When Erin Morris went to a show-and-tell to talk about her service in the Army, she was surprised by what the kids wanted to know. They weren't interested in guns or tanks.
"They wanted to know, 'What did you do every day? Where did you eat? Where did you sleep?'" Morris said.
Those simple questions about what soldiers do led Morris to write a children's book. It's called "Who is Sam the Soldier?" It aims to clear up misconceptions some kids have, like the idea that soldiers only go to war — or that only men are soldiers.
"When the 8-year-olds look at me and go, 'Wait! You were a soldier?' When I realized they didn't see that, they didn't see themselves," Morris said. "So I wanted to explain to them, 'No. There are so many of us out there. We look like normal people but really we're soldiers or really we're veterans as well.'"
Morris is a former officer with the Judge Advocate General Corps. She now lives in Arvada with her husband, Travis Stearns, a retired Army chief warrant officer, and their 2-year-old son, Sebastian. Both Morris and her husband have deployed to Afghanistan, at one point serving overseas at the same time on different bases.
Morris said overseas and at home, the Army is made up of people from many kinds of backgrounds. Her book reflects that.
"The Army is made up of soldiers from all over the world with different genders, religions, ethnicities and races," the book reads. "The Army is very diverse."
The military is more diverse racially and ethnically than in previous generations and more women are serving. Yet there's a paradox: those who serve come from certain regions around the country, particularly the South and the West.
That trend and others are a concern to some, including Janine Davidson, a former military pilot and under secretary of the Navy.
"A large percentage of people that are in the military are sons and daughters or grandsons and granddaughters of people who have served," Davidson said.
Her current job is president of Metropolitan State University of Denver, but she's also serving on the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, which has heard testimony about what's called the civilian-military divide. That's where many Americans are unaware of the sacrifices involved with military service.
"It's a huge issue in a democracy — the degree to which the society is connected to its military, for a variety of reasons," Davidson said. "The primary reason being you don't want to separate the people from the decisions to use force and what's happening abroad."
The commission is expected in early 2020 to present a variety of recommendations meant to bring a more representative slice of Americans to military and public service. It is also expected to highlight the perks of service.
For Morris, one of the benefits of being in the Army was the teamwork in groups with diverse views and backgrounds that she might not have met in the civilian world. The toughest part about transitioning out of the Army, she said, is seeing Americans divided about so many things.
"It is drastic for us because we have been around so many people and we have our own views about different things, but we work with all these people who have different views than us and we're not used to being separated by our views," Morris said.
The book's main character, Pfc. Sam Smith, is a mechanic. He guides kids through a typical day in the life of a soldier. It shows Sam the Soldier exercising, eating breakfast, working, hanging out with his friends — ready to go to fight if need be, but also helping during a natural disaster. And, above all, serving his country.
Upcoming book signings/events in Colorado:
- Barnes & Noble, Westminster, Oct. 12, 10 a.m. - 12 p.m.
- Old Firehouse Books, Fort Collins, Oct. 26, 1 - 2 p.m.
- Barnes & Noble, Lakewood, Oct. 27, 12 - 3 p.m.
- Second Star to the Right, Denver, Nov. 2, 10:30 - 11:15 a.m.