Thesis Journal

Name

Jed Watson

Thesis Title

Deployed: A dependent’s journey through a military deployment experience.

Thesis Question

What does being a child during a military deployment cycle feel like?

Elevator/Short Description

Deployed is an immersive installation depicting the military deployment cycle as experienced through the memories of a military dependent.

My Father was a Navy chaplain who, during his final deployment, was stationed on a ship that was set to be deployed for a standard three-month deployment. The stakes were raised significantly when this deployment became Operation Desert Storm, the first gulf war in 1991. My installation is a journey through my memories of that time in an immersive, interactive, and exploratory way.

Utilizing cinematic techniques of 360 video and spatial audio, motion capture, and a game engine I bring together vignettes of the sights and sounds I experienced before, during, and in the wake of this military deployment cycle.

 Long Description

Deployed is an immersive installation depicting the military deployment cycle as experienced through the memories of a military dependent.

It is a well understood fact within the ranks of the military and their families that long periods of deployment are commonplace.  This is true both during wartime and peacetime. This fact however, is not so well understood within the civilian community and I wanted to provide insight into that experience by immersing and engaging visitors emotionally in that experience.

My Father was a Navy chaplain who, during his final deployment, was stationed on a ship that was set to be deployed for a standard three-month deployment. The stakes were raised significantly when this deployment suddenly became Operation Desert Storm.

Since this story is my childhood experience and it took place so long ago, I found myself searching my memories. I found those memories were sometimes imperfect yet still relevant and led me to explore of the idea of faulty memory through metaphor.  Using interactive “flashlights” visitors experience the sensation of searching within and revealing my memories of the spaces of my childhood, simultaneously hearing the story unfold around them.

Current technologies are evolving and it was my goal to push the boundaries of the way Virtual Reality software is being used.  The presentation of the visual content in an actual space beyond the headset in 360-degrees coupled with the interactivity of the installation ensures visitors are surrounded by and immersed in the story.

 It is my hope that during the installation visitors will gain insight into the sacrifice that military members and their families experience during the deployment cycle and help to close the military and civilian divide.

by Jed D Watson

The disconnect between civilian society and those that serve in our nation’s military is a problem. This problem results in a lack of understanding of what those that serve are going through. Can experiencing the emotional story that veterans and their families experience when a major deployment takes place help to bridge the civilian / military cultural divide

Description

It is well understood within the military and their families that long periods of deployment are commonplace
and this is true both during wartime and peacetime, it is not so well understood within the civilian community and it is my goal provide insight into that experience.

What does it feel like emotionally, to have a loved one deploy, what is it like when they come home?
What does it feel like emotionally, to be a loved one that is deploying? What does it feel like to come home?
What feelings does this experience evoke, what sounds, what sights?
While it would be a nice outcome of the project to have a member of a deployment population (military kids, service members, etc.) resonate with the content, my target audience are civilian populations if my goal is to help bridge the military / civilian divide.
Utilizing motion capture and virtual reality technology Deployment is an immersive installation that has taken the storytelling experience out of the VR goggles and into a shared space of video, light, and sound.

With cinematic techniques, Deployment draws the participants into the sensations of what it is to be part of a deployment.
Vignettes of sights and sounds of family members leaving and of family members left behind and the day to day that follows makes for a prescient and contemplative experience.
Using cinematic techniques drawing the participants into the sensations of what it is to be deployed.

Research Approach

Books on deployment, Interviews with members of the military and their families, Psychological studies on the deployment experience.
I am currently reading Redeployment, and The Great War and Modern Memory, by Paul Fussell
I have checked with the school Librarian for more info on the topic and she has referred me to several psychological studies and journals available by way of the library. There are also lots of websites on offer both from the
Department of Defense and members of this population that offer insight into the expectations of military members and their dependents during a deployment.
Further, I have gathered the stories of families and service members and the emotional and sensory experiences surrounding the experience of deployment, which I will be leveraging for a basis for the content of the experience.

Personal Statement

Being a military dependent informed my choice of this topic, so it is pretty close to home. I worked on a storytelling installation last semester called Requeerium and I thought I may be able to apply some of the techniques I learned there to this project. There is a little understanding outside of the military of what this sort of sacrifice means to those in the military, but I believe that when people see what this experience is firsthand they will gain a new appreciation
for those in the military and their families.

