At Home and Abroad

by Michael Lund

On a January 1967 patrol in a remote valley of the highland wilds in Binh Dinh province, South Vietnam, miles from any friendly force, United States Army infantryman Stephen Saunders screamed inside his head, “‘Nobody cough or move.’” His inner voice was trying to reach the inner ears of Ski and Hays, the other two members of three-man “pony team.” What he had just seen was a khaki-clad NVA soldier toting an SKS rifle four feet in front of and above him on a trail. Thankfully, his comrades somehow heard. He recalls that event regularly now in his Garnavillo, Iowa, home.

Trail is behind the head of Hays’ (left). NVA appeared minutes after the photo was taken
Trail is behind the head of Hays’ (left). NVA appeared minutes after the photo was taken

On May 8, 2002, in her home near Keysville, Virginia, Deanna Schwartz “woke suddenly, thinking I heard someone tell me to ‘pray.’ I looked at my alarm clock on the nightstand beside my bed. It said 4:00 a.m., much too early to get up…Without thought or question as to why I did what I was asked to do, I prayed to God, ‘Please take care of my boy [serving with the Army National Guard in Iraq]’, then slipped back into a peaceful sleep.” Weeks later she would realize that 12:00 a.m. Iraq time was the same time she had been asked to pray. “Chill bumps traveled up my arm. Did I save Dean from death by praying?”

Deanna Schwartz and her son, Dean Schwartz
Deanna Schwartz and her son, Dean Schwartz

When, in the fall of 2015, Longwood University (Farmville, Virginia) and Military Experience and the Arts put out a call to military, veterans, and family members to tell their stories, we were uncertain about who, if anyone, would respond. We named this effort “Home and Abroad” to emphasize that we wanted to learn about the personal experiences of those who served overseas in the military and those who supported them stateside. We have been surprised at the numbers of individuals who have contacted us and by the power of their stories.

In 2015 Thomas Bragg of Blackstone, Virginia, might have been hearing his own voice when he read for the first time a 1969 Newsweek story with the head-line, “Death in a Quiet Week.“ The reporter quotes “a close friend” of Edward Bartholomew Lama, from Mundelein, IL: “‘He was an unusual guy. You liked him from the first time you laid eyes on him. He could tell if you were feeling depressed or if there was anything wrong. And he could almost kid new men into forgetting they were in the Army.’” Thomas Bragg and Eddie Lama were fast friends until Eddie was killed in July 1969. Forty-six years later Thomas wanted to bring back his friend’s voice. He began by scrutinizing the photos they had taken with Polaroid cameras during their tour. Contacting members of the Lama family and childhood friends, he was able to put his fellow soldier’s story into words. He concludes in “Keeping it Lively: The Hunt for Eddie Lama” that he hopes his account of his friend’s life has made “him lively again” (25).

Eddie Lama and Thomas Bragg
Eddie Lama and Thomas Bragg

Who are the readers of these stories of military experience? One other writer can help answer these questions. Hospital chaplain and retired Navy veteran, Willie Smith, Sr. recounts a fictional version of one man’s experience of brutality, using graphic imagery in a terse, powerful poem, “The Patient.” Here a man tells “the visiting chaplain” that, coming out of the shadows, he had surprised his horse, who then turned on him: “He confessed of having only the living witness in him spared from the hoofs and massive muscles / Thrusting up and down from the high heavens, and falling upon his head, arms, wrists, groin, legs—as if all at once…“ Bearing “witness” here is not simply easing his conscience about how he has injured people he cares about but also attempting to prevent others from taking similar action. He knows he has hurt his family, perhaps not physically but certainly emotionally. And, like many converts, he hopes to prevent others from imitating his actions.

