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Service – Military or Otherwise

    When you hear the word SERVICE, what flashes through your mind? Currently, it may be a picture of doctors and nurses. It could be your favorite restaurant server, your mechanic, or someone in the military. I was an Air Force wife from 1972–1979 and I waited tables in the closest restaurant to the main gate of both an Air Force Base and an Army Post in Tacoma, Washington from 1978­­—1991 where most of the customers were active duty or retired members of the armed services. I moved back to the Finger Lakes area of New York State in 1991 and lost my connection to a military-based way of life. When I hear the word service my mind thinks military first, then may drift to other definitions.

    I am a five-year member of the Rochester, NY Veterans Writing Group. We meet each month and I have only missed a few meetings since joining in 2015 because being with “my” vets has brought me home to a feeling I didn’t know I was missing until I experienced it again. When I started attending I found my “tribe” of brothers and sisters that “get it.” The group gathers around a table and writes personal experience memories brought forth from thought-provoking prompts. Once the allotted writing time ends, we read our musings aloud, sharing the highs and lows, and sometimes comical, points of military life. It’s a healing process and only safe to do with other vets who understand: the front lines come with exhaustion, bad food, blood, and death; the military comes with pride, service, boredom, and chaos; the home front can be supportive or fall away in a flash, and it takes 22 to 25 other members in the background to support the ones brandishing weapons no matter the circumstances.

    I am proud to share, the groups’ anthology titled, United in Service, United in Sacrifice will be released in May 2020. The authors are veterans and family members ranging in age from 27 years to 95 years old. The stories start at WWII and move forward to Afghanistan. The authors’ goal is to help anyone understand the meaning and feeling of “tribe” or “brotherhood”  of the military and the sacrifice it takes to “sign on the dotted line,” hence the book title.

    According to the National Conference for State Legislators, only 7.6% (in 2019) of all Americans have ever served in the United States military. I beg to differ because I was a dependent wife and had two children. No, I didn’t serve to the extent of following orders and being asked to brandish a weapon, but I carried a military dependent ID and served by being the back-up, the home front, who gave up my childhood roots, never gave them to my kids, then willingly packed and moved each time the Air Force ordered my ex-husband to do so. I made immediate friends with new neighbors and relied on other members of my husband’s unit as a family because I had no other choice. Becoming a military dependent changed my life by expanding the puddle in which I live.

    Today I continue to serve by being the “Mom” of our writing group. I take the coffee pot to each gathering, check in privately with a member when I can sense they need it, and present each new member a patriotic quilt on their sixth month attendance anniversary. I learned to sew when I was in high school and I’ve been making quilts ever since. I am very fortunate to have a large sewing studio in my home that has multiple cupboards full of many different colors of fabric, lots of it red, white, or blue.  My husband is often with me when I’m shopping for fabric. He carries the bolts I pick, chats with the person who cuts what I want and pays for it knowing I am going to give most of it away. He’s a veteran too and his generosity keeps me occupied doing something I love, and gives both of us a way to acknowledge our fellow veterans.

    The quilt pictured below was made for my WWII Veteran friend, Bob Whelan. It is a replica of the 13th Armored Cavalry (1944-’45) patch of which he was a member and is now the President of that unit’s reunion group. The quilt hangs in his study at home. The pattern for the recurring block is called Kaleidoscope. Fun fact; my husband was in the 50th Armored Division (1970-’76.)

WWII quilt.jpg



                             The above quilt was a gift to Steve McAlpin.

We had to say a final farewell to one of our own this past January. Some of “my” vets from left to right; Me, Gary Redlinski (Vietnam), Steve McAlpin (Afghanistan), his girl Carol, Holly Katie (family member), Vaughn Stelzenmuller (Vietnam), Bob Whelan (WWII)

There are so many different types of service whether it is in the military, to your family or community, at work, in your children’s schools, at the Carrot Ranch, etc. Service can be as simple as a smile in the check-out line at a retail store or brandishing a weapon not knowing if you’ll make it to the next day and all points and locations in between.

Charli Mills serves us by giving us a fun, safe, positive place to share the written word. I am thankful to be a part of Carrot Ranch and proudly talk of my international friends who keep my life puddle ever expanding.

