Art Works Blog

Another View of Operation Homecoming

Washington, DC

At the September 12, 2006, launch event for the Operation Homecoming anthology, contributors and fans alike crowded the Library of Congress to celebrate. Photo by Kevin Allen

Operation Homecoming anthology contributor Christy De'on Miller, a retired U.S. Army mission specialist, enlisted in the military at age 33, serving during the U.S. invasion of Panama. Fifteen years later, Miller's son, Lance Corporal Aaron C. Austin, enlisted in the Marines. On April 26, 2004, during his second tour of duty in Iraq, Corporal Austin was killed in action in Fallujah. "Timeless," Miller's contribution to the Operation Homecoming anthology, is a personal narrative in which she grapples to make sense of her son's death. From the archives here is an excerpt from an  interview we did with Miller shortly after the anthology was published.

NEA: What made you decide to submit work for the Operation Homecoming anthology?

Christy De'on Miller: Laurie Klein, a writer I met at a writing workshop in Colorado, encouraged me to submit. At the workshop Laurie read a poem she'd written: "Baghdad: A Long Ache, Throat to Breastbone"; I started crying during her reading. On the last day of the workshop, Laurie came to me, genuinely concerned that she'd upset me. I told her that it was okay, that the poem was just so painfully beautiful. Long story short: I discovered she'd suffered a loss of someone important to her. He too, had given his life in Iraq to save other lives. Although it didn't take us long to figure out that we didn't agree on the war in Iraq, that we were indeed very much on opposite sides of the political spectrum, our respect for each other as survivors, as writers, and as believers was the catalyst of our relationship and communication.

When I learned that all the manuscripts [submitted to the anthology] would go into the national archives, I knew this was for me. I felt it was extremely important for preservation purposes. I encouraged the eligible writers, Marines, to submit. The material I submitted was so raw and emotional; it comforted me that it had been accepted in the anthology. Raw and emotional was acceptable. Wow, I thought.

NEA: How have you been affected by the experience of participating in Operation Homecoming?

Miller: As a writer, it surprises me how much it's changed me. Right after I returned from [the launch celebration in] D.C., Steve Ramos, a reporter/journalist/editor, someone who'd never known Aaron while he was alive, called me about us working together on a book that he'd given much thought to after Aaron was killed. Steve was in Sunray, Texas, working on another story the day Aaron was killed. He covered Aaron's memorial in Sunray and became intrigued with who Aaron was as a person. We became acquainted through the Fallen Heroes message board. Steve told me via email that he wanted to do a book about Aaron. The week before my husband and I left for D.C., Steve spent three days with us; he slept in Aaron's room, with Aaron's pit bull next to him. Steve combed through our pictures and letters. We talked and talked and talked

The book will be both of our voices. Steve's and mine. I know they'll blend well. We are very serious about this. I'm not sure I would have been so serious without the experience of Operation Homecoming behind me.

NEA: What conversation would you like to have with those in society who aren't part of the military, either as a serviceman/woman or as a family member? Is there one thing you'd like civilians to know?

Miller: I'd want civilians to know that this world not only comprises, but needs the peacemaker and the warrior. It takes the diplomat, but it also takes the warrior to keep us free.  We don't have to fully understand each other, but I do so wish we (Americans) could quit fighting each other. We, together, collectively and uniquely have far too much at stake.

I'd like civilians to understand, and I know it sounds lame, but I'd like for them to recognize that those who serve or have served under arms are still people. They dream and hope and pray and write and dance. They cry and hurt and bleed. Most are tolerant of differing views, and they want to support their families, build a better place, and seek upward mobility.

Those in desert gray are not so different from civilians, but they do have a very different job. Not all, but without question, some civilians have the attitude that they are more worldly and knowledgeable than the men or women who serve in our armed forces.  This simply is not true. From the very first day in uniform, the troop is immersed into more cultures, more politics, more languages, and more disciplined knowledge than most of us will be in a lifetime. If they serve in a war such as ours, they have more knowledge than you or I will ever want to possess. And better yet, they will grow to love another troop from a different city, a different culture, perhaps even a different country. It won't be a passive love, either. It won't be taught. It will be earned. 

In a nutshell, I'd ask the civilian to seek out the opportunity of knowing, really knowing, someone who serves or has served under arms.

You can read more the entire interview with Christy De'on Miller here. You can hear from another anthology contributor here.

Add new comment