Sunday, August 31, 2008

Looking Back at Katrina as New Orleans Braces for Gustav

Tonight while monitoring the tweets on Twitter about Gustav -- including the helpful communication info from a representative of Sprint -- I also read one of Big Tobacco’s older posts describing his experiences when his National Guard unit was in New Orleans after Katrina.

As you may recall, Big Tobacco is a National Guard infantryman currently deployed somewhere in Kuwait. Apparently he’s on the move from one FOB (Forward Operating Base) to another and he’s going to be away from internet access. So he kindly provided a list of some of his past blog posts for his fans to read while he’s offline.

That’s how I came across his Katrina post, which I highly recommend you read. There are some very funny moments (the military mind at work) and some very ugly moments (the boots-on-the-ground situation patrolling the streets of New Orleans). Taken together, the post is a very interesting first-hand look at New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina.

And at this point, all we can hope is that history doesn’t repeat itself in New Orleans only three years after Katrina.

Here’s the link to Big Tobacco’s Katrina post:

And here’s the link to my PZ the Do-Gooder Scrooge blog post about an online central information point for news of Gustav:

(Just saw a warning on Twitter not to shoot video of Gustav from cell phones while driving. This is dangerous!)

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Mrs. Lieutenant Interview on the Book Blog Diary of An Eccentric

I want to share the interview of me that appeared on the book blog “Diary of An Eccentric.” Here’s the beginning of the interview:

As you can tell by my review, Phyllis Zimbler Miller's Mrs. Lieutenant: A Sharon Gold Novel is among the best books I've read in a long time, and it ranks up there with my all-time favorite books. Normally, I read only one book at a time (not counting the books I read with my daughter).

When I received Mrs. Lieutenant, I only planned on reading the back cover to learn more about the book, then pick it up again after I finished the book I was currently reading.

That didn't go as planned; as soon as I read the back cover, I decided I was going to just glance at the first page...and before I knew it, I was nearly halfway through the book. I just couldn't put it down! (I don't encounter books like that often, but I cherish those moments.)

As soon as I finished the book, I contacted Phyllis to let her know how much I enjoyed it, and she was kind enough to let me interview her.

How much of this book is based on your real-life experiences as a Mrs. Lieutenant?

The book is very much based on my experiences as a new Mrs. Lieutenant. My husband did indeed start Armor Officers Basic training at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, in May of 1970, and I did go with him even though the army didn’t say he could bring his wife. I took material from that time as well as material from when we were later stationed in Munich, Germany, and mashed the material together to create the novel.

Is there one character whom you most identify with?

Sharon is the character most like me, but I didn't grow up in Chicago and I was never an anti-war protester. In fact, I had my head stuck very far in the sand so as not to think about the war because my husband had told me on our third date that he was going to Vietnam.

Read the rest of the interview at

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Operation Soldier Care Successful: $6822 of Mary Kay Sun/Skin Care Products En Route to Iraqi Desert

Operation Soldier Care ended at midnight Pacific time on August 18th with $3411 in donated funds. And thanks to the generous matching funds of Nancy Sutherland, sales director of Mary Kay (, the total of sun and skin care products is $6822.

Nancy also handled the packaging and shipping of eight large boxes. And these sun/skin care products are now en route to our men and women deployed in Iraq with its brutal desert climate.

To learn who were the top five donors and thus the recipients of all the terrific gifts provided to encourage large donations, see the post by Trish Forant at (Trish’s blog link is on the Mrs. Lieutenant military blog roll.)

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Lifetime TV’s ARMY WIVES: Too Little of What’s Important

Lifetime TV’s ARMY WIVES is a very popular cable show about four army wives and an army husband on a imaginary post. I’ve blogged about the first several episodes of this season 2 of the series.

A few episodes back I stopped blogging about each episode because that particular episode had as a subplot a subject that I don’t touch: The army policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” In truth, I can understand various positions on this subject of gays openly serving in the military, and I have no opinion as to what would be the best policy.

Another recent episode had a subplot of Roxy having an undiagnosed learning disability, which I actually wrote about in my Flipping Burgers and Beyond blog – see Roxy’s acceptance of this learning disability and the coping skills needed to pass her GED test were featured in the most recent episode.

