Monday, January 19, 2009

On National Day of Service: Civilians, Consider Serving Those Who Serve Us

"Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, is designated a National Day of Service. My husband is spending it with his 'Little Brother' via the YMCA's Big Brothers program, while my service today is in reaching out to help an Iraq veteran with an upcoming project he is organizing (more about this in extended).

The rest of my day is, unfortunately, devoted to studying for my classes, so additional service will have to come from me later. But, I'm inspired by the promise of the day, and the energy that everyone is putting into it all across the country. Fortunately, as Michelle Obama says in this explanatory video below, "This is more than a single day of service."

To extend that service into the future, may I suggest that you consider serving/helping one of those who have served us in uniform...and continues to serve now that he is out of it?

Editors Note: This is the first in an evolving series of posts weaving together data and developing research for my NIU Honors Capstone paper, Combat Veterans, Mass Media and the Advancement of Social Consciousness: An Historical and Contemporary Review, the draft of which is due in April 2008.

Relevant comments, info-sharing and direction are highly appreciated, as the paper is fluid and in formation. I'm hoping to both present the research at this year's 17th Annual Clement S. Stacy Undergraduate Research Conference hosted by Purdue University, as well as submit it for publication in a peer-reviewed journal when everything is complete. That will be a first for me, and I'm excited at the prospects.

Thanks in advance for your help and patience with me as the semester unfolds and updates to PTSD Combat become hit-or-miss once more. -- Ilona Meagher

I received a really kind email today from Tyler Boudreau, OIF vet and author of one of the best books in its class (Packing Inferno: The Unmaking of a Marine; I've previously posted on him and his work here and here). His email was in response to a recent VetVoice post of mine (What OEF/OIF vets are best using mass media to reach society?), which included mention of his incredible engagement of society and attempts to advance our collective consciousness on issues of great importance to all of us.

My VetVoice post was a response to OEF/OIF vet and author Brandon Friedman's 'On Milblogging' post and a comment he made:

What are the 10 best blog posts (or book passages) written by Iraq or Afghanistan veterans? I can think of a couple by Alex Horton, another by Kate, and a couple by Ben at 2 Dinar off the top of my head. What am I missing? (Political persuasion, of course, is irrelevant here.)

His question especially excited me because of its timing; I'm on full-on press for related data for my NIU Honors Capstone Paper, specifically looking into how OEF/OIF veterans (like Brandon, for example via his excellent book The War I Always Wanted and his blogging, as well as Tyler through the same -- and additional -- channels) are using all the new media communications technology available for the first time to this generation of warriors to communicate *directly* with the civilians they served. This communication is a lot more immediate and intimate, so we are seeing changes taking place in quick order compared to the past.

In the long and short run, this back-and-forth communication by the enlightened-by-fire and the unenlightened and comfortable back at home will go far in helping to broadly raise consciousness on things having to do with war, yes; but also on life in general, especially examining the dichotomy of life. How good and bad exist in all things, because if warriors learn anything it is that war, to them at least, is glorious and damned, filled with triumph and tragedy, grandeur and misery...

My research isn't focused on OEF/OIF vets speaking out against war, per se (the anti-war movement has already been researched ad naseum); but rather about greater reflections on humanity, meaning, purpose, love, hate, violence -- all of the things that we all as humans grapple and deal with through the course of our lives. The only difference is that veterans' understanding of these things is forged deeper and more violently by serving in combat and being pushed to that extreme in life.

GI Kate's post stark post that. I shared the following quotes in my post that I think stand out and deserve to be considered. First up, from OIF veteran John Crawford, Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier’s Account of the War in Iraq (great writing):

The world hears war stories told by reporters and retired generals who keep extensive notebooks and journals. They carry pens as they walk, whereas I carried a machine gun. War stories are told to those that have not experienced the worst in man. And to the listener’s ears they can sound like glory and heroism. People mutter phrases like, ‘I don’t know how you did it.’ And ‘I could never have done that.’ And they look at you wondering how you have changed, wondering if you have forever lost the moral dilemma associated with taking another person’s life.


