After six unhappy years in the Army, veteran unlocks life of many passions

One of Emily Yates’ favorite spots on the University of California Berkeley campus is the top floor of a tall building, a place so typically deserted and peaceful that she prefers not to reveal its location lest her public sanctuary become overrun.

From where the Army veteran sits, the Bay Area lies before her in a scenic panorama. You could make the case that this is life imitating metaphor, that the world is indeed at the feet of this 29-year-old Oakland resident with myriad interests and a boundless passion with which to pursue them.

Emily Yates enjoys time with her husband, Eric Yates, in their backyard in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday evening, May 29, 2012. Emily Yates saw the Army as a means to an education and a career in journalism. She served two deployments to Iraq as a public affairs specialist, the second of which was extended past her discharge date as a result of the 2008 surge. Today, even as she attends UC Berkeley on her GI stipend, she is active in Iraq Veterans Against the War, and even as she performs, on her ukulele, her own songs expressing mirthful social commentary, she is still dealing with anger from her experience in the military. (Karl Mondon/Staff)

Yates is a student, working toward a degree in Near Eastern Studies. She is a musician who performs her own songs on the ukulele (or, in a pinch, a banjo strung and tuned to mimic a ukulele), and who recently released the 12-song CD “I’ve Got Your Folk Songs Right Here.”

She is a photographer whose work was recently displayed at the Women’s Veterans Art Exhibit in San Francisco. She is a published writer and poet who posts her work on her aptly named website emilyyatesdoeseverything.com. She has dabbled in social activism, and joined Iraq Veterans Against The War.

Self-expression is a lifestyle, attributable in large part to her nature. But to fully understand her seemingly unquenchable thirst for life, you have to go back to her six years in the military, when she was trapped between her inclination to speak her mind and the Army’s insistence on circumspect obedience.

It was an ill-fated alliance from the start.

“We couldn’t believe our ears,” said Yates’ mother, Amy Danial, recalling the news of her daughter’s enlistment. “Her thing was, she never liked rules and she didn’t like to work hard.”

Home schooled until she was 16, Yates earned a GED rather than complete high school. She ran away from her family’s Liverpool, N.Y., home to pay an unannounced visit to her aunt in New York City. She was so relentlessly rebellious that her parents felt compelled to send her to boarding school.

Emily Yates collects lettuce leaves from her backyard in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday evening, May 29, 2012. Yates served multiple tours for the Army and is now attending UC Berkeley. (Karl Mondon/Staff)

“We felt it was like saving her life,” Danial said.

“I was probably a 7 or an 8 on the scale of (difficult) teenagers,” Yates said. “I was just unhappy, for some reason, with myself.”

Yates saw the Army as a place to get training for an aspiring career (since abandoned) in journalism. It was a place to go when she ran out of money for community college. It was something she hadn’t tried.

“It was going to springboard me into anything else,” she said. “I basically thought: Military — I haven’t done that yet.”

A public affairs specialist, she served two tours of duty in Iraq. If she was removed from the front line, enough insurgent ordinance exploded near her post to underscore that death was a way of life in that war-torn country.

During her time in the Army, she was married, then separated from her first husband. (She has since divorced and remarried.) She was part of the 2007 surge in Iraq, during which she was “stop-lossed” — forced to serve past her scheduled discharge date. She was ordered to attend anger-management counseling, during which she was advised by an Army doctor to “lower your expectations.”

Instead, she continued to bristle against the ritual obedience and conformity of Army life.

“I never met a person who was less cut out for the Army,” David Abrams, her direct supervisor during her first deployment, wrote in an email. “She’s a fundamentally good person. I don’t think she was able to comfortably fit herself into the cookie-cutter demands of the military. She was funny, she was lively, she questioned authority, she colored outside the lines. I don’t think she was very happy during her time in Baghdad, but she made the most of it.”

Emily Yates saw the Army as a means to an education and a career in journalism. She served two deployments to Iraq as a public affairs specialist, the second of which was extended past her discharge date as a result of the 2008 surge. Today, even as she attends UC Berkeley on her GI stipend, she is active in Iraq Veterans Against the War, and even as she performs, on her ukulele, her own songs expressing mirthful social commentary, she is still dealing with anger from her experience in the military. (Karl Mondon/Staff)

Yates felt constrained in her PA duties, ordered to report the Army’s view of the war instead of what she believed to be the truth. Eventually she was banned from writing editorials for the bi-weekly Marne 3rd Infantry Division newspaper

“I got much angrier because I then had absolutely no outlet,” she said.

So she began channeling her frustration — not to mention searing wit and sarcasm — into an anonymous blog that she made available to certain friends and family on the condition of secrecy. “The only thing that saved me,” she said.

“Her blog was a great venting place,” her mother said. “You could definitely hear her getting angry and cynical.”

Reflecting back, “I definitely had some really happy times,” Yates said of her time in the Army. “I have some great friends. I did some really cool things. But I was not a happy person for most of my time in the military.”

