AD: “I point to things like, because we were in Afghanistan, little girls were able to go to school.”

What is your birth year?

1974.

How old does that make you today? 

That makes me 43. 

What branch of the United States Armed Forces did you serve in?

I was in the Army.

What was your rank?

I started as an E4- a specialist- and I came out as a First Lieutenant. Then, since leaving, they’ve promoted me to captain. 

Where did you serve?

I did my basic training in Fort Leonard Wood, in Missouri, and then my initial training was in Fort Huachuca. I was stationed at Fort Bragg for most of my time, when I wasn’t at school. Then, of course, I deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Where were you born?

I was born in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania. 

What are your parent’s names?

My dad’s name is George, and my mother’s name is Catherine. 

Do you have any siblings?

I do have a brother, who is also George. I always say that George is my brother, my father, and my grandfather. 

What city did you grow up in?

Pine Grove, which really isn’t a city, because even today, it only has one red light. 

What schools did you attend?

I graduated from Pine Grove, then went on to Penn State University and got my degree in secondary education, with an emphasis in mathematics. 

Can you tell me any specific memories you have from your childhood?

I was a farm girl- grew up on a farm. It wasn’t anything we did by way of making a living- my dad always worked elsewhere, my mom always worked elsewhere. we had beef cattle, and then the menagerie of animals that come with a farm- dogs, cats, sheep, goose, chickens, rabbits- just lots of animals. My grandparents lived down the road from me, so that was nice; every time I ran away from home, I just went down the road to my grandmother’s house, and when she realized it was dinner time, she’d chase me back up the hill. My running away was never very far. My mom’s whole family and my dad’s whole family was in that same town, so all of my memories are around my family, and spending time with my family. I grew up in a small school where everyone knew everyone, and everyone’s parents knew everyone, and most of the time, I was related to everyone. {Smiles}

Did you play any sports growing up?

Nope. I was a math geek, and I marched on the band front. 

Tell me about high school.

High school was good in that I came away with three best friends that I am still in contact with, which is phenomenal, and amazing. Even though I left the area, and my other friends left, the other two are still in the area, so we get together as often as possible, which is fabulous. We always tease that when we were in high school, everyone says, “Oh, these are the best years of your life, you’re going to look back and wish you could come back to them”- we agree that no, those weren’t the best years of our lives. They were pretty good- we had a good time- but we were ready to move on. 

Were you drafted or did you enlist? [Note- the United States Selective Service ended the draft in 1973.]

When I was going through high school, and on to college, the thought of entering the military never crossed my mind. I was the smart girl- everyone knew to come to me to copy homework, because I didn’t mind sharing; that way, no one would beat me up. It was never in my mind to join the military. I went into Penn State, got my degree, came out, taught for three years in Hawaii, [and] spent a year back on the mainland. In that time, my dad passed away. I felt that I didn’t want to spend my whole life waiting for the weekend, waiting for retirement- that either I had to love being a teacher, or I needed to find something else. I determined that I was going to go find something else! I taught there was something bigger, and better, out there for me. I didn’t want to go back for graduate school, because I didn’t know what that bigger, better thing was, so the Army offered me a way of training for something else, while paying me. Seemed like a good idea! That’s when I enlisted. I turned 26 while I was in basic training, around a bunch of 17-and-18 year olds who had never been away from home. I did a road march on my birthday. 

What year did you enlist? 

2000.

Did you have any expectations about war?

Because I already had my degree, I could have gone straight through the officer route, but I determined that if I was going to go back to the military for additional training, I wanted to be able to select that training. My recruiter told me that if I went the enlisted route, I could choose my field, while if I went the officer route, it would be needs of the Army. I went through the whole list of everything, and determined that I was interested most in military intelligence, so that’s what I selected. There was a pretty nice signing bonus for that. That sort of directed my avenue, of which way I wanted to go. My thought was to go through, get my training in military intelligence, spend some time, determine if I wanted to do it for a whole career, or get out, and pursue some sort of intelligence field. 

Who was President at the time?

Clinton, I think, but just barely. Then, through most of my time, it was George Bush II. 

How old were you when you enlisted?

26. 25 when I enlisted.

