Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Help Needed for Military Spouses – Especially During Deployment Times

This week An Army Wife’s Life blog is having a giveaway contest for MRS. LIEUTENANT: A SHARON GOLD NOVEL (see ). To be eligible for the giveaway, people must leave a question for me. And after the giveaway is over I will answer some of the questions.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the comments, most of which fall into the following categories:

What prompted you to write a book about this era? Was it personal experience?

Was your info on the four different wives taken from the lives of family and friends or of strangers? Are you portraying yourself in one of the four women?

Yet there’s another category of questions, of which the following is representative:

My very good friend's husband is in the army and in Iraq at the moment. She is struggling with army housing and medical issues (she is pregnant with her second child and they are at a new base where she knows no one). She is seeking advice and assistance and doesn't want to stress her husband during their limited contact. What is the best way her friends can support her long-distance?

As I have not been a Mrs. Lieutenant since 1972, I have no idea what the answer is to this question. And because I felt this question deserved an answer as soon as possible, I turned to Candace, the blogger of An Army Wife’s Life.

Here is part of Candace’s response, which I’m including on this blog in case this information can help other military spouses:

For financial and medical issues, the best thing for her friend to do is to first contact Rear D. Sounds like what she needs primarily is the correct power of attorney forms and, working with legal, they are the only ones that can make that happen during a deployment.

After the medical and housing issues are straightened out, if she needs financial assistance, Rear D should know about what's available on that specific post. There are a ton of programs at most posts, but not all are service-wide.

If she doesn't get anywhere with Rear D, then I always recommend Army One Source or Military One Source they have masters-level consultants answering the phone 24 hours a day to provide free information to military families and should be able to help her develop a plan and figure out who to contact.

Candace also said that two of the sites included on in the support military families section would be good:

  • Operation Homefront (
    Provides emergency assistance and morale to U.S. troops, their families, and wounded warriors.

  • (
    Operation Homefront's online community for military wives and women in uniform.

I hope that this information can help any other military spouse who needs help. And I also hope someone will leave a comment here telling me what Rear D is.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

An Active Duty Military Personnel Describes What PTSD Means to Him

In response to my July 27th post about expiation for combat killing in connection with an ongoing discussion of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) see I heard from another active duty military personnel:

I spent the mainstay of my early military career as a paratrooper. Mechanized infantry wasn't an option for me, because I hated being closed in, much the same reasons why I avoided life as a submariner.

What I didn't know was the amount of time I would spend crowded "in the harness" within a plane, one guy on top another.

Fifteen years later, I still get the willies when my wife sits next to me on the couch and the kids crowd in on the other side. I get short of breath and feel like the walls are closing in on me.

It's even worse now when we crowd in a Stryker [armored personnel carrier]. If all I had to do was throw some birdies on the altar to shed this claustrophobia ... well, prepare my sin offering! Other experiences may trigger nightmares here and there, but nothing so much as the times spent waiting for that little green light [jump signal] of relief to come on.

It was the repeated exposure to the same cringe-inducing experience that did me in. I imagine it's much the same with many cases of PTSD.

The flesh-eating bacteria of impatience coupled with the routine, possibly broken up only by the roadside bomb or occasional sniping, perhaps with the accompanying heartfelt trauma ... and the resumption of impatience with routine and monotony...

How does one expiate that? Guilt seems like only one-third of the entire spectrum of associated trauma.

I do know two fellows, both decorated vets of 3rd ID's initial invasion in Iraq [3rd Infantry Division]. Both saw heavy fighting, one even went twice. The first spiraled downhill with heavy drinking, losing rank and jobs, more than likely his family, while the second builds positive relationships and succeeds.

The first is an avowed atheist, the second a moderately religious man. He had a community to turn to that said "what you have done, what you have been through, means something to us." Perhaps that part is more important, vis-a-vis the parades you mentioned, than the sacrificial device.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Jewish National Guardsman Scheduled to Be Deployed Worries That He Won’t Have Enough Prayer Books to Conduct Services in Iraq

My July 23rd blog post “U.S. Military Personnel Trained as Jewish Lay Leaders in Iraq” discussed a July 10th article in the Jewish Daily Forward that I had spotted on (See my blog post at

The Forward article describes how Rabbi Jon Cutler, currently one of three Jewish chaplains in Iraq, had brought together seven Jewish servicemen and women from across Iraq to train as lay leaders to conduct Jewish services for other soldiers.

The Forward article included this quote: “There are relatively few rabbis, a third of the number we had a generation ago,” said Harold L. Robinson, director of the Jewish Welfare Board Jewish Chaplains Council, which is responsible for finding Jewish chaplains. “The need for rabbis is as great as it ever was.”

In response to this blog post I got an email from an observant National Guardsman who will be deploying to Iraq in a few months. He is officially not allowed to say anything negative about the Jewish Welfare Board. But he allowed me to anonymously post parts of his email:

It's nice that the Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) has trained lay leaders. But the truth is, the JWB generally leaves lay leaders out there on their own once they've been certified. These lay leaders prove their worth solely through the energy they put to the effort.

