Healing Modern Warriors Through the Past, by Jen W.

 

“Great books help you understand, and they help you feel understood “- John Green

A recent item in the news helped solidify for me the fact that warrior cultures throughout the course of history have held many of the same values and had many of the same problems. A group including actors and directors known as “The Philoctetes Project” is performing Greek tragedies for current and former members of the military, but not just any tragedies. These tragedies deal specifically with some of the problems faced by ancient warrior cultures.

To quote from their website:

“Ajax tells the story of a fierce warrior who slips into a depression near the end of The Trojan War, attempts to murder his commanding officers, fails, and takes his own life. It is also the story of how Ajax’s wife and troops attempt to intervene before it’s too late.

Philoctetes is a psychologically complex tragedy about a famous Greek warrior who is marooned on a deserted island by his army after contracting a horrifying and debilitating illness. It is also the story of a young officer who attempts to betray the wounded warrior by stealing his weapon, but then faces a moral dilemma about leaving the suffering soldier behind.”

As a society, we sometimes seem to believe that war is something invented by modern societies, that modern wars are particularly brutal or that modern man is more psychologically fragile than warriors of the past. Programs like this emphasize to warriors that what they are experiencing is not new, and that they are not pampered nor spoiled by modern society in a way that makes them more fragile. They emphasize to the modern warrior that they are not alone, and that what they are experiencing is something that is part of the common experience of man.

But, it is important to do more than connect with modern warriors. Only one percent of Americans will ever serve in the military. A year ago the New York Times published an opinion piece on the disconnect between the modern American military and the majority of the American people.

Americans and Their Military Drifting Apart

I thought about this article when my husband recently deployed to Afghanistan and the most common response I received from civilians was, “Oh, I didn’t know we were still sending people there.” Unless they live in a military-heavy town like Fayetteville, NC or Clarksville, TN, most Americans are unlikely to have regular interaction with members of the military or their spouses and children. This is in stark contrast to World War II when Victory Gardens, scrap metal and rubber drives, rationing, war bonds and other methods to support the war were something that Americans participated in on a daily basis. The American people were part of the war effort. There have been no such initiatives for the Global War of Terror; we have simply added the blank check to the already crushing and mind-boggling national debt.

Veterans often talk about the fact that people rarely ask about their experiences. It is something most people avoid because questions might seem nosy or intrusive or might bring up painful experiences. But to veterans, it often feels like a disconnect or that people believe it is something of which to be ashamed.

We need a project like this that reaches out not just to veterans, but to the American people. We need a project to help the American people start to understand what soldiers and their families go through. I believe that reading about the “thousand yard stare” or the anger of warriors when mistreated by the institutions they trusted in an ancient context will help people start to realize that these are common experiences that should be shared, not shouldered by a small percentage of the people and ignored by the rest.

 

 

Jen W.– Jen is a born and bred Sooner who has spent twenty years following her military husband around the world. Jen jen_wstarted on her homeschooling journey when her eldest daughter learned to read at three years old, and she decided that she couldn’t screw up kindergarten that badly. That child is now a senior in high school, and they have both survived homeschooling throughout. Jen has two more children who are equally smart and have also homeschooled all along.

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Beowulf, by Jen W.

 

I’ve had several people ask me why we still study Beowulf. What is the point? How does it relate to anything we experience today? Of course, Beowulf has value simply because it is one of the earliest stories written in Old English to have been found. We have a lot of good evidence and reason to believe that it was an oral tale long before it was written down by scribes. Beyond that, it is a very early tale of good versus evil: a hero versus monsters, a good ruler in opposition to an evil, bloodthirsty ruler. But where Beowulf most speaks to me is as a military wife.

Beowulf arrives in Denmark, determined to help a king who once helped his own father, and to kill the monster threatening the community. He is able to defeat both the monster and its mother despite the jealousy and treachery which are being fomented in the king’s court. His strength and leadership prove his worthiness. He returns home, sharing his treasure and rewards with his king. It is no surprise that Beowulf eventually ascends the throne upon his king’s death. Beowulf has a long and prosperous reign, and most stories would end there, but this one does not.

A new threat appears on the horizon, a dragon, whose lair has been disturbed by treasure hunters. Beowulf immediately wants to go fight it. The reasons are a little murky. Maybe Beowulf feels a sense of personal responsibility as king and protector of his people. Maybe he wants to maintain his reputation as a fierce monster-killer. Maybe he wants one last great hurrah before ascending to the great mead-hall in the sky. His motivations are unclear. Is it a selfish act or a selfless act? Can it be both?

Beowulf does defeat the dragon, but meets with his own death through the battle. His advisors and his people all worry that they will no longer be able to stand against their enemies, now that Beowulf is no longer there to protect them.

