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tv   Book Discussion on Soldier Girls  CSPAN  January 1, 2016 9:17am-10:03am EST

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actually instituted price controls on a number of industries including health care. and then lifted him on a number of industries that kept them on health care. and he was a republican. so price controls were republican, you know three-node system was careening out of control. i think the percentage of the gdp of health care in that era was something like 9%. entity is closer to 18, 19%. so it's a huge problem. i think that the force service -- 54 service system has to be replaced on the windows read stephen's new book but i haven't read the book but it did read the piece in "the new yorker" and i think he identifies the kaiser model as being the way out of the mess, where
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physicians and health care systems issued their own insurance product. they collect the premium and they have and national -- natural incentive to limit costs. of courtship to put injuries protection in place so they don't unnecessarily limit spending. but i think the kaiser model is a very reasonable one. i grew up in southern california in the '70s and '80s and we went to kaiser and we got perfectly good health care. some people advocate a single-payer system but i don't see that happening. in this country. it's, you know, what works abroad doesn't, won't work in the united states, i don't think. i remember one of my professors was teaching economics was talk about the national health service in england, and then someone asked him why don't we just do that here? he said, america is two
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different. in england, they live in a rainy climate. they drink warm beer. they learn to tough it out at a young age. that's not going to work in the united states, and he's probably right. so we have to tweak the system we have picked if we're going to build a system from scratch i think that single-payer system would be the best system. >> one more question. >> i enjoy you your books and i think that's what the book is a wonderful book because it describes the reality of the practice of medicine today. i think people don't understand the reality of the practice of medicine today. i'm also position and i can relate to your book to the because also met my wife as an intern at a nearby hospital as an intemperate she is a. how does a writer doctor find an agent to do with something which
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you don't learn in medical school speak with i was writing for the new kind so the agent company and reached out to me. but let's talk afterwards. are you a writer or -- [inaudible] >> okay. find me afterwards and we will talk about it. all right, thank you again. [applause] >> we want to hear from you. tweet us your feedback about the programs you see. >> now on booktv former colorado first lady helen thorpe talks about her book to nine about three women who joined the indiana national guard and were deployed to iraq and afghanistan. [inaudible conversations]
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>> good afternoon, everyone. welcome to our third annual san antonio book festival. i am katy flato executive director of the festival and i'm very happy to be here with you and helen thorpe could discuss her terrific book "soldier girls: the battles of three women at home and at war." before we begin i would like to remind you that barnes & noble is selling books upstairs in the atrium. you just go up the escalator and helen will be signed in the reference area next to the sales area at 1:30 p.m. i want to thank barnes and nobles who very generously
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donate a portion of the proceeds of the sales to the san antonio book festival. also we will take questions from the audience for the last 10 minutes of this session, and please turn off your cell phones. helen thorpe is a seasoned journalist and author who was born in london, grew up in new jersey and now lives in denver. our journalism has appeared in the new york times magazine new yorker magazine, "the new yorker," slight, and "harper's bazaar." or radio stores have aired on this american life and sound print. she was on staff at texas monthly from the mid '90s to 2000 were the subjects of the stories ranged and drug cartels to tom delay. her first book published in 2009, just like us, or to store it for mexican girls coming of age in america follows these girls through high school and into college to show the personal side of american immigration laws. her current book "soldier girls"
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is also a breakthrough work, a look at what american women face when they go to combat. telling details the lives of the three women over 12 years from enlistment into indiana national guard through deployment and back home again. so, helen, let's start with how you chose this subject to write about and how did you find a three women you profile in "soldier girls"? >> thanks. it is wonderful to be back in texas. thank you for having me. 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, being a woman in the military at all. i was wondering, i knew that many veterans struggled after a deployment to settle back into their lives at home, and i was
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wondering what that struggle was about. i thought i wanted to understand better and better would be good if many of us who got to stay home the whole time as deployments were happening could understand that transition better than what the challenges were. but 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, and it was really the story of desma brooks is one of the three women in this book at you kind of takes over the book towards the end. it was really her struggle that struck me as the star that i wanted to write about. she's a single mother who deployed to times. she has three children, and in her second deployment she was
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transferred into a previously all-male unit in iraq where she became the driver of a contract, even though she train ticket supply and logistics. so it's really a stretch for her. she's a national guard soldier. she never envisioned overseas deployment when she was first in listing, and it's really dangerous work at all kinds of things happened to her in iraq, and she did struggle pretty mightily when she came back to reserve her role as a parent and all those things. so that's how i settled on these three women. i guess i would say there are many different stories that could be written about female soldiers, because to be on what question you in your mind, you would tell a different person story. and with military books i think we are often used to euros who are in the thick of combat, and they're typically been -- used to hear rose. i picked and chose to talk about the maybe don't fit the stereotype of what the military book, you might find inside
