At Work, At Home, At Play: What’s Revealed in Service Member Photography

Good morning, everyone!!!  Ahhh…quick breather.  January is almost over. In the brief span of time that’s transpired since the term began, I have made substantial progress focusing on my applied project.  This progress is due, with great thanks, to Dr. Beth Swadener, who has facilitated a writing seminar; my peers in Dr. Swadener’s course; Dr. Rose Weitz for her continued support and acceptance on my applied project committee; Nancy Dallett for being a wonderful sounding board and constant companion in my work life; my peers in my SST course this semester; and most certainly, my friends and family who stand by me during this crazy adventure, both academically and through this blog.

Today’s blog is built on one of the materials that will find its way into my applied project. Recently, I found Liam Kennedy’s 2009 article, Soldier Photography: Visualising the War in Iraq.  The article is available through the following stable URL:

If you do not have access to this resource via an academic library, like I do with ASU, the download costs $34 or you can read it online by registering for a JSTOR account.

Getting back to today’s discussion, I think Mr. Kennedy brings up some excellent points about why service member (my preferred term versus his term, ‘soldier’) photography is aiding a better global discourse on the understanding of war.  Below is a great insight he adds to how the communication process regarding ‘war’ has changed over the decades:

“The Vietnam War was the first televised war, the first Gulf War was the first satellite war (CNN’s war’) and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are the first digitised wars” (Kennedy, 2009, p. 819).

So, why is the change in communication important?

In a nutshell, the answer to this question is this correspondence teaches us the reinforcement of cultural perspective and operational burden in war, both operational security and trauma sustained by service members (Kennedy, 2009).

For many reasons, I have taken for granted the ‘freedom’ I enjoyed to share my deployment experiences with friends and family members with almost instantaneous feedback.  On many occasions, it took me several saved drafts on MySpace to craft a post for my loved ones but the next time I logged in, I would have some responses to my situation.  These messages sustained me when snail mail was lacking.  I knew my family cared for me, despite their beliefs about war–in general–and about my war, specifically.  One of the best benefits to this freedom was corresponding with loved ones who also operated in different areas of Iraq, at the same time.  I cannot discount how important it was to know friends were safe despite being located in close proximity to indirect and direct forms of combat engagement.

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 8.18.31 AM
Kennedy, 2009, p. 827

With respect to both deployments, I didn’t take a significant amount of photos.  I used several disposable 35mm cameras for Operation Iraqi Freedom 2-2 (1st Marine Division deployment) and had both disposable cameras and a digital camera my husband sent over for the second deployment, Operation Iraqi Freedom 5-7 (3rd Marine Aircraft Wing where I deployed with Marine Aircraft Group-16, known as MAG-16).  I would aptly agree with Kennedy that ‘tourist’ photography describes the majority of photos I took for both deployments, like many of my peers’ photographs.  The landscape is different, the ‘feel’ of the base, while it retains aspects of American culture, is a smaller version of American consumerism.  Camp Blue Diamond had a small internet cafe crafted out of a trailer with plywood dividers to give individuals some sense of private conversations.  A PX (Post-Exchange) also crafted out of a trailer provided a small array of necessary items, like service chevrons, and coveted items, like snack foods.

After all these years, I still have my M & M’s bag. Look at the production and best by dates.
Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 9.22.04 AM
My view heading over to Camp Ramadi (2004).

When it comes to photographs of my self, I have very few.  Because it is significantly still a taboo subject to date in a combat zone, I only had one photograph using my cameras of my boyfriend and I together on my first deployment the day I left Blue Diamond, February 25, 2005.  The others I have of us relaxing with Marines from his work were taken by him or members of his unit.  For my second deployment, the best photos of me at work and at play were compiled into a unit video.  Unfortunately, my computer does not take good snapshots from the video.  I will try to find another way to acquire those photos to share.  There was a great one of me in one of the chairs in the palace in Baghdad and I look incredibly tiny.  See…again…that tourist tendency.