In some respects, however, she got exactly what she wanted from her Army experience — a springboard to something else. After her June 2008 discharge, she was able to travel the country on income she received from the Army. The Army is paying for her college education. And she emerged from her service even more committed to seeking out as many new ideas and unique experiences as a 24-hour day will accommodate.

“I was inquisitive in a way,” she said, recalling her decision to enlist. “I wanted to try everything out. I was experimental.

“Still am.”

Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/garyscribe

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About Lee Ann Colacioppo

I am the Senior Editor/News at the Denver Post. I have been at The Post sincd 1999 in a variety of positions, including city editor and investigations editor. I previously worked at The Des Moines Register, Greenville, S.C., News and Kingsport, Tenn., Times-News. I'am a Denver native and graduate of Drake University in Des Moines. View all posts by Lee Ann Colacioppo →
  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QQAW3WHW4MTFO4EQEL46AFPGXI Chilebreath

    As anyone with half a brain can tell, this young lady’s fate was sealed when she decided to join the Army; oil and water just don’t mix.  But join the Army she did, and even though it was a love/hate relationship, she did fulfill her obligation, and so now she can say and do anything she wants because, unlike a lot of her Bay Area peers, she served!  

    • no obama 2012

      Absolutely agree! The fact that it was such a love/hate relationship (it often is, even for us lifers) and she endured it (especially Stop-Loss) is commendable. She seems to have gotten what she enlisted for and found out it wasn’t for her, but the lessons she learn–good or bad–will make her a better person. Eventually, I bet she’ll grudgingly admit it was a great experience.

    • Plantbofo

      How ironic your name 2012 – Mitt Romney doesn’t want to get our military out of this mess it’s in.  He can’t wait to start the next wars, as long as his sons don’t participate.

      • no obama 2012

        More military personnel have died in Afghanistan in Obama’s
        three years than in G.W.’s two terms—by far, where’s your outrage, plantbofo?
        Where are the war protesters, the pictures of returning coffins, and the Cindy
        Sheehans? Obama’s daughters are too young to join to support their father’s
        surge, but are they sitting around the kitchen table helping him pick out who
        is the next to be assassinated by a drone will be? 

        There’s no incongruity in your name at all, plantbofo. Your
        mind is like a stigma, collecting all the bits of pollen the Lame Stream Media
        blows your way.

        • http://twitter.com/vegasknight1977 joshua knight

          the lame stream media huh… would that include fox news ?

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TYHFR6ONG56LYN5YYGWAIXQJDI Douglas

        too much cloud dancing in liberal fantasy land there Alice get you facts straight

  • Paul Balcer

    I would want to see every congressman and senator’s selective service age son and daughter serve in our wars first, before I let my kids sign the dotted line. Semper fi, Devil Dogs!

  • Robert Floyd

    If she hated the Army so bad, why didn’t she just enlist for 2 years? But no,she stayed for 6. So she must not have hated it as bad as she says.  She sounds like one of these people who thinks she has the right to do whatever she wants when ever she wants no mater what or who it hurts. Well sorry, when you join the military,you sign a contract and you need to conform to the military way of life. Do you need to be a robot? No, you don’t. But you don’t get to do what you want when on-duty either. You follow the rules for whatever branch of the military you’re in. Off-duty time is the time you get to do what you want to. She also sounds like a person with anger problems since she had to go through anger management. Oh, I can’t write what I want to, so I’m going to get even angrier. I need to vent. Well boo hoo hoo.  I served in the military also, was it always good? No it wasn’t. But I didn’t hate being in the military either. If I hated it as bad as this women said she did, I would have gotten out after my 1st enlistment. Even now I doubt if she is happy, people like her are never satisfied with their lives or what they have,always wanting something more. Eventually there will be no more to have, what then? You get so angry and no way to vent that you kill someone?

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TYHFR6ONG56LYN5YYGWAIXQJDI Douglas

      six years is a four year extension she has no credibility for me

    • Emily Yates

      Six years is a five-year contract plus one year of stop-loss, in fact. But it doesn’t matter, since you’re going to be an asshole regardless of how much you don’t know. Cheers!

    • Emily Yates

      I am actually quite happy, thank you! But perhaps you should look into some anger management, you seem to have gotten yourself all worked up.

      • Gabriel Perron

        yes emily i seem to have nailed that already. Email me please, gabbyJ_1@hotmail.com

    • Gabriel Perron

      i think you need anger management bro, how hypocritical you sound there accusing somoene of being unable to vent their feelings and needing help. You didn’t like all the time spent either did you? Well booo hoo, real people like me believe in the possiblity of truly finding something special in life, and some have to come to realize the hard way that person the military doesnt deserve the high expectations i orignally created as a young high school graduate.
      How would u like it if i told you your not allowed to say what you just said? If i had the authority to remove your post because i felt it was undilligent and unbecoming? Now that’s exactly the kind of things the military does, they try to control your mind. They subjugate you, attempt to make you think with your own head.
      I have been in 3 years and im losing my patience with the pointless and senseless rules they enforce in order to claim union and community. Im also tired of hypocritical and judgemental and condescending people like you who say things but sound equally angry in that retrospect.
      The military is not a perfect place, i’ve been backstabbed, lied to , and snitched out by my “fellow comrades” , the truth is the enemy is often the people who claim to be your side, there is no nazis anymore , it’s the people like you who judge and criticize and think their better having an unfulfilled notoin of what it means to serve.

