Propane in kitchen over
Hot bread over propane
Donkey pulls cart of propane white, seeds road with stink bomb
Shit piss dishwater stream from compound gate
Skinny crooked river
Pool in center
Weapon points level behind armor
Ragged edges of faded photographs crumble
from my touch as I try to pry them loose
from yellowing plastic protectors, all still held
prisoners in a decomposing album
The contract that I signed when I joined the Army reflected that I would serve no more than the four years that I signed up for. I put in a little overtime during that stretch (in those days you had to treat the military contract like a + 1 wedding invite; the + 1 in my case reflects the extra year of overseas duty after I got stop-lossed).
Long-distance relationships are hard under any circumstances. Add in stress of danger, work, separation of home life, and more (you know, the other stuff that comes from being deployed, not just on a work trip), and it's a scenario that's downright painful. Yet there are plenty of spouses who live this reality every single day.
Back when my husband worked in TRADOC (that's training + doctrine), he told me a story I've never forgotten. It was about a call they got at basic training: a wife called because her husband wasn't getting his mail quickly enough. His drill sergeants had a field day. The man got in a world of trouble, and his mail never came any faster – it simply took as long as it took.
The military life is not an easy one, adding parenthood to the mix complicates it even more. As parents we have a huge responsibility to raise our children to be the leaders of this world and in my opinion, it is our responsibility to expose them to the world, to teach them to think outside the box and to appreciate the little things in life
In today’s world raising children is not an easy feat. There are a lot of external factors that affect parenting styles. Adding the adversities brought on by a military lifestyle complicates everything even more. Our military children are forced to deal with a lot of life challenges at a very young age and it is our job as parents to help them overcome these life stressors and teach them how to be resilient.
My better half thinks my aversion to taking hikes is a little odd. I try not to say much, but for the most part being amongst the splendid silence of nature does nothing for me and even less for my soul—assuming I have one. This isn’t just a function of my relationship with my significant other. Many others have recommended hiking or backpacking to me as a prescription for an obvious illness that I have, and yet which no one can name.
Like any responsible fashion-conscious New Yorker, I follow every luxury retailer on Instagram. It is a hardship to keep up with all of the trends, a social media minefield of knowing things like what is the current it-bag and making sure not to carry it, myself. The goal after all, is to be trendy without being like everyone else.
I decided to go to Barnes & Noble during my lunch break. I usually tell myself I’m just going to browse but wind up spending money I don’t have and adding to an ever-growing unread book pile. During the visit, I picked up Portraits of Courage, a book by former President George W. Bush
“Oh, you were in the Army? I could never do that. I can’t even do a pullup. And, I like to wear makeup.” I might be paraphrasing just a bit, but it’s pretty similar to the response I hear after a new female pal learns that I’m an Army veteran. No questions or curiosity regarding what life in the military is like, just that immediate barrier thrown up between us.
When I was a grunt in the military, I remember our reaction to the now still ubiquitous “Thank you for your service” (TYFYS). It speaks to the element of Sparta that I was a part of that few people around me were not against the war and in the particular unit I was in, to include myself, many were for it. I won’t bother with the anthropological explanation for this phenomena, but I do want to paint the background to our reactions.
As the oldest of four kids, and second oldest of twenty grandchildren, I’ve had my share of opportunities in leading others. Accountability rested on my shoulders. My elders directed their questions to me if we did not complete our chores
Whilst in a heavy dream state, the kind that weighs your head down with pressure, I nearly poked my eye out with my thumb. This awakened me. A reflex reaction, similar to a mosquito bite, or an inner itch in the ear - the jerk surprised me more than the piercing pain.
After much deliberation I decided to leave active duty military service and return to my mother’s home in New York. It was March 2002 and I was an E-5 sergeant and had been one for all of six months. Back in the unit I should still have been considered a buck sergeant but I do not remember ever being called one following the attacks.
I return from an active duty tour to find that my house is no longer my home
I open my door to my house and there is another family living in it
As I sit in a guard tower in a Balkan country, I wonder what my life would be like if I had attended college instead of joining the military. I think of the man I am today, back to the boy I was around seven years ago; who my friends were compared to who they are now; what’s important to me today compared to years past. I often imagine life if I never served.
For the purposes of this story we’ll call him Zach. Zach and I shared the same Battalion but the similarities ended there. I am black and Zach was white. I am from New York City while Zach grew up in the backwoods of the Midwest region of the United States. Our body shapes, the way we talked, what we ate, everything that could possibly be different about two individuals was on display whenever we interacted.
How do I break away from the warrior spirit the Marines instilled in me? As I venture in the civilian world I remember the best and worst times of my life. Serving at the age of 17 was an extreme honor, and regardless of how you feel about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that was the pinnacle of my military service — being a part of the mission, a part of the team, and knowing that I was saving lives.
I’m starring in a movie, and I’m doing nothing but running. I run really hard and long. High and low. I stop to spit out a lung before I completely exhaust myself, but no, I don’t do that. I don’t stop for a single second because I’m in a race and I need to keep running.
It is well documented, and currently widely accepted, that the Vietnam Veteran generation was reviled and abandoned while serving on the battlefield and upon returning home. We were abandoned both individually and institutionally. We were unwelcome in the workplace and on the college campus.
Bridging the gap. A term veterans hear often, and yet we still continue to struggle to understand what it means to serve and what it means to be a civilian. I got out of the Marines in 2014, and after indulging in a lifestyle less than honorable — including working at strip clubs, cutting class and hanging out with less than upstanding citizens — I finally decided that enough was enough, and moved back to Queens, New York. Once I was sober I realized that civilian life was not what it was cracked up to be.
In April of 2000 I came home to my mom from the US Navy after three years of service. Earlier that year I was honorably discharged early but re-enlisted because I wanted to be in service to my country for a while longer. The transition to my new duty station was difficult and when I asked for help, I was given none.
Marine Corps take the wheel,
Take it from my hands,
‘Cause I can’t take this student loan,
I’m letting go,
So give me rank of Lance,
Save me from this road I’m on,
Marine Corps take the wheeeeel.
~ (with apologies to Carrie Underwood)
At first, when asked the question, “What does it means to serve,” it sounds similar to, “Why did you join the military?” “Serving” never occured to me. Escape did.
One steamy night in the summer of 1969, at Marble Mt. Air Base near Da Nang in Viet Nam, a rocket exploded near me and I died. There was screaming, explosions, dust, smoke, chaos; I had no torn flesh, no blood in the dust, but I died.