August 2011

Warrior Wednesday: Wall Of Memories/Bracelets Of Hope

Wall panorama I don’t know what it says about us as a species, but somehow we humans manage to have a war every ten to twenty years; as if each generation needs it’s own bloody touchstone. For my group of Baby Boomers, it was and is, Vietnam. 

Since the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, “The Wall”, was dedicated in 1982, I’ve wanted to go there. On each subsequent trip to Washington, time and schedules conspired against me. Last week, I finally made it.

I’ve been to many nationally significant and historic sites, from Gettysburg to Ground Zero three months after the attacks. Each place has it’s own energy; it’s own ghosts that stand guard over their tragic legacy.

For me, The Vietnam Wall holds not ghosts but memories of friends and classmates, including the boy who took me to the Junior Prom. I’ve written of Greg, my other lost friends, and the Vietnam era impact, before. "The Morning Call" continues to carry one of those columns on its website. But I was still unprepared for the gut punch of that long black monolith of loss.

Before I found any of the names I was looking for, tears were streaming down my face. Greg’s name was too high for me to make a tracing. I left a note so he would know he’s not forgotten. Many people do the same. The day I visited, the space at the bottom of the wall held flowers, teddy bears, military insignia, and several bracelets that are only to be returned when the person whose name is on them comes home, is identified, or when the wearer is no longer able. Wall bracelet & note

One bracelet was accompanied by a note that read, “Jonathan, Welcome Home! I apologize for taking 23 years to return your bracelet. It (and another) belonged to my grandmother who wore it until her passing in 2000. I inherited the bracelets partly because I knew of their significance. A few years ago I was able to find out you had returned but was unsure what to do with the bracelet. Since the internet I was able to find out that bracelets of the returned should be left at The Wall, so here it is. I want you to know that generations of my family… The rest is unintelligible, but it doesn’t take much imagining to fill in the blanks: Several generations of an American family thought about a stranger lost thousands of miles from home, every day of their lives.

Vietnam Statue Washington is filled with memorials to heroes who saved the nation and warriors who made the ultimate sacrifice. Each generation’s war has its marker; Korea, both World Wars, and Vietnam. Only The Wall holds the names of its fallen: Black slab after black slab of courageous young men and women who never came home.

I wonder what this current generation’s Iraq and Afghanistan memorial will look like?  

A Different Type of Warrior

Zarghona w-family 2011As my European friends would say, I’m “on holiday” this week. Translated in to American, that means I’m on vacation, so I was not planning to post my regular “Woman Warrior Wednesday” feature. Then, out of the blue, came these photographs of Zarghona, the young Afghan girl I found dying in a hospital in Kabul in 2006, now looking very happy with her family.

Several weeks ago, I wrote a story about Zarghona, for a woman’s global communications network, "World Pulse". The WP story was based on the last information I had about her, which was several years old. Retelling the harrowing story of how so many people had come together to save Zarghona from a terminal heart condition, and how after seeing her on my last trip to Afghanistan, I had no further information on her, prompted me to reach out to Dr. Ismail Wardak, the Afghan doctor who had been instrumental in bridging the language and culture barriers we had to cross to save her.

The result of that effort are the two photos you see here: Top, a smiling Zarghona with her parents, and below, with the wonderful Dr. Wardak, one of Afghanistan’s leading orthopedic surgeons. What do these photos tell us?  Zarghona w-Wardak 2011

Do they tell us that the media focus on the woeful condition of the Afghan National Army is accurate? Do they confirm the hyperbole of the pundits and talking heads, many of whom have never been to Afghanistan or have little first-hand knowledge of the Afghan Army, or for that matter, of our extensive US efforts to train them, that when they portray the ANA as unable and/or unwilling to defend their own country, the media are ill-informed?

The Afghan people are frequently stereotyped as ignorant, unaware, or unwilling to build their own future. I challenge you to look at these photographs of this family: A father who is a professional soldier, like many of our own warriors; a loving stay-at-home wife and mother who when her child was dying, never left her side, and a young teenager with a sweet smile, who now has a healthy and hopefully long future ahead of her…

Look at them and tell me that Afghanistan is not filled with it’s own warriors, men, women, and children, who are fighting a battle, each in their own way, to live their lives in peace and security. 

Monday Musings: Summer Vacation…Timing Is Everything

stockmarketimages After some well placed and well timed hints from me, my husband agreed to take a week off so we could have a “summer getaway”. Nothing fancy, a rented place a block from the water off the Chesapeake Bay. The plan was to sleep, eat, and read. In exchange for his willingness to go away when he’s so busy at work, I, the news & technology junkie whose entire professional universe centers around electronic media, had to agree to “unplug”; a big commitment on my part.

