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Contact: Elena Hartwell - elenahartwell@gmail.com and visit me on the web at www.elenahartwell.com

Spotlight on Sarah L. Blum

Sarah L. Blum, is a decorated nurse Vietnam veteran who earned the Army Commendation Medal serving as an operating room nurse at the 12th Evacuation Hospital Cu Chi, Vietnam during the height of the fighting in 1967. Sarah was awarded the Certificate of Achievement for exemplary service as head nurse of the orthopedic ward at Madigan Army Hospital in 1968, where she was also the assistant director of nursing on evening and night shift in 1970. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing, Summa Cum Laude, from Seattle University and her Master’s in Psychosocial Nursing, Cum Laude, from U. W.. At age 74, Sarah is still a practicing nurse psychotherapist with over 29 years experience.


Read more about this amazing woman by clicking on her picture...

Sarah obtained her black belt in Aikido at age sixty-eight, continues to train and also teaches aikido. She is an African Drummer and African Balaphone player. At age sixty-nine she began sculling. Sarah is full of vitality and loves to dance, drum, sing, and bring people together. Sarah has two grown children, a daughter who is a well-respected and effective M.S.W., and a son who is a professional musician and college teacher, author, and owner of a “The Tuned in Music Academy,” and she has two granddaughters and one 15-month-old grandson.
You can also learn more through this link to an episode of 
The Veterans Hour, with Sarah as their guest.

The Interview -- Part II

Scroll Down To Read Part I

What do you believe people should most understand about the sexual violence taking place in the US Military?
I believe the public does not have a clue about what is really going on in our military between men and women. There has been so much propaganda, misinformation and image control in relation to the military, especially during the last Bush Administration, that it has given a totally false impression and had actually contributed to the level of violence against women by military men.
We know there are 26,000 sexual assaults each year or one every twenty minutes. 95% of the perpetrators are serial rapists and repeat offenders who have a target rich environment in which to rape and abuse women and they have the protection of their leaders who are more interested in their careers and the image of the corps than the well being of their soldiers. Any woman who has the audacity to report a rape/sexual assault is usually retaliated against severely including being denied appropriate medical care, denied food, isolated, ostracized, given a less than honorable discharge or labeled with a personality disorder and kicked out without benefits.
Our military also has a domestic violence issue that they have ignored for the last decade, as they have discounted sexual assaults for two or more decades. In 2002 there were several murders at Fort Bragg that the military tried desperately to cover up, in fact there was a systematic denial and cover up of rampant family abuse by soldiers returning home from combat, but the military dealt with it as a public relations issue and said it was just an anomaly when it was only the tip of the iceberg. Many wives were frightened and calling into hotlines and spilling out the gruesome details of beatings and abuse while the military continued to act as though it was not happening. To this day our military does not hold its soldiers accountable for domestic violence or sexual assault toward women serving.

You have worked extensively over the years with those who suffer from PTSD, and have worked with them towards trauma resolution. What should we, as a society, be doing for the men and women who continue to suffer with these kinds of wounds? How can we, as a society, better support our wounded warriors?
What our society can do for the men and women active duty personnel and veterans who have PTSD is multifaceted. Number one is never ever send them out to fight on behalf of politicians or millionaires. If they are sent out to fight in a war be willing to be responsible for what happens to them in that war. If a war is funded then fund the VA equally to deal with the effects of that war on our service-members. 

Create a way for soldiers in a war to write letters back to their communities telling about their experiences, make it personal, as though writing to their families. In that way the community cannot distance themselves from the realities on the ground. When those soldiers return home, have a community gathering to embrace, greet and thank them plus provide services for them. Depending on their needs, they might benefit from psychological debriefing and therapy, assistance with educational, employment and medical-benefits, and making the transition back to civilian life.

What are you working on now?
I am still working on speaking out about the culture of abuse toward women in our military and having our military hold offenders accountable, punish criminal behavior, remove the criminal element especially sexual predators from the military and take reporting sexual assault out of the chain of command. I am also hoping to get back to writing and finish the second book called: Women Under Fire: PTSD and Healing.

Final Words of Wisdom
Our military justice system is broken and change is imperative. We can no longer allow the military to investigate themselves. They are far too self-protective. It is time for independent unbiased investigations into sexual assault crimes and how our military mishandles them. Do a thorough evaluation at every level of how reports of abuse toward women are handled, how protective orders are managed, and how the system applies accountability and justice, if at all. It is time to fully investigate this abuse culture, clean house and begin anew with appropriate policies and actions that restore honor, integrity and accountability to our military and bring justice to women serving.

Please contact your senators and representatives and members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees and tell them that and to hold offenders accountable, punish criminal behavior and remove reporting from the chain of command. If that last one is not done nothing will work.

BobHerbert writing in The New York Times March 2009 said and I quote: “The military could bring about a radical reduction in the number of rapes and other forms of sexual assault if it wanted to, and it could radically improve the overall treatment of women in the Armed Forces.  There is no real desire in the military to modify this aspect of its culture.  It is an ultra-macho environment in which the overwhelming tendency has been to see all women, civilian and military, young and old, American and foreign— solely as sexual objects.  Real change will have to be imposed from outside the military.  It will not come from within.  Rape and other forms of sexual assault against women is the great shame of the U. S. Armed Forces, and there is no evidence that this ghastly problem, kept out of sight as much as possible, is diminishing.”