Home and Abroad authors are bearing witness to the trials, challenges, and rewards of military service. Their readers are fellow members of the military, veterans, and family members, but, perhaps more importantly, our current civilian population, which is often spared such realities. We acknowledge that there are many ways in which citizens serve the nation—as teachers, police, medical personnel, business leaders, laborers, farmers and many more. However, in other professions, individuals have the option of resigning if they feel their work situations are unacceptable. Giving up a job may cost salary, benefits, and future prospects, but members of the military do not have that option except at the end of their current time of enlistment. What they give up to protect our freedoms is their own freedom. Like firefighters and law enforcement officials, they are also volunteering to put themselves in harm’s way. And, unlike in past generations, today’s wars are carried on by a tiny minority of the nation, about 1% of its citizens. The remaining 99% can choose to take for granted what that 1% does. The hope of Home and Abroad is that many of us will agree that citizenship in a country with an all-volunteer military mandates that all understand what is undertaken to protect the nation’s way of life.

More information about Home and Abroad can be obtained from Michael Lund, Professor Emeritus of English at Longwood University and writing workshop director for Military Experience and the Arts at lundmc[at]


(Feature Photo: Thomas Bragg and Eddie Lama in Vietnam)

The Other Side of the Gunfire: Life in a Battalion Aid Station

By Sean Tyler

There are plenty of firsthand articles about the life of a door kicker. This isn’t one of them. I don’t want to paint the picture that I’ve ever experienced combat first hand. I was an enlisted infantryman prior to OIF/OEF, and then a medical platoon leader/headquarters company executive officer in an infantry battalion in my career as an officer and during my deployment to Ar Ramadi, Iraq in 2006-2007. My experience in a combat zone is much different than that of the combat infantrymen and line medics I know and love. I don’t know what it’s like  take a life or to treat wounds under fire. What I do know is the result of combat operations when things don’t go quite as planned.

When people ask what it was like as a medical platoon in a combat zone I simply reply “It was like running an ER for all of my best friends,”  but that didn’t quite paint an accurate picture. Being “dual-hatted” as the battalion medical officer and an executive officer, 95% of my time in Iraq was spent doing the behind-the-scenes work.. Yet only 5% of my most influential memories were from this position. Read More…

Traditional Students and Veterans: Using Drama to Bridge a Difficult Gap

By Gaby Bedetti

“Fantastic show, that’s what education should look like!” said Travis Martin’s generous e-mail in response to our class’s attempt to capture the experience of war and its aftermath in a play. “A wonderful, often moving piece of theatre,” wrote a professor about “From Shiloh to Afghanistan.” Neither suggested a disconnect between war and the students’ representation. Yet Daniel Buckman’s “Swords to Pencils: Thoughts on the Veteran Experience in Academics” articulates a troubling question: Did any of us develop a real understanding of the veterans’ experience?

Comprised of traditional students, our Eastern Kentucky University class spent spring 2015 armchair traveling from the American Civil War to the modern-day battlefields of the Middle East. Neither my co-teacher, Mason Smith, nor I have fought in a war, so, to mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, we focused on its bloodiest battle. To convey what they had learned from reading history and fiction, the students wrote, directed, and performed six one-act plays on May 7 in the Black Box Theatre of the EKU Center for the Arts. A jug band from the seminar performed brief interludes of Appalachian songs. The production concluded with “A Litany for Our Veterans,” constructed from lines of poetry about all the wars in which Americans have fought. The litany’s elegiac tone projected an earnestness its fifteen reciters may not have earned.


The students dramatized their generation’s stories in various ways. For example, in “An Ignorant Soldier” a time-traveling student journeyed back to the Battle of Shiloh, where he accidentally killed Gen. U.S. Grant and started a chain of events that altered the course of history. “Row Your Boat” depicted a straggler and a general at the Battle of Shiloh trapped as one struggled to row toward safety, and the other toward battle. Martin coached the writers to tweak the dialogue and behaviors to make them more realistic. He challenged the writer of “Homecoming,” whose brother is in the military, to aim for a more nuanced portrayal of a veteran with PTS in this excerpt:


(approaches him with a clip board in attempt to sell cookies)

Excuse me sir?



Get away from me.


What, no? I just have a question for you.



What are you hiding behind that clipboard?