August is usually a good time to for this sort of thing because so many other people are doing it…trying to grab that last gasp of summer before Q4 starts at the office and the kids go back to school.

We certainly picked some week for our summer vacation, a week when our country has suffered two enormous losses: Thirty of our best and brightest warriors in Afghanistan, and millions of dollars in our IRA and investment accounts.

I imagine my husband and I are like many Americans this week, we continued with our lives and our plans, but the relaxed, atmosphere that usually envelopes us on vacation was nowhere to be found. There is a sub-current of sadness that is hard to shake: A sense that it is disrespectful to be carefree when so many have sacrificed so much.

Just as the shock of the tragedy in Afghanistan was easing, the financial markets began a freefall resembling an out of control carnival ride. My “unplugged” promise went quickly by the wayside as the Dow Jones average plummeted. Checking my email, I found a message from the investment firm that we use, urging everyone to stay calm. I sent a quick little reply of support to the operations manager…thinking she could probably use a friendly message, only to have her write back to say that this recent dip has been the last straw for many. Her recounting sounded like a scene from a movie about the Great Depression; people banging on the door, screaming “sell, sell” over the phone, demanding their money in cash.

No matter where you are right now in this great land, from sea to shining sea, it’s a discomforting time for Americans. The families of our fallen soldiers are suffering and need our comfort, while our country is, perhaps, in the process of being changed forever.

I’m going to be glad to get home…

Woman Warrior Wednesday: Jessica L. Wright, Acting Principle Dep. Asst. Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs

WrightPortrait Shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, then Brig. Gen. Jessica Wright, was summoned to Washington, D.C. At the end of a long day, which included learning that a good friend had died at the Pentagon, she and a few colleagues stopped at a little out-of-the-way Mexican restaurant. A group of men with cords in their ears arrived and Wright found herself face to face with her commander in chief.

Dressed in civilian clothes, Wright looked like any other citizen. One of her friends said, "Mr. President, this is Jessica Wright, and she’s a general in the Pennsylvania National Guard." When the President and Mrs. Bush were leaving, he walked to the table and said, "General, be ready." "Sir, we are ready," came the reply. Keeping one of the largest National Guard forces in the United States "ready," became the responsibility of Major General Jessica L Wright, the Adjutant General of Pennsylvania; the first woman ever to hold the position.

To those who know Wright, her history-making appointment was no surprise.

She grew up outside of Pittsburgh in a self-described blue-collar family, where "everyone worked." Her grandparents were coal miners, her mother worked full time, and her father held down two jobs, which may be why her parents insisted she get an education. Wright attended a small college in West Virginia where she graduated with a degree in social work.

Finding a job proved to be difficult, so she came home and enlisted in the National Guard, where, she says, “One opportunity led to another”.

One of those opportunities was flight school. "I was young and adventurous. There were people who didn’t think women belonged in flight school. They kept telling me I should be a nurse. Those people are still around. They’ve just gotten older, not wiser."

Upon graduating from flight school, in 1978, Jessica Wright became the first female Army aviator in the Army National Guard. Wright’s bio is filled with firsts, like being the Army’s first maneuver brigade commander; and it’s replete with honors, including the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster and Senior Army Aviator badge.

In the fall of 2010, Wright retired with the rank of Major General from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. After such a career, many might rest on their laurels…or oak leaf cluster.

In November, 2010, Jessica Wright joined the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, where she currently serves as the acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, at the Pentagon. In that position Wright is a key advisor to and responsible for all matters of the Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, as they relate to the men and women of the Guard and Reserve, with specific responsibility for all manpower, medical and personnel policy matters supporting 1.2 million members of the reserve components of the United States Armed Forces.

Jessica Wright continues to serve her country and her fellow soldiers, while providing an outstanding role model for women who want to build a successful military career.

Note: Portions of this post are from a previous interview I conducted with Major General Wright, and which appeared in my column in The Morning Call on January 2, 2004

The Old Switcharoo…

organic truck You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and writers: So here we are on “Woman Warrior Wednesday” without a Warrior, at least until Friday, when we’ll profile GEN Jessica Wright. Instead, we’re doing the “old switcheroo”; bringing “Friday Finds” to you today.

Considering that the weekly deadline for ordering from our “find” is midnight tonight, this is actually good timing…

When I first heard about "Pure Sprouts", I was excited: Organic produce and foodstuffs delivered to your door…in the Lehigh Valley! Sounded more like something you’d find in West Chester County, NY or Darien, CN. Once I became a customer I was hooked.

