Graduation Spring 2016

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Photo Credit: Pieter Turley

Good morning everyone! I am bummed to write this post so far removed from my graduation on May 9th but I encountered some technical difficulties when building my draft and deleted the entire thing a week after graduation. I am horribly mortified and sincerely disappointed to lose the fresh elation of graduation in my writing. Walking for graduation was a beautiful experience and I am sorry I cannot now do full justice to this celebration.

I did not walk for my undergraduate ceremony at University of Wyoming since Laramie, Wyoming (where the University is located) is just over 5 and a half hours from where we previously lived in Cody, Wyoming. Thankfully, I didn’t have such a large distance in the way for my graduate ceremony. Tempe is only about 40-45 minutes from where we live and I already make this commute for my daily work. I took the whole day off work to celebrate, which was really nice as well. This semester has been rather hectic and I am thankful I could escape from work to celebrate with my family.

I was also joined by my writing partner, Pieter Turley, and our professor, Dr. Beth Blue Swadener, for the actual ceremony.  Pieter and I were partners in Dr. Swadener’s writing seminar class this semester and she also served on our respective applied project defenses.  Pieter and I took different approaches in discussing war for our projects: he spoke on the different ways France is culpable but has not fully taken responsibility for its role in the Rwandan Genocide and I spoke about the human death toll of Operation Iraqi Freedom (from August 2004 to February 2005 to coincide with my first deployment) and the visibility of persons who do not fill infantry roles but are war participants nonetheless.  For new blog followers, my applied project is available my entry titled The Final Reveal: An Alternative View of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

I am very grateful Dr. Swadener offered prior to graduation to take photographs of Pieter and I during graduation.  My parents and siblings were not in attendance as they live out-of-state and my husband, daughter, and in-laws were up pretty high in the bleachers so I couldn’t even find them during the ceremony.  I am even more grateful for her photographs as the professional graduation photograph proofs came in the mail recently and I look angry in two of the three images; Beth did an exceptional job capturing the joy of this occasion. And if you want to learn more about commencement traditions, I implore you to check out ASUNow’s May 6th article, The History and the Meaning Behind the Regalia of ASU’s Commencement.

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Graduation 2016

My husband also graduated with his Bachelor’s degree this semester and will start law school in the fall.  Pardon me for not saying much of his achievements.  He is a very reserved person whereas I am an introvert with social tendencies in the right environments.  I do my best to respect his privacy and therefore do not speak publicly about his military service, his social connections, or his academic achievements except in those incidents where the overlap with my identity is important for providing the full context of a situation.  He has many adventures ahead of him and my daughter and I have a lot to learn about how to support his needs as a future law student.

Again, thank you for your patience for this blog entry.  My forays with technology teach me daily to find peace with the process.

I would also like to remind you to please remember Memorial Day is about honoring our fallen.  The commodification of this day (as with many of our holidays) provides an open door for purchases that are needed (or not) with reduced financial strain but the meaning behind our holidays–and this holiday in particular–should not be forgotten.  I will not pester you to not purchase anything this weekend.  In fact, I will be purchasing paint tomorrow morning for my daughter’s new bedroom.  While I already had plans to paint her room, the savings on this purchase means I can likely afford to paint two rooms at this time versus just one.  However, I would like to ask anyone, like me, who will make a purchase or two this weekend also provide a donation (time, money, or in-kind) to an organization that provides direct support to the families of fallen service members, such as housing services, educational scholarships, or counseling services.  Your contributions, wherever they may go, make this world a better place for the families whose loved ones made the ultimate sacrifice.

~Cheryl

The Final Reveal: An Alternative View of Operation Iraqi Freedom

I am very proud to say my applied project is complete.  Revisiting the American casualty information, the most painful part of the research process, took nearly the whole semester.  I cannot begin to tell you how many times I had to step back from the process.  Before building this applied project, I never spent a substantial amount of time looking at the narratives of my fallen comrades.  Given my past work on activity reports for our area of operation, I spent 12 hours a day, 7 days a week viewing data on killed and wounded personnel (friendly forces, civilian, and enemy).  While I’ve previously talked to you all about Captain Brock I forced myself to sort through the data for the total 553 American military personnel killed from August 13, 2004 to February 25, 2005.  The images below are courtesy of MilitaryTimes Honor the Fallen.  One of the hardest stories to learn, when I investigated the issue further was the death of Corporal Paul Holter because he died by the thoughtless actions of a fellow Marine.

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I intentionally looked for information on individuals who died specifically within the Al Anbar Province; units would have sent us this casualty data along with the number of wounded persons in the same incident.  For this reason, the American service member casualties represents the most accurate reality of the deployment because I could sort through each narrative to find the right dates and province. Eight individuals who were wounded in the Al Anbar province died outside this area (one passed away in Baghdad, 2 passed away in Germany, and 5 passed away stateside) and so were not included in my applied project.  There are a number of deaths that read as potential suicides although the cause of death is not stated as such.  While I do not mean to come across as insensitive to the families, there is such a struggle maintaining intra- and intercultural conversations regarding suicide and each time we hide the circumstances surrounding our loved ones’ passing, we further exacerbate the social stigma.  For the most part I did not label any service member’s death by circumstance in my presentation because many simply state ‘enemy action’ as the cause of death, particularly for the Marine Corps, whereas more of the Army narratives list a specific weapon type.  I do not know how to make any useful connection (or know if there is one) about this difference.

