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Archive for January, 2015

Making History by Guest Author SSG Sonia Buchanan

Sonia Buchanan conducting a clothing exchange program.  (From the collection of Sonia Buchanan).

SSG Sonia Buchanan conducting a clothing exchange program. (From the collection of Sonia Buchanan).

My decision to join the military came a little later in life than most. The military has always played a major role in my life. My father served in the Navy for 27 years. In fact, out of nine children, seven of us joined a branch of service or married someone who was in the military. I was thirty-six years old and found myself going through a divorce after 17 years of marriage. Little did I know, my life as a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother of two was about to be turned upside down.

In 2008, I was working part time at a martial arts school and knew a couple individuals who were in the Wisconsin Army National Guard. They knew of my situation and persuaded me to look at joining. I realized that being a newly single mother of two and having a degree in Fine Arts was not enough to support my family. Knowing the journey that lay ahead, I decided to join. In 2008, I went off to basic training. In 2009, I received an active duty position with the Wisconsin Army National Guard and from day one I knew I made the right decision.

I was presented with a rare opportunity in the beginning of 2011. The first time in history USASOC (United States Army Special Operations Command) was going to hold an AANDS (Assessment and Selection) for females for a new addition to the Special Operations community, CST (Cultural Support Team). A CST is a two female team that allows specially selected and trained females to serve alongside SOF (Special Operations Forces) in a unique operating environment. The primary task of a CST is to engage a host nation’s female and adolescent population in support of USASOF (United States Army, Special Operations Forces) missions where their interaction with male service members may be deemed culturally inappropriate. There were 178 females from around the country who went through assessment and selection, and fifty were chosen. Five of the females were from Wisconsin; four from the Wisconsin Army National Guard, and the other from the Army Reserves. It definitely was the most physically and mentally grueling experience in my life.

After selection, we spent two and a half months at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina attending SWCS (Special Warfare Center and School) for training in basic human behavior, Islamic and Afghan culture, women’s roles in Afghanistan, Dari and Pashtu language, hand-to-hand combat, warrior tasks and drills, weapons training and tribalism.

Once we arrived in Afghanistan we flew to our respective locations to embed with the SOF unit to which we were assigned. I had the pleasure to work with all three SOF units, MARSOF (Marine Special Operations Force), ODA (Operation Detachment Alpha, Green Berets) and SEAL (Sea, Air, Land US Navy SF). I was first assigned to a MARSOF unit and our main objective in Farah was to be the conduit between the local government and the women in the surrounding villages.

SSG Sonia Buchanan at a mobile medical clinic in a nearby village.  (From the collection of Sonia Buchanan).

SSG Sonia Buchanan at a mobile medical clinic in a nearby village. (From the collection of Sonia Buchanan).

Being one of the first females to serve alongside an all-male special ops unit was such an honor and a privilege. However, we knew going into the deployment that we may run into some resistance with some of the team guys and we were prepared. Our first obstacle we encountered was building rapport with the team guys.  We were team players and were willing to pitch in whenever possible to assist with the mission. We were not there to change the way the guys lived day-to-day. We were well aware this was their environment and we needed to gain their trust, which didn’t take long at all. The entire team knew that cohesion and trust with one another is the most important thing for a successful mission.  We were brothers in arms almost instantly. These men respected us from the beginning knowing what we went through in order to be selected. We experienced the same training the guys went through, just in a shorter timeframe. These guys went to school for two years.  We went for two months. Even though I didn’t get the same amount of training time as the guys, I felt competent in my abilities.

During the mission, we’d meet weekly with a group of elected women from the local area to assess their needs, identify resources, and organize a plan. We assisted them in developing programs to create revenue for their villages. One of the programs we developed with the women was a sewing program.  We requested sewing materials through the local government on a special grant.  We assisted the women with the grant proposal and its submission to the liaison for their Province. The grant provided 38 sewing machines, fabric, thread, and needles, which were utilized by women in rural villages. They made Afghan attire to sell at local bazaars for profit.  Since growing poppies was now illegal, the women were so happy to fill the day doing something to help provide for their family.

After a month we were moved to join a new team that just arrived in the Helmand province. We joined them in a little village in the Sagin district to assist them in a VSP (Village Stability Platform). This team of Green Berets was the definition of professional. From day one, we felt like a family. The environment was very austere; the comforts of home did not exist in this land. There was no running water, electricity, toilets, sofas or beds. It was two months before we felt the water from our first shower. Our main meal everyday was beans and rice. There was a stench in the air that permeated through everything we had; you could not escape it.  It appeared to me that this civilization had not progressed in over 1,000 years. I thought to myself this desolate place would be home for awhile but we are here for a reason and that brought me contentment.

Our daily tasks included foot marches throughout the villages, visiting medical clinics, either on site or a mobile clinic, searches and seizures, humanitarian assistance, facilitated civil-military operations, and combat missions and presence patrols. Our days varied so much and there was always something new going on. Most of the intelligence that we received was either from the women or from the adolescents. The children often came up to us and offered information. We had to remain vigilant and never let our guard down.

SSG Sonia Buchanan attending SWCS graduation with state leadership, General Anderson, CSM Stopper and LTC Gerety (now COL Gerety).  (From the collection of Sonia Buchanan).

SSG Sonia Buchanan attending SWCS graduation with state leadership, General Anderson, CSM Stopper and LTC Gerety (now COL Gerety). (From the collection of Sonia Buchanan).