What was your family and friends reactions to your enlistment?

They were a little bit confused, by way of like, “What is going on? I don’t understand this! You were never the athletic person, never played sports- you’re really going to go out there and do this?” But, once they got over the initial shock, I think they sort of figured out, “Oh, okay, makes sense. You’re a smart one, who figures out what they want to do, and then you go for it.” That’s what I was doing. 

Where were you living when you enlisted?

I was actually teaching in North Carolina. 

Why did you pick the service branch you served in?

My dad was in the Army, my grandfather was in the Army, I had an uncle or two that were in the Army, so it just seemed the natural fit to go towards the Army, and not any other branch. 

Do you remember your first days in service? What was it like?

It was a little bit chaotic in that they sort of [make it chaotic] on purpose, to throw you off from what you know, so they can get you ready for training. A lot of packing, and unpacking, and “Do you have this?”, and “Do you have that?”, and “No, I don’t have this”, so “Go get this.” I felt as though I had a little bit better life experience, so it didn’t shake me quite as much as it shook other people, but that was okay. That was part of it. So, a little chaotic. 

What was your boot camp or training experience like?

The mental part I didn’t really have so many concerns about, because I knew it was mostly just a big game. The physical was a little bit tricker, because I had never thought of myself as an athletic person, but because I didn’t think of myself as an athletic person, I purposefully started running before I went in, and was pleasantly surprised to be the only one who really apparently did that- at least in the females that were in my unit. I was very excited when we did our first physical fitness test, and I was the only female to pass the run, because no one else had apparently taken it very seriously. I’m like, “Oh, okay, so that put me at a good level.” That helped for the males in the unit, too, to be like, “Oh, so you’re not just here to be a girl. You’re here to actually do stuff.”  

Do you recall your trainers or instructors? Their expectations of you?

Yes. Again, I think that I was fortunate in that I was a little bit older, so their expectations were a little bit different then the others. I think that I was left alone a little bit more, and I think that establishing myself as the only female who could stay in a run also allowed me some protection that others didn’t have. Because I was the other one, though, too, it seemed that when there were issues with the fireguard roster- where you have people stay up to make sure that there’s not fires in the barracks- whenever there were issues, people came to me to figure it out. I’m like, “Seriously? I need my sleep too, people. I am older than you, and I need more sleep than you!” {Smiles} But, okay, I’ll figure it out. Interestingly, my first day of actual basic training, I was put into a leadership position of being a squad leader, and maintained that position throughout the whole basic training, whereas other people were put into the squad leadership position and then fired. There were only two of us who were able to stay and not get fired throughout the whole basic training. On the day before graduation, the other of the two of us was fired. So, that left me as the cheese. It seemed like you really stepped into a leadership position. Every time I go to school, I’m like, “This is the time I’m going to fade into the background.” That has never happened. 

Where exactly did you go during your deployment?

I was in Bagram, Afghanistan, and Balad, Iraq for my deployments.

What was the weather like?

It was hot. Very hot. Afghanistan was surprisingly not as hot as Iraq, but we were higher in elevation. I also discovered something about myself in Afghanistan that I would never have discovered had I not deployed and that’s that I don’t like going from my bed to the bathroom, and having to step in a puddle covered in ice. There was no indoor plumbing, so you had to go to the Porta Potty. I left in December, so it was cold, because they have seasons there. I was [in Iraq] from June until September, and it was just hot- miserably hot, and dirty. Very dusty.

On being stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq:

When I was at Officer training, and they were trying to figure out where everyone was going to get stationed, there was an opportunity that came out and said, “Oh, this might be something you’re interested in, for finance lieutenants to go down range with Special Forces guys, and keep them out of trouble.” What kind of trouble? Well, you are giving them $30,000 dollars to walk out the door with, to go do operations. The trouble would be not to be swayed by that money, and to spend it on things that it’s meant to be spent on. To make sure that they’re doing everything correctly, so that when they come back, they don’t ever have to worry about being questioned on what they spent the money on. I knew going into it that I would basically have back-to-back type deployments, and that was okay. I did it, but that doesn’t mean I have to do that for the rest of my career in the military. I was happy to say, “Okay, done my time. Move on.”