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those pages to consumers these women are almost antiheroes in that sense, very humble. they do support work. they were trained to be support personnel. so in some ways very different from what you might think of your hero as being, but i thought they were very heroic spirit very heroic, also very human. and i think while the book is about the military, it's experts to these very sharply drawn portraits we parted been introduced to desma. one thing is how the you get them to be so open with you an honest? pacer amazing intimate details of their lives. i know you conducted a lot of interviews, but they give you their military records and medical records and diaries and
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e-mails and ope opened up a fack posts. i'm just curious how that all came about. >> it took a while. so one of the things i love about these three women is a different they are from one another. and it's a little startling. in fact, maybe they never would've been friends except for the fact that they deployed together. michelle is the youngest of the three women, and she's very unusual, i think, as a soldier in that she describes herself as a left-leaning pot smoking hippie to me. so she was 18 when she enlisted. 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
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national guard and be a part-time soldier just for that college tuition benefit. and 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. and then, of course, when she was in training, 9/11 happened and she did understand right away that maybe the commitment she had made was going to be much bigger than what she had been envisioning. when she goes overseas in afghanistan, she becomes very close to two other women, and their political beliefs or in some cases opposite of ours. in the fall before michelle enlisted back in 2000, she had voted or not al gore and not george bush, but ralph nader. and so she's pretty sure there's nobody else in her guard unit who was a ralph nader supporter like she was. a woman she sharing a tent with twitha beginner best friend durg the deployment, desma brooks,
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who i mentioned, she had voted for bush in that election. and then during the daytime michelle is working with an older one, the oldest woman in a national guard you know, debbie hamilton. debbie didn't vote in the election at all because she doesn'doesn't trust politicians coaches want to have anything to do with politics whatsoever. so yet another point of view that's very different than michelle's. debbie was not originally chosen to go on the deployment and she was terribly upset. michelle would've done anything not to go. but debbie argued her way onto the deployment because her father had been in the army. you always wanted to serve her country overseas. to her it was the most fulfilling moment of her life was 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
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guard. and she found the idea putting on a uniform everyday and serving her country far more exciting and fulfilling will and closer to her dream than the work she's doing in a beauty salon. so even when it got to the question of how do they feel about it going on deployment or do they support the war are not, these women weren't totally different sides in terms of their feelings. your question then was around how did it come about they would share so much about their experiences. we did almost four years worth of interviews. we got to know each other over time. at a certain point, i met these women in 2010 when they had come back already from both
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deployment. they were once to afghanistan and then to other women also went to iraq. we did many, many interviews and they said, this is amazing and you were telling me so much, but i just do we need details from the actual moment in time to supplement your memories. your memories are really rich but they are kind of the emotional reality, and i can't quite see or taste or here 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 ship it they found photographs. we pored over for visual descriptions. they found, desma at one point that all of the newsletters, the daily newsletters that a public information officer had distributed during the afghanistan deployment. so there's all kinds of material
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in there. there was again the weather report. so anytime something significant happened i could describe what that they have been like that day. so some of the big surprises were the letters the michelle had written. she put them in the mail off to the people. she didn't have them or something she didn't know if she could recover them. when she deployed to afghanistan she was 21 and she just fallen in love for the first time in her life, and what was so wrenching was leaving behind the person that she was 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 to her parents, letters were really different the she was very cheerful and try to tell her parents she was fine, they didn't need to worry. so michelle comes from this unusual family, i don't know if
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that's the right word. she comes from a typical family background, is probably better to see. her parents had split up when she was young. her dad was married six times in four women. he was in and out of jail. he moved a lot. her mom moved a lot. and the question was, did anybody keep the letters? we went to visit her father when he was living in kentucky, and we were hanging out. he lived in a trailer next to what he called his party trailer, and he was in and out of trouble. he had been arrested for letting somebody make meth in the party trailer. >> best role model spent i did know if you would have the letters but there they were in a three ring binder numbered and he said that only the letter she wrote during the deployment but every letter she wrote during her training and actually every letter should ever written in
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her life starting with a valentine's day card when she was seven. she meant the world to him and he said everything, which actually meant a great deal to michelle to learn that. and her boyfriend had saved all of the letters in a shoebox, and gave those letters to us, even though he and michelle had broken up under difficult circumstances and many years had gone by. so recovering those letters was really amazing for me as an author but also amazing for michelle just as a human being. i think having their voices come to life is important to. i think the reader gets to know them a lot when you read their own words and how they will pray something. it's, it was really meaningful. >> it's a very, very intimate portrait of these three women. you get the warts and all. i'm very impressed they were
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willing to expose themselves about way. there are diary issues from debbie helton who talks about, she clearly has a drinking problem and she sort of reveals that, and a lot of the medical records played on become very important. so it's interesting to me, why do you think they were so open with that? did they feel like this book was important and they want 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. desma, when she returned from her deployment in iraq, which was so hard, she they needed therapy to help grapple with post-traumatic stress. and she shared those therapy notes.
