Thursday, October 29, 2015

Resources in Support of Veterans’ Voices Month

Did you know that October is Veterans’ Voices Month in Minnesota? Facilitated by the Minnesota Humanities Center and our partners, in May 2014 the Minnesota State Legislature passed a law by unanimous vote designating the entire month of October as Veterans’ Voices Month—with a focus on building public understanding of what it means to be a Veteran. The Humanities Center is creating resources to support Veterans’ Voices Month and a few are highlighted this week.

Veterans’ Voices Program Video
This video by Whirlygig Productions highlights the importance and impact of the Humanities Center’s Veterans’ Voices program, which began in 2013. The video features interviews with Veterans’ Voices Program Officer, Trista Matascastillo and 2014 Veterans’ Voices Awardees Brockton Hunter, Evan Tsai, and Richard Leonard.


Ampers Radio Partnership with the Minnesota Humanities Center’s Veterans’ Voices Program:
Ampers Radio recorded, and will offer for broadcast to its network of 16 diverse community radio stations from around Minnesota, a series of short audio stories from Veterans’ Voices Awardees and others from the Minnesota Veteran community—stories told in their own voices.


Veterans’ Voices Month Resources for Educators
This collection of online resources supports educators during Veterans' Voices Month and beyond. These materials capture the authentic stories and experiences of military members, Veterans, and their families; meet real needs of both military and non-military communities; reflect a diversity of experiences; and align with the mission of the Humanities Center.

[Learn more]

Coming Soon! Veterans’ Voices Literature Resource for Educators
Created in partnership with the Great Books Foundation, this evolving project uses the anthology Standing Down and other literary tools to support educators in cultivating a deeper understanding of military culture in the classroom. Selections from Standing Down include: A Journey Taken with My Son by Myrna E. Bein, An Irish Airman Foresees His Death by William Butler Yeats, Perimeter Watch by Brian Turner, The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln, and The Things They Carried (selection) by Tim O’Brien to name a few.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

John Baker - Veterans’ Voices: A New Approach to Veterans’ Challenges

John Baker is a partner in the Baker Williams Law Firm located in Maplewood, MN. John represents Veterans and service members in the criminal justice system and with a variety of legal issues that are related to their military service, including Veterans’ preference and military law. John chaired the initiative to start Veterans Courts in Minnesota. Minnesota Lawyer named John as an Attorney of the Year in 2010 for this work. In addition, John is active at the legislature in writing legislation to benefit Minnesota Veterans. John is chair emeritus of the MSBA Military & Veterans Affairs Section. John retired from the United States Marine Corps after 22 years of service. He currently travels the country teaching law enforcement on how to deal with Veterans in crisis.

One of my favorite war correspondents is Sebastian Junger. During 2007-2008, he was embedded with an Army unit in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, which at that time was known as the ‘Deadliest Place on Earth.’ Junger and a photographer by the name of Tim Hetherington produced the award-winning documentary Restrepo, which was about the battles the soldiers fought in the Korengal Valley. Junger also wrote a book called War — an outstanding documentary and book.

In my work teaching law enforcement how to deal with Veterans in crisis, I had the opportunity to travel to Philadelphia two years ago for the International Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference. I had the privilege of giving a presentation to Police Chiefs from all around the country about our returning Veterans. I told them that we have our “Next Greatest Generation” of Veterans coming home from these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These young men and women have been through some of the best training in the world and have been tested on some of the toughest battlefields. Like the “Greatest Generation” that came home from World War II and built a nation, I told them this “Next Greatest Generation” is equally capable of coming home and becoming a generation of great police officers and public servants. Unfortunately I had more than one Chief come up to me after my presentation and say that they did not want to hire a Veteran because we all have PTSD and will be a liability to them. I came away from that conference more determined to help change that narrative.

