book reviews, Military

Repost: A review of Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress

I originally posted this review on Epinions.com on June 16, 2005. It appears here as/is.

About two weeks ago, I was in the Fort Belvoir thrift shop with my husband and my mother-in-law, looking for assorted junk/treasures. My house is mostly appointed in dorm/Kmart decor and I’m trying to gussy it up a bit. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any home furnishing treasures on that day, but I did find a buttload of interesting books. One of the books that I found was Mary Edwards Wertsch’s 1991 book, Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress. Well, I happen to be a military brat twice over. I was born into Air Force bratdom almost 33 years ago and then I married into Army bratdom almost three years ago. I figured this book was aimed at an audience consisting of people like me, and at $2.00, it was a steal. I took it home.

The first thing I noticed when I first ran across Military Brats is that it’s a sizable book. Right off the bat, I got the idea that Mary Edwards Wertsch had a lot to say to people like me… and people like her. Wertsch is herself a military brat, as well as an investigative journalist. Military Brats was her first book; since it was written fifteen years ago, I couldn’t tell you if she’s written others.

The next thing I noticed was the introduction, written by one of my favorite authors, Pat Conroy. Some of you may know that Conroy is himself a military brat. Those of you who have read his fiction also know that Conroy’s military upbringing affected him profoundly. Born the son of a Marine fighter pilot, Pat Conroy’s childhood was fraught with moves to new towns, and that meant that he had to constantly learn to fit in with an ever changing peer group. Conroy was also a victim of child abuse. He never lets his readers forget it, not that I fault him for that. In fact, one of the reasons why I love Pat Conroy’s writing so much is because it really speaks to me. I can identify very much with his stories. The Great Santini, a novel about growing up as a military brat, was perhaps Conroy’s breakthrough novel. Mary Edwards Wertsch includes snippets from The Great Santini throughout her book, Military Brats, for it was the film version of The Great Santini that gave her the idea for this book.

Next, I started to read this massive book. It consists of twelve long chapters, each taking on an aspect of growing up a military brat. At the beginning of the book, Mary Edwards Wertsch writes

Warrior society is characterized by a rigid authoritarian structure, frequently mirrored inside its families; extreme mobility; a great deal of father absence; isolation and alienation from the civilian community; an exceedingly strict class system; a very high incidence of alcoholism. which also suggests possibly high rates of family violence; a deeply felt sense of mission; and, not least, an atmosphere of constant preparation for war, with the accompanying implication for every family that on a moment’s notice the father can be sent to war, perhaps never to be seen again. p. xiii

And then in Military Brats, Wertsch goes on to address each of the points she lists about the experience of being a military brat. For this book, Wertsch interviewed eighty military brats, five of whom were siblings of other interviewees, and all of whom were well into adulthood. She also interviewed social workers, teachers, military parents, physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, historians other scholars (p. xii). After reading this book, I could tell that Wertsch had indeed done her homework and tried to get many different perspectives on the military brat phenomenon.

Edwards also explains why she uses the term “military brat”,

…a word about the term military brat. Of the eighty military brats interviewed for this book, only five objected to the term– two because they disliked a characterization they felt was imposed on them by the military, one because she did not like the implications of “brat,” and two because they had always been told to say “Navy junior” instead. The rest all said they identified with military brat and used it themselves; to them it is a term of affectionate humor as well as identification. p. xv

I really appreciated Wertsch’s preface. She did a good job of explaining the premise behind writing Military Brats. The fact that she is herself a military brat certainly gave her credibility and a wealth of personal stories to share about her own experiences as a military brat. I also thought the passages from The Great Santini were a nice touch, although they made me want to re-read the novel for the hundredth time. Wertsch also took pains in individually addressing the experiences of both the sons and daughters of military men; and yes, she does explain why she focused on the children of men in the military. Again, this book was written in 1990 and published in 1991, and the brats that Wertsch interviewed were all well into adulthood. The fact that Wertsch addressed only the issue of being the child of a military man made sense because most people who choose to serve in the military are men; that was especially true when Wertsch was growing up, even if it’s less true nowadays. If Wertsch had addressed the plight of children growing up with moms in the military, this book would have no doubt been even larger and more comprehensive than it is now. It’s already a formidable book.

Anyone who is familiar with military life knows there’s a class system in place that is different from the ones most civilians know; that is, the enlisted man’s world versus the officer’s world. Wertsch addresses the differences between someone growing up the child of an officer and an enlisted man. She also addresses how military families view the different branches. Again, Military Brats is a very well-written, comprehensive book that will no doubt offer food for thought for anyone who grew up a military brat.

That said, let me offer a few other insights. Wertsch has certainly tackled an interesting and important topic. It’s also a very complex subject and although I got the sense that Wertsch tried very hard to speak to all military brats, I’m afraid that she doesn’t in some cases. At times, this book is a bit stereotypical as Wertsch describes fathers who are overly strict, abusive, alcoholic, apathetic, and demanding. Let me state for the record that I am married to an Army officer who has yet to show me any of the aforementioned negative qualities.

Moreover, Wertsch seems to focus only on the bad things about being a military brat, only occasionally offering insights as to why being a military brat might be an advantage for someone. And, it seemed to me, that the few times Wertsch offered positives about being a military brat, it was almost always purely by accident. As I read this book, it made me feel sad for my unborn children, although they will likely have an atypical military brat upbringing similar to mine. I agree that being a military brat has its negatives, but it also has its positives. I don’t think that Wertsch really addressed many of the good parts about being a military brat; however, she did address most of the bad aspects. Unfortunately, that makes Military Brats seem very negative and it may make some readers think that all military brats are damaged specifically by their experiences growing up surrounded by the military. Certainly, the military brat lifestyle is not always easy, but I don’t believe that it’s always damaging. I can certainly think of worse environments outside the military in which a person might spend their formative years.