It was equally as important to look for information on wounded American service members.  While I don’t know what types of injuries qualified for record purposes, I did not make an analysis about that lacking data in my applied project write up.  Once again, in providing the human toll of war, my purpose was to align the numbers that might represent what we would have “seen” coming across our desks.  For this reason, the data is incomplete for my purposes but provides greater context because it is not limited by day or province.  However, I reigned the numbers back in by only showing Army and Marine Corps data since these branches made up the majority of our area of responsibility.  iCasualties.org provided the necessary data for this segment of the applied project.  Unlike the American deaths, it was not a struggle to collect this information.

The more I moved away from American data and my experiences, the easier it was to review the hard data.  Iraqbodycount.org provided the second most substantial amount of data and also the second most accurate representation of that deployment reality. However, I have more work to do in understanding the individuals who made such a site possible.  We all carry our own biases and while I may question who is listed as a civilian, their assessment–from the construction of the site and language utilized–lends itself more to who do we count as our enemy?  From this site, I gathered information that was only specific by month and year.  For this reason, my applied project included more data than I had planned for but I could not break it down into daily numbers as was available for the MilitaryTimes casualty information.  I wasn’t able to find Iraqi civilians wounded from the same time period through Iraqbodycount.org.  I think it’s very important that Iraqbodycount.org acknowledges why this issue is complex.  A 2003 article on their site, Adding Indifference to Injuries, is just one such online article that addresses this problem.  Outside of my research for this project, I do know there are many others trying to undo this marginalization, like the Costs of War Project.

The gaps in piecing together the data cannot be overlooked but they can be explained. None of the numbers alone on any side though reflects accurately on the war.  The connections between social systems, the breakdown of such systems, and learning another culture’s values on the fly shape our perceptions of war and incidents of all scales and frequency happen out of emotional responses and intentionality.   (I would say this statement is true of all matters not just war.) These are not the only intersecting factors, but as narratives become known, these issues are more visible.  I would highly recommend  the HBO mini-series Generation Kill as a good representation of pulling these issues together.  There are not a lot of war genre shows or movies that I can tolerate about Iraq;  however, this one shows aspects of Marine Corps culture that I appreciate.  Additionally, I appreciate how concern for Iraqi civilians is represented and how those individuals who do not express concern for Iraqi civilians is also represented.  We must be willing to acknowledge that both types of individuals exist not only in our military but also in our nation.

It is also important to mention I am not pro-War or anti-War.  I think to say something as controversial as war is 100% right or wrong in all situations is not an educated statement.  While it is not my place to tell others what opinions to have, I will work to respect both sides of the spectrum so long as individuals throughout the spectrum understand a difference of opinion is a difference of opinion.  Opinions are neither right or wrong.

One of the last pieces of information which was the most difficult to find was that for insurgent forces killed and wounded.  Again, like the data for American wounded, Iraqi civilians killed and wounded, I am confronted with the reality none of this data is transparent enough for me to correlate it with my deployment.  For this reason, it is impossible to say I’ve truly given my audience the knowledge they need to understand the enormity of the situations specific to the deployment.  Instead, I’ve given the next available answers.  From a 2007 USAToday article, I found this last piece of the deployment puzzle.  A 2007 Stars and Stripes article shows this information broken down more clearly. I would recommend checking out the latter article as I’ve had trouble on numerous occasions with getting the USAToday article to display properly.

My journal entries which are significant to understanding the deployment are embedded throughout the applied project.  I do apologize for the fact the ones at the latter part of the presentation might seem exceedingly long.  I was concerned the longer entries might be hard to read if they were shown for a shorter period of time but several individuals mentioned they could read faster than the pace of the presentation.  While I won’t make every entry I’ve ever written public, there are strong conversations from my past that will always be worth remembering.  The journal entries I shared were carefully chosen for what they mention about the violence in Iraq with respect to my work and the indirect fire we experienced on base; my positive and negative responses to the dangers; and my feelings about my friends, family, and my place in the Marine Corps.

As this blog progresses further, I will continue to provide you all with comparisons between 2006 and 2016 and 2007 and 2017 to show how my life has changed as my Marine Corps career ended and my current life looks now.  I cannot promise a lot other than a continued interest exploring and discussing today’s military culture, especially as the role of women changes.  I am equally interesting in conducting more research about the broader implications of Operation Iraqi Freedom and sharing my finds with you all.  Lastly, because my schedule has opened up significantly, I am looking to read more academic articles and popular books about our military.

I want to thank you all for following along on this journey so far and I look forward to sharing more again soon.  If you are interested in looking at some of the articles I used for toward the applied project, they are listed below.  All were accessed through ASU’s libraries using JSTOR.

Tina Mai Chen’s (2004) Introduction: Thinking Through Embeddedness: Globalization, Culture, and the Popular

Liam Corley’s (2012) “Brave Words”: Rehabilitating the Veteran-Writer

Liam Kennedy’s (2009) Soldier Photography: Visualising the War in Iraq

 

Sincerely,

Cheryl