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she just handed me her entire military record and be a file, including the therapy notes at a certain point and said, i know you want to verify everything that i think the whole story is right here. and 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 it went to publication. because i wanted them just to see how much they had turned over and make sure that they were not going to hate the book. i didn't want to make them feel that way. and sort of just a reality check. i was very surprised because i did think they would be 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 those bits in the diary where needing a drink. and desma didn't say, don't use of that therapy session, or
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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 then you not able to make the transition successfully get. and they really wanted to share all of their difficulties so that the audience, i was sometimes when i was writing, thinking of a civilian audience wanting civilians who never deployed to understand better why it's hard to come home, but the diplomat was like, what the challenges are. they always 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 want to share everything. so that another veteran would know they were not alone. >> that transition of veterans
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coming home is obviously a very big theme in the book. what i found so interesting is that upon their return, each of them, even though they had sort of the equivalent of a desk job or they were not in actual combat, but they did suffer post-traumatic stress disorder. and there's, i would love for you to talk that hierarchy of suffering. particularly michelle would feel guilty that she was struggling when she felt like she would look at fellow soldiers who had a much more difficult experts in combat and she thought it wasn't fair she was having these issues and these symptoms. there's a particular passage i would love for you to read about michelle at michelle remember is the youngest one who was the ralph nader fan.
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because i think these different expenses trigger temper reactions for these women when they came back. >> i would love to read it. so maybe i will start by describing the work that they did. so the indiana national guard primarily consists of infantry units. and infantry units are all male at this point in time and were in transition but still today. but these women were in a support battalion was supporting infantry soldiers. and when they were first enlisting, therefore, they were given job choices but if you like to be in infantry and you supported the trigger job choices are to do laundry, took a, to do field sanitation come into toilets, to drive trucks to bury the dead or to fix weapons
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pretty much. supply and logistics would be another. so both of debbie, the oldest of the three, and michelle, the youngest, have chosen to become weapons mechanics. in michelle's case she thought well, that's a safer job and driving a truck and i may not want to do some of the other kinds of work you're so, therefore, weapons mechanic. in debbie's case, debbie loves guns. should get out and shoot most of them in on the range. she was a perfect shot so she sort of really want to work on weapons out of a sense of maybe passion. so they wound up working together in afghanistan fixing broken ak-47s. and the reason they're not working on american weapons was the american guns were not breaking as often, often enough to keep looking busy et cetera
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actually deployed to go up the afghan national army. they worked on weapons out of been turned in from militia members and then repurposed. really unusual to work on an ak-47 if you're an american weapons mechanic but that's what they were doing. and while they were doing that, desma in the first deployment had a desk job. so she was keeping track of all the work that all the maintenance teams were doing and ordering spare parts for vehicles or ordering more nightvision goggles, things like that, really different in the work that desma wound up doing when she was in iraq out on the highways intersect the deployment. but they come back from the first deployment, even though all three have not seen what anybody would call combat, he had a moment where it's a struggle to transition back home
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here and i'll read from this point in the book. part of what happens is that when they come home, you to come in world war ii or some previous complex you may come homeownership and to be a period of transition we are not in a war zone but you're not home yet, whereas with current conflict to jump on a plane, your home 24 hours later back in the united states. it's a very abrupt transition sometimes. so 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 of those college tuition dollars. so she's getting ready to go to university of indiana where she's always wanted to go to school. indiana university in bloomington paper she needs to
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shop for things he ready to go to school, and her boyfriend, keith, that she was writing those love letters to its accompanying her, although on the deployment she had an affair and she has confessed this to them 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're all kinds of things michele needed your cleaning supplies, shampoo, toilet paper. inside the michelle grew edgy. she slowed to a halt in the toilet paper aisle. there were an awful lot of different kinds of toilet paper. how did you choose where she thought of as the pink crepe toilet paper they use and afghanistan. remembered giving several other to one of the afghan workers at the depot and how he had considered it a grand luxury.
