Female Veterans Programs

The Bond Between Mothers And Daughters Who Serve: Char And Whit

Daughter, did you know, to me, the military just felt right.

At first, I really had no concept of what the military was. I vaguely remember seeing scenes of the Vietnam War on the nightly news. Growing up there was a picture of my father in his Marine Corps uniform hanging in our family room. He is a Korean War Veteran.

A Professor of Military Science, CPT Bonnes, from a neighboring college presented the Army ROTC program to my nursing class – it was in the large group lecture room to about 100 of us. Once he finished I just knew it was something I wanted to do. I didn’t ponder my decision, I didnt question my decision…it felt right.

To this day I remember two reactions when I let family and friends know about my decision. I called my mother from the pay phone in the basement of my college dorm, she cried and asked, “What about your nursing?” I replied happily, “I’ll be a nurse in the Army.”

In reference to the military, the second reaction from an old boyfriend was more of a statement. He said, “You know, it’s not the USO anymore.”

Mother, maybe it is in our blood.

Initially, I think my military service was a means to an end. It was a way for me to attend college without crippling student loans and I wouldnt have to graduate and be in that limbo of deciding whether to try and get a job or continue with my education. It helped me make up my mind without really having to make up my mind about the future. In that regard, my decision to join the military, once I really considered it, just felt right. It felt like what I was supposed to do with my life. Just like you.

Daughter, let me tell you. Our experience was unique.

I don’t think I expected to change but I was anxious because I didn’t know what to expect. Like most 19 or 20 year olds, in my mind I was young and invincible. Sometimes confidence comes off as arrogance and I’m pretty sure, I was no exception. No matter, it helped me to execute some of the tasks required. I looked forward to the physical and mental challenges. I was always active and lean but after the Advanced Camp I watched my body change to strong and sinewy. I had never been far from home or family and returning from summer training was the first time I flew on an airplane. It was an exciting time in my life and I was doing something that most of my peers were not. It built confidence.

Mother, I must tell you that I too have changed.

I knew my military service would change me, I just dont think I envisioned to what extent it would change me or in what ways.

I think its brought out my independent side quite a bit more. Ive always been a fairly independent person but military service has just emphasized it. I think its also made me stronger as a woman. Working in a male dominated environment can be hard and Ive had to learn to function in such an environment and become more assertive and outspoken.

Daughter, you have changed.

Being a woman in the military requires inner strength, but I admire how you do not discount your femininity.

The military changed you like how it changed me in that it galvanized what was just under the surface. Pride, strength, courage and commitment. I didn’t realize the well was so deep. Always remember that your Army experience will stay with you but it doesnt define you. You will have many more titles in your life other than Captain and those titles will come at the right time.

Although I was a nurse, it was made very clear that I was a soldier first, then a nurse. Let me make it very clear, you are my daughter first and then a soldier.

 Mom, I am proud to be your daughter, but sometimes I don’t like feeling like I am your baby.

There are probably more differences in our service than there are similarities. You went into nursing and pretty much worked in hospitals during your time in service. I branched Quartermaster after graduating college and worked in line units with Engineers and Infantrymen. Going to the field and the range were regular events for me and they may have been the exception for you. I also joined the military Post 9/11. I think that alone makes our military service incredibly different. Instead of having a Cold War era mentality, I was training to go to Iraq or Afghanistan and I knew it.

Daughter, you are right, we served thirty years apart from one another.

I served during peacetime and you went to West Point knowing the country was already at war. I did Field Training Exercises, you participated in the real deal. You were deployed twice to a combat zone, lived in and dealt with life threatening situations. I took care of patients that survived those situations in previous wars.

Mother sometimes I get frustrated trying to explain,

That the Army Post 9/11 is so different from what it was in the mid-80’s. Sometimes I think my reality clashes with your ideal. I also cant make you understand what deployment is like.

I really respect your passion to help Veterans. I think its an incredibly noble undertaking and I admire you for wanting to give back. But my experiences are vastly different from the individuals you interact with on a daily basis and I don’t want you to treat me like one of your clients.