Do you recall arriving to your assigned locations? What did you expect?

In both locations, you had to go in under the cover of darkness. In both locations, again the chaos of “Oh my gosh!” You’re here, and someone meets you to get you where you’re going, and “Oh, you’re female, so I can’t take you to the same place I’m taking everyone else.” Then, there was the fact that I was an officer by that time, so “Well, I can’t take you with other females- you get your own tent.” Then it was, “Now I’m not really sure what to do with you.” But, once that got figured out, it wasn’t so bad. 

How do you think your gender effected your service?

I always made it a point to understand [that] there are, in my view, just physical differences between men and women. I am a big fan for understanding that can’t necessarily take my rucksack, that weighs 50-75 pounds, and lift it up over my head and get it onto the back of a vehicle. I know that that’s not something that I can do, so I’m happy to ask someone, “Hey, can you help me get this on the back?” I’ve never made it a point of ‘because I’m a girl’, or anything like that. When people help me with stuff like that, it’s my point to go back. You know what I am really good at? I’m really good at working long shifts, and I don’t mind staying up at night, so hey, you who helped me get my bag on the back of the vehicle? When it comes time for me to wake you up to relieve me on the shift, I don’t mind staying up an extra hour, or two, to give you some extra sleep, because you helped me out here. That seemed to balance things out, and it didn’t take long for people to understand that they didn’t have to ask- it wasn’t favor, it was just [that] we’re all in this together, and if there are things that I can’t do, there are other things I can do. It will all balance out in the end. Do you find that people treated you differently? Oh, yeah. The nice thing was that since I was an officer, and I had enlisted, I certainly noticed that there was a difference in enlisted people who were like, “Oh, no, she’s an officer, but she’s one of the good ones, because she’s been enlisted. She knows what it’s like to take the garbage out.” It helped in that regard. 

What was your job or assignment there? Did it change over time?

When I was in Afghanistan, I was the resource management officer, so I was in charge of all of the money for the unit I was deployed with, which was the 3rd Special Forces Operation Group. The Special Forces people sure can go through money, so it was a big job. In Iraq, it was more of a team of us- there were more layers, more funds, more things that we were doing. Bigger job in that way, but more people to do the job. 

Did you see any combat at these locations?

I would say no, not necessarily. I was in Afghanistan while Iraq was the hotbed; Iraq was still a hotbed when I went there, but it was starting to not be so terrible. When I was in Afghanistan, I think we had twice that something was shot at us, and we had to do something about it, like go to the wall and reinforce the perimeter. That was it. In Iraq, it was a little bit different. There were a couple times where it was things being shot at us, and we’d have to go to the wall, or the bunkers. But even that, it wasn’t necessarily combat. 

Were there casualties in your unit?

Mm-hm. Yep. When I was in Afghanistan- I was at the base, and we’d send people to forward-operating bases, and we lost someone in Afghanistan who had been out on a convoy. We had a special in- service type thing, so that sticks out. When I was in Iraq- again, things were being shot at us- we had people who just happened to be going to the PX, the store, and something just happened to come in, and killed someone. 

Tell me about any specific memories or experiences that stand out.

I think one of my favorites was when I was in Iraq; I was a finance officer, [and] I had to go to another base to deliver money. I remember being in a plane, and it was considerably bumpy, and at one point someone [said], “It’s going to be bumpy because we’re refueling.” I was like “Oh, okay.” For me, again, it was sort of cool to do stuff like this. Then, the next day, when we had landed and I had gotten some sleep, and was figuring out where I needed to go, and deliver, and do, I was telling someone about the excitement we had- we were fueling!- and the guy, who I think was a sergeant, who had been in for a long time, [said], “Next time, you should totally ask for some headphones! Then, you can listen to them say, ‘Oh, shit! That was close!'” I’m like, “No, I don’t want to hear that part of it! I’m perfectly content to think that everyone knows what they’re doing and we’re not close to hitting anything!” He goes, “Well, you know that’s what happens!” That’s fine, but I don’t need to know that! {Laughs}  

What were the most trying and difficult moments of service?

