Camouflage No More

Thanks for your readership last week when I had the privilege of interviewing fellow Veterans.  I’m glad you enjoyed their stories as much as I enjoyed sharing them.

It seems appropriate, though in a much more light-hearted post, to share the outcome of updating my Army jacket.  More than a year ago while still living in Madison, I posted an ad on Craigslist‘s Creative Gigs section for help adorning my GI cold-weather jacket:

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I wanted something unique and feminine atop the invisibility of my old camouflage but sadly I didn’t get any takers.  On the eve of our move to Madison – and I mean 11 days before the truck came – I hit the panic button and walked in to EmbroiderMe, a shop I had spied months earlier, with my jacket and some designs from Etsy.  I just wanted something done before I moved to a place where I knew nothing.

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This guy was so helpful and patient that I am embarrassed I didn’t write down his name.  He embroidered two bird details around the collar and a large piece on the back in six days.  This is a rave about EmbroiderMe in Madison, Wisconsin.  Call them, visit them, hire them.

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I knew that I wanted much more done to my jacket however, so after arriving in Montreal I stepped into a fabric store and found a small patch that read “STAR”.  I bought it on a whim but it spurred me to repost my ad on Montreal’s Craigslist.  I had much more success this time and after meeting in the convenience of my home with Farrah Star velcro’d to my lap, I hired Costumer and Milliner Colin Campbell for the project.

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Collar

Cuffs

Pics by Colin Campbell

We collaborated twice in person as well as via Facebook on color, pattern and notions but ultimately, expectedly, Colin drove this creation.  What a pleasure it is to work with a local, professional artist.  He gave me what I asked of him; something feminine and unique that was baby-wearing friendly and warm.  To go even further, Colin created for me a family heirloom; a soldier’s uniform kissed by her daughter’s name.  That’s style.

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Thank you Colin.  I love it!

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Find Colin here: Colin Campbell, Chapelier and on his Facebook page.

Parallelogram: English as a Second Language, UPDATE! |

With the arrival of ice and snow, everything I do now requires reassessment and reorganizing.  Alors, my French has gone into hibernation.  Laura on the other un-gloved hand, is learning by leaps and bounds!  A PolarRico update:

Parallelogram: English as a Second Language, UPDATE! |.

Pot Pie of Despair

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Chicken, kale, sage and butternut squash with a shiny, flaky crust baked on top.  Warm, filling, healthy, satisfying, autumnal, agony.

As a beloved reader of BPS you know that I’m just waiting for the day when we consume all the calories and nutrients we need in a pill and get on with our lives.  Until then however – especially since moving to Montreal – I have reluctantly assumed responsibility for getting dinner on the table.  Kris just works too late and if I don’t do something the kids eat by themselves while the two of us inhale take-out at 9:00pm.  So the other day I made this pot pie.  Isn’t it beautiful?  That is some Instagram shit right there.

Our dinner rule is that, with a new dish, you are served what everyone else eats.  You take two bites and opt for A) thanking the chef but declining another bite and asking politely for something else or B) thanking the chef and continue to enjoy what you just tried.  Kris and I model this behavior.  You just have to try this something new.  And then be kind.  That’s it.  Yes, I will get up and make you an almond butter and jelly sandwich.  Yes, you can now have a cheese quesadilla.  Thank you for trying and using your kind manners.

That never happens.  Never.  The sobbing and spitting and gagging that ignites the yelling and punishing and screaming — and in the case of this particular pot pie, my own crying — that’s what happens instead.  For me, this pot pie became the symbol of the total disregard for all my work – work I don’t even want to do – and I had had enough.  I lashed out.  Appetite for destruction.  But this is not a post about my son’s food aversions or table behavior because believe it or not, I don’t hold him responsible.  No, this is a post about exclusive breastfeeding (or EBF).

From their moment of birth, both of my kids ate what they wanted when they wanted, as much as they wanted. (Farrah Star still nurses).  That’s EBF and ain’t it great?  Exclusive Breastfeeding is the single best thing I have done for my children and it is the greatest mothering tool I possess, but let me repeat something:

From birth, my kids ate
what they wanted
when they wanted
and as much as they wanted.

And now we make them eat
what we want
when we want
and as much as we tell them.

“And ain’t that a bunch of bullshit?”  says my five-year-old in the only way he’s able to communicate it.