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it made michelle a little queasy to behold an american display of toilet paper with her afghanistan schools eyes. was at this with the war had been about? protecting this sort of abundance? questions like these from the her. she knew that al-qaeda had established training camps in afghanistan, yet she couldn't always fathom how the work they've been doing at camp phoenix was later to all that. and should never understood why it had been necessary to invade iraq, and how exactly have the two wars mushroomed into the present, bloated forms? what had signified that she spent a year fixing broken ak-47s? off when she had a hard time staying in a prison. she was standing in target, she reminded herself. she was supposed to buy toilet paper. push as hard to make up her mind. stay here, pete said. i'll be right back. he vanished.
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panic. harper reveal vision black and commerce in securing drop a, are hard that it enriches. primeval questions blared across vermont. am i safe? is this a good place? sugar daddy justify in rational terms but it seemed that there was something fantastically a mess, something malignant even, with a store that sold 25 times out with a paper. how could this level of abundance be morally acceptable given the poverty cha-ching on the other side of the globe? and now that the flesh of reality have been peeled back and should look under the surface of things, she could see that she was utterly abandoned and surrounded by a yawning, nameless danger. michelle began crying and then probably, heaving sobs,
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opened. at the outset really i think what i was hoping to address maybe was there was this huge division in our society.
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i just saw pasha i just saw two authors walk into a britain books who are both veterans and the novelists and their books are really amazing and i hope you have a chance to check them out. i think they're speaking later this afternoon. >> 3:30 p.m. >> i think i was hoping to address a really big golf between the civilian mindframe and those with military experience, and i put myself in the camp of that ignorant group of people, the civilians over here who don't understand what a military deployment is really all 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 it could be so cut off,
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and i wanted to just understand more what it was that veterans were living through and to be able to write a book that would enable other people to get some feeling for what it had been like. i think that's what drove my desire to get material that would bring it to life. i think a reader who has not gone to afghanistan and not gone to iraq needs century experience almost be able to put themselves. they need to be able to feel the sand and afghanistan that creeps into your clothes and your pages by the notebook and it's all over your bed sheet and gets in your food, to start to begin to feel like what it might possibly be like. i just felt really strongly that if my tax dollars were going to people's salaries to send them off to war that i was,
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therefore, implicated and i should hope i should educate myself. i should learn what is this experience like. because it shouldn't be an experience that's borne along by those with asked to duplicate those of us doing asking as well who should be carrying that story. i think part of the reason it's so hard for people to come on is that are coming back and they walk right into a reality were no windows what they've been doing. nobody knows what they been living through. nobody can understand, and at a certain point 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 she says this is my sister, michelle. she's just gotten back from abroad. and michelle says, i've been in
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afghanistan. you know, i think that's the level of disconnect. and yes, it's hard. the are two wars being fought at the same time and they are in foreign sounding places that you can keep track of the cities if you are here and you're wondering where fallujah is where kabul is. it hard to fight on in that because you're not familiar with those places may be. it's hard to keep track of, but really important. it's great of fellow authors writing about the same subject because i feel it's in the kitchen and it's in some of the books like the forever war or "the good soldiers," they're coming out after the conflict. it's in the books that you can really feel what it's like and learn what it's like. the news coverage, people were trying, but it was hard to convey the reality of it. and there's this whole canon of books being written now that are conveying the experience.