In Iraq, I can say that again, we had myself, and there was a warrant officer who was a female, and we shared a tent. She and I became great friends; it was very flustering when, in the middle of the night, we’d have something lobbed at us. We’d get the sirens going, and we’d have to go out to the bunkers. Generally, we’d be out in the bunkers, and they’d go, “All right, all clear. Go back to bed!” About the third or fourth time, the sirens would go off, and it’d be like, “Seriously?!” [We’d talk like] “You going to the bunker?” “I don’t want to go to the bunker.” “I’ll go to the bunker if you want to go to the bunker.” “Okay, tell you what- I’m just going to pull my body armor over the top of me, and go back to sleep. If I die, but you survive, let my family know I love them!” She’s like, “Okay, but you got to do the same for me!” No problem, we make a pact. Things like that. Those things that are somewhat surreal to talk to someone [about], but it is. 

What were the best memories of service?

I sometimes felt as though I was in a M*A*S*H episode, and it was fabulously fun, because I was away at day camp. I felt that way more in Afghanistan than Iraq, but in Afghanistan; we had movie nights, and I was the lieutenant in charge of movie nights-selecting the movie and making sure there was ice cream. We were fed really well. The females I worked with were incredibly close-knit to each other. I remember in and around Halloween, one of the gals that worked in the section next to me professed to not like scary movies. I was like, “Really? The Ring is awesome. I love that movie!” “No, it’s terrible. I haven’t been able to get through that movie.” I said, “You should come watch it with me!” So, halfway through the movie, she gets scared, and then made some sort of excuse like she had to go to work. Sure, whatever. Well, then, later that night, I went to the shower trailer, and as I opened the door, the shower was going, and she quick [turned around]. I asked, “Are you okay?” And she said, “No! I’m a little freaked out! I purposefully came to the shower late at night so no one [would come in!] I had to check to make sure it wasn’t a ghost!” She went back to showering. I had really long hair at the time, so I moved all my hair to the front, and I sort of went and stood there and moved the shower curtain. She must’ve just rinsed enough and looked; the scream was so loud, and so long, that she had to stop and take a breath in the middle of it. It was fun things, like that. 

There’s something about bathrooms- things come out in bathrooms! {Smiles} I was showering, and I heard these guys talking on the other side of the shower trailer. I started listening, and this one guy was saying to the other guy, “Hey, have you heard about this product Nair to take hair off?” The guy’s like, “Nah, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of that.” He goes, “Well, I was at home, and I was reading the back of this bottle about this Nair stuff, and I thought, ‘Well, that seems like a good thing to fix my nose hair issues.'” I was [thinking], “What in the world?” The guy starts explaining how he put Nair up in his nose, and it burned a little bit, and it says to wait 10 minutes, so he waited and rinsed, but nothing seemed to happen. He goes, “I’m going to try it again, because it says if it doesn’t work, try it again- but no more than 10 minutes.” He says, “I put some up there and went out and figured I’d watch TV for 10 minutes, but I fell asleep. When I woke up, the pain was blinding. I could barely see to get back to the bathroom to wash this out. As I’m washing this out, I’m looking in the sink, and there’s blood, and the water is further irritating my nose. The pain was so bad I fell over and hit my head against the sink, so now I [had] blood running down…” And [by this point], I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I went BANG! BANG! BANG! on the wall, and… sudden quiet on the other side. They were like, “Hello? Who’s over there?” I’m like, “I’m not telling you! Now you’re going to have to wonder, for the rest of your time here, which female on this post knows your frickin Nair story.” Oh, it was hilarious. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve told that story, and people have been like, “What?!” But, these are the things you talk about, because you don’t have TV necessarily, to talk about. And I knew who it was- I recognized his voice. I knew right away, and I eventually told the person that I knew, and he felt better. It didn’t stop me from telling the story, or telling people to go ask him the story! It was awesome. 

Were you awarded any medals or citations? What for?

Yes. It’s not anything like a Bronze Star or a Purple Heart, or anything like that, but I was given the Joint Service medal, because in both locations, we were joint in that we had other services working with us. It meant we also had other countries working with us as well. To get that in both locations was sort of a big deal. Because I deployed with Special Forces Units, I do have a Special Forces combat patch, and I can wear the Special Forces insignia. When you deploy to a combat zone with a unit, you get to maintain their unit insignia on the other side. I have that permanently. That’s pretty cool, to have a Special Forces combat patch, even though I was not in Special Forces by any means. 

