Nora Connor in Guernica

It has been more than a decade since the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, conflicts that have raised complex questions about women’s roles in combat, the effects of military life on women soldiers, and the ongoing struggles of veterans returning home from war. Filmmaker and freelance journalist Nora Connor, who is currently teaching a workshop at BCRW on building a journalistic career, writes about the complex relationship forged between herself as a journalist and one of the subjects of a documentary she produced about substance abuse among returning military veterans. In her account of the lasting connection she made with “Sophie,” a helicopter pilot-veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Connor writes,

After all the work and all the struggles, she was on, she was the one who knew what she was doing, she was the one others would and could rely on. She was making me feel… unwomanly. My own opinions about the specifics of the Iraq war were very far away. I asked something silly, like “What kind of gun is that?” It really got her started. She was a total gearhead.

I realized that this was the essence of what I liked about Sophie. Even though she spoke with passion about combat missions, machine guns, and helicopters—things I would never know with my own hands, much as I faithfully tried to keep pace and take notes—I recognized the love of a thing done well and to its fullest. I could not identify with her particular dreams, but I respected the commitment and the fury with which she pursued them.

The entire article, “Learning to Fly,” appears in a recent issue of Guernica: A Magazine of Art and Politics.

Elizabeth Castelli is the Chair of the Religion Department at Barnard, a member of the BCRW Advisory Board, and the former Acting Director of BCRW.

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