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Seven years ago…

Kris home after last warHard to believe, seven years ago I took my last trip to a military base as a Blue Star Mom!  I was welcoming home eldest son from another tour in Iraq. So glad that was it!

So proud that, despite my parental weaknesses and missteps, they are both truly standup guys.


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Why War Sucks, Reason #918,476,198,479

12376655_10209069696479091_2347798850578928720_nThis image is borrowed from the Facebook post by @Karthik Subramanian – A photograph that moved the world!
“In Iraq, a little girl drew a picture of her mother on the floor of her orphanage. She carefully took off the shoes, lay down on mother’s chest and fell asleep… I really don’t know how to use human language to interpret such a picture.”

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Look beyond the lapel pin

A VMFP panel discussion gets underway at the 2009 Biennial conference in Arlington, VA.
A VMFP panel discussion gets underway at the 2009 Biennial conference in Arlington, VA.

Six years ago this weekend, Veterans and Military Families for Progress held its biennial national conference in Arlington, Virginia. I was a founding member and for several years served on the board of the national 501(c)4 organization. That weekend event hosted high-ranking government officials from the VA, DOD, a number of national veterans non-profits and other agencies and organizations.  And it was my great honor to serve as chair of the three-day event.

The conference covered weighty issues such as the challenges faced by veterans transitioning to civilian life, reconnecting with their families, and rejoining the workforce. An awards gala recognized the legislative advocacy of Congressman Chris Smith of NJ, former Cabinet Secretary Max Cleland, and Bob Woodruff, the TV News Anchor injured in Iraq. And through a fundraising effort, we were able to reunite and host an entire U.S. Army Fireteam that served together in Iraq.

I’d been involved in Veterans causes since high school when I served as a “candystriper” for not one but two local Veterans Administration hospitals in the Nashville area. The fact that my dad served directly under Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in the European theater during WWII and an uncle was a Marine officer killed at Iwo Jima added to my desire to serve veterans. But becoming a blue star mom was the thing that confirmed my commitment to this noble but small percent of the population as I endured the deployments of my two sons to Iraq a total of five times.

Living in Tennessee at the time, the weekend before that major conference in Virginia, my husband and I were fortunate to volunteer in Operation Stand Down Tennessee’s weekend stand down annual event collecting, sorting and distributing warm clothing for homeless veterans living in the Nashville area who were fortunate enough to be bused to that weekend event. I might sound corny, but my eyes still tear up as I think about those individuals, what they endured and continue to endure because of their service and duty to our nation.

In three weeks time it will be Veterans Day. All over the country politicians will be pinning their Old Glory flags to their lapels.  I’d like to believe they keep our Veterans and those serving and their families in mind as they ponder legislation, budgets and taxes.  I’m afraid that’s not always the case and have found it helpful to follow the legislative updates of non-partisan veterans organizations out there to find out what’s really going on and who’s really advocating on their behalf and who’s really just sticking on the lapel pin for show. Another way is to delve more deeply into their particular voting record for yourself at Project Votesmart. It’s time consuming, but if you’re passionate about it, it will be worth your time to cut through “the filter” to parse votes yourself.

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Beau Biden: Rest well

Beau Biden - Image Courtesy of ABCNews.Go.Com
Beau Biden – Image Courtesy of ABCNews.Go.Com

I am grieved by the news that this fine young man died yesterday of Brain Cancer and it stunned and saddened me a great deal.

Before I took to painting, before I gravitated to making art, I was deeply passionate about those serving, and about veteran and military family issues. I was political and I was an activist. Some might say I was rabid.

I had good personal reasons for doing so: My two sons served on the front lines in the war in Iraq and it was plain that the Bush Administration worried about funding for the war but not for the care the veterans of that war and the war in Afghanistan would create. We’ll leave the decision to go war in itself for another discussion.

Our veterans returned home from both wars to an overburdened Veterans Administration. That’s putting it mildly. I became a founding board member of a national advocacy group lobbying for more attention for our veterans, those serving, and their families.  During my efforts, I had the chance to meet several members of the Biden family, including Beau who proved himself a tremendous advocate of our Veterans, those serving, and their families.

I am deeply touched by Beau’s passing. He seemed like such a genuinely decent human being.  Someone more concerned about righting wrongs and addressing issues than exercising power for ego’s sake.

Too soon.  Too damn soon! My deepest condolences go out to the entire Biden family and to those who knew and worked closely with Beau. May you all find solace in the fact that Beau touched so many lives in such a good and decent way.

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Iraq invasion was 9 years ago today.

The Iraq invasion 9 years ago today. I get emotional thinking about it as my oldest son was a Marine 0311 (infantryman) on the berms. #verklempt

The truth is, back then I was immersed in the role of supportive military mom. But with reservations. I had watched (and videotaped for my son) EVERY SINGLE hour of the U.N. Security Council meetings, hearing the testimony of the UN WMD Inspectors and our own Colin Powell, in dire hopes that this invasion I was sure was about to happen would not be in vain and the UN would find just cause to go in.  Alas, as we all know …

So, five tours, two veteran sons and massive personal and national cost later, I found art my way of escaping the ugliness and death and misery of all that. I wanted to celebrate life instead and found this my way of doing just that!

I’m so glad for the distance between then and now.

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Anniversary of the Iraq War

Wow, hard to believe such a defining moment in my life passed by and I almost forgot about it!  I say defining because as my bio hints, I was a Blue Star mother six times over as my sons – Marine and Soldier – were deployed to Iraq or other war zones in the Middle East.  And my oldest, Kris-the-Marine infantryman, was there for the invasion.  And I made the mistake of becoming way too invested in knowing what was going on.

I was still in college, majoring in Journalism, and had access to all sorts of investigative tools and made it my business to learn all I could about what the U.S. would be up against, what the Marines would be in for.  And I learned the embedded reporters names and when they would file reports, I’d download the transcripts and parse them, sharing them with a few other parents of fellow Marines in Kris’ unit.  After that first deployment, I learned.  I learned to detach and accept that no matter what I knew, it would never change things, so for the most part, during Kris’ following deployments, I took on the ignorance is bliss mindset. Notso with Pete, my baby.  He’d cringe to hear me say that but I don’t think he reads this, so, it’s OK.  It was different with him, an armored infantryman.  I wasn’t as obsessive about the news as I’d been during that first deployment, but I did set up a Google alert “Anbar Province” where he was deployed.

The thing is, I’m just one of many military families radically effected by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And I’m going on record to say we should never have invaded Iraq, but kept our resources and focus on Afghanistan, providing breathing room to the new government instead of allowing the weeds of radical Taliban renew and retake most of the country as they did.   For a while I was loud, vocal and critical but, like worry, realized it wouldn’t get me anywhere.

So I learned to paint to take my mind off it and to focus on something more life-affirming and positive instead.  And today was a splendid day of painting and creating.  Still, I can’t help but be disheartened when I think about the trillions of dollars our country has wasted – yes, wasted (in economics, one learns there are good expenditures and bad – war is one of the most wasteful of all) – on these wars.  Fortunately, my sons came home from war and after some tough times, they’re doing pretty well and I’m very proud of both.  Other families, though, are not so fortunate.