America In Times of Conflict: Creating Peace From Conflict

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Yesterday, I volunteered with a handful of other veterans to be part of a local community collaboration sharing our stories interwoven with pieces of The Odyssey for Odyssey Home: A Veteran Performance.  The Chandler Public Library held this event called Creating Peace From Conflict at the Chandler Center For the Arts in partnership with Arizona State University and Veterans For Peace.  We also had Veteran Vision Project photos on site for attendance goers to see along with the individual narratives associated with each photograph.  Once the footage is available, I’ll provide the link.

This collaboration starting off with group drumming and continued with our storytelling mixed with selections from The Odyssey.  A few musical pieces were played by Guitars for Vets and another veteran, Ahmad Daniels was there as a representative for Veterans For Peace, also sharing his story.  I know the event was scheduled to conclude with audience engagement, sort of a Q&A opportunity.  I only stayed for the Odyssey performance as I had another engagement in the afternoon and with today being my daughter’s birthday, I wanted to make headway Saturday on some other issues I’ve currently slacked on.

The theme of the performance was homecoming and I am quite thankful the event started with the group drumming.  While I did not choose to drum (I am embarrassed by my lack of rhythm) the sounds that filled the room reminded me of the wonderful performance given by citizens of Sao Vicente when I visited Cape Verde in high school.  My peers, teachers, and I landed to a beautiful musical performance at the airport that reminds me still music is a thread shared globally; we may not always understand each other’s words and actions but music binds us in such a spiritual way.

I loved being reminded of a place that was my home for a short period of my life.  Three weeks may not be an eternity but it’s sufficient time to be welcomed as a stranger, treated like a daughter, and remembered as a friend.  I am forever grateful for that experience and everyone who welcomed us into their country, their homes, and let us savor their culture that we might never have experienced in our lives had our paths not crossed.

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The airport in Sao Vicente

I think I was better able to embrace my role as a participant yesterday feeling like I was welcomed to this group much like how I was welcomed into Cape Verdean life.

My cohort of veterans included an ASU professor, my close friend and fellow ASU student, and a future student.  For our individual tales, we provided the audience a better glimpse of ‘homecoming’ as experiences shaped by individual perception and built a bridge that homecoming is not exactly a single finite moment in time, but a process.  I focused on the more immediate aspects of coming home to family tragedies and feeling like I did not fit into my life stateside.

I think a vital part of the construction of this storytelling was how well Robin Rio and her students shaped the music performance.  I met Robin back in the fall of 2014 when I started my graduate degree at ASU.  She is an Associate Professor with the School of Music and the Director of ASU’s Music Therapy Clinic.  I interviewed her to gain a better understanding of ASU’s chapter of Guitars for Vets.

Looking back, I did not ask great interview questions, but I think we all have moments like that in our lives where our place as students does not necessarily provide us a sufficient lenses to see and understand the larger context of our community because we are also shortsighted about more immediate concerns like passing a class, juggling work, and testing our fit with fellow students.  Seeing Guitars for Vets on campus though did inspire me to get out of my comfort zone about trying a musical instrument.  I purchased a Taylor guitar awhile back and now, with my reduced commute, can commit more to my goal of learning the acoustic guitar.  (Maybe I’ll be able to play a song before the year ends!)

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This talented bunch just wow me; there’s so much musical talent in this group. I cannot wait to share the performance so you can understand how beautifully they play.

 

America in Times of Conflict: She Went to War

Good afternoon, everyone.  The video for the Chandler Public Library’s America in Times of Conflict: She Went to War panel I served on March 11th is now posted.  I consider myself still somewhat of a beginner when it comes to public speaking and as such, have not watched the video yet.  I think if I do and see how nervous I was, I might not be willing to share it with you all today.  (I love written storytelling but I am dipping my toe into the territory of oral histories.)

I agreed to be a panelist to show support for my dear friend, Nancy Dallett.  She is the Assistant Director of the Office of Veteran and Military Academic Engagement at Arizona State University and she is quite passionate about oral histories.  She knew a past misstep with another oral history project left me somewhat reluctant to take on another but the way this project was shaped is what changed my opinion on the matter.  What I do like about a panel is the interpretative distance the moderator plays with the panelists.  She directs the conversation and keeps it in check, but her influence on what is stated via certain questions is tempered by the panelists.

