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.)
What a month! It’s not over yet but it has been busier and more stressful, complete with more opportunities and challenges. My nervousness over how fireworks would make me feel morphed into a bigger stress response than I imagined. As a result, I have logged my chest pains to keep track of them for an upcoming appointment with a cardiologist. Looking back, the 14 days of chest pains just gets exhausting. Thankfully, they are not all day long but once I do have an episode I do worry if I’ll have another attack during that day. While I have been extremely reluctant to seek medical assistance/further diagnosis about my chest pains the reality is after eleven years of suffering through them, sometimes I cannot manage them effectively on my own. I do find it difficult to carve out sufficient exercise time which keeps them in check. Separately, the sensation of these pains has changed over the years and I know that issue alone is pretty significant to go back to seek medical advice and assistance.
During the Fourth of July, I found it possible to avoid most of the fireworks. My husband and I went to the Keg for a late dinner and walked over to the movie theater in the San Tan mall. Unfortunately, some very overzealous individuals started shooting off fireworks before it was even 9 o’clock. I had some high hopes we could miss the fireworks that night in its entirety but not so much. Although I will be flattening the conversation significantly, being around fireworks does not upset me so much because it reminds me of the constant danger I was in while serving in Iraq. That sucks but it wasn’t the worst thing. It is a struggle because it is a reminder of the worst mortar attack we had which killed my officer. The sound of that attack is something that is seared in my memory more than any other one event. It is a struggle because I know I survived that attack and while so many of us knew Captain Brock we couldn’t save him. The Quick Response Force couldn’t save him. The Medevac crew couldn’t save him. We all–his Marine family–were powerless against an indirect weapon and the rest of us came home.
My daughter asked me recently why I didn’t die in Iraq. She asked this question of me after seeing the Eyes of Freedom memorial while I attended the WAVES conference (Western Association of Veterans Education Specialists) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I had no answer for her other than that I was fortunate. Even then, it’s not a full answer. I was moved to the night shift in December of 2004. As such, I was at my barracks the day Captain Brock was hit outside our work. That day, it could have been almost anyone who worked in that building or it could have been no one. I was at my home talking to my grandmother on the phone and the blast was something that was easily felt from my location. It made the most terrifying sound of all the mortar impacts we took.
I know other war veterans understand why carrying survivors’ guilt is hard. We have the rest of our lives to carry the burden of those who didn’t make it home. Our existence, our homecoming, is tinged with the reminder we were granted years deprived of our peers. We will think of the accomplishments they didn’t get to enjoy; we will think of the children they didn’t have; and we will think of the fact their families will never be the same.
We are nearing the midterms part of the semester and I am already falling a bit behind on those objectives I set out with you all in January. I do not make time for the gym as much as I should and looking at my last post, which was 18 days ago, I am not keeping up on this site as much either. Today, I’m tackling both. I knocked out 40 minutes on our indoor bike and as I close out my day, I write to speak with you all about my applied project.
Writing about my history has not been an easy task. This focus opens up a number of issues which I have not fully shared previously with my family, for one, and second, I am always burdened with how to share the experiences of others. For my situation, this matter is complicated because those individuals died many years ago. Like many other veterans, I do acknowledge survivors’ guilt for what it is in my life. I simply lived through numerous occasions where our base was mortared (on the first deployment). I also safely traveled through our area of operations without being ambushed; hit by an improvised explosive device (IED), a vehicle born IED, or rocket propelled grenade; nor did I encounter snipers along the way. There is no way to describe the moments of safety in my deployment as anything other than sheer luck. For my readers of faith, please understand why I do not say that it is by God’s grace because I feel, in small part, to say so also implies that God does not love his other children who perished.
The other reason this task presents some difficulty on my part is I have not revisited this information fully in years. For the duration of my first deployment, I spent twelve hours a day receiving word that people died or were injured. In some cases, we received updated information that our wounded later died as a result of their injuries. The best news I ever received came from our Lieutenant Colonel who informed my team our work prevented a unit from being ambushed. This incident represents one of my greatest achievements and I greatly appreciate everyone’s efforts to do their jobs that day. I am fairly certain I never recorded in my journal about the matter out of concern for operational security, as I consciously chose to do for many such occasions, with some exceptions such as Captain Brock’s death. I was very honored though as a Lance Corporal to have a Lieutenant Colonel come over to let us know our work was so valuable.
As I open up the pages of my past hopefully my audience understands what it takes to share those experiences. My research is heavily reliant on data available to me through MilitaryTimes, Iraqbodycount.org, and other resources such as BBC.com. It will likely not encompass all the lives lost, on all sides, but is the closest possibility of this needed transparency. I make this statement not as a fault of my research, but to remind everyone the limitations I work through. Being reliant on the system keeping of others has given me some insights into the values of different organizations and additionally, witness through reporting sources the grief of families. I am also seeing names, faces, ages, and backstories through the associated press articles on Military Times. These new details are painful reminders of the past and also inspirations for the future.
Social media sites are a great way to express new meanings attributed to veterans, our storytelling, and in today’s time, our lived experiences in war. I am also very hopeful that perhaps such honesty will invoke others to adopt a more liberal attitude towards many disadvantaged groups, especially war refugees. I made the choice to serve in a war and I also knew I had the freedom to leave that region at the end of my tour, both times. More importantly, I was fortunate to make it home alive. Again, both times.
Around the world, in so many places, individuals of all ages struggle because they live in war torn regions. I cannot attest to their experiences but I can use my lens as a war veteran to share my story. Perhaps in doing so, I can encourage others in my community, locally and globally, to understand why we should be listening to more of the narratives that come out of war than how organizations present those matters. Organizations are not affected by war the same way people are. Organizations “see” and “shape” the crisis, but people live (or do not live) through those experiences. Their stories matter.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Post resumed at home———————————————————————–
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. 🙂
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.
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.