West Point Women Reflect On Marines’ Nude Photo Scandal


Laura Westley and Carol Barkalow are both West Point graduates and authors of memoires about their military experiences.
Bobbie O’Brien / WUSF Public Media

The recent scandal over Marines sharing nude photos of female Marines online hasn’t demoralized some women veterans. Two female West Point graduates from Florida refuse to let it overshadow recent gains women have made in the military. And they have some ideas on how to prevent similar incidents.

The United States Military Academy at West Point didn’t even accept women in their ranks until 1976. Carol Barkalow was in that first class. She graduated in 1980 and served 22 years in the Army.

Barkalow remembers how female cadets were hazed and harassed back then. But she said women have made progress since, even in light of the nude photos.

“There is some good news with this, even though what they did was horrible,” Barkalow said. “Now, we have the social media and the interest to try at last to get the military to understand that we are a vital part of this force. We are never going away and some very basic things have to change within our military.”

West Point has come a long way over the last 40 years, she said. It now has a female dean of students and female commandant.

“But what we have to have – we have to have women, general officers admirals in every rank in each of the services. So much so that, when you walk in a room, it’s not just one woman, it’s not just two women, it’s a number of women sitting at the table and have the ability to influence our future,” Barkalow said.

Barkalow, who lives in Pinellas County, is friends with 2001 West Point graduate Laura Westley, who grew up in New Port Richey. Continue reading

Army Mom Uses Websites, YouTube, Facebook to Learn

Graduation from the Armor Basic Officer Leader Course at Fort Benning. Dorie Griggs with her son Nelson and family. Photo by Stanley Leary.

I’m on the steep learning curve on how to become the mom of a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. After four years of being the mom of an Army ROTC cadet at The Citadel, I thought I was pretty aware of the real military process.

I was wrong.

Over the years I have learned how to navigate various military related web sites. In my previous professional positions, I honed my Internet research skills. Those research skills and my drive to learn are coming in handy now.

The past few months, I’ve heard from other mothers of soldiers that they too are learning a lot. We learn more from our own research than from what our sons or daughters tell us directly.

I found great support from other mothers in particular about the various processes. Our children are busy starting their new careers. Many of them are in training that requires them to turn in their cell phones and don’t allow for computer access. It is during these periods, when we can’t hear directly from our own sons or daughters, that we as parents and spouses reach out to each other.

Armor school Basic Officer Leader Course graduating class. Photo by Stanley Leary.

The Army’s Family Readiness Groups (FRG) appears to be most helpful to spouses of military members. So far, I’ve not found them to be particularly helpful to family who do not live near the base. My son is scheduled to be deployed in the fall. I wonder if the FRG will be more helpful at that time.

I’ve found the base websites to be very helpful with back ground information.  During Armor BOLC both the website and the Facebook groups posted updates. The same was true when I researched Ranger School, Reconnaissance Surveillance Leader Course (RSLC), and Airborne School.

I found I could get lost in research on these sites. I also found answers to many of my questions on the various Facebook groups. To find more information on the particular training your soldier is going through, I have had  great success using the search window on the main base website. I used the search window to find the links to the various training pages and Facebook groups listed above.

Airborne soldiers during an exercise. Photo by Stanley Leary.

To find the Facebook group for my sons battalion and regiment, I put 3-69 Facebook in the search window on the main Fort Stewart website.

At Fort Stewart, they have an extensive website and also a variety of Facebook groups. Fort Benning does as well. Through these sites I’ve come to “meet” other parents and staffers who were more than willing to answer my questions.

If you want to find the group for your soldier, enter the base name in the Facebook search window. Once you find a site, you can also check the “Likes” section on the right side of the page to see what other related groups are listed.

YouTube is another source of information that I believe is under utilized by parents. I also know that sometimes you can have too much information. The videos in particular may not be very comforting if you are worried about the training your loved one is going through.

If you’d like find videos about the training or unit your soldier is in just enter the name in the search window of YouTube. I try to watch the videos posted by an official source like this one about the U.S. Army Basic Training.

Airborne graduation. Photo by Stanley Leary.

