Getting Ready to Say Goodbye

For those of you that have been following my blog, you know I’m getting ready to head back to Fort Gordon for the captain’s career course. I’m not thrilled with the plan because it means uprooting my family but at least we’ll only be in Georgia instead of well, Iraq. And it’s only for a few months before we reunite the family under one roof again.

Course Iraq looms against shortly after we get home but we’ll deal with that. We’ve done it before; we’ll do it again.

Anyway, I’ve already begun my transition with my replacement. First, let me tell you, I feel like the Devil Wears Prada because in my heart of hearts, I feel like I’ve made a true difference in the way this unit works and operates and I worry about my replacement stepping in simply because he wasn’t with the brigade the whole time so I’ve got a basis of experience he missed out on.

He’s going to do just fine.

But I worry, you know?

I like feeling like I’ve made a difference. I like being needed and I like being trusted and with my commander and my first sergeant, there’s trust between the three of us. I haven’t had that – not like this- since becoming an officer and its meant the world for me in the last few months. The three of us have been a great team and I am really, honestly and truly, going to miss working with those two guys. I never had to bite my tongue and they didn’t either. And it worked.

But more than those two, I’m going to miss my old soldiers. The guys I was downrange with will be burned in my memory forever. My daughters run around saying “I am a robot” and I’m wondering why my kids sound like SSG Sanchez. These guys are a really great group of soldiers and the Blackknight family is just that: A family. We’ve got good soldiers all working toward the good of the brigade.

The team I’m leaving behind will succeed because they understand how critical they are to the success of the brigade. And they truly care about getting better every day.

My life in the Greywolf brigade has not been easy. I’ve had many days where I’ve screamed in frustration and anger. But the single best compliment I’ve received is being told that I was one of the few officers who were truly passionate about what I was doing. That to me is the one of the few things someone could have said about me that means a lot. Especially considering the speaker, someone I admire and respect tremendously.

I’ve had an incredible support from the senior leaders in my brigade. The 2 XOs I served, the DCO and the Brigade Commander all took a smart ass, know it all lieutenant and proceeded to step on my neck while I learned what it meant to be an officer in a brigade combat team.

I am a better officer for having had these men as mentors. I’ve learned to argue for whats important and how compromise when I knew I couldn’t win. I learned hard lessons about firing people and what happens when you don’t cut sling load. I also relearned that its about having the right people in the job, regardless of rank.

As I move on to my next assignment, I will try to go in with a dose of humility. As a great lady recently told me, I am still a young officer, regardless of my time in service. I still have a ton to learn about being an officer.

I am willing to learn but as always, I have to learn from people I respect and admire. That may be a critical weakness on my part, but it is one I’m at least aware of.

I am honestly saddened at the thought of leaving this unit. Unlike other units where, when it was time to go, it was really time to go and I didn’t look back with nostalgia until much later. I’m already looking back on this fondly. I’m glad I’ve got the blog to remind me of some of the challenges.

I’m not gone yet. I’ve still got to make my transition as seamless as possible so that one day, they look around and realize I’m gone and they don’t even miss me. For while it would be nice to be missed, if I am to have any true, lasting impact, I need to make sure when I leave, the transition is smooth and easy.

Because the BlackKnight family has worked their asses off to get where they are and they deserve to have a seamless transition. It’s my last task before heading off for parts unknown.

First Week as the 1SGs Wife

Well, its been a week and I’ve got to say, I’m friggin exhausted. Its easy to forget just how hard it is to do everything yourself and to be honest, he’d wiped out, too. It’s a completely new battle rhythm where we’re both up at 450, him getting dressed and shaving, me making him coffee and packing him a lunch, then going out to the garage to work out myself ( a good book helps with this motivation).

The kids have barely noticed, which is good. He’s still home at a reasonable hour, but that’s 1900 (7 pm for you civilians) and by then, the kids are getting ready for bed. So they’re up later but they’re a little older now, so its not so bad. Keeping the house clean is moderately easy, or it would be if we didn’t have the new jerk dog that piddles everywhere and an 8 year old cat who decides that peeing where I sleep is appropriate revenge for the new kitteh member of the family.