War stories end when the battle is over or when the soldier comes home. In real life, there are no moments amid smoldering hilltops for tranquil introspection. When the war is over, you pick up your gear, walk down the hill and back into the world.

Brandon Friedman, in The War I Always Wanted: The Illusion of Glory and the Reality of War (on the dichotomy of war):

[Since surviving the bomb that landed on his platoon and returning home from war feeling as though everything he's lived since the war is a dream, not real]... I hold on too tight. I am too controlling, too serious. There is an urgency and desperation in everything I do. I am trying to do as much as I can in this extended spit-second before that bomb bursts. I wish this moment would last forever.

Killing is wrong, war is miserable. I miss being soldier. I cannot reconcile these things.

[He goes on to tell of a phone call with a battle buddy about a year after returning from Iraq. His buddy had hated the deployment, was bitter over the whole ordeal.]

And then, in his Boston accent, he added, "Yeah, it was miserable...ya know...prob'ly the wust period of my life. I wouldn't eva do that shit again in a million yea's." I agreed.

Then he paused. "But you know...we did have a pretty good time, didn't we?" A lot of people can't understand a contradiction like that. But we can. We are enlightened.

OIF vet Tyler E. Boudreau's words from Packing Inferno: The Unmaking of a Marine (the entire book is worthy of quoting, imho):

They say war is hell. But I say it ain't. War is the foyer to hell. The journey home from war is the threshold between a killing order and a peaceful chaos, between the rational and the distorted. Those few hours on the plane are the last of a crystalline euphoria a soldier will know before he steps across the river for good. It was in the passage through Anchorage that I believed I was coming home.

But just like war ain't hell, home ain't a point on the map -- it's a point of view; it's an attitude, and the origin of all my points had broken from the mainland. I had no anchorage anymore. My attitude was like a cooked egg -- permanently altered. My basis was adrift. I had completed the unmaking of myself. I just didn't know it yet. From the very instant my foot touched the American tarmac, I began my descent.

So, what is Tyler up to now and how does he need us?

I will post more on his project in the future, but for now I ask that you check out his "The Other Side: Cross-Country Cycling Tour Summer 2009" page for the full details of this exciting initiative to bring veterans and society together to talk about these issues. See if you are anywhere near the route (scroll down on the page to see the Google Map). If you can help in some way, please do.

I'm hoping to share connections and contacts, set up an event on the route, and may even sign up to a be a short-haul rider as he swings through Illinois. I better get serious about my training!

A few details from Tyler sets the stage:

A group of veterans (and non-veterans, too) will cycle from one side of the country to the other over the summer of 2009 in an effort to re-acquaint themselves with the land, to reintegrate with their communities and families, and to positively re-invest their strength in America.

...In its most fundamental sense, this project is about searching for what's on "the other side" of the battlefield. It is very much about veterans who have found themselves hurled suddenly to the other side of a catastrophic injury, or Post-Traumatic Stress, or an inexplicably dysfunctional life in the aftermath of war. But it is also about the nature of warfare itself. There is a great mythology associated with battle. We seek "the other side" of that mythology. We seek the other side of ourselves. We travel to "the other side" of the country to find it.

Read more at his Deeper Than War blog.

Please help to move this conversation forward. Email Tyler Bourdreau if you can assist him in organizing an event on the route, or if you have any questions or suggestions. And, if you're far from the planned trail, perhaps you can drop a nickle or two into the bucket to help make sure this endeavor is a full success.

Donations online via PayPal at the Collaborative Revolution page or via snail mail by sending a check to Collaborative Revolution, P.O. Box 60399, Florence, MA 01062. ***Be sure to type/write in "The Other Side" Cycle Tour in the memo line at the top of the PayPal page or into your check's memo line so the funds make their way to support Tyler's mission.***

Thank you for serving those who serve us!

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