Today, I wanted to share directly, without much of my own words, a story written about one of the service members, Major Adrianna Vorderbruggen, who was recently killed in Afghanistan.  Her story intertwines cultural issues of the growing number of women serving in the military, our society’s changing attitudes towards same sex marriage, and once again, a small reminder of the separation that exists between the military and non-military members of society.  The service members we have lost (and unfortunately will lose in the future) represent significant losses for their respective military communities.  It is more important to remind ourselves how their deaths alter the future of their families and we must understand how our communities can support these loved ones in their time of need.  Her family thankfully will have access to various VA benefits because Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed.  If Major Vorderbruggen had died prior to DADT being repealed, her wife and son would not have access to these same benefits.

Please keep Major Adrianna Vorderbruggen in mind when you think of who makes a ‘warrior’ and how that person should be remembered.

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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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“Spring Break”: Then and Now (2005 & 2015)

March and April are slated to be busy months for me, busier than usually. As such, please accept my sincerest apologies for writing infrequently and for how this trend will continue for a bit longer. I recently finished up my “A” session course, turned in a midterm for my Women of Courage class, and my “B” session Grant Writing course picks up next week. Essentially, my spring break has disappeared. Not that spring break exists much as a social construct for working adults. I am fortunate though that other opportunities are opening up thanks to some personal connections. I am making strides with my “awareness” t-shirt ideas. I’m keeping those under wraps until I have some trademarked prototypes available.

I figured today is a good day to present a “Then and Now” series entry.  I wrote quite frequently after I came home from my first deployment.
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Please forgive me for how I referenced ‘recruiting duty;” I should have specified recruiter’s assistance, but I may have done so in other journal entries.

In my “2015” life, I have some updates, not really good for me, but great for other veterans. A family was matched with the Chandler, Arizona Homes on the Homefront Homes. We figured by this point we weren’t the recipients since so much time had passed, but it is helpful to have the confirmation. We continue to pare down our debts and it’s quite possible we can purchase a home later this year. I’ll keep you posted on that front when the time comes. Recently as well, I was also informed that my artwork for SVA’s Warpaint was not selected as one of the top pieces. However, it will be shown in Washington D.C. later this month. My tuition and fees are paid in full by my Post-9/11 GI bill benefits, so it is less relevant that I did not win the scholarship. I am happy though my artwork will be displayed.
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The Journey Home: A Decade Later

I’ve chosen the wrong space on campus to sit and reflect on the fact 10 years ago, I left Camp Blue Diamond, Iraq to begin my journey home.  The overhang of the building magnifies the sound of students surrounding me…

Ok, I left my space to find a slightly quieter one outside. I don’t know if the architects of the W.P. Carey building realized the overhang would reverberate sound as bad as it does, but the cacophony is unbearable.  To me, at least.

Getting back on topic, in ten years, so much as changed since I left Blue Diamond.  I got promoted.  I got married.  I went on a second tour to Iraq.  I returned home safely again.  I left active duty.  I started my college education again.   I moved to Wyoming.  I gave birth to my daughter.  I graduated college.  I left Wyoming and moved to Arizona.  I became employed.  I was unemployed.  I resumed employment again.  I became a graduate student.

I sit at this computer today a different woman than who I was ten years ago. Back then, I loved a different person than the man who became my husband.  We were an inseparable part of each other’s existence from basically the day we met.  We didn’t plan on being partners, but we quickly became each other’s best friend.  Before my deployment ended, we made plans on how life would be post-deployment.  Like others before us, we weren’t quite aware of how difficult the transition home could be.  Our respective individual burdens interfered with our ability to sustain that relationship.

In fact, I’ve never been so angry with one person in my entire life as I was with him during this transition.  It’s not entirely his fault.  My support system back home, which I expected him to be a part of, was quite broken. I let go of the relationship at the point where I was tired of living up to everyone else’s expectations of me.  I was tired of feeling like my voice was ignored.  I was sick of feeling like my needs as a person were less important.  The relationship was a casualty of so many other things gone wrong and it took me a long time to realize it was ok to let go.  That first year home, one of my favorite songs to ease my mind was Three Doors Down “Let Me Go.”