The fact that I am a military brat who had an “atypical” military upbringing brings up another point. I was born late in my father’s Air Force career, the youngest of four daughters. After almost 22 years of service, my dad retired a Lieutenant Colonel when I was almost six years old. He had traveled many times throughout his career and went to Vietnam a couple of times. I never knew this aspect of being a military brat, although my three older sisters did. My father, like so many other military men, is an alcoholic and he does suffer from some post traumatic stress disorder. At times, he was abusive to me. I can relate to military brats who have dealt with being a child of an alcoholic. But when I was eight years old, my parents moved to where they live now– the Tidewater area of Virginia, an area that is steeped in military culture and surrounded by military installations. I stayed in the same school system from third grade until I graduated high school. Because I was born late in my dad’s career, I missed out on some of the trademark experiences of being a military brat– moving around frequently and living without my father. My father was ALWAYS home when I was growing up because he owned his own business and worked out of his house. But he is most definitely a military man and I am most definitely his brat.

Perhaps when I was a child, there weren’t so many thirty-nine year olds becoming fathers, but nowadays it’s becoming a lot more common. Consider the fact that I am now married to an Army Lieutenant Colonel. He has children from his first marriage. They have to deal with his absence, but it’s not because he’s in the military. Instead, it’s because my husband divorced his children’s mother and she chose to move them to Arizona, a state with only one Army post located many miles from their home. Wertsch didn’t really address the plight of the brats who grew up without their fathers not because of the military, but because of divorce; but again, I guess that would have made Military Brats entirely too long.

My husband is about to turn forty-one and we are trying to start our own family against all odds. If I manage to get pregnant, our child or children will probably grow up much the same way I did– military brats, but without the trademark military experience of moving around constantly or living without their father. My husband expects to retire in a few short years. I suspect that with as much divorce as we have in the United States, a lot of children will experience being military brats in so-called “second families”, separated from their siblings. Even if they don’t end up growing up in “second families”, they may simply grow up like I did, the product of a pregnancy that occurred later in their parents’ lives. I think it would be interesting to see a book written about military brats like me and my husband’s children, kids who have always been steeped in military culture, but for one reason or another, never had the globe trotting, country crossing experience of the stereotypical military brat.

Alas, Wertsch didn’t speak to military brats like me. And, while this book offers some truisms about what life was like for older military brats, it doesn’t offer insight into what military life is like now. Of course, this book is fifteen years old, but even in 1990, things were starting to change from the way they were back when Wertsch’s father and my father were in the military. I do think it would be great to see an updated version of this book, because it is an interesting subject that affects a lot of people.

Despite my minor criticisms, I would certainly recommend this book to any military brat. I found this book fascinating and I could relate to a lot of it. Even though I think that Mary Edwards Wertsch neglected to discuss a few types of military brats, she does manage to write about most of us. This book is well-written, well-researched, and written by someone who knows her subject personally. Unfortunately, Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress may be hard to find because it was written so long ago.

ETA: I wrote this review in 2005 and we had expected Bill to retire in 2010.  Thanks to making the O6 list, he got four extra years and finished in 2014.  

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book reviews, Military

Double repost: A review of Whatever The Cost: One Woman’s Battle To Find Peace With Her Body by Jenifer Beaudean and a review of In The Men’s House by Carol Barkalow

I will try to write something fresh a little later. For now, I want to repost these book reviews about women who went to West Point. This post originally appeared on my blog on March 20, 2014. The review of In the Men’s House was reposted on that post and was originally written for Epinions.com on April 6, 2012.

I just downloaded a couple more e-books from Amazon.com.  One book that intrigued me was Jenifer Beaudean’s 2011 memoir, Whatever The Cost: One Woman’s Battle To Find Peace With Her Body.  I read this book because it has components of three things that interest me: the Army, West Point, and eating disorders.  I had read about how some women either join the military to stay thin or develop eating disorders in the military.  Jenifer Beaudean entered West Point, aka The United States Military Academy, in 1987.  Women had been at the Academy since 1976 and though she did not come from a military family, Beaudean was inspired by a trip she took to West Point in the 70s, when women were still new.

Beaudean explains that she was not a natural choice for the military.  Creative and artistic, she got good grades and was a hard worker.  But she was not a natural athlete and she loved food.  Through strict dieting and diligent working out, Beaudean entered West Point in 1987 weighing 133.5 pounds at five feet four inches tall.  She missed the maximum weight allowed for her height by just half a pound.

Life at West Point was very difficult for Beaudean.  It was physically and academically challenging and she comforted herself with junk food.  Because the Academy also served heavy rations at mealtimes, Beaudean gained about twenty pounds over the course of her time at West Point.  She did end up a “diet tray” (slang term for overweight folks in the military) and had to lose weight or face being kicked out of the Academy.  Toward the end of her years at West Point, she developed bulimia, which followed her for years after she graduated. 

Beaudean completed her service obligation after graduation and left the Army in 1994 due to an injury she sustained in a parachuting mishap.  She married and divorced another soldier and went on to earn an MBA at the University of Michigan.

Beaudean’s story is one that I think probably doesn’t get told often enough in the military.  There is a lot of pressure to be thin and athletic as a service member, though some branches are stricter than others.  I thought Whatever The Cost was decently written, though there were a couple of minor editing glitches.  At one point, Jenifer Beaudean describes a male cadet as “strack”.  Having been around Bill and other military folks, I think she means STRAC, which is a 70s term military personnel used to describe someone who is Standing Tall and Ready Around the Clock or Standing Tough and Ready Around the Clock or Strategic Tough and Ready Around the Clock.  The point is, it’s an acronym that stands for something.  “Strack” is just how it’s pronounced.  I don’t remember Beaudean explaining this point in her book.

At another point in the book, she writes of trying to fit in her “dress mess”.  What I think she means is “mess dress”, which is a formal uniform worn by servicemembers at certain occasions.  Maybe “dress mess” is an official term, but I’ve never heard of it.  Someone can educate me if I’m wrong.

I also think that Beaudean spent a lot of time writing about the West Point experience and not enough time writing about the bulimia.  While I did find reading about her time at West Point fascinating, I’m guessing that a lot of readers would pick up this book because they’d want to read about the eating disorder she developed there.  I felt like that part of the book was a bit underdeveloped and could have used more substance.  I might have included a bit less about the West Point experience if space was an issue, though I have to admit, that was also very interesting reading. 

