Pick of the Week

Women in the Military

In 2004, Charlotte Brock heard a body bag being unzipped for the first time. Inside was a U.S. soldier dressed in his battle fatigues.

For Brock, a Marine then serving in Iraq, the procedural process of removing clothes and dog tags, fingerprinting and filling out paperwork for the fallen soldiers was an everyday occurrence during the three months she spent working in a morgue.

But, Brock said, the repetition never became monotonous, and never desensitized her to the emotional nature of the job.

"I felt it was important I was there. I think the other Marines dealt with it in a more 'got to do this' fashion. I felt that I had a bond with their families back home, and in some other dimension, I would be able to tell them I was there with them," Brock said.

Brock's written narrative "Hymn" reveals how, as a volunteer in the mortuary affairs unit, she developed a spiritual, sometimes maternal, connection with the bodies for which she cared.

"In death, the bodies were like babies. They're lying there, and they need to be taken care of," Brock said.

Her essay is the first in Powder: Writing by Women in the Ranks, From Vietnam to Iraq, a collection of short stories and poems. Powder, which will be available for purchase beginning on Nov. 11--Veterans Day--was published by Kore Press, a Tucson publication company dedicated to making women's literary voices heard.

Shannon Cain, the executive director of Kore Press and co-editor of Powder, says that women's military literature is groundbreaking, not just for her publication company, but for the literary community as a whole.

"I couldn't find a single book--well, there were a couple of memoirs published by individual soldiers--but I couldn't find any collection or anthology that had been put together by women who had served," Cain said.

Cain and her editorial counterpart, Lisa Bowden, originally hoped to create a book that would help end the War in Iraq, but later realized that a historically accurate account was more important than a slanted one.

"We needed to set aside our own agenda as peace activists and make the book a vehicle for these voices," Cain said. "This is the truth, this is the real truth, and it's coming from women who have a hell of a lot more authority than I do to talk about this."

In an effort to convey a more complete look at military life, Cain and Bowden encouraged women of all generations to submit their military essays. Because of the diversity of the writers, Powder features both anti-military essays and pro-military essays.

"I think this is an opportunity for women to come together to create something that is wholly cohesive, even if we have different opinions," said author Christy Clothier, formerly enlisted in the Navy.

Unlike Brock, Clothier doesn't write about her experiences with war. (She remained in the United States during her six years in the military.) Instead, she writes about her experiences with sexism, sexual harassment and sexual assault.

"Adam Goodman (name changed by the author), a Navy SEAL, stood over me. 'Damn, you look good! I should have done this a long time ago,'" Clothier writes in her essay.

After narrowly dodging that rape attempt, Clothier filed charges against Goodman. She recalls the trial that followed. To her surprise, some of the women who witnessed the event testified against her.

"One girl (who) testified against me, Brittany, eventually told me a similar incident happened to her, and no one believed her. It's really sad that instead of us perhaps coming together and sharing some sort of camaraderie, that's what separated us," Clothier said.

Clothier hopes that Powder will be the first step in unifying military women.

"I think that's what this book does: It says we are not going to hold each other accountable for our different viewpoints. We are going to support each other," Clothier said.

To hear Clothier and Brock's essays in their entirety, attend the Powder book-launch event on Veterans Day, Tuesday, Nov. 11, at noon, at the Joel Valdez Main Library, 101 N. Stone Ave. Local writers Alison Deming, Niki Herd and Martha Ostheimer will also be reading their favorite Powder excerpts, and Congressman Raúl Grijalva will speak. Admission is $5 in advance, and $6 at the door; kids 12 and younger are admitted for free. Food and music are included. For more information, go to the book's Web site or e-mail Cain.

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