Tif Holmes / War / The Journal of Military Experience, Vol. 2

Adjusting Fire: Redirecting Veterans’ Verbal Energy

by Travis Switalski, Sr.

Vietnam had O’Brien, Caputo, and about ten dozen others. World War Two had James Jones and Korea had Hornberger, to name two of a hundred with ties to those wars. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have no unified, enduring voice outside war porn authors or the newest Medal of Honor recipient’s ghost written book. So far our voice consists of social media posts and rantings related to political candidates using us as bait and pawns to meet an agenda. We need our own voice, and we can develop it into something lasting.

It would be unfair to say that there aren’t any voices for us out there. Plenty of outstanding writing has been done by OIF and OEF Veterans. David Ervin’s non-fiction, Leaving The Wire: An Infantryman’s Iraq, and Jerad Alexander’s novella, The Life of Ling Ling are two fine books born from the true voice of experience.  Short stories like Kyle Larkin’s “Minarets” and Christopher Lyke’s “These Are Just the Normal Noises,” or articles like Sean Tyler’s “The Other Side of the Gunfire: Life in a Battalion Aid Station,” or Brian Mockenhaupt’s “I Miss Iraq. I Miss My Gun. I Miss My War” do render the voice of our war. Organizations like Veteran’s Writing Project and Military Experience & the Arts don’t use “war porn” or publish Special Operations’ narratives, but instead showcase art, poetry, non-fiction and fiction works by ordinary people who lived through extraordinary circumstances. There are literally thousands of works by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans – art, poetry, fiction, non-fiction all done by those who fought in America’s longest military campaign. Why are good works being drowned by rantings on Facebook?

Social media has been detrimental to the veteran experience. We are so flooded with articles, posts, memes, rants and groups that there is little time to actually read what is presented. We’re inundated with war porn and hero worship to the point that we have grown numb to our own experiences and the experiences of our fellow veterans. We live in little, fragmented, online groups that separate us from each other and from the rest of the American population. We label ourselves as disgruntled or dysfunctional and participate in causes that amount to little more than online “slack-tivism.” We “like” or “share” pages and articles without reading them, and we have little interest in actually educating others about our time in the service. The shame is that no one is going to scroll back through years of memes and online articles to try and understand what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. If they did, the information they would find wouldn’t be representative, rather it would be based on the bravado of a select few whose experiences are not in line with the majority of American veterans.

Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried was published in 1990, a full 25 years after the Vietnam War ended. Today, high schools teach the novel for its historical and literary value. O’Brien has (probably unwittingly) become the voice for his generation of veterans. O’Brien’s generation had two sects of veterans, the “Lifers” those who joined the military of their own accord and planned on making service a career and the “draftees” those unfortunate souls who were forced to partake in combat as a result of conscription. The Things They Carried was written by a draftee infantryman and transcends the “Lifer” and “draftee” mistrust by the illustrating how both groups bore the moral weight of sustained missions of attrition in Vietnam. Today’s high schoolers pick up an actual book, bound with paper pages, and read about the experiences of those who fought in Southeast Asia fifty years ago. Perhaps twenty-five years from now works by Ervin, Mockenhaupt, Alexander, or Larkin or a host of others will be the voices of our contemporaries speaking to future generations of American veterans. However, the formation of that type of bond will face significant hurtles given the desensitization brought on by social media. Social media has given us a technologically induced lobotomy.  The “vet voice” on social media doesn’t talk about having beers with Vietnam veteran uncles or grandfathers and laughing as veterans always do together.

Social media is not leaving American culture. It will only evolve further and continue to dilute our experiences.  It seeks to categorize us all as PTSD riddled psychopaths. It doesn’t have to be this way. If we as a community begin promoting our veteran artists, poets and authors, if we focus on our actual experiences as opposed to caricatures of them, if we foster the idea that social media is a forum to promote our true experiences as opposed to a medium to further alienate us from the rest of the world, we may emerge with a voice that speaks to who we are as a generation of combat veterans and humans.


(Feature image: “War” by Tif Holmes, originally appearing in the Journal of Military Experience, Vol. 2)


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As You Were, Vol. 2 Release

MEA is proud to present you with As You Were: The Military Review, Vol. 2. This publication is the culmination of hundreds of hours of work on the part of writers, artists, and our volunteer editors. Its poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and artwork represent nearly every living generation of veterans and individuals whose lives have been impacted by the military. “We hope you’re intrigued, touched, and even moved. Above all, we hope you enjoy.”

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Help support our mission by disseminating this wonderful collection of veterans’ works!