In spite of the San Diego conference almost two years ago and the recent one in Florida, outside of OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom], CONUS [Continental U.S.] lay leaders are not being developed properly. Neither is this new crop likely to receive follow-on training except at great personal expense.

I recently went through Aleph Institute for my own endorsement for deployment. Aleph Institute is Chabad-affiliated, which isn't a problem for my wife and me, and they provide a veritable glut of material support. They've perceived the vacuum that's associated with the Jewish Welfare Board these days. Unfortunately, it's a little more difficult to run an egalitarian program with their support.

And we sure need some rabbis ... just not from the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) [Orthodox] right now. We honestly need Reform and Conservative rabbis. Precisely for the reason of female service members who deserve equal treatment. We've actually plenty of RCA-approved rabbis

Some might say the emphasis has been on the wrong syllable with their efforts. All the focus on a new military-ish Tanakh [Bible] seemed misplaced. That the Protestants have a digital camo Bible isn't keeping me awake with envy at night. That I don't know that I'll have enough usable siddurim [prayer books] for a crowd of mixed-observance/ mixed-Hebrew literacy troops does.

The boldface of that last sentence is mine. I’m hoping that someone who reads this blog post is in a position to do something about that lack of prayer books. And to possibly fulfill that hope, I plan to forward this post to some Reform and Conservative rabbis that I know. Perhaps they will help.

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Biblical Act of Expiation for Killing in Battle Might Have Helped with PTSD

My July 20th blog post talked about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in military personnel (see I then asked for an opinion from BT, the National Guard infantryman now serving in Iraq who had a guest post here on July 9th (see Here’s BT’s reply to me:

I have mixed feeling about the accuracy of PTSD. First off, I think it is way over-diagnosed. Some people get it worse than others.

I used to scan the sides of the roads when I came back the first time, but I stopped doing that after a week or so.

By "over-diagnosed" I kind of mean that there really aren't levels of PTSD. Someone can claim PTSD even if it is mild nightmares. My fear, and one of the reasons that I would be reluctant to go to anyone if I thought I had it, is that I would be marked for life. I might not be able to own a gun or hold a certain kind of job.

I also think that medical units hand out PTSD diagnoses like candy, because it’s easier than treating the problem. So they give them the diagnosis, take two Motrin, wash your hands and move out. When really that soldier just needs three days off, a hot meal and a chance to call his wife.

This topic of PTSD brought forth an interesting idea on the part of my husband Mitch in connection with the Torah portion read at Shabbat morning services yesterday. (Each week Jews read a portion from the Torah – the Five Books of Moses, completing the entire Torah in a year.)

Yesterday the portion was Mattot (Numbers 30: 2 to 32: 42), which talks in part about the offerings made by the warriors of Israel who have returned from fighting and killing the Midianites. The officers make a special additional offering.

Mitch put forth the idea that this offering by the fighting men was a ritual that helped to prevent PTSD. By making a public offering of forgiveness for having killed in battle, these warriors could hope to banish some of the mental demons that resulted from their acts of war.

And – as my husband, a former officer in the U.S. Army, said – of course the officers had to make additional offerings because they would have felt more guilt. They are the ones, my husband pointed out, who ordered their men into battle, saying “Take that hill” and knowing some will die doing so.

Mitch’s theory has a lot of merit. World War II soldiers returned home to victory parades, which are a public ritual. Vietnam veterans returned home to an ungrateful nation, and many suffer PTSD. We can only hope that the welcomes received by soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan help with alleviating PTSD.

Perhaps instead of being treated with psychoanalysis and drugs, combat veterans of all wars would be better off if they could participate in a community-wide expiation ritual, admitting their acts of war and being publicly forgiven for those same acts of war.

I’ll ask BT what he thinks of this idea.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Then (Vietnam War) and Now (Iraq War): Fraternization With the Opposite Sex

An older National Guard soldier due to deploy to Iraq told his wife the following:

What a huge difference between the fraternization briefings I got when we were shipped to Germany in 1976 (an armored brigade to Fulda on the East-West border) and now.

The 1976 briefing was four hours of telling us not to fraternize while assuming we would. The motto then: "Sleep NATO."

The same briefing lasted five minutes this May. Essentially: "If any of you is stupid enough to wander outside the wire and become involved with a local woman, there ain't a damn thing we can do. Uncle Achmed is going to chop you into pieces – and your sweetie too. Enough said?"

When I asked the National Guard soldier about fraternization in Iraq with female soldiers something that was not a problem in Vietnam (forgetting the few nurses), he said:

On fraternization with female soldiers, a couple of guys my age who have been to Iraq before told me it happens. But there are very few women and lots of men so it becomes an insanely competitive soap opera "that you won't want to get mixed up in." They also, I think ruefully, said that men over 40 are competing with men in their 20s – it can be pretty sad for the old guys.