Also in this episode several serious topics were again lightly brushed over, including the destructive gambling habit of Claudia Joy’s father. Yet the subject whose gloss over bothers me the most is that no one in the tv series seems to get counseling for his or her problems even though the army husband – Roland – is a therapist and announces that fact frequently.

One striking example of this absence of getting counseling was a minor subplot in the most recent episode. A widow of an army man killed in Iraq inexplicably gives large sums of her death benefits money to her 18-year-old son, who of course gets in trouble due to these funds.

Finally the widow reveals that she feels responsible for her husband’s death because she urged him to re-up this last time in order to get his pension.

The subject of responsibility for another person’s actions is a very emotional one. And in a military setting this can be all the more so because officers, platoon leaders and squad leaders have to give commands that may cause the men and women following those commands to die.

Survivor guilt is a topic worthy of a much deeper treatment – yes, even on a cable television show – than is presently being done on Lifetime’s ARMY WIVES.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

National Guard Member in Iraq Reports the Convoy Made It Through Safely

I'm back a little earlier than I thought. Everything is fine.

This is the email I received Saturday evening Pacific time from the National Guard member whom I wrote about in my post on Friday

I immediately responded that I was glad to hear from him. Then, because a few days ago he had mentioned concerns he had about this mission, I asked him for more details. This is his response:

Boring day which is the way I like it. We are going out for most of the week, but odds are I will not be doing this. HQ just provides fills when the line units need a body. So I'll be in the TOC [Tactical Operation Center] on the radio or watching a movie.

I want to be out with my guys, and that can happen on some missions, but it’s just not my job. I'm supposed to make sure my guys run the TOC and my mechanics are fixing vehicles. I can go out, but from now on, it will be as a Joe, not as a leader.

Now Operation Soldier Care only has one more day to go – tomorrow, August 18th. And I want those of you reading this blog to think about “the guys” of this National Guard platoon sergeant who are struggling through the desert in convoy formation. (FYI – The “guy” on the gun on Vic 6 – vehicle 6 – of the eight-truck convoy was a woman.)

Thanks to Trish Forant of and Nancy Sutherland, sales director of Mary Kay who is matching up to $5,000 of donations, in a few days sun/skin care products will be on the way to help our troops in the Iraqi desert.

And Trish just won the Blog of the Day Award! See to read about this terrific honor then click through to read her most recent blog post on Operation Soldier Care.

And while you’re cruising the internet sitting in comfort, click on the link from Trish’s blog to the Mary Kay skin/sun care product page and send a little comfort to our troops in the blazing Iraqi desert. Or click from here directly to the Mary Kay product page Consider buying multiple packages – the top five donors will receive an incredible array of donated prizes.

If it were your loved one serving in harm’s way under these difficult conditions, you’d want the American public to show appreciation.

Now’s your chance to show appreciation to the loved ones of other Americans. Do this now before the clock ends on August 18th.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

A Convoy Coming Up Tomorrow: Donate to Operation Soldier Care

As I got ready to write this blog about Operation Soldier Care, I received an email from a deployed National Guard member. In order to protect his platoon he hasn’t told me his name or his location. Here’s what he wrote:

I have a convoy coming up tomorrow. Prep starts today. If I don't respond to your emails, that is why.

So I hope you understand that, when I write about deployed soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’m not writing about some imaginary people that I don’t know. I’m writing about this platoon sergeant and the men and women under him as well as all the other platoon sergeants and their platoon members.

And that’s why I’m urging you to donate to Operation Soldier Care – a project to send sun/skin care products to the blazing Iraqi desert. The project is sponsored by Trish Forant of and Nancy Sutherland, sales director of Mary Kay, who is matching all donations up to $5,000.

In order to encourage people to donate more than a minimum amount, donations have also been sought as prizes for the top five donors. And terrific prizes have been donated. Yesterday Nancy emailed me about a new incredible donation:

I have another HUGE CONTRIBUTOR! Zna Trainer ( is giving away $15,000 worth of personal training! She is giving $950 personal training for each of the top 5 contributors PLUS 5 for lucky soldiers and their spouses! A total of 15 personal training packages!

If Zna Trainer can step up to the plate, you can too.

To read about Operation Soldier Care and all the prizes for the top five donors, go to Trish Forant’s blog entry “Giving Back to Those Who Give So Much” at The deadline is August 18th.

