The Collective Military-Civilian Heartbeat

military civilian divide


Yesterday’s announcement that a Blackhawk helicopter crash in Southern Afghanistan killed 11 people made my heart quicken and stutter, just like it always does. Even though my husband was piloting a commercial flight somewhere over Japan, I still lost a moment in the gap between irrational fear and reality. As I read the details, I wondered if that feeling would ever really go away.

I thought about the day in 2010 when a helicopter crash in the same region killed nine coalition troops just a few days after my husband left for the desert. My reaction that day, at the outset of our year-long deployment, was to make a pact with myself to avoid the news completely.

Then I recalled that day in 2011 almost one year later when a Chinook helicopter crash marked what is still the biggest single loss of U.S. Special Operations personnel in history. My husband was still deployed, and though my initial distress flicker was the same, my reaction was very different. I slammed my coffee cup on the kitchen counter just before being overtaken by a wave of helplessness that caused me to sob into my own sweaty hands.

But yesterday, after the sadness for the families sank in, I debated the ratio of what was asked as compared to what was gained, and found that it was too unbalanced for my liking. Perhaps the time since my husband returned dampened my patriotism for a moment. Maybe knowing he was is in a position of relative safety changed my intermittent perspective. Either way, I didn’t feel as grateful as I had been before, during the deployment. I felt lost and distant.

I tapped the virtual world for help. This war has dragged on so long that I wasn’t even sure where news like this stood, anymore. Americans have become numb to the repeat stories of maimed veterans and fatherless children and unemployed heroes. I knew people were passionate about Chick-fil-A, Paul Ryan’s ability to both polarize and motivate voters, and Prince Phillip’s bladder infection. But I wasn’t sure whether this horrible war news was even on the rest of the world’s radar. I wasn’t sure whether war was personal any more.

I chose to share that moment on Twitter, plinking out my thoughts in 180 characters. It was worthy of so many more, but I just wasn’t sure what to say about it. The only reply came from a member of the media I know and respect who covers military-related issues, and who knows the depth of military family struggle and sacrifice:

journalist twitter


There were no more messages after that – from anyone. I sat staring at my response for a while. I ran through scenarios in my mind. What other experiences might compare? Which situations cause that same constricting wheeze in my lungs, that same vein-gurgling pop and flush that surges through me whenever there is breaking war news? I wanted to find the non-military version. I wanted to give it a label or a feeling or an understanding. I wanted the gap between me and “the civilian world” to be infinitesimally smaller.

The problem with statements like “I don’t know how you do it” and “I can’t even imagine” and “those of us in the civilian world” is that they begin with the assumption that we are somehow intrinsically different. We aren’t. You’ve had this feeling that we talk about – fear of “the knock.” You’ve experienced it through a combination of events:

It’s partly the feeling you have in that moment that you’ve seen a human body damaged in an unnatural way. It’s partly the confusion you get when you first hear a serious diagnosis for someone very close. It’s partly the guilt of being thankful for your own child’s health when another is dying. It’s partly the moment of relief when a group of friends rally around you to help you dump a boyfriend or study for your hardest final or talk you through an upcoming biopsy. It’s all of these at once; a swirl of the uncomfortable and unpredictable that is completely out of your control together with an undampened human rationalization commonly labeled “hope.” And it involves life and death. It is such a strong imprint that once you feel it, similar news becomes the trigger for the same series of physical and emotional responses. The feeling doesn’t change just because you’ve anticipated it, or considered it, or talked about it. It’s new and yet familiar each time.

This time, I don’t want to cry or ignore the news or slam my coffee cup onto the counter. Instead, I want to do something; I want to say something. I want to find a way to make this news familiar and sticky, not slick and cold. I’m exhausted by what stands between those who say they could never understand and those who think their experiences are too unique to be understood. The so-called “military-civilian divide” is my responsibility. Not the media’s. Not Hollywood’s.

It’s mine.


Milbloggie Voting 2012 is Now Open!

Voting is open for Military Blogger of the Year. Witty Little Secret is a finalist and I would be honored by your vote. Voting does not require a sign-up or login. Just clickiness. Just two little clicks!

Step One. Go to the VOTING PAGE and click on SEE NOMINEES for BEST U.S. MILITARY SPOUSE BLOG. There it is. In blue. But wait. There’s more …

Step Two. Find WITTY LITTLE SECRET and click! Right inside the pretty round circle. Now find another computer and do it again. Heh.

Step Three. Share Witty Little Secret on your Facebook page by going to your status update, typing “vote for Witty Little Secret!” and entering my website address ( Facebook will automatically direct people to this page.