Normalcy

It was the spring of 1990 and I was about to be a rising freshman.  Like a lot of boys in my school I was playing sports, soccer, and was one of the best goalies in my Rec league and was trying out for the jv team that fall.  My dad had been my coach through jr. high school.  I was part of the school band playing percussion and I was looking forward to going to the high school to play in the marching band.   I played around the neighborhood with my friends, new friends really, since it had only been two years since I moved there from Japan.  But two years feels like a lifetime at that age.

Unlike the other kids though, I was a military kid, and my dad had his residency in South Carolina I could get my drivers license that spring, so I was learning how to drive a full two years before all of my friends, something my dad was helping with.  We would go to the coast guard base and drive around on the roads since they weren’t so busy.  He lost his cool when I ran a stop sign though, he said something about losing his base privileges to drive on base.  It didn’t make sense to me since I was learning how to drive, I mean wouldn’t they understand? I took every stop sign after that seriously though.

The dependents’ cruise

It was that summer, I can’t remember when exactly, that the ship my dad was chaplain invited all of the families of the sailors who worked on the ship to go on a dependents’ cruise.  Since I had lived in Okinawa, I hadn’t really seen that side of my dad’s life.  We saw it all the time over there, I mean, we were a part of it.  The chapel in Okinawa was a refuge for the families of the marines stationed there, and we were a part of that refuge as a family, My dad my mom, my brother and me.

Since we had gotten back to the states, maybe because we were a little older, or maybe just because we were in the states my dad’s life in the military was more foreign to us.  He had been stationed at a coast guard base before he pulled the duty on the ship, and that base was right down the road from our house and it had a rec pool and racquetball courts where my dad would take us to play.  But even there we didn’t see what it was that he was doing for a living.  At least not like in Japan.

On the day of the cruise, I remember it was extremely sunny with big puffy clouds.  We had to get to the shipyard relatively early since the ship was going to be getting underway soon.  I remember walking up the gangway, it was really steep and the feeling of the squishiness of the boat going up and down next to the pier.

There was a lot of stuff for the sailors to do on the boat while getting underway so my dad took us to the officer’s mess to hang out. There was a constant low rumble of the diesel engines that made it hard to hear.  The room was stale and cold with the ac, with a low ceiling.  Long tables in the center of the room and thick pleather chairs off to the side that were bolted to the floor and cheap industrial carpet throughout.  The room smelled like cigarettes and lunch all mixed up.  My brother and I played cards, go fish I think, while we waited. There was the occasionally a whistle, like a wolf whistle over the intercom called the 1mc, followed by some commands that we weren’t meant to understand.

Once the ship was about to get underway, which meant that most of the crew were going to be at their duty stations we went out to watch the tug boats pull the ship away from the dock.  I had never seen anything like it. It was pretty fun to watch.

My dad then took us to see his state room, which was surprising.  Not much bigger than a closet with fluorescent lights, and two people slept in it. Two bunks, a small closet, and a sink that was it, there wasn’t much to see here so we didn’t stay long.

Then we went down to see his office, it was deep in the bottom of the ship.  Four or five maybe six flights down crazy steep stairs and a labyrinth of hallways.  His office was two rooms, one for reception staff and his office.  The receptionist was working at her desk when we came in.  His office was bigger than his state room.  We didn’t stay her long either.  I don’t know if we did all of this as a whirlwind because we were young and easily bored or if there just wasn’t anything to see.  We were out in the Chesapeake Bay now and we went to main deck to hang out outside.  I remember the families walking along the deck, and talking and kids laughing.

Once we got to the bay bridge tunnel, the ship slowed and began to turn around then we headed back in to the shipyard.  I don’t remember much after this, but I remember watching teams of coast guard members in a zodiac following alongside the ship as we came back into the shipyard port.  I don’t even remember leaving the ship or the ride home that day.

I don’t think we knew that there was a deployment coming up.  I think we just thought that it was a cool family day on the ship.