Were you injured during the war? How, and any after effects?

No. This is going to sound terrible, but- I may have gotten a sunburn by doing tan-ops on top of the building. Other than that, I was good. I had someone stop me as I was coming through a checkpoint, and he was like, “Oh my gosh! I do hair at home, and I’ve got to say, those are the most fabulous highlights I have ever seen in my life! Are you doing that yourself?” Well, in that it’s my hair! The Afghan sun just really highlighted my hair nicely, apparently. 

What were your friends and family’s reaction to the war? I imagine 9/11 would’ve occurred during your training.

9/11 happened [when] when I was already stationed with my first unit. I was in a patchy unit, but I knew I was about to head off to Officer Candidate School. The nice thing was that protected me, to some degree. I wasn’t able to deploy, because I was already set to go this other route. That was good for everyone. When I did deploy, my mom made a comment to me at one point that she just stopped watching the news. I’ve told people that, since then, like- that’s good advice, if you have someone that’s going overseas. Don’t watch the news, because a lot happens, and just because you see it on the news doesn’t mean it’s anywhere close to the person that you know. One of my friends that came to stay with me after I got back from Afghanistan- I was living in an apartment at the time, so I didn’t have a washer-dryer. I had to take my clothes to this little Laundromat that was in this apartment complex. I had gone to pick up my stuff, and had to go to the bathroom. I thought, “Oh, what am I going to do now? Wait- I don’t have to worry about going to the bathroom in the Porta Potty, because I don’t have to go to the Porta Potty. I can go from here, and take my stuff back to the house.” I was telling her this story, and she was like, “What Porta Potty?” I said, “Well, we didn’t have indoor plumbing.” [She goes], “This entire time you’ve been in Afghanistan, you haven’t had a bathroom?” I [go], “No.” “Oh my gosh, that’s worse than I thought!” It was just one of those things- that she didn’t even think about it. And I wasn’t even thinking that people thought that I didn’t have a bathroom. That type of thing- interesting. 

What were your friends and family’s reaction to your service?

Everyone has been very supportive, and fabulous. When 9/11 happened, I think there were a lot of people who were like, “Oh my gosh, this is horrible, what can I do?” I didn’t ever have that feeling, because I was in the military, so I knew that at some point, some how, there was going to be something I would do as a direct ‘this happened, now this happened’. I think the nice thing was that my family and friends were so supportive of me going, and doing, that that alleviated their feelings of, “I don’t know what to do.” Because what they did was support me. It worked out nicely that way.

How did you stay in touch with them?

Through email, mostly. I wrote letters now and then, but most of it was email. I was fortunate in both places to have access to a phone that I could call back to Fort Bragg and get an outside line [on], so I was able to make calls more than a lot of people. I did make phone calls, but it just wasn’t always the best connection. I would write weekly emails and let people know, “Oh, this happened.” 

What was the food like?

Pretty good. Again, because I deployed with the Special Forces guys, and I was not necessarily on a forward base- I maybe went and visited for a couple of days- I’m very thankful that I made it through 263 days in Afghanistan and did not have to eat a single piece of MRE. Pretty nice. 

Did you feel stress or pressure about the war and its effects?

I believe in what we were doing over there, and I think the pressure comes from this idea of people who aren’t sure that we went in there for a good reason. There’s a point at which I’ve generally tried to avoid conversations about that, because, well, I’m not necessarily out to change anyone’s opinion. I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I’m glad I did what I did. We did great and wonderful things while we were over there, so irregardless of why we went in there, there were good, wonderful things being done. That’s what I hold onto. 

Did you have a lot of free time?

More in Afghanistan than I did in Iraq, but only in that because I was sitting on a pile of money- that was my duty for 24 hours a day, so if a team came in at 2 o’clock in the morning, I was sleeping right there if they needed money, so I’d wake up and do. It was just sort of random, but there was free time. Thus movie nights and tan ops.

How did you entertain yourself? How did others?