Think of that platoon sergeant’s convoy coming up tomorrow through the blazing Iraqi desert. What must it feel like to be out in those incredibly high temperatures (wearing full body armor) and with blowing desert sand stinging your faces?

Please donate to Operation Soldier Care to help give a little comfort to these men and women fighting in our names.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Soldier’s Story of His War on Terrorism

I have just finished reading the July 2008 article in Texas Monthly entitled “Soldier” by Matt Cook.

The article starts on September 11, 2001, the first day of Matt’s basic training one month after he enlisted following college at the University of Texas at Austin. It isn’t until late in the day when the new recruits are introduced to their company’s first sergeant that they learn what has happened. Here’s a passage from Matt’s description of what the first sergeant said to them:

“Listen up,” he says. “Does anyone here have parents who work at the World Trade Center in New York City?”

No one responds.

“Good. Does anyone here have parents who work at the Pentagon in D.C.?”

No one responds.

“Even better.”

The article goes on to describe Matt’s first tour in Tal Afar, a northern Iraqi city near the Syrian border. And then his next tour in Iraq.

The end of the article describes his feelings after he fulfilled his enlistment commitment and returned to civilian life. This is the end of his last paragraph:

I never found the war hero inside of me, but in my rite of passage I found a worldliness and particular understanding of life that has made me a better man. And I never won my ex-girlfriend back, but I do not regret a day I spent in uniform – I’m immensely proud of my service. If I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned what a truly remarkable thing it is to be a combat veteran. Now I want to live an exceptional life for those who never left the desert.

If you’re in tears as I am at those last words, please consider supporting the troops who are in the desert right now. Donate to Operation Soldier Care. Read the eMailOurMilitary blog post at to find out how you can help. And, remember, the deadline for this project is August 18th.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Operation Soldier Care and Supporting Our Troops

I emailed a deployed National Guard member about Operation Soldier Care – a project to support the troops sponsored by and Nancy Sutherland, sales director of May Kay. (Read about the project and the prizes for the top five donors at

I had hoped that the National Guard member would forward the announcement to people he knows. Instead I got him in a mood that, as he said later, was caused by a bad case of timing. He was annoyed at Fox News coverage of Lizzie Palmer, a 16-year-old girl who made a tribute to the troops video entitled “Remember Me.

The National Guard member said that everyone wants to support the troops as long as it doesn’t involve becoming one of the troops.

My reaction when I watched the video was that it’s definitely moving, but there’s no specific call to action – only the general theme of supporting the troops. Such a video would have been much more effective if it had included URLs of organizations that support the troops and specific actions we could take to do this.

Which is all the more reason for people to support Operation Soldier Care – a project with a specific call to action.

Read Trish Forant’s blog post at and then take action to support the troops.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

My Saddest and Most Significant Moments as a Military Spouse

The “Tell-Your-Own-Story” military spouse contest sponsored by in connection with Lifetime TV’s Season 2 of ARMY WIVES has announced the contest winners. Their names and the winning essays can be read at

Here’s a winning essay by Kathleen P., one of five grand prize winners, followed by a second essay she wrote. Both essays are reprinted with permission from

My Saddest Moment as a Military Spouse

I was sad the day my husband Will left for Iraq. But my saddest day came days later when it finally sunk in that he was in the sand and I was here stateside. I was alone with our four children to raise.

Four tiny lives depended on me to be Mommy and Daddy, and I was crying uncontrollably in the cookie section of the grocery store because out of force of habit I was picking up his cookies and there would be nobody at home to eat them. In that moment I felt the most alone I have ever felt. No hearing his voice on the phone because they had to travel in country to their destination.

I came home to my 18-month-old demanding his DaDa.

That night after everyone was tucked in bed I began to be overcome once again by emotion. Then a tiny figure stood by my bedside offering his teddy. Inside the tiny stuffed creature is a recording my husband made for my son.

Michael pushed his paw and there was my husband’s deep manly voice. I decided then and there I had to get it together and keep it together for the sake of my children. I had to be strong for them. I had to find it deep within myself.

My Most Significant Moment as a Military Spouse

Before I met my husband I worked for the Castle Point VA hospital in New York. I saw the aftermath of war on men. I saw what it did to their bodies and to their minds. I had daily contact with these brave souls and they touch my life in ways they will never be aware.