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in some ways i think what the book actually winds up being about is as well as much of friendship between these three women. i didn't maybe at the outset think i want to write a book about female friendship and how that helps people get through difficult experiences but that's really the heart of the book is that it's as much about that as anything. >> i think we have time for some questions. thank you so much. would any, does anyone have any questions for helen? yes. [inaudible] >> this is one of our authors. [inaudible] >> wait, we can't hear without the microphone. >> you guys can't hear me? your good? okay. you mentioned you didn't have
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any them and the military and you are not a member yourself. >> ride. >> did you feel you didn't have a right to write about it speak with very much so. it was hard actually to even feel legitimate. at the end of all the research, and i think my editor tricked me into start writing because i think he could see us going to pretty much research as this one forever and never feel that i have the authority. i think when you don't go overseas, you know, you never feel that this is your story to tell here and i knew it even 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 was this funny moment where can one which might explain to me where she had lived in iraq and i said, was it in a tent like an instant with
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no, i had a chu. it's a containerized housing unit. she said a connex. i somewha said what detroit forh she set a shipping container. okay. but it requires for attempt at translation before i could see what she's trying to say. it's that kind of you know, that's the gulf between the military and civilian cultures. it's a hard one to bridge. i could almost flip the question around and turn it over to either of you to say it isn't hard to convey what you lived through to a civilian reader? how do you do that? that's the reverse of the question. >> first, i just want to say you have every right to write about it, as i did so thank you for
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doing it. this is michael. >> you should know i think, there's a sense, like the continuum of credibility within the military experience. even for people have deployed many times or are in the military. wondering if it in right to talk about it at all. i wasn't outside the wire all that much. you were on this side of the continuum that i was in the special forces. i was als also the what one awf. you think of that person on the part of the continue button when you meet them they don't think of themselves as a mayor. everyone knows that the rule 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 to it's
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your war, too. >> wages set about combat being the punctuation mark at the end of a longer sentence or paragraph -- what you just said -- visually beautiful. i know these women would agree because being support personnel, they sometimes felt almost that a sense of illegitimacy perhaps because they would compare themselves to the combat veteran who have been in a combat role in feel that, you know, they wonder why is our story valuable our why would somebody want to note our story when we were assigned a combat role, when we were come into your mind, only support personnel. yet it's something like nine out of 10 military personnel are in a support role supporting a person in combat, so yeah. sometimes i think the combat stories are even more dramatic
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and even more heroic. i was drawn to the support personnel in part because their stories are not often told. and so there's -- they are the choice we made we don't hear about as much. thank you, guys for being here. >> can you hear me speak was just. >> helen, i don't know if you shared this with those earlier, i dismissed it because the dorm if open and it gets loud back cuba over the ethnicities of these three women you selected? >> so all three women are white, and i had written a book previously about four young latino women, mexican-american women, and in some ways i really wanted to write about white poverty and what it is to be
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from a working-class or a poor family and be wide. because sometimes we make the mistake in this country, i think, of imagining that poverty is an experience of color when that's just not true. all the time it can be true. michelle comes my background that i described my dad has been married many times and in and out of jail. and her mom had been a welder or doing factory jobs. desma comes from 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 feels was very valuable to her in building a healthier lifestyle than the one that she grew up in. debbie had a less challenging
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childhood, but never rich. was there a second part to that question? >> since that was part of the original thought process as u.n. and then the fault of the book and what it is, but did you ever think of what the perspective would've been if he would have identified, you know, a variety, an african-american woman, hispanic and maybe -- just because come on not saying, i'm not coming up with any conclusions, but i would've been curious as to what that would've presented relative to how your book would have wound up. >> in the armed forces, of course, are incredibly diverse, and that would've been a difficult and an incredibly valuable book. i ended up being drawn to this
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book part because of needing michelle first and then her introducing me to desma and to debbie, and then these women being willing to turn over so much material. but the strength and weakness of the book is that it is three stories, three very personal, intimate stories. but only three stories. so it's a very close look at the individuals. but there's so many other stories that could be told, yeah. >> one of the things that i find interesting about the three women whom she selected, for one, michelle, one of the reasons that she thought it would be could decide that, she thought she would get fit. that's the level she was hoping that i would be -- >> pre-9/11. >> of course. of course, the debbie wasn't doing it out of patriotism because she wanted to please her father. and then desma was hoping for education. i think those are the real
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issues here, pre-9/11. i think we have time for one more question here yes. >> i think she's going to bring you a microphone your so everybody can hear. >> i have a comment and a question. i thought one of the really interesting issues which you just touched on is social class in the book but i thought that was very interesting. the other question is how are desma's children doing? ..
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in the book you see in very close detail how does ms. children are cared for which not here during her two long absences and her children are first in preschool aged later elementary school during her deployment. her son is all about it older but her girls were that young. the repercussions for children is something even the department of defense is looking that as we are deploying single parents, as we deployed mothers. when we had the draft, we didn't drive parents of young children of either gender. so this is the all volunteer military age are relatively new thing to have children at home with lengthy deployments.
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when i finish talking, and does much of the microphone said i want to add something to that. and she said i earned a lot of money during my deployments. i got combat pay and i chose to enlist and i chose to fulfill those orders. i appreciated having the opportunity to earn that money. i earned a lot on many doing this than i was making as a waitress at a truck and i wouldn't want my experience used in a way that would deny anybody else the same economic opportunity. so she was essentially saying view, helen thorpe, the


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