Taken-for-Granted Notion: America’s Veterans

Homefront Girl?!
Homefront Girl?!  Really?!

I want to believe our society is coming close to equally treating female veterans as it does male veterans. I really do. However, I constantly find reminders that support the taken-for-granted notion veterans (and service members) are men.

I am even more embarrassed at some of the products coming out, particularly the ones that encourage the “girl” who stays behind supporting her man. These things seem to sell a notion military wives and girlfriends do not have an identity all their own.  Would you see something of this label for same sex couples?!  No, but it’s perfectly normal for heteronormative marketing.

I honestly couldn’t buy any of these Yankee Candles even if I loved the scents available through their Homefront Girl line. Thankfully, I found some information that a dollar from each sale goes to Homes for Our Troops.  However, the proceeds are limited to $75,000 or date, April 30th, 2016 per the image below:

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I don’t wish to alienate other women, but I see over and over again how society values the “military wife” and her fulfillment of a traditional gender role.  She is placed on a pedestal for raising the kid(s), keeping the house, and staying loyal as her man serves his country.  Yet, female service members (and veterans) are forgotten persons.  We are remembered for mothering (as applicable), but our military service…it’s an invisible achievement.

I saw this issue play out again in my life when my husband and I picked up our car from a valet.  The man, probably slightly younger than us, noticed our veteran plate.  He turned to my husband and asked his service branch.  Thomas responded with ‘Marine Corps’ and the valet thanked him for his service.

In these moments, I better understand female veterans who place woman veteran license plates on their car, especially those whose husbands (or boyfriends) did not serve in the military.  I do not have one myself and the recent woman veteran hat is coming up increasingly in social media sites.

I am getting closer to upping the ante for my veteran recognition project.  I’ve worn my dog tags since last October with little notice.  I haven’t blatantly hung out the tags; as a veteran, I feel it would be tacky to do so.  I was hoping people would notice a dog tag chain is unlike other pieces of ‘jewelry’ and therefore make the connection.  Haha….no one notices.  Truly, no one notices.

I think a female veteran hat would be a silly addition to my project but I promise a creative approach to this problem.  Society does not need to thank its female veterans (as equally as it does not need to thank male veterans) however it does need to recognize on many levels women serve in our Armed Forces.

~Cheryl

Wearing my dog tags as part of my social experiment.
Wearing my dog tags as part of my social experiment. (May 31st at Montelucia–Scottsdale, AZ)

Memorial Day 2015

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I share today’s post with a somber heart. On February 2nd, 2005, my unit lost our Watch Officer, Captain Sean Brock, and every Memorial Day, I think about the impact his death had on his family, persons I’ve never met.

Today we honor Captain Brock, among our nation’s many fallen, and I will never forget how I felt learning he was wounded and later, when he died as a result of his injuries. I was twenty at the time and as I learned afterwards, he was only twenty-nine. It stung a little bit more to know he was a fraternal twin, like me. I don’t doubt others, especially my peers and superiors working in the command center, have survivor’s guilt like I feel at times. Our base was frequently hit with mortars throughout the duration of my deployment and yet, most of us made it home.

I wrote a letter not too long ago about things I’d like to say to my mother, although she passed away in 2000, and I’ve never “said” anything specific regarding Captain Brock.  Should his family ever read these words, I think of their loved one every Memorial Day and the day of his death.  There are times throughout the year when I must be reminded of my place and he comes to mind even more.  I came home and I owe something back.  I was very anxious last night thinking of my recent frustration that companies are offering veteran discounts today.  Today is not Veterans’ Day.  Today is Memorial Day.  Some Americans chose to attend parades or memorial services; I chose to write this letter.

~C

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To Captain Brock,

I can write this letter to you now as a civilian.  Your death in 2005 transformed my life.  I felt like a tourist when I landed in Iraq, and more so before, in Kuwait.  At work though, I was not in tourist mode.  I didn’t have the time to gaze about the world around us.  There was too much to do on day shift with the mission assigned to me, our team, and all our individual contributions wove together a situational picture for the commanding generals.  I was (and still am) very proud of this assignment.  As a Lance Corporal back then, it’s not like I had the freedom to know you the way other Marines could in the command center.

