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.

Cape Verde airport
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.

 

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: Sentiments of a “Model”

My Little One and I
My Little One and I

Yesterday’s photo shoot with Devin Mitchell (Veteran Vision Project photographer) went so well, I wanted to share my feelings about it. I won’t divulge exactly how the photo was laid out, although I did discuss it with my local peer group (perks for those who work with me and for whom I work for) because this is such a big deal for us. Devin did a fantastic job putting the finishing touches on my general concept. The photo above is an after shot my husband took of Avery and I.

In encouraging others to participate as models, let me say, Devin does not direct how something should look or feel. His interest and his heart are for allowing your message [whatever it may be] to shine. I indicated what room we would be photographed in, the items I was interested in having in the shot, and I picked my uniform, my civilian dress, and my daughter’s clothes. Devin managed the logistics for us, because he has the eyes as the photographer on where things (and us) had to be moved to make best use of our space. He listens and he notices. He found a better arrangement for our artifacts I had not considered as I was looking through the situation as the subject and how controlled I see my everyday life.

In sharing details of my life and what I want both stories to say, Devin figured out what I could not see.

As well, I want to touch on Devin’s professionalism. He has done a great job tackling multiple assignments and when the one before mine was running over time, he called me right away to discuss his scheduling conflict. He also asked my permission to bring over two of my ASU colleagues, which we didn’t originally plan for the photo shoot. My anxiety crept in a little because ASU has lots of employees–trust me I do not know them all–and I wasn’t sure what the vibe would be like meeting them on the spot for something so personal. Taking to heart the notion of Semper Gumby (Always Flexible), I once again trusted Devin and opened my home as well to my fellow ASU peers. It turns out I already knew one, Kevin, and I met Ben. Both were respectful and had a good time hanging out with my husband and daughter while I changed over from my civilian dress into my desert camouflage uniform and pulled my hair up so it was up and off the bottom edge of my collar per regulations.

Trust me…it sounds like it should be easy to change over, but not when shoulder length, layered fine hair is involved. On top of those issues, I had spent probably 45 minutes or so curling my hair, spritzing it with product, and re curling the sections that fell flat as I curled other sections. I expressed decided against a sock bun although that was the way I wore my hair when I was in, except for the time period where I cut my hair short. That time period was post my first deployment and I donated the hair to Locks of Love. Although I had a period of instruction in boot camp on how to do either the sock bun or a French braid, I never mastered a braid until after having my daughter. (Thus far, I’ve learned to do a French braid, Dutch braid, waterfall braid–barely–and a fishtail braid, although it’s difficult for me to do on my own hair.) I asked Devin to not photograph the back of my hair…there were some wispy pieces, which have always been a problem for me. I was constantly critiqued for my hair at boot camp.

Putting on my full uniform (minus a cover, what civilians call a hat…not on duty, not wearing a cover) again was an experience. I last tossed on boots and uts [utilities] for a camping trip awhile back. It’s been 8 years since I wore my uniform as I would wear it for work. My utility bottoms felt huge; I had to look at the size tag to ensure I didn’t have my husband’s trousers. I was 108lbs. when I left the Marine Corps. I now weigh 112lbs. and there was still plenty of room for a second one of me in those trousers! The full experience of getting dressed “for work” again was striking. I measured the proper placement for my brand new chevrons on Monday–no room for error. Thank you to Sgt. Grit for getting my items to me on time. I ordered the chevrons, an extra gray martial arts belt–which surprisingly now has velcro on the inside–and boot bands. The martial arts belt ended up being unnecessary as my husband located my old one. No problem with an extra belt though…it will always come in handy on camping trips!

I felt like a completely different woman again coming downstairs in my uniform. Avery’s never seen me dressed that way. As well, I also wiped a full face of makeup off I had on specifically for the civilian photo–primer; two kinds of concealer; three different kinds of mascara; gel eyeliner; and a lip stain. For everyone who knows the daily me, I do not invest 45 plus minutes of doing my hair or don this much makeup in my every day life, with the exception of special occasions. Yesterday was about making a statement on so many levels, even if not all messages will be recognized by all audience members. Photographing myself as ‘flawlessly beautiful’ versus my ‘barely there make up beautiful’ was an important message for me to convey based on my feelings about society and makeup.

