For bibliophiles like me, the 6th Annual Savannah Book Festival
was like heaven on earth. On "Festival Day," Saturday, Feb. 16, more than 30 acclaimed authors discussed their books in venues in and around the Telfair Square area of Savannah, Ga.
One such author was Dr. Heidi Squier Kraft
who discussed her book Rule Number Two: Lessons I Learned in a Combat Hospital
. Dr. Kraft began her public remarks by stating, "I have been doing a fair amount of speaking over the last few years and I have to say I am quite certain this is my first talk in which the Vice President warmed-up the audience for me."
Kraft was referring to former Vice President Al Gore who spoke in the same venue
, Trinity United Methodist Church, shortly before Kraft took the stage.
Kraft described the events that led to her publishing the memoir about her seven-month deployment as a Navy psychologist in Iraq. In February of 2004, Kraft deployed to western Iraq with a Marine Corps surgical company to set-up a mobile field hospital to care for the Marines operating in the area. Kraft was part of a four-person combat stress platoon.
As I listened to Dr. Kraft's compelling introductory remarks, I realized that I was facing one of those moments in life when I wished I could clone myself and be in two places simultaneously. Dr. Kraft was delivering her presentation at the same time that rock legend Gregg Allman was signing his book
in the author signing tent nearby. I was torn between the two, but, due to having arranged a private interview with Dr. Kraft later in the day, I decided it was time for me to get in line and have my copy of Allman's book My Cross to Bear
autographed. In addition, I knew that Dr. Kraft's presentation was being filmed by C-SPAN and would be available to be viewed online
I caught up with Dr. Kraft after her appearance at the author book signing tent. Kraft had just found out that Leopold's Ice Cream
named a flavor in her honor, and she seemed delighted to hear this news. According to Leopold's, "Leopold’s is once again working with the Book Festival by renaming our ice cream flavors to honor the Book Festival authors." I, of course, being a huge fan of Leopold's, encouraged her to visit the shop and taste the handmade ice cream. Later, after visiting Dr. Kraft's Facebook page
, I learned that she had visited Leopold's, tasted the ice cream, and wrote, "It was delicious!"
Once Dr. Kraft and I were seated in a room inside Trinity Church designated for the interview, I asked her to tell me a little about her background. Kraft earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California - San Diego and "did internship at Duke." Kraft said that she "joined the Navy during the internship," and, smiling, noted that it might have been a better move to join the Navy first and have her studies paid for. Dr. Kraft told me that her "Dad's retired Navy," and I learned more about Kraft's military service and other family connections to the military.
Kraft holds many titles: Doctor, clinical psychologist, USN Lieutenant Commander, daughter, wife to husband Mike, a former Marine Corps Harrier pilot, and mother to twins Brian and Megan. Heidi Squier Kraft's bona fides not only give added weight to her memoir, but are, in fact, the heart and soul of the book itself.
Rule Number Two: Lessons I Learned in a Combat Hospital
was published in 2007 and the description of it reads, in part:
When Lieutenant Commander Heidi Kraft's twin son and daughter were fifteen months old, she was deployed to Iraq. A clinical psychologist in the US Navy, Kraft's job was to uncover the wounds of war that a surgeon would never see. She put away thoughts of her children back home, acclimated to the sound of incoming rockets, and learned how to listen to the most traumatic stories a war zone has to offer.
Because of witnessing first-hand the toll that caregiving can take on caregivers, I asked Dr. Kraft to talk about how she took care of herself while she was in Iraq. "Out there we found a way to take care of each other," said Dr. Kraft. She spoke of a sense of "togetherness" in the small group of medical professionals that she served with. She said there was "a group of five watching out for each other, all medical, in surgical company. We knew each other well enough to tell if something was wrong."
Kraft spoke of the importance of a "connection to home" and gave the example of the "group watching all six seasons of 'The Sopranos'" during that seven-month deployment. She also recalled the value of exercise saying that she went to the "gym each morning." Kraft also spoke of the group having "a lot of good moments" and "laughing until we were sick" when watching episodes of the TV show M*A*S*H. (In case you are wondering about the title of her book, it originates
from that TV show.) The closeness of this group remains. Dr. Kraft said she still considers them "cherished friends."
In terms of the work she did, Dr. Kraft said that she worked with Marines stationed in the area. "More than half had acute trauma and stress to work through immediately," said Kraft. "People in the unit were killed." For the other half of her patients, Kraft said that the focus was on helping "people who are predisposed to depression, or have family issues, stay functional."
I asked Dr. Kraft to tell me what she would like readers to know about her book. She said, "I hope that the book promotes a different viewpoint of the experience of war. The viewpoint of a mother who understands combat experience." Kraft added that she hopes the book will help to reduce the stigma often associated with mental health issues.
The conversation then turned to a "transcending" moment and another mother. "A theme in the book is my experience with Corporal Dunham, being with him as he was squeezing my hand," said Kraft. "It was a moment of transcending it all."
Corporal Dunham arrived at Dr. Kraft's field hospital after an Iraqi insurgent released a grenade and, according to the U.S. Army Center of Military History, "Corporal Dunham covered the grenade with his helmet and body, bearing the brunt of the explosion and shielding his Marines from the blast."
"When Dunham was brought into the hospital, his wounds were considered so severe that his death was imminent," states Leatherneck
magazine. "He was placed in a quiet room and Kraft went in and held his hand, telling him how proud everyone was of him and what a great job he had done. Dunham surprised everyone by staying stable, and eventually he was medically evacuated for specialized treatment. Dunham later died of his wounds, devastating the medical staff at Al Asad."
At the age of 22, Marine Corporal Jason L. Dunham
gave his life to protect fellow Marines and in service to the United States. For his heroism in Iraq, Corporal Dunham was awarded
the Medal of Honor.
Dr. Kraft said that she received an email from Corporal Dunham's mother two months after being with him and holding his hand. "She wrote that her son was being called a hero, but for a mom wanting to hold his hand, we were her heroes," said Kraft.
At that point, we both had tears in our eyes and I decided to conclude the interview on what I thought was an appropriate, touching note. And, frankly, I was choking-up and it was hard to talk. But, I did ask Dr. Kraft if it was okay if I gave her a hug. She agreed, hugged me right back, and it was then that I was able to say what was on my heart - thank you for your service