As a result of EBF, my children have never had to eat anything.  There is no “well-you’d-better-eat-this-or-you’ll-get-nothing”.  The milk always flows.  The spigot is always on.  Your food; your terms.  While both Kris and I strongly believe in casting a wide culinary net, I am done crying at the dinner table and I am done forcing food on my kids.  I’ve come to terms.We will have a happy dinner table.  I will continue to offer and model curiosity at mealtimes but that’s where it ends for me.  My time in the kitchen may get longer but the bed I made just got warmer.

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Cheesy Enchilada Rice of Contentment. For two.

If you like this post, please share by clicking one of the options below.  I have plenty of leftovers.

 

 

“How We Survived I’ll Never Know”

Welcome to Veterans Week here at BPS.  Every day I will introduce a fellow Veteran and share his story of military service.

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Keith

While I have known Keith (name changed for anonymity) my entire life, I have never known him as a Vietnam Vet.

 Here is his story:

Hello Keith.  You enlisted in the Army in 1971.  Can you tell me where you were living at the time, how old you were and most importantly, why you joined?

I was drafted in July, 1971 and living in Warren, Michigan.  I was 21 and a newlywed.  My enlistment should have totaled two years but when my recruiter promised a 90-day delay if I enlisted for three years, I agreed.  My recruiter lied however, never giving me the 90-day extension, only garnering himself recruiting credit for my additional year.

Please tell me about your boot camp and training experience.

Boot Camp. Eight weeks of hell. North Carolina. After boot camp I was sent to Fayetteville, Georgia for Military Police Training and then on to Okinawa, Japan for six weeks of Sentry Dog Training.

You deployed to Vietnam in 1972.  Can you tell me exactly where you went?  Do you remember arriving and what it was like?  The weather, the land, the people?

I went to Long Bin.  Upon arriving there were thousands of troops going home after only 18 months’ served. I felt bad. I was made fun of for being “new meat”. It was hot and humid; too humid to move. I worked nights and slept days.  It took two weeks to adjust to the heat.

Long Binh exit. Click for source.

What was your job/assignment?

The dog I trained in Okinawa died of natural causes upon entering Vietnam so I was reassigned to Gate Duty, 12 hours/day, 7 days/week.  A month later I was reassigned again to Convoy Duty on 5 Vietnam Patrol car.  Convoy Duty was escorting supplies and men to different locations. Two-and-a-half ton trucks, usually 5-20 trucks in a convoy.  We also took five armored cars: two in front, one in middle, and two in rear.  If an ambush occurred we would split the convoy and stop and call air support. If needed, we went faster to escape, depended on the situation.

What was the food like?  Did you have plenty of supplies?  How did people entertain themselves?

The food was good at Main Base.  During three-to-four day convoys we ate c-rations which were nasty.  USO clubs had bands and drinks but overall there was not much to do.

C-rations.  Photo by Paul Mashburn

C-rations. Photo by Paul Mashburn

Did you see combat?  Were there many casualties in your unit?

I saw a lot of small fire fights which typically meant that with us traveling at 50mph the fight would last 1-5 minutes.  If any trucks got hit we would stop to pick up personnel.  I also saw a lot of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices).  We did have casualties; in five cars with four crew members – 20 total – one got hit.  Another suffered minor injuries but not worth any hospital treatment.

What was the most difficult thing you’ve endured?

While on patrol in an open jeep, driving down the middle of an airstrip, all hell broke out.  Bullets were flying all around us and we had no cover.  The fight lasted 25 minutes.  How we survived I’ll never know.

Another time when we were just four in one armored car, I was in the turret manning the 50 caliber when out of the fields walk 25 guys wearing black pajamas carrying AK47s.  They started alongside the road in our direction and then they just passed us.  We couldn’t figure out who they were or where they came from – the closest thing was a rubber plantation five miles off the highway.  Scared the shit out of us.  One RPG and we would have been dead.  But they just kept walking.

What is the moment of which you are most proud?

Helping the orphans, getting supplies to them.  Most of the these children were GI kids born of Vietnamese women but they were not wanted in Vietnam.

Do you recall the day your service ended?  Where were you?

I was discharged at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  I was given $16 to get home.  A friend who lived near Warren gave me a ride home five days later.

What did you go on to do as a career after the war?

We returned from Vietnam to people hating us; the hippie movement, being called “baby killers”, etc.  Before being drafted I worked as an Auto Mechanic at Kmart so I returned to that job after coming home.  That was the law; they had to hire me back.

It’s been 40 years since your honorable discharge from the Army.  Does your veteran status affect your life today?  How?

I get a little financial aid for Agent Orange exposure.

