If you’re interested in my publications, please visit my publication list on my website. I’ve identified stories that about Women at War and Women Veterans. Enjoy!
The Washington Times published an article today on Iraq and Afghanistan veterans staying away from the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion. These are both organizations that have been around for a long time, and have turned up in newspapers, but times have changed, and the organizations haven’t.
One woman soldier went to one and got the following:
Kate Hoit served eight years in the Army Reserves, including a tour in Iraq, but when she tried to join her local Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter, someone asked whether she needed an application for military spouses instead.
I dropped in at a local VFW a few months after Desert Storm. I remember it was a older white one story building with cannons outside the entrance. Inside was a dimly lit room with a bar. World War II veterans were seated at it, all men in their 60s.
The VFW vets didn’t ask me if I was a spouse, but they also didn’t really know what to do with me either. They were hurting for membership and new people; apparently none of the Vietnam veterans were signing up because of all the bad feelings from that war. But I had the sense that if I signed up, they would try to get me to volunteer to do paperwork or typing because I was female and that I would always been second class to the men.
First impressions do make a difference. It was the only time I’ve ever looked into a veteran’s organization, and it doesn’t look like much has changed in 25 years.
You know how a room is noisy and then suddenly it gets really quiet, like all the noise dropped away all at once? It was like that once we packed up all of our equipment and then sent it off to Saudi Arabia. Suddenly that chaos of trying to make all the deployment parts fit together was done and we had nothing left to do except stare at each other and think about about what was coming.
The company commander tried to give us all days off — we’d come in and report for duty, and then he’d release us. He thought everyone should have as much time with the families as possible before they marched off to war. But the battalion nixed that, so we got half-days instead. Still had to come in, do absolutely nothing, and then go home.
Deployment Hair for Women
My hair is really thick and heavy. It always made it a challenge to put my hair above the collar, which was a requirement for the military uniform. I’d buy the standard barettes from the post exchange, use them once in my hair, and they’d break under the weight. It was always a balancing act trying to get my hair to stay up, and I usually ending up fixing it during the date when gravity finally won.
Since I wasn’t sure what the hair situation would be like once I got over there, I decided I would get it cut. I went to one of those chain hair cut places and instructed them to “Cut the curl out.” That made for a very short hair cut.
When I came back for formation the next day, one of the male officers was very impressed at my “High Speed Saudi Haircut.” High Speed is Army jargon for “cool.”
Still No Date for Deployment
On a Desert Storm message board I’m on, one of the veterans said that his commanding officer came out to formation and announced the deployment date to the soldiers. We had packed up all our trucks, all our supplies, all our personal gear, and we still didn’t know exactly when we would be deploying.
We just knew we were.
I remember calling my grandmother from the payphone on the second floor (no cell phones in those days) and telling her, “We’re going. We’re going.”
At the time, she seemed more of a safe haven person to talk to than my parents did.
Nothing I did seemed to make any difference.
Land ho! I just blew past my book’s halfway point. Now I’m on the side where the story has the potential to suddenly start moving very fast (writing-wise). Sometimes that gets it’s own momentum. With luck, three more weeks, maybe less.
I’m constantly moving around in the story, making changes. Everyone tends to say, “Don’t edit/revise as you write,” but really, it’s the most natural thing for me to do because it’s part of the creation process. It’s part of how I discover the story as I write, since I don’t know where everything is going.
And yeah, I did follow the “Don’t edit/revise as you write” for a while because it’s one of those pieces of advice that makes sense, which is what made it bad — the common sense feeling of it is why I did it. It’s actually unnatural for me to write straight through to the end of the story, because I end up with a messed up book.
Now I do have some ground rules for the changes:
- No happy to glad. I’m not tweaking words to make them perfect. I used to work with a writer who worried about whether women readers would read the book or put it down because of a particular word choice. I don’t worry about that kind of stuff.
- No moving around if I’m stuck. One of the things that became an issue was if I got stuck, I’d go back and make tweeks instead of trying to fix the problem. The tweeks were often happy to glad, rather than useful, so if I get stuck, I have to focus on moving forward.
- Changing anything has to have really legitimate reasons. It can’t be because I’m stuck, or a vague “something is wrong.” Left brain is always going to scream, “Ack! Ack! The story is broken! Fix! Fix!” even when it really isn’t.
More typical of what I move back to is taking care of a section that needed more research, or that I’d discovered some research that shows me a better way of what I was trying to do. Nearly most of this involves setting, because that’s a huge chunk of the character’s perception of the world around him.
It’s kind of like I’m just making sure all the parts are connected together.
And I also check for typos. I always find those. :(
All of this sound simple, but in some respects it is, and in other respects it isn’t. It’s just what my process is. The first rule is really to always trust the process, and that often gets forgotten with other rules.
Another benefit of war that looked cool and neat from the outside were the medals and ribbons that we would wear on our dress uniforms. They always looked somehow mysterious and special, like “How did you get that? What do they mean?” Like maybe it was part of a secret club or something. When I was a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea fan, a fellow fan took a photo of the officers in their dress uniforms and identified all the ribbons. Turned out the prop man just slapped them on. Someone else did it for the TV show JAG.
Outside the military, people think of them almost as colorful prizes. How many times have you heard the phrase “He won the Bronze Star”? You win a prize in a contest. That’s not what happens with medals. A fellow soldier told me the following story after I returned from Desert Storm. I’m guessing it was a Vietnam Veteran, since that would have been about the right timing.
There was an inspection going on in the barracks. A General was doing the inspection, which is a pretty senior rank. He comes to all the rooms, and then finds one that’s just a mess. The bed’s not made up, and everything isn’t the usual dress right dress. The soldier himself looks on the sloppy side.