I’m a people-person; I’m very much a people-person who likes to talk to people, and so I never am at a loss for talking to people. And, we watched a lot of movies. 

What did you think of your fellow soldiers or officers?

Fabulous. In any work area, you have some who are just not up to standard, but you get that everywhere. The Army- and, especially because I was working with Special Forces- they truly are special. They are so trained, and so amazing at what they have to do. There was never a doubt or question for my job supporting them, and anything I could do to support them so they could go do their mission, and not have to worry about the stuff I could help with. That’s what I did. 

Are there any people you met that you specifically remember?

Plenty. One of the nice things is through Facebook, it’s easier to keep in contact. I am Facebook friends with several of them, and it’s nice to keep in touch with people, and see them having families. 

Why, or when, did your service end?

I had deployed to Afghanistan for 263 days- I was supposed to go for six months, [but] at the end of six months they didn’t have someone to replace me, so I did the worst thing you can do in the Army- I volunteered to stay a bit longer. Staying a bit longer in Afghanistan bought me shorter time in Iraq, so it was totally worth it. That had been a lot, so I basically said “When my time is all said and done, it’s time for me again to move on to bigger and better things.” That’s what I did. 

How did you feel?

It was time, but it was hard walking away. It was hard, because I wanted to make sure I could walk away with a job waiting for me. That’s a little bit trickier to do sometimes, by way of when you save up leave, and you’re walking out, you have three months built up. Part of it is doing the transition. It’s hard to ask someone, “Oh, I’d like a job, but in three months.” That was a little scary, and I’m like security. It was alright. 

Where did you relocate to?

When I came in from Afghanistan, I went straight back to Fort Bragg, and one of my best friends from college was actually living in that area, with her husband, who was also in the Army, from Idaho, so it just sort of worked out. She basically picked me up, and took me to her house, and I stayed a couple nights with her, sort of doing the transition. It was cool, because her husband had just been in Afghanistan the prior year, so that was a good transition for me, to be able to talk to him, and reminisce. She helped me go pick up my car in the holding lot, and of course, after 9 months, it wouldn’t start. We had to go buy a battery, so that was a defining moment of awesome woman-hood, like “We can change a battery in a car, and it didn’t explode on us!” That was cool. I can also tell you there was a point at which the transition from the time difference was a little bit tricky; you’re used to staying up. It’s a full cycle. I remember at one point being awake, and laying in bed, like, “This is stupid. I can’t go to sleep. I should just get up and do stuff- I’m just going to run to Walmart, because I know they’re open 24 hours, and I know I need to pick up a few things.” I distinctly remember walking into Walmart at like 3 in the morning; the lights were super bright, and I remember being in the toothpaste aisle- because I needed toothpaste- and I’m [thinking], “This is crazy. How is it that we have 40 different toothpastes to pick from?” Because I had just spent 9 months going to the PX that had two. I literally had to sit down in the aisle for a moment, to catch my breath, because I’m like, “I don’t remember how to do this anymore. How do I pick this?” But then I got better. I can see where people get overwhelmed, and can’t get out of that to find their way back. 

Did you have a family after your service? How did service affect this?

I’ve since married, and have a six year old daughter. She’s precocious. I have had people comment on how my poor little daughter will never get away with anything, because Mom was in the military. I married someone who also served in the military, so she gets it from both sides. It colors it; there was a point before she was born, my husband and I were in bed, and there was a noise. We have two dogs, and the one jumped up, and I said something like, “Oh, look at that, he’s totally QRF!” He looked at me like, “Did you just use the word QRF? Did you just use QRF in relation to our dogs?! I can’t believe you used a military term to describe what the dog is doing- but okay, good!” It’s been nice, because then we can be our military crazy to each other, and we understand it, and can call each other out on it. 

I would like to add that I survived Afghanistan and Iraq, and then I found out, within a couple years of coming out, that I had breast cancer. I also survived that, and about a year after my daughter was born, found out that I had a reoccurrence, so I survived it again. I’m convinced that at any moment, a safe will fall out of the sky and squash me, but there’s a different perspective from when you’ve dealt with that stuff. Seems like you’re a survivor! Knock on wood. That was something too, going through breast cancer- okay, my hair’s going to fall out, but really, in the grand scheme, it’s going to grow back! No one’s shooting at me! 