(rips it out form her hands and she accidently falls back out of shock and cries)

What do you want? Get away!


(Libby hears the shouting and runs over)

Hey, hey, hey! Calm down she’s just selling cookies. What’s going on?


She wouldn’t listen. I told her to get away and she wouldn’t. She needs to get away from me.


The writer modified the violence by having only the clipboard fall, not the little girl. A deeper understanding of those who have experienced war calls for a more authentic learning experience.

In order to respond to what Buckman aptly characterizes as the narcissism of the traditional student, academics could collaborate with the veteran community. In her article, “Veterans Studies: Expanding Notions of ‘Vet Friendly’ to Include the Curriculum,” Penny Coleman endorses Martin’s call to bring both veterans and non-veterans together. The course could be cross-listed in EKU’s Veterans Studies Program. Veterans would educate instructors about their needs and learning styles, as Sarah Gann suggests. Voices of Student Veterans and Verbatim Theatre could teach the kinesthetic learning style emphasized in military training and favored by traditional students today. While the class could never approximate the cohesiveness and camaraderie that Buckman describes in his all-veterans composition class, integrating drama may help bridge the gap.

Along with collaborating with veterans, instructors might focus the reading strategically. With so much excellent war literature available, we could pair works from JME with Civil War readings. We could showcase the experience of women involved in war, as Martin advised, by juxtaposing a female hospital nurse’s experience during the Civil War and Erin Byers’ “Dear America.” Another approach to making the course more genuine would be to have the class focus on a particular image the way Lund focuses on images of hands as a writing prompt and shortcut to agency. An alternative is to focus on a specific moment, such as the night before battle, a motif memorialized in Book VIII of Homer’s Iliad, and captured in the EKU student play, “Shootin’ the Breeze.”

Finally, instructors could more overtly use the course to bridge the gap between veteran and traditional students. To promote points of empathy, we could use a public blog to engage soldiers and veterans in virtual interactions. We could bring veterans into the course through JME and veterans on campus. A veteran could serve as a visiting instructor. Students in the course could help promote the field of Veterans Studies by presenting at the Veterans in Society Conference. A course titled “Battle of Shiloh: Drama for the 21st Century” would be enriched by the coming together of veterans with traditional students.

Our hope is that by improving the course design, the military will exist beyond the university enclaves Buckman describes. Rather than carrying what Gann calls the “burden of seclusion,” veterans will help educate traditional students. As brothers, friends, and fiancés of people in the military, many traditional students have a degree of exposure to the moral and literal injuries of war. Gann presents the academy with an opportunity it cannot waste. The million current VA Education beneficiaries provide the academy with what Gann describes as “an occasion in which it can rise to greatness, to serve those who have greatly given in selfless service.” Bringing soldier and student together in the classroom to write and produce plays about the experience of war is a step toward healing and reconciliation.


The trailer for the play is available at

A recording of the performance is available at

An Interview with Jason Poudrier

by Vicky Smith

Military Experience & the Arts (MEA) brought together military and civilian cultures during its second national symposium, held May 14-17 at Cameron University.

According to a press release, MEA is “a national 501 (C) 3 non-profit organization dedicated to serving military veterans and the artistic experience primarily through honoring unbiased creative expression.”

The press release also stated that the event offered over 70 skill-building workshops, daily meals, transportation, “a safe environment for social exchange among veterans” and four featured performers, including Exit 12 Dance Company, keynote speaker Benjamin Patton, theater actor Doug Berky and Oklahoma flutist Albert Gray Eagle.

Director of the MEA symposium Jason Poudrier, who is an instructor in the Cameron University Office of Teaching and Learning, said the main purpose of the event was to “directly connect military veterans with the arts.”

Poudrier said the turnout of the event was wonderful.

“Overall, we had about 175 [people] involved. That’s despite the storms,” he said. “Everything I wanted to offer, as far as the event goes, was offered.”

The featured performers are nationally recognized, and Poudrier said he enjoyed each one.