One night we got sprayed with Agent Orange and our Commander stated “Take a shower and you will be ok”.  I’ve had 30 years’ of skin cancer, diabetes, voice box cancer and terrible nightmares.
U.S. Army Huey helicopter spraying Agent Orange over Vietnamese agricultural land. - via Wikipedia  *WARNING* Disturbing images upon link.

U.S. Army Huey helicopter spraying Agent Orange over Vietnamese agricultural land. – via Wikipedia *WARNING* Graphic images linked.

You are a father and grandfather.  What advice would you give a young person thinking of enlisting in today’s military?

To enlist today, it is an experience you will never forget.  From what I hear from new Vets, it a lot harder now because of being in the Middle East; no booze, no women.  A lot of guys will go nuts.

Thank you Keith for sharing your experiences as a Vietnam Vet.  It is a hard story to read which makes it important to share.  I’m glad you did and I’ll be thinking of you today.

“I Wanted Chipotle for Lunch and I Left With a New Life Plan”

Welcome to Veterans Week here at BPS!  Every day I will introduce a fellow Veteran and share her service story.

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Kaylee

Kaylee is my 19-year-old cousin and recent Army enlistee now stationed in Hawaii. What does a new soldier’s life look like in 2014? Can you tweet from your barracks? Do the Humvees have GPS on board? Is the chow hall gluten-free? I was in Kaylee’s boots 25 years ago but that means nothing.

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Here is Kaylee’s story:

When did you enlist in the Army?

Originally I was enlisting early 2013 but I put it on hold for a year when I got engaged to the Airman I had been dating for roughly eight years and planned to join after our wedding in summer of 2014. However – change of plans – we broke it off and I was able to leave earlier. I officially joined early March 2014 and was at Fort Sill, Oklahoma for Basic Training by the end of the month.

Kaylee and her family.

Kenna, Karissa, Kaylee, Robert, Tracy and Kloe. Army Strong!

Where were you living and why did you join?

In early 2013 I was in Michigan and practically living with my best friend/cousin. Meghan and I did everything together which included talking to her recruiter. Meghan really wanted to join so she was in contact with a local recruiter and while we were out grocery shopping and getting Chipotle one day that recruiter called her and asked her to come in so they could talk and I just tagged along. While I was sitting there listening to him tell her all about the Army my eyes “lit up” (his words).  Noting my piqued interest, he asked me what I was doing with my life. I had no answer that seemed as cool as what he had just been talking about so long story short, I walked in that office that day just because I wanted Chipotle for lunch and I left with a new life plan.

Tell me about your boot camp and training experience.

The first day I got there will forever be burned into my memory. The bus ride from the airport to the base felt like the longest ride of my life – super anxious and nervous about what I had just gotten myself into. When we pulled up to the gate of Fort Sill the security guard stepped on the bus and welcomed us to “Hell”. That made me feel better. The first week we didn’t do anything but run around in processing and get yelled at by drill sergeants that we swore had major psychotic issues.

After that week we were shipped to our actually battery and got put into our platoons and given new drill sergeants. The first night was chaotic. I just remember the yelling and screaming of the drill sergeants, and the brand new soldiers getting dropped (ordered to do push-ups) for every little twitch and then another private would glance at the one doing push ups, then he would get caught and it would be his turn to get the drill sergeant’s attention and soon he’d be on the floor pushing too. It was a chain reaction. I just remember staring really hard at the key shape on the back of the guy’s uniform in front of me thinking “Don’t move. Don’t look up. Just keep staring at that key shape”. My strategy going into Basic was to just do what I was told, fly under the radar and try to make it through the full 10 weeks without the drill sergeants ever learning my name.

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Well..that didn’t happen. A name like Klakulak tends to stick out, but it ended up not being a big deal because after the whole “shark attack” phase everything really calmed down. We got to know our drill sergeants and they talked to us like somewhat normal human beings before we started our training and they told us what they had expected of us. During the next 10 weeks we got yelled at a lot, there were a lot of extremely difficult and challenging times, but over all I had a blast. I loved the training we got to do (well, some of it anyways) I loved the people in my battery (most of them that is) and started to even love the drill sergeants. (All except for one).

We spent our entire time counting down how many weeks were left until graduation but once we hit that final week I’m pretty sure that was the first time I cried. I realized how much of a bond I grew with these people and how badly I did not want to leave them. But it was time to move on so we did. Graduation came and it was probably the best day of my life up until that point.