These comments reminded me of a scene in MRS. LIEUTENANT: A SHARON GOLD NOVEL in which Sharon is thinking about someone she knew from her hometown and with whom she danced at the Ft. Knox Officers Club:

She wonders whether Mark had a lot of experience dancing quite close to those Vietnamese women she's heard about, their thick black hair hanging straight down their backs, their native costumes – Sharon isn't quite sure what these look like so she pictures the revealing garment worn by the young lieutenant's Polynesian girlfriend in the film version of "South Pacific" – leaving bare shoulders exposed and no undergarments underneath.

Will Robert be dancing with those sexy Vietnamese women soon?

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

U.S. Military Personnel Trained as Jewish Lay Leaders in Iraq

The article about Jewish military personnel in Iraq training as lay leaders caught my eye on – an online resource for Jews in the U.S. military.

I clicked on the link to the July 10th article in the Jewish Daily Forward by Richard Tenorio titled “American Soldiers in Iraq Enlist in a Different Kind of Service.”

Here’s the beginning of the article:

A Jewish chapel at the Al Asad airbase in western Iraq was the site of an unusual Jewish gathering that began on July 4.

Seven members of the American military had flown in from across Iraq for a precedent-setting training for Jewish leaders in that country. Iraq does not have much in the way of an indigenous Jewish population anymore, but the American military has brought scores of Jews to the region, most of them with little spiritual guidance.

To supplement the lack of rabbis in Iraq, one of the few Jewish chaplains in the country, Rabbi Jon Cutler, came up with the idea of training ordinary Jewish servicemen and -women to be lay leaders for other soldiers.

The complete article can be read at

And what especially caught my eye was this comment on in connection with this posted article:

So glad to see organized training like this. Maybe this can spread to other bases, not just in-theater spots.

Why was this article of so much interest to me? Because in May of 1971 my husband Mitch became the lay leader of the U.S. Army Jewish community in Munich, Germany, when the orthodox Jewish rabbi who served as the Jewish chaplain in Munich completed his three-year rotation.

Mitch had a Reform Judaism upbringing and didn’t, at that point, know very much. He was given no training. But he did have the support of a Department of the Army civilian lawyer, Philip Bernstein (z’l), who had retired in Munich and who was a very knowledgeable Jew with a beautiful singing voice. Many of my letters home to my family describe when either Mr. Bernstein or Mitch led Friday night services.

The idea of lay leaders actually being trained – Mitch just winged it – is a terrific one. And I hope that, indeed, Jewish lay leader training does “spread to other bases, not just in-theater spots.”

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Episode 7 of Lifetime Television’s ARMY WIVES

Episode 7 of the television series ARMY WIVES had nothing outstanding about the episode. Yet it again reminded me of what I perceive as the strengths and weaknesses of the show:

As always, for me, the parts about the men ring true – Pamela’s husband Chase worried that in combat a team member won’t have his back, Roxy’s husband Trevor insisting it is his duty to return to his unit in Iraq.

And it’s always the parts about the women that don’t ring true for me. I continue to find it hard to believe that the wife of the commanding general of the post is such good friends with an enlisted man’s wife.

If you want to get a different perspective on today’s military forces than that of Lifetime’s ARMY WIVES, you can read blogs by active duty personnel and blogs by their spouses. Go to to find these blogs. You can search by top 100, recently updated, by gender, etc.

At random I clicked on the category recently added, and this blog title caught my eye – “PTSD, A Soldier’s Perspective” ( The author of the blog is Scott Lee, who is attending the Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville. (How ironic, I thought, as MRS. LIEUTENANT takes place at Ft. Knox, which is south of Louisville.)

Here’s Lee’s description of his blog: We tell a soldier or veteran of war "welcome home" because the battle never leaves us, as we return from conflict everyday of our lives. This is my story and struggle with PTSD, it affects every aspect of my life. I want people to know what a combat veteran goes through after the media and people forget.

And later in his mission statement he says: It is my hope that by reading my story the general public will begin to understand the situation that our Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans will face in the coming years.

PTSD, of course, is post-traumatic stress disorder, and it can happen not only to combat veterans but to survivors of natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and other traumas. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs has a website on this disorder at

The site includes a guide for military families for when a family member returns from a war zone. Here’s part of the description of this guide:

Reintegration is an adjustment for all involved. This information aims to make this process as smooth as possible and covers:

  • A description of the common reactions that occur following deployment to a war zone
  • How expectations about homecoming may not be the same for service members and family members
  • Ways to talk and listen to one another in order to re-establish trust, closeness and openness
  • Information about possible problems to watch out for
  • How to offer and find assistance for your loved ones
  • What help is available and what it involves

Perhaps the writers of ARMY WIVES could read this guide. Then they might write Roxy’s reaction to Trevor more realistically than they are now doing.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Soldiers’ Angels Needs Help for Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan

Soldiers’ Angels is an organization benefiting U.S. troops that I have previously blogged about. And on my book’s website at – in the section on military organizations that support military families – there’s a listing for Solders’ Angels.