“As far as the most moving performance,” he said. “I would have to say it would be the collaborative, [improvised] performance of Albert Gray Eagle and Exit 12 Dance Company…You could see the push and pull of the arts happening as Albert Gray Eagle played and the Exit 12 performers danced. It was magical.”

Although he was pleased with the event, he said he hopes more local veterans can attend future events, since the majority of veteran attendees were from out of state.

“One of my main reasons for bringing it to Lawton, Okla., was that I believe it was something that the Lawton/Ft. Sill community so needed,” he said. “I wanted this event to be a start of several other events…The participants that did arrive have already reached out to me to organize other smaller events, so we know it will build in this community.”

Poudrier said veterans and their families actually experienced healing through the arts, which was a goal of the symposium.

“We actually had an email afterwards talking about a couple that…brought their kids along,” he said, “but they actually weren’t their kids. They were the kids of a military veteran.”

Poudrier said the military veteran could no longer care for her kids and had recently chosen to be homeless.

“They [the couple] said it was wonderful to watch the kids experience the arts,” he said, “[and to] actually watch them work through some of their emotions that they have with the relationship with their mom.”

Other goals of the symposium were for veterans to experience healing through sharing their stories and through connecting with representatives of organizations, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Disabled American Veterans (DAV).

“One of the cool things that happened during these art workshops was people talked about their stories in safe environments,” he said, “and then you have DAV reps there, and they can ask, ‘So do you get compensation for that? Have you filled out the paperwork to do this?’”

Personally, Poudrier even experienced healing through directing the symposium.

MEA Staff
MEA Director of Events Jason Poudrier

“I think the biggest thing for me was a rebuilding of confidence,” he said. “When I was discharged from the military, I faced depression; I faced survivor’s guilt, post-traumatic stress, and I lost a lot of confidence in myself. When I was in, I had a very successful military career until I was diagnosed with PTSD, and I was profiled from deployment.”

He said in order to receive a medical discharge, he had to prove how disabled he was.

“I literally had to fill out forms saying how dysfunctional I was,” he said, “and so that basically destroyed a lot of my self-esteem…I became very afraid of taking on tasks because I felt as if I was going to personally destroy them or I was incapable of doing them.”

According to Poudrier, the symposium enabled him to heal because it showed him once again what he is capable of doing.

“It was a success,” he said. “I can be the leader that I was when I was in the U.S. Army and I was at the peak of my career. I can do that now in the civilian world, and I can do things that are meaningful and helpful to others.

“I want other veterans to know that just because they are filling out those forms for the military doesn’t mean that they’re not going to be able to function in the civilian world. They [can] continue to work through those things and become somebody who is actually greater than they ever were before from their military experiences.”

For Poudrier, Cameron University was his safe place when he transitioned from the military to the civilian environment, so he was happy with the campus-wide support he received throughout the event. He received help from Professor Katherine Liontas-Warren with the Cameron Art Department, Mr. David Bublitz, student James Wilson and the custodial staff – just to name a few.

“I think the event really reflected positively on Cameron,” he said. “Everyone was like, ‘Wow, Cameron’s a beautiful campus; this place is awesome.’…I want more soldiers to know how wonderful Cameron can be, how personable most of the instructors are [and] how willing they are to work with you.”

For people who were unable to attend the MEA symposium, Poudrier hopes they are able to attend future events in the Lawton/Ft. Sill area.

“You have to take advantage of those moments when they’re here,” he said, “and you have to look at your life and say, ‘What’s the most meaningful thing I could be doing with my life right now?’

“You start realizing how things that you think are important, in the grand scheme of your life, may not be as important as you think they are in the moment in which they seem so important.”

Poudrier said that the next national MEA symposium is expected to be held in 2018 and the location is under final deliberation. If anyone is interested in organizing a local event that involves the arts or veterans, Poudrier said he is willing to help provide guidance.

“They can email me [at]” he said. “I’ll put them into contact with the workshop leaders in order to bring them out…The infrastructure’s there.”