While my son was in college, he was involved in learning Modern Army Combatives. I found some training videos that helped me understand that discipline. One website gave me the background and another link showed a series of training videos. Now that he is active duty, the other videos I’ve found about the Rangers training, and the U.S. Army Special Forces are ones you need to be ready to watch. I wouldn’t recommend them to someone struggling to come to terms with this extremely challenging career choice.

The greatest gift I have received is the many new friendships, most virtual, that I have formed. Our children are on a path most of us haven’t traveled. The parents with military background help those of us without that experience.

The training we go through as family members isn’t physically grueling, but it is tough emotionally. We have peaks and valleys. The best you can hope for is that the peaks out weigh the valleys. Reaching out to others who understand this dynamic may not literally save your life, but the military family community can ease the stress.

An Army Mom Learns about the Cavalry, “Ironman” Award

Before Graduation in front of the Maneuver Center of Excellence building. L-R: Taylor Lalli, Chelle Leary, 2LT Nelson Lalli, Dorie Griggs, Stanley Leary. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Last Thursday, I entered a base of the U.S. Army for the first time as a military parent. We spent the day at Ft. Benning in Columbus, Georgia.  Our second lieutenant graduated from his Armor Basic Officer Leader Course (ABOLC).

As we approached the entrance of Ft. Benning, the signs pointed visitors to a gate on the left. The guard at the gate asked for the drivers licenses for everyone over 18 in the car. Our 20-year-old son had left his wallet at home. The guard informed us, he is a former drill sergeant and asked our son if he is in the Army. Taylor answered “No sir.” After he  told our son never to leave the house without ID, he let us through. Taylor breathed a little easier as we left the entrance gate.

Second Lieutenant Nelson Lalli receives the “Ironman Physical Fitness Award” from Georgia Governor Nathan Deal. Photo by Stanley Leary.

To get to the new Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCoE) building, we drove a few miles passing lots of construction. Ft. Benning is going through a  huge expansion since the Armor branch was moved there from Ft. Knox as part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC). I knew the base was big, but driving along I realized just how big the base really is. My son told me it is bigger than the state of Rhode Island where his paternal grandmother lives.

We passed a golf course, a school, housing units and a gas station. Our daughter who had never been on a military base was surprised to see it is like it’s own city. We approached the new Maneuver Center of Excellence building and could see training towers in the distance. I was told to look for a “massive tank” by a Staff Sergeant who sent me directions. The tank was right in front of the new building. We saw plenty of second lieutenants in their dress uniforms, complete with Stetson covers, arriving in the parking lot.

2011 graduates of The Citadel, 2LT’s Nelson Lalli and Evan Minshew have some fun after the graduation. Minshew is holding Lalli’s “Ironman” award. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Our officer was waiting for us in front of the building with his father and step-mother who had arrived a little earlier. Wow! Did he look handsome in his new uniform. Of course we all started snapping photos, much to Nelson’s dismay. We told him he just had to deal with it today.

The Facebook group for the 2-16  Cavalry “Saber Squadron”//Armor Basic Officer Leader Course posted a press release the day before graduation stating that Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia would speak at graduation. This is the first ABOLC graduating class at Fort Benning, so the local press also turned out in force to cover the ceremony.

We took our seats in the auditorium.  Nelson told my husband, photographer Stanley Leary, he could move forward to take photos when he walked across the stage. Nelson was given the “Ironman Physical Fitness Award” for having the highest physical fitness score in Lightening Troop

As we waited for the graduation to start, I had fun watching the various family members, officers and staff file in. It struck me how many of these young officers were married with very small children.

Chelle and Dorie present the recent ABOLC graduate with his “Iron Man’ gifts. Photo by Stanley Leary.

It was a very nice ceremony.  Governor Deal gave a nice speech and the presentation of awards began. It was such a thrill to see our second lieutenant walk across the stage to shake the hands of the Governor, the Commander and other officers. When the ceremony ended we had to all take turns getting our photo taken with the award winning officer, much to his chagrin. He did clown around a bit with one of his fellow graduates of The Citadel and ABOLC grad, Evan Minshew. You can see the pride on all the faces in those photos.