Time marched on. I met and married a soldier, and we were blessed with four children. Veterans Day 2007 came; my husband was deployed. I packed up the toddler and the three girls into the car and drove off to the ceremony.

During the speeches I got lost in thoughts thinking of my husband who was somewhere in Iraq. I started looking around at the faces of these veterans wondering about all they had seen, places they had been.

My eyes then fell on those ladies seated beside those veterans. Those brave ladies who still supported their husbands. These wives were the generations that had gone before me. I couldn't help but wonder about the lives they led.

These were the military spouse that set the standard and broke the ground for the military spouses of today. These ladies inspire me. They convinced me that all those studies that you hear about the divorce rate in the military is on the rise can be overcome.

I often think back to Veterans Day and those specials ladies seated beside their husbands. I want to be one of those ladies who grow old alongside her husband. I want to inspire the next generation of military spouses or at least touch their lives in some way.

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Nancy Sutherland Explains Operation Soldier Care -- We Need Your Help

Listen to Nancy Sutherland explain on a posting to about Operation Soldier Care. Nancy and are doing this project to support our deployed troops (with a little help from me and others):

The Pride of Americans

The “Tell-Your-Own-Story” military spouse contest sponsored by in connection with Lifetime TV’s Season 2 of ARMY WIVES has announced the contest winners. Their names and the winning essays can be read at

Here’s the essay by Pamela B., one of the five grand prize winners, reprinted with permission from

I have always been proud of the fact that my husband is a Marine (he joined the Corps shortly before we were married). I knew that what he did was important for our country and for the world.

However, two incidences early in his career really opened my eyes on a more personal level to the significance of Marines and all military members and their role in the lives of Americans.

After completing a marching performance at a local cultural festival in Southern California, my husband, his fellow band members, and their spouses were enjoying some treats provided by the event hosts. In mid-bite of his hotdog, a small boy approached my husband and, without saying a word, took a good look at his uniform and saluted him.

My husband hesitated only long enough to put down his food before returning the salute.

About that time, an anxious-looking woman ran up to claim her grandson. She mumbled a quick apology and was about to steer the small boy away when she saw the looks on our faces and knew that we had been moved.

Pausing, she explained that his grandfather had been a Marine and, even though the youngster was only three, his grandfather had taught him about Marines. "Now," she explained, "every time that he sees a Marine, and trust me, he knows the uniform well, he salutes."

We thanked her and her grandson, but even after all of these years, I still remember that small frame with the reverent look and the big salute.

Later that same year, during a performance at the Rose Bowl parade, my husband saw an incident that had a deep impact on him and which moved me when he shared it.

On the outside column of the unit, my husband had a clear view of the bystanders crowded along the parade route. He kept an eye out ahead to avoid any collisions with parade-goers. While scanning the audience ahead, he noticed a person in a wheelchair.

As the band got closer, the individual struggled to rise out of the chair. Two people on either side noticed what the disabled person was trying to do. Each took an arm and helped the person to his feet so that he could stand straight and tall as the Marine band and color guard passed the crowd.

These two incidents, and many others over the course of my husband's career, have given me a broader perspective, beyond my initial personal pride, of Marines and of all those that proudly serve in the armed services.

It was the actions of these two individuals that demonstrated the impact that military members make on the lives of ordinary citizens. How the uniform and those that wear it give pride, hope, and respect to Americans of all ages everywhere.

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Civilians DO NOT Salute and How I Learned to Tell Rank

The “Tell-Your-Own-Story” military spouse contest sponsored by in connection with Lifetime TV’s Season 2 of ARMY WIVES has announced the contest winners. Their names and the winning essays can be read at

Here are winning essays by two of the five grand prize winners; reprinted with permission from

Jennifer B. Civilians DO NOT Salute:

Shortly after my IRR husband and I were married, he began to consider re-entering the Army, either going active duty or perhaps finding a reserve unit in our area. So during a visit to the county fair, we stopped by the Army recruiting tent for a chat.

After a LENGTHY discussion of the options available, we finally began to depart. As we did, the sergeant saluted my husband, who is an officer. My husband returned the salute. As did I.

When we were out of the sergeant's earshot, my husband made an on-the-spot correction through gritted teeth: "Civilians DO NOT salute."