I’ve washed the entire bed (sheets, comforter, and the foam pads beneath) 6 times since Sunday of last week, so needless to say, momma’s not happy. At least my washer can handle the king size comforter.
All in all, my husband loves it. He tells me about the funny stuff his soldiers do. Right now, we’re both in jobs that are arguably the best in the army. Working in a line company, around junior soldiers and making the mission happen. Its more work than being on staff because there’s always personal problems to handle but that’s what we do. When a soldier knows a leader truly cares, they’ll do anything for you and the team.

This week was an off one for me because of the new battle rhythm. I have the best commander on the planet. He’s given me trust to do what’s right and he’s given me the most important thing I need: time. There are some days when I feel like I’m sitting at the bottom of a well, wondering how on earth I’m going to climb out and get after the mission. This whole week felt like that so it’s been a struggle.

But the thing I’ve learned is that right now, my husband has the more important job. He’s a first sergeant. He’s ‘Top” in his unit and his soldiers are counting on him. My job is winding down as I begin my transition to a new job and my replacement is coming on board. So its important that I take on the mother load so that he can focus on getting his boys ready to go again. Because they will go again. Of that, I have no doubt.

It’s hard because he’s tired when he gets home at night. We talk for a few minutes but within an hour of getting in, he’s usually asleep. I’m not far behind him.

All in all, we’re getting there, just like we always do, together. I can honestly say I miss my husband because we don’t talk during the day now very much. He’s too busy. So we try to catch up on the way to work in the morning or on his drive home we talk on the phone. Just another way we try to keep in touch even though we’re on the same base and coming home to each other every night.

It’s going to be a long two years but we’ll get through it. Its what we do. Its what we’ll give to the Army because it’s what we are. We’re both soldiers.

It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

The Blind Spot: Writing and Real Life

The very best resource I’ve found since become a writer is Psychology Today. Not only does this magazine help with fictional characterizations, but I’ve also taken a good hard look at some issues and been able to apply lessons to real life in the Army.
This month, there was an article in there about a book called The Invisible Gorilla. The premise of the book revolves around expectations and when people are directed to look for one thing in a room, in over half the cases, they completely miss the fact that there’s a gorilla there.

This has huge implications, both for fiction and for real life. When have you read a book with a major plot element plain to see to everyone but the characters and when they finally do figure out that what they needed was right in front of them, you feel cheated? Or when a story arc builds around a miscommunication? Have you ever been involved in a massive fight that could have been avoided had one party simply been able to say wait, we’re miscommunicating here?

Exactly. It’s easy to spot these problems in other people’s fiction but damn near impossible to see in our own. When it comes to real life, we’re just as blind sided by these illusions. But the blind spot isn’t just when dealing with an inability to really see.
I read a quote somewhere that most people aren’t ever actively engaged in listening, they’re planning what they’re going to say next. How much do we miss by not tuning in to what people are truly saying. When we aren’t actively listening, we miss key body language cues, voice inflection and all these other elements that tune us in to what others truly mean.

The blind spot also, however comes into play in the military in a HUGE way. We base most of our assumptions about individuals based on 3 things: rank, race and gender. A male major is assumed to have base of knowledge that a male lieutenant is not. A female private is going to be stereotyped first, assessed on performance second. This is in part due to stereotypes and bias that we all carry within us but also based on our expectations. The expectation that a major is a person of authority.

Why else would Nidal Hasan have been able to walk right up to a gathering of soldiers and start shooting. We never expected an officer, a field grade to do something like that. In our military, our expectations are that young gangbangers cause the problems and these individuals are almost always in the lower enlisted ranks. Before anyone accuses me of using a race based term, I’m not. There is growing evidence to suggest that white power gangs are sending young members in to learn military training.