The Interview -- Part I

You are a decorated Veteran of the Vietnam War, how did that experience most impact how you see the world?
The short answer is it changed everything. I sincerely mean that. My life has never been the same and it is truly the gift that goes on giving. Each time in my life I have delved deep into my experiences and emotions in therapy or therapeutic type opportunities I have thought—“OK now it is done and I won’t have to do that again.”  That thought was never true. There was always more.
I saw the war as very wrong and destructive. It was destructive to the land and people of Vietnam and to our soldiers, nurses, doctors, and it was such a waste. There was nothing redeeming about the war or what it wrought. We even left live landmines in the earth that to this day are killing children playing and farmers working the land.
I began to see everything through that prism and became a peace activist and never wanted our country to go to war again.
I also became a wounded healer in my work and was passionate about PTSD—learning about it and healing it. As a wounded healer I knew the experiences deeply my self as well as from the professional perspective. I could literally go into the foxhole with my clients and sit with them through the worst of their experiences and emotions. Most therapists cannot and do not do that—they stay professional and apart from the intense emotions that come up in PTSD. I had my own PTSD with flashbacks and nightmares, so I know. I also went though the reliving of my experiences, survived it again and came out more whole and healed. I came up with my own techniques to suit what I needed and it worked. That gave me tools to work with others that I know worked.
My greatest transformation from my Vietnam Experiences came in 1996 when I went back to Vietnam to plant peace trees. I returned to Cu Chi where I was stationed as an operating room nurse at the 12th Evacuation Hospital. The hospital was of course not there but I went to the tunnels. While there, a soldier with the communist military demonstrated all their booby traps that they used on our soldiers. They used a piece of wood to show what they did to a leg for example. It was excruciating for me to watch that and listen to him describe it. I started to take deep breaths and I went inside and asked God this question: “If we were at a fort in the U.S. and they were describing how they won a battle or war and were proud— what would that be like?” The answer was: “the same.” Then I asked: “What is the difference?” As soon as I asked that last question I was suddenly filled and surrounded by a bright Light and Love, and was fully aware that between that communist soldier and me there was no essential spiritual difference. That healing and transformation has never left me and to this day I am filled with that knowing that we are all ONE and there is no reason to attack or hurt anyone, because it will affect all of us. Whatever we do affects us all.

What led you to write Women Under Fire?
Writing Women Under Fire: Abuse in the Military was my soul’s mission to bring justice into that world. I had awareness of that mission for many years but never had a clue how to fulfill it. In 2006 while talking with a very intuitive woman, I was given guidance on how to fulfill that mission. Write about women in the military. I set out to do that without realizing the connection to justice. I turned to the Divine with a challenge. “It this is what you wish me to do I need a title I can get behind and that will inspire me, and I need to know I can write.”  I brainstormed titles and when I had them all written down I looked at the list and one of them lit up: Women Under Fire.

It did what I asked. I felt passionate about it and was inspired by it every time I looked at it or said it. Then I sat down at the computer and said: “OK show me that I can write. Let’s write an introduction.”
My fingers went flying across the keys and when I had written a few pages of an introduction I stopped to read it and was blown away by the power and intensity in the words. At that point I said to the Divine: “OK let’s do this thing.”

Describe your experience of working with these women's stories. 
I began a quest to find women veterans who would talk to me about their experiences. I was interested in any woman veteran from any branch of the military and any time period. I had no preconceived ideas. I wanted all their stories no matter what they were. I interviewed most of them over the phone but if they were local I went to them in person. The oldest was an 85 year-old WWII veteran who was a feisty little woman who had been a journalist after the war. I came to know these women and their stories. I had a set of questions that I asked each woman to be consistent. If they had some emotionally difficult situations to recall, I held them energetically as they shared and if they were triggered, I stopped the interview and helped them let it go, calm down and relax. If they were able to go on, we did, and if they could not, we rescheduled the rest of the interview. I also checked back with them to see how they were doing.
After a few interviews I began to get some that were horrific stories of rape and abuse. I was shocked by those and also impressed with the tenacity and courage of the women who went through the experiences and now were reliving them. In fact it was their courage and tenacity that kept me going with the book when I did not think I could go on. I would think of them and their stories and realized if they could get through the abuse, I can get through the stories of abuse. Their courage inspired me to keep going. There were times when I would stand up and yell out to the universe: “Who the hell is going to read these stories? Why am I doing this?”

I started with Women Under Fire: Their Stories, Their Words,  but when I turned over what I had written between 2006 and 2009 to an editor for feedback, he said: “Look at those stories of abuse. You need to focus more narrowly on the culture of abuse toward women in our military.” It took me several months to get through my own reaction to what he said before I could get on board with it and do it. Once I was shown that all the stories would be heard through the two different books and the website, I was able to follow the editor’s suggestion and write Women Under Fire: Abuse in the Military.

Check Back November 15 for Part II