I am quite proud of the types of questions asked of my fellow panelists and I.  Often times, I feel it is hard for us as women to be asked truly valuable questions outside the context of victimization.  I get stuck with questions that tiptoe around or center on the issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault within the military service branches and while I think it is important not to minimize those social problems, I think it is quite valuable our society continues to also see the professional opportunities for women in military service and the opportunities they can have post-servicing to enhance their lives and their family legacies.  Situations like the recent nude photo sharing being discussed in the news   can impact the willingness of women to join and/or to have their families’ support when considering service in one of our military branches.  (The ‘Marines United’ nude photo sharing scandal came up as one of the questions asked by our audience.)  As a female veteran, I want people who hear and participate in these conversations to understand any person (man, woman, or child) can be victimized at any point in his or her lifetime; it is more imperative we look for ways to make our society safer through education and awareness for everyone, not just groups of people or individual persons, and to instill appropriate punishments on the perpetrators so as to give the best measure of justice to the victim(s) of heinous deviant acts like this photo scandal.

Again, I want to reiterate the questions asked were quite considerate so as to not give you the wrong impression the panel was skewed far to the victimization spectrum of women’s issues.  General themes included our motivations for service, expectations of what Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam were prior to serving overseas, the reality of our living/working situations abroad, and concern over whether we thought our service had a positive impact in our lives.

Fair warning, the video is lengthy.  At almost two hours, you might want to set aside time to listen to it in its entirety or skip around for shorter conversations.  My daughter asked a question of me near the tail end of the audience Q& A section (proud Momma moment here!) so I hope you her piece of the presentation.  I didn’t expect she would actually have something to ask although she did ask before the panel began if it was necessary.

Take care and enjoy.

(If you have any tips on how to improve my presence as a panelist, I’d love to hear back from you.)

 

 

 

 

2007 Versus 2017: Goals, Goals, Goals

Hello, everyone.  I know New Year’s treated you well.  I spent my three-day weekend at home and enjoyed a slight decrease (much to my appreciation) in fireworks exposure.  My new neighbors don’t seem to go quite as crazy as the ones I had in the Willows neighborhood in Gilbert.  If you like fireworks, you might enjoy a stroll through this neighborhood on the 4th of July or New Year’s Eve; I anticipate in a neighborhood of 586 houses so long as the Town of Gilbert permits fireworks, people will set up small fireworks shows just outside their front doors.  For today though, I’ll like to start my first 2007 versus 2017 post.

2007 was important for me because I completed my active duty service with the Marine Corps and started to explore what life beyond the Corps would look and feel like, my taste of adult freedom if you will.  I won’t say I made smart money moves back then so as we begin this new journey looking back and discussing my future in 2017, please know I will likely discuss money a lot.  My financial needs were met very well on active duty; Thomas and I did not have any kids while I was serving and we both collected a housing allowance.  Since we both served, we received one full housing allowance and the other received a partial housing allowance.  I do apologize that I do not recall the actual monetary amounts because I understand this knowledge aids our conversation greatly.  All too often, a young service member will complain about not having sufficient pay for food, housing, etc.  but for our household size and relative expenses, we always came out ahead even after I separated until we moved to Wyoming in 2009.  Stories for another day I know, but the short version is that many of our expenses, fixed and variable, remained the same and our housing allowance decreased significantly.

In 2007, I had some lofty wedding reception ambitions, as you can see from my journal entry below.  While we never ended up having our wedding reception the reality is I spent a significant amount of time planning for a costly one-day event.  On the skinny spending side, I think we were looking at $8,000 to $10,000 for the venue, a photographer, hotel rooms, travel, food, etc.  The dream was dropped before anything was booked but not until after I purchased my wedding gown (we got married through the Justice of the Peace in 2006) and picked up some small wedding related items.

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My desire to control my personal finances did not truly begin until we moved to Wyoming. Our crash course in the broke life lead us to Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.  Being introduced to Dave Ramsey’s program through friends and their church, we made headway towards undoing the financial damage.  It’s not fun, but without the substantial housing allowance we received in California, we had to take a serious look at our finances. Throughout the years, we’ve still struggled to stay on the Dave Ramsey path so I still refer back to the books and resources.  My in-laws also added more Dave Ramsey resources to our collection.  Additionally, I kept my Financial Planning notebook from my undergraduate studies because I want to ensure I update our financial goals (i.e. retirement planning, life insurance planning, etc.) as our family needs change over time.