But it is our expectations most days that prevent us from seeing the truth that walks among us. If there is a staff sergeant who walks around hugging all the E4 and below, but he does so with a smile on his face, does that make him a potential sexual harassment offender. But he’s so nice, the argument may go. What about the quiet guy in the corner? Is he just quiet or is he hiding some dark secret in his basement? What about the weirdo who believes he has a cloak of invisibility that keeps him from being shot on guard duty?

In describing all of these people, my expectations of them have colored how I describe them. As you read this, your expectations are colored by my words so that if you ever met them, you would be looking for the weirdo or the creepy guy. You might never see the true person because of these expectations.

In the end of it all, it is very hard to see what we most times don’t know we can’t see. It’s critical, both as a writer and a leader, to seek a trusted second opinion. Almost always, they will see something that you did not. Once they mention it, it may seem glaringly obvious.

But you’d never have seen it – whatever ‘it’ is- without asking for a second opinion and actively looking for the gorilla in the room.

The Meaning of Honor

This post has been building for a long time. I’ve been trying to keep my mouth shut and act like a grown up, mature professional.

But who the hell am I kidding?

Friday was the rededication of the First Cavalry Division’s Memorial to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. This was be the third time the Cav has rededicated the memorial since the war began, etching new names of our fallen brothers and sisters into the black granite. The memorial stands in front of the First Cav headquarters for all to see, a silent tribute to a soldier who gave their life. Friday, we added 69 more names to the immortal wall.

Standing in that crowd and paying respect to my fallen brothers and sisters means something to me, as it does to everyone who has ever lost someone next to them who wore the uniform. The American Flag became more than cloth to me the first time I stood on that airfield in Mosul and saluted a flag draped coffin. And my uniform means something to me because my brothers and sisters in arms have bled and died in these colors.

When someone, man or woman, raises their right hand and volunteers to become a soldier, they are signing on to become someone different. We are taught to uphold the Army Values. Those Army values may be just words on a poster to many but to some of us, they are more than words.

So when people who have never worn the uniform dare to call all the men and women who wear it dishonorable, disloyal, liars or criminals, it deeply offends me to the very seat of my soul.
I just ordered Dark Hearts: One Platoon’s Journey into Madness. The book is about the Mahmoudiya murder committed by Stephen Green and his platoon. These men raped and murdered a 14 year old Iraqi girl and then murdered her entire family to conceal the crime. This was not warfare. This was murder. This was dishonor.

Being willing to kill in combat is not the same as murder.

In Fareheitt 9/11, Michael Moore dared to portray soldiers as amoral killers because they listened to Drowning Pool’s Bodies as they rolled outside the gate. What Mr. Moore fails to realize is the loyalty and bonds that will enable you to do anything to bring the men and women next to you home alive. If Bodies got our boys in that tank in the right frame of mind to go out and come home alive, then so be it. They are soldiers and it is not a kind, gentle thing that soldiers are asked to do for our nation. Our nation asks us to kill and while we will do our best to do so with restraint, if you have never worn a uniform, then you have no right to pretend to know what my brothers and sisters in arms go through each time they roll outside the wire.

I’m supposed to say I’ll defend to my death your right to free speech. I’m supposed to say that diverse opinions are what makes America great. But when you take an entire Army of soldiers, noncommissioned officers and officers and call them dishonorable, there is no further dialogue. We have reached mutually exclusive terrain that can not be shared. There is nothing I can say that will convince you that even if your point has ANY semblance of validity, you should not say that ALL soldiers and leaders are dishonorable.

Is there dishonor within the ranks? Yes. I will not sit here and lie to you and pretend that we do not have criminals, thieves and cowards wearing our uniform. But you cannot stand there and call us all by these names because a few actually deserve it.

Honor means something to me. Doing the right thing means something to me and it means something to a majority of the men and women I stood next to last week as we honored our fallen brothers and sisters.

Question the policy. Question actions of individuals. Demand that individuals be held responsible for their actions.

But don’t you dare call me or the men and women I serve with dishonorable.
You don’t know the meaning of the word.