Abbey P. How I Learned to Tell Rank:

We had only been married about 18 months when my husband got promoted to SGT. It is a big promotion for NCOs and I was so thrilled.

I was approximately seven months pregnant with our 2nd child when the pinning took place. Back then, the guys ranks were pinned on, not velcroed on like now.

Anyway, I went to this ceremony thinking that I would just record it on my camcorder and be on my merry way. Well, half way into the ceremony, in front of the whole company, my husband’s 1SGT called me up front.

Suddenly someone took my camera from me and shoved me a little bit. I waddled up to the front wondering what the hell I was needed up there for. I had never been to a promotion ceremony so this was all new to me.

Suddenly in my hands lay a single pin of points. My mind starts flashing "Do these go up? Down?" I honestly had no idea.

And as the time came to pin him in front of the whole company, as he was taking his NCO oath, I pinned him upside down. I didn't realize that it was wrong and I proudly stood back to look at my handsome husband and his new rank.

Somewhere off in the distance was some snickering, and then a soldier stepped in front of me very quickly to right my wrong. I would have run if I could have, but all had seen it anyway and running would have made it worse. I slowly sunk back into the background.

I went home and promptly learned all of the rank.

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Your Husband was in a Helicopter Crash in the Bering Sea

The “Tell-Your-Own-Story” military spouse contest sponsored by in connection with Lifetime TV’s Season 2 of ARMY WIVES has announced the contest winners. Their names and the winning essays can be read at

Some contest essays are especially compelling. And for that reason I want to share some of these essays with my blog readers. The essays that I’ll be featuring are reprinted here with permission from

Here’s an essay by Rose, one of the five grand prize winners:

On Wednesday, 8 December 2004, my eight-month-old son was enrolled in the Kodiak, A.K.USCG day care, where I worked. My 10-year-old daughter had Nutcracker play practice every day that week.

Nights come early in December and it felt much later than 7 p.m. when we finally walked in the door after a full day. We were living on base and knew all the neighbors. Five of the six wives in our little cul-de sac of three duplexes were married to helicopter pilots.

On this night, my husband was the only one in our little fish bowl that was deployed. Most of the husbands had come home for dinner that night and rushed right back to work. We were so close to the air station that we could hear the Search and Rescue (SAR) alarm when it went off at all hours.

On this night, no alarms went off, but the air station was buzzing well after the usual quitting time. Everyone wanted to find out the fate of the crew. For a change, no one was calling to tell me the day's gossip.

We were so busy I didn't notice that I hadn't spoken to the other wives. I just knew that my husband was deployed for the week and I had to hold down the fort. He was scheduled to be gone and would miss our daughter's play.

We rushed in the door eager to get the baby in bed before he had a meltdown. The phone rang just after we got settled. The first words I heard were, "Hi! I am calling to let you know that David is up and walking around."

I think the operations officer was calling to relieve my worried mind. Everyone knew that there had been a helicopter crash at Dutch Harbor. Everyone but me!

I responded with something like, "I am assuming there is more to this story." He told me that David's helicopter was in the water, but the crew was fine. Then he asked me if I wanted to talk to a priest. To which I replied, "You just told me that he is fine. You tell me. Do I need to speak to a priest?" Nothing made sense.

David's helicopter had gone down in the Bering Sea. He and the crew were fished out of the water. Six had died. The details were sketchy but it sounded pretty serious. David called an hour later and in a very calm voice said, "Hi, Honey. I hope you didn't cash the check yet." I didn't get it. He meant the SGLI survivor check.

I still had no clue how close he had come to dying that night.

He was flown home in the admiral’s plane the next day. Christmas was especially sweet that year. He even got to see Mad in her play.

You can see the whole story of the crash on the History/Discovery Channel story “Alaska, Dangerous Territory.”

P.S. Check out the newest post at the official blog for www.eMailOurMilitary.com

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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Army’s Family Readiness Group (FRG) Has Support and Information Mission

Some of the winning essays in the military spouse contest sponsored by on the occasion of Season 2 of Lifetime TV’s ARMY WIVES mentioned the FRG. And although I’d heard the term FRG on the show ARMY WIVES, I wasn’t clear exactly what that term meant. (It wasn’t a term I heard back when I was a Mrs. Lieutenant.) So I turned to someone in the know.