I know, relating this tale to modern warrior culture seems far-fetched. But, the truth is that warrior cultures have retained many of the same values, needs and qualities through the centuries. A Roman soldier carried between 60 and 90 pounds of equipment, the same as a modern US soldier. Strength, keeping a cool head while in danger, being able to lead, these are qualities praised both in ancient times and in modern militaries.

A trickier similarity is that soldiers feel both a sense of personal duty and responsibility as well as a desire for glory. These seem like competing rather than complementary feelings when viewed through the lens of Western values. It can be difficult for the average person to imagine feeling those things simultaneously. Beowulf can help people connect with more modern stories of soldiers.

As one example of a modern war story, these conflicting feelings are reflected in ending of the movie The Hurt Locker: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqn-tSa1wYY

He tells his wife that they need more bomb techs, which shows a concern for others and a sense of duty. But, he also speaks about his love of the adrenaline.

There are soldiers who volunteer for deployments when it isn’t their turn, when they could avoid deployment if they wanted. They volunteer both out of a sense of duty and from a desire for the glory of war. How would you feel if you were a fellow soldier who didn’t want to deploy for some reason? How would you feel if you were the pregnant wife of a soldier who volunteered for deployment? Different people will interpret such an action in a different manner because of their own distinct relationships and perspective. We cannot easily dismiss any of these perspectives; each seems equally valid.

The fact that some semblance of warrior culture still exists today makes Beowulf very relevant to modern history. I think it can help people gain a small bit insight into the mindset of the modern warrior as well as the ancient warrior.

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Photo taken by Asif Akbar

 

Jen W.jen_w Jen is a born and bred Sooner who has spent twenty years following her military husband around the world. Jen started on her homeschooling journey when her eldest daughter learned to read at three years old, and she decided that she couldn’t screw up kindergarten that badly. That child is now a senior in high school, and they have both survived homeschooling throughout. Jen has two more children who are equally smart and have also homeschooled all along.

 

 

 

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Ship, by Heart Cross Ranch

 

I have a daughter who flies helicopters. Big helicopters. The ones that make you think of Blackhawk Down. The Navy calls them Knighthawks or the MH-60S. They are BIG helicopters.

The Knighthawk is a multi-purpose platform, capable of search & rescue, Special Forces support, anti-submarine operations, and even recovering space capsules.

How did my girl ever end up doing that?

It started with a chance encounter on the 4th of July in Paris under the Eiffel Tower. My daughter was overseas with Hillsdale College studying, “Their Finest Hour: Churchill and WWII.” She saw several elderly gentlemen in WWII Army uniforms and recognized them as Sgt. Malarkey and Lt. Compton of “Band of Brothers” fame. She introduced herself and they had a lovely visit. A few weeks later, Malarkey mentioned on NPR how touched he was that high school students were excited to meet them. Little did he know that he had profoundly touched my daughter. She came home determined to live up to the “Greatest Generation.” And thus began our journey down the military academy path.

Warning:  the academy application process is not one for faint hearts. It’s time consuming, nit-picking, and headache-producing. But when they raise their hands and swear to “defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and your heart swells with pride, it’s all worth it.

A general overview of a typical academy prep for homeschoolers can be found here: Academy Admissions Advice for Homeschoolers.

I’ll address the rest of this article to the student/candidate as they should be the ones who complete the majority of the application process.

The process begins at Christmas time of the junior year with Summer Seminar applications. There are five service academies: United States Air Force Academy, United States Merchant Marine Academy, United States Military Academy (West Point), United States Naval Academy (Annapolis), and the United States Coast Guard Academy. Of those five, four offer rising seniors a chance to spend a week in the summer, getting a taste of academy life. Since USMMA is on a trimester system, they don’t have such a program. Enrollment in all four Summer Seminars (called different things for each academy) is very competitive, and most students apply for more than one. Who gets chosen to attend? All four are looking for similar things: high ACT/SATs, high GPA, involvement in sports, community service, and leadership, leadership, leadership. Since the process begins so early, it behooves the aspiring candidate to take the SAT and ACT early, in order to have those scores available. The academies are also looking to ensure geographic diversity, so they are eager to bring in prospects from every state. While not getting into Summer Seminar doesn’t mean you won’t get an Appointment, attending Summer Seminar does show interest and can help in the process later. Each academy’s summer program has a different flavor, but all involve an introduction to military life and some really cool classes. You might find yourself lined up on the bulkhead being “counseled” right before working on glider design. You’ll be making your “rack” correctly, memorizing page after page of “knowledge,” marching in formation and keeping your “eyes in the boat.” You might find yourself trying to take over the world in a political science scenario and then participating in team-building exercises. Each seminar runs about $400, plus airfare. You’ll come home with enough t-shirts for the rest of your life!