Pre – Deployment

Later that summer I knew by now that there was a deployment coming up, after all we usually knew when there was scheduled deployment. But there was all of this stuff on the news about Kuwait and Sadaam Hussein.  I remember hearing George HW Bush and the funny way he would say Sah dAmn on the news.  I had been practicing with the high school drumline during the summer, and I met Greg through that.  Greg was a year ahead of me in the drumline.  One night he dropped by and picked me up to ride around like teenagers do, only I had never done it before.  As a matter of fact, I was laying in front of the TV when he came by. My dad hated coming home and seeing me laying in front of the TV, “When I was younger than you I had a two jobs.”  His dad, a police chief, would make him paint curbs and fire hydrants from when he was old enough to be outside on his own, “What’s wrong with you”.  So it was a welcome thing for Greg to come by and take me out of the house.  I am still not convinced that my mom didn’t put Greg up to it, but we did have fun.

I don’t remember exactly where my dad was taking me the day that I got the talk that so many of us sons of military fathers give, maybe it was a new friend from the high school band’s birthday party.  It was just the two of us, and we were driving down sterling pointe dr., a road that we had never ridden on.  It was a really nice neighborhood, way nicer than ours, that was near the river.  The neighborhood road had tall oak trees that made a canopy and made the sun dapple all over the road.  We drove into the back of the neighborhood to a cul-de-sac and turned around and he pulled over.  I remember looking up at how tall the oak trees were, and the sound of NPR talking on the radio.  My dad turned down the volume, and I remember him saying something to the effect of,

“You know I going to be leaving for a while, right?”

“Yessir.”

“I need you to be good for your mama.  I need you to be the man of the house while I am gone, mmkay.”

“Yessir.”

It was surreal, I don’t even remember the party or whatever we came to that neighborhood for. I knew that he was leaving for a deployment.   He had done that before.  When I was two years old and my brother was barely born, he was sent to Iwakuni for a year.  He had spent 6 months along the DMZ, and the entire time he was in seminary was like a deployment since we lived so far away from the school.  I don’t know if it was because I was older, but the entire thing felt different this time, with all of the stuff going on on the news with the president making ultimatums. It seemed like this time he did didn’t know how long he was going to be gone, or if he would be coming back.  He was trying to be reassuring, I think, but it didn’t feel that way.

The day he left was overcast and chilly, there were lots of women and kids lined up at the fence outside the pier where the ship was docked.  There was lots of crying, and people screaming, “Bye” and “Be safe” and “I love you”.  The ship’s engines and the tugs pulling on it, the sound of the ships horn as it was leaving the pier.  The whole scene was chaotic.  The ship pulled away from the pier the same way we had seen it do on the dependent’s cruise, only this time the entire crew was lined up along the edge of the ship dressed in their dress whites.  Haunting.

Deployment

My mom tried to make sure all of our time was filled, soccer games, and band practices.  I started dating someone for the first time.  That winter I quit playing soccer, because the coach wouldn’t play me in the goal.  So I took up wrestling, since it was something my dad said he had always wanted to do, but it conflicted with football and baseball.  I was never one for football.  In a way I think I was trying to honor his memory, if you can honor the memory of someone that is still alive.

Back then, it was different than today. Now you can skype with your loved one’s and catch up, then you had to write a letter and wait six weeks, or wait until they got into a friendly port so that they could call.  And even then you might not be home for the call.

I feel like I lived an entire life during that 9 months that he was gone. My girlfriend broke up with me, I became a starter on the wrestling team, I was a snare drummer in the marching band, and I became a performer at festivals for a local theater group.  I remember watching Wolf Blitzer with my mom when scuds were raining down on Kuwait City.  Seeing the tomahawk missile launches off of the decks of ships like my dad’s.  I know my mom was scared. For me though, during all of that time the world had no color, it was all grey. Its not like he was around all of the time when he was home. But at least we knew that he was coming home.

Reintegration

I don’t remember when I heard the news that the war was over, but it was just after my birthday that he came home.  I remember all of the yellow ribbons tide around trees in the front yard and the mailbox.  I remember going with my mom and my Grandmother, to the shipyard to watch the ship pull into the dock. We were all lined up at the fence again, it was cold and overcast. All of the women and children were there again, only instead of crying, it was squeals of joy and laughter, and ladies calling their sailor’s names.  The sound of the ship’s engines and the tugs along side it.  Again, the entire crew was lined up along the edge of the ship in their dress whites. Somehow, still haunting. The process sailors to leave the ship took a long time.  I remember being bored with the waiting.  When he came off of the gangway, we met him and we all rode home together. My brother was extremely excitable and probably blew my dad’s mind with question after question. The house was decorated with yellow ribbons, red white and blue balloons, and a chincy banner that said welcome home.