I will save my discussions about the context of my photo for when it becomes available. Now that the nerves have (mostly) gone away, I will report I am happy I took this leap. I put myself out there to make my statements, all important in different ways. More so, I am happy to support Devin who is doing great things with the Veteran Vision Project. Once he gets his book is published, I am definitely purchasing a copy!!! I can’t wait to have his time capsule of history as a treasure in my home.

Semper Fidelis, everyone.

~Cheryl

Veteran Vision Project: Walking Through Two Identities

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I have what I feel amounts to a small amount of photos from my service. As such, I enjoy seeing the Veteran Vision Project for restructuring the conversation about what it means to be a veteran. In these photos, we get a small glimpse of the dual identities veterans navigate.

I found one of the issues I struggled with in my own life was who do I want to be after having the honor of wearing Marine Corps uniforms for four years. When I started working for Kay Jewelers in 2007 after leaving the Corps, I adopted a new “uniform” of New York and Co. button down shirts, slacks, the occasional skirt, pantyhose, and kitten heels. My employment there ended in 2009 with our move to Wyoming and I quickly reverted back to my comfort zone of hoodies, shirts, jeans and sneakers. It’s an easy enough wardrobe to maintain and not look out-of-place back there.

I always found it a bit funny to see people primp themselves to take a trip to Walmart; however, it started to make sense when I realized you’ll run into just about anyone there. And I do prefer someone caring for their appearance (even a little too much) as opposed to someone walking down the aisles dressed in pajamas. Seriously, it’s not that hard to at least throw on a clean shirt and jeans.

I feel most comfortable in a t-shirt and jeans, but I also want to feel comfortable dressing my body as I age. My civilian work doesn’t require I be physically fit and as such, I’ve put on weight by adopting excuses for not maintaining fitness standards. Not much weight, mind you. My most comfortable weight as a Marine was 108 pounds and now I hover between 113 and 115 pounds. It’s not a drastic difference, but I’m certainly softer than I’d like to be. I am steadily forcing myself to fit exercise back into my schedule to drop my weight back to 108.

As I further own and find comfort in my civilian identity, I understand I owe myself grace on accepting the “new” me. I take on different responsibilities now and have different demands made of my time. This fact rings true especially as an employed person who is also a mother, wife, and graduate student.

However, I do want to share with you all photos that show the other side of me. I’ve been blessed to grow up in a time where print and digital photography collide. I had (and have) other people take my photo and from time to time, I also enjoy taking the occasional selfie. I am neither too shy to be photographed but not too vain to solely rely on selfies as a form of expression. I have a beautiful record of my existence as an American, my veteran status unknown to others in the my proximity when the photos were taken. While I cling more to my status as a veteran, my civilian side deserves recognition, too.

The two sides of me make up my whole person.

~Cheryl

My favorite female Marine, Sarah Kravitz (formerly, Cabell).  I love this girl.  She is my sister through and through.  She is the best roommate I ever had in the Marine Corps.  We still keep in touch.
My favorite female Marine, Sarah Kravitz (formerly, Cabell). I love this girl. She is my sister through and through. She is the best roommate I ever had in the Marine Corps. We still keep in touch.
Our wedding day 2006
Our wedding day 2006

2008

2007

2008 or 2009 photo, Frank Lopez, photographer (Oceanside, California)
2008 or 2009 photo, Frank Lopez, photographer (Oceanside, California)
My daughter and I when I had my "graduation" celebration.
My daughter and I when I had my “graduation” celebration.
We did a belated photo session in 2012 with Melissa Thompson from Pistachio Alley.  I am behind on ordering my prints.
We did a belated photo session in 2012 with Melissa Thompson from Pistachio Alley. I am behind on ordering my prints.
Spartan Race 2014 with my husband
Spartan Race 2014 with my husband
Marine Corps Scholarship Fund Dinner 2014
Marine Corps Scholarship Fund Dinner 2014