Thanks so much, everyone! Voting is open through Friday April 20th and the winners will be announced in Washington DC on May 11th. You can vote once from every computer you have access to!


How to Pick Your NCAA Bracket Like a Girl

NCAA mascots

Dude looks like a birdie.

So you think there’s a science and an art to picking your NCAA teams for the big tournament? Witty Little Secret will now completely demystify the annual formula. Here’s how to pick your NCAA bracket like a girl.

By this afternoon, most American employees will succumb to March Madness, a disease that seems to temporarily cure such workplace maladies as deadlines, micromanagers, paperwork, and timecards. The first time I found myself in a male-dominated working environ, I was astounded at the time suck that this annual event drew in. I had no choice but to join them in this odd bonding ritual. The option was to be labeled a non sport-watching girl. I was horrified, since I never EVER watched college basketball.

When I first embarked on my mission for college basketball awareness in 2001, I had a clean 24 hours to come up with my brackets. This was a distressing process for me because I could not research, read, interview, dissect, discuss and digest the plethora of websites and sports shows related to the topic. And lawyers must do this before they make a decision they are going to put in writing. Not only that, extra study and consultation is required when their own money is riding on the outcome.

But there was not time for such tomfoolery. I had to wing it. Lawyer Guideline #2: when the interminable list of duties fails due to procrastination and surprise, “fake it till you make it.” So I went with the complicated decision matrix I’m going to reveal here. This has been a secret of mine for ten years now, and it’s time I revealed my true genius. And it’s all for free.

Early Round Picks – Play the Odds

In the Early Rounds, look down the outermost sides of your bracket and just pick all of the obvious higher-ranking seeds. This means all of the 1,2,3, and 4 seeds move on and all of the 15, 14, 13, and 12 seeds lose. This rules out nearly half of your decisions and makes you look somewhat smart. Now, for the remainder of the teams for the first couple of rounds just pick by Vegas odds.

By the way, I highly recommend reading up on how Vegas odds actually work. Ahh, memories. Good thing there were some Cinderella teams that year. I read them all exactly backwards and I still placed in the top half of the competition that round.

Sweet Sixteen – Team Leaders

When you get down to the Regional Semifinals, the picks start getting harder. This is where some serious skill is needed. You will need to make the tough calls by chosing the best team leaders. That’s right. I’m talking about the mascots. I mean they do call it the “Sweet Sixteen” afterall. And that’s just sweet. Who can argue with fur, clothed animals, and people who live for making themselves anonymously ridiculous? I know it’s hard to compare a Jayhawk to a Wolverine, and it does seem somewhat subjective, but look at it this way: there’s really no shame in any of your choices. They are all equally pretty. So pick confidently!

Elite Eight – Off The Rack

Isn’t it obvious? This is the elite round, people. Pick the team with the most stylish uniforms. This methodology really threw me off in the years when they started bringing back the retro-duds and the new tighter designs. I just had such a hard time voting for basketball players in trim-fitting v-neck vests.

Final Four – Suck it Up

Look, if you thought the Elite Eight was hard, let me tell you, this round is even harder to pick. If you haven’t watched a game all season, you’d better have plenty sports fans in your life that want to impress you with their NCAA prowess. Go ask for advice and get some good information based on the bracket you’ve filled out so far. Don’t worry about how hard they laugh when they see that you still have Villanova in the running for the playoffs. All it means is that you now know who to eliminate. Be sure to make some comment about how your cousin goes to school there and he “made” you pick them. Also, be sure to actually pick the team your boss recommends when he’s the one scoring the brackets. (Another lesson I learned the hard way. Learn from my mistakes, people.)

National Championship Game – Go With the Legacy

Alright, this one is the biggest no-brainer of all. You absolutely positively must pick you or your family’s alma-matter team if they have made it this far. If you don’t have a family legacy like me (Rock Chalk!) then you must pick the school attended by a family member who is a fervent basketball fan. If you have more than one choice, pick your richest relative. In the unfortunate event that you don’t have any rich old uncles, don’t worry. No matter how poor your relations are, you and your family member(s) can always get behind the old alma-matter and sing songs and jump around like the cheerleader you always wanted to be.

With all that in mind, fill out your brackets and get your money in the pool. You only have a few hours left and you know there’s far too much traffic on the work computers for your boss to actually track your internet usage. Plus, he’s probably on ESPN reading up on best picks as we speak. Good luck, everyone!

NCAA 2011Lori loves March Madness and is a ten-year NCAA bracket participant, which would qualify her as an expert witness if ever that need arose. She has had the privilege of placing in the top five and (theoretically) winning money in several bracket competitions using this foolproof method, which turns out to be just as predictive and successful as the complicated schemes of her actual basketball-watching colleagues and clients.

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