Monthly Archives: April 2012

  • / Comments Off on Barbara P. Grainger’s Essay and Review

Barbara P. Grainger’s Essay and Review


Buffalo Soldier Sentinel welcomes guest writer Barbara P. Grainger’s April 2, 2012 essay and review of First Dark: A Buffalo Soldier’s Story.  Her essay presents a thoughtful discussion of the ongoing debate about the role historic fiction plays recounting history.  Renown Mexcian novelist Carlos Fuentes asserted that the real historians in Latin America are its novelists.  In this issue, Barbara Grainger shares her insights on illumination and our understanding of the “real” history.

First Dark, by Bob Rogers, tells the epic story of a young slave, Isaac Rice, as he moves toward manhood as a volunteer in the Union Army during the Civil War.  Isaac’s story stretches across a large section of the American landscape.  It is filled with exploits that are often dangerous and complex.  He meets men and women from various stations in life and learns broad lessons about the man’s inhumanity to man and conversely about man’s endearing concern for his fellow man, regardless of race or station.  He loves women and is loved in return.  Isaac’s adventures cause him to mature into a man whose soul is truly evolved and is in a more majestic place than the common man.

In telling Isaac’s story, Bob Rogers uses a blend of history and fiction. Some are opposed to this type of historical recounting because the injection of fiction is the antithesis of what we know as history.  Injecting fiction often employs the blending of fictional characters with real characters.  There are those who say blending characters can cause confusion and blur the facts.   Why not stick to the facts and leave the historical record as is?

So we raise the question: What are the advantages of historical fiction as opposed to pure recorded history?

As an English major, I am naturally attuned to reading an abundance of fiction as opposed to nonfiction.  With pleasure, I get lost in the world of make believe and in it I find escape from the hum drum existence of day to day life.  There’s laughter, there’s sadness, and there is the entire range of human emotions.  The characters become real and we can react to them, learn from them.  We connect with the page and this interaction breathes life into the narration.

History, on the other hand, as I recall from too many sleepy days in class wishing to be somewhere else on the globe, was a series of dry facts: William the Conqueror and the Battle of Normandy – 1066; the Black Death killed so and so many; six million Jewish people perished during the holocaust; Americans bombed Hiroshima on August 6, 1945; D-Day marked the end of World War II.  I perked up now and then, perhaps when it was mentioned that a coven of witches might have influenced the winds turning, helping to bring about the defeat of the Spanish Armada.  I thought to myself, now here’s a story, but sadly, we returned to old Sir Walter Raleigh.

But, not enough time was spent there.  We had to get on with the facts – a chaste recording of facts.  The lives of nameless personages became secondary to a listing of events and dates.  The events are about people, but the people are removed, frozen into side shots in history books with only their severest countenances exposed.  They were flat characters, as we would call them in English – no depth, no humanity.

I knew some facts about the Civil War.  The more salient ones being that it was fought between the north and the south, and the north wore blue while the south wore gray.  I knew that Sherman burned his way through Georgia and South Carolina.  I knew that an important battle was fought at Antietam.  Lincoln was president and the slaves were freed.  That there was a lot of fighting, and a lot of people died.

Common sense tells us that these events affected people.  There were parents left to shed perpetual tears.  There were young wives who would forever ache for the comforting arms of their husbands.  There were children whose memories would have to be prompted by photographs.  These effects on people were lost along the way behind the list of dry facts and dates along with the real stories of the men who yearned for their families, who watched their friends die beside them, and who saw the human body torn asunder in the most vicious ways imaginable.  Men who felt their lives seep away knowing that they were leaving hurt behind, opening their souls in prayer to God and seeing in the end what no man can record.  None of this is in a history book.

The film, Glory, tells the story of one of the earliest fighting units of the United States Army that was entirely made up of black enlisted men – the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.  Glory is based on the personal letters of the Fifty-fourth’s commanding officer, Robert Gould Shaw, and supplemental materials.  This movie, for one, ratcheted up interest in the Civil War era by its popularity alone.  It won numerous awards, including three Oscars.  The Civil War came alive on screens across America, and it was relived again and again.  As an educator at that time, I saw the film etched into the curriculum as a must for teachers of American History.  It piqued the children’s interest and allowed them to see that history involved people and their lives evoked emotions, and their contributions mattered and impacted lives today.  Eased between the historical facts of the film were real people, who lived, laughed, suffered, bled, and died.  The reality of Shaw fighting amid the prejudices of other officers as well as the enemy in gray gave us something that we could actually feel.  We bonded with the characters and saw them as people and we wept when they died.  Within the annals of history, no tears were shed.  “That’s history” means that it happened and it’s done.

