Military voices

If you searched the web for ways to observe Veterans Day this past Monday you likely found plenty of suggestions and resources on how you can show support for veterans and their families on the actual day and through out the year.  Not surprisingly, many of those suggestions involve the simple acts of acknowledgment and listening.  Two people who know a lot about listening to the military community are Như Tiên Lữ and Noam Bar-Zemer.

Tiên and Noam are coordinators for StoryCorps’ Military Voices Initiative (MVI).  An ongoing endeavor to record, preserve, and share the stories of veterans, service members, and military families, MVI celebrates its first year of recordings Thursday, November 14 at the Brooklyn Museum.  So it seemed like a good time to ask the people who make MVI happen about the work they’ve done and the discoveries they’ve made during the exceptional first year of the initiative.


MVI Coordinators, Như Tiên Lữ and Noam Bar-Zemer

The Recollective:  Before coming to MVI, what connection if any did you have to the post 9/11 military community either personally or professionally?

Noam:  I did not have much of a connection to the post 9/11 military community. That said, my father served in the Israeli military durring the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and later, as a combat photographer and producer in Lebanon for CNN so the military/combat experience more generally is something that informed my upbringing in a big way.

Tiên:  My experiences as an Air Force girlfriend and then spouse, for a total of 9 years, informed much of how I have come to understand the military community. My partner enlisted in the Air Force a year after we graduated from college, much to my chagrin; since I had many preconceived notions of the military, I worried that he would change into someone I could no longer relate to. Over the years and across several states, as I met more servicemembers and their families, as our own community became the military community, my understanding of the military became much more complicated.

The Recollective:  What have been the most challenging aspects of the initiative?
Noam:  Convincing potential partner organizations that, unlike traditional media outlets, we are there to provide a service to participants, not to gather content for our own purposes.
The Recollective:  How has the military community responded to MVI?
Noam: Overall I think the response has been quite positive.
Tiên:  The military community has been incredibly receptive to MVI, so much so that we exceeded our interview goals 5 months ahead of schedule.  Some of the most memorable feedback I’ve heard include veterans or servicemembers who shared stories their families had never previously heard; it’s gratifying to think that MVI was able to provide the space for those connections to happen.


The Recollective: MVI is being extended for another year.  Do you have any hopes for MVI as it starts its second year?  What would you like to see happen?

Tiên:  I’d love to see MVI strengthen long-term relationships with our community partners, so that we can continue to collaborate with the tremendous work that our partners are doing with veterans and their families. I’m also fascinated by how art can be used as a form of expression and connection, and I hope that MVI can collaborate with local organizations to explore ways that we can create community projects combining visual, written, and audio forms of storytelling. My main hope for MVI, though, is that it ultimately encourages the military community to share their experiences, for civilians to listen, and for that conversation to extend beyond the MVI space and into the rest of our lives.

The Recollective: Can you describe who you think are the ultimate beneficiaries of these shared stories?
Noam: I definitely feel like my focus and the focus of the project is the participants and not the public. I certainly think that what we do is educational and forces the public to engage to a certain degree but when I think of our net impact I think mostly of the military community.
Tiên:  I feel that both civilian and military communities benefit from the sharing of MVI stories. As a predominantly civilian society, where servicemembers make up less than 1% and veterans less than 8% of the population, we can often be very removed from the experiences of the military community. StoryCorps’ Military Voices Initiative attempts to bridge that divide by offering a storytelling space for the military community.

Military Voices Initiative will host a talkback at the Brooklyn Museum November 14 from 7pm to 9pm.  The talkback is in conjunction with the museum’s current exhibition WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath.  Như Tiên Lữ and Noam Bar-Zemer will be on hand to answer questions along with  war photographers, Ron Haviv and Nina Berman, and MVI participants Drew Pham, Williams Stein, and Helen Shor.  To RSVP to this event email


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