I admire Beaudean for working toward fulfilling her West Point dream and sticking through it, as difficult as it was.  I’m glad she found competent help and overcame bulimia, even though she writes that it will always be “there” in her head.  I liked the way she ended her book, too.  Overall, I’d probably give Whatever The Cost four solid stars.

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I was a rising college junior home for the summer when I first ran across Carol Barkalow’s book In the Men’s House: An Inside Account of Life in the Army by One of West Point’s First Female Graduates.  I clearly remember the day I purchased this book.  It was late May 1992 and I was wasting time in a Rite Aid drug store, looking for something interesting to read.  I was intrigued by the bold red lettering and picture of an attractive blonde woman on the paperback cover of In The Men’s House.  Having grown up the daughter of an Air Force officer and lived my whole life around the military culture, I had a feeling I would be interested in Barkalow’s story, particularly since she had bravely been among the first women at West Point.  The book also reminded me of an old made for TV movie I had seen about those brave women who sought to bring equality to the U.S. military. 

Twenty years later, I still own Barkalow’s book and have read it several times.  Many things have changed, although my closeness to the military has not.  I am now an Army wife.  A few days ago, I decided to do an Internet search to see what Carol Barkalow was up to these days.  I see that Barkalow, who had been a captain when she published her book, has retired as a lieutenant colonel. It appears that she is now on the public speaking circuit, living in southern Florida. 

One book– two parts

In The Men’s House is divided into two major parts.  The first half of the book is about Barkalow’s initiation into the Army.  In 1976, she was a high school graduate from Clifton Park, New York and one of 119 women entering the United States Military Academy, popularly known as West Point.  Barkalow and her female comrades were the very first women to attend West Point; consequently, they got a lot of attention, both negative and positive.  Year by year, Barkalow explains what it was like to progress through West Point until she and 61 other women finally graduated on May 27, 1980. 

The second half of the book is about Barkalow’s initial years as an Army officer.  Her career commenced in Germany back in early 1981.  Then a second lieutenant in the Air Defense Artillery branch, it was Barkalow’s first time out of the country and she wore her Class A uniform for the overnight flight to Frankfurt.  Barkalow describes three fast-paced years in Europe.

In 1984, Barkalow changed branches and became a Transportation officer, which had been her first choice.  She was transferred to Fort Lee, an Army post located between Petersburg and Hopewell, Virginia.  Barkalow’s new assignment as a company commander of a transportation unit in Virginia was not as intense as her work in Germany had been.  Consequently, Barkalow found time to develop a new hobby– bodybuilding.  An entry in a bodybuilding contest and subsequent picture that ran in the post newspaper turned out to be somewhat scandalous.  Barkalow almost lost her command over a picture that ran of her in a bikini.

This entire book really addresses sexism in the Army as it was in the late 1970s to mid 1980s.  Barkalow recounts her own experiences as well as those of classmates and colleagues.  She includes many snippets of diary entries she kept while at West Point.  She also includes photos.

My thoughts 

Obviously, I think this is an interesting book or I would not have read it more than one time.  I did notice during this latest reading that my perspective of Barkalow’s story had changed quite a bit.  When I read this book before, I was a single young woman.  I had spent a lot of time around military folks, but wasn’t totally vested in the culture.  This time, I read In The Men’s House as an Army wife.  My husband, Bill, was able to give me some insight into some of the things Barkalow wrote about in her book, since Bill is himself an Army officer. 

This time, when I read about Barkalow’s time in Europe and Virginia, I could relate more.  Bill and I spent time in Germany not long ago.  I grew up in Virginia, though I’ve never been to Fort Lee.  Barkalow wrote that one of her first choices of assignments would have been at Fort Eustis, which I am very familiar with, having grown up very close to it.  So when I read Barkalow’s story this time, it was like I had a lot more firsthand knowledge of the places she was writing about and the Army lifestyle. 

On the other hand, this book was published over twenty years ago.  The Army has definitely changed in a lot of ways.  Most recently, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed, allowing servicemembers who are openly gay to serve without fear of reprisals.  Barkalow makes very oblique references to the Army’s collective attitude about homosexuality, but doesn’t really address it much in her book, other than to write that she didn’t care too much what her colleagues’ sexual orientations were.  She writes of dating men at West Point and ridiculous measures that were taken when the first female recruits showed up.  Many of Barkalow’s observations are very interesting.  For instance, she writes that the first female recruits had to have incredibly short haircuts, wear very unflattering pants, deal with sexist remarks and obscene insults by upperclassmen, and cope with an administration that had no idea what to do with the women. 

Barkalow writes that women at West Point forced the institution to change some of its long held but ill considered policies.  It’s because of women at West Point that cadets stopped running in combat boots.  They now run in athletic shoes, mainly because when women tried to run in boots, they got stress fractures.  Another example of policy change had to do with hygiene.  It used to be that cadets would be given a couple of minutes to shower or would not be allowed to go to the bathroom when they needed to go.  When women started attending West Point, the administration apparently realized that healthy women have menstrual periods.  Not letting the women shower appropriately and forcing them to ignore toilet needs led to stained uniforms and health problems.  Policies changed for the better.

I liked the first half of this book better than the second half.  Frankly, I think Barkalow might have had a better book had she just written more about her time at West Point instead of her first couple of assignments in the Army.  At the time she wrote this book, Barkalow was still early in her career.  A second book about her Army career seems like it would make a lot more sense, since she admits that West Point and real Army life were two different animals.  Also, I gathered from a glance at her Facebook page, that Barkalow may now identify herself as a lesbian.  A book about her experiences serving under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would also be interesting. 

Overall

I’m not sure how easy In The Men’s House is to find these days.  Given than it’s twenty years old, it’s a touch dated, although I do think it provides good insight into what it was like to be one of West Point’s very first female cadets.  I think it also offers a good glimpse of what it was like to be a female Army officer at a time when female officers were a distinct rarity.  I think any woman who served during that time must have a great deal of courage.  That being said, I enjoyed the first half of the book more than I did the second half. 

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complaints, expressions, Military

Military wives should really stop referring to themselves as “dependas”…

First thing’s first. I hate the term “dependa”. Although many people use the word as a shortened version of the government/military term, “dependent”, it’s actually a shortened version of an insult. At some point, years ago, some genius started referring to a certain type of military wife as a “dependapotamus” or “dependasaurus”, depending on the audience. Eventually, the terms “dependapotamus” or “dependasaurus” got shortened to “dependa”. And now, people use it all the time, sometimes even to define themselves.

