Teresa Fazio’s memoir, Fidelis, is the story of agency, power struggles, and life lessons learned on a young Marine’s deployment and over the years after she returns. Her experience places her narrative within the scope of widely varied war literature such as Karen Skolfield’s Battle Dress: Poems, Sebastian Junger’s War, Brian Turner’s Here, Bullet, and Ryan Leigh Dostie’s Formation. What’s most admirable about this forthright memoir is that Fazio addresses what the rest of us leave out of our own war experiences: people are tempted, pressured, groomed, and accosted in every military deployment. Writing as a woman and veteran myself, I know many of us made immoral, rule-breaking personal choices that don’t line up with our personal moral code. We are often embarrassed by these choices and, unlike Fazio, we don’t take the time to unpack and expose them for the raw wounds they are. Fidelis does. Fazio pulls back the curtain on what lies in those dark rooms: injuries that extend beyond military deployments and beyond the expected physical harm of armed conflict.

Fidelis’s longer exploration of sexual predation, youthful bad decisions, and coming to terms with moral injuries leaves Fazio room to argue that some of the responsibility bad choices can be chalked up to a military deployment. Some are simply a part of growing up. Setting readers up for her story, she describes herself as small, naïve, and a Harry Potter look-a-like—proclaiming herself as non-sexy, but nonetheless the subject of sexual pursuit. While deployed, a married man establishes a bond with Fazio: a relationship that begins to push the boundaries of legal military behavior. When Fazio’s “Freedom Flight” (the flight contracted to take her out of Iraq and back to America) lands back at her base in California; she explores the ramifications and difficult untangling of the complicated series of choices she made in Iraq and continued to make once home. Finally, choosing to leave the Marine Corps when her commitment is fulfilled, Fazio learns how to heal her invisible wounds and emerge into a future of her own making.


From the moment we servicemembers are indoctrinated into the military, we learn that we are to give “service before self,” in our commitment to the organization. When we deploy, we are surrounded almost solely by other military members—people we are supposed to be committed to in selfless sacrifice. That commitment can create blurred boundaries: if we are supposed to be battle buddies and sustain each other’s morale, where does that support stop? After Fazio develops an emotional attachment with the married warrant officer, she dances the borderline of acceptable behavior in a combat zone. She remains committed to this attachment long after another part of her has reasoned she should let it go. As a retired officer, I understand this need to be committed to a bad judgment call: once you make the call you don’t turn back. It’s a question of commitment and perseverance, a skewed rationale. Fazio carries readers on the mind-bending journey through this mental reasoning; one that makes perfect sense to me.

Military memoirs traditionally address everything from combat trauma heroes who endure and survive deep duress to servicemembers who tell the story of a specific, and usually traumatic, event. Fazio, however, explores her military experience in the context of her evolving sense of self. Her narrative remains committed to military values: take responsibility for your actions, no matter the extenuating circumstances. What shines in this memoir is Fazio’s assertion that her life lessons might have been learned at any point in her path: “What it would take me years to learn is that it didn’t matter what job I’d taken after college graduation. I would learn what I was meant to about love and friendship—and a leader’s integrity—no matter whether I spent my days in a prestigious physics program, an entry-level office job, or a war [ . . . ] the same types of scenarios, the same moral choices, and similar lessons would have presented themselves, regardless of where I landed.” She is talking about women everywhere, not just military women.

Fazio offers us this “coming of age” realization early on in the memoir, setting the stage for the investigated reveal. Her unflinching and honest gaze on the multiple levels of naivete and predation in this all-too-familiar narrative of women, men, and power resonates with my own deployed experiences. Most people outside of the military have no sense of the sexually-charged environment found in military training or deployments. Fazio’s story will be familiar to people in the military while perhaps surprising or shocking to people not in the know.

Fazio’s grooming begins somewhere around the time the warrant officer joins in the martial arts training she gives her troops and continues on into the chess she plays with him in the tea garden. When he compliments her teaching abilities and asks her to watch a Friday night movie in his “hooch,” savvy readers know what’s going on even if Fazio did not, at least not in the moment. That movie night, after he tucks a stray hair behind her ear and pronounces “I find you very attractive,” her thoughts race—their age difference, his marriage, his young child—and she is both flattered by his attention and frantic to do the right thing. We witness the push and pull of these feelings throughout the narrative and, from the perspective Fazio offers, we witness the warrant officer carefully balance the line so that each decision to compromise her integrity both seems like her decision while remaining calculated on his part, like a predator moving in for a kill.

But Fazio also opens the possibilities for seeing her hunter in a sympathetic light. He, supposedly, has a compromised marriage held together only by the parents’ mutual love for their child. His job in mortuary affairs makes him face grisly corpses with a care that shows us the man, somewhere, is good and decent. He seems genuinely captivated by Fazio, making the end of the narrative a careful two-step for her to navigate as we join her in finding out what is reprehensible in the man while also developing deeper sympathy for him. With nuance and grace, Fazio offers up reflections on the layered meaning of compromise.  

A critical point in Fidelis is Fazio’s perspective on what has come to be known as “moral injury” –a form of trauma that defines her deployed experience and would have been a comforting label for her mental duress in the months and years after her return from Iraq. She writes that “Over a decade later, I would learn the definition of moral injury from a National Guard counselor’s online brief—‘perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to or learning about acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations,’ which ‘results in highly aversive and haunting states of inner conflict, turmoil, and shame.’” Fazio’s narrative highlights the prevalence of moral transgressions and the broad swath of invisible injury happening to many military members. Yet she doesn’t finish with “what happens” in the relationship as much as she shows a young woman coming into her own when she negotiates the cycles of shame that threaten to cripple her as she successfully learns to live her chosen life.

For people interested in a glimpse of military life, everything about Fazio’s narrative feels right. From waving her gun at leering Iraqis, to dust, makeshift quarters, and bootleg videos, Fazio’s descriptions of deployment will ring true for people who have been deployed. But people who have had to make tough decisions, people who have made wrong decisions, and people who want to see someone who has been through these “moral injuries” are Fazio’s target. The present-day Fazio surely wishes she could sit young Fazio down and tell her that it isn’t her fault; that we all make mistakes, and she shouldn’t bear the weight of this pain with the overwhelming guilt we witness. The one piece of reassurance is that an older Fazio is telling us this story. We know she must make it through, somehow.

Ultimately, Fidelis is a frank book that, for once, shows a woman striding into an unstoppable future, moving beyond the predator who could have knocked her down—even developing sympathy for him—while patching up her invisible wounds. Brave in addressing her experience publicly, Fazio’s Fidelis is a big step in acknowledging the promiscuous culture surrounding insular military environments through the lens of a woman whose moral injuries could have flattened her.

They didn’t.

MaxieJane Frazier

MaxieJane is retired Senior Military Faculty from the United States Air Force Academy and an author/editor. Her writing has been published in The Willa Cather Review, The Routledge Companion to Literature and Food, as well as anthologies of critical essays. A graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars, she is currently working on a novel and a military memoir.

Share This