Prepping for PBS

So a week ago I recieved an invitation to participate in PBS POV Regarding War blog. I started shaking, I was so excited. I mean, it’s a huge deal. This is PBS. So yeah, I’m still a little awestruck.

My first thought was oh, shit, now I HAVE to make sure my unit knows about this. Little did I know everything that was going to belong to this process. First stop was my company commander. I’d sent him the two pieces I’d submitted to the NY Times, but now that this was going to be an ongoing project instead of random submissions, I really needed to make sure my unit knew I was playing the public swimming pool. Second stop was to the battalion commander. He thought it was a great idea and I was pleasantly surprised to discover we actually had some of the same thoughts on various topics, such as gays in the military and women in combat.

Stop number 3 (and remember all of this is taking place at 1600 on a Tuesday) was to my brigade PAO. Who wasn’t there. On my way out of the office, I ran into the deputy brigade commander, who thought I looked a little more frazzled than usual. I explained what was going on and he pointed me to the legal office.

Because apparently, not only do I need to have PAO review stuff, which I knew, I did not realize I was stepping into fuzzy ethics. See, apparently, there are rules about what soldiers can do to make money and with the small honorarium that PBS was going to pay (for those of you that don’t know, an honorarium is a small fee for participating in a project, a token, if you will) I’d stepped into the confusing landscape of the Joint Federal Ethics Regulation. Good times.

The ultimate decision was reached that yes, I could participate in the blog but would have to forego the honorarium. The good folks at PBS had no issues with that clause at all. Also, I was told I had to ensure that while we could tell folks I was in the army, I could not use any pictures of me in uniform, nor could I use my title. Basically, there could be nothing to imply that my words represented offical policy.

And with that, we’re off. I’ve submitted my intro and my 2nd post to PAO for approval and am working on the 3rd post. I’m excited to be part of this project because we’ll be discussing women at war, which is something that, even though I might not have been out running the streets, I’ve got a pretty strong recent experience with.

So I’m thrilled and nervous as hell because my brigade commander is going to be reading everything I submit, which is terrifying. He’s a little intense, to say the least.

And we’re off. Wish me luck as the story unfolds!


I was sitting in mass today and Father Richard started talking about living in a dark fog. Sometimes, things just keep you down and you can’t see your way through them.
Kind of like how life has been for the last two months. Well, almost two months. I don’t count the two weeks I spent in Texas without the kids, so I haven’t been a mom again for sixty complete days.

Here’s the thing. I’ve been trying, really trying, just to keep my head above water. And its not like I’ve got a ton of stress going on in my life but it’s the stupid things that are bothering me. I hate traffic. I loathe it. It is the ultimate time suck and I have to do fight Fort Hood traffic every single day, because unless you’re up at 8 am, even going to the store involves crowds and lines of cars and bodies all jockeying for a place in the checkout line.

I’ll do anything to avoid going to the store, but especially when it’s busy. Thankfully, my hubby is cool with that, because well, if I’m not in the store, I’m not shopping. Gone are the days when I’d run to Target for a gallon of milk. Nope. I’m using a list and at the beginning of the week, I’m buying everything I need for the week, to include 3 gallons of milk.

I get this tight knot around my chest when I get in crowded places. I start getting frustrated and rude and I don’t like feeling like that. I won’t go to lunch on Ft Hood b/c of the lines and lines of cars 2 miles long to get off post. And no, there is no unused gate. All orifices leading to and from Ft Hood suck.

It’s something so trivial and so stupid and yet, its real to me. I simply won’t do it and will do anything to avoid it.

But its not just traffic. I’m also tired. I love having my kids around. I’m incredible glad to be home and be able to take my kid to school and be involved with her education. I love her teacher and she’s adjusted well to being back in Texas, away from the family up in Maine.

My writing is struggling, as is my ability to think clearly. I’m working my ass off to finish my WIP Monster but, as remains the case with this book, inspiration comes in fits and starts with it. So I’m not forcing it, I’m working on it as it comes. I’ve discovered that the book I sent out to agents has a massive pacing problem, but fear and the worry that I’m going to once more paint myself as an amateur has kept me from contacting them and pulling the project back. I still have hope that someone will take me on and work with me, but if this book isn’t the one to do that, I’m okay with that.