How Urban Dictionary defines the derogatory term, “dependa”.

Last night, I read an article in The New York Times about people who are getting married and being platonic. They see marriage as a business idea, rather than a romantic one. They find someone they can trust and with whom they can share marital benefits. The person may be more of a best friend than a mate.

I thought the article was very interesting and, for some people, the idea of marrying someone for practical purposes is useful. Most people need companionship and it’s helpful to have someone share the load in terms of some of life’s bigger challenges. But then I went into the comment section and noticed one woman had mentioned people in the military and how the idea of a platonic marriage could be a boon for collecting “dependa” benefits.

I will admit, it was later in the evening and I was emboldened by evening libations, but I commented that people who disrespectfully refer to military family members/spouses as “dependas” are usually not worth listening to for long. The woman who wrote that “laughed” at me, then wrote that she is a “dependa” herself.

My response was something along the lines of, “Good for you. Maybe it’s time you stopped thinking of yourself in such a derogatory way and realized that you have value in and of yourself, rather than as just your spouse’s ‘dependent’.”

And although she “laughed” again, as did someone else, I decided not to read any other responses. I have learned my lesson with that type of person. It’s a beautiful Sunday, and I have better things to do… like pluck out and shape my own pubic hairs. 😉 I know that some people will defend their “right” to claim the term “dependa” with great vigor, much like some people consistently vote against their own interests. My experience comes from years of observation and fruitless discussions with people who love using degrading labels like “dependa” and its more offensive cousins, “dependapotamus” and “dependasaurus”.

Eight years ago, I fell into a very contentious argument on the WTF Army Moments! Facebook page. Someone had posted a photo that said FRG (family readiness group) spouses shouldn’t try to “wear their spouse’s rank”. I completely agree with that, by the way. Spouses who aren’t themselves in the military should not try to claim their spouse’s rank and bully other spouses. Surprisingly enough, there are some people who do that. It’s offensive, tacky, and wrong.

But then I made the mistake of commenting that I think the term “dependents” is demeaning and should be phased out. Well… the negative response I got was nothing short of astonishing! You would have thought I had insulted someone’s mother or something. The group owner demanded to know why I thought the term “dependents” was demeaning. I responded it’s because spouses are competent adults, and in most marriages, adults are supposed to depend on each other. Plenty of military spouses have careers of their own and are perfectly capable of supporting themselves. While it’s true that I, personally, do depend on my husband for some things, he depends on me for things, too. Our relationship is mutually beneficial. And as an educated woman who is fully capable, I don’t think it’s right that capable adults are being called “dependents” by the military.

Shit went down after that. I got accused of trying to “lord” my education over the women in the group. There was a tidal wave of insults, sarcasm, profanity, and sweeping assumptions about my character and life experiences.  First, I was told that my education and experience mean nothing.  That I’m the same as everyone else (Gosh, I sure hope not, judging by the moronic responses of some of them).  Next, I was accused of being, “gasp”, a liberal (horrors)!  When I explained that I don’t define myself as conservative or liberal and really couldn’t see where my politics come into this conversation, I was accused of not being experienced about military life.  

The fact that I get health insurance from the government was repeatedly brought up as to why I’m a “dependent”.  That’s funny.  For over two years after I got married, I paid for my own health insurance.  I reluctantly gave it up when it became clear that the constant moving we’d be doing would make hanging on to it difficult and needlessly expensive.  When I explained that I’ve been around military folks my whole life, first as an Air Force brat and then as an Army wife, the group owner claimed that I would never see life as it really is in the military because I’m “just a dependent”.  At that point, I told the rabid person who kept attacking me that she needed to make up her mind.  I mean, am I “just like every other military spouse” regardless of my education or am I someone hopelessly lost in an “ivory tower” and clueless about military life?  Someone else added that the term “dependent” is a “fucking IRS term”.  It is, but the IRS does not automatically consider spouses dependents, so that point was moot.

I should add that this isn’t an earth shattering issue for me. I know it will never change in my lifetime, and I’m not going to be sending any letters to Joe Biden or Congress, or anything like that. I just think the mindset that all spouses are “dependents” is antiquated, demoralizing, and yes, kind of demeaning. Particularly since it’s also devolved into the “dependa” insult. I don’t understand why people would laugh at me or begrudge me for thinking that. Why can’t we just respect someone’s differing opinion without immediately resorting to insults and character assassinations?

The woman I encountered last night openly calls herself a “dependa”. She may have a very healthy self-esteem. She probably hasn’t given the term much thought. But I have thought about it a lot over the years, mainly because I have the time and energy to do so. When a military wife calls herself a “dependa”, she’s basically lumping herself in with a class of women who are assumed to be fat, uneducated, fertile slobs who are perpetually pregnant, sit on their asses all day, eat bon bons, watch daytime TV, and blow their husband’s paychecks on makeup or Coach bags. They are rumored to have married simply for Tricare benefits and have a tendency to try to “wear their husband’s rank”. And again– it’s almost always women/wives who are called “dependas”, even though many female servicemembers are married to men.

In all my years of living around military folks– first as a “brat” (another term that has come under fire, although not one I have an issue with, personally) and then as a “spouse”– I have run into very few true examples of the “dependa” stereotype. A lot of the women who marry into the military lifestyle are very strong, capable, independent, creative and smart people. Quite a few have been to college or even graduate school, and some– gasp– even have good jobs while they raise children! And then there are also wives who don’t work for money, but do a lot of volunteer work, or homeschool their children… or whatever. How they spend their time or resources is really no one else’s business, anyway, is it? That’s between the married couple, not some random person observing them at AAFES or the commissary.

There are several social media groups that are dedicated to shaming and making fun of so-called “dependas”. While it may seem like good, clean fun to take part in these groups, the fact is, sometimes they do things that are pretty questionable and have real consequences for others. For example, a few years ago, I read an article about a military wife whose Facebook photos were ripped off from her personal page and shared in a Facebook group, where perfect strangers proceeded to make fun of them. I seem to remember in one situation, a plus sized wife was wearing a bikini and dared to post it on her Facebook page. That bikini pic ended up on Dear Dependa, where people were having a field day laughing about them. In another situation, a family’s photos were stolen and posted, where they were ridiculed. Some of the pictures included children.