Daughter, I remember when I helped you pack for deployment.

It’s so surreal even now when I think about it. It is unnatural for your young adult to hand you their will and ask that you to put it in the drawer alongside the files of your monthly bills and collected newspaper clippings. But it is required of all soldiers to have one prepared before they deploy.

We stuffed your footlocker, duffels and backpack with all the equipment necessary for the upcoming nine months. Body armor, Kevlar, desert boots and uniforms, computer, and all of the tourniquets. Not just a couple, but a pile. They were black with Velcro to keep secure to the size needed on any given limb. As a nurse, I knew what a tourniquet was for – to stop blood flow. But I had to ask you, “why do you need so many?”

“We put one on each limb before going out on mission.” That was not an easy fact to digest.

You couldn’t leave your belongings in your apartment, so we packed everything up for storage. Your favorite and more sentimental and important items, like dress blues however, came home.

And then you told me, “I want to show you where my class ring is, just in case…”

It was hard to watch you rummage through your jewelry bag. I couldn’t go there. To me, if I needed your ring it meant I couldn’t have you anymore.

I want to understand more about your time in Afghanistan, but I understand that you don’t want to, or aren’t able to tell me. That is a challenge for me. I don’t handle aloofness well, especially when I remember someone who was very demonstrative. I think like most mothers, letting go can be tough at every phase of your child’s life. Even when your child is an adult.

Mom I know that sometimes I come off as a little callous to you.

We have some very different opinions on things like PTSD, behavioral healthcare, discharge categorization, etc. Sometimes its easier for me to just not discuss things like that with you because our opinions are so different. I think sometimes you question my ability to make decisions and it will come across like youdon’ttrust my decision making. I get offended by that because my career in the military has hinged on my ability to make a decision that puts lives or millions of dollars of equipment at risk.

Daughter, I respect you.

I feel great pride and deep love for you. I respect that you lead men and women well and are down to earth but strong.

Mother, do you remember when I was home over the holidays,

You were talking about some of the advice that you gave me before I left for Cadet Basic Training. One of the events I would have to accomplish was the gas chamber. I would have to walk into a room full of tear gas with my pro-mask on and then I would have to take that mask off and answer some questions from the cadre and expose myself to the tear gas. You told me that before I took my mask off, I should take a deep breath of clean air and then as I answered the cadres question, just let my air out a little at time. By doing that, I wouldnt have to breathe any of the tear gas in. I still got it in my eyes and up my nose but it wasnt nearly as bad as it could have been. I remember when people asked why I wasnt choking on the gas I told them “well, my mom said….”

Yes Daughter, I guess the Gas Chamber training has not changed over the years.

I remember telling you that the purpose of the training is to teach you to accept and trust your equipment. I warned you that the tear gas is like a very strong pepper spray thatcauses eye, respiratory, and skin irritation among other things…like producing copious amounts of mucus and vomiting! You start by moving about the room and you find that yes, I can breathe, I’m not choking and the gas mask is doing its job! Then comes the command, one at a time, “Remove your gas mask!” and you have to answer ridiculous questions like, Where are you from? Do you have a boyfriend? What’s your last four? Who’s the president? But I told you not to panic. The gas may sting your skin and eyes but you don’t inhale the gas and as soon as they yell, “Get out of my chamber!” you hold what breath is left, run like hell to the furthest roped off area through the pukers and hackers – which, of course, you’ve scoped out before you enter - and gulp in fresh air! My darling, coaching one’s child on how to get through the gas chamber is not normal.

Mother, it’s our normal.

Daughter, we have done something that most women I know can’t fathom – we have served our country.

Mom, our bond is special because its so unique. Its an anomaly that Im very proud of.

Join us for a special community event, a creative expression workshop called “A Letter To My Mother” where you will be led through a series of reflective prompts that will help you to capture what you need to say to your mother. The event will take place on April 30th from 12:30-2:30.

We will also host a workshop on June 11th at 12:30 called “A Letter To My Father.”