So when my husband read in one of the milblogs he follows – – the blog post with the title “Soldiers’ Angels Could Use Some Help,” I offered to post again about the organization. You can read the actual post at And at you can read about what Soldiers’ Angels does to support the troops.

To me, the most moving tribute to the work of Soldiers’ Angels is the organization’s motto May No Soldier Go Unloved. There are men and women deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan who get NO mail, NO packages, nothing. Put yourself in their shoes and then you’ll know why this is an important organization to support.

Of course there are many other organization supporting military troops and their families that are very worthwhile. One I recently learned about (and have not yet blogged about) is eMail Our Military. The motto of this organization is Supporting Our Military, One eMail At A Time. Military personnel register and are matched with civilians who have registered to send and show their support.Why Choose Us

We’re original! We were the 1st organization to step in after 9/11 when force protection concerns threatened to keep the support from getting to our troops.

Our Code of Ethics and the security measures we have in place help us to support our troops safely. We require all of our participants to register with us, we work directly with many military commands and we never publicize the names and addresses of our service members, ships or units on the web.

Many of our military service members overseas have limited or no web access. Therefore they may never see messages posted on internet websites. They do however, have eMail and look forward to hearing news from home.


Read some of our testimonials from the troops we’ve supported and our members. More...

Besides supporting Soldiers’ Angels NOW, go check out

And remember not to throw away your old cell phones. Donate them to, a project started by two teens.

And as I always say, supporting the troops is not about whether you are for or against the war in Iraq and the fighting in Afghanistan. This is about showing support for the men and women who have voluntarily joined our military forces to defend us.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

New Vietnam War Movie Based on Non-Fiction Book Announced by HBO Films

The July 17th Daily Variety announced HBO Films is developing a movie based on former CIA agent Frank Snepp’s 1999 non-fiction book IRREPARABLE HARM: A FIRSTHAND ACCOUNT OF HOW ONE AGENT TOOK ON THE AGENCY IN AN EPIC BATTLER OVER FREE SPEECH.


Here’s the IRREPARABLE HARM review by John J. Miller (no relation) on the book’s Amazon page (boldface mine):

Former CIA spook Frank Snepp was one of the last Americans lifted off the U.S. embassy in Saigon in 1975, at the tail end of the Vietnam War. In the days leading up to that fateful moment, he complained that the United States needed to do more to protect its intelligence assets, most of whom were left behind.

"We'd betrayed the Vietnamese who'd depended on us," writes Snepp in Irreparable Harm, "and those who worked most closely with them ... now had blood on our hands, for it was we who in our daily contacts had convinced them to trust us."

Snepp criticized this turn of events in a 1977 book, Decent Interval, and was promptly sued by the CIA because they had not given him clearance to write about his experiences.

The resulting court case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Snepp tried to defend himself on First Amendment grounds with the help of a then-unknown Harvard lawyer named Alan Dershowitz.

He ultimately lost the case, plus his money and the right to publish anything about the CIA without first receiving authorization. Irreparable Harm--which has received CIA clearance--captures all the twists and turns of Snepp's legal fight …

I find it interesting that the HBO movie will be about the legal battle against a large bureaucracy – how many such movies have we seen? – rather than about the actual story: the U.S.’s betrayal of its South Vietnamese intelligence assets.

In intelligence lingo intelligence assets means people – people with families, people who trusted you at great risk to their own lives and the lives of their families. And we left those people behind to face almost-certain death at the hands of the North Vietnamese.

How many years from now might some former CIA agent write a similar story about leaving behind our intelligence assets in Iraq and Afghanistan – to face almost-certain death?

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

U.S. Military Personnel Who Served from 1972-1984 Re-Joins in 2007

Here’s a guest post from Specialist Neil Gussman – he has quite an interesting story to tell about his military service. (When he’s not training with the Army National Guard, he writes about the history of chemistry at Chemical Heritage Foundation, a museum and library of the history of chemistry and early science located in Center City Philadelphia.) And to read more of his writing, check out his blog at

When I first enlisted in the Air Force in January of 1972, General David Petraeus was a sophomore at West Point. When he threw his hat in the air at graduation in 1974, I was a sergeant recovering from being blinded by shrapnel in a missile testing accident at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

I got out of the Air Force that year, joined the Army the following year and served as a tank commander in Germany from 1976 to 1979. Our alert area was the Fulda Gap, right where the prophet of all things NATO, Tom Clancy, said World War Three would begin.

World War Three didn't happen on my watch, so I got out and went to college, and served in a reserve tank unit in Reading, Pennsylvania, until 1984. I got out for good then (I thought.) and got a job writing ad copy.