It later came to light that the person who had stolen the photos was an Army colonel and he had to be asked and later threatened with legal action to take down the photos. Here he was– a man entrusted to lead troops, serve as an example to younger, less experienced servicemembers, and make sure missions are accomplished– and he’s hunting the personal Facebook pages of military spouses, copying photos that aren’t his, and sharing them to Facebook groups, where they can be ridiculed. No wonder so many civilians think the military is full of braindead, uneducated thugs who get off on killing people. That’s not the actual case, by the way… I know plenty of smart, decent people in the military. But guys like that colonel, who engage in online bullying and harassment, don’t do a lot for the military’s image. How can a person like that be entrusted to be a good leader, responsible for expensive equipment and the lives of so many people?

While I know I won’t change anything by writing this post about why I think the term “dependent” and its derogatory bastardizations “dependapotamus”, “dependasaurus”, and “dependa” ought to go, I do think it’s sad that some people think it’s okay to refer to themselves in that way. I doubt many people think about it for long. I doubt the woman I ran into last night would have liked it if I had said something like, “So basically, you think of yourself as just a fat, unemployed, lazy, perpetually pregnant woman who leeches off her husband’s paycheck? Kudos to you for being able to read, at least.” Because, when she refers to herself as a “dependa”, she’s basically saying that the people who make fun of “dependas” should think of her in that way. Like it or not, “dependa” is a shortened version of insulting terms. It’s kind of like referring to oneself as a “bitch” or a “bastard” or something worse.

I want to ask some of these people what a so-called “dependa” could do to make themselves respectable…  Would they qualify as fellow human beings worthy of a modicum of regard if they lost some weight and got jobs at AAFES?  What about someone like me?  I am now a retiree’s wife.  Many would say I’m fat.  I don’t have a regularly paying job, but I write blogs and earn some money from that endeavor.  Am I worthy of respect?  Or would they call me a “dependa” simply because of my lifestyle? 

Ah, no matter.  I know I am worthy of respect.  Those who don’t want to give it to me aren’t worth the worry. And those who disrespect themselves by calling themselves “dependa” probably aren’t worth the worry, either. Particularly, when they don’t realize that they’re making things harder for themselves by seeing themselves in that way and emboldening bullies in the military community.

It IS true in my case that people who regularly use that term are not worth listening to for more than a minute. They’re usually the type of people who can’t stand smart, accomplished, intelligent, and articulate women, and they would just prefer it if anyone who doesn’t have a penis just shuts up and does what she’s told. I’m serious. There are some truly vile, misogynistic, abusive people in the military culture, and they don’t care about anyone or anything but themselves, despite the military “esprit de corps” ethos they are supposed to follow. They may seem alright on the surface, but once you spend any time talking to them, you find out they have little to no regard for anyone– particularly women.

And so, when a woman calls herself a “dependa” and actually defends her “right” to refer to herself in such a way, all I can do is shake my head in dismay. I just think it’s sad. Surely, she’s better than the “dependa” stereotype. Or, I would hope so… I would at least hope that, deep down, she thought of herself in kinder, more flattering terms. I would really hope she has more self-respect. The vast majority of military wives truly are worthy of, at the very least, self-respect and dignity. If you don’t have respect for yourself, it’s hard to ask others to have respect for you. Just something to think about… especially if you’re a military wife reading today’s post.

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complaints, mental health, Military, modern problems

Melting down over mission first…

There was a time in my life when I was like Velveeta, melting down at the slightest sign of heat. I’ve always been sensitive, but for the first thirty years of my life, I would get easily overwhelmed. I had problems with anxiety and would hyperventilate in panic attacks. Sometimes the attacks would happen in very embarrassing places. One time, I melted down in front of my boss, who was a nurse. Oddly enough, she thought I needed a trash can because she assumed I was going to vomit. I managed to croak out that I needed a bag to breathe into. She gave me one and I soon calmed down enough to talk to her. You’d think a nurse would know what to do for hyperventilation.

My panic attacks used to happen fairly frequently. For a long time, I didn’t know how to stop them. I’d get so upset that I’d find myself tingly with carbon dioxide overload, panting in a fight or flight reaction to whatever had me so bothered. Many times, it was fighting with my parents or some other authority figure that would get me in those states. For awhile, I even had Klonopin prescribed to me. It did nothing for me. I’m surprised people get hooked on it, to be very honest.

I don’t remember the last time I had a panic attack. It’s been many years. I have had a few meltdowns, but they aren’t like they used to be. Now, I get angry rather than panicky. Sometimes I cry a little bit, but I can’t even muster tears much anymore. In some ways, I’m glad crying is harder for me now. I was embarrassed by public crying jags more times than I’d like to remember. Some people legitimately thought I was crazy when I was younger. Others wondered if I was bipolar (I’m not).

Then there are times when I miss having a good cry. Crying can be very cathartic. I remember the rush of endorphins that would inevitably come after I released my emotions all over the place. I kind of miss being able to do that. Now, when I cry, it doesn’t last long and isn’t very intense. I’m sure some of it has to do with getting older and hormonal changes that come with that. Some of it is because I just don’t physically feel like I used to. I haven’t felt the way I felt as a young person since I started taking antidepressants in 1998.

Good plan.

I took psych meds for about five and a half years– first Prozac, then Wellbutrin, which turned out to be a much better fit for me than Prozac was. I also took Topamax, which is a mood stabilizer/migraine med/anti seizure med. My doctor prescribed it for me because he wanted me to lose weight. It did effectively kill my appetite and made drinking anything carbonated unpleasant. I didn’t lose weight, either, which disappointed my psychiatrist, who seemed to think my weight was the root of my problems. Bill didn’t like me on Topamax, so I got off of it. Beer began being fun to drink again. Looking back on it, I think the shrink was irresponsible to give me Topamax for that purpose. He prescribed it not because I had medical issues due to being overweight, but because I think he preferred thinner women himself and figured that being thinner would make me happier.

