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“Janey” Strikes A Chord With Museum Patrons

Sascha Pflaeging, Warrant Officer Chelsea Spier, U.S. Army, 2008.

There’s still time to view an exhibit at the Eleanor D Wilson Museum, on the Hollins University campus, that director Amy Moorefield says has been “wildly popular.”  “When Janey Comes Marching Home: Portraits of Women Combat Veterans” winds up a month-long run this Friday (10-4 p.m.) and Saturday (1-5).

The exhibit features the photography of Sascha Pflaeging, along with testimonials of female soldiers, as told to writer Laura Browder. “Janey” also contains audio accounts from soldiers that talk about issues such as balancing military life with family and readjusting to civilian life when stateside.

Browder boiled down 10-12,000 word transcripts into the 300 or so words that accompany each of 40 photographs displayed.  The Richmond-based author, who came back to lecture on the exhibit last Monday, has turned the project into a book of the same name.

The exhibit, organized by the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, is headed for Arlington National Cemetery after it leaves Hollins this weekend. Next summer it will wind up at the National Museum for the Marine Corps.

Witness comments from Warrant Officer Chelsea Spier, U.S. Army, which are typical of those seen and heard in “When Janey Comes Marching Home:” “I was told from Day 1: you always take care of the soldiers, no matter what you do. And, if at all possible, you’ve got to try to stay positive because everybody around you is going through their own sacrifice, being away from their family and their everyday, normal life. I’m not saying I didn’t have my own personal issues; I missed my family and friends, and I felt two years were taken away from me. I had to go back and be normal again, which I could not.”

Browder, who had previously written a book about the relationship between women and guns in American history (“Her Best Shot”), worked with Pflaeging, a friend, for two years on the project. She notes that, “the idea of women in combat has been controversial ever since Revolutionary War times. This controversy has been alive for centuries.”

All of the soldiers interviewed had been in combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Women are being deployed there “in unprecedented numbers,” notes Browder, and some are dying, a reality that has drawn less attention back home than many expected.

Warrant Officer Chelsea Spier strikes a chord that probably resonates with many combat veterans. “At first, you know, you’re mad because you have this time taken away from you. You come back, and everyone’s gone on with their life. Everybody still has their cell phone in their car and their cable TV, and you come back, and they say, ‘Oh yeah, you’re back. Nice to see you. I’m going to work.’ And you’re like, ‘wait,’ you know? You’re just trying to get back to that peace of being normal again.”

Browder says those who see “Janey” often note the “incredible diversity of experience,” from those women that have served their country.  Browder and Pflaeging hope that the traveling exhibit will bring together people with varying opinions on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, so they can “experience the visual beauty of the show…reading these incredible moving stories.  [Some] are incredibly powerful.”

The Eleanor D. Wilson Museum is on the Hollins University campus. “When Janey Comes Marching Home” is available for viewing this Friday and Saturday (April 16-17). See or call 362-6532 for more information.

By Gene Marrano
[email protected]

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