Last August, I re-enlisted after 23 years as a civilian. Writing this post I am 55 years old and have 196 days and a wake-up until my unit deploys to Iraq.

In the past year, a lot of people asked me why I joined. But the more fun question to answer is what is different about serving then and now. I can feel myself smile every time I answer that question.

What's different? I grew up in Boston. The difference is like being a Red Sox fan in the 1970s and being a Red Sox fan now. In fact joining now was the difference between playing for the 1972 Patriots (3-11) and the 2007 team (16-0).

In the mid-1970s, the sergeants who really had their shit together were in their late 20s. They were young, tough, motivated and were not combat veterans. The worst senior NCOs (not all, but a way more than there should have been) had combat patches on their right sleeves and had picked up a serious dope smoking or drinking habit in Vietnam.

I am currently in an Army National Guard aviation brigade. In the 1970s the National Guard was notorious for being badly trained. Today's National Guard is part of the total fighting force. On soldier skills, attitude, and combat readiness, my current Guard unit is better than the tank unit I served in on the East-West German border. The men and women with the combat patches on their sleeves in this army are leaders.

The difference certainly continues outside the gate. In the 70s no one wore their uniform home on leave--at least not those of us who were going home on leave to the Northeastern US. I was proud of my uniform, but the few times I wore that uniform outside the gate, I felt hostility, like I was a foreign soldier in someone else's country.

But today if I stop at Starbucks on the way home from a drill, someone might offer to buy my coffee or the clerk might just give it to me. People walk up to me in restaurants and thank me for my service. I really wish some of the other guys I served with in the 1970s could join up for just a month or two now and get the gratitude they missed out on back when long hair was in style and we were not.

Of course some things are exactly the same:

-- O-Dark-30 is wake up time for everything – even if all we do is stand around.

-- My weapon in 1972, the M-16 rifle. My weapon today, M16A4.

-- All through the 1970s if we went to the field for training, it was crammed in the back of a "Deuce-and a-half" 2 1/2 ton truck. My "ride" at pre-deployment training this year--the M35A2 Deuce-and-a-half truck.

-- The Army has all records on computer. So when I went to Aberdeen, Maryland, for two weeks of training, the e-mail said "Bring 10 copies of your orders." I couldn't believe it. I brought five. When I got there, I needed more. But all of the processing was in one room. Didn't matter. Every processing station needed a copy of my orders so they could collect all my records in one folder at the end of the day.

But even if I have to make 20 copies of my orders and hand them to a guy who has a PDF of my orders on a computer right in front of him, I am happy to be

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

ARMY WIVES Episode 6 of Season 2: Derogatory Reference to Gypsies

In episode 6 of Season 2 of Lifetime Television’s ARMY WIVES there was something that bothered me very much: Betty, the owner of the Hump Bar, uses the word “gypped” to mean “cheated.”

It amazes me that the writing staff of ARMY WIVES did not realize that this is a derogatory word based on the word Gypsy. The use of this word as a verb is very offensive to Gypsies.

Many people may never have seen real Gypsies. When my husband and I were stationed in Munich, Germany (from September 1970 to May 1972), the tram line ended at our stop. Sometimes Gypsy wagons would camp there overnight.

Yet my image of Gypsies – that is as clear today as it was the moment I saw it – comes from a visit to Dachau, a concentration camp near Munich. Dachau was established in March 1933 as a political prison camp only two months after Hitler became chancellor of Germany. And although many people died in Dachau, it was not a killing camp like Auschwitz and other concentration camps.

But in Dachau there were ovens that burned the bodies of the dead prisoners. Standing in the main camp, I chanced to look towards the gate separating the ovens from the main camp.

Silhouetted against the sky were three Gypsies, a woman and two men. For only a second I was startled – focused as I was on thinking about the six million Jews killed by the Nazis. Then I remembered that Gypsies had been another group designated for extinction by the Third Reich.

Those three Gypsies were doing exactly what my husband and I were doing – visiting Dachau in memory of our people’s murdered victims.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Racial Prejudice in MRS. LIEUTENANT and the movie AMAZING GRACE

Racial prejudice is a theme in MRS. LIEUTENANT, which takes place in 1970 only six years after the Civil Rights Act became law in the U.S. and only 20 years after the U.S. Army was integrated in the Korean War in 1950.

Racial prejudice is also the theme of the 2006 movie AMAZING GRACE, which my husband and I just watched on Netflix. Although I knew that the song “Amazing Grace” was written by a slave captain who repented of his trade (John Newton around 1772), I didn’t know about the one man in England’s Parliament who fought to abolish the English slave trade – William Wilberforce.

Wilberforce and a small band of supporters fought for years to abolish the English slave trade, finally achieving victory with the Slave Trade Act of 1807. (But English slavery itself was not abolished until 1833 with the Slavery Abolition Act.) The movie chronicles Wilberforce’s fight for those many years, a fight that cost him his health and almost his sanity.