  • Robert Floyd

    If she hated the Army so bad, why didn’t she just enlist for 2 years? But no,she stayed for 6. So she must not have hated it as bad as she says.  She sounds like one of these people who thinks she has the right to do whatever she wants when ever she wants no mater what or who it hurts. Well sorry, when you join the military,you sign a contract and you need to conform to the military way of life. Do you need to be a robot? No, you don’t. But you don’t get to do what you want when on-duty either. You follow the rules for whatever branch of the military you’re in. Off-duty time is the time you get to do what you want to. She also sounds like a person with anger problems since she had to go through anger management. Oh, I can’t write what I want to, so I’m going to get even angrier. I need to vent. Well boo hoo hoo.  I served in the military also, was it always good? No it wasn’t. But I didn’t hate being in the military either. If I hated it as bad as this women said she did, I would have gotten out after my 1st enlistment. Even now I doubt if she is happy, people like her are never satisfied with their lives or what they have,always wanting something more. Eventually there will be no more to have, what then? You get so angry and no way to vent that you kill someone?

  • Mr. Bill

    Ha…ha… I had to laugh when I saw the photo. My first visit to Cal Berkeley (1968) was with my banjo. Certainly an amazing time back then. Check out Wurster hall. Good luck!

    • Emily Yates

      Thanks Mr. Bill! Watch out for Mr. Hand!

    • Emily Yates

      Thanks Mr. Bill! Watch out for Mr. Hand!

    • Emily Yates

      Thanks Mr. Bill! Watch out for Mr. Hand!

  • http://www.facebook.com/bob.curmudgeon Bob Curmudgeon

    The success of the military (or team sports, for that matter) is that all the parts are coordinated to contribute to a greater whole. There is little room for an “It’s all about me” self-serving attitude. What did she expect?

  • TOP!

    I served proudly in the US.Army and not everyday was a barrel of monkeys! This so called soliders seems like a Big Ass Cry-baby and I am sure that the soliders who served with her, couldnt wait for her to ets! And furthermore she couldn’t work or serve fro me, she wouldnt of been discharge for failure to adapt! Trust Me!

    • Gabriel Perron

      serve proudly but ur really just useless, the real heroes are the cooks and hospital workers, construction workers , farmers ,etc. They don’t put on a fancy uniform get big paychecks and pretend to be better than us! She tried, she survived 6 years of mindless subjugation maybe its easy for you with your grade 10 background

  • MB

    Her parents had to send her to boarding school and she rates herself as a 7 or 8 on a difficulty scale? She has little self awareness yet is so full of herself – she reminds me of a toddler.

    • Emily Yates

      That’s so perceptive of you! You clearly learn all the facts before you pass judgment. I admire your well-honed sense of self awareness.

    • Gabriel Perron

      #1) do you know anything about military, or what it means to serve?
      #2) how about a little introduction did your mom ever teach you manners?
      #3) ao shes a toddler , and she survived 6 years hmmm military must be really easy then.
      #4) i could keep going, but you barely said anything and are not worth the time anyway

  • Emily Yates

    I really love! Your use of exclamation points! In your comment! For emphasis! Clever! Also! Perhaps learn how to spell “soldier”! Cheers!

  • Emily Yates

    That’s right – in the military, it’s one big happy family, with all the parts working as a team. None of the family ever screw one another over, or use one member’s lack of agency against it to get ahead. They also issue every new recruit a Skittles-shitting unicorn along with their uniforms.

  • Emily Knitter

    Hello Emily! I see you’ve been commenting on this story, so I just wanted to say hi! I am Emily also ;) and a print PAO with 3rd ID right now, funny enough! Glad you let them to this story on you. It is always so nice to see what is going on with other Army PAO women, especially since I am nearing the end of my FIRST-TERM 5 yr contract as well. (Since apparently a lot of these so called “former Soldiers” don’t seem to understand some of the basic parts of the military)

    • Emily Yates

      Hi other Emily! Glad to hear from you, and glad to know you understand where I’m coming from here. Keep your head down, and feel free to stay in touch – I’m on FB as well. We Army PAO are a special breed, eh? “Think,” they tell us, “but not too hard.”

      Cheers!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1175227284 Walt Kaiser

    so will she become another John Kerry, throw her medals back, run for political office and become a blight on society, just askin.

  • PJ

    looks like sarah gilbert

  • tang_go

    And no apparent gratitude mentioned for the military providing her, her hippie education….just a means

  • vet

    i know why shes pissed because of you guys judging her, when you dont see the corruption some of you guysseem to block out of your memory banks. blatant sexual harassment, corrupt chain of commands, all that sick disgusting stuff, people walking around like zombies crapping on each other constantly. Yes, I’m glad I got out too