I had a slight meltdown last night. It turned out Bill couldn’t leave early and, in fact, probably won’t be home until late. I got pissed off when he sent me an email telling me about his issues getting home. It’s not because he’s not getting off early. It’s because, once again, he got my hopes up and dashed them. It’s not the first time he’s done it and this time, I’m having a particularly hard time dealing with life.

All of the other times he’s had long TDYs, we haven’t been in a pandemic situation. We’ve managed to have some fun somehow… going to a restaurant, taking a short trip, or doing something social. This time, we’ve been locked down for months. Seriously, Germany has been locked down in some way since November 2020. I haven’t been to downtown Wiesbaden in many months. By now, it’s probably been a year. I haven’t had a dental cleaning since May 2019. We did manage to take a trip last summer, but after we picked up Noyzi in early October, we were pretty much relegated to the neighborhood.

Germany was going to open a little bit this month, but the rising COVID-19 infections forced the lockdowns to extend. The AstraZeneca vaccine rollout has stalled, thanks to stories about a few people having rare blood clot reactions to it. We can be vaccinated on post, but we’re low on the priority scale. So while the United States is getting people the shot and things are becoming slightly more open over there, here it’s still isolated and weird. And it pissed me off that my husband had to go on a business trip for three solid weeks, even though travel is highly discouraged right now. I’ve been sitting at home alone, faithfully awaiting his invitation to chat, which always came when I was in the middle of watching a movie.

I don’t know what happened, but when he said he was going to be stuck there until late, I just got pissed. Because, what it comes down to is his job coming before me. I understand that his job will always come first. It’s that military “mission first” mentality that every recruit is indoctrinated with when they join one of the services. Intellectually, I get it. But after three weeks of boredom and loneliness and having my hopes raised, I was not very happy to hear that they were going to be dashed. I got so pissed that I even told Bill I didn’t want to chat with him and didn’t care when he comes home.

I probably should have kept my disappointment to myself. I should have found something to pour myself into, like I usually do. But I wrote on Facebook that I need a boyfriend. I was half kidding. Most people laughed. One person, who also spends a lot of time alone due to her husband’s work, opted to give me advice. To be honest, it kind of pissed me off that this person offered advice. Sometimes, people just want to vent. They aren’t looking for anyone to help them solve their problems. They just want to be heard and validated.

I understand that advice giving usually comes from a place of wanting to help, but she knows I’ve been a military wife for 18 years. This ain’t my first rodeo with being alone. Moreover, I’m not a kid. I don’t need someone to tell me to go out and “join” things. But even if I wanted to join things, I can’t right now. First off, it’s Germany, and not everyone speaks English. But even if I spoke perfect German and they spoke perfect English, the culture is different… and we are not allowed to congregate, anyway. It’s literally against the law right now. And, to be honest, I don’t necessarily want to hang out on post, either. For many reasons, I don’t fit in with most of the military wives. There are some exceptions, of course. Things are closed on post, too, but even if they weren’t, I wouldn’t want to hang out there.

I don’t need to be told to do something creative. I do that already. That’s why we have five guitars in our house when a year ago, we had none. That’s why I write a blog. I would write fiction, but a certain stalker let me know that she doesn’t appreciate my efforts or respect my privacy. So I’ve kind of lost the desire to write fiction for now, because someone might assume that I’ve written about them or get the wrong idea… or offer an uninvited critique. Even if I wrote it offline, I’ve just lost the urge.

I was just feeling low and wanted to express it. I still knew in my heart, someone would try to fix things and offer advice. And I would be put in the position of being a bitch and stating that I don’t want or particularly need any advice. I just want a virtual hug or something… hell, I don’t know what I want. I guess I just feel like I’ve wasted my life. I spend so much time waiting around for Bill. It’s not even so much that I want to join other people. I actually find a lot of people irritating… and they find me irritating and weird. I don’t want to get dressed and get in the car and go somewhere. I don’t need anyone to tell me that I chose this life. I know I did. I love Bill with all my heart, but I often feel like a loser. Just once, I’d like for him to have to wait at home alone for me. Or really, I don’t want either of us to have to wait at home alone. I just feel like I’ve already put in my time with this “mission first” lifestyle. For once, it would be nice not to have to put the mission first.

A few weeks ago, I fell and tore up both of my knees. Fortunately, I wasn’t badly hurt. My pride was injured and I had bruised, swollen, oozing, itchy knees for two solid weeks. The knees are mostly healed now, save for a bit of scarring and almost healed scabs. It occurred to me that I could have been badly hurt and no one would be any the wiser. When he goes on these trips, I might as well be single. I survived being alone as a single person just fine. I expected to be alone and coped with it. As a married person, it’s harder to cope. Especially when I can’t go hang out in a bar when things get too solitary.

When we lived in Stuttgart, it wasn’t as bad. I knew more people there. Of course, I much prefer where we are now to where we were then, but I don’t know Wiesbaden as well as I do the Stuttgart area. The past year hasn’t allowed for much exploration. I’m not that close to my family, which is probably a blessing, since they’re all thousands of miles away. I have the dogs and they are great company. But they’re dogs… and they require care more than anything else. I did get a kick out of Noyzi this morning, who asked for butt rubs and head scratches and expressed appreciation by rolling on his back with his legs in the air and smiling goofily at me. I wish I’d been able to get a picture. It was adorable.

I miss Zane a lot. He was high maintenance and worried me with his health issues. However, he loved to snuggle with me in bed and would burrow under the covers and curl up next to me. Arran only snuggles with me occasionally. He likes to snuggle, but not like Zane did. He’s more Bill’s dog than mine. And Noyzi isn’t going to snuggle in bed as long as Arran is around, because Arran doesn’t like him.

I miss physical contact and conversation… and I feel like I just wait all the time for something to happen. And I don’t need someone in the United States, who doesn’t understand the reality of life as a childless foreigner during a pandemic, telling me what I should do. I mean, I know she meant well… but she’s got children and grandchildren and a job… and lots of friends. And she lives in the USA in a familiar place. I don’t think things are locked down there like they are here. But in the USA, you can expect that most people can speak your language. Here, I can’t make that assumption, even if it’s often true.