Before we went in to the restaurant for a late lunch, Chelle and I presented Nelson with our graduation gift, a comic book, “Iron Man Is Born” and the two Iron Man DVD’s. I knew he appreciated the humor.

Our second lieutenant gave up his spot in Ranger School.  He is now waiting to hear where he will go next. As for me, I’m reading up on the history of the Armor branch, and learning why they wear Stetsons and the traditions around who wears the gold or silver spurs. I’ve also read up on Garryowen and learned why we stood up and clapped to the song as it was played at the end of the ceremony.

A Seminary Student, Now an Army Mom Reflects on 9/11

The new second lieutenants, family and friends. L-R: Phil Warner, 2LT Brian Papke, 2LT Nelson Lalli, SFC Keith Polidoro, Dorie Griggs, Chelle Leary. photo by Stanley Leary.

10 years ago on September 11, 2001 I was supposed to be serving on jury duty.  As a full-time seminary student my service that day was differed and I attended class instead.  It was a World Missions class.  After class ended I headed to the chapel like many of my fellow students did every morning for the daily chapel service.

When I arrived outside the chapel, I saw a group gathering.  It isn’t unusual to see something different outside the chapel.  I just assumed we were going to process in together.  As I got closer I realized this gathering focused their attention on a TV screen. The first tower of the World Trade Center had been hit. My fellow seminarians stood around in shock, a scene that was repeated in various forms around the world that day.

Today, 10 years later, about 11 of my oldest sons classmates report to Ranger School at Ft. Benning.  They have completed their training in Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course. These young men were in Middle School on September 11, 2001. I imagine some decided that day ten years ago that they would serve their country.

In four weeks my oldest son will graduate from Armor Basic Officer Leader Course then three weeks later report to Ranger School.

10 years ago while standing in front of that television set on the campus of Columbia Theological Seminary, I couldn’t have imagined how the following ten years would unfold.  I was about to start a year-long unit of Clinical Pastoral Education.  My focus was on developing a model of chaplaincy to journalists who cover traumatic events.

I knew through my journalist friends that they, like other first responders, saw and experienced trauma up close.  I also knew then, as I do now, unlike firefighters, police EMS and other first responders journalists do not get the same training or support the others have.  My call to be a supportive presence to journalists who risk their safety to keep us informed was formed leading up to and including the 2001 – 2002 school year.

Dorie Griggs with Dart Center Ochberg Fellows, Mike Walter, John McCusker, Moni Basu at the screening of Mike Walter’s documentary, “Breaking News, Breaking Down.” photo by Stanley Leary.

Since 2001, I have had the opportunity to meet and be mentored by some of the leading researchers in the area of traumatic stress studies. The Rosalyn Carter Mental Health Journalism Program have afforded me tremendous opportunities to meet and learn from scholars and researchers in the area of traumatic stress. The leadership of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma has taught me a great deal about the trials journalists go through.  I’ve had the privilege to also learn from and listen to the struggles of journalists who have covered some of the world’s worst disasters, both natural and man-made.

A few of these journalists were there at the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon the morning of 9/11/01. Photojournalist David Handschuh was at the foot of the WTC when it began to collapse.  He was seriously injured that day.  Mike Walter was on his way to the DC TV station, where he served as an anchor, when a plane hit the Pentagon. Both journalists are fellows with the Dart Center and members of the Dart Society.  I am grateful to them for sharing their personal stories.

I am still on the journey to be a supportive presence to journalists. My call has expanded to also teach civilians about traumatic stress and how to be supportive to our returning veterans. I now serve on the board of directors for the nonprofit, Care For The Troops.

10 years ago standing in front of that TV on the seminary campus I could not have predicted the wide variety of journalists I would come to know both in the US and abroad.  I could not imagine that my then 12-year-old son and his friends from The Citadel would be second lieutenants training with the U.S Army Rangers, or that I’d even know what that training entails.

I am grateful to the many people who have seen the importance of this call to be a supportive presence to journalists and also to the members of the military and veterans.

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