Thanks to Candace from An Army Wife's Life blog ( for the explanation below:

An FRG is a "Family Readiness Group" ( The army changed the name to reflect the idea that the army wanted group leaders to pass along official information and prepare spouses and families to be ready for the challenges of the military rather than to "support" them (i.e., do things for them).

It is basically a semi-formalized version of the support and information groups that have always existed to one extent or another.

Technically, it is the responsibility of the company commander (during deployment --Rear Detachment). However, in reality the FRG is usually run by volunteers. The volunteers are supposed to attend training sessions to be group leaders.

If the commander is married and his or her spouse is ready, willing, and able to run the FRG, it can be a real blessing -- passing along valuable official information, providing helpful programs, communicating about resources on post, and also giving families a social outlet (although that's not technically the function of the meetings).

Often today, however, the commander is not married or the spouse has no time or interest to run the FRG. Occasionally another spouse can be found who works well with the commander and everything still runs smoothly. However, in many units the FRG does not exist or is very dysfunctional.

Here are a post and accompanying comments from my blog that give an idea how the FRG is a source of frustration for a lot of spouses:

Family readiness is both a unit and a military readiness issue because a prepared family minimizes the distractions on the soldier and encourages retention. As times change, the army is actively looking for ways to ensure that each unit has avenues for families to receive that support, whether it is through FRG volunteers, paid civilian staffers, or the chain of command.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008 Announces Military Spouse Contest Winners has announced the winners of the “Tell-Your-Own-Story” military spouse contest in connection with Lifetime Television’s series ARMY WIVES. The winners’ names and the winning essays are featured on and

Story submissions of not more than 500 words featured the happiest or saddest or most significant moment as a military spouse. The spouses of personnel from all branches were eligible – Army (including Reservists and National Guard), Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard.

The five grand prize winners will receive, courtesy of Lifetime Television, Season 1 DVD of ARMY WIVES along with ARMY WIVES tote bags. Grand prize winners will also receive $100 American Express gift cards from

All grand prize winners, 10 2nd place winners, and honorable mentions will receive my book Mrs. Lieutenant: A Sharon Gold Novel. (Yes, I’m signing and mailing out 17 books.)

And now at there’s a free estate planning special report on why military personnel need a living trust besides a will. The report was prepared by my husband Mitchell R. Miller, attorney at law, of

(This is a new site – go check it out for a free copy of 4 Important Questions You Should Ask About a Living Trust.)

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Monday, August 4, 2008

Memories From the Daughter of a Vietnam War Veteran

I asked Anna Horner, who blogs at, to write a guest post after she talked about her father in the review she did of MRS. LIEUTENANT: A SHARON GOLD NOVEL on her blog ( I particularly appreciated her description of visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial because Sharon Gold visits this memorial in the epilogue of MRS. LIEUTENANT.

I was seven months pregnant, with swollen ankles, sore feet, and an aching back. I hobbled a mile or so around the city, my soon-to-be husband scolding me for not sitting down to rest. But I was on a mission.

Thousands of names stretched out before me, etched into the smooth, black wall. They were warm under my fingers, brought to life by the flowers, pictures, notes, and other mementos from the ones who will never forget, who wear the memories heavy around their necks. Come hell or high water, I said, I’m doing this for my father.

It was late spring 2000. My father, who was an MP in the Air Force during Vietnam, passed away unexpectedly a few months before without fulfilling his dream of visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and paying homage to his friends and all the others who did not survive.

The war was over by the time he met my mother in late 1975, and even more time had passed by the time I was born in 1977 and my sister in 1979. But it was always there just beneath the surface.

The war was there every time my sister and I fought to get our father’s attention, having lost his hearing from all the planes, or so he said. And it was there when my mother told us how she woke up with my father’s hands around her neck in the midst of a nightmare.

My sister and I would stumble across pictures of our father in uniform and ask about the men standing beside him, or we threw out questions about his many tattoos or the tapestry and paintings he purchased overseas. He never said much, and we couldn’t drag out any details.

One thing he said that stands out in my mind was how war protestors threw dog feces at them when they came home, how he was spit at and called “baby killer” and I’m sure many other things he wouldn’t repeat to us.

He told me he spent much of his time on base, but I was only a child, so I don’t know how much of what he said was to protect me. I never asked if he killed someone I didn’t want to know if the man who read us bedtime stories, took us to amusement parks, and bought us Barbie dolls was capable of that. I still don’t want to know.

