business, condescending twatbags, dogs, Military, social media, stupid people

The wrong way of takin’ care of business…

Yesterday, Bill and I enjoyed another rainy Sunday at home. Even if the pandemic weren’t still in full swing, I doubt we would have chosen to go anywhere. It was cold and dismal outside, with traces of ice and snow. There wasn’t nearly enough for it to be pretty.

I decided to do some writing and listen to music. I heard a version of “Til the Season Comes ‘Round Again”, a pretty Christmas song that I originally heard Amy Grant do years ago, but then I heard her (now) husband’s, Vince Gill’s, version. I decided to try it myself, complete with harmony. Here’s the end result. I may try again in a higher key. Or maybe I won’t… it depends on how inspired I am.

The weather is rainy today, too, and although I know the dogs could use a walk, I’m not sure I want to venture out in the slop. At least it’s not freezing cold, though, so that’s a vote toward taking a quick jaunt so Arran can take a dump. He prefers to poop when he’s taking walks.

I’m also still working on reading my latest book. It’s a good book, but my progress is slow. My attention span and eyesight aren’t what they used to be. In fact, my attention span has never been particularly good… especially when I am distracted by petty dramas on Facebook. And that brings me to today’s topic. All names in the following tale are pseudonyms, in the unlikely event that someone local is reading this. I simply want to air my own opinion on this situation.

Yesterday, I happened to run across a thread in the local pet group on Facebook. A woman I’ll call Mary was frustrated because, back in October, she had hired a 19 year old woman to look after her pets for a portion of the holiday season. The young woman– I’ll call her Katie– had enthusiastically agreed to take the job. Mary has a dog and a cat, and she was willing to pay $250 for about 8 days worth of work. The stipulations were that Katie was to stay at Mary’s home, since her cat doesn’t do well with other animals and she wasn’t sure how the dog would behave. Katie agreed.

Two months go by, and it’s the day that Mary was supposed to leave on her trip. Katie sends Mary a message, suddenly changing the conditions of their agreement. Katie explained that her sister was flying in, so she wanted to spend time with her. And it would be more convenient for her to watch Mary’s pets at her parents’ home, since Mary lived far away from Katie’s parents’ house.

Mary was upset about this, since it wasn’t what they had agreed to… but she was kind of over a barrel. She had these travel plans, and though she hadn’t mentioned it in the thread, she probably pre-paid for her lodging and, perhaps, air fare. Her choices weren’t so good in this situation. She could: cancel her plans; try to find another pet sitter at the last minute; or let Katie do what she wanted to do.

Mary ended up letting Katie have her way. But then, when she came back to get her dog, she tried to have a discussion with Katie about what had happened. This is where it gets especially weird. Apparently, Mary’s feedback pissed off Katie’s mother. I’ll call her Alice. Mary had asked to speak to Katie privately when they were in person, and this didn’t sit well with Alice, who is evidently a bit of a “mama bear”. For some reason, I’m reminded of this pre-Trump relic…

Lordy…

Drama erupted when Mary picked up her animal, and in the end, Mary left the house with her dog, feeling unsatisfied, and missing her dog’s favorite toy. Katie then blocked Mary on Facebook, so Mary wasn’t able to resolve this dilemma privately. Mary later took to Facebook to air her grievances in our group, which was where she’d found Katie in the first place. In her initial post, she never mentioned Katie’s name. She simply put out what I would call a blanket PSA to all of the pet sitters in the group, asking them to be very clear about what they’re willing to do when they take a pet sitting job. Below is exactly what she wrote:

Ok. If you or your child are going to take on pet sitting jobs can we please have those taking on the jobs to ASK questions. How much are you charging. How long? Where do you live? I just had an experience where the sitter changed plans on us a *few hours before we were supposed to leave. It messed up our plans and made it more complicated and the reason behind it was they didn’t know how far our house was from them. This was something that was set up 2 months in advance. Why were these things not asked? It’s not just about the money. You need to be clear and tell our younger kids to be assertive and responsible. This sitter has now blocked me on FB even though they changed up the plans and did not follow through with what was expected. They also did not pack back up any of my dogs toys and one of them was a plush dog toy that he got when he was a puppy. . I’m so sad and disappointed.

Now… I notice that Mary didn’t “out” the young woman who looked after her dog. She doesn’t curse. She doesn’t write anything rude or nasty. She simply makes a polite request. One person misunderstood and thought the sitter had canceled at the last minute. Mary reiterated that Katie hadn’t canceled, she had simply changed the terms of what they had agreed to, which was to watch the dog and cat in Mary’s home, rather than at a stranger’s (to the pets) home. As it turned out, Katie only watched the dog. I guess the cat fended for itself.

A few people responded to her post, vague as it was. All of a sudden, Alice– the mom– shows up and writes this in response.

My daughter was your dog sitter, she’s also not a child. She’s 19. I don’t know where your dogs toy is but she took very well care of pippin to the point where you messaged her and asked her to keep him longer. She blocked you to avoid the drama that you brought into my home the other day, I have never met a more obnoxious, rude couple in my life. My daughter dog sits for many dogs and has never had a problem, until you. She returned everything she could find. Mind you we actually have a huge yard. Also, she watched him here because it was Christmas time and she wanted to spend it with her family. And lastly you still owe her $

At first, I wondered if maybe Mary had misrepresented herself in the thread. As we all know, sometimes people do act like jerks, but then try to cover it up when they talk about a situation to other people. But then I kept reading, and it became very clear that Alice was making the situation so much worse. First off, she basically outed her daughter. And secondly, she says her daughter is an adult, but yet “Mommy” is in the Facebook group, fighting her battles for her. I was not the only one who thought this was a bit fucked up.

Mary came back with this response. Again, I thought it was fairly even keeled and reasonable.

I have screenshots of the dates we agreed upon. Back in October Is when we talked about what the plan was. I also did not name names in this post. All I’m asking for is the toy back.

