tv Book Discussion on Soldier Girls CSPAN August 12, 2015 9:17pm-10:03pm EDT
the prison by the united states, what you think of the united states? are they the freedom loving guys? no. we don't apparently give a flying crap about anything but us. we have to have principles. when have to have principles. when i hear politicians on both sides talk about well, it's in our national interest, our national interest can change. our national interests do change all the time. my interest this morning was to have a big stack of waffles. my interest right now is not so much. they change. what are your principles? nobody talks about our principles anymore and because we don't even know our principles, what you think the rest of the world thinks? of course they want to kill us. what if they do. we are part of the problem. were you believe that homosexuals shouldn't be killed. do do we do anything about it? nope.
we believe women have the right to vote and drive cars. are we doing anything about it? nope who are we? >> i was in texas. what about that? >> texas seems to be america to thousand two. it's asleep. it's asleep and it thinks it can weather the storm. it thinks it can, but it's texas. they have a thousand people from california alone moving into texas every single day. i had a meeting with 200 ceos that have moved their companies to texas and i said now, you, you know why you moved your
company to texas, but do your employees know? have you made a point to tell your employees we could no longer do business in new jersey , we could no longer do business in california. no. you just moved to texas. all the employees come and they say i like texas but i really liked california. they will vote for the same thing and it will fundamentally change texas. >> do you expect another 911? >> yes, i think it's only a matter of time before we are gravely attacked. i don't think be necessarily like 911. my worst fear, that is what america should be worried about. that is something like them.
i don't think everyone realizes, especially with grease and everything else, we just asked them to remember what they felt on september 11. we all felt the same thing. oh same thing. oh my gosh, this is fragile. it has been 15 years of taking a beating. our country has taken a beating over over the past 15 years, financially, morally, politically and spiritually. we can't keep doing this. somebody is going to take advantage and i think there is a lot of people who want to take advantage of this time. if we don't heal ourselves we will fall. lincoln was right. it won't come from the outside, it will have to be national suicide. i think the outside hitting us when we are so divided, national suicide.
>> it is about islam is the name of glenn bax latest book. >> we feature book tv programming weeknights and primetime. tomorrow night programs about the white house from our afterwards series. it will start at eight pm eastern with a meet the press moderator chuck todd on his book the stranger. brock obama in the white house. then it's the presidency in black-and-white, my up close view of three presidents my up close view of three presidents and race in america with journalist april ryan. ralph nader's interview about his book return to sender. unanswered letters to the president, 2001 - 2015. book tv here on c-span2.
>> c-span is in des moines for the iowa state fair and rode to the white house coverage of presidential candidates. our live coverage is on c-span, c-span, c-span radio and c-span.org as the candidates walk the fairgrounds and speak at the des moines register's soapbox. on thursday morning it's mike huckabee followed by martin o'malley. on friday morning at 1030 eastern, republican jeb bush starting at noon on saturday, republican rick santorum followed by democrats at 1230 and senator bernie sanders sanders at three. on sunday afternoon, republican ben carson at five and george tachy at 530. c-span's campaign 2016, taking you taking you on the road to the white house. >> next helen thorpe explores the experiences of three indiana women who sign up for the national guard.
the book's soldier girls. it was part of the book festival held earlier this year. she also served as the first lady of colorado. >> good afternoon everyone, welcome welcome to our third annual book festival. i am katie, executive director of the festival and i'm very happy to be here with you and helen thorpe to discuss her book
soldier girls, the battles of three women at home and at war. before we begin, i'd like to remind you that barnes & noble is selling books upstairs in the atrium. you the atrium. you just go up the escalator and helen will be signing in the referenced area next to the sales area at 130 directly after this. i want to thank barnes & noble who very generously donate a portion of the proceeds of these sales to the book festival. also we will take questions from the audience for the last ten minutes of the south session. please please turn off your cell phone. helen thorpe is a seasoned journalist and author who was born in london and grew up in new jersey and now lives in denver. her journalism has appeared in new york times magazine, the new yorker, and harper's bazaar. her her radio still worries have aired on this american life and sound trend. she was on staffs until the mid-2000 2000 where her stories range from drug cartels to tom
delay. her first book, published in 2009, just like us, the true story of us, the true story of four mexican girls coming-of-age in america follows these girls through high school and into college to show the personal side of american immigration law. her current book, soldier girls, is also breakthrough work to look at what american women face when they go to combat. she detailed the lives of the three women over 12 years from enlistment in the indiana national guard through deployment and back home again. so helen, let's talk about how you chose the subject to write about and how did you find the three women you profiled in soldier girls question that. >> thank you it is wonderful to be back in texas. thank you for having me here. you know, when i was beginning this project, i started with a question and i think in many ways that dictated who i chose to write about. the question on my mind didn't actually have to do with being a
female soldier or a woman in the military at all. i was wondering, i knew that many veterans struggled after deployment to settle back into their lives at home, and i was wondering what that struggle was about. i thought i wanted to understand it better and it would be good if many of us who got to stay home the whole time, as deployments were happening, could understand that transition better and what the challenges were. if you have a question like that on your mind, then i think you find people who are struggling after a deployment, and that's what happened in this case. i interviewed a couple dozen different veterans from different branches of the service, men and women. it was really the story of debra brooks who is one of the three women in this book and she kind of takes over the book toward the end. it was really her struggle that struck me as the story i wanted to write about.
she is a single mother who deployed to times, she has three children and in her second appointment she was transferred into a previously all-male unit in iraq where she became the driver of a gun truck even though she trained to do supply and logistics. it's really a stretch for her. she's a national guard soldier, she never envisioned overseas deployment when she first enlisted. it's really dangerous work in all kinds of things happen to her in iraq. she did struggle when she came back to resume her role as a parent and all of those things. so, that's how i settled on these three women. i guess i would say there's many different stories that could be written about female soldiers because depending on what question you have in your mind, you would tell a different person story. with military books i think were
often used to hero that are in the thick of combat in there typically men. in certain ways i picked unusual people to write about who maybe don't fit this dario type of what a military book, you know who you might find inside those pages. in some ways these women are almost antiheroes in that sense. they are very humble him a they do support they were trained to be support personnel. so in some ways they're different from who you might think of your hero as being, but i thought they were very heroic. >> there very heroic and very human. i think while the book is about the military it's as experienced through this sharp and strong portrait and i think you've described each of the women. one thing is, how did you get them to be so open with you an
honest westmark they share amazing intimate details of their lives. i know you conducted a lot of interviews but they gave you their military records and medical records and diaries and e-mails and open up all their facebook posts, and i'm just curious how that all came about. >> so, it took a while. one of the things i love about these three women is how different they are from one another. it's a little startling. in fact, maybe they would have never been friends except for the fact that they deployed together. michelle is the youngest of the three women and she is very unusual, i think, as a soldier in that she describes herself as a left-leaning, pot smoking
hippie to me. she was 18 when she enlisted. it. it was the spring of 2001, and all she wanted was college tuition and she was certain she never wanted to be a soldier but she thought she would join the national guard and be a part-time soldier just for that college tuition benefit. she was sure she would never go to war because she knew the national guard just did not deploy. she felt quite sure of that. then of course, when when she was in training, 911 happened, and she did understand right away that maybe the commitment she made was going to be much bigger than what she had been envisioning. when she goes overseas in about afghanistan she becomes very close to two other women, and their political beliefs in some cases are very different from hers. in the fall before she enlisted, back enlisted, back in 2000, she havoted for not al gore and not george bush but
ralph nader. she was pretty sure there was no one else in her unit that was a nader supporter like she was. the woman she was sharing the tent with that became her best friend during deployment, desmond brooks had voted for someone else. she was working with the oldest women and their national guard unit, debbie and she didn't vote in that election at all because she doesn't trust politicians and doesn't want anything to do with politics whatsoever. so, yet another point of view that is very different than michelle's. debbie was not originally chosen to go on the deployment and she was terribly upset. michelle would have done anything not to go, but debbie argued her way onto the deployment because her father had been in the army, she had always wanted to serve her
country overseas. to her it was the most fulfilling moment of her life when they said yes you may go on this deployment. she worked as a beautician in a beauty salon back in indiana when she was not in the national guard, and she found the idea of putting on a uniform every day and serving her country far more exciting and fulfilling and close to her dream than the work she was doing in the beauty salon. so even when it got to the question of how did they feel about going on a deployment or did they support the war or not, these women were on totally different sides in terms of their feelings. your question then, around how did it come about that they would share so much about their experiences, we did almost four years of interviews. we got to know each other over
time and at a certain point, i met these women in 2010 when they had come back already from both deployments. one to afghanistan and then two of the women also went to iraq. i did many many interviews and it was amazing and they were telling me so much but i said i just feel like we need details from the actual moment in time to supplement your memories. your memories are really rich but they're kind of the emotional reality and i can't quite see or taste or hear where we are in time. i think for the book to work, can you help me find more details? we went back and they found things they could share. they found photographs, we pored over for visual descriptions, they found, does my at one point
found all of the daily newsletters that are public information the officer had distributed during their deployment. there was all kind of material in there. there was a daily weather apart. anytime something significant had happened i could describe what the weather was like that day. some of the big surprises were the letters that michelle had written because she didn't put them in the mail off to other people. she didn't know if she could recover them. when she deployed to afghanistan, she was 21. she had just fallen in love for the first time in her life and what was so wrenching was leaving behind the person she was so in love with. she started writing him letters and they were very heartfelt letters and at the same time, she was writing to her parents but when she wrote
her parents the letters were really different. she is very cheerful and trying to tell her parents that she was fine and they didn't need to worry. so michelle comes from this unusual family, i don't know that's the right word, she comes from a difficult family background is probably better to say. her parents had split when she was young. her dad was married six times to four different women. he was in and out of jail and moved a lot and her mom moved a lot. the question was did anybody keep the letters? we went to visit his father where he was living in kentucky, and we were hanging out. he lived in a trailer next to what he called his party trailer. he was in and out of trouble. he had been arrested for letting someone make methamphetamine in the party trailer so i didn't
know if he would have the letters, but there they were in a three ring finder, numbered. he would say it's not only the letters she wrote during deployment but the letter she wrote in trainings and all of the letters she wrote to him and his entire life including a valentine from when she was seven. she meant the world to him and he saved everything which meant the world to michelle to learn that. her boyfriend had also saved all the letters in a shoebox and gave those letters to us even though they had broken up under difficult circumstances in many years had gone by. recovering those letters was really amazing for me as an author but also amazing for michelle as a human being, and i think having their voices come to life is important. i think the reader gets to know them a lot when you can read
their own words and how they'll praise something. it was really meaningful. it's a very intimate portrait of these three women. you get the words in all and i'm very impressed they were willing to expose themselves in that way. >> there are diary issues from betty helton who talks about how she clearly has a drinking problem and she reveals that and a lot of medical records later on become very important. it's interesting to me, why do do you think they were so open to that? did they feel this book was important and they wanted their stories told no matter how they came out looking? >> they did share very revealing things and things that would make them feel very vulnerable.