Junger recently wrote an article for Vanity Fair about the challenges our Veterans face when they come home. His piece is called “How PTSD Became a Problem Far Beyond the Battle Field.” Among other things, Junger talks about the growing disconnect between Veterans and society. Junger has a call to action in his article. He says that as a society we need to hear Veterans’ stories, and we need to hear that they do not all have PTSD and that they are not all broken. In other words, we need to change the narrative.

Here in Minnesota, there is an organization that has taken up that challenge. In 2013, the Minnesota Humanities Center introduced the Veterans’ Voices Award — part of its Veterans’ Voices programming — which recognizes and gives voice to those Veterans who served and have come home to continue to serve. But more importantly, this Award provides them an opportunity to share their stories and create a connection between Minnesotans and those that have served. It is helping to change that misguided narrative many people have of our returning Veterans. In amplifying the authentic voices of these Veterans, a more complete narrative emerges and creates space for the “Next Greatest Generation” to realize their greatness after coming home.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Odia Wood-Krueger - Places That Hold Magic Are All Around Us

Odia Wood-Krueger is originally from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and now calls Minnesota home. She is a District Program Facilitator for Minneapolis Public Schools in the Indian Education department. In her spare time she can be found cooking, exploring, or crafting. She and her husband Tim recently started their own bicycle company called Advocate Cycles.

My husband, Tim, and I have been on vacation for the month of July. We have meandered from Minneapolis to Haida Gwaii, an archipelago in northwest British Columbia. Living with no agenda has given us time to enjoy simple pleasures like drinking tea and reading magazines, not to mention, resting our heads wherever the spirit takes us.

One of Tim’s favorite magazines is filled with stories of travel afar. In the current edition, two sightseers travel to Mongolia and, at first glance, I was excited to read of their adventures, since Mongolia has been on our bucket list. While I’m sure the writers had good-intentions, I felt a rub at their reference to Khuvsgul Lake and how the locals “believed” it to be their mother. The inability of the writers to take this as fact sent a red flag up for me. Shouldn’t we as travelers be willing to have our worldview lens challenged? Who are we to journey thousands of miles to question the traditional knowledge of the peoples we share our experiences with?

This morning we awoke on the east beach of Haida Gwaii. As we ventured back to civilization, we neared the place of origin for the Haida peoples. It is at Rose Spit – in the most northeastern tip of the archipelago – where Raven tapped on the giant clamshell and Haida climbed out. While we weren’t joined by abnormally large clamshells or ravens for that matter, it didn’t lessen the reverence of the place. You see, there is magic all around us, assuming we’re open and willing to accept it; accepting someone else’s narrative as fact doesn’t make our own views less valid.

Where is a place that holds magic for you? How has learning someone else’s traditional knowledge made your experience more meaningful? These are questions you might want to take some time to answer for yourself wherever you happen to be on your earth travels.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Jack Rice - Who Do War Memorials Represent?

Jack is a criminal defense attorney, former CIA officer, journalist, and storyteller. He is unique across the entire state of Minnesota and the U.S. as the only criminal defense attorney who is also a former Central Intelligence Agency Officer as well as a former prosecuting attorney. He has a national reputation and can be seen frequently on MSNBC, Al Jazeera, CNN, and other networks across the country. He is also a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Minnesota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He also hosts his own radio show.

So who do war memorials represent anyway? What are we supposed to think when we look at them? Or are they just about waving flags and pounding chests?

He was born in 1911 so that makes him one hundred and three years old. How is that even possible? More than double my age. What can he remember? Will he understand me? And it’s not as if he has led this quiet sedate life without trauma. Far from it. As I walk into the room to sit down with this man, he immediately sits up taller in his chair and stares me straight in the face with a look that seems to say; I know who I am and where I come from.

Staff Sergeant Walter Ortman served in the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1942 to 1946, and he surprises me. As I ask him about his life, I watch him change before my eyes. As he talks about his experiences during the war, I watch the years drop away until all I see is a young man sitting in from of me talking about something that happened a couple of weeks earlier instead of a series of memories dating back more than seventy years. He talks about being lucky and surprised. About how throughout the war, he never killed anybody, never shot a weapon at anybody nor even had to aim it at a human being. Instead, he and his men saved the lives of downed pilots and their crews by the thousands. I sit dumbfounded.