My father’s participation in numerous VFW functions served as another constant reminder of the war, and there were many evenings where my father traded stories around the bar while my sister and I watched television or played ping pong.

Every Memorial Day, we went from cemetery to cemetery replacing flags and putting down geraniums. We handed out poppies to remind people to remember the dead soldiers, and our minivan was covered in stickers insisting that those who were POWs or MIA would never be forgotten.

When I turned 16, I joined the VFW Ladies Auxiliary, and I marched in numerous parades behind my father, showing gratitude for all the men and women who served our country during wartime.

My father and I never had a real discussion about the war until I took an English honors seminar in college Literature of the Vietnam War. I would come home every weekend, hoping my father wouldn’t be off at a VFW function so that I could tell him about the latest book we were reading.

I remember discussing the politics behind the war with him as I read Fire in the Lake by Francis FitzGerald. And when I pulled out my dog-eared copy of Tim O’Brien’s If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, my father burst out singing the song that goes along with the book’s title.

He told me stories about escorting prisoners, one who slit his girlfriend from neck to navel, and another who jumped one of my father’s friends in the shower. He reminisced about a baseball game and how the site was bombed only a few hours after the last pitch was thrown.

We did most of our talking during trips to the grocery store, and I’m sure he told more stories, though I foolishly didn’t write them down. And I’m sure he took many more stories to the grave. I was only 22 when he died, and I thought I had all the time in the world to ask him more questions.

As I stood before the Vietnam Wall, watching people rub names on scraps of paper, I wondered what kind of person my father would have been had he not served in Vietnam. But I pushed that thought out of my mind as I walked along, running my fingers over names of people I didn’t know, wondering if by chance I touched upon a friend of my father’s.

As my swollen feet took me from one end of the wall to the other, I understood that my father had been willing to give up his life for his country. While I felt guilty that I was lucky and didn’t know any of the names on the wall, at the same time I was grateful that my father had lived so I could do the same.

In memory of Edward Allan Bitgood, 1941-1999

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Sunday, August 3, 2008

Do Our Troops Need Cosmetics? A Unique Way to Show Our Gratitude

I asked Nancy Sutherland, sales director of Mary Kay, to write a guest post describing an important project that she is promoting. (She has her own blog at

Imagine it's hot, sandy with a nice breeze but you're not at the beach AND you are wearing up to 100 pounds of gear! You're an American soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan! Today is pretty much like yesterday except you are one day closer to coming home to your family.

It's the end of the day and your most anticipated activity is a nice shower and mail call. Your hands are weather-beaten, dry and chapped. Yet there’s hope for your hands thanks to Operation Soldier Care.

Our troops frequently get care packages for birthdays and holidays, but what about “just because” we appreciate them now?

What is Operation Soldier Care? How did it come about?

I’ll start by giving you an inside look of who these soldiers are who will be the recipients of this campaign and why you want to be part of it.

The U.S. has a total volunteer military so everyone who is serving our country willingly signed up to do so. Some of them are true patriots that come from a family with generations of military service going all the way back to the Revolutionary War.

Many of them are young men and women who come from a large family, small town, low income or other backgrounds that would not offer college as an option. (Enlisting for three to four years can give soldiers a chance for a better life afterwards with a college education.) There are also doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants and many other professionals who are reservists called up for active duty.

My husband Alex retired from the army in 2003 as a major. That has given me an inside look as to what it is like to serve overseas. Alex celebrated his 40th birthday unceremoniously in Bosnia. I put together a care package for him that I had worked on for a month, selecting just the right things that he might enjoy. And as a Mary Kay sales director, I also assemble gifts for many of my clients to send to their loved ones overseas.

At first I thought that providing sunscreens for the troops would be my best option. But as I got creative in adding other personal care items such as body lotions, shower gels, hand creams, shaving cream and other hydrating skin products, the response was overwhelmingly positive.

Here is one of my responses:

“Great idea! Having been a U.S. Army soldier in Kuwait and in Iraq, personal hygiene items and toiletries are such a luxury. To receive a Mary Kay care package would have been a DREAM for me! I highly recommend this because it is really something useful and much appreciated even for male soldiers a HUGE morale booster. When I sent my husband who was deployed in the Middle East special items for his skin, he was in heaven and so so happy!!”