Standing in formation in front of all of our families for the ceremony felt like forever, the entire time I spent trying to move nothing but my eyes to see if I could spot my family (still terrified of getting yelled at if I had moved anything else) FINALLY the ceremony ended and we were released, my sister Karissa was the first to make it to me, I just remember seeing her book it out of the crowd running to hug me. Behind her followed my dad, my cousin Sarah, and my mom and my grandma (both who were not supposed to make it, needless to say that was an amazing surprise). Being back with my family was the best feeling in the world. I still get all teary-eyed thinking back to that time.

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Karissa, Robert, Kaylee, Grandma Mary Ann and Tracy

What is life like in the barracks? How’s the food? Do you have a car? Do you have WIFI? Can you paint us a picture of what your typical day looks like?

In Basic Training we lived in bays – one big room and 60 beds. No personal space. That sucked! Once we left Basic for AIT (Advanced Individualized Training) it wasn’t so bad. I don’t know how it was for the males other than that they lived in quads (in AIT you aren’t allowed in each others rooms so I’ve never seen theirs) but since there were significantly less girls we got what they called the “Hotel” rooms. They were nice, big enough. Decorated. Carpeted. Had their own bathroom, vanity, fridge and microwave. Each room had two beds so you did have a roommate that you shared a bathroom with but it wasn’t totally awful. That was AIT, now that I’m at my duty station (Hawaii) I have my own bedroom and I share a bathroom and kitchen with my suite mate.  The food isn’t bad at all, most days I really like it. In AIT I was stationed on a naval base (every thing was nicer there, I miss it. Sorry Army) and in the Navy the chow halls are called the “Galley”. Why? Who knows. But it had pretty good food.

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Salad

The Defac (dining hall) here at my new duty station is good too. I’ve only been to it a couple of times. This base is a lot bigger and I still have to walk everywhere because I haven’t bought a car yet. (Side note: Hawaii is a terrible place to be stationed if you don’t have a car. You can’t do anything. Thank god I have friends that have a car to get me by until I do go buy a car).

When I was in AIT I didn’t have a car, so I spent way too much money on taxis until a few of my friends had their families drive their cars to them, then it wasn’t so bad.  Here in Hawaii however, I intended on shipping my car to me, but trying to get it shipped was the biggest hassle in the world with the closest port to which they would ship being Missouri. I live in Michigan. I had no time to drive 10 hours one way to drop off a car.  That was a big disappointment but I’ll just be buying an “island car” pretty soon here to get me by for now.

WiFi? Of course we have WiFi. Lol. In AIT it was much easier, the base had WiFi so all you had to do there was make an account online and pay like 20 bucks a month and you’re set. Here in Hawaii I had to have the cable guy come out.

A day-to-day for me, during training looked like this:

  • 0330 wake up
  • 0350 formation for pt (physical training)
  • 0400-0500 pt
  • 0500-0600 hygiene/breakfast/whatever
  • 0610 formation to head to the SCIF (that’s where we worked. SCIF is a compound where sensitive compartmented info (SCI) is being used -that meant no cell phones allowed inside, or anything for that matter)
  • 0620 -1530 we would be in the SCIF doing our thing,
  • 1540 formation outside to march back
  • 1600 end of the duty day formation
  • 1610 – 2000 free time to do what we wanted. Typically would go to the gym, get some dinner, and hangout.

By the end of my time in AIT I was in “green phase” which allowed me to leave post after duty hours. I fell in love and got married to a Navy guy while I was there and the Navy didn’t have any rules like the Army did, so finally when I phased up, just about every night me and my husband would drive out to the beach and have dinner out there. I miss that more than anything.

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Kaylee and her husband, Cale

Now that I’m in Hawaii, training complete, it’s much different. I’m kind of in a holding type platoon right now so I can’t exactly give you the play-by-play on how it will be when I get on shift, but now my day looks like this;

  • 0550 pt formation
  • 0600-0700 pt
  • 0700-0900 hygiene breakfast whatever
  • 0900-1130 “work”
  • 1130-1300 lunch
  • 1300-1600 “work”
    And then whatever I want. So as you can see, significantly less formations. Thank Jesus.

What is your rank and job?

I am an E-3 (so a PFC -private first class) and my job is 35S. Signals collection analysis. (Military intelligence) My job is classified so I’m not allowed to talk about it, but I love it. I can’t wait to get to actually start doing it again.

You enlisted and are serving during tumultuous conflicts overseas. Will you be deployed or remain stateside? What are your feelings on a possible deployment?

I have no idea if I will deploy or stay Stateside. I guess wherever they tell me to go is where I’ll be. I’m pretty neutral on deploying. I would like to deploy – go places I would never go otherwise but if they don’t have a need for me I’ll be cool just hanging out in Hawaii for a couple of years. But I did join the Army so I expect to deploy some time. It’s what I signed up for.