Historical fiction puts past action in the here and now.  When the author injects humanity into the dead facts, he is breathing life into the past and providing an interconnection for us and we trudge through murky swamp waters, hold our breath as the enemy approaches, and our bodies feel a jolt when we fire the musket, or we cry out in pain when the bullet tears our flesh.  And when we bed down at night, we long for those whose heartstrings are knotted to ours, inextricably, forever.

First Dark is set during the Civil War, but the author employs a floating scenario as he follows the main character, Isaac Rice, beginning with his escape from a plantation near Charleston, South Carolina to join the Union Army through a series of adventures on battlefields across the South, through Mississippi and the Great Plains and on into Texas and Mexico.  The story illustrates the guerilla and renegade scrapes between the North and South that occur after the war has ended and during the upheaval of the Reconstruction Era.  Buffalo Soldier Isaac wears two faces during the struggles between the Mexicans, Mescalero Apaches, Comanches, Cheyenne, and the United States Army  in the west and witnesses times when he does not know which side he should be fighting on because he senses the humanity of all men and sees that it is really brother fighting against brother, regardless of color, and for an ultimate end that might not benefit humankind in general.  Along the way, Isaac bonds with a plethora of characters and finds love in the arms of women whose hearts held something beyond race.  He became close friends with men of several ethnicities and found that honor and loyalty were oblivious to color.

First Dark was heavily researched and it is to the author’s credit to bring verisimilitude to his work through the richness of varying dialogues, the depth of characterization, the descriptions of local flora and fauna, the mores and customs of differing cultures, as well as historical facts.  The insertion of trueness teaches us about this important time in our history, and the invented characters interwoven with real characters make the story memorable.

The expression “That’s history,” compels us to turn the page and move on, but in historical fiction, the book is always open and the page breathes continuously linking lives from primeval times to the present – one humanity, one blood, forever interconnected.

Many thanks to author Bob Rogers for allowing the reader a broad glimpse into this particular period in our history by presenting a saga that is so real that we can become a part of it.

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  • / Comments Off on First Dark: A Buffalo Soldier’s Story

First Dark: A Buffalo Soldier’s Story


First Dark cover

First Dark: A Buffalo Soldier's Story

First Dark: A Buffalo Soldier’s Story is Isaac Rice’s epic of an ordinary life during America’s violent and explosive years of Civil War, Reconstruction, westward expansion, wars with American Indians, and spillover mayhem from a Mexican Revolution.

First Dark is immensely entertaining with its sub-plots, love stories, humor, hate, revenge, and redemption.  With painstaking research and writing that is respectful of the past, First Dark delivers in word pictures the facts, time-frames, and horrors of history that help us better understand issues in our country during the twenty-first century.

First Dark is top flight entertainment and an easily read lesson of an important period in America’s history.

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  • / Comments Off on African American Veterans with Diabetes Benefit from “Mentors”

African American Veterans with Diabetes Benefit from “Mentors”


African American Veterans with Diabetes Benefit from “Mentors”

April 2, 2012

VA Study Highlights Safe, Effective Treatment

WASHINGTON–African American Veterans with hard-to-control diabetes made significant gains in keeping their blood sugar under control after working with “mentors” with similar health problems, according to a recent study by the Department of Veterans Affairs.   “This study is another example of the benefits VA research brings to all Americans,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.  “The researchers have shown the potential for the effectiveness of a safe, low-tech approach that can significantly enhance the quality of life for these Veterans.”

Results of the study by the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Center appear in the March 20 Annals of Internal Medicine.  About one in five Veterans who receives care from VA has diabetes. The study included 118 African American Veterans, all of whom were having trouble controlling their diabetes.

Because the study lasted only six months and the study population of 118 people was relatively small, the authors say further research is needed. The new results confirm past studies in which mentoring helped patients with diabetes—particularly minorities—improve their medication adherence, diet, exercise, blood glucose monitoring, and glucose control.

“Peer mentoring appears to be an excellent way to enhance self-management for this group of patients,” says lead author Dr. Judith Long, an internist at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center. She also noted social support is a critical factor in helping patients manage chronic illness.

The study was conducted by researchers with VA’s Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion, based in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, along with colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon University. Funding was provided by VA and the National Institute on Aging.   For more information on VA research, visit

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  • / Comments Off on VA Expands Medical Forms Program to Support Faster Claims Processing

VA Expands Medical Forms Program to Support Faster Claims Processing


VA Expands Medical Forms Program to Support Faster Claims Processing

March 22, 2012

WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs announced today the release of 68 new forms that will help speed the processing of Veterans’ disability compensation and pension claims.