So Operation Soldier Care was created. I teamed up with eMail Our Military ( for this project because eMOM already had the systems in place to promote this and distribute the gifts. I am matching each donation 100% so your generosity will be maximized!

To learn how you can participate in this project, go to Or order directly at

Friday, August 1, 2008

Expiation for Killing: Young Soldiers Are Taught How to Kill But Not Taught That Killing in Combat Is Okay CONTINUED

In my July 27th post (, National Guardsman Big Tobacco ( currently deployed in Iraq provided his response to my July 20th post about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in military personnel ( In that same July 27th post I put forth an insight from my husband Mitch about biblical public ceremonies of expiation of guilt for killing in battle.

In my earlier post today ( you can read Big Tobacco’s main response to this July 27th post. Below you can read the follow-up email Big Tobacco sent about this subject:


I thought more about what I said and I have more.

I think that it is easier for the officers than the men when it comes to PTSD. They might feel survivors’ guilt but they get over it. How many officers have you seen interviewed about PTSD? Probably none, even if they retired. It's always the Joes.

I can remember my first deployment when there was a suicide bombing at another checkpoint. My checkpoint went to 100 % security and we were ready to be attacked ourselves.

I was in a bunker with my machine gunner when he said: "Sergeant, I don't want to kill anyone." So I told him to get off the gun and go relieve our RTO and he would man the gun. In hindsight, this was a bad idea because freezing up on the radio would have been worse than the gun.

But that was proof right there that fear of killing permeates a soldier's existence, even if he doesn't know it.

Gotta go. Got a mission

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Expiation for Killing: Young Soldiers Are Taught How to Kill But Not Taught That Killing in Combat Is Okay

In my July 27th post (, National Guardsman Big Tobacco ( currently deployed in Iraq provided his response to my July 20th post about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in military personnel ( In that same July 27th post I put forth an insight from my husband Mitch about biblical public ceremonies of expiation of guilt for killing in battle.

Here’s Big Tobacco’s response to this July 27th post:

Actually, I would think that some kind of public display like that would be, in the words of an NCO, "pretty f***in' stupid."

I'm not saying that you are stupid. It's just that I can already see the looks on the faces of my men, who just want to go home, being forced into some kind of quasi-Christian ritual when all they want to do is get drunk and laid.

The one thing I hate is acknowledgement of my service. I hate it when I am in uniform and people come up to me and say: "Thank you for protecting us."

"Yeah, dude. Don't worry, you'll get the bill."

That kind of ritual would be tacked onto all of the "thank you for protecting us" press conferences and parades. The fact is that people back in World War II DID have post traumatic stress; they just drank themselves to death or destroyed their families. And people didn't talk about it.

Also don't forget that A LOT more infantrymen died back then, even from simple wounds. By Vietnam, you had fewer casualties and better medical care (i.e., 30-minute medevac) so there were more people left around to be traumatized.

There is a book by a guy named Dave Grossman, who is a former Ranger and officer who studies "killology." He wrote a book called "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Leaning to Kill.” In this book he theorizes that PTSD doesn't come from exposure to danger, it comes from the physical act of killing itself.

Our society teaches that murder is wrong. Yet we take a high-school kid, cram 10 weeks of training down his throat, and call him a "killer." Sure, he might be physically able to kill, but after the target falls, he feels bad about it. Grossman’s website is at .

Take a look at World War II. A study was done after the war and it was found that only 20% of combat soldiers ever fired their rifles. Why? Because they fired at bull-eyes and a human looks nothing like a bulls-eye. The soldiers were not just afraid to kill, they weren't conditioned to kill.

So we changed the training. We started to fire at man-shaped targets. By Vietnam, we got the weapons-firing ratio up to 90%. This is operant conditioning. Think of Pavlov's dogs. Bell rings, dogs salivate. Target pops up, soldier shoots. Stimulus, response, positive feedback. Stimulus, response, positive feedback. Now we taught them how to kill, and they react and do kill, but they are still afraid to kill.

We never teach these kids that killing is OK. So they gear up, go out, and kill. Then their lives are wrecked afterwards. Here's your 30% PTSD disability, kid. Good luck finding a job.

It's better to deal with the nightmares than go through life like that.

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