Iwakuni commander’s wife recycles e-mails into book

By Teri Weaver, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Tuesday, February 27, 2007

It may seem like a very bad idea to spill coffee on a Marine colonel while he’s wearing a white sweater.

But for Lisa Dyer, that mishap six years ago led to love, marriage and a new life within the U.S. military.

It also led Dyer, 45, to write and her first book, “Spilled Coffee,” the story of her transition from civilian life to that of a U.S. Marine Corps commander’s wife.

“I was scared of the whole Marine thing,” Dyer said, remembering how that chance encounter on a plane from Chicago to Colorado grew into a long-distance correspondence with Michael Dyer, now the base commander of Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.

“Marines are known for being tough and straightforward, which he is,” she said during a recent phone interview. “But I also learned he is a wonderful human being.”

Dyer’s military lesson has gone from a simple matter of geography — she was unsure of the location of the U.S. Naval Academy, Col. Dyer’s alma mater, when he suggested it as the site of their marriage — to the rules of daily life as an officer’s spouse and an employee at Iwakuni’s Red Cross office.

She’s experienced the moves, first to Colorado Springs, then to Okinawa and now Iwakuni, all in the past five years. She admits to the frustrations of living in the fishbowl environment on a base, where everyone knows everyone and all eyes are on the commander and his wife.

But most of all, she says, her new life has brought her a personal appreciation of the military’s work around the world. She’s hosted friends and family at military bases, met war veterans from other countries and known friends and colleagues who have died in conflict.

“Now I look at the bigger picture better,” she said. “The military is a very serious thing. And I think it’s made me a better person.”

The book grew out of a collection of e-mails she sent home to friends and family during the new couple’s first overseas assignment together on Okinawa. Dyer, a former medical conference coordinator who grew up in suburban Illinois, wrote home once a week about her new life in Japan and on a military base.

Her friends and family suggested she turn the letters into something more. Last spring, she self-published “Spilled Coffee” at Lulu, an online publisher. The book can be ordered from Lulu.com, and a copy is available at Iwakuni’s library.

Dyer says she avoided offering advice in the book, though she’s met many spouses who married servicemembers without a primer to guide them through the transition. For her, the key is being open and inquisitive about the lifestyle.

“To this day, I still ask tons of questions,” she said, laughing.

Most of all, she said, she follows the advice her husband gave her: “Just be yourself and keep an open mind and heart.”