when does my return from her deployment in iraq which was so hard, she then needed therapy for post traumatic stress. she shared those therapy notes. she just handed me her entire military record including the therapy notes at a certain point and said i know you want to verify everything and i think the whole story is right here. then debbie handed over six diaries. they gave me so much, i really felt at the end of the process they should get a chance to read the manuscript before went to publication, because i wanted them just to see how much they had turned over and make sure they were not going to hate the book. i didn't want to make them feel that way and it was sort of just
a reality check. while i was very surprised because i did think they would feel one or two things were too revealing but they didn't hesitate. there wasn't a moment where debbie said you can't write about this in the diary where i'm needing a drink and desma didn't say oh don't use that therapy session or anything like that. they felt very strongly that they were on the other side of the experience of trying to transition back home, but they were watching some fellow veterans they knew not be able to make the transition successful yet. they really wanted to share all of their difficulties. i was sometimes thinking of the civilian audience wanting
civilians to understand better why it's hard to come home and what deployment was like and what the challenges are. they had in mind, a different audience which is their fellow veterans. they were always worrying about the people they knew who were having a much harder time than even they had. so, they wanted to share everything they had struggled with so that another veteran would know they weren't alone. >> now the transition of veterans coming home is obviously a very big theme in the book, and what i found so interesting is that upon their return, each of them, even though they had the equivalent of a desk job, they were not in actual combat, but but they did suffer posttraumatic stress disorder. i would love for you to talk about that hierarchy of suffering. particularly michelle would feel guilty that she was struggling when she felt she would look at fellow soldiers who she felt had a much, much more difficult experience in combat and she was
scared that she was having these issues and feelings. there is a passage i would like you to read about michelle. michelle remember was the youngest one who was the ralph nader fan, because i think these different experiences trigger different reactions for these women when they came back. >> i would love to read that so maybe i'll start by describing the work that they did. the indiana national guard primarily consists of infantry units. infantry units are all mail at this point in time and were intransigent but still today. so these women were in the support battalion that were supporting infantry soldiers. when they were first enlisting, therefore, they were given job choices but if you can't be in
the infantry and you're supporting the infantry your job choices are to do laundry, to cook, to do field sanitation and clean toilets, to drive trucks, to bury the dead or to fix weapons, pretty much. supply and logistics would be another. so both debbie, the oldest of the three, and, and michelle had chosen to become weapons mechanics. in michelle's case, she thought well that's a safer job than driving a truck and i might not want to do some of the other kinds of work so therefore weapons mechanic. in debbie's case, debbie loves guns. she could out shoot most of the men on the range, she was a perfect shot. she. she really wanted to work on weapons out of a sense of, may be, passion. they ended up working together
in afghanistan fixing broken ak 47's. the reason they were not working on american weapons is because the american guns went breaking as often or often enough to keep their team busy, so they are off actually deployed to help the afghan army. they were working on weapons that were turned in from the militia in being repurposed to the afghan army. it's really unusual to work on and weapon like that if you're an american soldier. tran1, in that first appointment, had a desk job. she was keeping track of all the work that all the maintenance team were doing in ordering parts for vehicles or nightvision goggles, things like that., things like that. really different in the work that train desma did out on the highway in her second
appointment. they come back from the first appointment and even though all three have not seen what anybody would call combat, they have a moment where they struggled to transition back home. i will read from this point in the book and part of what happens is that when they come home, in world war ii or previous conflicts you might come home on a ship and there would be a period of transition were not in the war zone but you're not home yet. whereas with current conflicts you jump on a home playing in your home 24 hours later and it's a very abrupt transition sometimes. in this scene, michelle is getting ready to essentially fulfill her dream. she had
enlisted for the college tuition benefits and now she's getting to use those college tuition dollars so she is getting ready to go to the university of indiana where she has always wanted to go to school, indiana university in bloomington, but she have to shop for things to get ready to go to school. her boyfriend pete who she was writing those love letters to was accompanying her, although on the deployment she had an affair and she has confessed this to him and they have broken up but he is nonetheless, helping her get ready for school, because he is an incredibly nice human being. pete and michelle went to target because they were all kinds of things she needed. cleaning supplies, shampoo, toilet paper. inside the store she grew edgy. she slowed to she slowed to a halt in the toilet paper i'll. there run off a lot of kinds of toilet paper. how did you choose?
she thought of the pink print toilet paper they used in afghanistan. she remembered giving a roll of it to one of the afghan workers at the depot and how he had considered it a grand luxury. it made michelle a little queasy to behold and american display of toilet paper with her afghanistan schooled eyes. is is this what the war had been about? protecting this sort of abundance? questions like these surrounded her. she knew al qaeda had est. training camps in afghanistan and yet she couldn't always fathom how the work they had been doing at camp phoenix was related to all of that. she never understood why it had been necessary to invade iraq, and how exactly had the two wars mushroomed into their current form.
