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Posts Tagged ‘Memorial Day’

One Female Soldier's Story, (With Thanks To All Soldiers), On Memorial Day

In the military, women on May 31, 2010 at 9:15 am
The Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Expedient ...

Image via Wikipedia

From O magazine, a powerful story of Ashton Goodman, a young female soldier who served in Afghanistan, and who died there:

Under leaden winter skies, nine air force and army soldiers, bulky with gear and weapons, waited on rain-darkened gravel near tan, mud-splashed Humvees to begin the drive north to their small forward operating base (FOB) in Panjshir Province. The youngest, Air Force Sr. Airman Ashton Goodman, 21, stood beside me in camouflage uniform with pistol, carbine, knife, heavy boots, and helmet, explaining that as a vehicles “op” (short for vehicle operator dispatcher), she maintained and drove Humvees, Land Cruisers, “whatever has wheels.” She added that she couldn’t wait to drive one of the newer Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected all-terrain vehicles, a paleolithic-looking monster built to survive roadside bombs, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and ambushes. A former supply truck driver on mine-infested roads in Iraq, Goodman was about two months into her new deployment in this relatively peaceful, “model” province.

Established in 2005 by combined American military, civilian, and NATO forces, the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), working closely with the Afghan people, was responsible for diverse humanitarian efforts, from medical clinics and vaccination programs to schools and engineering and agricultural projects. Although at the time its 70-member team was the smallest of the 26 PRT sites throughout Afghanistan, FOB Lion was considered a showcase. I was going there to write about the five female soldiers on that team.

My initial impression of the diminutive, blue-eyed, athletic Sr. Airman Goodman that bleak afternoon at Bagram was of a wholesome G.I. Jane action figure come to life. She’d missed her dream of becoming a fighter pilot, she later told me, by being one inch under air force height requirement.

I wish I’d met Goodman. I’ve interviewed female — and male soldiers; Kayla Williams’ book “Love My Rifle More Than You” offers a searing look past the headlines to the gritty (no showers) life she lived. After she returned home, she and her husband, a fellow soldier, suffered from PTSD and TBI, traumatic brain injury, the signature wound of the Iraq/Afghanistan conflicts, caused by the explosions of IEDs. Coming home sometimes offers little peace.

I once interviewed the father of a soldier whose helicopter had toppled off a mountaintop, killing all aboard. When he answered my call, he offered to email his son’s eulogy, which he was in the middle of writing. Until you speak to a soldier or their loved ones, the personal cost of war can remain something distant and abstract, a photo or a story or something on TV.

Their collective sacrifice is invisible to most of us, and extraordinary.

Thanks to all who have served, and still do.

Road Trip! A Top Ten List, Plus Mine — And Yours?

In travel on May 28, 2010 at 5:18 pm
Life Is A Highway

Image by Matt McGee via Flickr

I love road trips!

Here’s a fun list of America’s top 10, three of which — Arizona, Maine and The Blue Ridge Parkway — I’ve done.

I didn’t learn to drive until I was 30, growing up in Toronto and Montreal, where public transit was safe, cheap and plentiful and where the taxi drivers knew me by name I splurged so often. So I had some seriously pent-up consumer demand by the time I did get my license, after learning to drive in Montreal, en francais. It’s a city of aggressive drivers and many hills, so learning stick on a hill in the dark in French was good prep.

I didn’t have much of a jones to do road trips in my native Canada because the distances are so often exhaustingly enormous, certainly if you’re on your own. You can drive for 12 hours in Ontario and still be in…Ontario. After six or ten hours of pine trees, enough is enough.

Some of my favorite road trips have included:

Montreal to Charleston, S.C. with my then boyfriend, later husband, (then ex.) It’s a long, long way and I was still learning how to drive, so had an interesting moment trying to shift gears at 60 mph on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We camped some of the time, stayed in some hotels, ate a very good meal at Poogan’s Porch in Charleston, where I ended up covered in mosquito bites from eating on the (lovely) terrace. If you love architecture or design, Drayton Hall, near Charleston, is one of the nation’s most beautiful early homes, whose construction began in 1738.

Montreal to Savannah, Ga. with my Dad. We visited small coastal towns like New Bern and Oriental, N.C., winding down backroads fragrant with night jasmine and the Great Dismal Swamp. It is large and, on a rainy gray day when we drove across it, was dismal indeed. If you’ve never been to Savannah, it’s well worth a visit.

Santa Fe To Taos, aka The High Road, with the sweetie. We stopped in Truchas where the sweetie explored a Buddhist temple while I waited outside — where a dog bit me on the ass. Never before, never again. The drive is gorgeous.

New York to Charlottesville, Va. I did that trip in the spring of 1995 in my red convertible and spent a whole $500 for a week’s solo adventure. I loved historic spots like Harper’s Ferry and Shepherdstown, the oldest town in West Virginia, was intrigued by Monticello and often, as I drove through the hollows of West Virginia, felt as though I were lost in a Thomas Hart Benton painting.

Taxco to Acapulco, with my Dad. Driving in Mexico is its very own brand of adventure. We ran out of gas somewhere rural and my Dad, pointing to a hacienda down the dusty road, said “You speak Spanish. Ask where the nearest gas station is.” I remember getting a bad electrical shock in the pretty tiled bathroom in Taxco and loving the dirt-cheap pension in Acapulco Dad remembered from a trip 20 years earlier.

Perpignan, France to Istanbul, with Pierre, a professional truck driver I was writing about. Eight insane, amazing, scary, unforgettable days. Pierre didn’t speak a word of English and we slept in the truck in two narrow, tiny bunks. We didn’t shower once the whole time because hotels cost money and that was — then — the only place to get a shower. So we wore duty-free cologne and perfume we bought at truck stops in Bulgaria. Our gas was siphoned out of the truck while we slept in Yugoslavia, just as he had predicted it would be.

We were pulled over by an irate cop in Bulgaria who shouted at me inside the truck cab and demanded I roll out all my film to expose it. I was so grungy by the end I begged Pierre to let me wash my hair; on a windy day in a parking lot in Romania (maybe Bulgaria) he held a plastic jug full of water over my head while I lathered up. My skin still broke out from constant road dirt.

I’ve never seen a truck go by since without a thumbs-up of respect for their tough, important job. Best road trip ever.

What’s been your best — or worst — road trip?

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