“Permission to speak, ma’am.”
I sometimes joke that I miss being able to have the above conversation. Now that we’re out, though, I don’t get stop anyone from saying things I may or may not want to hear, and neither does anyone else. And veterans all across the country are realizing this and they are starting to speak up, to make sure they give voice to the sacrifices they made in service of their country, to bear witness to what happened on the streets of Iraq and the mountainsides of Afghanistan, to make sure that civilians who would prefer to sit on their behinds with their five dollar lattes enjoying their freedom in blissful ignorance hear the truth of what that freedom costs, and to tell the true story of what lies between “babykiller” and flag-waving hero.
Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War, a collection of short stories written by Post-9/11 veterans and edited by military veterans Roy Scranton and Matt Gallagher, is only one example of this speaking up. The idea originated with a handful of veterans who met at NYU’s Veterans Writing Workshop. It then expanded to include stories by 14 veterans and one military spouse. The result is an anthology of literary work that will simultaneously grasp and repel you with its honesty and leave you marveling at the talent of our fellow veterans.
In “When Engaging Targets, Remember,” by former infantry platoon leader, Iraq veteran, and now JAG officer, Gavin Ford Covite, you get a glimpse into the decisionmaking process of a convoy gunner. Written in a choose-your-own-adventure style, Covite explores the hard choices a low ranking infantry grunt in the California National Guard has to make while manning a .50 cal in Al-Anbar, Iraq. Do you fire on the vehicle currently racing towards the convoy or do you let it approach? What if it’s a family? How do you balance the Positive Identification requirements of the Rules of Engagement with the very real threat of death or dismemberment?
In “Redeployment,” Phil Klay, an Iraq and Marine Corps veteran with an MFA from Hunter College, explores a servicemember’s homecoming and the parts of war that refuse to stay on the battlefield. With sentences like: “See, it’s not a straight shot back, from war to the Jacksonville mall,” Klay captures the difficulties of transition and how the experiences of war shadow a person, even long after they turn their weapon into the armory.
While Siobhan Fallon, author of You Know When the Men Are Gone, captures the flip side of military service – what it does to spouses. Her story, “Tips for a Smooth Transition,” features Army wife Evie attempting to deal with her husband Colin’s return using the advice of a fictional handbook for spouses. Spot on in its narrative, the story illustrates a spouse’s stress when the welcome homes change from greeting him in a “thong and high heels” (after his first deployment) to worries about PTSD (after his third deployment in five years).
These are just a few of the incredibly accurate and well written stories in Fire and Forget. If you haven’t found your voice yet, I suggest you pick up this book and take a look at what your fellow veterans are saying.
You can find out more about the book here.
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