I’m frustrated because I had time in Iraq. I had time to write, I had time to read, I had time to work out. Here, there simply isn’t enough time. I have to get up at 5 every day for workout time. And when my kids are awake, its all mommy all the time. By the time they’re in bed, I’m exhausted. I might be awake for an hour after they’re in bed but by 9, 9:30 at the latest, I’m toast. How the hell was I working 18 hours days in Iraq like it was nothing? I don’t know, but I sure as hell have found the cure for insomnia.

So I’m dealing with a lot and trying to keep up a positive outlook on things. I’ve had days where I would have gotten out of the army if another opportunity presented itself, but I’m a realist and I enjoy being able to go to the doctor when my kid breaks her arm. I want to be published so badly I can taste it but it seems to remain just out of reach. If this book isn’t the one to do that, then all I can do is write the next book.

But at the end of it all, if I’m frustrated and tired and remain unpublished, all of these things don’t matter. What matters is that I’m home. For the time being, I get to be a mom and all these other things. I don’t have to go to the store. I don’t have to get angry when I’m in a store. Fr Richard spoke today of perseverance. Stick with it. You’re going through things now that you might not understand the purpose behind.

So I’ll persevere, even when I feel like crawling into bed and pulling the covers over my head. I’ll keep writing and I’ll keep making things normal for my kids and I’ll keep working on achieving that panacea of all working mom’s: balance. Wish me luck!

Traditions or #tweetsfromtheball

As much as I complained on Twitter about it, I actually had a good time at the ball (if by good time you mean your feet hurt and you can’t breathe b/c the last time you wore your Blues you hadn’t had 2 kids but I digress). These things are tradition. They’re part of the lineage and history of what we do. The pants on the blues are lighter color than the jackets to symbolize our soldiers from the civil war, whose pants were bleached by the sun.

If they’re going to be done, they should be done right. When I tweeted about the spouses at our table looking beautiful, I wasn’t kidding. They were all dressed in very classy gowns and carried themselves in the finest tradition of military wives.

Other spouses, however did not look the part and those were some of the ones you read about. But here’s the thing: those folks might not have known better. Our soldiers should know better. Our soldiers should know that if you are in that unit, you come in uniform and at a formal, that uniform, ladies, is the skirt. Like it or not, at a formal event, you don’t get the option of wearing pants. And gentlemen, please refrain from sliding your hand up your wife’s thigh at the table. Not cool. Funny. But not really cool.

But over all, it was a good time. I shared a lot of laughs and we remembered some of the fun we had in Iraq, laughing at our mistakes or at others. It was a night of comraderie and laughs.

There are some units that you can’t wait to leave. There are others that you will never forget. My current unit is one that I will never forget, and that I will laugh over and remember for the rest of my life. I have a fantastic commander and first sergeant who are growing into a superb command team. The NCOs I work with are truly great and have potential to grow into the next generation of fantastic senior NCOs.

I will miss these folks when I move on to my next assignment. It’s a pretty special thing.

Podcast for Army Wife Network Interview

Thanks to everyone who helped me get on board for the Army Wife’s Network!

I think this is the podcast! I’m up right after Susan Vogt. I’d love to hear what you think. This is my first ever live interview, so it was pretty exciting!!

A Night in the Life of a Soldier, Mom & Wife

I can’t say this week has been easy. It hasn’t. But I’m starting to wonder just what y’all think is going on here. Monday night, I was in tears. I laid awake, bawling because of the strain of my husband moving to Ft Bragg without us and a myriad of other worries and stresses that decided Monday night was the night to let it all out.

The night kicked off with my oldest coming back from a sleepover. She was over tired and hungry, cause you know that child won’t eat. She wailed and cried for three hours STRAIGHT. We finally got her to sleep and then the little one wouldn’t settle down. For children used to going to bed at 730, 10pm was insanely late.

