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CWV Book Corner, March: Army Veteran Joanna Rakowski

This month’s Center for Women Veterans Book Corner author is Army Veteran Joanna Rakowski, who served from 2000 to 2004. She wrote a memoir “Chasing the Daylight: One Woman’s Journey to Becoming a U.S. Army Intelligence Officer.” 

Joanna Rakowski was born and raised in Poland, and she immigrated to the U.S. in 1995. While in the Army, she was an interrogator, linguist and all-source intelligence analyst. In her civilian career, she worked as a college instructor, marketing specialist, project manager and program analyst in the private sector and in the federal government. She’s retired and lives in the Chicago area. “Chasing the Daylight” is Joanna’s literary debut, based on her service in the Army.

Can you share a brief background of your military experience, including your branch of service, years served, and any notable positions or deployments?

Jobs in the military: Human intelligence Collector (97E), Linguist (97L), All-Source Intelligence Officer (35D), Command Language Program Manager, Tactical Intelligence Officer assigned to NATO Operations. Received eight military awards.

2nd Lieutenant Tactical Intelligence Officer Assignments:

Command Language Program Manager (341st MI Linguist Battalion, Chicago, IL)

Southern European Task Force (SETAF), Linguist, Vicenza, Italy

U.S. Army Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise, Polish Linguist Team Leader, liaison operations with Polish population, Drawsko Pomorskie, Poland

NATO Joint Multinational Training Command (JMTC), Tactical Intelligence Officer, Battle Captain, Grafenwoehr, Germany

What inspired you to write a book and share your story as a woman Veteran?

I see life as a journey of continuous self-discovery and growth through experiences and challenges. I try to learn from these experiences and develop, and to become the best human being I can be. My military service was a journey of profound self-transformation which required determination, perseverance and believing in my dream. From the moment I’ve embarked on this journey, I knew that it would be a story worth capturing and, in the future, help me appreciate how I was able to change from a delicate ballerina to a hard-core soldier. When I achieved my dream and became a U.S. Army intelligence officer, I wanted to share with the world that anything is possible and hopefully inspire others to believe in their dreams. I wanted to tell a story of a Polish immigrant searching for her new identity in a new country, language and culture. Also, a story of grieving a lost friendship, as well as a story that shows a great impact someone’s military service can have on a marriage. Lastly, I wanted to show—with details—what it takes to go through a grueling army training, being over 30 years old and barely speaking English; how to persevere despite your shortcomings, fears and insecurities. The most important message of the book is to believe in your dreams, listen to your heart and have the courage to change.

How has your military background influenced your writing style and the themes you explore in your work?

My writing style reflects how I perceive the world around me. I see the world as a kaleidoscope of ever-changing images, sounds, smells and a sense of touch. My military background did not influence my writing style. It was rather the opposite. My military memoir is infused with my writing style and the story is written the way I see the world as an artist. Even though the military reality is quite harsh, I find it appealing and fascinating by the way it speaks to my emotions and senses. What is happening throughout the story in terms of military training is equally important as everything that was happening within me, my emotions, fears, self-doubt and the will to survive despite obstacles. In this challenging military environment, in addition to being a soldier, everything else is important: The nature around me and the people I encounter, [those] who supported and inspired me during tough times. I describe my military journey as a soldier’s fairy tale of sorts, where there is a place for quasi-poetic, philosophical self-reflection, cinematic action descriptions, and an ever-present theme of a romanticized American Dream.

How do you hope your book will impact other women Veterans, active-duty service members, and the general public?

My journey from civilian life to the domain of a U.S. Army intelligence officer encapsulates the essence of evolution. The story unveils the uncharted territories that await those willing to embrace change, channel their inner strength and venture beyond comfort zones. The narrative is a resounding affirmation that the power of transformation lies within us all. I hope to inspire the readers to believe in their dreams, especially when the odds are stacked against them. I also hope to educate readers about the rigorous U.S. Army training necessary to becoming an intelligence officer. Detailed descriptions convey what it takes to be part of the most powerful armed forces in the world, without stepping foot on the battlefield.

