Not very well, I admit…but I was young!
I might have made a good officer, though. I was bossy (as three of my younger siblings can attest to) and a bit of a control freak.
But I like to think I was a good medic. Where I responded to Army ‘regiment’ with near-disdain, what I was trained for had the opposite effect: I loved it. I loved splinting a broken leg. Inserting an IV. Dressing a sucking chest wound.
Of course I approached my training with a ‘proper’ level of seriousness…but it was a sort of conceptual play. I joined (just shy of my 18th birthday and straight out of high school) to help pay my way through college (my real aspiration); never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be activated.
Desert Storm changed that. One day I came home to a blink on my answering machine (remember those?) and a message from my Sergeant: “call me immediately.” My friend said I lost all color in my face; my legs went shaky and I had to sit down. Turns out that the Military Police unit that shared our armory had been activated and the purpose for the call was to reschedule our monthly training. For the first time, it occurred to me that I might have to defend our country somewhere half-way around the world. That was not in my plans!
I had a lot of military friends. My BFF was Air Force ROTC, and she introduced me to my college flame, who was also an Air Force cadet. Today an ex-Air Force physician is one of my SMEs (Subject Matter Experts). Good friends from church lost their son in Iraq. And I have many motorcycling acquaintances who are involved with the Patriot Guard.
The Army that I trained in is undoubtedly a different Army now—it has to be. Instead of broken legs, medics deal with amputated limbs. It’s not just bullets that kill; it’s shrapnel and IEDs. Traumatic brain injury—common now—was barely covered in my training.
So how has my experience in the military (and as a medic) affected my writing?
I think everything I write is affected by what I’ve experienced. I tend to view my experiences through a lens that others don’t have (‘how can I use this?’) Yes, there’s a healthy dose of imagination and plenty of creative license, but a seed has to be sown somewhere, and for me it is often the dual experience of military training and medical training.
I made the paramedic heroine of Last Chance Rescue (Jessie) an Iraq war veteran and gave her some of the qualities I saw in my fellow soldiers/medics. I did that because I enjoy writing medical drama, and because it gave her depth and plenty of ways for me to develop her character—and to have an impact on those closest to her (e.g., the hero, Brad).
As I became more fascinated with the inherent conflict between service to country and service to family, Major Aaron Bricewick (hero of True Surrender) came forward, demanding I tell his story. As I wrote it (in 2010), PTSD was just becoming a buzz word. I explored the gut-wrenching experience of “what happens after” in great (and gripping) detail.
And what I’ve found is that I’m profoundly thankful that it wasn’t me out there. At the age of eighteen, I’m just not convinced that I had the maturity to handle what medics do now.