Alice responded:

you messaged her saying you didn’t know if you were still going with them dates and then asked her to keep him

So Mary wrote:

Because she told us an hour before we were supposed to leave, that she was going to take the pets to your house. That wasn’t the agreed upon plan. Our cat doesn’t do well with other pets. Then we had to wait a few more hours for her to show up to get “Fido”. I was trying to find another sitter to watch the pets and when I couldn’t, I just had to allow her to take just Fido. (not his real name)

Alice wrote:

she showed up @ 3:30 to pick up “Fido”, that was the agreed upon time.. she was at work and she left work early to get him.

And Mary conceded:

Ok I’ll give you this. Looking back at the messages I did say 3 pm. You are correct. I do still take issue with being told the day of travel that plans were changing.

At this point, other people started to chime in. There were a few who were on Alice’s side. Some had hired Katie to watch their pets and liked her. A few appeared to be friends of Alice’s and Katie’s. But, by and large, most of us were squarely on “Team Mary”, including yours truly. This situation is one major reason why Bill and I use a locally run Hunde Pension, rather than hiring a teen. I used to be a house/dog/horse/cat/turtle sitter myself, so I know how it goes, but although I’m sure our dogs would be happier at home, I prefer them to be somewhere where this is someone’s livelihood and the people involved have insurance.

Anyway, the drama continued. Alice wrote this:

You never have to allow someone to take your dog. There is always other options.

Then, Mary produced a screenshot of the chat she’d had with Katie, dating from mid October, in which she spelled out what she wanted and how much she was willing to pay. It’s there, plain as day, that Katie had agreed. And, as a 19 year old woman, Mary felt inclined to take her at her word. But then Alice basically proved that her daughter was NOT actually an adult, when she wrote this:

her mom ( me) said no to your home.. that’s creepy. And it was Christmas time, she didn’t know her sister was coming in from (across the pond) until last minute

Uh… excuse me? She’s 19 years old, Alice. You, yourself, said she’s an adult. Why do you get to veto Mary’s house as “creepy”? What the fuck? And this is a standard practice here– people who pet sit often go to people’s homes or stay overnight. No one was even at the house, so why would it be “creepy”?

And Mary agreed with me, writing:

creepy? To house sit and watch a cat and dog? There was no one there. How is that creepy? I thought she was an adult. Not a child… If she would have told me this back in October or even maybe not a few hours. Before we were supposed to leave, that would have been fine.

Alice brazenly came back with this:

100% creepy. Let it go, pay for the rest of services rendered and move on.

I’ve gotta say, if I were Mary, I probably would have ripped Alice a new one for that response. In fact, I probably would have considered complaining to the garrison about Katie. I would not have been nice. People who run businesses on the installations are supposed to get approval from the garrison as “home based businesses”. There are tax implications and rules to be followed. I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts, as Bill would say, that Katie isn’t running her business the “legal” way.

But all Mary wants is her dog’s toy:

give me the dog toy back and we will… Even though we paid her the same amount to watch the cat and dog and she only watched the dog

Alice wasn’t moved, though. She wrote:

You asked to speak to her out of any ear shot of her family. Had I know you had asked her that, mama would been right with you both and then to express your displeasure after you got your dog watched and still her money..

At this point, I took a peek at Katie’s FB page. This chick is evidently in the military herself. And yet here she is, blocking her client, and letting Mommy fight her battles for her.

Mary was still being very reasonable, in my opinion, when she wrote:

but I thought she was an adult. And what I told her was that I was disappointed with the services rendered. I told her that going forward she should ask these questions and make sure that everything is clear. I didn’t cuss her out or even yell or anything. I just said, money is important but so are the other details.

All I said was, can I speak to you for a moment. She even stated that she knew I was disappointed and she understood why I would be.

But Alice continued:

16-24 8 days, you paid $139. My daughter charges $20 a day. Total would of been $160

Personally, under the circumstances, I think Mary was perfectly justified in not giving Katie the whole amount. Katie didn’t do the job to her client’s specifications. And she has her MOM arguing on her behalf! Mary shared another screenshot about the payment they had agreed to. I don’t see why Mary should have to honor the payment end of the agreement, when Katie didn’t honor her side of it by staying at Mary’s home and watching two pets. According to the screenshot, Mary had offered $250, which I would have loved to have gotten when I was 19 and house/pet sitting.

Alice very stubbornly persisted, writing this:

adult or not, she lives in MY home.. You don’t see me asking you for carpet cleaning $, your dog peeped and pooped several times on my carpet. Again, let it go. Learn your lessons and move on. Your screen shots mean nothing to me, you let her take your dog, you asked to have him here longer. Don’t try and blast someone for something you let happen.

Um… Alice? My takeaway from this exchange is that I shouldn’t ever consider hiring Katie to watch my pets. Because hiring Katie means that I’ll probably have to deal with you, and you are not a good representative of Katie’s brand! All you’ve done is show everyone that Katie can’t handle her own business; that, in fact, she ISN’T an adult; and that her client’s wishes mean absolutely NOTHING. What’s more, Mary never even outed Katie in our group, which is full of people who occasionally need a pet sitter. YOU DID THAT. It was a very stupid thing to do, and it will cost Katie. Some mama bear you are.

Mary continued:

so evidence proving my point means nothing? I literally had this arranged with your daughter. All these details and then last minute is when things changed.

And Alice responded:

you only complained after he was watched and you picked him up. He was very well taken care of. That’s what anyone with a pet wants

I suspect Mary didn’t “complain” at the time because she had travel plans that dated from months ago. She needed Katie’s help and was over a barrel. And sure, the dog was taken care of in the sense that he’s still alive and well, apparently. But Katie still didn’t do the job according to her client’s wishes. And contrary to Alice’s opinions, anyone with a pet actually wants that their pets are taken care of in the way that the owner wants the care to be given.

