By Terri Schlichenmeyer
They've become as familiar to you as your own living room: auditoriums filled with uniformed, spine-straight soldiers on their way to deployment, or smiling men and women, arms full of family, on their way home.
And no matter what auditorium they're in, no matter which small town or big city, you can bet that the first group is wondering what the second group has seen.
They may never know, though, because much is buried and more is classified. But military secrets aren't the only ones kept in times of war. In the new book "The Last Deployment" by Bronson Lemer, you'll learn one of them.
Lemer was "probably the last person anyone expected to join the military." But, as the oldest of six children, he wanted to get away from North Dakota and "the Army… happened to be at the right place at the right time."
Lemer was still in high school when he joined the National Guard.
Five years later, on Jan. 20, 2003, his cellphone rang. Though he was months away from getting out of his Guard obligation and was "tired of it," Lemer learned that he was being deployed. His "horrible decision" to join the National Guard was turning into something he never thought he'd have to worry about: Lemer was a gay soldier under a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
But in going to Iraq, he knew he had to learn to rely on his fellow soldiers, and vice versa. So he tried to relax as he traveled with them to Colorado and, later that spring, to Kosovo, then to Iraq. Lemer went along with the jokes, the girlfriend talk and the "adolescent" behavior. He participated in anything that banished the boredom of guard duty, building, cleaning duty and outhouse duty. He emailed a former love and longed for home.
As a few months' tour of duty stretched into a year, Lemer began to notice something - deployment was taking its toll on everybody. The men and women who left the States were not the same people who came home from Iraq.
And neither was Lemer.
Lemer's memoir of being a gay man in the military is half sass and half sad with a few heart-pounding moments but no blood-and-guts. His story moves between idyllic memories of his growing up and warm feelings for his bunkmates and co-soldiers, while readers are placed in the center of the boredom of waiting, the frustration of not knowing, and the dismay of hiding in order to be accepted.
Lemer's is a wonderfully descriptive, wryly humorous, heart-crushing story, and I couldn't put it down.
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.