Bringing new meaning to paper money.
I tried not to infringe on the privacy of my peers, so these are the few photos inside our barracks (Camp Blue Diamond).
Rules of engagement…in case you were interested.

I do regret not taking more photos because there is so much to learn from those experiences.  Camp Al Asad was essentially a small city unto itself (and likely, retains some of those features).  We had a Subway, coffee shop, Pizza Hut, and Burger King, a barber shop, and many trinket shops, just on our side of the base alone.  I was too nervous to travel the rest of the base by myself.  Instead, I spent much of my second deployment walking to the internet cafe set up in the operations center.  My (mostly) solitary walks provided me the opportunity to appreciate the natural beauty that is Iraq, with its limited infrastructure.  Sunrises and sunsets are incredible.

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 9.18.42 AM

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 9.27.13 AM

However, as important as it is to discuss our visual representations at war, we must equally discuss coming home.  Below are some brief snapshots to show how transition is discussed (as of 2005).


Additionally, please enjoy a small peek at what my barracks life looked like in early 2005.  It was a pretty spartan existence compared to the 1,400 sq. foot home I occupy with nearly 10 years’ worth of furniture, artwork, scrapbooks, etc. that make up my current life. I lived in one of the barracks on the Camp Margarita area of Camp Pendleton near the Subway.

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 9.30.34 AM
The Marine Corps blanket covers my bed.  It was given to me by a former substitute teacher, who served previously as a Marine officer.
Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 9.30.03 AM
With some of my first deployment earnings, I purchased my first desktop computer.
Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 9.30.22 AM
Ah, the spartan life.







Stepping Into Combat Roles: An Outsider’s View

Today’s post will be one of many down the road regarding the future of women in infantry roles.  My insider perspective of being a woman who served as a United States Marine is useful in this discussion, but not the only perspective.  I am more of an outsider on this topic, looking in with you all, and you must understand I do not speak as a subject matter expert.  I did not take on the challenges numerous women have since integration testing began. Nor did I participate in something as uniquely different  as female engagement teams the Marine Corps employed or the cultural support teams like the women featured in Ashley’s War during my time in.

For several months now you all know I’ve been caught up in my own civilian identity working a full-time job and attending graduate school part-time.  These responsibilities eat up much of my free time and sadly, my focus on the news has waned greatly since November.  My efforts to fully study the conversations about integration testing have been quite partial at best.  I am torn at times between wanting to be fully invested in the dialogue and struggling to also focus on other areas of military life and veteran challenges for my program.  I am interested though to see exactly how women’s roles progress in the military and will follow along as my current schedule permits.  There will be some positive (and like always, negative) results as the military adapts to its new expectations, but hopefully everything is skewed more towards the former.

For today though, I wanted to share my feelings on a recent article in the Marine Corps Times, the details being provided for your convenience in full below.

Screen Shot 2016-01-08 at 7.41.34 PM

Screen Shot 2016-01-08 at 7.39.59 PM

Screen Shot 2016-01-08 at 7.40.57 PM

I am not one of those women who would have stepped up to the challenge Corporal Remedios Cruz did, which is why I find the integration testing to be so interesting. Before I served, I wrote a paper on the possibility of women in combat roles, but never thought Direct Combat Exclusion would be repealed.  For my entire life, women have not been authorized to serve in direct infantry roles.  When I enlisted, infantry (and some other military occupational specialities) was off limits, but I was not bothered or resentful I couldn’t serve in the infantry.  For anyone who knows me well, even if I was a guy, I don’t think infantry would be my chosen profession.  Instead, I found an equally (and always) challenging role for my life in being a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) Defense Specialist.  Like Cpl Cruz, I didn’t know if I had what it took to serve in my desired role, but I went out, tried, and successfully passed the standards set for that particular military occupational specialty (MOS).

It was through this choice (and completing many objectives) that other doors opened up for me and I served a greater purpose for the Marine Corps because I was seen as a Marine and not the female Marine.  Now, I wasn’t always so lucky to be see as a Marine first and a woman second, but we’ve discussed that scenario many times over.  I am proud of all the women who have tried the integration testing, even those who did not successfully pass the qualification standards.