More people opined, including one woman who took on Alice, who responded about how she “loved” that people who weren’t involved had come for the “drama”. At that point, I think I would have told Alice that it was her choice to have people “come for the drama”, as she chose to air this shit in a Facebook group, instead of privately. Her grown ass daughter, Katie, blocked her client, rather than working with her privately to resolve this issue without input from other people. Moreover, Alice doesn’t seem to understand that when pets are stressed out in unfamiliar places, sometimes they have accidents. If Katie had watched the dog in Mary’s home, as was agreed, any accidents the dog had would have been on Mary’s floor, not Alice’s. I think the accidents were entirely Katie’s fault, in that case.

I finally had to comment myself. I wrote this:

You could have stayed out of this. Your daughter is an adult. You said so yourself. And Mary has clearly proven what was agreed. I don’t blame her one bit for being pissed. I would be too.

At that point, more people chimed in, including a few who were on Alice’s and Katie’s side. One person took Mary to task for putting a “kid” on blast. Another person commended Alice for having Katie’s back. I see nothing wrong with a mother having her child’s back, but she should have done it offline, and insisted that her 19 year old adult daughter speak up for herself. At this point, I’m left with the impression that Katie is very immature, irresponsible, and not equipped to handle taking care of pets. What would have happened if the dog had gotten sick? Would Katie have been able to get him to a vet? Could she pry herself away from the holiday festivities with her “sister” to look after the dog she was being paid to take care of? After reading this exchange, and seeing how her mother puts the blame on the paying client, I think not.

One guy wrote this, with which I completely agreed:

I like how you don’t name the sitter and her own mother dimes her out in this post and tries to justify the unprofessional behavior. Then the mom doubles down after your screen shots show everything was agreed upon in advance and calls services the adult sitter agreed on “creepy.” You’re completely justified in being pissed off. I would be pissed too. It doesn’t matter that her sister came in town or it’s Christmas, you were clear in what you expected well in advance and the sitter agreed to it as well.

Alice responded thusly:

I didn’t “dime” her out, I spoke up for my daughter. Big difference, what you read is only half the story, there’s always 3 sides and at the end of the day a service she actually agreed upon was complete and she then she still wasn’t happy. Period.

No, Mama Bear… you totally fucked this up and stuck your nose where it doesn’t belong. You and Katie are wrong, in this instance. Grow up and accept responsibility. Of course, they clearly didn’t, since Alice left the group.

The guy responded:

your daughter wasn’t named, therefore you DID dime her out. Literally no one reading this post other than the OP/you/your daughter knew who the sitter was until your comment. Take the L, you’re wrong, your daughter’s actions were wrong, period. But to clarify the point, once you make a commitment, you follow through. You don’t alter the agreement the day of travel ffs.

There were more comments, but most of them weren’t as juicy, and I think we get the point, anyway. I probably shouldn’t be writing about this, and I don’t know why I feel compelled to, other than to show some of my faithful followers some of the DRAMA that can erupt on military installations. Bill and I once lived on Fort Belvoir, pre-Facebook, and there was enough drama that went on before social media was a thing. I can only shudder to think what it’s like now.

I’m not in very many local American Facebook groups, though, because of situations like these that arise. I made the mistake of being in a lot of them when we lived in Stuttgart, and it caused me a lot of angst. Usually, the pet group is pretty placid, but every once in awhile, I’m reminded as to why I think it’s better not to join a lot of Facebook groups, especially when the US military is involved. Things can get really hairy and fucked up in a hurry. There are people from all walks of life involved with military service, with varying levels of maturity and sophistication. Some people are folks who just can’t understand normal thinking. I think this exchange is a prime example of that phenomenon at work.

Well… I think after I practice guitar and have some lunch, I’ll try to get back to my book so I can have another book review ready by New Year’s Eve. Wish me luck. Have a nice Monday.

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Military, obits, true crime

Rest in peace, Colin Powell…

Yesterday, the news reported that General Colin Powell died at age 84. He’d been suffering from multiple myeloma and Parkinson’s Disease, and then he got COVID-19, even though he was fully vaccinated. Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that affects the body’s immune response by making plasma cells go haywire. So even though General Powell was vaccinated against COVID-19, the disease process made the vaccine less effective for him. Add in the Parkinson’s Disease and his advanced age, and it makes sense that he passed.

I’ve seen a number of people lamenting that Colin Powell died, with some blaming unvaccinated people. While I think any regular reader of this blog knows that I am for the vaccines, I don’t think it’s productive to blame the unvaccinated. The truth is, he was battling some serious illnesses even before COVID-19 struck. He was also 84 years old. Even if COVID never existed, his time was probably drawing short. I just hope his passing was peaceful.

General Powell lived a full lifespan, and he made great use of his time. Besides being a highly respected Army officer, Powell was also the United States’ first Black Secretary of State. And he had a long, loving, and enduring marriage to his wife, Alma, as well as loving relationships with his children, grandchildren, and friends. Personally, I think he was a great man, but even great men have to die someday. It’s just life.

Hearing about General Powell’s death reminded me of a very old friend of mine who died at age 21. Her name was Lisa Bryant, and at the time of her death, it had been years since our last visit. Lisa and I both lived on Mildenhall Air Force Base in Suffolk, England, back in the late 1970s. My dad was the base engineer there, and her dad was an Army officer who had gotten a special assignment at Mildenhall (or maybe Lakenheath– I’m not sure). Lisa had an older brother who was my sister’s age.

The Bryants were a Black family, but other than that, they weren’t all that different… or, at least it hadn’t seemed so to me at the time. I just remember that Lisa and I used to play together and attended the neighborhood birthday parties. Somewhere in my storage back in Texas, I have pictures from my fifth birthday party, and Lisa is there.