“VA employees will be able to more quickly process disability claims, since disability benefits questionnaires capture important medical information needed to accurately evaluate Veterans’ claims,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “Disability benefits questionnaires are just one of many changes VA is implementing to address the backlog of claims.”

The new forms bring to 71 the number of documents, called disability benefits questionnaires (DBQs), that guide physicians’ reports of medical findings, ensuring VA has exactly the medical information needed to make a prompt decision.

When needed to decide a disability claim for compensation or pension benefits, VA provides Veterans with free medical examinations for the purpose of gathering the necessary medical evidence.    Veterans who choose to have their private physicians complete the medical examination can now give their physicians the same form a VA provider would use.  It is very important that physicians provide complete responses to all questions on the DBQs.  VA cannot pay for a private physician to complete DBQs or for any costs associated with examination or testing.

“By ensuring relevant medical information can be found on one form, we will cut processing time while improving quality,” added Under Secretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey.   DBQ’s can be found at  The newly released DBQs follow the initial release of three DBQs for Agent Orange-related conditions.

Veterans may file a claim online through the eBenefits web portal at  The Department of Defense and VA jointly public_htmled the eBenefits portal as a single secure point of access for online benefit information and tools to perform multiple self-service functions such as checking the status of their claim.   Servicemembers may enroll in eBenefits using their Common Access Card at any time during their military service, or before they leave during their Transition Assistance Program briefings.

Veterans may also enroll in eBenefits and obtain a Premium account in-person or online depending on their status.

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  • / Comments Off on VA Gulf War Task Force Report Released

VA Gulf War Task Force Report Released


VA Gulf War Task Force Report Released

March 26, 2012

Report Redefines How Care and Services Are Provided

WASHINGTON (March 26, 2012) – The Department of Veterans Affairs has released the second in a series of annual reports from its Gulf War Veterans Illnesses Task Force, outlining how thedepartment will address the concerns of Veterans deployed during the Gulf War of 1990-1991.

The report is available on the Internet at

TF_Report.pdf.   “This report, which considered input from nearly 500 Veterans who responded to the draft report, provides a roadmap for our continued enhancements in the care and services we provide to Gulf War Veterans,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “We will also apply lessons learned from this Task Force to our engagement with Veterans of all eras.”   VA issued a draft version of this report for public comment on Oct. 21, 2011.  During the 30-day comment period, VA received over 450 comments through a special social media website created for this purpose, along with twenty-five other comments received through mail, e-mail and telephone calls.    The chairman of the Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses Task Force is John R. Gingrich, chief of staff at VA, and a retired Army officer who also served in the Gulf War.   “Feedback is critical to understand and serve the specific needs of Gulf War Veterans,” said Gingrich. “This valuable input will guide how the task force communicates with Veterans in the future.”   The report focuses on efforts to improve the delivery of health care for Gulf War Veterans.

One of the most substantial additions is the launch of a prototype clinical care model specifically for Gulf War Veterans, which is the most critical point of service VA provides.  There are also efforts underway to create better links between specialty knowledge on Gulf War health issues and subject matter experts for health care providers serving these Veterans at the point of care.   Gulf War specific research and public_htmlment is also contributing to clinical practice and clinical education throughout VA.  Two new positions were established in the Office ofResearch and Development for deployment health and Gulf War health-related issues.  Both positions have been filled, are enhancing research efforts for Gulf War Veterans now, and will continue to do so in the coming years.   VA continues to leverage partnerships to improve longitudinal medical surveillance andepidemiology so the department is better able to address the potential health impacts onVeterans from past environmental exposures as well as those on today’s battlefield.   VA recognizes that a great number of Gulf War Veterans use the Internet every day to sharetheir ideas and concerns.  In addition to public interaction via social media, the main VAGulf War illnesses website was recently updated  Veterans can subscribe there to receivefuture updates.

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A U.S. NAVY SAILOR PERFORMS A POST-FLIGHT CHECK ON AN F/A-18E SUPER HORNET. –  A U.S. Navy sailor aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) performs a post-flight check on an F/A-18E Super Hornet from Strike Fighter Squadron 143 while underway in the Atlantic Ocean on March 28, 2012. The Dwight D. Eisenhower is underway conducting training in the Atlantic Ocean. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Julia A. Casper, U.S. Navy.

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