With my husband still in school, 2017 does not wear the carefree face our lives did in 2007.  We just don’t have that same amount of money to play with on a daily basis.  Thankfully, he has one semester of Post-9/11 GI Bill® benefits to help cover expenses this semester but law school is one of those endeavors where we are bringing student loan debt into our lives.  This decision obviously strays from Dave Ramsey’s teachings.  We take steps towards self-improvement and I would prefer to not be shamed for student loan debt; I do not make enough money to fully fund law school.  We considered ASU’s Employee Reduced Tuition but the reality is 100% of that tuition reduction is taxed for graduate programs and I am already working on a tight single income, the last thing I need is more money taken out of my paycheck at this time.  Now that we have a more transparent conversation (thanks for not judging me or keeping your opinion to yourself) I would like to share personal goals for the year.

My goals are broadly categorized under personal achievements, family activities, and home improvement.  Financial planning is important to each one of these endeavors.  I am in a place to either spend money for the results or I am saving money to complete the goal.    Although I am not outlining these as SMART (specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-based) for your respective purposes as the reader, these qualities are important whenever you desire to see a goal through completion and I’m keeping these factors in mind for each goal.

In lieu of resolutions, here are my planning goals for 2017:

  1. Finish Pauline Nordine’s Butt Bible Challenge to restore fitness discipline into my life (Challenge runs January to March).
  2. Attend an adoption education event, free other than cost to get there.
  3. Add $1,000 to my daughter’s savings before the close of 2017.
  4. Pay for a one recipient’s scholarship for the Rising Stars, Desert Nights Writing Conference.
  5. Close a credit card account.
  6. Finish painting my master’s bathroom (February).
  7. Complete a family vacation (no visiting extending family).
  8. Attend a family member’s wedding.
  9. Add additional money to our emergency fund (i.e. amount will vary depending on overtime worked and additional income received this year).
  10. Finish first draft of memoir by October.
  11. Set up college fund accounts for nieces and my nephew to be born this year in lieu of gifts and clothes for Christmas.
  12. Visit family who have not seen my daughter since 2011.
  13. Set aside money for an adoption home study (approximately $1,200 to $1,800) before the end of the year. (Goal is to adopt in 2019)
  14. Replace our large bookcase with wall shelves (May/June).
  15. Purchase (1) PAX wardrobe for master bedroom (September/October).
  16. Put in Astroturf and extend patio slab (March/April).

Catching Up: 2006 versus 2016

My apologies for being one of the worst blog authors you’ve probably put up with in a while.  Over the course of the last few weeks, I dug deep into my applied project write-up and mulled over what to include/exclude from my applied project itself, which will be a 20-25 minute iMovie.  Upon completion of my project presentation, my goal is to return to video to this site for public consumption.  It is–and is intended to be–an alternative American war narrative, so be prepared for the fact it neither feeds into the normally messaging seen in American war genre films nor is it fully on the other spectrum home to anti-war sentiments.

Earlier this year though I promised you I would also do a 2006 versus 2016, especially as it relates to giving you what I essentially feel is the other half of my military service.  Life at 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) and my second Iraq deployment with Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 16 represented a significant culture shift from ground side Marine Corps life. Therefore, today, I am upholding my promise to you.  Today I will start my 2006 to 2016 comparisons; while not complete, these entries that follow intermittently for the rest of the year will allow you to see the different voice I took with my writing and also contribute to a better understanding of how that time further honed my desire to leave the Corps and assimilate back into civilian life.

Please enjoy the older journal entry below, previously posted on MySpace.  (I know I’m dating myself and as I’m learning in class, I am still dating myself with my reliance on Facebook, too. )

~Cheryl

p.s. I have to chuckle at my old self, too.  I totally love (some types of) white wine now and I’m a big Tennessee whiskey and Kentucky bourbon fan.  I will probably equal disappoint a lot of people when I mention that the only sweet red wine I like I found at Trader Joe’s.

I do see some bitterness placed (unduly) on my senior prom date and this is why situating an event in context matters, which I failed to do in the journal entry below.  He was sick when he took me to prom and unfortunately, as one of the not-so-cool kids, I was in the unfortunate position of nearly every popular girl in my class coming over to talk to my date, who was older than all of us.  He, being the nice person that he was and likely still is, apologized for the state of our evening but obviously the person I was back in 2006 was still a bit hurt my senior prom did not live up to expectations.

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Me, on the left, deciding to show off my athletic physique for senior prom.

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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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