When our fathers were transferred, our families both moved to Fairfax County in Virginia. I remember going to Lisa’s house for another birthday party in Virginia. After that, we lost touch, mainly because my parents only lasted two years in Fairfax before they decided to move to Gloucester County and open their own business.

I never saw Lisa again, but if we had stayed in Fairfax, I would have definitely known who she was and probably would have known her well. She graduated from James W. Robinson Secondary School, the same school where one of my sisters and two of my cousins got their high school diplomas. My aunt also taught math there for years. Lisa was a big woman on campus in high school, having been homecoming queen for the class of ’89 and making top grades. Although we were born in the same year, she was a year ahead of me in school. If we had stayed in Fairfax, I would have gone to the same high school.

After she graduated high school, Lisa went to Princeton University. She was there on a ROTC scholarship, so she was required to fulfill a commitment to the Army post graduation. Lisa did big things at Princeton, too. She recruited students from the Washington, DC area and founded the cheerleading team. She graduated summa cum laude, and joined Delta Sigma Theta sorority. From what I read at the time of her death, Lisa meant to do her time in the Army and leave the service for a civilian career. She had big plans for her life. Sadly, she never had the chance.

Colin Powell was a close friend of Lisa’s father’s. They knew each other from their Army days. I remember reading that Powell had attended her wake, and his wife, Alma, went to Lisa’s closed casket funeral. The reason her casket was closed was because Lisa was murdered at Fort Bragg. She had gone there for a brief training course before she was to move to Germany for her first assignment. On the evening of July 9th, 1993, she had gone to a bar that was adjacent to her dormitory. That’s where she met Ervin Graves, who was a staff sergeant and ROTC instructor.

Graves had reportedly asked Lisa to dance with him. She said no, which was entirely appropriate. Not only was she an officer, while Graves was a non-commissioned officer, but she also had a boyfriend. Graves was also a married man. When Graves persisted in trying to get Lisa to dance with him, she decided to go back to her dorm. Graves was staying in the same dorm.

Lisa called her boyfriend, who was in California. She’d used the pay phone, because she didn’t want to bother her roommate. While she was on the phone, Graves attacked her, marching her to his dorm room where he meant to rape her. She managed to break away from him as he was attempting to restrain her. He responded by shooting her four times in the face with a 357 Magnum he inexplicably had with him in the dorm. She died in the hallway of her dormitory, right in front of the door to Graves’ dorm room.

Prior to the murder, Ervin Graves had been an exemplary soldier. He’d been a member of the Old Guard, where he had participated in presidential inaugurations, led parades, and been part of many ceremonies, both solemn and festive. His family was reportedly shocked that he was accused of a crime. His wife and sons were devastated. And Lisa’s family, especially her parents, were also extremely devastated. It had been many years since I had last seen Lisa, but even I was totally shocked when I heard about her death. She was a woman who was going to go places.

My mom called me at college to tell me about Lisa’s murder. I didn’t find out about it until a couple of months after it happened. People Magazine, which I used to read religiously, ran a story about Lisa. I remember later reading that Colin Powell and his wife were there to comfort the Bryants in their time of need. That always stuck with me, especially since Powell was such a powerful and famous man. But before he was an important man, he was also primarily a soldier, and when one of his brothers needed him, he was there.

In an article I read about Colin Powell’s death, Washington Post reporter, editor, and author, Bob Woodward, wrote that he’d spoken to General Powell in July. Powell reportedly said, “Don’t feel sorry for me, for God’s sakes! I’m [84] years old,” said Powell, who died Monday. “I haven’t lost a day of life fighting these two diseases. I’m in good shape.”

Even up to the end of his life, Powell remained personable and friendly to Bob Woodward, even though his wife didn’t like him speaking to Woodward. He offered his thoughts on President Biden’s decision to remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Powell wisely noted that we had to get out of Afghanistan eventually, and that with the massive drawdown of troops in recent years, it needed to be done expeditiously.

When Woodward asked who was the greatest man, woman, or person Powell had ever known, his response was immediate. He said, “It’s Alma Powell. She was with me the whole time. We’ve been married 58 years. And she put up with a lot. She took care of the kids when I was, you know, running around. And she was always there for me and she’d tell me, ‘That’s not a good idea.’ She was usually right.”

I know not everyone approved or appreciated Colin Powell’s politics or even his leadership, but I think of him as one of the good ones… While he had been a Republican throughout his career, he was not a Trump style Republican. He didn’t approve of Trump’s tactics. And when Woodward told Powell that one of his journalism students had asked, “What does the truth accomplish?”, Powell’s response was:

“This is scary… You just scared the hell out of me if this is what our kids are saying and thinking. Where are they getting it from? Media?”

I tend to agree with Powell. It IS scary that so many people are willing to overlook the importance of the truth, or the need to have good and decent– humane– people in power. Colin Powell was basically an honest man with integrity and strength, and he deeply loved and was loved by many. My heart goes out to his family, especially his wife, Alma, as they mourn their great loss. I’m sure the Bryant family is mourning, too… but maybe if there is a place after life, General Powell is with Lisa now.

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book reviews, Military

Repost: a review of AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Class From the Military and How It Hurts Our Country

Just because I’m on a Frank Schaeffer roll, here’s another mostly as/is review of a book of his that I read and reviewed for Epinions.com. This one was originally posted in May 2008.

Those of you who regularly read my book reviews may know that I am the wife of an Army officer and the daughter of a retired Air Force officer. I have always had a great respect for the military and the people who choose to be a part of it. My husband is one of the smartest people I know. He never had much money when he was growing up, but he did a stint in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) in high school. That led him to earn military scholarships for college, a commission, and eventually, an international relations degree from American University. Later, again through the military, he went on to earn a master’s degree (ETA: in 2021, he has two master’s degrees, courtesy of the U.S Army).

