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November 11, 2009

Those Who Serve

Very fair was her face, and her long hair was like a river of gold. Slender and tall she was in her white robe girt with silver; but strong she seemed and stern as steel, a daughter of kings.

- description of Eowyn, JRR Tolkein

I've spent a lot of time gazing at her photograph; trying to see beneath the thin veneer we present to the outside world: a one dimensional carapace that only hints at the private self known to those we cherish and trust. I see strength in that face mingled with great compassion. Fragility and steel. I see both the stern warrior and the ministering angel. And it is perhaps fitting that on this day of all days, I was finally able to write about her life and works.

LtColWarman1.jpg It is easy to romanticize someone you have never met, but Juanita Warman's life requires no window dressing. The bare outlines to be found in newspaper accounts stand on their own with no need for embellishment. Her death reverberated not only here in the United States, but halfway around the world where the people she touched united in solemn silence to honor her memory:

The American and German flags are flying at half staff at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany in honor of the 12 Soldiers and one civilian killed at Ft. Hood last week.

Among those killed was a former Landstuhl staff member, Lt. Col. Juanita Warman, 55 of Pittsburgh.

Lt. Col. Warman served a year at Landstuhl as a certified psychiatric nurse practitioner, where she regularly volunteered for round-trip flights between downrange and Germany, as well as between Germany and the US in order to care for her patients during transition. An expert in post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, Lt. Col. Warman's military career spanned 25 years in active duty and Army reserves. In 2006, she was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for her meritorious service at Landstuhl.

...On Oct. 29, Lt. Col. Warman made her final Facebook posting:

"I am so excited to be leaving the country again soon. Just now got a few minutes. So much to do, so many lives to touch. Just wish it didn't take me away from home so much."

That last sentence ought to be on a billboard somewhere to remind us of the person behind every crisply starched and creased uniform. It seems odd, in some ways, to be writing about a female warrior. It seems, at first, a contradiction in terms. But though we try to paper over the very real differences between men and women, our denials have little effect on the underlying reality. Men and women call on disparate strengths when they take on a life of military service. I can't help but think that's a good thing, for just as a marriage blends the talents and perspectives of men and women, so the presence of women in the armed forces brings new skills to the field of battle: a mother's love and healing grace; a wife's feminine intuition, a grandmother's wisdom and time tested endurance. And nowhere were these qualities more desperately needed than in Juanita's chosen profession:

Warman specialized in treating post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, a statement released by her family said.

A native of Pittsburgh and the eldest of seven children, Warman attended nursing school at Ohio Valley General Hospital and later earned a master's of science in nursing from the University of Pittsburgh, Harper said.

She spent more than 20 years in the military in active duty and in the Army Reserves in the United States and Europe. She received the Army Commendation Medal in 2006 for meritorious service as a psychiatric nurse deployed to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

She and her husband, Philip Warman, a lawyer, lived in the Pittsburgh area until 2005. They moved that year to Havre de Grace so she could take a job with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Harper described a big sister with an unshakable can-do attitude, no matter if the challenge was her next deployment or keeping her house looking good enough for a House Beautiful photo shoot. She would pair Army fatigues with lipstick, Harper, a hair stylist, recalled approvingly.

"She was a woman to look up to because of what she's done with her life," Harper said. "We all, as younger siblings, admired her because she just kept pressing forward. The woman never complained about anything. ... She always had a smile and if there was anything stressful, she just worked through it."

Of all the wounds inflicted by war, the mental ones are the most poorly understood. How do we separate the influence of innate personality from that imposed by life changing experiences? How do we heal wounds we cannot even see; ones that require us to delve into the murky waters of the soul? How can we listen and empathize without losing ourselves in the pain of a fellow human being? To face such trials, both steel and velvet are required.

But there's another aspect of her life that is worth reflecting upon, for just as her military career drew from Juanita strengths she may not even have known she possessed, so the demands of military life drew from her husband Philip qualities we seldom consider. We hear a lot about those who stand and wait. Mostly when this phrase is uttered, we imagine a wife and mother supporting her military husband. We don't think as much about the strength and devotion it must take for a man to set aside his natural urge to protect and shelter his wife. We don't think about the courage it takes, even in today's society, for a man to love a woman who is strong and determined and has an identity in her own right; for him not to take her success as an implicit challenge to his masculinity: to summon up another side of his nature. The one as capable of gentleness and understanding as it is of strength and competitiveness.

We don't think about the thousand ways in which forces older than time push us in a direction contrary to the dictates of patriotism, of rationality, or of societal expectations. It is hard for women to support their military men when they go off to war. I think in many ways it is even harder for men to take what (from the military's point of view, at least) is a subordinate and supporting role: that of the "dependent spouse". And I think the fact that so many American men and women are reaching down into the deepest recesses of their beings and finding the strength to carry on magnificently is an enduring testament to the greatness of the human spirit; to our ability to adapt and overcome.

