Kristen Tsetsi – a woman with a BIG idea
I was very honored to have Kristen Tsetsi join me the other morning, by chat on gmail. The wonders of social media! Kristen is the person behind the new Like It For TIME – LIFT – campaign designed to inundate TIME Magazine with letters asking them to declare The Military Family as their 2011 Person of the Year .
LAW: [t]hank you for the great idea! I remember seeing the TIME person of the year [declared to be The US Military] when my son and husband were deployed and thinking, this is a great way to get them the attention they deserve.
KT: It is. And I think what’s important to clarify about this – especially to military families who don’t necessarily want attention – is that it’s not an attempt to award/reward/honor/praise the military family, but to recognize their role, their contribution, and the unique and complex challenges they experience that are largely unknown by the public.
LAW: When you decided that this was a good way to call attention to milfams – what galvanized you to do this? Was it the stereotypes you were seeing, or the Army Wives show view?
KT: It was, quite honestly, a very spontaneous decision when it happened. That is, the moment I decided to do this was a reaction to watching the Dec. 15 announcement that Mark Zuckerberg was their Person of the Year. I wasn’t angry with their choice, but I did – within about five seconds – make the decision that 1. It should be the military family, and 2. I was going to start a Facebook page about it. That said, however…there is something about the show “Army Wives” that has frustrated me for the last five years, and that’s that they have an incredible opportunity to introduce the other 99% of the population to this side of the war story in a real and meaningful way, and while the show does say, “Hi. Military families exist,” and while – now and then – there will be a story line that explores deployments and moving and other elements of the lifestyle…
LAW: I know. they start a great story line and then… poof. all ends well…
KT: Yes! I remember when Joan was hit by an IED – I told my husband, “Within two episodes she’ll be fully healed.” I was annoyed that she didn’t suffer permanent physical damage – and then go on, anyway, and deal with it with her husband.
LAW: For those of us in the military family life, we also want people to understand WHAT our lives mean. Are you hoping that the TIME campaign itself will get the attention of the public and make them understand a little more?
KT: Yes – that’s absolutely what I want. One of the things I learned when researching TIME’s person of the year is that the magazine’s editors said the Person of the Year gives the public an opportunity to see something in a new way. The military family is seen in (largely) such a one-dimensional way that they’re difficult to “see,” and therefore take seriously, understand, and empathize with.
LAW: as in we are either the longsuffering stepford wife, or the slattern?
KT: Yes. I don’t think the civilian population is the one making the “slattern” judgment, though. I think a lot of that is on the military community. I’ve never heard of anyone in the civilian population casting that kind of judgment on military spouses – they’re the ones who tend to think they’re saints. It’s the spouses who see the affairs that do occur who, I think, get most angry about it.
LAW: One of my pet peeves as a milspouse is the “oh you poor thing” attitude. Do you want the public to EMpathize, not SYMpathize?
KT: Yes – empathize. Not sympathize. You can’t understand a war’s effect on a nation if you aren’t as intimate as possible with the players. The families are key players.
LAW: As in the soldier is also part of a family and not JUST GI JOE? when it comes to counseling and healing and even resiliency [training], should we be including the families?
KT: My husband said one of the best things that could result from this – if it works – is that more thought would be put into whether we go to war. And, by extension, I think, people who sit in their living rooms talking about war – saying “we should!” or “we shouldn’t!” when they’ll never go, themselves – will see those who go, and those who are left, as people. YES – not just GI Joe and Yellow Ribbons. My other hope is that – if this works – it will make easier the tireless efforts of military family advocate Kristina Kaufmann, (Read her article “Army Families Under Fire” here: http://www.military.com/opinion/0,15202,190851,00.html) The more attention a part of our culture is receiving from the general media and our population as a whole, the more consideration those in decision-making positions give that part of our culture because the people are watching, and the people are caring.
Absolutely, families should be included. I knew a woman in Alabama when my husband and I were at Fort Rucker who said she was absolutely fine during her husband’s deployment. Not a bad day. But as soon as he got back, she broke down – severely. (Not a nervous breakdown, but close. Severe depression. Anxiety.) It had all caught up with her. I also saw a therapist for the first time in my life after my husband came back from Iraq. He’d already been back for a couple of months when I started going.
LAW: it’s easy to build the wall to hold yourself up when you NEED it during deployment. It’s when it comes down that we tend to show the cracks
LAW: do you also find that the only time the civilian world realizes what is going on, is during deployment or right after (the homecomings etc.)
KT: I do, but I can’t blame them. The networks only cover wars when the news is sensational – or, conversely, at least worth mentioning. That is, one day they’ll spend two minutes on a touching homecoming, and the following week they’ll mention as part of their list of stories, “Two soldiers were killed in Afghanistan today.” Immediately following that, they’ll launch into a full feature story on Lindsay Lohan’s court outfit.
KT: First story – sensational (tear-jerker). Second story – “We have to mention the deaths, but no one’s really talking about this, anymore, so let’s get it out of the way and get to the stuff people REALLY want to know about. Was Lohan wearing blah blah designer or blah blah other designer?”
LAW: What is your opinion of the new show that Lifetime has decided to start – the “surprise” homecomings?