I don’t know what you thought about our team of enlisted Marines working to your left.  Did you find it odd we were a mix of infantry guys stationed with G-3 and Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Defense Marines, like myself?  I know I encountered Marines who naturally assumed I was a MAGTF (Marine Air Ground Task Force) Planner.

I wish I could pick your brain about the Army and Navy Liaisons who worked behind my desk.  I wish it was easier to remember people from back then.  I can only recall the Lieutenant Junior Grade’s first name was Candy and the Army Major gave me a 2nd BCT (Brigade Combat Team) coin.  Quite often, it felt strange to be surrounded by so many officers.  I wanted to make a good impression on you all and especially make my Master Sergeant proud I was on the team.

I don’t know if you’d find it stunning or embarrassing that I ignored my responsibility to burn items in the burn bin when I kept an article written about your death.  (I don’t know who printed it out but I couldn’t let the article disappear; I keep it to this day.)

There was such good insight into your life that the average American would never know about you, as one of our fallen.  I didn’t want your death to be another number on our screen.  Your life shouldn’t be just a statistic, a number thrown out among numbers when others discuss the merit of war.  You were a husband, son, brother, twin brother.  As a fellow twin, I cannot imagine the pain your twin goes through each day without you.  You chose to be a Marine, but the article revealed most what I love about people–their connections to their families, friends, and communities.  I’ve read memorial boards about you as well–you are greatly missed.

My place among the living deprives me of the opportunity to know what you see and understand in death.  I don’t know if you watched myself and Corporal Vaughn in our shared responsibility to destroy your cover and holster.  I don’t have an answer as to why we were chosen for this sacred task.  There wasn’t much blood on your things, but your blood was still there.  In burning your possessions, I feel better now about the historical use of funeral pyres and my own decision to be cremated when I die.

There were so many times I tiptoed on this notion of wishing I was there to help you and also being grateful I didn’t witness your wounds.  I was ending a phone call with my grandmother when the round landed on base.  I was over in my barracks and you were right outside of our work.  My grandmother suffered from lung cancer and during the deployment, I found out her cancer was no longer in remission.  I have no doubt she heard the round land.  It’s the loudest impact I can ever recall.  I had a few seconds, maybe 30 or less, where I could put on my game face essentially and keep her fear at bay.  I told her the normal things we tell our loved ones–I loved her and I’d try to call again soon and then I had to say goodbye.  I had to get back then to the present reality.

I’m currently reading Ashley’s War so I feel safe to tell you I don’t feel I wouldn’t have been helpful because I am a woman and you are a man.  I do understand some men feel women have no place in combat zones.  I feel like I would have been stunned for a moment if I saw you mortally injured.  I sat so close to you day in and day out for months on end, from 10 am to 10 pm until I was switched over to night crew.  It was only because my shift was changed that I was not at the operations center when the round landed.

But I knew you were injured before I went into work.  And I sat at work looking at the activity report (about you).The activity report shared the same general details like all the others before, but this time, I knew who we lost.  We had hellish days before where there’s so much activity and sadly, many losses of life, but watching the night drag on was terrible.  I felt like that activity report was taunting me.

I hope someone shared with your wife how wonderful your memorial service was; the Marines who spoke about you cared deeply for you and revealed much about your playful, adventurous side.  Once again, I couldn’t know you the way they did because of our ranks.  I am grateful though they reminded us all about who you were as an individual.

I am forever thankful our paths crossed, even for that small amount of time.  I hope as I continue to forge my own path in life, it is something you admire and see as socially responsible as a representative of the Marine Corps.

Your life will be one I always remember today and I hope in sharing this letter, many other Americans take to heart what today really means.

With the Utmost Respect and Admiration,

Cheryl Rinehart

2005 versus 2015: Ramadi and My Home Life

2015 Life

The title of today’s blog is not meant to incite anger. It’s an honest assessment of my day here in the States versus news abroad. The news is reporting the fact Ramadi has fallen to ISIS. (A sad emoticon does not suffice here.)

I can’t do anything about Ramadi falling to ISIS. I can be angry about it. I can be disappointed. I can’t fly out there with my fellow Marines loaded with an M-16 and honestly do something about the problem. I can’t sit in a command center like I did years ago and compile reports to help commanding generals decide a course of action.  I can only hope ISIS’ “win” is short-lived.

