It is my pleasure to introduce you to my friend, composition and veterans studies colleague, veteran spouse and caregiver, Corrine Hinton. I had the pleasure of meeting Corrine at a conference on composition last year in Houston. We were able to reconnect this year in Portland where she met Memphis and Sam. Corrine has graciously agreed to an interview and I would love to share that with you all today.
- Tell us (the readers) about yourself.
I’m an Assistant Professor of English at Texas A&M University in Texarkana, the smallest of the A&M system campuses. I grew up an Air Force brat – both my parents retired after 20 years – so I’m not really “from” anywhere in particular. However, I spent the majority of my high school and college years in the St. Louis area, so that feels like home. I’ve lived in eight different places, including six different states and two overseas experiences in the United Kingdom and Germany. I have a younger sister who teaches second grade in Florida, a husband of 11 years, a stepson who is about to be 19, and a 3 year-old little boy. Oh, and two new English bulldog puppies. Just over a month ago, I was asked to represent the state of Texas as a 2017 Fellow for the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, an organization dedicated to raising awareness of the experiences of the nearly 5.5 million military veteran caregivers across the country.
- How did you meet your husband who is a Veteran?
He and I met completely by chance when I randomly blew out of town to go see my parents in Florida one weekend. I flew down from St. Louis to see them, and they wanted to head across to the Palm Beach area to see friends of theirs from their time in the Air Force. Their family had two boys, and my parents had two girls, so we spent some time “growing up” together while stationed in Germany. While we visited them on the ocean-side of Florida, their youngest son, James, came in from Texas to join us – so this whole trip became kind of a “family” reunion for us. Since he was on the east coast, James invited a Marine buddy of his down to visit. His buddy was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina at the time, and they hadn’t seen one another since they were stationed together in Texas. Well, turns out, that “buddy” was my future husband. We met that weekend in October of 2005 and had an instant connection. I flew to North Carolina to spend Thanksgiving with him; we were engaged over Valentine’s Day weekend and married in March of 2006 after just 5 months together. He deployed to Iraq about 45 days later.
- Tell us a little bit about your work in Veterans Studies.
When I started teaching first-year composition in 2007, during the second year of my master’s program, the student veterans in my classes stood out to me. As a military daughter and wife, I was especially keen to some of their experiences – and those of their families. This interest only increased over the next few years as I transitioned from my master’s degree to my doctoral program. So, I decided to pursue that interest for my dissertation. For a year, I gathered interviews from Marines who had left the Corps and gone to college and asked them about their experiences during this transition. I was especially interested in how teaching, learning, and writing were similar and different in the two environments. From my research, I discovered a small community of composition scholars who were also interested in veterans – folks like Sue Doe and Lisa Langstraat out at Colorado State as well as Alexis Hart and Roger Thompson who were then at Virginia Military Institute. I knew those were “my people” and my dissertation research only invited more questions for me to pursue, questions I’ve been trying to answer ever since. Since then, I’ve published an article and book chapter on my work, and I’m currently in the middle of a two-year study looking at how undergraduate student veterans use their military knowledge and experience in their college writing assignments beyond gateway courses like first-year composition. I want to know if their military experiences continue to impact them later in their degree programs, as they write in their disciplines or write in upper-division composition courses.
- What does it mean (to you) to be a Veteran caregiver?
Being a caregiver means supporting my husband in ways we never envisioned for ourselves ten years ago. I have the incredible responsibility and privilege of supporting someone who will carry the weight of his military service with him for the rest of his life – he just needs me to help share the load.
- Has your work in Veterans Studies helped you understand your husband’s time in the military and other Veterans?
What a great question! My husband and his Marine buddies were my prime inspiration for my dissertation work; their frustrations, confusion about how things “work” in higher education, triumphs – these were all sparks for me. As a teacher, I’m innately seeing the world through my experiences in the front of the room. Working in veterans studies, with other scholars who are recounting their experiences with veterans, and hearing from veterans themselves helps open my perspective to see, as much as I am able, through their eyes. Their stories need to be heard – the veterans who live their experiences every day. In our country, the media focuses on the most extreme representations of the “veteran” (good and ugly) because that’s what “sells.” Unfortunately, those stories also shape the opinions and perspectives of most of our American civilian public. They “understand” our veterans through the stories they see on TV, hear on the radio, or read in print and online. What about the stories they don’t hear? Who tells those? Who helps add perspective and nuance to how we (Americans at large) understand veterans and their experiences, both in the military and after it? I hope the answer is people like you, through this blog and your work, and others like me, and veterans themselves who dedicate so much of their lives to telling their stories.
- Do you have a favorite book or quote that has inspired you?
“Never let your fear decide your fate” – a lyric in the song, “Kill Your Heroes” by AWOLNATION.
The quote is particularly applicable for me because our family experienced a rough couple of years in 2011-2013: a devastating house fire, two major motorcycle accidents, two deaths in our family, my mother’s cancer diagnoses (two bouts of breast cancer in ten months)…shit got real there for a second, and fear can be debilitating. I couldn’t let it be that way for me.
- If you could give a little bit of advice to a spouse of a Veteran, or someone who is transitioning from the military to civilian life, what would it be?
Well, for spouses, I would say – the weight is on you. Wives, husbands, and partners of veterans who are transitioning need to know that, for the veteran, the transition can be a very unnerving, uncertain period marked by a variety of emotions: frustration, anger, excitement, anxiety, sadness, you name it. All of these are likely to increase the general stress in the home, and we spouses/partners have to be there to help diffuse that stress as much as possible. That usually involves a lot of listening, and listening just to hear our veterans (not necessarily to help “solve” problems), giving advice when asked, and reaffirming that you are there for him/her. And, of course, let’s not also forget that we (the spouses and partners) are also dealing with our own emotional responses to the transition; our own stress and anxiety often increase as we grapple with feelings of uncertainty, excitement, or fear of what comes next for our families after the military. For those families whose next steps might include navigating the VA system for disability screenings or medical care – sheesh! All of it is enough to drive even the most stable of families to the breaking point, so just remember: you’re in it together…you are not each other’s enemy – you’re partners. Solve things together.
Despite what I think I know about the veteran’s experience, I am not a veteran and cannot speak for veterans. I cannot possibly comprehend what the transition experience might be like, but I do know that while it is different for every veteran, there are some similarities. While some vets might feel alone or that their feelings after leaving the service are unique, there are others out there experiencing and feeling the exact same thing. That’s not to say that their feelings aren’t valid – they are 100% valid. Service members are accustomed to navigating problems as a unit, and when you separate, you’re often doing that alone. My advice – find some other transitioning veterans in your area, through local organizations or nonprofits. If you’re in a smaller or more rural community (like we are), then you may need to connect with others through Facebook or online support groups. Having a place to vent with a group of veterans who understand what you’re going through, feeling like someone out there is listening to you and might even give some quality advice can be instrumental in easing the stress that comes with leaving the military.
My heartfelt thanks to Corrine for sharing her story and that of her family with us. <3