I think I also have PMS. My skin is a mess… and it’s about time for Aunt Flow to show up. Just in time for Bill to get home, too. Wouldn’t you know it?

I do feel somewhat better today. I woke up at 2:15am and couldn’t get back to sleep. By 4:45am, I was chatting with a former co-worker who lives in Washington State. We had a very entertaining chat, not about my problems. He didn’t offer advice or try to fix my issues. He just talked to me and we gossiped about the old days. It was fun, and it made me feel better. He even said he liked me the minute he met me because I’m “authentic”. He’s not the first person to tell me that. Say what you want about my personality… it’s definitely mine and it’s real, even if not everyone likes it. And he told me he likes me the way I am, which was really nice. I probably should have chatted with him last night, but I ended up chatting with Bill, who apologized profusely.

I told Bill that I get it. The job will always come first. He has a “mission first” mentality that he won’t let go of, and frankly, that’s what makes him so employable. And, to be honest, I’m not sure if it would be a good thing for him to change jobs for my sake. I wasn’t asking him to do that. I simply don’t like it when someone raises my hopes and then disappoints me. It’s happened too many times. If he had just let me think he’d be home late tonight and never mentioned leaving early, I probably wouldn’t have gotten so irritated.

Also… people are finding that post I wrote about Adam and Darla and, apparently, want to correct my opinions on that. And those who are regular readers probably know how I feel about people who want to correct other people’s opinions. Right or wrong, I don’t like it when people aren’t allowed to express themselves unmolested and uncensored. Must be part of my “authenticity”. On the other hand, at least they care enough to comment.

Anyway… I will probably be happier later. If I know Bill, he’ll make it up to me. Or maybe he’ll disappoint me again. Either way, I probably won’t melt down, because I expect I’ll finally be ragging. I think I’ll make this morning a vocal morning. It’ll make me feel better.

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healthcare, LDS, mental health, Military, religion, true crime

Sweeping stuff under the rug leads to years of abuse…

Thanks to my regular reader, commenter, and friend Alexis, I have fallen down yet another true crime rabbit hole. Yesterday, I reposted a review of the now out-of-print book Doc, by true crime author Jack Olsen. I found out about Doc from the Recovery from Mormonism messageboard, a place where I’ve “hung out” online for years. I know from hanging out on RfM that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is no stranger to controversy. It’s also had its share of perverts among its ranks, some of whom have committed crimes that were, unfortunately, “swept under the rug”.

The story of Doc is about a non-Mormon physician named John Story who worked in Lovell, Wyoming, a heavily Mormon populated town. Story took advantage of the local mores and religious customs on Lovell as he perpetrated sex crimes on his female patients, many of whom were faithful members of the LDS church.

Alexis, who shares my interest in Mormonism, alerted me to a similar story about the late LaVar Withers, a Mormon physician from Rexburg, Idaho who similarly abused his patients. Rexburg, Idaho, like Lovell, Wyoming, is a town that is chock full of LDS church members. And, just as Dr. John Story took advantage of his patients, many of whom were sexually inexperienced and very vulnerable, Dr. LaVar Withers also took advantage of his patients. According to the Los Angeles Times, Withers was forced to give up his medical license in 1996 when someone finally spoke up about his unconventional examinations. He had been “practicing medicine” by giving his female patients inappropriate breast and vagina exams for over thirty years. Yes, people talked about it in town, but no one ever officially reported him to the police until the 1990s. He victimized women, but he also victimized young girls, under the guise of giving them “care”. LaVar Withers died in 2005.

Before I go any further, I want to state that I’m not specifically trying to pick on the Mormons. Having heard and read so much about disgraced Dr. Larry Nassar’s sex crimes against hundreds of female athletes, I know that this is a problem that doesn’t just affect members of the LDS church. However, I think it’s true that highly restrictive religions or other groups that emphasize sexual purity, virginity, patriarchy, and taking care of issues “internally” can lead to a lot of innocent people being abused by people with authority. Although gymnastics is not a religion, per se, it is a discipline that requires a lot of obedience. Gymnasts are taught to do what they’re told. Female gymnasts, in particular, are vulnerable because they’re usually children who are not yet ready to stand up to adults, particularly ones in authority like coaches and doctors. In that sense, women who are devout members of patriarchal religions, like Mormonism, may also be vulnerable to abuse by male church leaders or physicians.

Because my husband was a victim of domestic violence in his first marriage, as well as a former convert member of the LDS church, I am more aware of the cases affecting Mormons. I do know, however, that this is an issue that transcends a lot of communities– particularly those that are “closed” somehow. I would say that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with its somewhat secretive (they say “sacred) rituals, patriarchal authority systems, and emphasis on “callings”, may make some members more ripe for the picking by abusive people with authority, like Dr. John Story and Dr. LaVar Withers. Story was not LDS, but he served a heavily Mormon population. And his patients, particularly the females, were trained to trust and obey people like him.

Also consider that the LDS church does not have a professional clergy. The church is led by high ranking males who tend to be pillars of the community somehow, not necessarily people with training in religion or counseling. A man with a white collar career, say a doctor, professor, lawyer, or dentist, is likely to climb the highest echelons of church hierarchy. A lowly woman, especially one who doesn’t have a career, was not likely to be believed when she complains about someone like LaVar Withers, who was a popular and well-known physician and a pillar of the community.

But there were complaints– in fact, the earliest one dated from the mid 1960s. A woman named Carol Hannah visited Dr. Withers because she was having trouble shaking a bad cold. Somehow, her complaint about her cold turned into a very intimate breast and vagina exam. When she reported him to the police, they laughed at her and accused her of “misunderstanding” what he was doing. She was dismissed and her complaints were completely ignored. Other women who complained over the years were also ignored, and none of them were willing to sign their complaints against him, anyway. It was too shameful and scandalous for them.

In 1992, a parent wrote to the Madison Memorial Hospital’s then executive director, Keith Steiner, about how Withers had examined, without a nurse present, her daughter’s breast and pelvic area after she went to the emergency room having been hit in the head by a volleyball. Instead of thoroughly investigating the issue, Mr. Steiner wrote back that he had received an “absolute denial” of the allegations from Dr. Withers. Steiner added  “I will say that I have not had any indication of this type of behavior from the doctor. He is greatly respected in our community.”