LtColWarman2.jpg On Veteran's Day, though it is a day set aside to honor all those who wear the uniform and not just those taken from us, I think it is appropriate to think about the life of this officer, soldier, healer, lover, mother, grandmother, daughter and sister. Looking beyond the uniform for a moment reminds us of all that continues to be right about America:

... what's striking to me this Veterans Day is how healthy the military is, given all the weight it has been carrying for the country these past eight years.

Facing a new and disorienting kind of warfare, the military has learned and adapted. Rather than complain about their problems, soldiers have figured out ways to solve them.

In truth, the U.S. military may be the most resilient part of American society right now. The soldiers are clearly in better shape than the political class that sent them to war and the economic leadership that has mismanaged the economy. (I'd give the same high marks to young civilians who are serving and sacrificing in hard places -- the Peace Corps and medical volunteers I've met abroad and the teachers in tough inner-city schools.)

Through all its difficulties, the military has kept its stride. That sense of balance comes partly from the fact that soldiers are anchored to the American bedrock. This includes the stereotypical small towns in the South and Midwest that have military service in their DNA. But it also counts plenty of hardworking, upwardly mobile Hispanic and African American families in urban America that produce some of the best soldiers I know.

America's armed forces are a rough and colorful patchwork composed of urban sophisticates and down home country boys and girls, cynics and romantics. Perhaps nowhere in America do men and women, blacks, whites, hispanics, Jews, gentiles, native born Americans and those with the ink still wet on their citizenship papers so successfully live, work, and bond together. This is, I think, the result of a resounding call to be part of something greater than ourselves. Though it took her away from those she loved so deeply, Juanita Warman heard and responded to that distant trumpet. She stepped up. When her country called, she was right there where America needed her to be.

And so, behind the scenes, was her family. We the protected owe America's military and their loved ones a great debt. On this Veteran's Day, it is my hope that stopping to reflect on Juanita's life will remind us how very lucky we are; of the values that unite us instead of those that divide us; of the very best that we can be when we put our shoulders to mastering great challenges and overcoming daunting odds.

There is great good in America still, and it is embodied by the men and women of our armed forces. And it is embodied by their wives, husbands, parents and children; by the brothers and sisters who lovingly wait for their return. On this Veterans Day it is my prayer that this healer's spirit will continue to console and guide those who are missing her so very much today.

When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary;
When troubles come and my heart burdened be;
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence,
Until you come and sit awhile with me.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up...
To more than I can be.

Posted by Cassandra at November 11, 2009 10:30 AM

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RIP, Lt. Col. Warman.

That was beautiful, Cass.

Posted by: Carrie at November 11, 2009 11:20 AM

Philip, I hope you know how many of us here at VC are thinking of you today. Carrie's and my inboxes are filled with the love and concern of those who would not hesitate to help in any way we can.

Thank you for sharing Juanita with us. I hope that in time, the memories of your life together will bring you joy and comfort to drive back the loss you are feeling right now.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 11, 2009 12:28 PM

I knew you'd find the right words. A beautiful post about an incredible woman and her family.

Philip, you are indeed in the thoughts and hearts of many here. May you find peace in your storm.

Posted by: DL Sly at November 11, 2009 01:22 PM

Beautiful tribute to an inspirational woman. Thank you for telling her story so well.

Posted by: retriever at November 11, 2009 02:36 PM

Cass, thank you for sharing. I am particularly touched by her last FB post - what clarity. My prayers are with you, Philip.

Posted by: Kate at November 11, 2009 04:24 PM

I live in Havre de Grace and was friend with Juanita....this is by far the very best article written about my friend. I will be sharing it with everyone. Thank you so much!

Posted by: Paula at November 12, 2009 09:41 AM

I'm sorry for your loss, Paula.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 12, 2009 11:13 AM


When I found out it was you I was stunned. I now you from when we went to germany and I know that you would take care of everyone else before your own needs. I'm so sorry this happened. I know you are in a great place. God Bless you. You were a light for so Many and I will really miss you.

Posted by: Eric Colon at November 13, 2009 06:40 PM

One of the most beautiful women I have ever had the pleasure in knowing. She touched my life in a way that she will never know. I will miss her and her smile. I will miss seeing her dance and laugh. I still cannot believe that this has happened...this isn't the way it was supposed to be for her. Juanita you will be incredibly missed r.i.p.

Wendy Dill

Posted by: wendy Dill at November 14, 2009 08:28 PM

When I found this beautiful tribute today, I was really touched. Juanita was my sister-in-law. Thanks for taking the time to write this. God bless my brother Phil, and give him strength.

Posted by: Etta at November 16, 2009 09:05 PM

I'm so glad it was OK.

I worry a lot when writing this kind of thing about inadvertently offending someone. May God bless all of you, and bring you comfort. Please accept my deepest condolences.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 16, 2009 09:39 PM

She was an extraordinary woman, one who I was privileged to know. I have though of her often these last few days, even as I mourn the very recent passing of my own father, who served in WWII.

Posted by: Tom Fitzpatrick at November 4, 2010 01:41 PM