Mashaw McGuinness: Paradox In My Bubble – March 25, 2011

Friday, March 25, 2011

I love living in an artsy-fartsy town like Arcata where juggling unicyclists and hitchhiking hula hoopers outnumber the traffic lights. I am blissed eating a locally made slug at Los Bagels, accompanied by Duane Flatmo’s artwork in the parking lot while dreadlocks go bouncing by the window. I never would have guessed that within this little utopian bubble I call home sits an office building down at the end of 10th Street where volunteers meet and confront the dirtiest secrets of our own military.

The unspeakable parts of military life are conveniently forgotten by recruiters when our bravest and brightest sit looking at the dotted line on the enlistment contract. Nevertheless, truths like rape, suicide, and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TMI) are real-life truths sometimes encountered by those serving who are just out of high school. Since the military rarely acknowledges these events victims are forced to find help where they can. Enter the G.I. Rights Hotline, a nationwide network of volunteers who counsel callers about their legal rights in the military.

The Arcata hotline team is made up of two veterans, a retired attorney, an HSU professor and one Conscientious Objector who each take their job very seriously, providing confidential information for free. They never advise but instead refer and share information that is completely legal and usually gets them the help they need. But that doesn’t make their task any easier. One afternoon a counselor arrived for his shift fresh from the Co-op where he was serenaded by an 18-year-old ukulele player, only to pick up a voicemail from the musician’s youthful counterpart who was raped on base by her own commander. Since the chain of command requires those type of complaints go through the woman’s commander, the counselor had to tell the caller that reporting it through the normal channels could put her at greater risk, possibly even get her death threats.

Death threats? Raped by her commander? I learned this shocking fact because the counselor who took that young woman’s call was my partner Carl. Volunteering at the hotline for more than 10 years, hearing these gut-wrenching tales has worn him down. The rape victim explained that she joined up to get money for college. While he relayed the story to me a picture flashed through my mind of my friend’s daughter, a dance major at HSU who supplemented her education by making tie-dye and selling it at festivals. She was sweet, open and engaging which helped her sales do really well. She would be about the same age as that rape victim. A disturbing paradox was starting to grow in my little bubble.

One example was the evening I met a Plazoid on my way home and chuckled at his nearly naked body. Wearing jeans riding half-staff and a joyous shit-eating grin as he approached, I prepared myself to deny his monetary request. Instead he asked if he could sing me a song which he promptly did, and it wasn’t half bad. I was still giggling over it when Carl’s long face stopped me in our front doorway. “We got another suicide call this afternoon” he said sadly. “A mother of a 19 year old who was being redeployed to Iraq a third time…just two weeks out of the psych ward, with nothing more for support than some anti-depressants”. The Plazoid was still fresh in my mind, with his silly grin and sillier song. Isn’t that how 19 is supposed to look? I tried to imagine him wiping the grin off and signing up for the Marines because he “needed direction” in his life.

That is a story I heard frequently from my young classmates at C.R. They were tired of the lack of opportunities here in utopia, and wanted to belong to something bigger. Easy enough to understand, after the bombardment of slick commercials at the Minor Theater, which urged young people to become “Army Strong.” One teenaged boy who sat next to me at C.R. confessed to the entire class that he had missed a week because he had been depressed and drinking a lot. His confession didn’t surprise me, because he seemed to be a loner and often shared revealing things about his violent upbringing. His inappropriate comments always created awkwardness in the class and I felt sorry for him. The young man had signed up for Delayed Enlistment and frequently expressed eagerness for August when he would leave to start boot camp. Hearing about the young suicidal fellow getting redeployed, I wondered what had become of my troubled classmate.

In just one Saturday I saw a man walking a goat on a leash, someone offering magic cookies for a dollar each and a woman with a typewriter selling spontaneously composed poems. This unique atmosphere makes it easy to forget that things like rape, P.T.S.D. and suicide are happening within our young population who trust their government.

You can come help support the work of the Arcata branch of the hotline this coming Friday, March 25 by swigging locally brewed beer and noshing on locally baked breads at the 22nd annual Beer and Bread fundraiser. From 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Building, this popular 21 and over event is a fun way to help those young people get the support they need. The Redwood Peace and Justice Center and our local chapter of Veterans For Peace puts on this shindig to help pay the rent and expenses for those hotline volunteers.

How many opportunities will you have this week to help an at-risk enlisted person who is ignored by our military, without having to leave our utopian bubble?

If you know someone who is enlisted or considering enlistment and has questions about their legal rights, send them to or tell them to call toll free (877) 447-4487. All calls are confidential.

Mashaw McGuinnis moved to Humboldt eight years ago where she simultaneously fell in love with a veteran and was bitten by a tick.  Since then, she struggles to balance her energy between organizing events for Veterans For Peace and healing from Lyme disease.


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