In the comments section please share your service story–military or otherwise.

You can contact me individually through my blog


  1. Ritu says:

    Service in any form, is to be applauded.
    I’m a teacher, so my service is, usually, community, educating the children. As my pupil care the youngest, it’s my job to make sure they have a secure foundation upon which to build their educational knowledge.
    Alas, my class, this year, I fear I’ve failed you. You can’t remotely teach 4 -5 year old… Not in the way older children are still accessing learning.
    But I’m trying.
    My service has also adapted to care giver. While school is out, we are providing care for the children of keyworkers, so the key services can still continue, without many having to take time off to care for their own children.
    Then there’s my service to My family.
    Wife, mother, daughter, daughter in law… All ever present, ever important 💜

    • susiecarm says:

      Thank you for your service Ritu. So much of what we do for others fits into the category of service. I know a smattering of people that rarely do anything for another person and feel they are not happy or fulfilled humans. Giving is so much more satisfying.

  2. Wow, Susan, mega impressed with those quilts!
    I served people with mental health problems in the NHS and am heartbroken at how this proud British institution has been progressively eroded. And furious that workers are dying because of a government that serves billionaires.
    I serve now through my protest and honesty in my writing.

    • susiecarm says:

      Thanks for the compliment, Anne. I love making quilts and the fact, that one might have a mistake, but when it’s done, it’s done, not like writing, that can be rewritten on and on and still be changed and improved.
      The world definitely needs honesty in writing to help others see the truth. Thank you for your service.

  3. janetguy says:

    Hi Susan,
    I loved your story. One of the most frustrating things about this pandemic is the best thing most of us can do to help is get out of the way., which goes against our impulses to help and serve. Thank you for inspiring me to look for other ways to serve and help. Your quilts are gorgeous!

    • susiecarm says:

      Indeed, staying out of the way is a great way to serve right now. In my area there are volunteer opportunities but I don’t know how to advise you to find them in your locale. I’m having fun in my sewing studio and feel like I’m accomplishing something at the same time.

  4. Norah says:

    I really enjoyed your post, Susan. Yes, there are many ways to serve. Like Ritu, my service is as a teacher, an educator. I also like to share smiles at the supermarket and see them as important too. But I’ve never been part of a service family. My Dad served and was wounded in WWII, but that was before my time. It took him many many years to discuss it with anyone or even attend meet ups with his battalion. He did in his later years though, and I think it was good for him. He also wrote a lot of his stories which I typed up for him and he presented as a book to family members. You mentioned the ‘tribe’ and ‘brotherhood’ over there. Here we call it ‘mateship’. It is an important part of our Australian culture and we have just had our most important event celebrating it – ANZAC Day, which stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and dates back to World War I. The traditional way of celebrating had to be cancelled this year due to lockdown, but people found many other very special and memorable ways of celebrating. We owe much to our service people.

    • susansleggs says:

      The WWII vet, Bob Whelan, whose quilt is shown, sent me a handwritten thank-you note after I gave him his quilt helping me understand that giving a quilt is a type of service. He is a treasure to know.
      I’m happy your Dad finally shared his stories. The written memories are what keep history alive and accurate.
      Thank you for telling us about ANZAC day. We have Memorial Day in the spring to remember those who gave their lives, Veteran’s Day in the fall to recognize those who have served, and Armed Forces Day to recognize those currently serving. I have veteran friends who wish the holidays still focused on military sacrifice, rather than an excuse for a party.

      • Norah says:

        I forgot to mention your gorgeous quilts made with love and meaning in my previous comment, so I’m pleased you’ve reminded me to do so. They would be such a treasure to the veterans and to their descendents in years to come. Your memory and love will also live on through them. What a legacy to leave.
        It is good that you have so many days to recognise your service men and women. We really have just ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day with others on 11 November. Both are treated quite solemnly and with respect here, though the service people do like the opportunity of catching up with each other too.

  5. tnkerr says:

    Vietnam. Submarines.
    Thanks for this post.