I think what’s important for individuals–inside and outside of military circles–to see and appreciate is the devotion to duty expressed by service members attracted to infantry roles (and thus far, integration testing). A service member who wants to be in the infantry and can make the same standards will usually serve well in that role. The physical demands are greater, the teamwork coordination issues are more significant, and the weapons knowledge (and gear to carry) are heavier burdens.  You really must want it and that lifestyle.  While the article focuses on a single Marine in this case, each participant (and those in similar Army training) deserves respect for her participation.  Each volunteered with the full knowledge she could train (and potentially succeed) without necessarily EVER being bestowed the honor of serving in the infantry.

Regardless of where things go from here, I hope the lessons learned are intently studied for years to come.  A quick change is not always the best change, but baby steps should not be overlooked either.  All change starts somewhere.  I wish all the women who participated in integration testing the best at weaving that infantry training in their leadership.  I hope all the men who worked and/or work alongside these women appreciate the effort, spirit, and abilities of each woman who met the same standards or scored higher.  I will applaud from the sidelines, because I am not interested in accomplishing the same feats but I can appreciate the hard work and devotion went into these achievements.

Coming up here soon, I want to tackle a completely different topic and that’s the talk about integrating Marine Corps boot camp…stay tuned.









Welcome to 2016!

As 2015 drew to a close, I anticipated fireworks.  Seriously, I expected something on par or less than what occurred in our neighborhood for the Fourth of July.  Once again, I want to reiterate I like fireworks.  I do.  I think they are beautiful to look at and can be enjoyable.  On December 31st though, they were not enjoyable for me in the slightest.

Neighbors of all sorts went all out and it seems quite a few bought the biggest (and loudest) fireworks they could find.  This time as well, we had neighbors launching fireworks at the end of the shared driveway.  With the exception of our old neighbor who moved a few months ago, the people that live near us do not know I served in Iraq or that I lived on a base that was frequently mortared for the duration of that seven month tour.  The fireworks they find enjoyable, in such close proximity, cause me a great deal of anxiety.  I like my fireworks safely from a substantial distance.

The festivities my neighbors (and those in the neighborhood over, it seemed) enjoyed lasted approximately from 9pm until 12:20 am.  The noise was unbearable for me and when I did manage to fall asleep sometime before eleven, I was startled awake around  eleven-thirty.  The evening was like having seven months of being mortared cramped into almost four and a half hours.  

Miserable does not aptly describe what New Year’s Eve felt like for me.  There are only a few people close to me that probably understand what I’m talking about here. (For those that have not lived through mortar attacks, I am sure you can find various videos on YouTube, which will give some you a partial understanding.)  I am seriously grateful New Year’s Eve is over and I won’t encounter large explosions again until the Fourth of July. I think for the next occasion, I’ll throw some headphones in to get somewhat of a reprieve.

Listening to music helps calm me down in stressful situations.  Luke Bryan’s music has been among my favorites for 2015.  I LOVE his Kill the Lights cd.  It was a lot of fun when I was in Nashville a few months ago to see some of his things in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Luke Bryan display
I had a great time seeing the Luke Bryan display in October…love, love, love his music.

For now, I’m setting up 2016 to be a great year in other ways.

  1. Completing my final semester of my Master’s program in May.
  2.  Sending congratulations to all my friends when their new babies arrive. (Right now, it’s mostly first and third borns due).
  3. Taking our daughter on her first summer vacation to Disneyland.
  4. Finding 30 minutes a day 5-6 days a week for “me” time.  I’ve dearly missed my exercise time.
  5. Getting my watercolor tattoo in October.
  6. Writing on a more consistent basis, hopefully once a week.  Maybe no more than two week stretches.

Ok, so none of those are resolutions, just objectives to tackle.  I don’t want to quite on my goals once we roll into February, like I do with resolutions. I’ll keep you all posted.

Warm wishes for the new year, by the way.