KT:I’ve heard about it, but I haven’t seen the previews. Without knowing more about it, it’s hard to form an opinion, but I will say that if it’s just a series of homecomings, it’s an irresponsible idea. All that money being spent to cover returns that look “happy” to viewers but that are so layered with various emotional and psychological factors they can’t begin to comprehend… On the other hand, what’s likely (again, I have no idea) is that they’ll do a little feature on the families who are waiting for the return. Maybe they’ll let viewers get to know the spouse, the kids, get some background about their deployment experience, and then bring us along to the homecoming. That would, at least, introduce viewers to something having to do with the events leading up to the homecoming and why it’s so … what’s the word for a homecoming? Happy? More than that.
LAW: I hope they give a little of the backstory – but what also makes me anxious, is the attitude of “it’s over, they ride off into the sunset” and all is peachy keen.
KT: Several of the women interviewed for the LIFT website’s Yellow Ribbon Interviews have spoken about the issues they face after a homecoming. Trying to get the kids used to the parent being home, trying to get the marriage back on track, trying to find a new routine…
LAW: taking down that wall, just a little because we are all looking at another deployment!
We can’t let it down completely, because if we do, it takes too much effort and strength to build it back up from the ground up
KT: I have no wall left. My husband’s been home since 2004, but he’s supposed to deploy again. So, it’ll be interesting. That’s a good point, though – how do you maintain a normal relationship when you’re in a state of perpetual self-protection?
KT: One of the things that’s been interesting about this campaign is that – more than once – it’s been suggested that promoting the military family as Person of the Year promotes war.
LAW: oh good grief! we are the stability left behind.
KT: When my husband was gone, I had a lot of friends who were not just liberal – I consider myself liberal – but who were FAR FAR left wing, and I was shocked that I actually had to explain that supporting the troops is not synonymous with supporting war. And that someone might not understand the experiences of a military family have nothing to do with how wars start or how long they last is confusing to me, too. Wars are started by a country’s leaders. They’re the only ones with that power. A military is necessary, and the volunteer forces we have now have been doing their military duty for a decade. As a result, so have their families. The spouses “choose” the lifestyle, but really, they don’t. They choose the spouse. They love who they love, and they do without the person they love for a year at a time over and over again, and sometimes – suddenly – forever. The kids don’t choose, but they go without. The parents don’t choose, and they’re often left caring full-time for their grandchildren when their children deploy.
LAW: the “you knew what you were getting into” line . Your interpretation of Military Family – is that including the parents of the soldier?
LAW: do you find that this group is often forgotten, by the public and military itself
KT: It also includes the significant other who may not be married to the soldier. (I wasn’t married to my husband when he deployed, but I loved him, anyway. 🙂 ) I do think parents are forgotten… As spouses, I think we tend to see them as nuisances (no! you can’t be there at the homecoming!), and as a general population, I think we do focus more on the “romantic” nature of deployments, and what’s romantic is what you see in movies – which is love put on hold. But parents surely have a gut-wrenching time waiting for their kids to come home from a war zone, and I think people take for granted that “they can take it.”
LAW: So what’s the next step in the project? after the letters
KT: That’s a good question. I haven’t figured that out. What’s scary about this is that I’m, in a sense, relying on the letters to make an impact. If they do, I expect there to be a ball-rolling effect. I know I should have a plan in place in case it doesn’t work, but I guess I have to admit I’m putting a lot of faith in the people – military families, military supporters – to have a voice in this. It’s such an easy and fun way to participate, and I’m hoping that appeals to them. I’m sure I’ll think of something, though.
LAW: If we can help, call on us!
KT: Oh, I will. I’m annoyingly not shy about asking for help with this. I appreciate the help you’re providing by doing this interview. Thank you. The next thing I’ll ask you to do (on the spot, now) is post the letter to TIME on your website next week so people can print it out and mail it. HERE IT IS. This isn’t the only place it will be – we’ll be linking everywhere we can.
LAW: Oh, that’s the first thing we’ll be doing. Are you hoping that this will be picked up in the other media?
KT: That’s exactly what I’m hoping. The media is essential. Oh! there’s also a FANTASTIC interview posting at the LIFT site on Thursday.
LAW: we’ll link to it as soon as we see it
KT: I don’t want to tell you what it is, and I don’t know why, but it’ll be good
LAW: We’ll look forward to it! Getting the civilian friends involved on FB was a great idea.
KT: Thank you. I know many civilians support military/families, and it’s important that they be a part of this.
LAW: absolutely crucial! we’ll be looking forward to the letter, and then keeping it rolling..
KT: yes. keeping it rolling. TIME starts looking at PoY in September, so this has to maintain momentum – which means word of mouth has to continue to spread. The best thing anyone can to is share links/interviews/fb posts with friends, and ENTHUSIASTICALLY.
LAW: we will! thanks for your time this morning
KT: [quick link] http://www.life.com/timeline/24001/like-it-for-time?xid=embedtimeline24001#index/0 That pictorial timeline of military families between 1917 and now was created by Army Wife Network’s Starlett Henderson. It’s phenomenal. This effort isn’t just for today’s military family – it’s for military families of the past and future.
LAW: That’s perfect! involves our parents, grandparents… and my granddaughter who might be watching her “grandpa Chief” go downrange
KT: Yes yes. 🙂