For over thirty years, Bill has proudly enjoyed serving his country in the military. He has told me on more than one occasion that he has always felt led to serve his country; it is his vocation. The military has been very good to Bill, but I wonder if he would have considered it a career choice had he grown up more economically privileged? In their 2006 book, AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Class From the Military and How It Hurts Our CountryFrank Schaeffer and Kathy Roth-Douquet explore the absence of America’s elite from military service.

Schaeffer and Roth-Douquet could both be considered members of the upper class. Schaeffer was raised in Switzerland by two very famous protestant church leaders. He is now a successful author. Roth-Douquet hails from an upper-middle class Jewish neighborhood and was educated at exclusive private schools. She later went on to serve in President Clinton’s White House. Neither one of them ever expected that one day, they would consider the absence of America’s upper classes from military service. Schaeffer had a negative opinion of military service until his son, John, decided to join the Marines back in 1999. Roth-Douquet found herself exposed to the military when she married her husband, a career Marine officer. Neither Schaeffer nor Roth-Douquet has ever served in the military themselves.

The absence of the so-called “elite”

These two people, who once seemed so unlikely to rub elbows with the men and women who serve in the United States military, noticed that nowadays, America’s all volunteer military mostly consists of people from the lower and middle economic classes. They also noticed that the people making policy decisions involving the military often come from the upper classes; yet, policymakers often have no actual experience with the military. Relying on their combined exposure to the military and their experiences as elite members of society, the two authors point out why people from the elite class should reconsider the decision not to serve their country in the military.

There was a time when military service was expected of the elite. Nowadays, it seems the elite are hellbent on keeping themselves and their children out of the military. They go as far as trying to ban military recruiters from high schools and college campuses and actively discouraging their children when they express an interest in a military career. The attitude seems to be, “We support the military, as long as whatever it does doesn’t involve anyone we care about.” Many elite members of society have no trouble sticking a “Support our troops” magnet on their SUVs, but they are not willing to go as far as volunteering to join the people they so ardently claim to support. Indeed, Schaeffer and Roth-Douquet discuss some of the groups that want to ban military recruiters from talking to their kids and their official reasons for doing so.

Not In My Backyard! Leave My Kid Alone!

As I read this book, I felt as though the authors were preaching to the choir. I have, after all, spent my whole life around military people who have been happy to serve. I have also had some exposure to the so-called academic ivory tower, having spent seven years earning three college degrees. I also spent two years serving in the Peace Corps, a government organization with decidedly liberal leanings. I understand the arguments the elite classes have against joining the military.

As Schaeffer and Roth-Douquet point out in their well researched book, a lot of privileged people simply don’t see the military as a viable option for themselves when they could earn much higher salaries and enjoy more a more comfortable lifestyle opting for a well paid position at a Fortune 500 company or a prestigious law firm. Some people argue that military service is not worthwhile because servicemembers are forced to be involved in causes that they don’t consider just or good. Others see military service as too dangerous. While they want to see our country protected from enemies, they would rather someone else’s child be the one to shed blood, sweat, and tears in the effort. According to Schaeffer and Roth-Douquet, the attitude seems to be that they have more important, cleaner work to do.

I think one of the best points made in AWOL is the fact that we as a society have become overprotective of our children. We stop holding them accountable for their successes and failures because we hate to see them get hurt or experience disappointment. As a result, to many people, the military seems much too dangerous and risky for their sons and daughters. And yet, we as a society are also literally becoming soft and flabby. As Schaeffer points on on pages 162 and 163,

…the civilians sent to boot camp these days leave much to be desired. Many arrive having no idea how to work in a team, how to shoulder responsibility, or how to put other people first… When it comes to physical fitness, fewer young men and women who volunteer each year can do what most young volunteers could do just a generation ago.

On page 163, Schaffer then quotes an Army Ranger, who said,

Parents are always telling me they worry about their kid being killed in a war. But there are going to be a lot more American twenty-year-olds dying of diabetes than get killed in Iraq. When I see the shape these kids are in [at boot camp], I want to tell the parents the safest place for your kids is in my platoon!

As distasteful as that revelation might be for someone who has actually lost someone in a war, I think the Army Ranger may be, sadly, quite correct, if not now, then in the near future. Diabetes and other obesity related illnesses are affecting American young people at an alarming rate. At least in the military, they would be required to get and stay in somewhat decent physical shape and maintain their health through regular physicals and check ups.

Seeing Soldiers as Victims

AWOL includes an interesting discussion about the media’s affect on the military’s image. Frank Schaeffer received a letter from a military chaplain who happened to catch an article written by columnist Andy Rooney. The article, written on April 12, 2004, was entitled “Our Soldiers In Iraq Aren’t Heroes”. In it, Rooney basically paints servicemembers as victims who need to be rescued from the big, bad government. Schaeffer quotes Rooney’s article thusly on page 156,

…We pin medals on their chest to keep them going. We speak of them as if they volunteered to risk their lives to save ours, but there isn’t much voluntary about what most of them have done… many young people, desperate for some income, enlisted… in the National Guard or the Army Reserve to pick up some extra money and never thought they’d be called on to fight… Most are victims, not heroes…

The chaplain wrote a very intelligent response to Rooney that proved that he, at least, did not see himself as a victim. The chaplain reminded Rooney that to call him and his comrades “victims” was to rob them of their own accountability for their decision to serve and responsibility for their own actions. In short, Rooney’s attitude, which seems to be popularly shared by the news media and people in show business, really makes the men and women who choose military service out to be children who need to be protected from themselves, rather than the brave professionals that they actually are.

It may be true that some people join the military because they need the money or they have nowhere else to go, but the vast majority of the servicemembers I’ve met have been proud of what they do. It does seem unfair that so many people in the military are from the lower to middle classes. Their options may not be as expansive as those available to the elite, but the military does offer them a place where they can learn how to handle awesome responsibility at a young age. It also offers a place where they don’t necessarily have to “know someone” in order to get ahead. And, as Schaeffer points out, at least everybody in the military, from the lowest to highest ranking, has the same access to health care. The same cannot be said of a person who works at Wal-Mart or McDonald’s.