While the movie is interesting, it’s not necessarily worth watching. But read a brief bio of Wilberforce at Wikipedia in order to know something about this incredible man.

P.S. A shout-out to Karen O'Connor, who is now the Okinawa, Japan, correspondent book reviewer for the online A ‘n’ E Vibe besides continuing her own Planet Books blog at

Karen emailed me that she posted her Planet Books review of MRS. LIEUTENANT on this new gig. You can read this review at

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

HBO’s Mini-Series GENERATION KILL Tells of the First 40 Days of the War in Iraq

After reading the review in the July 10th Daily Variety about HBO’S seven-part miniseries GENERATION KILL starting July 13, I really wished we got HBO so I could watch the series. (And, yes, we finally got Showtime to see SLEEPER CELL and then kept it for THE TUDORS, but I don’t think we’ll get HBO now.)

The review by Brian Lowry praised this mini-series that tells of the first 40 days in 2003 of the war in Iraq. The movie is based on Rolling Stone journalist Evan Wright’s first-person account of being embedded with Marines of the First Reconnaissance Battalion.

Lowry says: “Writers [David] Simon and [Ed] Burns (and directors Susanna White and Simon Cellan Jones) engender sympathy toward the warriors without flinching from the innocent lives taken under the ever-fluctuating ROE, or Rules of Engagement.”

Yet, it’s the sentence following the one above that gave me pause: “War fatigue has already been blamed for dwindling news coverage from Iraq and tepid box office performance by several related movies …”

I re-read this line, then circled it in the review. As I recall, during the Vietnam War there was nightly news coverage of footage from the battlefields. Now my memory may be somewhat faulty because I didn’t watch that news so as not to worry about my ROTC boyfriend/soon-to-be husband being sent to Vietnam.

Was there more coverage because, with a draft during Vietnam as opposed to an all-voluntary army now, there was more national concern about what was happening half-way around the world? Or is it because we now have so many more “channels” of entertainment – from the internet to cable television to our cell phones – that traditional news coverage seeks new topics rather than covering a years-old war?

I had a moment earlier today when I was completing a mundane task – and what flashed through my mind was, at this exact moment, a U.S. soldier could be getting killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Regardless of dwindling news coverage from Iraq, we Americans need to remind ourselves that those men and women representing us are in harm’s way.

Also today I got an email from an Air Force wife with a book blog who wants to review MRS. LIEUTENANT. She wrote: “I can also relate to the feelings that these women in the book are having; my husband has been deployed many times and you always have that fear that something will happen.”

For those people who do have HBO, GENERATION KILL will hopefully remind people of what’s happening halfway around the world.

As for me, I’ll have to content myself with buying the book to find out what happens.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Guest Post from Iraq: People Like Him Don't Do Things Like That

Here is a guest post sent today from Iraq by U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Big Tobacco (check out his own blog at

"Don't take this the wrong way, but people like me don't do things like that. So why do you?"

I'm confused by this statement. I look across the table at my date. Her face is as perfect as a Russian doll. Her blond hair falls in ringlets around her shoulders. She is so beautiful that I am willing to forgive the question.

Yet the question haunts me. What does that mean?

Why did I release my attachments? Why did I learn to suffer? Why don't I feel special?

And don't do things like what? Serve your country?

I was like her growing up. My father spent four years in the Air Force so that he would not get drafted into the Army for two. Rich Jews from the suburbs didn't join the Army and they certainly didn't join the Infantry. Other people did that.

"Gabora tells me you are in the Army," her mother says when we finally meet. "When do you get out?"

"I'm thinking of making it a career," I say.

She almost chokes on her brisket.

I had a book in my bedroom years ago: "The Story of My Life" by Moshe Dayan. I went to sleep dreaming of thundering across the Sinai in my APC, giving the Egyptians a run for their money. I crossed the Suez Canal and set up a hasty defense as the mortars plunked into the sand. Moshe Dayan, now that was a life. If someone wrote a book about my life, would anyone want to read it?

"Is that a ninja star on your neck?" one of my Army buddies asks while I am in the shower.

"It's a Magan David," I respond.

"So it's like a Jewish cross."

"Close enough," I say.

I progress. I carry that damn Dragon anti-tank missile up and down the hills of Germany, waiting for enemies that never appear. I drive a track through the mud, relishing the feeling I get when all of us come up on line, guns blazing, dismounts screaming, shell casing tumbling to the ground. Someone thinks I am a leader. They give me a fire team.

"Hey, sarn't. Is it true that Jews have sex through a sheet?"

"No," I say. "Years ago, people would hang their tallit out to dry on clothes lines. There is a hole in a tallit for your head. Non-Jews saw the hole and made their own assumptions about its purpose."

"So you just put your head in it when you're going down?"

"Yeah, private, all the time."

