but we also choose not to seek care through the VA. Neither one of us had great medical care during our active duty service; Thomas has been prescribed penicillin before by Army doctors at Ft. Leonardwood even though he is allergic to penicillin; thankfully, he pays better attention than the doctors that prescribed that medication. I developed chest pains shortly after my first deployment and Thomas also suffers from chest pains. It’s pretty common in the service to downplay medical issues so as to allow one’s career to stay on track; today I discussed that situation with one of my female work-study students. Thankfully, my chest pains are managed easily by exercise, which I’m slacking on this semester, especially if I do weightlifting. I wish I knew years ago that weightlifting managed my chest pains the best; they become almost non-existent. On Tuesday, I experienced some mild chest pains so I took 30 minutes yesterday to carve some exercise time in my schedule. It’s not a perfect solution, but if I can fit in at least a few times this week, that should help.
On Monday, I was privileged to interview Robin Rio, the Director of ASU’s Music Therapy Clinic. We had a really great brief discussion that was about a week in the making; we tried last week to get together and ran into scheduling conflicts. It was particularly challenging to have my second graduate paper due tonight (October 23rd) and to have my interview, the subject of the paper, be so late time wise. I own up to my procrastination as an undergraduate student but my brief time already in a graduate program has taught me that there is little room to procrastinate. Thankfully, I am fairly good at keeping up with my readings but it was hard to see the paper connections without having the interview to lock my key points together. I know I went into the interview with the assumption that music therapy was more artistic and less structured and I learned that music therapy is governed by rules as important as the rules for service members.
Anyways, it’s almost 9:30p.m. so I’m calling it a night. Last night, I went to bed at 12:20 trying to tie together the last bits of my paper and I could use a good night’s sleep.
October 24th (Friday Fun Day)
I am writing mid morning…what a treat! This morning I went to our Polytechnic Veterans Center office to pick up a key to that office so when I work weekends, I am privileged to work closer to home and not have the roughly 2 hour commute (there and back) to Tempe. What a better use of my time and productivity! I am very thankful that our Military Advocate recognizes how much access to this office makes a difference for my coworker and I who live in the Mesa/Gilbert area but have commuted to Tempe for our weekend overtime shifts.
Yesterday in class, I mentioned the importance of ASU’s Music Therapy Clinic developing cultural competence regarding service member culture. Honestly, I am not presenting new information when I tell people service members swear a lot; civilians are sometimes awestruck and downright offended by our ability to communicate with swear words sprinkled throughout a conversation. I know when I have discussed certain social injustices in the service to my veteran peers, our language of using swear words to describe those scenarios denotes a particularly high level of disgust with abusive or neglectful leadership practices. I have used this language in particular to describe my frustration with my husband’s last command insistence that we put our child in the Marine Corps Exceptional Family Member Program due to her upper limb difference. When we relented to their demands, we subsequently lost our order to Okinawa, Japan and were slated to move back again to Camp Pendleton, Thomas’ last duty station before recruiting duty. As parents, we lost the privilege to expose our daughter to a wonderful culture because the Exceptional Family Member Program took a deficit approach to her limb difference. They made assumptions that she wouldn’t receive adequate care overseas and honestly, I feel if you like one person, or groups of persons, won’t have access to proper treatment, shouldn’t you resolve the structural problem and fix the medical services you provide? If you want Marines to be more well-rounded and to shape the Marine Corps by serving at multiple duty commands, you need to make the duty stations as accessible to all people, not just ones who fit your notions of ableism. I truly understand parents who enroll their children in the Exceptional Family Member Program because their children have asthma and the environment of Okinawa would be difficult on them, however, our voice was muted regarding our desire to NOT have our daughter enrolled in a program that subsequently deprived her, and us, of a great cultural experience.
So, while I have tried to stay true to my professor’s desire to not see swear words incorporated into my work, there is a cartoon I want to share today that is curse word heavy. There is a social pedagogical point I am making here, so I am not looking for laughs and smirks, although those will naturally happen among Marines, in particular, who understand this natural conversational behavior among service members.
One of my former junior Marines shared this Terminal Lance cartoon and mentioned how it pretty much describes every CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear) class our shop taught:
Swear words replace a lot of nouns, verbs, and adjectives and this is really an enlisted rank issue and not seen so much on the officer side of the house. Honestly, I can’t remember every hearing a Marine Corps officer swear, even on my deployments.