That was the last time my dad was deployed.  It was almost like none of it had happened.  Life moved back into normalcy, my dad taught me how to drive a stick shift, since I had already learned how to drive an automatic.  He came to a wrestling meet the next year since he had missed the previous season, that was fun. I remember hearing him screaming my name from the stands, trying to help me win the match. At that point It all felt like it had never happened.

I am proposing that my installation would be installed on the 7th and shown on the 8th of April.  Hopefully with the feedback from the quick and dirty show I can have something worthwhile to document for the presentation. I was working on a treatment of the installation to submit to secure the location.  A deeper scratch into this and I may have a method for getting towards a story.

Deployment Treatment

I am still receiving input from the questionnaire, though I am considering just making the story about myself, based off of input from the proposal feedback.  Since my story seems to resonate with most of the information from the questionnaire I am hoping this is not too much of a problem.  Story is my issue currently.  I need to write a script and I have to remember what I can from that portion of my life.

I have always liked the way Terrence Malick represents memory in the movie the Tree of Life maybe this is something I can work with.

I have been thinking about how I can make an environment for the quick and dirty show that would be useful to get feedback on.  Since I would not be in the space and would likely be short a couple of projectors.  This is something I am thinking about.  I have also begun thinking about how to user test the audio, should I have a line of head phones and an online questionnaire.  Make vignettes of audio compositions to tell the story and play them back for folks to listen and give feedback on?  I was also thinking this method might work for the video content as well.  Though, without the environment I am not sure I would get the point across.  We’ll see.

 

During the week I began looking at how I am approaching the research of my thesis.  I occurs to me that I am doing two types of research,

  1. Story
  2. Tech
Story:

On the Story side this week I have gotten a fair amount of responses from the questionnaire, the results of which are interesting.

I am not quite sure how to post this information yet since I would like for it to remain anonymous.  I will maybe go through and select small portions as snippets of what I find useful.

A lot of the comments from the questionnaire and the research I am finding in the journal articles I find consistent with my experience as a military dependent.

One useful way to look at the narrative I found in some of the literature I have been looking at discusses the stages of a deployment.

Pre-Deployment – From first notification of deployment until deployment occurs

During Deployment – From departure until demobilization

Demobilization – From the unit’s arrival at the demobilization station to departure for its home station

Reintegration – From arrival at home station to 180 days after arrival

Could this be a useful way of looking at the narrative?

It seems that there are a few questions that arise about the visual story telling
  1. What imagery to use for the video?
  2. Should it be 360 video
  3.  Should it be Digital content that is representative of the ideas I am trying to get across
  4. Should it be still imagery?
Tech:

On the tech side this week I scheduled an appointment with a gentleman Vj Dr. Mojo, the owner of A360 studio. A space in Brooklyn that is set up for what I am trying to do with my thesis, a space for immersive environments. The space is a little smaller than I would prefer, but it is already projection mapped and has 5.1 audio built in so that would save me a fair amount of production time.
Mojo showed me several different looks in the space with the walls projection mapped.

I need to send him an email this week with a treatment for the show which is six weeks away, (kind of freaking out).
March 21 is the week of the performance.

More on the tech side, I foresee that there are some problems to solve with the content output as well, the way the space is laid out is a cube or a sphere depending on what type of content is generated so which software can I use to make the content be interactive and also have the resolutions necessary for the output of the projectors.

I am currently looking at Unreal engine and/or Max Jitter for this.

I am also looking at having the HTC vive for the motion capture since the requirements for my project are that the space is small and it is extremely portable unlike the Vicom or Optitrack systems.

I have been put in contact with someone who may be able to help in this regard, I am going to schedule an appointment if possible to try and talk this portion out. I am also meeting with Todd Bryant tomorrow to discuss some of these issues as well.

I essentially just need the x and y coordinates of a couple of markers in space to drive the interactivity of the project.