Sometimes, when we look at war memorials, we think of the men and women who served as icons, as heroes, almost as super humans. And yet, while some of their feats were extraordinary, we frequently forget that these were just normal men and women who frequently faced impossible circumstances and had to find it in themselves to do and be more. This may sound surprising but it strikes me as wrong to see people who have served as super-human because it makes their contributions seems inevitable – that's just what super humans do, right? But they were not and are not. Those who serve are our friends, our parents, our children, our neighbors. They are us. And that's who these memorials represent.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Evan Tsai - Veterans’ Voices Month Is On the Rise in Minnesota

Evan C. Tsai is a criminal defense attorney and a recipient of the 2014 Veterans’ Voices Award in the “On the Rise” category. He served as a United States Marine from 1994 to 1999.

We recently celebrated the 2015 Veterans’ Voices awardees at the September 11th Veterans’ Voices Award Ceremony, and Veterans' Voices Month begins today--October 1st. I was recently reminded of what Veterans’ Voices means and looks like when at the Ramsey County Veterans Treatment Court. I was immediately struck by the diversity of our local Veterans population and how that is reflected in the participants of the court: Vietnam-era Vets, Desert Storm-era Vets, OIF/OEF Vets, and everything in between. Ramsey County's Vet Court includes women and men, Asian, Hispanic, and Black Veterans. Our court serves gay Veterans equally with straight Veterans. And each of my clients has a story to tell about their service. I enjoy learning each of those stories, and I share them as often as I can. I am my clients’ lawyer, after all. If they’ll let me, I’ll share some of those stories in future blog posts.

We have an obligation as Americans to acknowledge the service and sacrifice of our fighting women and men. Our obligation exists regardless of political, philosophical, or religious preference. Certainly, our obligation transcends our belief of whether service to our country is even an important component to our society. But most that do choose to acknowledge our nation’s warriors, do so by participating in causes that provide help they think Veterans need. That’s not to say that those causes are not beneficial, but acknowledging a Veteran’s contribution to our safety and security should be more meaningful than just displaying a bumper sticker. We should make every effort to listen and pay attention to what our Veterans have to say. To our benefit as Minnesotans, our lawmakers (through the tireless efforts of the Humanities Center) decreed October to be Veterans' Voices Month. We have an entire month dedicated to meeting our obligation!

During October (and, frankly, each and every month of the year), the Humanities Center celebrates that diversity by sharing those stories, through art, performance, and the written and spoken word. Each story expands our understanding of why we serve. Each Veteran expands our picture of who Veterans are, both in the present and in the past. And each story, each participant becomes forever connected in the network of Veterans, Veteran-advocates, artists, and citizens. They are a congealing force that celebrates inclusion through a wondrous variety. I am privileged to be part of that.

I've chosen to acknowledge the diversity of Veterans through a collaborative project between local high school educators, other Veterans, and literary scholars through the Veterans' Voices Literature Workshop for Educators. This initiative seeks to change the conventional understanding of Veterans by providing grade 6-12 educators with resources and discussion materials around a collection of literary works by Veterans. Students can contemplate their own perspective of who a Veteran is by critically engaging with these materials alongside their classmates. The collaboration was an enriching opportunity, and it helped me see how written work can speak to me and rekindle memories of my service. I want to personally thank the group of educators and Veterans who convened to design these resources and materials, in particular: Captain James “J.A” Moad, USAF; Eden Bart; Anna Newcombe; Rebecca Biel; and Joe Pahr. If you are an educator who believes in our collective obligation to acknowledge our fighting women and men, please learn more about Veterans’ Voices educator resources at the Humanities Center’s Absent Narrative Resource Collection.