  6. I enjoyed your post for its ideas and for learning more about you!
    I will have to think more (not now, I’m late for work, which shouldn’t be so difficult, it’s just downstairs at a school issue computer) But I am thinking initially that maybe service and the tribe thing are separate though one is the soil for the other to sprout in.

    • susansleggs says:

      Thanks Dede.
      Indeed, my own siblings have no concept of the “tribe” connection and they often look at my nomadic military-related life as just a bunch of moving around (four states and 3 years in England in an eight-year time-frame.) That’s why I said sharing memories within the group feels safe because other veterans understand the emotions involved in what you are talking about.

  7. Excited for this new book! Looking forward to your next column – be sure to provide a link! 🙂

    • susansleggs says:

      Thank you, H. In the back of our book, we have included some writing prompts in hopes other veterans will use them to get their own groups started. We also plan to use profits to purchase copies of the book to donate to jails, especially ones that house veteran offenders in the same areas as our county jail does.

  8. Pastor Cathy says:


  9. Jules says:

    Our combine family has had and have military service members in both the Army and Navy. In WWII, peace time and abroad several times in current conflict and wars.

    I was beaming when there was a recognition dinner for our volunteer firefighters (last year- though the year requirement has changed (from once 25 years, to 15, then to ten) – three members of my family received Life Memberships (I’m in the back up service category). I also have compensated (paid) firefighter and police family members. One recently recovered from non-symptomatic case of Covid19.

    I understand the concept of belonging, I was in two choirs for a total of 17 years…(I had done quite a bit of volunteering as well). Now I’m involved with blogging – for over ten years I have built up relationships with other artist, poets and writers from the world over. I was lucky enough to meet up with some Carrot Ranchers and know I will always have a home and belong to Carrot Ranch. Thank you Susan for your many gifts and your service in many forms. 😀

    • susansleggs says:

      Thank you, Jules, and to your extended family. There is more to being a backup service member, whether it be the military, police, firefighters, or others, than some people realize. Our front-line people need a safe place to go home to.

      • Jules says:

        Thank you. Yes – the safe home place! And having to understand when there is no contact, that no news is good news.

  10. Ann Edall Robson says:

    Thank you, Susan, for serving your country with your continued involvement with the NY Veterans Writing Group. You are still an integral part of the home front support system. It makes me wonder if my Dad (WWII vet) would have joined such a group. Perhaps, it might have been a portal for him to bring some resolve to his life.

    I think of myself as a behind the scenes person helping and doing for those who serve. I am here day and night, for any reason, for my daughter and son-in-law, who are both police officers. I am the one who makes sure the flag, at the office where I work, gets lowered in honour of those who have lost their lives serving our country. My late husband and I supported our local veterans’ food bank, and I now do so in his memory.

    Your words touch the heart and soul as I am sure the pending anthology will too. And your beautiful quilts, what a lovely gift for the writers.

    Susan, you are an inspiration.

    • susansleggs says:

      Thank you, Anne.
      I again mention Bob Whelan. In our book, his stories focus on service and forgiveness. He writes about returning to Germany and Italy in 2017 to walk the same roads he walked during the war and how healing that was for him. The way he looks at life has taught me much, hence he is still serving as well.
      The service of a parent to a child is an ongoing, life-long commitment. They are lucky to have you and your quiet ways.
      I should admit, this essay is a condensed version of the beginning of my offering in our book.

      • Ann Edall Robson says:

        Please let us all know where the book is available when it comes out.

  11. susiecarm says:

    Well folks, leave it to me! Charli so graciously allowed the column authors entrance into the backdoor of Carrot Ranch and I managed to get there, but then returned to my own site, hence my responses to your wonderful encouraging comments don’t look like they are coming from the columnist. Maybe I should have had the lead Buckaroo lead me around the ring a couple of times before I jumped onto the horse. Thank goodness this is a safe place to learn. I’ll do better next time. And just so you aren’t more confused, Susan Sleggs is a pen name. Sue Carmichael Spitulnik is the legal name my husband says no one can pronounce or spell so don’t use it.

    • Charli Mills says:

      You are riding just fine, Sue! I think we can do some back barn door adjustments. I appreciate what you do to get veterans voicing their stories and your graciousness to acknowledge service to others in broader strokes. I feel that connects us more, emphasizing service to others which is at the heart of every veteran and yet understood by those who work to help make the lives of others better. Thank you!

