New Book by EKU Student Veterans Chronicles Their Military Experiences

Veteran Flag Salute photo

“When we arrived, the smell of rotting flesh filled the air. I was told to pull the first guard shift around the mass-grave site. During one of my patrols, I made the huge mistake of looking down. The body of a little girl was still there, holding onto a stuffed rabbit. The little girl was wearing a purple dress; she still had a blindfold on her eyes. And she was just thrown on top of all the other bodies. I can’t get that image out of my head.”

Michael Reichert’s harrowing recollection in a short story entitled “My Bosnian Deployment” is just one of many memories chronicled in “The Journal of Military Experience,” a compilation of 29 stories, poems and artwork from 19 Eastern Kentucky University students who have served in the military.

Copies of the book are available for $15 at the Hastings store in Richmond Centre or through the EKU Veterans Affairs Office. Those interested may also contact Lt. Col. Brett Morris, Ret., associate director of veterans affairs in the University’s Student Outreach and Transition Office, brett.morris@eku.edu or 859-622-7838. All proceeds from the book will go toward the next issue and toward funding the Operation Veteran Success scholarship and retention program at EKU.

Travis Martin, an EKU graduate student and military veteran who served as editor, said in his introduction to the book that its contributors are “trying to translate entirely foreign experiences into a language that others – and the writers themselves – can understand. Most of the authors are student veterans making the transition from military to civilian life … re-shaping their skills and knowledge into something palpable for existence in a strange new reality.”

Not all the stories and poems in the 135-page book are about combat or even service overseas. “Some focus solely on that work of translation, making sense of a warrior culture and the mentality of an individual who has been bred, trained, and conditioned by a society in desperate need of a few willing to sacrifice for the many. In this way, all of the works are interrelated – bound by a common bond of service – and speak with a unified voice to a fragmented audience of believers and skeptics alike.”

Martin credits many EKU faculty, staff and students for their assistance in bringing the book to fruition, including Dr. Deborah Core, Dr. Lisa Day-Lindsey and Dr. Susan Kroeg of the English and Theatre faculty; Dr. Russell Helms from EKU’s MFA Creative Writing Program; and Linda Sizemore from EKU Libraries. He also noted the contributions of artists Matthew Foley, Luke Manuel and Micah Owen; fellow veteran student Ryan Donahue; the Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society; and financial support from the EKU Student Government Association and the College of Justice & Safety.

The book stemmed from a newly-developed veterans orientation course at the University, which has earned national recognition (including a number-one “Best for Vets” ranking from Military Times EDGE magazine) for its initiatives to help military veterans further their education.

“During that course, we offered students a chance to discuss their experiences in the military through poetry, prose and artwork,” Lt. Col. Morris recalled. The ultimate result “was this raw, emotionally-packed book.”

Besides serving as a “cathartic process” for the student veterans, Morris added, the book will give readers “an appreciation of the raw depth of emotions that our young men and women are being exposed to very early in their lives.”

As editor, Martin said he has “read these works so many times that I have internalized their lessons. Pride, sadness, honor, and pure, unadulterated terror have been regular parts of my daily routine for some time now. Facilitating a means for these authors to narrate their experiences in a healing way that educates non-veteran readers about the nature of military service is what this is all about.”

In 2010, EKU unveiled Operation Veteran Success, a series of initiatives designed to make Eastern an even more veteran-helpful campus.

Eastern has extended reduced tuition rates to all out-of-state veterans who have completed 36 months of active federal service. Also, the University has: waived the $30 admission application fee for all veterans, added recreational programming that appeals to their adventurous nature, developed a veterans-only orientation course, established a mentoring program pairing freshman veterans with returning student veterans, instituted special cohort classes where veterans can learn together with fellow veterans, and granted veterans priority during class registration to help them arrange schedules around VA appointments.

Veterans are taking notice. Among its 16,000-plus students, EKU now counts more than 700 student veterans and veteran dependents.

Eastern was also recognized by G.I. Jobs magazine as a Military Friendly School in 2009 and 2010.

Another entry in the Journal, “True Life Experiences of an Airman Over the Skies of the Middle East,” came from Steve Johnson: “We were present when the air war was first started on Jan. 16, 1991. Our mission was to take four F-117A stealth fighters into the heart of downtown Baghdad and hit the Iraqi military communications center. I woke up four hours before our scheduled takeoff time and took a shower. As I got dressed for the mission, I thought about a lot of things in my life: ‘Is this going to be my last night on earth?’ and ‘Will I come back?’”

Published on April 14, 2011