Unfortunately, one of the wounded from Thursday’s shooting in Tennessee has succumbed to his injuries. The sailor, Petty Officer Randall Smith, passed away on Saturday. As a frequent Facebook user, my timeline has many black ribbons from military supporters as well as articles about armed civilians protecting recruiting centers. The sentiments are honorable, even if their effectiveness might be simply measured in a sporadic newline or as a ‘trending’ subject for some time before being unearthed again next year. As time effectively softens the edges of this tragedy, the evaluative process will unfold with less emotion, harsher criticism, and the typical subjects will be covered: how have the individuals affected “moved on/moved forward,” how have politics changed/remained the same, and how will/does the community remember our fallen Marines and Sailor (or is the community still interested in honoring their time here on Earth)?
There will be public pain displayed in various ways for some time and then the public gaze will shift elsewhere. I do not say these things to bring further hurt among those who lost their loved ones. I make this statement because the spread of mass violence is becoming more common. As consumers, perhaps as a result of social media in its overabundance, it’s more common to share stories of grief. Certainly, there are positive and negative consequences of such actions–we find greater strength to face our own battles and hopefully, act as good audience members to those sharing their grief so publicly.
This spring, I had the great opportunity to read Elizabeth Dutro’s Writing Wounded. This article was presented to two peers and I as a trio of literary pieces, but this one spoke to my heart the most. For many reasons, highly traumatic events have marked time in my life. I vividly remember the pain of certain experiences, some, in particular, I still haven’t shared with family members or friends. I don’t enjoy being vulnerable; my mom specifically spoke to this characteristic in her journal to me. I was a 15 year old kid crying in the bathroom away from my family when I learned of her cancer diagnosis. I also hid away from the world when my first Iraq homecoming became my biggest frustration. (I am working on sharing this process currently, but this story can be shared another time.)
As our society learns to embrace our storytellers, like the families of Tennessee’s fallen service members, I also implore you to politely remember others who perished late last week. My stance will not necessarily be popular, but I make this statement today as one of America’s Iraq veterans. ISIS killed 120 Iraqis, wounded 140 more in an exceptionally brutal attack last Friday. Unfortunately, acts of Muslim terrorism taint the perception of Muslims everywhere. In our battle to not let ISIS win, I ask of you all today to think of the pain for those families who lost loved ones in Iraq last Friday. Their pain mimics our own. They need our prayers and support in their time of crisis, just like we’ve extended our hearts to our nation’s service members who died in Tennessee.
I started a Myspace binder years ago of the journal entries I wrote from late 2004 to late 2007, which covered many transitions: relationships, changes of command, getting married, leaving the Marine Corps, and preparing for college. As eager as I am to engage other women in sharing their stories of choice, I am always a bit hesitant to share pieces of this journal. There are intimate details of people I’ve loved, my anxiety regarding coming home, my desire to get back to Iraq, and my struggles to have a private life in the face of being a female Marine.
In high school, I didn’t date much and as I considered myself to be on the periphery of popularity, I enjoyed certain freedoms regarding the few relationships I did have. I didn’t fear some other chick trying to steal my boyfriend. I was known more for my athleticism and bookish manners than my attractiveness so I didn’t attract the boys who wanted nothing more than to get into my pants. No one pried into how far I did or didn’t go with my boyfriends. I am very thankful in high school that my private life was private and I could share the details I wanted to but others were not privy to information that was none of their business.
Unfortunately, military life is not that way. Women make up such a small component of the Marine Corps and our dating and/or married status make us fodder for all sorts of inappropriate attention, comments, and behavior. My experiences are no different. Thankfully, I was treated well by a variety of men in my life-Marines I knew before becoming a Marine, Marines I served with, and the Marines I’ve met since, but there were those moments I could have done without and I will share more details of those unprofessional situations in a future post.
There is a book called The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq by Helen Benedict I’m tasked with reading for one of my courses this spring for which I will share with you one of the few situations where I was sexually harassed by a superior who was probably too dumb to realize the inappropriateness of his actions. Although we are equally raised to be cognizant of inappropriate language, I feel he missed this message based on how frequently our shop talked freely about their sexual exploits or fantasies.
For a variety of reasons, I know it is important to share some of the more private moments of my life. I cannot encourage others to share their stories if I am not equally vulnerable. We cannot ask others to do what we ourselves are unwilling to do, so I must lead by example. I am cautious in sharing the few journal entries I am sharing today for a variety of reasons. These were entries shared with friends and family at a time in which my ex, Nathan, and I were very serious about our relationship. We had talked of marriage but never moved forward with any plans for an engagement. Many people, including my family now, did not know these details. I try not to compare one relationship to another; one relationship failed and the other survived. There is no one single factor that contributed to these situations but a series of events that extinguished what Nathan and I had and what Thomas and I were able to begin. While I would not be bothered with my husband being friends with his exes, I understand the natural societal reaction to these postings is highly likely to be negative.