The following lines reminded me of how I felt:

I dream ahead to what I hope for

And I turn my back on loving you

How can this love be a good thing

When I know what I’m goin through

It took time to realize that I didn’t know what I was asking him to commit to back then.  In particular, I was asking him to make me a priority and move out to where I was when he had two kids who hadn’t seen him in months.  As a mother now, I cannot imagine someone making the same demands of me.  When my daughter hugs me in the morning after I drop her off at school, I feel like the most important person in the world.  It doesn’t matter that I don’t earn a lot of money, that my husband and I don’t own a home, or that I see her in the few hours of my day that I’m not working.  She loves me because I am her mom.  She doesn’t want anything other than some time with me, a hug and a kiss here and there, and the chance to show me things she finds important.

I don’t regret the short time Nathan was my boyfriend.  I did not seek out someone to share my life with when I was in Iraq.  I worked 10 am to 10 pm on day shift, which later transitioned to 10 pm to 10 am on night shift.  On several occasions on day shift, my crew also was tasked with filling sandbags.  Only near the end of the deployment when I switched to night shift did I have a partial workday once a week.  Sleep was a priority to me.  However, it was nice having simple routines like going to the gym with him or eating dinner together.  Only after hearing Jason Aldean’s “Tattoos on This Town” did I find a song that got to the heart of this experience together; the chorus below is just a small picture of the beauty within the song.

It sure left it’s mark on us, we sure left our mark on it
We let the world know we were here, with everything we did
We laid a lotta memories down, like tattoos on this town
Like tattoos on this town

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Originally, I didn’t see the music video.  Most times, I despise watching the videos, which often don’t do the songs justice in my mind.  This one just so happens to mirror in a way our experiences.

The last day I saw him was ten years ago today.  We visited each other four times that day, had dinner together in the chow hall with its newly built pizza oven, and I ran into a friend from MOS (military occupational school).  Below are the two photos from that day; do note as well, selfies weren’t the norm.  I was rocking it ‘old school’ having someone else take my photo. 🙂

Murphy and I outside the chow hall.
Murphy and I outside the chow hall.
Nathan and I outside the "frat house" (his unit's barracks).
Nathan and I outside the “frat house” (his unit’s barracks).

I didn’t write a journal entry that day as I was incredibly exhausted.  Although I was promised a liberal amount of free time to plan for the convoy, I was unfortunately tasked with random things like attending a ceremony.  I cannot recall who it was for because I honestly did not care one bit to be there.  Leaving the base that night via convoy, I was so exhausted that I kept falling asleep periodically even though my weapon was Condition 1.  Note, that’s an incredibly dangerous thing to do.  It’s where you have a magazine inserted and a round in the chamber.  It’s a horrible thing to admit as a Marine as well, but a Sergeant I knew stepped up as a leader and kindly told me it as ok to take my weapon to Condition 4 (chamber empty, magazine removed).  The last thing certainly anyone wants is to accidentally shot themselves with their own weapon or worst still, to shoot someone else by accident.  I can say that after I took my weapon out of Condition 1, it was easier to stay awake.  I was more nervous about something bad happening and not being prepared to respond.

Weapons Conditions

Condition 1-safety on,magazine inserted, round in the chamber, bolt forward, ejection port cover closed

Condition 2-Does not apply to the M-16 Service Rifle

Condition 3-safety on, magazine inserted, chamber empty, bolt forward, ejection port cover closed

Condition 4-safety on, magazine removed, chamber empty, bolt forward, ejection port cover closed

My husband didn’t know me when I returned from Iraq.  We didn’t met until a few months later; I think in May, but we only started to date in October of 2005.  Later this year, we will celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary.  In our 9 years of marriage, I’ve worried at times about how much we can love each other.  When I deployed to Iraq the second time, we were married less than a month.

It’s taken a lot of time to trust that we can work through anything.  I never experienced that commitment before; I didn’t know it would mean loving each other when we hated how each other was acting, or picking each up after setbacks or illness.  He is patient in the times where I am frustrated by a multitude of things, namely technology and my weight.  He reminds me that I am a good mother when I feel that I do not have enough time to devote to my daughter because I work more to provide financially for the future.  In these times, I am reminded that we choose to make a life together, we agreed to make decisions together, we signed up for the miserable and the mundane.  He is a partner I didn’t know would find me and love me for every flaw, every quirk, every bad mood, and every sly smile.  I do not have to be perfect to earn his love.  He makes me feel safe in ways I didn’t expect I would feel.  He will never understand the journey that existed prior to our meeting but in small ways, sharing this experience is important to where I am today.