The citizens of Ramadi, like other Iraqi citizens and citizens everywhere, should be free to enjoy a pleasant and comfortable lifestyle free of mass violence.  Their disenfranchisement is a significant reason why I’m nervous to admit my life is a complete 180.  I have a steady job, a safe neighborhood, and can enjoy daily perks like Starbucks new awesome and overly indulgent S’mores frappucino which I get in a mini size, so it’s a candy bar liquid equivalent 230 calories versus 330 calories for a tall.

My biggest problem right now is the stomach discomfort that’s lasted all day long, which didn’t help as I put in much-needed over time today. (Not at all related to Starbucks; my stomach just hates me today in general.)

My ‘2015’ life means for the first time in our marriage truly setting down into a typical American dream, minus the fact it’s not a home purchase.  We know we aren’t moving around for years, we have a private enclosed yard (for the first time) and a two-car garage (also a first)!  We’ve been here just over a month and are still unpacking boxes.  Our books, like our artwork, reveal the best part of our personalities.  Thomas is a history buff.  I enjoy numerous non-fiction works, particularly as they relate to relationships and personal/professional development.

Part of our home library
Part of our home library

These roots are so different from my seabag lifestyle on deployment.  I own more than a week’s worth of clothes and 2 pairs of boots.

I recently began reading Ashley’s War and the author’s mention of the soldiers’ choice to use non-Army issued socks grabbed me as a reader.  When I prepared for my first deployment, my boyfriend at the time took me shopping to pick up Smartwool socks.  I was prepared to bring issued boot socks, but he was adamant about the quality of Smartwool socks.  I don’t remember our entire conversation about the socks, but I recall my shock at their price.  It was something like $17 or $18 a pair.  Seriously, one pair of socks!!!

Those socks were one of the best purchases I ever made.  They lasted through two Iraq deployments and my time in Cody, Wyoming.  I love this brand and while I’m not brand loyal on many things, I can justify the price of those socks.

2005 Life

During my day trip to Camp Fallujah (2004)...I have very few photos of myself at Camp Blue Diamond (outside of Ramadi, Iraq).
During my day trip to Camp Fallujah (2004)…I have very few photos of myself at Camp Blue Diamond (outside of Ramadi, Iraq).

Back on this day, May 17th, 2005, I was no longer in the fray. I was a goofy 21-year-old remarking on training that day.  The funny thing is I don’t recall this training at all.  It’s odd that some things stay in our heads for years and years and other things are quickly lost.  It’s a good thing I enjoy keeping a record of my life, otherwise these observations would be lost for sure.

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Life As a Nontraditional Student

Retained the 4.0
Retained the 4.0

Approximately 12,000 Sun Devils graduated this semester. I do not know all their names, but as a fellow student myself, I understand some of the pains they’ve endured to accomplish their objectives. Most are traditional students, but for nontraditional students like myself, these achievements are even more amazing.

I am fortunate to befriend some of our veteran students, mostly through my contact with them as current work study students, former work study students, or the small group that gathers frequently to enjoy the amenities of our center. Their stories, like many of our nontraditional peers, reflect broad career goals with a service focus, overcoming hurdles of various sorts, and a desire to swap stories our traditional peers don’t yet understand. We can talk candidly with each other about Iraq and Afghanistan, without our stories being awkward. We might talk about our kids or our partners’ child(ren). We also talk about the hours we work, or wish we didn’t work, when comparing ourselves to our traditional peers.

Although I mention some similarities, please know I don’t mean to infer we are a homogenous group. My work as a School Certifying Official reminds me constantly there is such great diversity within our student population. Similarities give us a common ground, but our differences make us wonderfully unique. We went down roads we planned and found some ruts we originally did not see and we’re constantly reconstructing our identities.

I am not among this semester’s graduating class. My big day will come next spring and I’m ok with the wait. It’s exciting to know I will be the first in my family to earn a Master’s degree. I hope my achievement inspires my siblings to accomplish the dreams they hold for themselves that may currently seem too big. Life is all about the baby steps.

