When you hear the word SERVICE, what flashes through your mind? Currently, it may be a picture of doctors and nurses. It could be your favorite restaurant server, your mechanic, or someone in the military. I was an Air Force wife from 1972–1979 and I waited tables in the closest restaurant to the main gate of both an Air Force Base and an Army Post in Tacoma, Washington from 1978—1991 where most of the customers were active duty or retired members of the armed services. I moved back to the Finger Lakes area of New York State in 1991 and lost my connection to a military-based way of life. When I hear the word service my mind thinks military first, then may drift to other definitions.
I am a five-year member of the Rochester, NY Veterans Writing Group. We meet each month and I have only missed a few meetings since joining in 2015 because being with “my” vets has brought me home to a feeling I didn’t know I was missing until I experienced it again. When I started attending I found my “tribe” of brothers and sisters that “get it.” The group gathers around a table and writes personal experience memories brought forth from thought-provoking prompts. Once the allotted writing time ends, we read our musings aloud, sharing the highs and lows, and sometimes comical, points of military life. It’s a healing process and only safe to do with other vets who understand: the front lines come with exhaustion, bad food, blood, and death; the military comes with pride, service, boredom, and chaos; the home front can be supportive or fall away in a flash, and it takes 22 to 25 other members in the background to support the ones brandishing weapons no matter the circumstances.
I am proud to share, the groups’ anthology titled, United in Service, United in Sacrifice will be released in May 2020. The authors are veterans and family members ranging in age from 27 years to 95 years old. The stories start at WWII and move forward to Afghanistan. The authors’ goal is to help anyone understand the meaning and feeling of “tribe” or “brotherhood” of the military and the sacrifice it takes to “sign on the dotted line,” hence the book title.
According to the National Conference for State Legislators, only 7.6% (in 2019) of all Americans have ever served in the United States military. I beg to differ because I was a dependent wife and had two children. No, I didn’t serve to the extent of following orders and being asked to brandish a weapon, but I carried a military dependent ID and served by being the back-up, the home front, who gave up my childhood roots, never gave them to my kids, then willingly packed and moved each time the Air Force ordered my ex-husband to do so. I made immediate friends with new neighbors and relied on other members of my husband’s unit as a family because I had no other choice. Becoming a military dependent changed my life by expanding the puddle in which I live.
Today I continue to serve by being the “Mom” of our writing group. I take the coffee pot to each gathering, check-in privately with a member when I can sense they need it, and present each new member a patriotic quilt on their sixth month attendance anniversary. I learned to sew when I was in high school and I’ve been making quilts ever since. I am very fortunate to have a large sewing studio in my home that has multiple cupboards full of many different colors of fabric, lots of it red, white, or blue. My husband is often with me when I’m shopping for fabric. He carries the bolts I pick, chats with the person who cuts what I want, and pays for it knowing I am going to give most of it away. He’s a veteran too and his generosity keeps me occupied doing something I love, and gives both of us a way to acknowledge our fellow veterans.
The quilt pictured below was made for my WWII Veteran friend, Bob Whelan. It is a replica of the 13th Armored Cavalry (1944-’45) patch of which he was a member and is now the President of that unit’s reunion group. The quilt hangs in his study at home. The pattern for the recurring block is called Kaleidoscope. Fun fact; my husband was in the 50th Armored Division (1970-’76.)
The above quilt was a gift to Steve McAlpin
We had to say a final farewell to one of our own this past January. Some of “my” vets from left to right; Me, Gary Redlinski (Vietnam), Steve McAlpin (Afghanistan), his girl Carol, Holly Katie (family member), Vaughn Stelzenmuller (Vietnam), Bob Whelan (WWII)
There are so many different types of service whether it is in the military, to your family or community, at work, in your children’s schools, at the Carrot Ranch, etc. Service can be as simple as a smile in the check-out line at a retail store or brandishing a weapon not knowing if you’ll make it to the next day and all points and locations in between.
Charli Mills serves us by giving us a fun, safe, positive place to share the written word. I am thankful to be a part of Carrot Ranch and proudly talk of my international friends who keep my life puddle ever-expanding.
In the comments section please share your service story–military or otherwise.