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:

http://www.jstor.org/stable/40588076

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.

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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.

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After all these years, I still have my M & M’s bag. Look at the production and best by dates.
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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.

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Bringing new meaning to paper money.
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I tried not to infringe on the privacy of my peers, so these are the few photos inside our barracks (Camp Blue Diamond).
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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.

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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).

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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.

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The Marine Corps blanket covers my bed.  It was given to me by a former substitute teacher, who served previously as a Marine officer.
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With some of my first deployment earnings, I purchased my first desktop computer.
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Ah, the spartan life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salute to Service: Both Sides of the Camera

Devin's Masterpiece
Devin’s Masterpiece

Everyone,

Thank you for the long delay since my last post.  I did not envision it would be a month long wait, but life–as always–creeps in at funny moments. Last month, I was fortunate to be photographed for the Veteran Vision Project and the image is what you see above. I will do my best to speak further on this wonderful experience this week, but for now, I recommend you check out ASU’s reporting on the Veteran Vision Project and Salute to Service. My daughter and I are even featured in the “Salute to Service” video.

In touching base on my extended absence, in the last few years, October has become a busier month for me and each year, those responsibilities seem to multiply.  This year, I attended the NAVPA (National Association of Veterans’ Program Administrators) Conference in Nashville, Tennessee.  As most of you know, my day-to-day responsibilities as a School Certifying Official entails spending a significant amount of time processing students’ GI Bill® benefits.  Given our increasing student population, I am discovering more and more I get to play a part advocating on students’ behalf.  The NAVPA Conference was my opportunity to learn about the advocating that occurs at the public policy level and network with other School Certifying Officials. As well, I learned about potential changes coming in the future.

On top of this wonderful professional opportunity, today I participated on a panel discussion with three other female veterans.  Each of us served in either Iraq or Afghanistan and we talked about key issues such as reintegration challenges, feelings about military service, and how our lives have changed upon separation from our respective service branches.  This panel was a further extension of a panel I participated in as part of the Women of Courage class taught by Dr. Rose Weitz this spring.  I am very honored Dr. Weitz asked again if I would participate in such a collaboration and this time, the panel occurred outside the classroom and was live streamed for our online student population.  As someone more comfortable behind the scenes, I am learning more and more how important it is at times to be visible publicly, especially given the level of “invisibility” surrounding women veterans.

Talking today about the sexual harassment I experienced during my active duty time was  part of revealing to the audience those invisible issues one sometimes encounters.  In fact, much of this behavior was very visible to members of my peer group and instigated by fellow coworkers.  I want to be very forward in saying none of my leaders made degrading comments about my person (body type, sexuality, etc.) but I also did not feel comfortable sharing with them, back then, how those comments/assumptions/derogatory remarks made me feel.  There were things that came up to my leaders’ attention but as the sole woman at my unit, I did not want to discuss these matters especially in such a hierarchal setting.

As a veteran now, I understand I have greater liberty to engage in vertical and horizontal forms of communication whereas during much of my service conversations happened vertically given the chain of command structure. My voice can be heard more equally now that I don’t fear peers will ostracize me for calling them out for their poor behavior.  I was not willing to discuss one such matter on videotape today but I talked to Dr. Weitz earlier this year about a particularly challenging experience I dealt with during a relationship where I felt there was no good solution to what occurred.

The person I dated back then had left our hotel room door unlocked and invited his friends over, without my permission.  I was absolutely horrified when these two Marines came over into what should have been our shared private space and I had a bare minimum amount of fabric covering my body.  The fact a man I trusted violated my privacy as a human and more importantly as his partner has certainly left a lifelong impact.  I would not call the situation sexual trauma because I do not feel the situation is the same as being raped, but it is most certainly one of the most disheartening examples of sexual harassment.  As well, everyone involved was a Marine and given the poor rapport I had with the leadership where I was at, I did not feel comfortable either talking to someone about the situation.

When I discussed today the impact sexual harassment has on body image, this instance is one of the examples that comes to mind.  Although I enjoyed being a modest person before this instance, I am certainly more insistent now on being modest in my appearance.  Other women who’ve dealt with sexual harassment may feel the same way; honestly, I’ve never asked.  Once again though, my response is not to speak on behalf of all women, nor all women in the military. It is egregious though in so many ways that society teaches men that women’s bodies are for their enjoyment and that any pain they may cause is negligible (or nonexistent).

Today was nice though; it was a reminder this situation, like some others, is part of my past but I always have the power to shape my future. Today, I enjoyed the opportunity to talk about my combat deployments and listen to my peers share their stories. Sharing my personal grief was but a small portion of the talk.