      • susiecarm says:

        Thank you, Charli. Back barn door adjustments would be appreciated. There is probably a way to toggle from my site to Carrot Ranch but I haven’t learned it yet.
        My own understanding of the word service has been expanded by spending time with “my” vets. It’s always a pleasure to connect, learn from, and share with others.

  12. An interesting post, Susan. I have read bits and pieces about your ties with the military in the past and found them very informative. Thanks for the pictures, your quilts are beautiful and artistic, you have a great talent.

    • susiecarm says:

      Thank you, Robbie. I am fortunate to be able to stay active with both of my passions.

  13. susansleggs says:

    I’m adding a link to the story Bob Whelan added to his website after receiving the above-pictured quilt so you can all experience the great love this man shares with the world. Enjoy.

  14. Two of my uncles served in WW2, and a cousin was one of the “famous” flag raisers on Iwo Jima. Another uncle served in the Navy during the Korea era, and my father in the Marines. That service took him to Singapore where he met a young British servicewoman (my mother). Later two of my female cousins served in the USAF, and a male cousin, my brother, and myself served with the USMC. Several British cousins served in the Royal Navy, including one in the Falklands War. Since I departed from the armed forces, I have served as a church minister and an educator. Service comes in loads of flavours.

    • susiecarm says:

      Thank you to your service minded family. Military service does seem to happen generation to generation in some family groups, and yet others don’t have anyone involved. Seems there might be a social study someewhere in that information.

  15. Hi Sue, and how much I enjoyed your post. You did indeed serve! Your sacrifice is just as important as military wife and mother. What beautiful quilts and how wonderful to be part of such a like-minded and supportive writing group. I never saw myself as a “military wife” until I shared my story with Charli. Indeed, my memoir is all about my three years with my American G.I., a US Airman who got posted from California to a USAF base in Suffolk, England in 1978. His base was about 40 minutes from where I lived in my tiny village. We met by chance, got married and later, I found myself immersed in the VA world as a “surviving spouse”. Although our relationship was brief, meeting him and all that happened altered the course of my life forevermore. Everything I went on to do came back as a direct consequence of that moment we met. So anything to do with the VA, I prick up my ears! I have been looking forward to your column and eagerly await your next post 🙂

    • susiecarm says:

      Hi Sherri,
      Your note gave me goosebumps. My daughter was born at Lakenheath AFB in Dec. of ’74. We were living in Brandon, then lived a year in base housing in Feltwell and our final year in Thetford, returning to the states in “77. We went to market in Bury St. Edmonds and dancing in Norwich. I have wall plates of English thatched roof houses that I bought in a shop in Mildenhall, now put away for my daughter. My ancestry is Scott and English, but we did little sightseeing while in the UK which makes me sad today. My ex worked in base fuels while we were stationed there. One year difference and we might have known each other at that time. What town are you from? And, what a small world it is.

      • Oh Sue, I can’t believe it! Now it is my turn for goosbumps. I moved to Suffolk in 1969 as a girl and lived there until 1980 when I moved to the States. I lived in a village near Ipswich, my G.I. was posted at RAF Woodbridge, linked with RAF Bentwaters. He was flown to RAF Lakenheath when he was taken ill and from there to Walter Reed Medical Centre in Maryland, all part of our story. I went to school in Stowmarket and had a close friend from Bury St. Edmonds. In fact, I’m still in touch with some ‘old’ friends from those days, and showed my husband my old stomping ground a few years ago when a long ago college friend remarried in Bury. We used to go to Norwich all the time, and know well of Thetford and Mildenhall. I grew up used to American serviceman and their families in town, we had American friends back to my grandparents days from WWII. So I suppose it was a kind of fate that I would fall in love with one! Wow…you and your family would have been in Norfolk/Suffolk the same time I lived there…just think, we might have passed each other on the street and never known it! Wild!

  16. […] Carrot Ranch columnist and quilter Susan Sleggs! What ya got here, […]

  17. Thanks for sharing your often overlooked perspective on service. Continue the thankless work. God speed!

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