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There’s nothing like concentrating on something completely “other” to calm one down. Here, at the tension-filled demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, soldiers take a break to concentrate on ballet.

Kim Hong-Ji reports at Reuters the Wider Picture,”The 15 male ballet students groaned as they strained to do the splits and laughed with relief after their teacher counted to five and let them relax.

“Once a week, a group of South Korean soldiers near the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that divides the Korean peninsula trade army boots for ballet shoes in a class intended to ease the stress of guarding the world’s most heavily fortified border.

” ‘There’s a lot of tension here since we live in the unit on the front line, which makes me feel insecure at times,’ said Kim Joo-hyeok, a 23-year-old sergeant doing his nearly two years of military service that is mandatory for South Korean men.

” ‘But through ballet, I am able to stay calm and find balance as well as build friendships with my fellow soldiers,’ said Kim, who is learning ballet for a second year and plans to continue when he is discharged from the army. …

” ‘Being in the army itself can be difficult, so I wasn’t sure what kind of help I can be here,’ said Lee Hyang-jo, a ballerina at the Korean National Ballet who visits the base once a week to train the soldiers.

” ‘But as the soldiers learn ballet little by little, they laugh more and have a great time and seeing that makes me think that coming here is worthwhile,’ she said.”

I suspect it is fun for her, too, in the same way that teaching English lit to a class of engineers was fun for one professor I heard about. The fresh perspectives of those who come from an entirely different discipline has to be rewarding for a teacher.

More at Reuters.

Photo: Reuters

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I thought today would be a good day to note that, with the right supports in place, veterans who have suffered post-traumatic stress while serving the country can move forward with their lives.

The willingness of some of these service men and women to expose their story in the media strikes me as an extra level of bravery.

Kathy McCabe writes at the Boston Globe about Army veteran Michael Saunders.

“Saunders, who served from 2002 to 2006, deployed twice to Iraq … He started therapy at the VA outpatient clinic in Lynn, where a counselor suggested he focus on a new mission: going to college.

“ ‘She said I would make more money with a college degree,’ said Saunders, who worked for a lumberyard after his discharge from the Army.

“He enrolled in VITAL — an acronym for Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership — a national program that helps veterans transition from soldier to student. VITAL brings VA services, including mental health counseling, to college campuses. …

“According to Pam Flaherty, dean of students, Middlesex Community College had nearly 600 student veterans in 2014-15. In the last year, 70 who have PTSD have taken part in VITAL and received mental health care on campus. …

“The Bedford VA also offers the VITAL program at Bunker Hill Community College in Charlestown, Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner, Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, North Shore Community College in Danvers and Lynn, Endicott College in Beverly, and Salem State University.

“Saunders, who graduated from Everett High School in 1999, is in his second year studying liberal arts at Middlesex Community College in Bedford. He has discovered a talent for writing, and hopes to transfer to Emerson College next year.

“ ‘It was a rough start, but I’m doing fine now,’ said Saunders, who also has a job at the college’s Veterans Resource Center. ‘Had the VA not had the service in place here, I wouldn’t have come.’ …

“ ‘I can sit in class now, for an hour and 20 minutes,’ Saunders said. ‘I couldn’t sit still for 10 minutes before.’ He has a lingering fear of crowds, so he adjusted his seat in the classroom.

“ ‘ I have to be able to see the door, and I don’t like anybody behind me,’ Saunders said. ‘If I can’t do that, I can’t focus.’

“For one class, Saunders wrote a story called ‘The Dark Is Afraid of Me,’ a fictional account of a military mission in Iraq.

“ ‘It was really easy for me to tell the story,’ Saunders said. ‘When the professor read the paper, she was like, “You need to go see a publisher, now.”

” ‘Maybe I will.’ ”

More such stories at the Globe, here.

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Photo of Gertrude Ely: Bryn Mawr College Collection

I was on the brink of unsubscribing to the American Academy of Poets poem-a-day e-mail because I let so many pile up and then have to slog through all sorts of contemporary brain twisters.

But as I was working my way through the poems today, I came across the one below. I thought, “Oh, I know exactly what this is about” and was carried back to my college days and hanging out at the home of my great aunt’s friend Gertrude Ely.

Gertrude Ely was quite elderly at that time but really interesting to be around. She knew all sorts of movers and shakers and was an awesome storyteller. I happened to be staying at her house one weekend when she received an unusual letter.

An elderly Philadelphia gentleman wrote that he had read in the Bulletin that she had received some civic award, and he just had to write and tell her a memory he had from his service in WW I in Europe. The Army was sending over carloads of friendly, proper young volunteers to chat with and cheer soldiers and bring a breath of home. The man wrote he would never forget a load of girls pulling up in an open car and Gertrude Ely calling out, “Any of you boys from Philadelphia?” He said, “At that moment, I believe every soldier there was wishing he was from Philadelphia.”

Gertrude Ely at my college graduation.

1966-GS-ELY-AT-CB-GRADUATION

***

American Boys, Hello! by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Oh! we love all the French, and we speak in French
As along through France we go.
But the moments to us that are keen and sweet
Are the ones when our khaki boys we meet,
Stalwart and handsome and trim and neat;
And we call to them—“Boys, hello!”
“Hello, American boys,
Luck to you, and life’s best joys!
American boys, hello!”

We couldn’t do that if we were at home—
It never would do, you know!
For there you must wait till you’re told who’s who,
And to meet in the way that nice folks do.
Though you knew his name, and your name he knew—
You never would say “Hello, hello, American boy!”
But here it’s just a joy,
As we pass along in the stranger throng,
To call out, “Boys, hello!”

For each is a brother away from home;
And this we are sure is so,
There’s a lonesome spot in his heart somewhere,
And we want him to feel there are friends
right there

In this foreign land, and so we dare
To call out “Boys, hello!”
“Hello, American boys,
Luck to you, and life’s best joys!
American boys, hello!”

[Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote “American Boys, Hello!” while visiting France during the latter stages of World War I as entertainment for the American soldiers stationed there.]

Photo of Ella Wheeler Wilcox: American Academy of Poets, here.

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