17 February 2016

Book Review: 'See Me for Who I Am'

"See Me for Who I Am: Student Veterans' Stories of War and Coming Home," edited by David Chrisinger

David Chrisinger is a mil-blogger, veterans-issues activist, and creator of a military-to-civilian reintegration course, "Back from the Front," at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Related to the latter effort, Chrisinger helped produce and publish an anthology of student essays. The 150-page trade paperback, "See Me for Who I Am: Student Veterans' Stories of War and Coming Home" was released earlier this week. It is also available as an Amazon Kindle e-book.

The book collects approximately 20 veterans' stories, written in various voices and styles. While a few aspire to literary gymnastics or even melodrama, most achieve a conversational and approachable tone—perfect for exposing civilian readers to veterans' insights, without risk of scaring them off.

The content is bookended by some big guns. There is a foreword written by Brian Castner, author of 2012's "The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows" and the upcoming "All the Ways We Kill and Die: An Elegy for a Fallen Comrade, and the Hunt for His Killer." And there is an afterword by Matthew J. Hefti, author of the 2016 Afghan War novel "A Hard And Heavy Thing". It is Hefti who writes:
The uncultivated nature of this book is exactly what makes it required reading; that rawness is what sets this book apart from others on the same topic. These college freshmen—often older and worldlier than their peers—are walking straight off the battlefield with the dust still trailing off their boots, the blood still speckling their uniforms, and the gun smoke still stinging their nostrils. There is no irony here; See Me for Who I Am is real talk.
The real talk here, admittedly, is from a relatively homogenous cohort of student veterans. An informal sampling of writers' biographies reveals that these are Midwesterners—most grew up in Wisconsin or graduated from high school there. Declared majors cluster around the strengths of the institution in which they are enrolled: business and information technology, medicine and health, forestry management. Most are male narrators, but there are a few female voices present. While this may accurately reflect the composition of Chrisinger's reintegration classes, it does point to possibilities for future explorations.

The book illuminates, after all, the types of conversations possible on any campus of learning, if professors and fellow students were to approach incoming student-veterans with open minds and open ears. It would be exciting to see other student bodies, faculties, and administrations adopt "See Me for Who I Am" as the catalyst for initial engagement, then move toward generating and collecting other narratives on their own campuses.

Read "See Me for Who I Am." Then, look more locally. Seek out more stories. And start talking.

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