Solutions

Frank Schaeffer and Kathryn Roth-Douquet do have ideas for solving the problem of so many people passing on military service. I thought it was interesting to see that they each had their own ideas and presented them separately. Schaeffer believes that the United States should come up with a new type of draft system that requires everyone to do some kind of service to their country, whether it be through the military, the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, or something similar. Roth-Douquet, by contrast, feels that conscription is too impractical and expensive. She believes that we must simply ask the elite to serve. I will comment that as a former Peace Corps Volunteer, I noticed that many of my colleagues already represented the elite class. I don’t think the Peace Corps, in particular, has that much trouble attracting the elite to service. However, I personally don’t think the same could be said for AmeriCorps and it certainly cannot be said for the military, as is well documented in this book.

My overall impressions…

I enjoyed reading AWOL, as I generally enjoy reading all of Frank Schaeffer’s books. He is very opinionated and unabashed about his thoughts, even at the risk of being offensive or seeming short-sighted. It was interesting to read his joint effort with Kathy Roth-Douquet. For the most part, I agree with what they have to say, even though they do seem to use a lot of anecdotes to get their message to the masses.

That said, I don’t think everyone will agree with what these authors have to say. A lot of people think they have good reasons for not serving their country. Some people actually do have good reasons for not serving. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to see the draft come back because I think people should have a choice as to whether or not they want to serve. I think those who do make the choice to serve will be better suited to doing the job, and that will make people like my husband safer.

In any case, I certainly enjoyed reading this book and am glad to see that its authors, themselves members of the elite class who never chose to be a part of the armed forces, have at least learned something from their loved ones who did. I will recommend it to anyone who wants some food for thought regarding the military and the people who make the choice to serve.

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book reviews, Military

Repost: Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and The United States Marine Corps

In the wake of the decision to pull troops out of Afghanistan, I’ve decided to repost this review I wrote of Frank Schaeffer’s book, Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and The United States Marine Corps. Frank co-wrote this book with his youngest child, his son John. I discovered Schaeffer about 20 years ago, when I was hanging out on a messageboard dedicated to people who had attended Pensacola Christian College. Schaeffer was raised in Switzerland by two famous missionary parents, and he had written a trilogy of very entertaining novels about the experience. Someone on the PCC board recommended them, so I read and loved them. He’s also written many non-fiction books about religion, some of which I have read and reviewed for Epinions.com.

Schaeffer had no experience with the U.S. military when his son, John, decided to join the Marines just before 9/11. He wrote several books about his son’s military experience, as well as a great novel called Baby Jack. I wrote this review for Epinions in February 2004. I believe John has since left the Marines. It appears here as/is. I see by visiting Frank’s Web site that he’s written a new book about Trump. Guess I’ll be downloading that one, too.

First off, let me preface by commenting that Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and The United States Marine Corps (2002) by Frank Schaeffer and his son, John Schaeffer, is a wonderfully honest and poignant book. Frank Schaeffer, an author of three novels (two at the time this book was published), is the father of three children. His older two, daughter Jessica, and son, Francis, had done what all of the other kids in Schaeffer’s social class had done and, after graduating from private high schools, gone off to private colleges.

Youngest son John had always been a good athlete and a talented writer (he specializes in poetry and aspires to one day own a bookstore and write for a living), but he was not a good student. Nevertheless, Frank and his wife, Genie, had always assumed that John would follow in his older siblings’ footsteps and go to college, if not for academics, then for athletics. Instead, John decided to join the Marines, an entity that was totally foreign to the Schaeffer family. John Schaeffer wrote that he was not particularly concerned with what his parents thought about the direction of his life, although he did listen to what they had to say and respected their opinions. He had joined the Marines without consulting his parents. I got the feeling that this decision really hurt Frank Schaeffer’s feelings, especially when he pictured his boy coming home in a casket, draped with an American flag.

Frank Schaeffer confesses that he had always felt particularly close to John because his youngest boy had come along when he was “supposed to have children”. The elder Schaeffer became a father for the first time at age eighteen. His second child arrived when he was twenty-one. John was born when Frank was fully twenty-eight years old “almost a grown up”, he says. He got to enjoy his youngest child. I also got the sense that he shared a sense of adventure with John as well as writing talent. Frank Schaeffer grew up the son of American Calvinist missionaries based in Switzerland. He didn’t learn to read until he was eleven years old, vacationed in Portofino, Italy every summer with his three sisters. Schaeffer chronicles his experiences in his novels, Portofino and Saving Grandma, both of which I have read and reviewed on Epinions.com. Frank Schaeffer enjoys cooking, and his son John loves his father’s Tuscan pizza. Frank enjoys his youngest son very much, but I got the feeling it went beyond the fact that they were merely blood. It seemed to me that they were also very good friends.

This sense of friendship was apparent as Frank and John Schaeffer wrote about how they spent their last summer together before boot camp. John had a girlfriend named Erica whom Frank did not like. Frank found Erica cold and distant. She didn’t want to spend any time with the Schaeffer family and Frank felt that she was taking his son away from him, especially since there was precious little time left before boot camp would begin. And this is where the honesty of this book comes in. Readers begin to read about situations in which Schaeffer behaved in ways that may seem, quite frankly, embarrassing. Many people would not want have wanted to admit to admit to some of the behavior that Schaeffer writes that he exhibited in the face of losing his son to boot camp. He comes across as, well, a father hen facing an empty nest.

