Veteran Vision Project is Coming to ASU


We are inching closer to Devin Mitchell’s visit to Arizona.  He will photograph Arizona State University staff, faculty, and students to celebrate their statuses as veterans,  photos that will later be shared publicly as part of our Salute to Service events.

Am I excited?!  Yes!!!

Devin has done a fantastic job photographing veterans across the country and I am delighted he was interested in photographing veterans from the institution he attends. Nancy Dallett, from the Office of Veteran and Military Academic Engagement, has partnered with many wonderful ASU personnel–too many new names for me to mention at this time–who are also equally interested in seeing Devin’s vision elevated further.  I am happy for my tiny link in this whole process.

I registered on the Veteran Vision Project website and am waiting confirmation on whether I’ll be photographed. This time has given me the opportunity to reflect on how I wish to be portrayed as a civilian.

I think this objective is probably the hardest thing to focus on; I can have potentially one snapshot–a singular message–to share with the world. Do I present it to veterans? Do I present it to civilians? Do I code it as a private message to those I love? Is it possible to make it something just for me although it’s public? I haven’t made a decision on my civilian outfit yet, but I’ve already decided that my desert camouflage uniform is what I’m most comfortable wearing for my military photograph because I identify more with my war service than my garrison service.

My military identity is simple, compared to my civilian identity.   There are rules on how to wear a military uniform and certain expected behaviors when wearing a uniform. There is a proper placement for my rank. There is a proper way to wear my MCMAP (Marine Corps Martial Arts Program) belt, gray by the way. I didn’t devote too much time to martial arts during my four years. My boots are still laced left over right and a single dog tag still hangs off the laces, but I tuck it in under the eyelet holes. (I can’t recall when I stopped wearing my medical alert dog tag; I’m allergic to amoxicillin but the medical dog tag is larger than my regular identification tags and uncomfortable to wear in my boots.) I’ll wear my dog tags, like I do every day. (New readers will probably be amused I took up wearing my dog tags–one of my signs of military service– again late last year to gauge how much people recognize me as a veteran, to spark a conversation.) I won’t wear my cover, if photographed, because I will be indoors and I’m not on duty.

For now though, thank you for following this journey.  I am always astonished by the number of opportunities that are presented to me as a result of serving this country and I appreciate the platform to share my story.



Are You Even a Veteran?!

The question in the subject line was honestly asked of me today:

Are you even a veteran?!

It is inappropriate to give the entire context of the conversation, but a fellow veteran made this statement–asked this question of me–quite condescendingly.  At the tail end of an insanely busy week, it was the last question I expected/wanted to hear in my day.  I understand it was a rhetorical question and he didn’t quite expect me to answer in fact that I am. (The anger/frustration/hurt in my voice was not concealed.  At what point did our society give up on teaching and reinforcing good manners?!  When did insolent behavior become so commonplace?!  And is anyone else paying attention to how eager people are to act this way over the internet and on the phone?!)

I do not know this person well enough to understand how much his comments were part male privilege and/or veteran entitlement.  Let’s give this person the “benefit” of the doubt and take male privilege off the table for a moment–let us assume he wasn’t making two digs at me, but just the one:

His veteran status is more important (in his eyes/mind) than my personhood, my assumed non-veteran status.

This issue infuriates me greatly.  While I may crack jokes about Marines being better than Airmen, for example, I leave many of these comments in-house, with fellow veterans whose camaraderie I enjoy.  Some will playfully chide in return that Marines are crazy, just look at the crap we put up with compared with our sister service branches.  We do earn each other’s respect.  I don’t put down my peers who did not deploy; the more I learn about my peer group the more I understand how luck/leadership/health/various other factors contributed to my ability to deploy and their inability to deploy.  My infantry peers also respect me and don’t derogatorily called me a POG (person other than grunt).

Years ago, I made the natural assumption almost everyone who was in the military during my 4 years of active duty would equally deploy.  This notion made sense to me.  We were (and are) in a post-9/11 where terrorism occurs in expected and unexpected places.  I expected everyone who served after 9/11 would serve overseas in places like Afghanistan and Iraq and it was a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ they would deploy.  I am learning more now–as a veteran–military life and service experiences are more diverse than my naive expectations.

Veteran entitlement though is an issue that eats our veteran community from the inside out and ruins our collective relationship with our civilian communities and other veterans.  I didn’t expect to come across this attitude. It runs counter to another veteran type I see–veterans who are placed in the most dangerous environments, who do the best with their resources, and care highly for their teams.  Most veterans will fall along the spectrum from highly entitled to highly altruistic, just like their non civilian counterparts.  Today was just my encounter with a highly entitled person who thought it was appropriate to bring me down and there are many more like him in the world.

This attitude is not how veterans should behave.  I’m sorry for anyone who experiences this person on a daily basis or in a casual encounter like I did.  No one should behave this way as part of their daily interactions.  Veterans are trained to be our nation’s best and some, unfortunately, never (or rarely) take that message to heart.

