I’m pleased to welcome fellow Belle Book author, Skye Taylor, back to Book Blather. Her new book, Loving Meg, deals with a timely issue, specifically, the re-adjustment of those whose serve in the military when they return home. Skye lives in a bungalow on a barrier island in Florida where she divides her time between writing novels, walking the beach, and trying to keep her to-be-read pile from taking over the house. She considers life an adventure and after all of her kids were on their own, she spent two years in the South Pacific with the Peace Corps. Skye has five grown children and fourteen grandchildren. She's a member of Florida Writer's Association, RWA, and Ancient City Romance Authors. As you can see, Skye’s latest adventure involves jumping out of an airplane.
While LOVING MEG is definitely a romance, it also deals with a very timely and difficult issue - the readjustment our service men and women have to make when they return to the civilian world after living and working in a war zone. Our young men and women leave on their first deployments filled with patriotic zeal and altruistic motives of bringing a better life to people who've known nothing but war and strife. All of them come home changed forever.
The fact that in this story, it is a woman who is returning home makes it even more timely since while the general public has begun to accept that there are serious issues to be faced by returning soldiers, most either don't know or choose not to believe that women are now serving in places just as dangerous as our men. Not just as nurses (like MASH or China Beach), although that too is fraught with danger. But in today's world, women carry weapons. They fire on and kill the enemy. They fly planes and helicopters on dangerous missions. Today's wars don't have easily defined front lines as wars in the past have had. Women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are just as much on the front lines as any man even though the military has, as yet, not allowed women to serve as ordinary infantry soldiers.
Meg is a Marine MP and it is her job to escort convoys over difficult routes that are often booby trapped with IEDs. She has been trained to suspect dangerous routes and possible IEDs and how to best avoid such places when possible. Many military units are also accompanied by Military Working Dogs who have been trained to sniff out bombs. It is a combination of soldiers trained as Meg was and the dogs with their handlers who have saved countless American lives by finding and disarming the lethal IEDs that lace so many of the roads, public places and buildings.
Another relatively new and almost entirely grass roots effort is the training and pairing of "Service Dogs" and returned veterans who are struggling with the adjustment back to civilian life, PTSD, Traumatic Brain injury and more. Years ago, when my brother returned from a year in Vietnam, having been wounded and returned to the war, it took him years to adjust. If a car backfired, his first instinct was to hit the dirt and look for a place to hide. And then, of course, was the inevitable embarrassment to cope with. Even simple every day tasks that you never think about can become enormous barriers to coping with day to day living.
Consider how casually you walk up to an ATM and slip in your bank card to ask for cash. Then consider the returned veteran, who for months has had to keep an eye out for danger every moment. In the war zone, when he moved forward into danger, he had buddies watching his back. But now he has to walk up to this machine with his back to the world, unable to see possible danger while he conducts that simple transaction. Rationally, his mind tells him he's home in the US and there are not snipers on rooftops looking to take him out or innocent looking children with explosives hidden under their clothing, but his training and habit still sense danger.
Walking down a grocery aisle is another challenge. Danger could lurk at either end of the aisle and there's only one way out. But when a veteran has a service dog, trained to understand his needs and fears, suddenly he does have someone watching his back. He can relax, and withdraw his cash, or select his groceries while the dog keeps watch. Service animals do so much more than just watching their soldier's back. They help them stay calm when panic threatens. These dogs short circuit emotional spirals before they get out of control and help the veteran to combat depression, anger and nightmares. Service dogs are changing the way troubled veterans learn to cope. They are bringing hope where so often there was only despair. They are making a difference. One soldier, one dog at a time.
The hero of LOVING MEG raises and trains dogs for police work, but now Ben wants to add a whole new program to his career and begin training dogs as service animals for soldiers. But standing in his way is Meg. She is struggling to figure out where she fits into her civilian life as wife and mother and trying to leave the war behind. But she's skeptical about the role dogs can play in this transition. Ben needs money to fund this new program and build the needed facility, but he needs Meg's signature on the mortgage application and she's not convinced that dogs can make a difference.
Ben and Meg have loved each other for a very long time. They are best friends, lovers, husband and wife and parents. They've been through a lot together. But now they are facing the biggest challenge to their relationship and their love. Ben is a patient man and Meg is not a quitter, but will that be enough to help them over this daunting hurdle?
Want more from Skye Taylor? Check out her earlier book, FALLING FOR ZOE.