And then when John starts basic training, we get to read about Frank’s angst at never hearing from his son and the constant letters that he sends his boy. We also read from John’s side as he experiences life on Parris Island– the constant harassment that he suffered as a Marine recruit– the abuse that others suffered, especially those deemed “Fat Bodies or Diet Trays (overweight recruits)”. John’s letters home are painfully short with one or two lines of information and maybe a request or two. He asks for Power Bars and Gatorade, which Frank gladly sends on several occasions. The treats get stashed in a foot locker for the drill instructors to eat or dole out to all of the recruits. Some of the recruits get no mail at all, but John gets a lot of mail– mostly courtesy of his father. He actually gets punished for this a few times.

I found the description of the basic training fascinating. My husband has often told me tales of training, but he didn’t enlist and he’s in the Army. It was interesting to read another point of view. I also used to live in South Carolina, which is where Parris Island is located. I was living there when John Schaeffer was in basic training. In fact, he wrote of having to be evacuated for Hurricane Floyd. He didn’t mention the storm by name, but I know that was the storm he was referring to because it had the distinction of causing one of the worst traffic tie ups in hurricane evacuation history– and it never even really struck land.

I also found John’s stories of the Marines doing what they could to get their fellow recruits through the course inspiring. He wrote of one recruit who developed double pneumonia right before the final 52 hour test, called the Crucible. There was talk that the recruit would not be allowed to take the test. The other recruits, unbeknownst to the sick one, split up the heavier contents of his pack, and carried his load for him. The Senior Drill Instructor said he would get him through the Crucible if he had to carry him through it himself. In fact the recruit played the injured recruit during the Crucible whenever the test called for an injured recruit, and he ended up passing and becoming a Marine.

We are also treated to several scenes where drill instructors dispense fatherly advice coated in profanity. For instance, they tell their recruits “not to get married and buy a bunch of stupid crap for Suzie Rottencrotch” the minute they get out of basic training– instead they should hold off until they make rank and can afford it. They also advise their recruits that there will be plenty of sex to be had once they are Marines and a lot of women will want to “nail them.” But they shouldn’t try to “bang sixteen year olds” because they could go to jail for that in the Corps. And they add, “Fer Chrissakes, don’t get any of ’em pregnant!”

Interspersed within these inspiring stories are John’s poems, stories of life at home in Massachusetts, and Frank’s yearnings to hear from his son. At one point in the book, John writes home to tell his parents that he has decided to change his job once he gets out of training. The job change means that he will add another year to his contract. Frank is angry about this change of events and scolds his son for not consulting him first, or at least talking to the one person the family knows who is a Marine. Frank’s reason for being angry is that the training will require John to move further away from him for a longer time. Originally, he would have trained in the DC area, but his new job would require him to go to Arizona and then Florida. He wrote an angry letter to his son about this development and then got in a fight with his wife… more embarrassing scenes that one would think might be too embarrassing to include in this book. But that’s what makes this book so good. It’s quite honest and Schaeffer shows his very human side. Incidentally, my first reaction to this scenario was that Frank Schaeffer was really in for a rude awakening. Service life is all about frequent moves and going wherever the government decides to send you. I’m sure Frank Schaeffer knows all of this now, though. And I’m sure he’s allowed his son to grow up and distance himself a bit.

As it turned out, once John graduated from basic training, he completed some training in North Carolina, then he ended up spending eighteen months in Arizona while he waited for his security clearance. He had left for Arizona four days after meeting Mollie, a woman to whom he really felt attracted. This part of the book was interesting, as John wasn’t doing anything in particular but waiting. It was a time in which he proved his allegiance to the Corps, since he had injured his foot and had to have surgery. He had the chance to leave the Marines, go to college, be with Mollie. He stayed in, went to Pensacola, and became an exemplary example of a Marine, just in time for September 11th, 2001. According to the back jacket, John Schaeffer is currently serving in Maryland.

As expected, this book does do some bashing of the other services, especially the Army. As the wife of a Soldier, I found myself getting a little annoyed at the generalization that all Army Soldiers are slobs. But then again, I know that the Marines have the toughest physical standards of all of the services. I know they take exceptional pride in their appearance. I’m also an Air Force daughter and I used to hear my dad bashing the Army, too (though not quite as much as this book did). I also found myself laughing aloud quite a lot.

This is a great book and I thoroughly enjoyed it, as much as I have enjoyed Frank Schaeffer’s novels. I read passages of it aloud to my husband, who also wants to read the book now that I’m finished. If you have a loved one serving in the Armed Forces, especially if he or she is a Marine, this book might be a worthy investment of your time.

Frank Schaeffer has written two follow ups to Keeping Faith, Faith of Our Sons, and Voices From The Front.

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musings, psychology

The trauma of sending and receiving “feedback”…

This morning, I’m thinking about the word “feedback” and how much I dread hearing it. One would think it wouldn’t be a bad thing to get feedback. Feedback doesn’t necessarily have to be positive or negative. It’s just information about how someone is doing.

I had to give someone negative feedback last night. I didn’t enjoy doing it. I don’t like to confront people, even when it’s sometimes necessary. I would prefer people to have common sense and basic respect for others. Unfortunately, some people don’t see the big picture and need to be called out. I woke up at 4:30am and that conflict from last night was the first thing I thought of.

Then I remember myself, back in 1996, when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. The director of training for the 1996 Volunteers was a guy I’ll call Don (not his real name). For some reason, Don didn’t like me. I don’t know exactly why he didn’t like me. Somehow, I managed to step on his toes. And one day, he said, “I need to give you some ‘feedback’.” Then, he proceeded to tell me off in a way that was very humiliating and upsetting. At that time in my life, I was not really equipped to take his comments with a grain of salt. I felt personally attacked and pretty worthless when he was finished with me.

I have never forgotten that word, “feedback”, ever since that day in 1996. That was a period in my Peace Corps service when it felt like everything was falling apart. I was trying to do the right things, but lacked the assertiveness and confidence to make valued contributions. I was not a “go getter”, and unbeknownst to me at the time, I was pretty hampered by depression and anxiety. So although I really did want to do something good and useful, my attempts were a bit bumbling. I seriously thought about quitting my service because I felt useless.