My goal is to not act like this veteran namely because I know better.  I am a Post-9/11 veteran.  I am a Marine veteran.  I am an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran.  I earned my veteran status but I did not forget my status still comes with expectations.  I am a representative of my service branch and I have an equal burden and responsibility to behave appropriately in public.

Operation Iraqi Freedom 2-2
Operation Iraqi Freedom 2-2
Operation 5-7
Operation 5-7

Life Insurance: A Real Necessity

We’re all going to die some day.  It’s not something we enjoy talking about–or planning for–but it will happen.  Some of us have short times here on earth and others live well into their 100’s.  Planning for the inevitable falls on us–or for those of us too young or indigent–someone else must plan and set aside funding for burial expenses.

Normally, I would not write about such a topic.  People don’t really like being reminded that they are going to die or that their loved ones will eventually die.  I am with you all in this regard and more so because of how often death has touched my life starting with my mother’s passing in 2000.  Death, though, has not stopped there.

On my first deployment, my family tried to spare me this burden and delay notifying me my Uncle Duke passed away.  On this same deployment, my dad’s (stepfather, legally) father passed away.  My work also suffered the burden of losing one of our own, Captain Brock.  I didn’t think about what difficulties my family members may have undergone if sufficient life insurance was not in place, because it’s not something we (and certainly, many families) discuss or want to discuss.

I didn’t think of what arrangements Captain Brock’s wife made for him; thinking back, I’m assuming he had the maximum Servicemember’s Group Life Insurance, which is $400,000 and he may also have been covered under the $100,000 Family Servicesmembers’ Group Life Insurance.  Thomas and I had this spousal coverage on each other while we were both active duty.

As active duty service members we each had $400,000 worth of SGLI, although when Bart was killed in 2002, his mom told me SGLI had been $250,000 and unfortunately, from her, I learned his parents were not listed as beneficiaries which meant paying for his burial costs without this financial support.  I don’t know about all life insurance plans, but ours recommends reviewing the beneficiaries at least one a year.  Based on my conversation with Bart’s mom, I made sure my parents were listed as my beneficiaries when I was single or dating because they would bear the costs of my burial.  I didn’t update this information again until I was married.  It was updated yet again when we had my daughter.  Should we later adopt, I would update my plan again.

When individuals get out of the service, they can get Veterans Group Life Insurance up to the maximum amount of SGLI they had while serving.

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I imagine someone on the outside would assume these numbers are unnecessarily high, but life insurance can help with more than just the bare necessities of funeral planning and for many people, life insurance that just covers burial costs is not enough.  Inadequate life insurance and no life insurance at all can be devastating for people who lost their family’s sole (or higher) source or income.  The Granite Mountain Hotshots’ lawsuit settlement is just one example of why life insurance planning is an absolute necessary.

However, this conversation is not limited to just replacing an adult’s income.  When I worked for Pinal County, I had the privilege to learn a little, informally, about the handling of birth and death certificates.  A peer there told me about the life insurance policies she has for her children.  I also carry a policy for my daughter, so we would not be financially crippled should the worst happen and we are faced with her burial costs.

The reason I decided to write on this subject today is because I learned via Facebook a 2003 graduate from my high school recently passed away.  I do not know the circumstances of his death, but his family is struggling to pay his funeral expenses.  Given his age–thirty years old–I wonder why he didn’t have life insurance.  Did he think it wasn’t necessary?  Was he barely scrapping by?  A donations request was sent out and donations are coming in to help reduce the burden on his family, but I wonder if it will be enough.

Depending on what options a family explores, burial expenses can be overwhelming (funeral, travel, flowers, etc.).  I took a personal finance class with the University of Wyoming and the following from Garman and Forgue’s Personal Finance (9th ed.) is a useful needs-based assessment:

-Final expenses

-Income-replacement needs

-Readjustment-period needs

-Debt-repayment needs

-College-expense needs

-Other special needs

*Add all these totals together and subtract government benefits and current life insurance assets to get the total life insurance needed.

And while I don’t feel like tackling the whole life insurance and term life insurance debate, I will say I purchase term life insurance.  It’s just appropriate for my life right now.  My premiums are not ungodly which is great since my paycheck is smaller than what I made while on active duty.  My last premium, in fact, was due the day I learned this former student had passed away–if this new is not an incentive to get life insurance (or to make a timely payment), I don’t know what would be.

When I die, I know I want a simple service and I want to be cremated.  I think it’s such a waste (for me anyways) to have an elaborate casket and flower arrangements.  Cremation is less costly and I’m not a big fan of flower arrangements.  After my mother’s death, our house was littered with so many flower arrangements.  These beautiful things competed with each other–in small bunches, they smell beautiful but the combination of them makes an odd urine type smell.  The only flowers that really stuck out in my mind as beautiful were the ones sent by my mother’s former employers from when we lived in California.

As an early warning, when I do die, people are welcome to leave letters on my grave and tuck them in the earth. I will greatly appreciate it if people donate their money to a charity instead of spending that money on flowers.  After two deployments, I can also say I don’t want my family to waste my life insurance money on remembering me.  It’s money for them to maintain their dreams and to keep their basic needs met so they are not burdened unnecessarily whenever it is my time to go.