This incredible experience made me realize that no matter what culture or background you come from, we are alike in many ways.  Women can relate to each other based on natural instincts. We are mothers and wives, daughters and sisters. We love to share and discuss things with our girlfriends.  During the deployment, we offered to build a well closer to the village so that the women didn’t have to walk 2 miles every day to retrieve water.  They begged us not to, because they explained that was the only time they had to talk with each other and gossip. The women would tell us often where their husbands were going, where they had been, and who they were conversing with. At the end of the day, women know what’s going on in the home and we can all relate to being the primary care-takers for the family.

It was really hard to be away from my family during the deployment. I didn’t make the decision hastily. I discussed this with my two children and the decision for me to go was made by all of us, as my kids are my first priority. One of the toughest things during my deployment was the little communication I had with them. A random call with a satellite phone was about it. It was a constant internal struggle for me not being there for them. You miss out on all the little things happening in their day-to-day life that cannot be conveyed through an email or phone conversation. When you have a bad day all you want is to hold your kids and be comforted, as well as be there to comfort them. My faith and praying daily gave me peace.

The best part of my experience was the feeling after the mission. I feel we made a real difference in the lives of the locals. We had the opportunity to build rapport with the families, help create a safer environment, and educate them in basic needs areas of health, welfare, and agriculture to create a more sustainable future for the Afghanis.

Interested in reading more stories like this?  “Making History” appears in the upcoming issue of The Buglethe Wisconsin Veterans Museum’s quarterly newsletter and an exclusive benefit of WVM membership. Learn more about becoming a member at http://bit.ly/1z31yc7

WWI Sheet Music by Laura Farley

When the United States entered WWI, sheet music was very popular on the home front and a new form of pop music Good Bye Alexandercalled “jazz” was beginning to emerge.  Families, neighbors, and friends would gather around pianos to sing their favorite tunes popularized by larger-than-life vocal stars. The Wisconsin Veterans Museum has many examples of WWI sheet music, each with elaborate colorful covers.

Give me a KissMuch of the sheet music of the time reflected patriotic themes like, “America He’s For You!” with the lyrics:

 “There’s a baby in the cradle

And as soon as he is able

America he’s for you!”

Other songs reflect anxieties families felt with their soldiers away at war, like “Send Back Dear Daddy to Me” featuring a young girl staring longingly at a photograph of her father in uniform.

WWI was a period of social change, increasingly couples began marrying solely for love and women gained some independence. These social shifts are reflected in titles like “If He Can Fight Like He Can Love Good Night, Germany!” with risqué lyrics:

“Fare thee well my lovin’ man

All the girls said “Ain’t he nice and tall,”

Mary answered “Yes, and that’s not all.”

“If he can fight like he can love,

Oh, what a solider boy he’ll be.”

au voirMany American soldiers traveled overseas for the first time and flares or   foreign culture showed up in American sheet music. Some songs featured lyrics in French like “When Yankee Doodle Learns to Parlez Vous François”, with cover art featuring an American soldier escorting two French Cancan dancers.

The sheet music of WWI offers a unique look at the consciousness of the United States as it went through social changes and began to emerge as a major world power.

Interested in viewing the Museum’s collection of sheet music? Schedule your  appointment today!

A Soldier’s Sacrifice by Emily Irwin

Lucius Fairchild, ca. 1862.

Lucius Fairchild, ca. 1862.

On January 1, 1866, Governor Lucius C. Fairchild delivered his inaugural address and emphasized the Civil War’s impact on Wisconsin. A million of men have returned from the war, been disbanded in our midst, and resumed their former occupations… The transition from the citizen to the soldier was not half so rapid, nor half so wonderful, as has been transition from the soldier to the citizen.

Lucius Fairchild's vest.

Lucius Fairchild’s vest.

The governor’s speech also recognized the Wisconsin men who never returned from the Civil War. By Fairchild’s count, 10,752 Wisconsin soldiers, “about one in every eight,” had died in service to the United States (the actual number is 12,301). Tens of thousands more experienced disease or suffered serious injury, including Governor Fairchild, who served in the Union Army. Fairchild enlisted in a Wisconsin volunteer militia in 1858 and moved quickly up the ranks after the Civil War began. He served with the 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment, part of the famed Iron Brigade, and saw action at several major battles including the Second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. Colonel Fairchild and the 2nd Wisconsin also fought at Gettysburg.

Fairchild

Lucius Fairchild, ca1863

On July 1, 1863, Gettysburg’s first day, Fairchild was shot in the upper left arm, a wound that required immediate medical attention. The attending surgeon removed Fairchild’s vest by cutting it at the left shoulder. The injured arm could not be saved and was amputated near the shoulder. This vest, now in the collections of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, tells the story of Lucius Fairchild’s sacrifice during the Civil War.

Fairchild left the military in 1863 and was appointed Secretary of State of Wisconsin before being elected governor, an office he held for three terms. He was also a charter member of the first local Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) post in Wisconsin and served as national commander of the GAR for one term. Governor Fairchild passed away in Madison, WI in 1896 at the age of 64.

This vest is currently on display as part of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum’s latest Civil War sesquicentennial exhibit, The Last Full Measure, on exhibit until April 19, 2015. Learn more at http://bit.ly/1Ad2df7

The Wisconsin Veterans Museum is an educational activity of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs.

Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs