Monday, September 08, 2008

IntroduceYourself.

I've never been good with introducing myself to a classroom full of unfamiliar faces. I get nervous, my heart races and I think to myself...fuck, I'm going to stutter, say something that doesn't make any sense or drool on myself. Now I combine that with, well should I say I'm a veteran? What if people do not support the war? They might automatically hate me. Or will they think I have PTSD and been sexually assaulted? Will they think I love President Bush? Ahh. Tonight in my journalism class, we got into small groups...groups of three. We had to learn about one another. I was with two other females...one was probably 21 or 22 and the other in her forties. We had to ask each other a question...the younger girl, who I'll call Christina asked our (the 40 something year old) could be mom, if she was married, where did she meet her husband, do they have kids, etc. We found out cute little stories about their relationship. Christina asked me, "So do you know what you want to do after you graduate? How did you get into journalism?" I could have played it safe and just said throughout the years I read a lot, enjoyed writing and would love to write for a local newspaper. However, I didn't play it safe. I told them the real story...joined the Army at 17, deployed to Iraq, worked as a photojournalist, fell in love with it, currently write on a blog and am working on a documentary...nothing to be ashamed of but accomplishments at the age of 24 I'm proud of. Christina and could be mom, were really excited. They continued to ask me tons of questions...the best one was from Christina, "did you wear the Army outfit? Camouflage and stuff?". I didn’t hate her for this question…why should she know something so simple? I also learned Christina’s brother wants to join the Army but his parents won't let him (he is 24). Ten minutes later it was time to share our stories. Group one goes...a kid accidentally made fun of midget and now feels really bad about it. The students laugh, the professor asks questions...it's likeable. The professor asked if anyone else had an interesting story, Christina raises her hand. She starts off completely enthusiastic, "I have a story about Kate!", and then she jumped into it...she ended it a few minutes later saying, "I thought it was really interesting because I never met an Army girl before". Christina was sweet and made me feel comfortable. My professor looked at me and said something to the effect of...I'm sure you'll be able to write a memoir piece about your experience. I smiled and shook my head. No questions/comments from anyone. Just blank stares. Awkward. The professor quickly moves to the next group. The group is three females and all from the city (New York city). They do not have a story. One of the girls tells a story about herself. "Well one time my friend got her nose broken at a bar," she says. Everyone asks why. "Someone mistook her for me. I "accidentally" spilled a drink on a girl and my friend got punched by someone who thought they were punching me". Everyone laughs, asks questions...my professor wants more details. I'm staring at this girl. Her tan is fake, she is wearing Coach high-top sneakers, short jean shorts on, a wife beater with her sunglasses hanging on her collar, her hair covered in gel to give it that almost curly look, and an over the top accent. Did I miss something? Please do not get it confused…I do not expect people to be fascinated by a girl who went to war and who is now sitting in a classroom…I do not expect anything. But a typical city girl with a typical shitty bar story, peaks interest in everyone? Who knew being a carbon copy could get you so far. Maybe her story was funny...I would love to see a girl like this get punched in the face but I don't care enough to hear about her pointless story. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, what really matters to people? Can we not talk about the war? I've argued before people do not care. I'm starting to think it might be the way information about the war is being delivered to the public. PTSD, deaths, oil, politics...who really wants to speak about this? Who really wants to speak to someone who has experienced it, when all they probably heard are the horrors of it all? I often think that we can not laugh about war. Nothing is funny. However, if I did not laugh in Iraq and at situations when I came home I would have lost my mind. It is funny...at times. Soldiers are hilarious…I‘ve pissed my pants laughing with and at them, some missions seem so ridiculous that you have to laugh at them, those giving orders are questionable, you find yourself doing insane things...if you cannot laugh, you cannot survive. So where is the humor? Where are those stories? Hidden under piles of what we feel we should know about the war...the stories that would shed some light on the common Soldier, allow the public to step into their boots for a split second, are floating around somewhere...maybe down the road when the dust has cleared, classrooms won't become silent when someone announces they are a Soldier, a veteran...there won't be such a disconnect with citizens and the veterans among them...until then I'll have a nervous breakdown each time I have to introduce myself to anyone, questioning if I should say I'm a veteran...something I am proud of but at times do not want acknowledge for fear of stupid questions and looks, being stereotyped and pegged as a PTSD mutant.

11 Comments:

Blogger LT Nixon said...

Don't throw in the towel just yet, Kate. I think as vets become more involved in society outside of the misunderstood military, cultural perceptions might improve. The fact that you are a journalism major in college means you are on the front, so to speak. Best of luck to ya.

9/08/2008 11:56:00 PM  
Blogger Victor said...

Great post. I'm sure a lot vet's go through the same thing. I just avoid saying I'm a veteran. It's always fun to make up a ridiculous story about your past. Either way, it took guts to just come out and tell people who you really are, even if it might lead to negative feedback.

9/09/2008 12:22:00 AM  
Blogger lela said...