In the L.A. Times article about LaVar Withers, journalist Barry Siegel writes about what happened when a female church member confronted her bishop about Dr. LaVar Withers’ unconventional medical exams. The woman, Tee Andrew, was a convert to the church. She was highly respected and married to an accountant. Because her regular doctor had retired, she visited Dr. Withers, complaining of a severe migraine. She had heard stories about him, but figured he wouldn’t try anything with her, because her husband was in the room. And yet, even though Andrew’s husband was present, Dr. Withers still managed to feel up Tee Andrew’s breasts. He did so with a straight face, as if this was a perfectly normal and natural part of an exam for a migraine headache.

Tee Andrew then called the Idaho Board of Medicine, which reported that Dr. Withers had never been sanctioned by them. That was because there had never been any formal allegations against Dr. Withers, even though many people had informally complained. When Andrew called her former physician, Dr. Jud Miller, he said that he’d heard of “some problems”, but thought Withers had stopped. Then he advised Andrew to contact LaVar Williams’ “stake president”– that is the church leader above his bishop. Note that Miller didn’t tell his former patient to call the police or speak to the licensing authorities. She was told to keep this within the church. So she called LaVar Withers’ stake president, Farrell Young, a dentist who was the great great grandson of Brigham Young himself. According to the Los Angeles Times:

“I’m not going to mince words,” Andrew began. Then she told her story, and offered to take a polygraph test. According to Andrew, Young mainly expressed his sorrow and appreciation for her call, right up until she told him she meant to notify the police.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that now,” Young responded. “I’d appreciate you letting me take care of things from my end.”

In an interview months later with the Idaho Statesman newspaper, Young didn’t dispute this account. Yes, he agreed, he “may have said do not go to the police immediately,” because Mormon doctrine stresses forgiveness. “When people have a hurt, they should leave it alone. Put it away and look for the good.”

Sure enough… Andrew waited a month for action from Farrell Young against LaVar Withers. None ever came. He never contacted her with an update about the situation. So Tee Andrew finally went to the police and made her complaint. Then she started talking to other women in the community. Sure enough, the stories came pouring out. And that was what finally led to LaVar Withers’ resignation from medicine. However, he managed to leave the profession with a cheery news article, his reputation– temporarily– intact.

Again– these specific incidents have to do with the LDS church, mainly because that church was a specific interest of mine for a long time. It’s less so now, since Bill’s daughters are grown. But it’s not just the Mormons who have these issues with sweeping crimes under the rug and handling them “internally”. As anyone who has followed the Duggar family over the years knows, the Mormons do not corner the market on abusing women. Back in 2015, the entire planet was made aware of Josh Duggar’s propensity toward molesting women. It came out that Josh had sexually abused four of his sisters and a babysitter. And instead of reporting the issue to the police and having Josh deal with legal consequences, his parents chose to sweep the issue under the rug. Instead of getting counseling for their son, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar made him shave his head and sent him away to do hard labor for a family friend.

Years later, it came out that not only did Josh molest his sisters and a babysitter, he also cheated on his wife, Anna. Sadly, instead of divorcing Josh and taking their children away from him, Anna has stood by her man and had more children with him. Although we have not heard more reports about his misdeeds with women, I would not be surprised if the abuse continues. I’m all for letting people redeem themselves, but I don’t think the way religious groups handle these kinds of issues is particularly effective. Sweeping things under the rug doesn’t solve anything. There have to be real consequences and a commitment to contrition and restitution. Unfortunately, proven abusers, particularly those who get away with the behavior for many years, don’t tend to change their ways.

LaVar Withers was eventually sentenced to 30 days in jail on a misdemeanor battery charge against his patients. That is a ridiculously light sentence, especially given that Withers had complaints against him going back over 30 years. The LDS church also disciplined him by taking his “temple recommend” and placing him on probation. However, the whole thing was handled privately. It seems that restrictive religions tend to want to come up with their own discipline against members who violate the law. And those practices can lead to more abuse of the innocent.

Restrictive religions can also help create predators and allow them to flourish, even among non members. I reposted my articles about Heath J. Sommer, a Mormon psychotherapist who convinced female patients in the military that having sex with him would be therapeutic. After reading about Sommer, I started getting LDS vibes. I looked him up, and sure enough, he was a church member. And he no doubt used his church affiliation to make himself seem more trustworthy and humane as he told some of his clients that they should be giving him blow jobs as part of their therapy. I don’t know what Sommer’s specific issues are. I kind of wonder if maybe he has a problem with women in power, and that’s why he worked with females in the military. One of his victims was an Air Force colonel. Many people felt she should have known better, but she trusted him and expected that he would be competent. In some ways, the military can be as bad as strict religions in covering up and perpetuating abuse.

Many people will give religious people the benefit of the doubt, especially when the churchgoer is a man with multiple academic degrees and a successful career. Another example of this is Dr. Martin MacNeill, a Mormon doctor, lawyer, and bishop who murdered his wife after she’d had plastic surgery. People trusted Dr. MacNeill because of his lofty career and church status. But if anyone had taken the time to look beneath Dr. MacNeill’s “respectable” surface, they might have seen that he wasn’t as good a person as he seemed to be.

Anyway… I could write about this subject all day. It’s probably time I closed this particular post. But I will probably revisit this topic soon, because I think it’s an important one. I think our culture, especially, hates confrontation. Too many of us are willing to let things slide and sweep egregiously bad behavior under the rug. We blame ourselves when people do wrong. We look back on what we said and did for any indication that something bad that happened was our fault. This happens a lot with women, especially, and if you’re a part of a strict patriarchal group, such as a religion, the military, or even a sport like women’s gymnastics, it can be all too easy to surrender common sense and self-respect.

It can be so easy to let a fear of humiliation and shame scare us into keeping silent. It’s happened to me. Fighting back is hard, and sometimes it leads to disaster. I’m writing about this to encourage my readers to speak up rather than sweep up. Don’t let abusive people get away with their bad behavior. The longer they do it, the more emboldened they become. And if you don’t do your part to stop them, you become part of the problem and even a bit complicit when the next person suffers.

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