I have no menorah so I kick sand over at the pistol range until I turn up nine empty shell casings. I glue them to a paint stick. We turn death into life. We use birthday candles from the dining facility. The three Jews in the battalion light the candles on the second night of Hanukkah.

"Did you see the chaplain's t-shirt?" one of my soldiers asks.

I squint at the paunchy chaplain as he orders a double hamburger in the short-order line at the dining facility. His shirt reads "Repent or Die."

"Repent or Die?" I say. "Should read repent or diet."

I realize that if my religion believed in hell, I'd probably be first in line for the elevator.

Towers fall. I step on a ribcage at Ground Zero and nothing funny comes to mind about that. I have a child and swear that I will keep Moshe Dayan's biography under lock and key. I stand at a bridge wondering how I am supposed to stop a 747 with 10 rounds from a rifle.

New wars start. The deployments come.

I get promoted to squad leader. I live at a checkpoint in the middle of the desert, wondering if something, anything is going to happen. I sit and have hot, sweet tea with the police. My G-d, no wonder everybody here is diabetic, this is like liquid sugar. We discuss music and movies. They tell me how much they would love to come to America and meet a nice American girl. They ask if I am a Christian. I know that the truth would make my squad a target of opportunity.

So I tell them that I follow the Phillies religiously.

I come home.

I break the fast on Yom Kippur with Air Force airmen after patrolling the mud-caked streets of New Orleans. My second son is born. Life returns to normal.

"So you can get out of it, right?" My neighbor asks after I tell him that I will deploy to Iraq. I live in a Jewish neighborhood in New Jersey and am the only soldier in my synagogue.

"No," I respond. "You can't get out of it."

"But you have kids?" he says. "Maybe if you talk to them, they will let you get out of it."

"It doesn't work like that."

Learn to suffer. Release your attachments. You are not special.

Some idiot makes me a platoon sergeant. Now I have 32 men and women. Many of them are poor Puerto Ricans and blacks from places like Camden, Jersey City and Newark. I'm the first Jew many of them have ever met.

They drop pennies on the floor of the barracks when I walk inside. They leave "The Passion of the Christ" on my cot. I watch it. It's a good movie, but “Braveheart” was better. They are joking, pushing me to see how much I can take. It really is endearing. As long as they are making fun of me, they like me. The day they stop making Jewish jokes is the day I better start looking under my cot for grenades.

I live a life of meetings and lists. I am on call by my lieutenant 24 hours a day. Soldiers wake me up in the middle of the night because they have a problem. I get my new rifle and now my body is whole again.

"Is that pork or turkey?" I ask the dining facility worker while pointing at a brown patty of something for breakfast.

"It is uh?" The worker says in broken English. He doesn't understand the question. "It is sausage patty."

"Thanks, dude. I'll just have some eggs."

I sit down to eat my eggs and cereal. My first sergeant comes over to my table and sits down.

"You know, I can get you a kosher meal," he says.

"I'm not special, Top," I say. "You'll never hear me complain. People like me don't do things like that."

Oh, and by the way, the blond at the beginning of this story? I married her.

And I still don't know the answer to that question.

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Monday, July 7, 2008

Honoring U.S. Military Dead: Episode 5 of Season 2 of Lifetime’s ARMY WIVES

Episode 5 of Season 2 of Lifetime Television’s ARMY WIVES dealt with a very serious topic – the commitment of the U.S. to find and bring home the remains of Americans missing in action of past conflicts.

And those of you who have read the non-fiction book on which the series is based – Tanya Biank’s ARMY WIVES – will understand the poignancy of Trevor’s radio talk remarks about the people who go to the far corners of the world looking for these remains. (No spoiler alert – you’ll have to read the non-fiction book yourself.)

In this episode there are a lot of mentions of JPAC – the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command. Below is JPAC’s mission as reported on the official U.S. military website

The mission of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) is to achieve the fullest possible accounting of all Americans missing as a result of the nation's past conflicts. The highest priority of the organization is the return of any living Americans that remain prisoners of war. To date, the U.S. government has not found any evidence that there are still American POWs in captivity from past U.S. conflicts.

JPAC is located on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. The command was activated on Oct. 1, 2003, created from the merger of the 30-year-old U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii, and the 11-year-old Joint Task Force - Full Accounting. Commanded by a flag officer, JPAC is manned by approximately 400 handpicked Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Department of the Navy civilians. The laboratory portion of JPAC, referred to as the Central Identification Laboratory (CIL), is the largest forensic anthropology laboratory in the world.

JPAC also maintains three permanent overseas detachments, each commanded by a lieutenant colonel, to assist with command and control, logistics and in-country support during investigation and recovery operations. They are Detachment One located in Bangkok, Thailand, Detachment Two in Hanoi, Vietnam and Detachment Three in Vientiane, Laos. JPAC has a fourth detachment, Detachment Four, located at Camp Smith, Hawaii, responsible for recovery team personnel when they are not deployed.