Looking back on that time, I feel anger for 24 year old me. I wish I’d had the maturity and the backbone to stand up to Don and give him some feedback of my own. I had mostly forgotten about Don until a few weeks ago, when my former colleague, Matt, suddenly passed away after having been hit by a car in Brooklyn. It so happens that there’s a Facebook group for former Armenia PCVs. I sent a request to join, but when no one accepted me hours later, I decided to withdraw my request. I figured I wasn’t welcome there. And then I noticed that Don was one of the admins. I also remembered that Matt had once, quite explicitly, told me that Don didn’t like me.

Those old feelings rushed back when I saw his name and I realized I didn’t really want to connect with him, or some of the other people from that time in my life. Obviously, I didn’t fit in back then, and maybe I don’t fit in now. I don’t seem to fit in most places… even in groups I actually run!

Case in point… In 2017, when we still lived in Stuttgart, I started a food and wine Facebook group. I did so because, at that time, there weren’t any groups for that specific interest in the Stuttgart military community, even though they had groups for just about everything else. Back then, it was easy to go to different restaurants and gourmet stores. Bill and I did so most weekends and I would write about our experiences in my travel blog, which got to be somewhat popular.

When I first started that group, it was pretty active and useful. But then in late 2018, we had to move to Wiesbaden. I didn’t want to close the group because I had friends in it, and at that point, I thought we’d be visiting Stuttgart somewhat often. I predicted at least twice yearly visits to see the dentist. But then the pandemic struck, and we weren’t able to travel so much or dine out… and the group became a bit stagnant, even though we were doing a lot of drinking.

There’s a woman in my group who claims to be a wine expert. She started a group in Stuttgart, but remains a member of my group. She often directs people in my group to join her group, and organizes wine sales, which she freely advertises in my group. I mostly have been pretty laid back about moderating my group because I don’t like it when people micromanage others, especially on social media. Besides, I don’t have a problem with people involved with food and wine sharing information about things like wine sales. But a situation came up last night and I found myself offering some feedback. It made me feel uncomfortable, even though I felt compelled to speak up.

A woman in the group I run asked about restaurant recommendations in Stuttgart. The two places she asked about are places I’ve been. I offered my opinions. Next thing I know, the leader of the other group was pimping her “foodie” group in my group– telling the person who had asked about restaurants that she should join her competing group for more “relevant” help. It wasn’t the first time she’d made a comment that was kind of critical about my group. One time, someone asked about wine shops and she asked what city they were in, adding that the fact that my group addressed two cities made things “confusing”. That struck me as disrespectful and rude, because there was no reason why the “wine expert” couldn’t just act like a member of the group and simply answer the question without publicly directing the person to join the group that SHE runs, or simply appreciating the unique features of my group.

I didn’t really want to call her out and offer any “feedback”. I don’t enjoy conflicts, and really just want my group to be a place where people can relax and share information without any drama. But I guess she just touched a nerve… that “disrespect nerve” that so many people seem to hit, where they act in an inconsiderate or tacky way toward me and I’m expected to just shut up and color. So I very directly asked her not to “pimp” her group in my group. She came back with an “explanation” as to why her answer wasn’t disrespectful to me and then invited me to join her group, which she has done before. She didn’t even really acknowledge how she came across to me, but instead kind of “gaslit” me, explaining that what I can see– plain as day– isn’t what I’m actually seeing.

I don’t want to be in her group. I have a lot of reasons for not wanting to join. The main one is that I lived in Stuttgart for four years and I saw how the groups were down there. There is a different dynamic in that community… lots of young people from different military branches. There are TONS of Facebook groups in Stuttgart and, in my experience, they get very “high school” in a hurry. Some people get on power trips and some people really enjoy stirring up shit. I was overly involved in the Stuttgart groups back when I lived down there. They caused me a lot of stress and drama, which would inevitably get me into trouble. I’d always want to process the stress by writing about it, which invariably upset some people in the community. Up here in Wiesbaden, I don’t have a need to do that because: 1. there aren’t so many groups up here 2. I know very few people in this area and 3. I’m only a member of one other group in Wiesbaden besides the one I run. So I don’t run into the high school bullshit that often erupts in military centric Facebook groups, and it’s been nice.

Another reason I don’t want to join is because being in her group would make my group kind of redundant. But maybe that’s her plan. I’m not really interested in competing with anyone… but I do think it’s very inconsiderate to promote other groups within a group, especially when there’s no need or request for it. There’s no reason why people in my group can’t respond to that question about Stuttgart without having to be publicly directed to go to another source. The least she could have done was send the person a PM rather than blatantly advertising her group. It’s like going to a McDonald’s and telling everyone in line to visit the Burger King next door.

The original poster came back and explained that she’s going to be leaving soon, and wasn’t interested in joining another group. But just now, the “wine expert” left a comment about another group in my group. I just left her a stern comment letting her know that I wasn’t going to ask her again. Next time, I think I’ll just remove her and spare myself the stress.

My hands are actually shaking right now… because I feel like maybe this shouldn’t be a big deal. I don’t want to be “territorial”, especially on social media. But it obviously is a big deal to me, because my knickers are legitimately in a twist. I don’t want to be a micromanager, but I also don’t appreciate being trampled. I made it pretty plain that promoting the other group isn’t cool with me, but she completely ignored what I said.

Maybe it’s time I retired that group and moved on to other things. I can still visit places and write about them, and the legitimately interested can read about them. Or maybe I just need to remove her and let anyone who wants to follow her vote with their feet. I don’t know. But I feel kind of nervous and sick to my stomach, the same way I felt when I got “feedback” from Don, even though I am the one offering feedback this time. Being assertive is hard for me.

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