Kate, I think it's sad that vets even have the urge to "stay in the closet" (so to speak). Even so, I've had that same "blank stare" reaction when people learn that I'm a retired officer. It's a real conversation-stopper, so I understand the urge (like Victor's) to just make up a story. It's like people who haven't had military experience think that those of us who do are somehow tainted by it. I understand that shared expiences make it easier to communicate with others (soldiers can understand another soldier's stories without a background explanation; but the best example is a group of mothers sharing child birth stories...someone who hasn't done it just won't ever understand). But, I share your concern with the total lack of desire on many in our society to learn about or try to understand anything (or anyone) that has been touched by the military or the war. I wonder if it isn't a symptom of something larger; but I'm not certain what.....

9/09/2008 12:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kate, the real mutants are the pinheads that propose to have the troops use propranalol (sp??), or "devil pills". Check out Penny Coleman--you'll piss your pants, but not due to laughter like you said in earlier posts, but in FEAR! What normal person WOULDN'T be driven crazy in war??

9/10/2008 07:19:00 AM  
Blogger Factor 10 said...

I'm not a veteran, so let me throw out a flip side, here. I have two nephews, one in the Army and one in the Navy, and I'm afraid of being the one asking the stupid questions you dread getting.
I had an uncle come back from Vietnam and he just declined to speak about it--at all--until it was twenty years in the past.
It's not that I think you're gonna have a PTSD meltdown, but there isn't exactly a section in Emily Post on how to broach these things.
That said, there are also those people who are never going to use more of their brains than it takes to laugh at drunk chicks in bars. The whole Paris Hilton phenomenon just baffles me...

Always be proud to tell 'em you're a vet, girl!

9/10/2008 10:52:00 AM  
Blogger olgreydog7 said...

Ahhh, I've been waiting for more. I hear you. The ROTC unit I'm at expects me to wear my uniform to the classes I take. In the graduate courses, there are alot of foreigners, including middle easterners, and you just never know how people will react. So far, it has been ok, but the first day of class is always a bit uncomfortable. As for the girl in your class, they are everywhere. I think you are right, people are scared to ask you questions. Maybe you should write a memoir piece that answers the questions that aren't being asked? The student paper here just ran an article about how important is is to pick the right dress style. I hope UA has a better paper than this place does.

9/10/2008 05:07:00 PM  
Blogger GI Kate said...

olgreydog...thanks for all your comments. email me sometime...i have questions. (arita8x8@yahoo.com)

9/10/2008 07:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, it's all good. I have trouble deciding when to breach the subject, too. I'm not sure when exactly is the right time to mention Iraq because the air seems to get sucked out of the room for about ten seconds after I say it...aaawwwwwkward! But, I've found that it's because people have a mix of respect, disbelief at having a real-life witness to war so close at hand, and curiosity and they don't know how to start--the same way I don't know how to start talking about it sometimes, either.

9/10/2008 11:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Lisa in DC said...

Kate!
I hope you have a well of patience to expend on these folks. They need to hear from you, get to know you. IMHO Americans are still recovering from the "no one talks about it" legacy of Vietnam. I'm a 70's baby, so I grew up oblivious to a lot of the tension (didn't have family members in Vietnam) and wondered how that level of acrimony could develop (I don't wonder any more). However, since 9-11, friends and acquaitances have started talking about being a vet. Volunteering as a member of Soldiers' Angels over the last few years, I've had so MANY Korean and Vietnam era vets tell me about their service and say, "We never got any kind of recognition or support when we returned home". We've managed to avoid a repeat of that disaster but there are still so many people who don't know anyone in the service and that's a problem. Not only do your classmates and prof not know what to say or ask, your obvious competence will be intimidating. That's no joke.

Laugh when u can, educate when you have the patience, and remember that if someone like me was in your class there'd be at least one person asking a lot more questions.

Take care and best wishes from a grateful citizen.

9/11/2008 10:41:00 PM  
Blogger Average American said...

Kate, hold your head high. You have every right to be PROUD of being a vet. You'd be surprised how many would want to buy you a beer just to say "thank you", myself included.

When we got home from Vietnam, the greeting we got was to be spit on and called horrible things. Those days are gone, thank God. I was never able to talk about my year there(1968) until 1991, when the first gulf vets came home. I and many others like me swore to NEVER allow America to treat their veterans like that ever again. In my hometown, we greet every single returning vet with all the fanfare they so richly deserve.

9/14/2008 01:04:00 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

I was in the exact same circumstance, only they still don't know. We didn't introduce ourselves in my journalism class, but every time when my service in Iraq was relevant to the discussion, I shy away from mentioning it. My face gets hot and I start to sweat a little.

It's sad to say we keep this incredibly important aspect of our lives secret as if it was an infectious disease. I too feel that silly questions and preconceived notions would be thrown around without abandon, so I don't even try anymore. I celebrated my one year anniversary two weeks ago. When I mentioned to my coworker that it was also one year since coming back from Iraq, she asked in bewilderment, "you were in Iraq?!" We have been working together for five months now.

9/20/2008 06:29:00 PM  

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