In episode 5 of ARMY WIVES an enlisted woman (the mother of two young sons) has to decide whether she will attend the memorial service for the remains of the birth father she never knew. While she is unsure what to do, her father’s Vietnam army buddies are relieved that, after 35 years, they can finally honor their comrade.

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Sunday, July 6, 2008 U.S. Jewish Military Personnel Today – Part II

Brian Kresge, a sergeant in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, continues his response to my offer on for someone to write a guest post about Jews serving in the U.S. military:

Because of my own experience, I often speculate what crafts the negative perception of American Jews with regards to military service.

Contemporary perceptions of American Jewish service seem more apt to be influenced by several factors, only one of which seems to stem from the Holocaust.

There may be people who were left with the impression after the Holocaust that Jews merely "rolled" for the German death machine. Stories of the various partisans, the Jewish Mule Brigade, and others take a back seat to Anne Frank, Schindler's List, and Elie Weisel.

Fortunately for us, America became an academic and cultural bastion for global Jewry. This is not a climate which cultivates warriors in the numbers that other socio-economic conditions do, a factor not limited just to our group.

I think we American Jews are subject to an unfortunate juxtaposition with Israeli Jews. For 60 years now, Israeli Jews have fought tooth and nail to maintain the Jewish homeland. Between David and Goliath odds, daring and far-flung raids, and a demonstrable penchant for vengeance in the face of terror, they've crafted the definition of "warrior Jew."

It's most telling that, with at least 30 dead Jewish service members in the global war on terror, there is a push to name a Jewish War Veterans post after a young man who made aliyah from Philadelphia and died as an Israeli paratrooper in the recent war in Lebanon.

The truth is, the American military itself offers a very level playing field for Jews, with but a few instances otherwise. For many non-Jews, the failure to identify Jewish military achievement could just be a testament to our acceptance or that, aside from religious preference, the military has no mechanism by which to identify its Jewish warriors.

I have to add to Kresge’s guest post that things were different during the time that my husband was on active army duty from May 1970 to May 1972. For example, although Jewish military personnel stationed in Germany were entitled for major Jewish holidays to take leave to attend services at posts where there was a Jewish chaplain, this rule was not always followed.

I remember one couple who were unable to come to Munich to join us for the Pesach seders because the husband’s commanding officer had said the junior officer could wait to take Pesach leave in the summer. Although the junior officer could have gone above his commanding officer to get leave, the junior officer knew he would be made to suffer if he did this.

Thus I am glad to read that Kresge feels the American military today is “a very level playing field for Jews.” And I very much appreciate Kresge responding to my offer of a guest post.

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The website is an online resource for Jews in the U.S. armed forces. Recently the website has been collecting names of Jewish military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a comment to this list of names, someone said that he felt most Americans didn’t realize that Jews serve in the armed forces of the United States.

In response to this comment I offered to have someone write a guest post about Jews in the military. Brian Kresge, a sergeant in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, took up my offer.

Kresge served from 1993-1999 with the 101st at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Alaska as an infantryman. He now works for Robert Bosch GmbH as a marketing web developer and serves with the 2nd Battalion, 112th Infantry Regiment out of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, as an infantry team leader in the National Guard's only Stryker Brigade. Last month he spent three weeks with his National Guard unit doing its first round of pre-mobilization at Camp Shelby, Mississippi.

Here’s Kresge’s reply:

After many years of looking, I found the burial place of my great-great-uncle Oscar Feldser. A simple military marker with his name, rank, unit, and a Star of David offered closure for a genealogy mystery.

Uncle Oscar, as I've come to think of him, represents the beginning of my Jewish ancestors' military tradition in the United States. Fresh off the boat from Russia and for reasons lost to the oral history of my family, Oscar ended up fighting in the Spanish-American War.

This war left him a permanent resident of the Soldier's Home in Washington, D.C. A personal account of his experience is lost, never to be known. All that remains is a single photo of a handsome young man and a gravestone in the Soldier's Home cemetery.

I'm slightly atypical for an American Jew; I've a family military tradition that does, in fact, go back to the militias of Northampton County in Pennsylvania during the American Revolution. Granted, I come from assimilated stock, and wartime service dating from then to the Civil War is courtesy of my non-Jewish paternal ancestors.

During World War II, one would have a hard time finding a Feldser who did not serve. The Lancaster Jewish Community Center lists two of my relatives on the center’s WWII memorial plaque. The family has a treasured picture of Uncle Benny looking dashing in his Eisenhower jacket with all his awards. My Uncle Harry was awarded the Silver Star as a Marine on Iwo Jima.

For me, with my assimilated Jewish experience, nothing about "Never Again" determined that I would join the U.S. Army. In one respect, it was a rejection of my boomer parents' ideals. More importantly, it was the vainglorious notions of fortune and glory in combat that did me in. The women would flock to me in my fetching maroon beret, because there would be no dispute that the army took this awkward academic and crafted a man.

To be continued in Part II

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