Writing My Way Back Home

8 months ago · Blog
by Miyoko Hikiji

In 2010 I attended the “Writing My Way Back Home” veteran writer’s workshop on the University of Iowa campus. It was the first of its kind, and an experience that changed the course of my life.

At the workshop, instructors supported veterans in openly sharing their tragic, graphic and morose stories of combat—from Vietnam to Afghanistan. Classes that assisted with adding description and dialogue were sandwiched between writing combat scenes as poetry. A quiet writing room was set up for individual work and one-on-one editing. There was a yoga class in the morning, and a counselor was on stand by to assist any veteran whose recollection of painful memories escalated to crisis. Among the meals and pencils and writing prompts and battle buddies was a priceless space of non-judgmental listening and caring.

I’ll never forget William Barbour—his passion for words and stories, and ultimately, people. Or Emma Johnson for her flexibility—she taught the yoga—but most of all for her spunk and deep compassion. And John Mikelson, well, he was the go-to guy, the facilitator and organizer and veteran who had dedicated his life personally and professionally to supporting veterans.

The “Writing My Way Back Home” workshop was the catalyst for my memoir, “All I Could Be: My Story as a Woman Warrior in Iraq” (History Publishing, Co., 2013). And once my book was in print, I used my writing know-how from my journalism education at Iowa State University, to create my own writing therapy workshops to address my growing concern for veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress and Military Sexual Trauma. I’ve returned two years to the WMWBH workshop, to instruct its courses as well.

That said, I’m proud to have earned the endorsement of John Mikelson, whose titles are many. John is the Government Liaison and Vice President of Midwest Military Outreach, a Consultant with Veterans in Higher Education and the Area Chair of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR). Previously John served as the Secretary of the Iowa City VA Medical Research Foundation and the Director of Veterans Affairs for the Association of Non-Traditional Students in Higher Education.

But to me, John is my Army brother, having served from 1984-2004.

“I met Miyoko at the “Writing My Way Back Home” workshop when I was at the University of Iowa Veterans Center. Since that time, she published her story and has helped to teach subsequent writing workshops while raising a couple of great kids. She continues to be an inspiration to the Veterans in the state of Iowa. I am proud to call her my friend. And I look forward to her leadership in the State legislature. Miyoko is a true example of a Citizen Soldier, and continues to advocate for all the citizens of our state.”