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Thursday, May 22, 2008

UNCP graduate’s journey included writing a book

The education of Emily Howden reads like Homer’s “The Odyssey,” long, perilous and heroic.

Emily HowdenThe journey carried Howden to three states, three universities and some remarkable accomplishments. She graduated May 3 from UNCP with two bachelor degrees, a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Bachelor of Science in biology.

After graduation from high school in Germany, Howden attended West Virginia Wesleyan College, a small private school, and the University of South Carolina (USC).

“I loved all three colleges,” Howden said. “They were all different, all good.”

As she evolved as a student, her interest shifted to science, but writing was her first love.

“I am a combination of the humanities and sciences; I see interconnectivity,” she said.

As Howden’s studies in science advanced, she became intensely involved in research.

  • At USC, she conducted behavioral research of Western Lowland Gorillas at the Riverbanks Zoo, under the direction of Dr. Robert Raguso.
  • At UNCP, her research stretched into analytical chemistry under the direction of Dr. Paul Flowers, including a semester of developing bilirubin measurement techniques and a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) summer fellowship program that sought ways to measure atmospheric carbon dioxide.

On the humanities side of the academic equation, Howden has continued a lifelong habit of writing.

“I’ve written since I could put a crayon to paper,” she said. “I write non-fiction mostly, and I’ve written some children’s stories.”

  • “Morning Slumber,” her descriptive piece about a human and her feline companion was published in Vandalia, West Virginia Wesleyan College’s undergraduate journal in the spring of 2003.
  • ”Kindred Companions,” her short, non-fiction essay concerning the human-canine bond was published this spring in UNCP’s ReVisions, the annual publication of best student essays.

Book CoverIn late 2007, a book Howden co-authored with two retired military chaplains, including her father Col. Richard Kuhlbars, was published. “Silent Wounds: The Hidden Cost of War” (Virtual Life Solutions, LLC) is about healing the damage to the lives and souls of those who go to war.

The book goes beyond PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) to what the authors call Post Traumatic Soul Disorder.

“Our goal is to help soldiers, their families and their communities find healing,” Howden said. “No matter how strong you are, you will be changed by war; you will be wounded.”

Three generations of Howden’s family history have been involved in almost every war of the 20th and 21st centuries. The father of co-author Col. Kuhlbars served in World War II and Vietnam, and the father of co-author Col. James Daniels served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

The casualty numbers are staggeringly persuasive. The costs of war reach much further than the battlefield.

  • In Vietnam, there were 57,685 U.S. soldiers killed in action, but by 1998, another 100,000 were lost to suicide.
  • The first Gulf War was declared a low casualty war with minimal loss of life. But since its conclusion, there have been10,617 deaths related to combat duties or illnesses. 262,586 Gulf War Veterans are disabled.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan present a greater challenge for their combatants than previous wars, Howden maintains.

“The problem with this war is successive and long deployments,” she said. “The result is what we refer to as ‘a persistent traumatic state.’

“Iraq also presents a different type of enemy that takes the effects of war to a whole different level,” Howden said.

Besides drawing upon several generations of life in the military, Howden offers first-hand experience. She was the child of a soldier during Desert Storm, and today, her high school sweetheart (fellow Army brat) and now husband is serving a 15-month deployment in Iraq. He was unable to attend the recent graduation celebrations.

Howden’s contribution to “Silent Wounds” is a fictional narrative of war from a wife’s perspective that weaves through the text.

“I’ve been writing this book all my life,” she said. “Because I’m a journal keeper, I was able go back in time to recall how I felt when my father was gone or to the day my husband deployed.”

Col. Kuhlbars invited his daughter to join the project, and a couple of chapters later, she was promoted to co-author. The book is an extension of the careers of two retired chaplains.

“A chaplain’s job is to reach out to his soldiers,” Howden explains. “In retirement, my father is continuing that work.”

The book, a supplemental seven-CD self-assessment software set entitled “Healing the Soul-A Self Guide to Our Own Healing,” and Web site (soldierhelp.net) are tools to assist in “healing your soul.” They may be used as a self-help guide for soldiers or for their families, therapists and others. Reviews from veterans have been enthusiastic.

“I’ve used it,” Howden said. “It works.”

With a husband in Iraq, Emily Howden’s journey continues this fall at NC State University where she is enrolled to the College of Veterinary Medicine.

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