Mostly, I wanted the audience to see I am a success story because I served my country. There are (and will likely always be) tangible rewards for military service. I am fortunate to enjoy the fruits of my commitment and the efforts of my fellow veterans and veteran organizations who labor to keep those rewards available for future generations to come.

Respectfully,
Cheryl

Veteran Vision Project is Coming to ASU

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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.

Sincerely,

C

Sleep Deprivation, Final Papers, and the Holidays

The end of the semester is almost here. I’ve read papers exploring white privilege and straight privilege. Social reproduction has repeatedly been brought up. I’ve learned about trans resistance and critical witnessing. I’m constantly reminded to check my own biases, values, and privileges. I’ve taught others about ways I’ve been disenfranchised. I am grateful for all I’ve learned, but I’m tired. Right about now I miss my bed more than I can imagine; I could sleep like my peers on the shuttle, but I find it difficult to nap this early in my day. It shouldn’t be difficult given the fact I went to bed shortly after 12:30 last night.

I had one last paper to craft for my Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation of Social Pedagogy course. My last bits of research focused heavily on the (inadequate) view that women are not suited to combat and exploring the history context that publicly enforced keeping women out of combat and direct ground combat. Oddly enough, for the 8 pages of quotes and paraphrasing I did, so much of my work didn’t seem as relevant as I sat down to craft my paper. Most of my notes were heavy-handily mean. I blame sleep deprivation, but I know I also came into my final subject bothered by how much the stories of Jessica Lynch and Lynndie England portray a vision of women in service that reinforce these hegemonic views that women do not belong in the military. They are two bad examples and hopefully, as I work to encourage my female peers to share their stories publicly, we make a greater spark that tells the world what we do is important and should be equally valued.

Currently, I have one last paper standing in the way of myself and regaining extra hours in my day and it’s due on Monday. I’m taking tonight off after class to crawl into bed at a decent hour. And by decent, I mean I hope to be in bed between 8:30 and 9. Tomorrow is another day to tackle my assignment; I desperately need some sleep.

Because I’ve been so sleep deprived, my coffee consumption has risen. Thankfully, Starbucks has their Chestnut Praline Latte to keep me going. It’s also been fun to see their stores decorated for the holidays. The one by my house has a very playful atmosphere and the staff there is among the friendliest I’ve seen for Starbucks.
Starbucks Detail

Love the stockings, too.
Love the stockings, too.

And Dutch Bros., whose coffee I like better, has the best lid motivation to keep me going:

Dutch Bros., thank you!
Dutch Bros., thank you!

Although we are a little late getting into the Christmas spirit (our small tree and Christmas goodies are still in storage), we did find a pretty awesome full size tree our hearts are set on acquiring. Our names are on a waiting list and although it’s likely we won’t get the tree until the end of the season, it would be a great addition for next year.

This tree is seriously the best looking artificial tree I've ever seen.  I love how realistic the fake snow is on the branches.
This tree is seriously the best looking artificial tree I’ve ever seen. I love how realistic the fake snow is on the branches.

As well, we keep our hearts open to the idea that we could be the lucky recipients of the Homes on the Homefront home in Chandler. The selection process is suppose to take 4-6 weeks and what a Christmas present it would be to get a home!. I thought about purchasing a fridge on Cyber Monday, because we could always set it aside in storage later if we didn’t get this home and have it ready for a home purchase, but my husband reminded me it’s important to know what size the fridge cutout is before making a purchase. So, no big Cyber Monday savings for me. One of the fridges I liked too was $1,400 off. I might not subsist off of PopTarts if I can save some cash on a fridge; just kidding…I love PopTarts. I’ll always have some in my pantry.

Happy December, everyone.

~C

Storytelling

Every story matters.  Simple enough, right?  In 2004, I was effectively told my story didn’t matter.  His name was Corporal Harry Klein and for reasons unbeknownst to me when the opportunity came for me to deploy to Iraq, he told me in no uncertain terms to “Not write a book about it.”  He had not shared his combat experiences with me but promptly decided it was his right to tell me how to effectively live my life.

Up until that point, and still today, I do no feel the overwhelming urge to write a book about my experiences.  My storytelling encompasses a large three ring binder filled with three years’ worth of notes shared on the social media sites, MySpace and Facebook, and two handwritten journals, which I’ve shared mostly with close friends and family.  Do I want a published book about my deployments?  Not really.

I am happy enough exploring my creative t-shirt story telling idea.  Because I still find myself to be a visual artist rather than a writer, that avenue serves my social purpose better.

To Corporal Klein, I am not writing a book about my experiences but not because you told me not to do so.  Instead, I am building an empowerment community for female veterans, which is so vastly better.

Semper Fidelis, everyone.

~Cheryl

Packing up for the first deployment (August 2004).
Packing up for the first deployment (August 2004).