Some of the academies use the Summer Seminar process as a preliminary application for the academies themselves; others do not. But once your SS application is in, it’s time to start thinking nominations!  All but the Coast Guard Academy require a Congressional, Vice-Presidential, or Presidential nomination. That process requires attention to detail and a lot of stamina. The best advice we were given was to buy a good scanning copier. You’ll need it. Another piece of good advice is to create a separate email address, (one that you will check many times a day) specifically for academy admissions. Time to dump the “partyheartygirl at springbreak.com” address. Clean up your Facebook page; it WILL be perused. You’ll need to have letters of recommendation lined up, and most Members of Congress will want them submitted online.

This is where it gets tricky for homeschoolers and is something to consider as the high school years are planned out. Many Members want to see recommendations from science, English, and math teachers, as well as from outside sources.. We’ve had good success with using college professors from dual enrollment classes. A consistent question comes up:  “As a homeschooler, how will you function as a member of a group? How will you handle classroom learning?” Another constant is the class rank requirement, which a homeschooler obviously won’t have. Most MOC will be content with extrapolating class rank from the student’s ACT/SAT national percentile. Many MOC will close their nomination applications in early fall, some as early as September 15th—don’t be caught napping! Give yourself time to get those letters in and all transcripts sent. Most MOCs have a spot for course descriptions, school profile, guidance counselor letter, and resume. You’ll be doing separate interviews with your representative and two senators’ boards.

While the nomination process is well underway, it’s time to think about the physical tests. You  may have already done a CFA (Candidate Fitness Assessment) at Summer Seminar, but be aware that some academies will allow you to update them, and some will not. They each have running, pull-ups, pushups, and a weird kneeling basketball throw. You need to be in good shape, along with just practicing the skills. Run and then run some more. However, don’t run within 24 hours of your medical exam as it could skew the urine test results!

Next up—the DODMERB, Department of Defense Medical Exam Review Board! If you haven’t figured it out yet, you’re going to learn to speak in acronyms. There are twenty-four pages listed as disqualifications here: Disqualification Codes.  You  should read through these and see if you fall under any of the concerns. There are SOME waivers granted, but as the process becomes more and more competitive, those waivers are harder to obtain. Give yourself enough time to work through a remedial or waiver process; it takes time.

Once you are found qualified, you’ll be notified of your interview. Each academy does them a bit differently. Navy calls your interviewer a Blue & Gold Officer; West Point calls him a MALO; and the Air Force Academy, an ALO. They all want to get to know your motivation, your knowledge of the academies, and your confidence level. Now is not the time to show up in the t-shirt and flip-flops. If the interview is held at your house, a button-down shirt and khakis are in order. If at the officer’s office, it’s time to break out the blazer. Be early—15 minutes early is “on time” in the military.

I could write a whole book here, but someone else already has: The Naval Academy Candidate Book

There are books for AFA and West Point too.  Aspiring Midshipmen will also find these useful: Brief Points and Building a Midshipman.

Throughout this process, it’s important to have a strong Plan B in place. The majority of military officers go through ROTC, not the academies. The process for those scholarships is outlined here: How to Win ROTC Scholarships.

So, you’ve read the books, earned your Eagle, lettered in Varsity sports, interviewed, taken the SAT numerous times, been poked and prodded, produced voluminous paperwork, and now you wait. You may be blessed with an LOA (Letter of Assurance) or Early Action, or you may still be waiting in April. Or, you may take a different route, if you’re offered a prep year. Four of the five academies offer prep school years. Some are offered by the academies themselves, and some from alumni organizations. You’ll take a typical year of freshman courses and you’ll learn how to march and how to make your bed. At the end of that year, if you keep your grades up, and you secure another nomination, you’ll be raising your hand in the Oath that next summer.

The big day comes. You’ve said goodbye to Mom, Dad, and the dog. You’ll survive Plebe Summer, Doolie Summer, Beast Barracks, or Swab Summer. You’ll be tired and sore and wondering WHY you ever wanted to do this. The next four years will go by in a flash, and you’ll be tossing your cover in the air! And then the adventure REALLY begins!

Heartheart_cross Cross Ranch–Heart Cross Ranch is the mom of five children, three of whom have graduated. She is in her 26th year of homeschooling, with just three left to go! She lives high up in the Colorado mountains, in the nation’s icebox, on a cattle and sheep ranch. She enjoys being heavily involved with Boy Scouts, taking sports photos for the local paper, and anything chocolate. She confesses that much of her “homeschooling” consists of throwing interesting books at her children.