What role do you think storytelling and literature play in fostering understanding and support for the women Veteran’s community?

The stories of those who came before us are the very fabric of our society, and it’s critical for these stories to be told and heard. Especially when they carry a message of hope and faith, inspiration to grow and develop within something we love and cherish. Women’s stories, women Veterans in particular, are important because they offer a unique perspective of a population that continues to be under-represented in the male-dominated world. Women Veterans have tremendous accomplishments not only because they persevere in the military, but also are successful businesswomen, politicians, wives and mothers. Their stories have to be told to support women Veterans who thrive despite constant obstacles and discrimination. In addition, women Veterans who are immigrants can serve as role models for immigrants and American-born citizens who are considering joining the U.S. armed forces.

Can you share a memorable experience or anecdote from your time in the military that has had a lasting impact on your life and writing?

In my memoir, it was extremely important [for me] to acknowledge those who supported and inspired me in my journey, namely my military leaders and civilian instructors.

The physical training, especially running, was always challenging for me. In the book there is a scene where I am struggling during one of my PT test runs. The company first sergeant supported me by running with me the entire two miles, cheering for me and providing advice. At the last hundred yards before the finish he whispered to me: “Sprint Ski!” and I bolted, propelled by a sudden surge of new energy. At the finish line he said: “It doesn’t matter how you start; it matters how you finish.”

In everyday life, I think about this, especially while working on a challenging project. Writing my book was not easy; it took me 17 years to get through emotional toll and a language barrier like the ability to express myself in English, for me a foreign language. I knew however that, one day, I would be able to get through the process, finish the book and share it with the world. The struggle was finally over, and I finished strong with a book that gained numerous positive editorial reviews.

Are there any fellow women Veteran authors or books that have inspired or resonated with you? If so, could you tell us a bit about them?

Captain Tammie Jo Shults: Nerves of Steel: How I Followed My Dreams, Earned My Wings, and Faced My Greatest Challenge.

Nerves of Steel is the captivating true story of Tammie Jo Shults’s remarkable life—from growing up the daughter of a humble rancher to breaking through gender barriers as one of the Navy’s first female F/A 18 Hornet pilots, to safely landing the severely crippled Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 and helping save the lives of 148 people.

This book resonates with me because it is about fighting for one’s dream despite all odds and eventually becoming a national hero—despite not being involved in combat in a war against the foreign enemy. It showcases an amazing strength of character and technical abilities of a woman pilot. An inspiring and uplifting story.

How do you believe the Women Veterans Book Corner can help bring awareness to the civilian and military communities, particularly about women Veterans?

Women Veteran’s Book Corner has a great potential in promoting women Veterans’ stories. However, more exposure is needed for this initiative. I’d like to suggest an annual conference for women Veterans authors where there would be countless opportunities for the WV to speak about their books, not only those who are popular, heroes and accomplished, but also those who are under-represented and unknown. There could also be an annual festival of WV authors where their books would be heavily promoted in the media and sold at the event. Finally, there should be a TV segment each month where a WV author would be featured.

What advice do you have for other women Veterans or active-duty service members who may be considering writing about their experiences?

Live each experience to the fullest, take mental notes and those in your journal. Every single day. Notice good people around you. Don’t complain about politics. Make the best of what you have been given and of what you bring to the table. At the end, you’ll have an amazing story to write.

How has writing this book helped you?

Writing a book is a huge achievement. However, writing a memoir is an even bigger achievement because it allowed me to come to terms with who I used to be, who I wanted to become, who I am at present, and what I have to offer through my story. It also helped me to overcome the fear of being vulnerable in my story, reveal my shortcomings and insecurities, and not feel bad by not being a war hero. My book is not about changing the world, it is about a personal transformation which could inspire others to follow their dreams.

Can you tell us about any upcoming projects or events you’re involved in that our audience might be interested in?

My dream is to create an audiobook version of my story with a music soundtrack and special effects.

Are you a woman Veteran author, or do you know of one?

If so, please visit our website to find out more information. If you have further questions, contact the CWV Outreach Program Manager Michelle Terry at 00*@va.gov.

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