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Saint Leo Blog

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From War to Words: Army Vet Now Teaches the Power of Writing

Posted by Greg Lindberg on Jun 18, 2018 8:44:00 AM

Brooke King is an adjunct English professor at Saint Leo and an Army combat veteranBrooke King learned she loved writing during her formative years. It was a stint in the U.S. Army that paved the way for her to carve out a unique niche among the saturated field of writers – and a niche that has helped her overcome personal challenges.

an adjunct professor of English and creative writing at Saint Leo University, the 32-year-old hails from San Diego, Calif. and now lives in Land O’ Lakes, Fla. with her family. She is married to Keith and has three boys, two of whom are twins.

A Poetic Passion

King says she was a teenager when she first realized that she had a passion for writing.

“When I was in high school, I took a poetry class as an elective and really liked it,” she confides. “I slowly realized I was good at writing, especially poetry, and I even went on to be selected as one of the top 100 poetry students in California schools.”

She wrote a poem called “Red Velvet” that got her some attention.

“It was about my friends and I hanging out in an old Chrysler with an old crushed red velvet lining inside.”

Making a Move into the Military

Upon collecting her high school diploma, she briefly flirted with the idea of earning a college degree immediately thereafter.

“I did a few months of my freshman year in college, but I just wasn’t in the right mindset for school at that point,” she says. “My family was kind of shocked that I wanted to go into the Army. They said, ‘You do know there’s a war going on right now, don’t you?’”

In early 2005, she joined the U.S. Army. She worked as a wheel vehicle mechanic, machine gunner and recovery specialist. Decades earlier, both of her grandfathers served as well, with one serving in the Army in World War II and the other joining the Air Force during the Vietnam War.

“They called me a legacy member because I was in the same infantry division as what my grandfather in World War II was in,” she explains. “They call this division the ‘big red one.’”

After spending some time working in Germany, she was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq in August 2006.

“One of my jobs was to go out and recover military vehicles that had been blown up and damaged,” she says. “I also worked in mortuary affairs for some time.”

She departed from the Army in 2007. Her advice for aspiring military personnel is to go in with a plan.

“Do your homework to figure out which branch you’d like to join and what you’d like to do,” she advises. “Too many times, people will walk into a recruiter’s office and say they want to join the military, but they have no idea what they actually want to do in it and what they want to get out of it.”

Her current husband was in the Army for six years and did two tours of duty in Afghanistan.

Writing and Teaching Aspiring Writers

Following her Army service of over two years, it was finally time for King to add some higher education to her resume. She got her bachelor’s in English with a concentration in advanced literary studies from Saint Leo. She later attained a Master of Fine Arts from Sierra Nevada College in Lake Tahoe, Calif.

King had originally applied to law school after passing the LSAT, but it was some of her professors who encouraged her to follow her true talent – writing.

“I was encouraged by Dr. Kurt Van Wilt and Gianna Russo to pursue my MFA because they thought my writing was so good. Then after I did a short residency with Sierra Nevada College in their MFA program, it was Brian Turner and [acclaimed author] Rick Moody who read some of my writing and told me that if I ever went to law school, they’d come find me.”

It was fitting that King would pursue a career in education.

“Almost everyone in my family is a teacher,” she says. “Several years ago, Liz Akin asked me to do some guest lecturing at Saint Leo. I guess I did well enough, so they asked me to become an adjunct faculty member and teach a few classes.”

She has taught for about six years. This includes undergraduate composition and academic classes, along with classes in the creative writing master’s program on nonfiction and veteran writing. Her workload consists of both classroom-based and online courses.

“In a classroom setting, I like to use the Socratic method and get the students engaged in discussions instead of straight lecturing. This makes the students unplug from technology, and I think they enjoy learning more this way. Many students dread reading and writing or just don’t enjoy it. I think if you give them a more relaxed atmosphere, they are more comfortable and can get into the material a little more easily.”

Professional Writing & Helping Veterans

King has had a number of written works published. The piece she is most proud of writing thus far is a revealing story for The Atlantic that details her battle with PTSD and how she has coped with the condition as a mother.

“Being a combat vet and mom, I was wondering how my PTSD was affecting my kids. I had to do an internal look at myself and how I was doing as a mother. When you get therapy for PTSD, you will usually go through cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure therapy. This involves writing down your traumatic experiences over and over again. Being a writer myself, this has really helped me get through some of these things and move forward.”

In addition, she is an ardent supporter of efforts that promote how veterans should speak up and get help for any mental challenges with which they are struggling. Her first husband, James, took his own life after completing two tours of duty in Iraq.

“There’s a stigma on veterans coming out and expressing their negative thoughts,” she says. “Many vets are trying to push their feelings deep and process them later. The problem with this scenario is that these emotions could come out at any time.”

She notes how startling the statistics are on suicide among veterans.

“They’ve said for some time now that 22 vets take their lives each day, but this number is 40 or 50 now, and I think that number may even be a little low.”

She has worked with organizations that help raise awareness on this issue and has even attended workshops on how vets can find strength through writing.

Encouraging female veterans to use the written word in expressing their experiences is another one of her passions.

“You always hear about men’s stories in the military, but I think females’ stories are marginalized,” she says. “Women actually make up about 49% of the military, and 54% of the U.S. population is made up of veterans. So, think of how many women have stories to share about their military experiences.”

#SaintLeoLovesVeterans #SaintLeoAlumni

Topics: featured, Military

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