The General starts going at the soldier. Wordlessly, the soldier opens a wall locker and takes a Medal of Honor off the top shelf. Tosses it on the bed.
The General falls silent, salutes the soldier, pivots and walks out.
Soldiers earn the Medal of Honor because they went fall beyond the call of duty and saved other lives. Most of the time they don’t live to receive the medal.
* * *
After my company came back, the army slowly began transferring people out. Because I was waiting for an assignment in Washington, DC, I was literally the last person from the Desert Storm deployment to leave. I had a lot of ribbons on my rack — five just from the war, plus the unit citation we were awarded as well.
The new privates were transferring in and they would look at these with envy, just like I did before I knew what the cost was. The ribbons look pretty and war changes you forever.
Because I don’t outline, I don’t really know what’s going to happen a few scenes down the road. I just know what might happen in the one I’m working on, and sometimes I don’t even know that. Yes, I’ve started a scene with setting and character and did not know what I was doing with it, and it came out cool.
My scenes are usually between 700-1500 words. The 1500 word upper limit is a great framework for me because it tells me where I need to think about stopping, and I can adjust for that as I write.
- I start the scene. Somewhere. Not always in the exact beginning. Sometimes it’s a little further in. I never know the ending of the scene at this point. Getting the setting and the five senses in is still challenging for me, so sometimes I have to think a little more on it.
- I move around in the scene. Sometimes it’s straight through, but move often, it’s back and forth. I’ll get an idea and hop up to the beginning to do something with the setting, then I’ll go back down and continue elsewhere.
- I usually have something that’s a placeholder. It might be a name of a character, or a note like “Describe Character” or the name of something.
- Stuff comes out as I write. Since I’m tracking all word count, including the stuff that comes out, if I’m on my Surface, I’ll just do a strikethrough. If I’m in Scrivener, I cut it and plop it into a file called “Extras.” The reason I do this is because the way I write makes it hard track word count at all. The number bounces up and down, and all of it counts, even if it is being deleted. I used to save the extras in case I needed the words, but I found I never use them, so I delete them eventually.
- After I’ve mostly got the parts of the scene together, I start hunting down the placeholders. It might be a picture to describe something more, or research on the name of something. I’ve been surprised at how much this step pulls together the scene because it adds a lot of details. I’ve actually gotten inspiration for a future scene by simply thinking about what something looks like.
- If I see I’m close to the upper work count limit (we’re talking 50 words, not 500), I start looking for words to trim. Most often, this will be where I might have done a little too much with the description, or a sentence that made sense when I wrote it, but now I keep stumbling over it. It’s not hard to trim like this.
- After a few days or few weeks, I’ll wander back into the scene and add more description, clean up the typos. It’s possible thinking about the description may lead to changes for the scene. I had one where a later description of the setting made me realize I hadn’t paid enough attention to another description earlier.
And yeah, I know that goes against most of the how-to advice, which all says that you should write straight through and not touch the story. However, I’ve found that moving around like this is very natural for me.
That probably sounds really strange, because war’s such a scary thing. But there were also a few things along the way that we were told about that were kind of cool. Or at least, they seemed cool since we didn’t have them.
One was that we would wear a combat patch as a permanent part of our uniform. It was a way of identifying that we had done soemthing important.
So you get some pictures of patches:
FORSCOM: This is the patch we wore at Fort Lewis, as a part of being part of the command our battalion fell under. FORSCOM is an acronym that stands for U.S. Army Forces Command. Initially, when we went over to Saudi Arabia, we remained under our battalion
The company the link goes to is a name I recognized: When I went to purchase additional patches at Clothing Sales (military store for buying uniforms), this was the company selling a lot of the products.
7th Transportation Group: After we arrived, the forces were restructured and we came under 7th Transportation Group. This is the combat patch that began a permanent part of my uniform and was worn on the right shoulder.
We also wore the American flag patch on the right sleeve. We thought it looked strange, like a mistake, because it was backwards. But we were told it was to show the flag streaming behind us when we were going into battle. According to the linked site, it’s now a permanent part of the uniform, but it wasn’t at the time.
I did the color ones here because they show a lot of the detail — those are the ones that went on the dress uniforms. The ones we wore on the battle dress uniforms were known as the “subdued” patch, which meant it was olive green and black.
Once we returned, we wore the FORSCOM patch on the left shoulder and the combat patch on the right (I had to look this up because I don’t remember any more!). It looked cool to the soldiers who hadn’t been to war, just like it had looked cool to us before we went over, but it’s kind of like reading an action-adventure book. Fun to read, but you wouldn’t want to actually do it.
This has been a nice fall so far. The weather in Washington, DC usually bounces up and down — gets really cold, then gets really hot, and then everyone gets sick. It’s been cool, with the wind a bit gusty, like nature knows it has to come along and blow the leaves off the trees. Not much in the color changes yet though.
So I went out early in the morning for a walk around the neighborhood. The gray squirrels were busy digging at the grass with their tiny paws and burying nuts. Up ahead of me, I saw this flash of white on the street: A cat.
Okay, I definitely wanted to stop and pet the cat and say hi. I figured the cat wouldn’t go near me. You know how cats can be. I kept walking on the sidewalk and calling to the cat. He disappeared for a moment, and I figured he’d gone under a car.
One of the squirrels darted in front of me, so I stopped and waited for him to finish his squirrel business.
Four houses away, the cat appeared on the sidewalk and headed for me. At a cat walk. Not the slinky walk cats have when they’re not in a hurry. It was more of a fast walk, like when food is coming out.
So I stood there and waited, and the cat trotted right up to me with some serious head bumping, and his engine got started right away. He was a bit chunky for a cat, but had feathery white fur. Very soft. He got some serious spoiling, and we both enjoyed every minute of it!