Despite some misconceptions about exactly what “organic” means, it’s the lack of chemicals, hormones, or pesticides being used to grow & produce the food, the importance of eating such produce, meat, baked goods is no longer up for debate. Numerous studies have shown many of the chemicals sprayed on our foods have carcinogenic effects at worse and degenerative effects at best. My favorite example of this is from the website/blog "Healthy & Green Living" where a student used sweet potatoes to demonstrate that those sprayed with the common agricultural chemical Chlorpropham were “dead” while organic potatoes were still alive enough to sprout.

But I digress: Back to Pure Sprouts and their wonderful service and selection. Once you’ve landed on the Pure Sprouts website you can determine if they deliver to your zip code by entering it in the designated box. If they do, simply “sign up” and begin cruising through a virtual farm, field & store of fresh produce, prepared foods, baked goods, and gifts. When you have your basket put together, simply check out and wait for all your goodies to arrive on your doorstep. It’s that simple…and that delicious. Right now my two favorite items are organic cherries (very hard to find even at farmer’s markets) and baked stuffed organic tofu which I sauté with mushrooms, spinach, and soy sauce; Yum.

Pure Sprouts is Lehigh Valley owned and operated by young wife and mother, Lori Stansberry, and her family. The fact that the business is primarily woman owned and operated makes it even more appealing to me. Another bonus, especially in these times, is that many of Pure Sprouts offerings come from local farms and producers, so you’re shrinking the carbon footprint of how much fuel and energy it takes to feed you, (My Conservative friends are rolling their eyes right now) and you’re supporting multiple local businesses; a true Win/Win.

If there is any downside at all, it is that you will pay a bit more in some cases than you would if/when you can find similar items at a grocery store. Both Wegman’s and Giant have been steadily increasing their supply of organic produce, and when they have strawberries or broccoli or the like, it is usually less expensive than at Pure Sprouts, but it’s also not delivered to your door, and the selection is hit or miss.

So fire up the Weber, get out the virgin olive oil, chop up some fresh herbs and serve up a wonderful summer mélange of organic grilled vegetables. Enjoy!

Monday Musings: This Wasn’t What We Planned

bakery The following two stories are true, and have occurred in this past week. The names have been changed to protect everyone, some, quite frankly, who don’t deserve protection.

Welcome to the latest of Perspectives’ new “regular features”: Woman Warrior Wednesday, Fashion & Finds Friday are now joined by “Monday Musings”, a weekly look at the human condition from medicine to politics, from gender issues to the environment, and everything in between.

Musings are defined as thoughts or meditations. The recent situation in Washington has given all us plenty of reasons for both of those. If we look past one of the worse displays of political dysfunction in our lifetime, what we’ll see is the reality of people who are suffering beyond the Beltway: People for whom life is turning out nothing like they planned.


There was a nice looking couple we used to see occasionally at social & community functions. They were friends of friends so we knew them casually. He was a successful medical professional and she was a very attractive, stylish, stay-at-home wife and mother. I heard through the grapevine that he was involved with another woman and was seeking a divorce. I know nothing else about the story except when I walked in to my favorite bakery the other day; I caught a glimpse of someone who looked familiar pushing a rack of bread toward the front of the store. Her blond hair was bound up under a net; her face was pale & drawn. We made eye contact. It was painful…for both of us.

She said her former husband’s practice had suffered from the affair and his finances were, possibly deliberately, in disarray, and she had not been able to afford high-powered legal counsel. She had tried to return to her original career in fashion and merchandising but after being out of the work force for so long, and with 9.1% unemployment, here she was, in her mid-50’s, pushing a bakery cart.

While on my usual shopping rounds of framers markets and grocery stores last week, I noticed some of my favorite faces were out place. The knowledgeable young man who always makes sure I get the freshest fish and the middle-aged woman who lost her business and then found a job she loved demonstrating new products were not in their usual spots. I found them both doing other, lesser jobs: The fish monger was handing out samples of fruit and looking very embarrassed to be doing so. Both told me a new policy was in place designed to hold down the need for new employees, so everyone had to be willing to do whatever job they were assigned. As one said to me, “What can I do? I have to keep this job.”

I’ve always been one of America’s greatest boosters: A Ronald Reagan “Shining City on the Hill” believer that we are the greatest nation on earth. But there is no longer any doubt that our country is in serious trouble from which it will likely take decades to recover. And for a generation for whom recovery time has run out, a generation who grew up thinking that if you worked hard and followed the rules, life turned out like an episode from Ozzie & Harriet…this sure wasn’t what we planned.

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