Q&A: Meet the War Flower

Elizabeth Howe
January 10, 2020 - 2:22 pm
Warflower by Brooke King

University of Nebraska Press

Brooke King was only 19-years-old when she found herself in Iraq instead of Germany, recovering bodies instead of working as a mechanic. Fourteen years later, 33-year-old King published her memoir, "War Flower: My Life After Iraq" about everything she experienced. 

Connecting Vets: When did you join the military?

Brooke King: It was 2005. The very beginning of 2005. I had just finished high school and I had nothing better to do and one of my friends was joining. I scored really, really high on the ASVAB so when I sat down to sign my contract the guy said, "You could do anything you want." So when I said I wanted to be a mechanic he goes, "What?"

He didn't realize my dad owned an auto part store. I grew up around automotives and mechanics. It's something that I loved and was really interested in at a young age. I thought why not fully invest and do something fun while I'm doing something completely and utterly horrible at the same time. You know? I'm being tortured in basic training why not at least do something fun as a job that I normally wouldn't do? 

CV: But that's not what you ended up doing.

BK: I got Germany for my first duty station which was kind of awesome as my first duty station. But about six months after I got there, I instantly deployed to Iraq. That was not fun. I was expecting to do my job and then ended up not really doing my job which seems to be the whole military at the time. 

At one point I was a recovery specialist which is basically a glorified tow truck driver — we recovered vehicles. But in Iraq, in a war setting, you recover blown-up vehicles. Downed vehicles. Because of that, we ended up having to recover the bodies that were inside of them as well. I saw fifty of my friends go that way. 

CV: What was that like? 

BK: I found myself thinking, "I did not sign up for this. Where was this in my enlistment packet?" I started panicking because I realized I am way over my head. And I'm 19. I was completely off my guard and freaked out. I'm still a kid. 

CV: How did you bring those emotions into your memoir? 

BK: The best way to describe it is it's a study of violence. Or a reflection of what violence can do to a woman. And how a woman then walks through the rest of her life after having that much traumatic violence occur around her or to her. How does a female veteran handle severe PTSD while trying to grow and be a mom — and I was a mom very soon after leaving Iraq. In fact, I was pregnant in Iraq. 

I thought I had a really bad case of food poisoning. I was in Iraq for three months before I found out I was pregnant. Being 3 months pregnant out on convoy and not knowing it — I thought I'd eaten really bad lamb from the Baghdad market and then started to think something wasn't right. Now my kids joke that they're combat veterans. 

CV: How do you think female veteran novels differ from male veteran novels? 

BK: As far as memoirs are concerned, I notice that a lot of the female memoirs are more ethos-centric. They deal more with emotions and the contemplative aftermath and really reflecting inwardly on emotions whereas men tend to reflect on the logos part. Men are very logic-centric. There are very few memoirs from men that have come out that are not so heavily detailed with chronology. They have a hard time dealing with the emotional side as well. 

CV: How do you think female veteran memoirs are changing the genre? 

BK: It brings more awareness which is what I strived for in terms of my memoir because I got so sick and tired of people harping on how women weren't supposed to go into combat roles. Well, pardon my language, but that's bullshit. We were doing combat even in the American Revolution so I don't want to hear it. Women need to write their stories. If you don't, a man is going to write it and he's going to write it ten times worse than you did. 

CV: Is the cover art your tattoo? 

BK: That's my tattoo. It's on the inside of my left forearm. War Flower was my nickname because I could never die. I almost died seven times and whenever I tell someone that they ask me how am I living and I just say, "I don't know, but one day at a time."

My vehicle would get blown up, and I would be physically unharmed. Someone would get a broken rib, and I would be perfectly fine. And Boba Fett — the character coming out of the flower — he was basically a byproduct of a misguided childhood and circumstances so he became a mercenary for hire. But he eventually became good. So it's kind of symbolic in that way for myself. 

CV: What do you really hope readers take away from your book? 

BK: I wasn't going to write it. All through my MFA, my professors were pushing me to write my memoir and I just wasn't ready. I didn't want to write it. And then a friend asked me, "Wouldn't you feel wonderful if you got one woman who went through something similar to you to get help?" And I realized she was right. That's why I wrote it really. If I could touch one person — if I could get one person to go get help for PTS, for MST — then it was worth it. Treatment helps. 

CV: What advice do you have for females thinking about joining the military? 

BK: Know what you're walking into. Know you're walking into a male-dominated career field, and even though you shouldn't have to you'll have to constantly prove that you deserve to be there. The military is no different than any other law firm or corporate environment. It's all the same. You'll have to constantly prove you deserve to be there. They're going to think you're incompetent because you're a woman. 

CV: What was your favorite part of serving? 

BK: The people I served with are like family. They are family. 

To learn more about King's book click here

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