July 2016

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.

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Eyes of Freedom
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Eyes of Freedom

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dreams Versus Reality

Yesterday, my ex, Ryan, posted a link on Facebook to images from a website called justWarthings.  The images are just incredibly and very thought-provoking.  The Army veteran, Casey,  who created the site takes images from justgirlythings and shows a war/service related scenario that depicts the same sentiment.

Casey’s responses to his audience’s questions is interesting as well.  Some people antagonize him for being critical of the young girls’ self-centered aspirations and a lot of materialistic goals, but he has a point.  He is entitled to his own opinion about the matter and he is very specific as to why.  I love the following statement he makes on his site:

“I think it really says something when the biggest stresses for a lot of teens is whether or not they got the right flavor starbucks and colored iPhone.”

Sometimes, I am no different than those teenagers even though I’ve served two tours in Iraq.  I get a little ticked that I order something and get the wrong thing in return.  However, it’s partially based on the fact that I am spending my money on something and I expect to get what I purchased. It’s also based on the fact that I expect others to try to do their job well.  I do try to not act this way when I order food and get the wrong meal.  Earlier this year, I was a bit mortified when the waiter at Brio took away a plate of entirely edible food because he brought over the wrong dish (and I already cut into it).  I would have gladly paid for the omelet and eaten it.  It’s important to mention, too, that on our table was an advertisement for No Kid Hungry and I know the uneaten omelet was destined for the trash.  A perfectly good omelet that I cut into and was willing to eat.

Instead of a “Just Girly” batch of dreams, I do have a Pinterest Bucket List.  I just deleted two items on this list because I needed reminding that those “goals” were unimportant.  One was to win a shopping spree at Victoria’s Secret.  The other was to regain my flat stomach.  The rest of my dreams remain here.  Please note, there is a dream on there to write a book-mentioned as a memoir.  That dream is meant as a memoir for my family and not a piece of writing for publication.  My grandma mentioned before about wanting to write her memoir.  She never accomplished that dream and our family lost a lot of details about her personal history that certainly shared the generations of our family.  I don’t want my family to miss out on the written knowledge about my history, their history, and the history of the world I lived in.

Below are some of my dreams:

Visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.  I must go at least once in my lifetime.
Visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. I must go at least once in my lifetime.
Our world has a responsibility to never forget the horrors of WWII.
Our world has a responsibility to never forget the horrors of WWII.
Purpose and happiness are more important than a high paying income.
Purpose and happiness are more important than a high paying income.
8 years and counting.
8 years and counting.
I helped an acquaintance not too long ago with $40 to help pay for her groceries.  It's not entirely the same thing but I know she has fallen on hard times and needed someone to look out for her.
I helped an acquaintance not too long ago with $40 to help pay for her groceries. It’s not entirely the same thing but I know she has fallen on hard times and needed someone to look out for her.

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).