Maintaining my 4.0 GPA this semester was harder than I imagined it would be; however, I have competition at home with my husband, a fellow ASU student, and my peers at work. It isn’t possible to “do it all.” However, I focused on less tasks and more intently at the tasks remaining on my “to do” list for the term.

There are things I couldn’t/wouldn’t alter given my status as a nontraditional student:

1. Working 40 hours a week (I’m the breadwinner in my family.)
2. Moving out of family housing (Family Housing was no longer suiting my family’s lifestyle.)
3. Family commitments (My in-laws graciously took our daughter many weekends for sleepovers so we could focus on homework. In return, we set up many family breakfasts with them so we could stay grounded with each other.)

However, my connections with my own family, who live out-of-state, have been minimal. I basically remind them I’m still living via sporadic non-vague Facebook status updates and a sprinkling of updated photos. I owe them more than one or two phone calls to make up for my conspicuous absence this term.

For all the great things that occurred this semester, this semester was a difficult one for some ASU families. Since I started doing email as one of my job responsibilities, I noticed we get student death notifications. I know universities are sometimes thought as large, impersonal institutions, but notifications like these touch me deeply.

I worked through activity reports on my first deployment and seeing the casualty numbers and deaths reported is something that has always stuck with me, particularly after Captain Brock’s death. During my email days this semester, I came across two student death notifications. They were both veterans. I had the responsibility to close our their information in VAOnce, the system we use to certify students for GI Bill benefits, and close out their PeopleSoft service indicator that tells us each was using some chapter of VA education benefits. For some reason, it’s always important to look at their ages before I complete this task. I don’t know if it’s my way of honoring their time on this earth; I am shocked whenever a student (veteran or nonveteran) is younger than me and almost relieved (for lack of a better term) when the person has lived longer.

I hope their families feel we treated them well while they attended ASU. I hope these students enjoyed their collegiate careers. I hope they enjoyed their lives in general, despite whatever bumps they encountered along the way.

I hope that our graduating class of 12,000 move forward and fulfill their dreams in a way these two veterans could not, because it’s important we remember life is for living. I have no doubt these two would have wished great things for their peers for spring commencement, those traditional students and nontraditional students, like themselves.

Don’t Write A Book About It: Drawing A Fine Line Outside the Sandbox

I am on a mission to help my instructor find a new book for her class on women warriors.  I’ve previously discussed with all you my great frustration over Helen Benedict’s The Lonely Soldier and I’ve verbally expressed my interest in finding a new book to balance out the conversation of women in the military for this class.  Collectively, we’ve agreed this book was one end of the conversation spectrum and the other was filled by Jessica Scott who speaks from her personal experiences as a soldier and a mother.

Below are some books I’ve identified on Amazon:

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I wish the person who wrote the blurb below paid more attention to the fact it’s ‘desert’ not dessert.

And I’m a bit irritated when the word ‘naive’ is thrown around to describe service members.  We’re all a little naive walking through life at one point or another, however this obnoxious word creeps into the portrayal of women too much for my liking.

I think I need a bumper sticker that reads:

No one made you join.  [Statement is as applicable for men as it is for women.]

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I’ve only sifted through titles so far but I’m rather nervous I won’t find something I find appropriate for this class.  I am not a subject matter expert on the war in Iraq (and I have no experience in Afghanistan) but I made the statement today I may need to suck it up and write a book.  [Professional…I know.]

Years ago, I was told not to write a book about my experiences.  I’m still a little angry that my coworker thought it was his place to say such a thing to me. However, with some of the above representations (and I’d say equally the same for books about Post-9/11 male service members) I can acknowledge the frustration of persons capitalizing on their experiences, good and bad.  We live in a generation sucking up their 15 minutes of fame in practically every media format out there.  It doesn’t seem to matter either if that attention is positive or negative either.

If I take these footsteps forward, they will not be to reinforce the 21-year-old I was when I came home, the girl who loved to say “This one time in Iraq” which resulted in my peers mimicking my voice and joy in their wry humor.

More so, I’d like to showcase the 31-year-old I am trying to understand the transformative process of becoming a Marine, picking up a journey of a deceased ex-boyfriend, in a society that still questions the roles and contributions of female service members.

The information below is a good tipping point to this future conversation.  It’s pre-9/11 but  irks me by the name and premise.

~C

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