what had it signified that she spent a year fixing broken ak-47s? often she had had a hard time staying in the present. she was standing in target, she reminded herself, she reminded herself, she was supposed to buy toilet paper. it was just hard to make up her mind. stay here said pete. i'll be right back. he vanished. she panicked. questions blared across her mind am i safe? is this a good place? she could not have justified in rational terms but it seemed like there was something wrong, something malignant that a store that sold 25 kinds of toilet paper. how could this level of abundance be morally acceptable given the poverty she had seen on the other side of the globe. now this piece of reality had been peeled back she could look under the surface of things and she could see she was utterly abandoned and surrounded by a nameless person. she became crying
uncontrollably. by the time pete found her she could barely function. i'm having a panic panic attack she managed to say. get me out of here. that's one of the big issues that helen addresses in the book. >> the book tackles generally, women in combat, but it's also their changing roles in war and the ever present danger of sexual assault and harassment and the stress on daily lives, families and relationships, when they come back home. but the overall take away from the book is much greater than that. i was wondering what you hope to address through telling these three stories of these three women?
>> you know, i think what i was hoping to address and what i wound up addressing might be two different things. at the outset, really, outset, really, i think what i was hoping to address was may be, there was this huge division in our society and i just saw two authors walk-in who have written books who are both veterans and novelists and their books are really amazing and i hope you have a chance to check them out. i think they are speaking later this afternoon. >> at 330. >> i think i was hoping to address a really big question between civilians and military mindsets. i put myself in the camp that
ignorant group of people with civilians over here who don't understand what a military deployment is really about. i have no military background and neither does anybody in my family so we haven't lived through this personally. i found it disturbing that we could go through a decade of war and that i could be so cut off, and i wanted to just understand more about what it was they were living through and to be able to write a book that would enable other people to get some feeling for what it was like. i think that is what drove my desire to get material that would bring it to life. i think the reader who has not gone to afghanistan and not gone to iraq needs a sensory experience, almost, to put themselves there. they need to be able to feel the sand in afghanistan that creeps into your close and pages of your notebook and is all over your bedsheets and gets in your food to start to begin to feel
like what it might possibly be like. but i just felt really strongly that if my tax dollars were going to people to send them off to war, that i was therefore implicated and i should know, i, i should educate myself and i should learn what is this experience like because it shouldn't be an experience that is born alone by those we asked you to play. it is those of us doing the asking as well who should be carrying that story, and i think part of the reason it is so hard for people to come home is that they are coming back and they walk right into a reality where nobody knows what they have been doing. nobody knows what they been living through and nobody can understand. at a certain poor, michelle is speaking to a family member and that person says to her, another
friend walks up and her family member wants to introduce her and they say this is my sister michelle, she just got back from iraq. michelle said i was in afghanistan. i think that is the level of disconnect. yes it is hard. hard. there are two wars being fought at the same time and they are in foreign places and you can't keep track of the cities if they're here and if you're wondering where falluja is or where kabul is. they're hard to find on the map because you're not familiar with those places are and it's hard to find on the map. but it's really important and it's great to have fellow authors writing about the same subject because it's in some of the books like the forever war or good soldiers and their coming out after these
conflicts. it's in the books that you can really feel what it's like and learn what it is like. the news coverage, people were trying but it is hard to convey the reality of it and there's this whole canon of books being written now that are conveying the experience. in some ways what the book actually winds up being about is a friendship between these three women. i didn't maybe at the onset think that i wanted to write a book about female friendship and how that helps people get through difficult experiences, but that's really about what the heart of the book is. it's about that as much as anything. >> i think we have time for some questions. thank you so much. does anyone have any questions for helen? >> this is ross, he is one of our authors.