What was your job or career after your service?

I knew, leaving the military, that I wanted to focus my career search on federal employment, because I can buy back my time towards retirement. Because I was a finance officer, I focused in the finance world. I applied to a lot of positions, and really, my first offer of employment came from the U.S. Attorney’s office, which is the one I thought I would not hear from at all. I don’t have anything in my background by way of legal, but they’re not looking for someone to do legal. They have attorneys. They were looking for someone to handle budget stuff. 

How did your military service affect how you think about wars today?

I try to remain neutral in that I try to remember that the people who are being sent over there are being sent over there to do a job. They may not agree with the job, but they volunteered, and they signed up, so they’re going to do the job. I think that people that haven’t been through that experience maybe don’t realize that. I’ve had people who have tried to get into a philosophical debate over the war in Afghanistan or Iraq. I point to things like, because we were in Afghanistan, little girls were able to go to school. Who are you to say, “Well, we shouldn’t have gone into Afghanistan.” So basically, you’re saying that you wanted to allow that to happen? To not let little girls be allowed to go to school? Then, they get into, “Well, the culture, blah blah blah-” Well, I understand their culture, but my way of thinking is- all little girls should have that. That, to me, is a fundamental right. If there’s a culture that’s denying that right to a subset of people, then I do think that we need to help those people. I try to turn it around that way. Probably the biggest thing I did [in Iraq was] authorize[ing] the expenditure of some money that allowed a part to be flown in that was then used to fix the pump that allowed a whole town of people to have running water. They hadn’t had running water, because someone had spoken out in the town against [Saddam Hussein], so he cut off that person’s hand, and then broke their pump, so the whole town was punished. We don’t understand things like that, because we don’t have a government that does that. As much as people think our government is so terrible and awful, when you put it into perspective like that- very different. 

Has serving in the military affected any decision making today?

Definitely. I think that I’m calmer. I think there’s something to be said about military people in the workforce who realize that at the end of the day, they get to go home, so no matter what happens during the day, it’s great to be able to go home. I can go to the bathroom and not have to step in a mud puddle. I get to flush the toilet; I get to sleep in my own bed. That’s a pretty nice place to be. I think there’s something to be said that even the poorest of the poor here in America live better than people who are considered middle- class in other countries. 

What do you think the general public should know about war?

I always say that I think we’ve learned a lot from the way we treated our Vietnam veterans. I think with this current round, we’ve done better, by way of treating them, which is good. We still have a disconnect by way of people who say, “I support our soldiers, but I don’t support the war.” It’s hard for soldiers to make that separation. You might be telling someone, “Hey, I really support you,” but as soon as you question the war, that service member, I think, disregards anything you’ve said positive to them up until that point. It’s tricky.  

How has living in Portland now shaped your veteran experience?

I am a big fan for finding like-minded individuals, so it didn’t take me too long to become a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, so I’ve got veteran friends. I don’t necessary have to go look for friends who aren’t veterans, and we stay away from topics that will be those hot-button topics. I was very fortunate to meet someone in my Veterans of Foreign Wars who was a Bataan Death March survivor; he linked us in with a chapter of the ex- P.O.W. [group], so even that helps current veterans put things in perspective. It sucked, not having internet some days, but boy, nothing like what those gentlemen went through! {Laughs}

How did your service affect your life?

I would say positively. I wouldn’t say I wasn’t physically active; I just never pushed myself. Now, knowing that if I need to run two miles in less than, I can do that- or, at least, I could, at some point. The perspective of- life isn’t as bad as many people think it is. I just learned skills. I had already the teaching background, and then I had the intel background, and now I have this finance background- it all just sort of adds up into being this great and wonderful thing that really was just a positive thing for me.

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This interview has been lightly edited for readability. However, to maintain integrity, and to respect the stories of the veteran, content has not been altered from the original transcription. This interview was originally recorded and later transcribed. Questions partially retrieved from:

“Guidelines.” Veterans History Project. Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 23 June 2017. <www.loc.gov/vets/guidelines.html>.

 

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