My courses have taught me one of the biggest risks we face in our research and findings is how it affects the target population. I want the stories of female veterans to be heard and as such, I cannot sanitize the truth to make it more acceptable. As a woman sharing this story, I will probably be criticized by a variety of people for engaging in a combat zone relationship. I was probably already criticized for previously dating someone legally separated from his wife. I will probably be criticized for sharing publicly how much we liked each other now that I am a married woman with a child of my own. I will probably be criticized more for the fact I am friends with this ex. My list could go on and one but the criticism over and over again results not from my actions but from others’ perception on what is socially acceptable behavior for a woman and for a woman in certain relationships.
Here I am in 2015, January 9th still subject to negative stereotypes based on my sexuality as a woman and the role women are expected to fulfill. Oftentimes, I go to work, I make the decision to not wear much makeup. I know society favors, and the beauty industry thrives, on telling women that a made up face makes us beautiful and hides our imperfections. Let me tell you, my skin breaks out easily from most foundations and even some tinted moistures and very often, I find these products further magnify the issues I see as problems–adult acne and dry skin (I do live in the desert). I enjoy being the girl-next-door kind of beautiful. I only require mascara, some slight blush, lip balm or chapstick, and some moisturizing products to feel glamourous. These few items allow me to look more awake when I’m tired but are not so heavy that if I touch my face, the look comes undone. This “face” is my beautiful.
As I am not in the Marine Corps anymore, I have more freedom to be an individual. I’m dying my hair red for the first time in my life. Although I could have done so in the Marine Corps, we are restricted to hair color choices that are “natural” for our physical appearances. For example, it would not be appropriate to have the chunky blonde highlights nor would the service allow me to do the ombre colors that are very popular today.
My hair was also restricted to being up and off the bottom edge of my blouse collar, which is part of the reason I am still most comfortable wearing my hair up as opposed to being down. My daughter and I are enjoying one of our particular mother-daughter outings on Saturday as I get my hair dyed and cut and she gets hers trimmed. She has already requested some pink for her hair and thankfully, my hairstylist has hair chalk for her which washes out easily.
And on the news front, I got a limited glimpse today about a standoff in France in which a few terrorists and quite unfortunately, a few hostages, were killed. I was incredibly busy at work and so I didn’t get to stop to watch the news in full. I hope tonight to watch the news and learn a bit more about what’s going on. It sounds as though it might be related to the terrorist attack at Charlie Hebdo, but I’m not entirely sure.
Take care everyone,
Below is who I was back in 2005, still deployed in Iraq:
The world watched today as innocent civilians were murdered in brutal fashion by three terrorists, one turned himself in and two remain at large. While all acts of terrorism should rightfully be condemned, it is especially disgusting to see civilians attacked because radical persons are offended by religiously offensive cartoons. The world will change in the wake of the loss of these persons. It changed in the duration of the last moments of the lives of the fallen, it changed in the hunt for the suspects, and it will change again when the murder trials begin. Unfortunately, other radicals will be inspired by today’s action, but thankfully, so many more are inspired to say that they abhor terrorism. Je suis Charlie, they say, in regards to the Charlie Hebdo magazine office and its staff targeted today.
Terrorism and freedom collide. It happens over and over again in history. That’s not to say the people who died today deserved to die. They did not. They did not deserve to be victimized for their life’s work, in spite of how this work offended others.
There is a false sense of security we all, non-radical Muslims included, are lulled into when we believe we are safe from such attacks. I don’t want to go into detail about my beliefs regarding tactics, strategies, and the role of complacency and vigilance in preventing victimization and being victimized. There are things I know and believe based on how I was taught as a United States Marine. No one is perfect at preventing themselves from becoming a victim of any number of crimes, especially terrorism. However, we should not cower in fear. Being afraid to live lets terrorists (of all sorts) win.
We should mourn the passing of every person who died today, just as our hearts have mourned other terrorist victims. Their lives were snuffed out in cold blood. Children will grow up without their parents. Spouses will go on without their partners. Life dreams will never be fulfilled. A business has suffered the incredible loss of valuable team members. A nation has seen terrorism creep under its doorstep and invite itself in.
I wanted to write recently about the end of the war in Afghanistan but clearly, today’s terrorist act proves that terrorism is an insidious weed that crops up time and time again. Its locale changes. Tactics change. Victims have new names and new faces. Terrorists are replaced by new followers. But we can take terrorism down at its knees because terrorism is oppressed when the world stands united and says, no more.
It is a daily battle to combat terrorism and it’s not always easy, but it requires people to live their lives. Enjoy each day you are given. Seek out work you enjoy and keep good company with your family, friends, and peers. Seek out new challenges and great adventures. Do not be afraid to fail because that is how you learn and thrive. Enjoy your privileges and seek to make them available to others. Equality requires us to recognize the disenfranchisement of others, empower them, and find ways to reduce social injustices. It is a global effort to cut the bloodlines that feed terrorism, but it is up to ordinary citizens to take the first steps. The more steps we take together, the more victories we make. Do not be afraid to make the world safer for yourself and your respective communities.