please use the microphone. >> can you hear me? okay. you had mentioned you didn't have any families in the military and you are not a member yourself. did you feel you didn't have a right to write about it? >> very much much so. it was hard actually to even feel legitimate. at the end of all the research, i think my my editor tricked me into starting the writing because i think he thought i was gonna research this forever and never feel that i have the authority. i think when you don't go overseas, you never feel this is your story to tell, and i knew when i wrote the manuscript that i had to be making mistakes as a civilian because frankly it's so hard to
understand the military culture. there's a funny moment where desma tried to explain to me where she had lived in iraq. i said well was in a tent like in afghanistan? she said no no, i had a chew. i said what's a chew? she said a housing unit and i said what's that? she said a shipping container and i said okay but it required for attempts of translation before i could see what she was trying to say. that's the gap between military and civilian cultures. it's a hard 11 to bridge. i could almost flip the question around and turn it to others, to either of you, and say isn't it hard to convey what you lived through to a civilian reader?
that's the reverse of the question. >> first i just want to say, you have every right to write about it as i do so thank you for doing it. this is michael. >> michael petrie #speemac yes. you should know, there's a sense, a continuum of credibility within the military experience. even the military experience. even for people have been deployed many times in the military wondering if they have any right to talk about it at all. i wasn't outside the wire that much. you're on the the side of the continuum or i was in special forces so i was outside the wire all the time. you think of the person on the side of the continuum but then you when you meet them they don't think of themselves as that. everyone knows knows that their role is very small, and in warfare,
combat is the punctuation mark at the end of a very, very long paragraph that starts in the civilian world and ends in that moment. so you have every right, it's your war two. >> what you just said about combat being the punctuation mark of a longer sentence or paragraph is really beautiful, and i know these women would agree because being support personnel, they sometimes felt that almost a sense of illegitimacy because they would compare themselves to the combat veteran who had been in a combat role"c 5ñ and feel that they wor why is our story valuable or why would someone want to know our story when we weren't assigned a combat role. in their mind they were only support personnel, yet it
something like nine out of ten military personnel are in a support role supporting the one person in combat. sometimes, i think the combat stories are even more dramatic and even more heroic but i was drawn to the support personnel because their stories are not often told. they are the stories that maybe we don't hear about as much. thank you guys for being here. >> can you hear me? >> yes. >> you shared this with us earlier and maybe i just missed it because the door was open and that's loud back here but what were the ethnic cities of these three women you selected? >> so all three women are white
and i had written up book previously about for young latina mexican-american women and in some ways i really wanted to write about white poverty and what it would be like to be from a working-class or a poor family and be white, because sometimes we make the mistake in this country by imagining that poverty is related to color and that's not all the time true. sometimes it can be true, so michelle comes from a background where i described her dad had been married many times and in and out of jail and her mom had been on welfare or doing factory jobs. desma comes from an even more difficult background where she grew up partly in foster care and she really pulled herself together inside the military,
the structure that the institution provided to her she felt was very valuable to her building a healthier lifestyle than the one she grew up in. debbie had a less challenging childhood, but never rich. was there a second part to that question westmark. >> i respect that since that was part of the original thought process as you went and involved the book into what it is. did you ever think what the perspective would've been if you would have identified a variety of maybe african-american, hispanic and white because, i'm not saying i'm coming up with any conclusions, but i would be curious about what that would've presented relative to how your book would've round up. >> in the armed forces of course they are incredibly diverse.
that would have been a different book and an incredibly valuable book. i ended up being drawn to this book partly because of meeting michelle first and then her introducing me to desma and debbie. these these women were willing to turn over so much material, but the strength and weakness of the book is that it's three stories. three very personal, intimate stories but only three stories. it's a very close look at three individuals but there are so many other stories that could be told. >> one of the things i find really interesting about the three women that she selected, the one, michelle, michelle, one of the reason she thought it would be good to sign up what she thought she would get fit. that was was the level she was hoping. >> pre-911.
>> of course. then debbie was doing it out of patriotism because she wanted to please her father and desma was hoping for education. i think those are the real issues here, pre-9/11. we have. we have time for one more question. i think she's going to bring you the microphone so everybody can hear. >> i have a comment and a question. i thought one of the really interesting issues that you just touched on was social class. in the book i thought that was very interesting. the other question i have is how are tran1's children doing question that i know that was part of the issue as well. she had kids and she left as well for such a long time. so