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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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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