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San Diego Military Mother Authors “Minefields of the Heart”

Minefields of the Heart
Potomac Books
Minefields of the Heart

Sue Diaz, a San Diego-based journalist, has released a brilliant, compelling account of her relationship with her son and his experience fighting in Iraq. More than just one family's story of a son serving in Iraq, "Minefields of the Heart" is a book about the impact of war on the hearts and souls of those who fight and their loved ones.

This is a book I simply could not put down. I've read very few books about war, or anything else, for that matter, that have moved me quite like this one. It's so smart, so personal, so touching, and so very well written.

Diaz is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in a variety of regional and national publications, including Newsweek, Reader's Digest, Family Circle, Woman's Day, and the Los Angeles Times. Her essays have also aired frequently on National Public Radio. The book grew from a series of essays that appeared in The Christian Science Monitor that were prompted by her fears of having a son fighting in Iraq and her desire to bridge the divide between a son who chooses to fight and a mother who didn't want him to go.


In an interview with me this week, Diaz told me she was supportive of us going to Afghanistan, "but I was against the war in Iraq from the beginning. Iraq came out of nowhere, I never believed what they were telling us. But I love and support my son. You can hate the war and love the soldier."

Far from just a worried mom's story, however, Diaz's book is, at its core, about the loss of innocence. She laments the little boy in her grown son, who disappeared somewhere in Iraq. "I wished it were possible to somehow catch and hold again the innocence that was once ours," she writes. "To grasp, in more ways than one, what we had when we had it."

"Minefields of the Heart," whose Facebook page can be found here, also addresses the capacity for the good and evil that exists in all of us. It asks the big questions. It's political, philosophical, brutally honest, and ultimately hopeful. And to its credit, it is equal parts cerebral and emotional, reflecting both the journalist and mother in Diaz, whose son, Sgt. Roman Diaz, was a member of Bravo Company platoon from the 101st Airborne's 502nd Infantry Regiment, an Army unit known since World War II as the "Black Heart Brigade." Roman's second deployment in 2006 found him south of Baghdad in the notorious region known as the Triangle of Death, where his platoon experienced heavy casualties.

"My son saw so many of his buddies die," she tells me. "Of his company, 120 guys, 10 were killed and about 30 were wounded. The company was decimated. I was told that the year they were there, the battalion in that area, about 1,200 men, encountered 900 IED's (improvised explosive device). It was horrific."

Diaz hopes her book is read not just by military families but by anyone who wants to better understand how a family copes with adversity and the impact of war on individuals, both the warriors and the people who love them. "It's an insider's view of what goes on in a family when someone is deployed," she says. "It's not just a war story, it's a story of choices. When life tests us, what are the choices we make, both at home and on the front lines?"


Diaz, who's also worked as a teacher, started giving writing workshops for veterans in 2007 at the San Diego Vet Center. She's also given writing workshops for veterans with severe PTSD at the San Diego Naval Hospital. "I decided to do the writing workshops for war veterans because I wanted to find a way to make sense of it all, and to help," she says. "I've learned so much from the veterans in these workshops, they share their stories, they write about situations that are as difficult as any human being can experience. And yet they write with a lot of courage and hope. I'm amazed what people can endure and still come out on the other side."

Diaz says her favorite quote about writing, which she shares with the veterans at the writing workshops, is from writer Anne Lamott, who in her book "Bird by Bird, said, "Writing is like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. It can't stop the raging storm, but you can change the hearts and spirits of the people together on that ship."

Diaz notes that research has shown that when you write about emotional upheaval, you experience improved health: "It allows the veteran to be active creators of their own life story, it's a tool for healing the past, owning it, and honoring it. But I don't force them to write about the war, they can write about anything, their childhood, whatever, just as a way to feel again." She says her son isn't doing any writing. Not yet. "My son is a very good writer, but he's not quite ready to write about his experience," she says. "Maybe someday. I've learned with my work at the Naval Hospital that the veteran has to be ready to write."

Roman is home now, and has gotten married since his return from Iraq, but like so many in this war, he's brought the war home with him. He was diagnosed with both post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). He has difficulty remembering things. As Sue Diaz puts it in her book, "There are battles he has yet to fight." But Roman has been seeing a counselor for some time now and is also being treated for his TBI. "His wife's support has been tremendous," Sue Diaz says. "He's now a full-time college student at the Art Institute of California, he loves web design and graphic design. Roman's birthday is this Friday, he'll be 27. He's doing very well."

At the beginning of the book, there is a quote from Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, U.S. Army, 1861-1865, that poignantly sums up Diaz's feelings about war. "It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell."

And near the end of the book, there is another quote, this one from Diaz herself, that sums up her hope for her son. "I know the war is still with you," she whispers to Roman. "No doubt it always will be. But you're here. You're alive. You're loved. With all that - plus time, forgiveness, and the healing both bring - the war within, Son, will one day be won."