I’ve made it no secret that I’m a Veteran; and that I’m proud to be one.
I spent seven of the best years of my life serving my country. I’ve never had any regrets. I also have been married to a Soldier for the past ten years, the first four years of our marriage spent as a Dual Military Couple.
I enlisted shortly after 9/11; but not for the generic “patriotic duty and revenge” reason. I actually enlisted because I felt trapped in a relationship that was literally going nowhere. I didn’t know how to escape, so knowing that he would break it off if I left for any military service, I enlisted as a desperate attempt to finally be free.
Some may ignorantly say it was leaving one “prison for another”. But, they’re wrong. Dead wrong.
I grew up with military in my family; in my Samoan culture, it was considered an honor to serve in the military. So many of my cousins, uncles and aunts served. My father tried to serve for a while in the Airforce, until they realized he was deaf in one ear. My grandfather served, and my grandmother served as a nurse during WW2.
When I enlisted, those that knew me, to include my own parents, said it would be quite a sight to witness me trying to take orders from a Drill Sergeant. I was rebellious, and didn’t take kindly to someone telling me what to do if you were no parent of mine. But I had proven them all wrong, by listening to every advice and chew outs my Drill Sergeants handed to me from Day Zero to the end of AIT.
I struggled with my newfound independence at first, once I was released to my duty station at Fort Stewart, Georgia. I took advantage of it and thought I could live out my prime. The infamous 3rd Infantry Division had just returned from their deployment to Iraq; and they were preparing for yet another.
My job in the Army was not a difficult one, but it was just as stressful. I worked as a Human Resources Specialist, but began my career working for leaders in the Division. I needed to find myself; my purpose. And I found it in the now deactivated Third Signal Company, just prior to my first Deployment.
I didn’t realize the true meaning of home and family within a unit until those Soldiers graced my life. I was disciplined and valued as one of their own. I never had so many brothers and sisters, and even fathers within the leadership that looked after me. I always made sure their paperwork was handled, so they could focus on their duties while we were at war. They had given me a purpose. And I wanted the Army to become my life.
I met my husband during that deployment; we started out as friends, deployed within the same Division, but he was with a different Brigade. I spent my deployment working hard for my unit. I volunteered for guard duties, always smiling and positive to bring some kind of light into the stressful lives of those around me. I would be fully geared up; weapon loaded and all, in 110 degrees of scorching heat; to where my own Battalion Command Sergeant Major stopped to ask if I was “on drugs” because he found it hard to believe that someone would still be “smiling in all that gear and in the heat”. Albeit a joke from him, he did tell me it was so wonderful to see a Soldier that looks at the positive side of our work; no matter how minuscule it may seem.
But, halfway into that deployment, that naivety I’d had towards the citizens within Iraq had been brutally stripped away from me. A few rockets had been fired and landed right onto our PX, injuring and even killng a few people. It reminded my unit that people within that country we wanted to help truly wanted to kill us.
Not long after that, my volunteering of guard duty that I took pride in doing was darkened when I wanted to guard two Iraqi citizens on my own. It was before the protocol of the requirement of always having at least two Soldiers with Iraqi citizens that came to work on our Forward Operating Base (FOB). The two men were to pressure wash dumpsters around the large FOB I was stationed on. And I was to be their armed escort to protect them, and the base. We were in a small and tight “Bongo” truck, and one would get out to wash the dumpster, while the driver remained in his seat.
I didn’t want to let the driver take the chance of driving away, so I remained in the vehicle. I had an M16; and it was loaded. My FLAK vest had made my mobility in the tight space even more difficult. My naive self decided to talk with the driver, who drove us to a secluded area. The passenger got out to wash a dumpster, and the driver tried to rape me.
Yes, he tried.
For a moment, I was frozen in shock and disbelief. Once my mind turned back on, I was able to get him off, and warned him that I would shoot him and kill him if he didn’t return me immediately back to the guard point.
Luckily for the both of us, he complied. I lied at first, telling the civilian overseeing all the guard duties that I had fallen ill; he switched me out, and I refused to get in a vehicle with him so he could give me a ride, and chose to walk back to my trailer instead.
I told my leadership. Like any father figure, my leaders wanted the man jailed (in reality, they wanted his head on a plate, but, this was reality and it was serious). But, after my leaders fought for some kind of justice against the civilian contractors (go figure, it was Dick Cheney’s KBR), unfortunately, the only thing they could do was bar the man from ever stepping foot on our FOB.
So he could do it to someone else on another.
I never learned what happened with that man; hopefully he was killed.
But, my unit had gathered around me to support me in any way they could.
I had nightmares for years; and still do. I fell in a hole; one that my family helped pull me out of. It took another couple of years, and another deployment to finally gather the courage to see a doctor for my problems.
Anxiety and Depression plagued me, hindering my own work. It seemed that I was going on a downward spiral. Once the Army could no longer do anything more, they medically retired me.
I could no longer deploy.
It felt like I was being abandoned. Like the life I knew, and at times could hate but passionately love, was being stripped from me.
But, I had to realize there was nothing more they could do; and my disabilities could hinder the unit and its mission. So, I had to swallow my pride, and just close that chapter that I cherished so much. I was still able to stay connected through my husband and his continued service; but it hurt.
I wanted to still serve my country. I felt that I still had so much more to give.
I hear of so many varied experiences with the Military. My experience is mine, and mine alone. It is something I will never forget…
And as I take a different road to serving my country and the Constitution through law, I will continue to use my own experiences and apply it to my life.
They say it does take an extremely unique person to serve their country voluntarily.
Now, I finally understand that statement.
Veterans suffer everyday from injuries; most of which are not always visible. They never stop fighting the wars and they continue to be the strength and inspiration of this country. Please, donate to your local Veterans’ Organization to help countless Men and Women who gave their lives so selflessly so the country could be free.