September 15, 2011 | by Terri Schlichenmeyer
Sassy and sad in Iraq
The Last Deployment

‘The Last Deployment’ By Bronson Lemer University of Wisconsin Press $24.95/223 pages. (Cover courtesy University of Wisconsin Press)

They’ve become as familiar to you as your own living room: auditoriums filled with uniformed, spine-straight soldiers on their way to deployment, or smiling men and women, arms full of family, on their way home.

And no matter what auditorium they’re in, no matter which small town or big city, you can bet that the first group is wondering what the second group has seen.

They may never know, though, because much is buried and more is classified. But military secrets aren’t the only ones kept in times of war. In the new book “The Last Deployment” by Bronson Lemer, you’ll learn one of them.

Bronson Lemer was “probably the last person anyone expected to join the military.” But, as the oldest of six children, he wanted to get away from North Dakota and “the army … happened to be at the right place at the right time.”

Lemer was still in high school when he joined the National Guard.

Five years later, on Jan. 20, 2003, his cell phone rang. Though he was months away from getting out of his Guard obligation and was “tired of it,” Lemer learned that he was being deployed. His “horrible decision” to join the National Guard was turning into something he never thought he’d have to worry about: Lemer was a gay soldier serving under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

But in going to Iraq, he knew he had to learn to rely on his fellow soldiers, and vice versa. So he tried to relax as he traveled with them to Colorado and, later that spring, to Kosovo, then to Iraq. Lemer went along with the jokes, the girlfriend talk, and the “adolescent” behavior. He participated in anything that banished the boredom of guard duty, building, cleaning duty and outhouse duty. He e-mailed a former love, and longed for home.

As a few months’ tour of duty stretched into a year, Lemer began to notice something: deployment was taking its toll on everybody. The men and women who left the States were not the same people who came home from Iraq.

And neither was Lemer.

Over the past decade, you’ve undoubtedly seen lots of TV and read many words about the war in Iraq. But just wait until you get your hands on “The Last Deployment.”

Lemer’s memoir of being a gay man in the military is half sass and half sad with a few heart-pounding moments but no blood-and-guts. His story moves between idyllic memories of his growing-up and warm feelings for his bunkmates and co-soldiers, while readers are also placed in the center of the boredom of waiting, the frustration of not knowing and the dismay of hiding in order to be accepted. Lemer’s is a wonderfully descriptive, wryly humorous, heart-crushing story, and I couldn’t put it down.

With the repeal this month of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” this is timely and definitely worth a read. If you love a soldier, your country, or both, “The Last Deployment” is a book you’ll want to tell everybody about.

 

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