Military encouraged to write of war

By Mike Linn: CNJ News Editor

Countless stories of hometown war heroes have graced the pages of newspapers across the country. News stations broadcast the coming and going of troops, their funerals and their family’s joys and sorrows.

But no news service can get completely in the minds of soldiers, to tell the most intimate stories of their service in war.

That’s where the National Endowment of the Arts steps in. For the first time in the history of war, the NEA is encouraging enlisted military personnel and their families to write about their wartime experiences for a project called “Operation Homecoming.” An anthology of selected writings from military personnel and their families will be published in 2006, said Sally Gifford, a spokeswoman for NEA.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the NEA will be at Cannon Air Force Base. The writing workshops and reception are open to military personnel who served after 9/11.

The project has recruited 16 published authors and novelists to teach workshops at 20 military installations nationwide.

Richard Currey, an international best-selling author and former combat medic during the Vietnam War, and Dan Rifenburgh, a published poet and soldier during the Vietnam War, will be teaching workshops at Cannon.

A part-time resident of Albuquerque, Currey said he’s excited about coming to Cannon, where he hopes to hear different stories about service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I live in Washington D.C., and we have The Washington Post, and the above-the-fold story is always about (troops) on the ground, and they never tell the story about anybody else,” he said. “We certainly don’t hear much about flyers or people who are behind the lines or in support units, which can be as powerful sometimes.”

The author of “Fatal Light,” a bestseller about a Virginia man’s experience on the “soul-searching terrain of Vietnam,” Currey said he often looks to his own experiences for scenes in his novels.

When Curry was about 20, for example, he arrived on a call for medical services at a barracks at a Marine base to find a young troop dead in a closet from a heroin overdose. The experience was haunting and powerful for Currey, who wrote a fictionalized account of the event for a scene in one of his novels.

Like many fiction writers, Currey uses his own experiences in his novels. His goal for coming to Cannon is to aid airmen in getting their thoughts and experiences on paper in a way that brings the reader to the scene of the action in the minds of the airmen and their families.

“What will come out of this project has the potential to be a very powerful record of the sort we’ve really never had before (in any other war),” he said.

Gifford said the NEA submission deadline for the anthology is at the end March, and a wide-range of writing will be accepted, including poetry, non-fiction, short stories and journal writing.

Gifford also said content will vary widely.

“We’re not judging on content,” she said “whether it’s a supply clerk or a spouse at home responding to the deployment of a family member.”