But the crying, over tired kids was only the start. It really hit me that my husband is moving to Bragg. No biggie, right? Yeah, except that he’s at Bragg and the girls and I won’t get there until January of 2011 because I’m going to my advance course. We’ll make it work, we always do, but pressing on my chest that night was the dread that my daughters could be without their daddy for 3 YEARS. Because what if we get to Bragg and then he deploys. Really? This is the choice we have to make?

I’m not blaming the army here. I accept that ‘needs of the army’ trumps needs of a family any day of the week (notice I said accept, doesn’t mean I like it). But when the people on high look down at the micro level, at the individual soldier and say, well, sometimes you’ve got to take one for the team, I feel like saying…well, it’s not fit for the public but use your imagination.

The reality of it is that my husband has not officially moved from Ft Hood since 2003. Nevermind that he’s done 3 COMBAT TOURS in Iraq in that time period, plus his advanced schooling so he’s been physically at Ft Hood less than 24 months out of that entire time period. I, on the other hand, have moved because of my officer training.

The army says, you have dwell time. Well, what good does dwell time do when you move someone 90 days after they return from Iraq and you don’t consider that he is part of a family with children. 3 schools in the first year of kindergarten? So no, I have to stay in Hood until summer time.

I’m not telling you this to demand you write to the powers that be or anything like that. This is our situation and we’ll deal with it, just like we always have. I’m sharing this because sometimes, the magnitude of the impact on my kids gets to me. I keep telling myself that they’ll be allright. They’re with me, we’ll get by. But they love their daddy. And you know what? I love their daddy and damn it, I don’t want to spend 2 years without him.

So it hurts to be faced with these choices. It hurts a lot but these are the consequences of our continuing to serve. And sometimes, the consequences and the weight of it all keeps me up at night, letting it all out, so I have space to put it back inside and get through the next day.

So that’s it. A night in the life of a worried soldier, mom and wife who’s no longer in combat, but sometimes, just as worried.

I Am Not Anonymous

I’ve developed a low tolerance for a lot of things since I’ve been back from Iraq, but something completely trivial is working my nerves.

People all across the country respect and admire soldiers and thank us for our service. While we’re just doing our jobs like everyone else, it’s still nice for people to recognize that we do something just a little out of the ordinary by just saying thank you. It’s a small thing, but it really means a lot.

Except, if you live in a military town, the rule is not thank you for your service, but familiarity breeds contempt. I’ve got a news flash for all you civilians that work on post and are put out by having to provide a service to us soldiers. Your job is here because of us. You don’t know where we’ve been or what we’ve encountered over in Iraq and Afghanistan. So when you walk by at 0758, refusing to make eye contact with me as I stand outside your office and refusing to open the door to even allow me and the three other soldiers inside where it was warm, remember that without us, you wouldn’t have a job.

I know that’s sounds bitchy and it is. My patience, like I’ve pointed out, is really low these days. But these women were completely engrossed in their conversation and were literally trying to pretend that there weren’t four of us outside, freezing our asses off and they couldn’t’ have been bothered to even open the door and let us in. They didn’t even have to serve us before they opened but a little common courtesy would have been nice. Especially considering it was 32 degrees.

Same thing happened at a local restaurant. This place was a chain and my hubby and I thought having a sit down breakfast would be nice. We waited, patiently. The restaurant was half empty but still, no one was coming to seat us. Then, when the hostess finally did start seating folks, she seated another couple first.

We left, neither of us having the patience to deal with basic lack of manners and basic customer service.

I know this sounds like I’m being petty and small and maybe I am. Maybe in a couple weeks, I’ll look back on this post and think, what the hell was I thinking. And please recognize, this is not an indictment of the whole town, but people in it who refuse to recognize that soldiers are people, not just numbers.

But right now, the rudeness and the refusal to recognize that soldiers are not just a uniform but a person by some of the people in the town and on the base I call home is disconcerting.