Tif Holmes

Veteran Artist Tif Holmes Featured in New Juried Exhibition

Tif Holmes, a contributor to the second Journal of Military Experience and the cover artist of the upcoming Blue Falcon: A Journal of Military Fiction, is making headlines again. She had this to say about the inclusion of her work in a new exhibition:

Illuminance is a competitive juried exhibition that is open to artists nationwide using photographic processes as their media. This year’s theme is Experiencing Place: 

 There are certain places for all of us that go beyond the mundane. Many are very personal – the home where we grew up or the backyard fort that was home base for many an imaginary adventure. Other places are collectively special – the monuments of our nation’s capital, or exotic places we travel to, seeking refuge or discovery. What does it feel like to be in this place? Can you create an image that is emotional, atmospheric, that conveys your feelings about this special place? What makes it magical? Extraordinary?

The image I submitted is entitled “Transcendence.” It was taken during a theatrical show celebrating Anglo-Celtic and African American dance in The New World. The cast and musicians are all students who are active in the Vernacular Music Center at Texas Tech University, and I know most of them personally. It was exciting for me to photograph the rehearsals and the shows and to watch these individuals step into the roles they played and transport everyone around them to another place and time–one filled with story-telling, dancing, singing, and community. I remember going through the images at the end of one particular show and this one really stood out. It was clear to me that Emily, the dancer in the photograph, was not thinking about anything else in the world at that moment when the photograph was taken. She was dancing, she was free, she was happy. She had transcended the limitations of the physical world, and the dance was her vehicle. This, to me, is the perfect illustration of experiencing a magical, extraordinary place and sharing it with others.

 “Transcendence,” by Tif Holmes


The exhibit runs from June 25 – August 10, 2013 at the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock, Texas. 

Tif Holmes is a photographer, writer, musician, educator, and former Soldier, among other things. Her work can be found online at tifholmes.com or on Facebook at facebook.com/tifholmes3.

The Arts and the Military: Dominic Fredianelli, by Tara Leigh Tappert

The work to launch the Arts and the Military/Arts, Military + Healing (AMH) week in the Washington, DC area this past May is beginning to do what we all had hoped it would do — the event is inspiring new and exciting ventures throughout the country, as well as bringing tremendous press coverage to the work of Combat Paper Project.

On view this fall were two Combat Paper Project exhibitions in galleries at two different campuses of the University of Maryland:

Click here and here to view the gallaries.

Denise Merringolo, a public history professor who teaches at the Baltimore campus, attended the AMH event at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and School of Art + Design.  Moved by the Combat Paper exhibition on view at the Corcoran, shortly thereafter she began pursuing the possibility of a show on the UMBC campus for the fall, 2012 semester.  Her show then propelled Jason Hughes, a student curator and artist on the College Park campus, to request another Combat Paper show for the Stamp Gallery in the student union.  On December 5, 2012, an amazing critique of the UMBC exhibit, written by Bret Mccabe, was published in the Baltimore City Paper.

Mccabe began his review with a piece created by veteran/artist Dominic Fredanielli who participated in the Corcoran’s Combat Paper Project workshop this past May.  The genesis of Dom’s involvement in the  Arts and the Military/AMH event began nearly a year earlier when I attended the 2011 Silverdocs film festival and saw the Emmy award winning Where Soldiers Come From.

Set in a small town in Northern Michigan, and in the mountains of Afghanistan, the film follows the four-year journey of childhood friends, including Dom, who return as 23-year-old veterans dealing with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and PTSD.  While this documentary beautifully captures the coming of age of these young men, there is another story woven like a “red thread” through the film — the artwork of Dominic Fredianelli and how he uses art making to cope with his war experiences.  Care 4 Me . . . I’ll Remember You is the piece Dom made in the Corcoran’s Combat Paper Project workshop.  It is a memento mori to his friend Josh Wheeler who went to war but did not make his way through the trauma when he came back home.  Josh was killed in a car accident. He is acknowledged in the closing credits of Where Soldiers Come From, and also in Dom’s Care 4 Me . . . I’ll Remember You, an amazing image on Combat Paper that is now a part of the                         Combat Paper Project Exhibitions Collection.

Dominic is continuing to work as a practicing artist.  Since the Arts and the Military/AMH week he has created murals in Chicago and in Santa Barbara — the first for the National Veterans Art Museum and the second for the University of California at Santa Barbara.

We thank all our collaborators and sponsors who support the Arts and Military/AMH event, and whose mission is to help those service members and veterans dealing with both visible and invisible wounds of war.

Tara Leigh Tappert, JME Art Editor and Founder, The Arts and the Military.