What has been the most difficult challenge you’ve faced, either physically or emotionally?

The most difficult challenge I have faced so far is just being away from home. I miss my family. I miss my friends. I miss Michigan in the fall. I miss the holidays with my family. And now that I’m at my new duty station, my husband isn’t with me yet. (We got separate orders that we are still trying to work on) so I miss my husband like you wouldn’t believe. I love the Army but it’s a lot of sacrificing other things that I love.

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Kaylee and Karissa. Photo by Sarah Klakulak

What is the moment of which you are most proud?

There have been so many challenges and difficulties I’ve had to overcome just this far but probably the proudest moment was during AIT graduation, the chief who gave a speech about our job had me nearly crying. It made me really proud to be a part of this all.

How has your service and experience already affected your life?

It has affected my life in every way. I’m still the same person I was last year in a sense but I’m a totally new person at the same time. It’s given me discipline and an experience I would have never gotten any place else. I’ve been introduced to some of the most amazing people. I’ve gained friends that are closer to family than I could ever explain. It introduced me to my husband who alone changed my life in the best way. Over all I’m just extremely grateful for all that the Army has given me so far.

Kaylee, thank you so much for sharing your story here and for your service to the United States.
You are honored and thought of every day.

“Make arrangements for someone to take your baby.”

Welcome to Veterans Week here at BPS.  Every day I will introduce a fellow Veteran and share her story of military service.

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Paula

Paula and I were high school classmates more than 25 years ago.  Today Paula is a mother of two, Zakk and Ridgely, a phlebotomist, and a platinum blonde ballsy bombshell.  Paula is also a Veteran.

Paula with her children, Zakk and Ridgely. Photo by Angela Anderson.

Zakk, Paula and Ridgely. Photo by Angela Anderson.

Here is her story:

When did you enlist in the Navy?  Where were you living and why did you join?

I enlisted in January, 1993. I had graduated with a BA in Philosophy in June, 1992. I was living in Columbus, Ohio working at Sears Portrait Studio and Cacique. I believe it was a Wednesday when I went to see a recruiter with a friend of mine, Bill.  I was not planning on joining – I just gave Bill a ride – but they caught me off-guard.  By Saturday, I had taken the ASVAB (aptitude entrance exam), chose Machinist’s Mate as a rate (job), and was set to leave for boot camp in two weeks.

Tell me about your boot camp and training experience.

Boot camp was interesting. It was in Orlando, Florida. I was in an integrated company (males and females) and I was one of the oldest at 22 (I turned 23 in boot camp). Because I had a college degree (and was an idiot for enlisting instead of going in under an officer program), I was made one of the Educational Petty Officers for the company. We had a sibling company, and we were an experiment. My company was strict – the sibling company, not so much. In company competitions the sibling company would be rewarded for not losing by as much as they thought they would while we were “cycled” (non-stop exercise essentially) for not winning by enough. As for my rate schooling, when I enlisted I was told there were very few females in these rates and that was not the case. My class was mostly female.  I was in a 6YO program (meaning I enlisted for six years and would get Petty Officer 3rd class out of my A School). I did approximately one month in Galley (Kitchen) Company before my class started. My uniform was usually pristine so I almost always got out of working the actual galley and when that happened I checked IDs instead.

Petty Officer

Petty Officer Major

You became pregnant during your service.  Can you talk about how your life as a Petty Officer changed while pregnant?  How was birth?  Is there military maternity leave?

I found out I was pregnant two days before an “underway”, or when a ship goes out to sea. I thought I had the stomach flu and went to medical knowing I would be miserable on the voyage.  Medical asked if I could be pregnant and I said “I am a girl”. I took the test and they called me at main control before morning muster. I didn’t even comprehend what they said. They asked me to return and as I headed up, the Chief Engineer congratulated me. It was weird. The first person I told was my friend Jaramie, he is the one that clarified what was actually happening. I had had two abortions in college and a miscarriage in A School and I knew I wanted kids eventually so I chose to keep this pregnancy. I was transferred off my ship and reassigned to work in the Defense Department. It was a desk job, much nicer than my job in the engine room on the ship. I worked until my due date, May 4, but Zakk was two weeks late. I drove myself to my appointment the day he was born and the doctor instructed me to go to the hospital. My best friend Heather was with me.  I drove while she recorded contraction times. I got to the hospital at 1130, Zakk was born at 2336 May 18, 1995. I had six weeks maternity leave. Two days before that leave ended I had emergency surgery for gall stones and got two additional weeks’ medical leave.

Paula, pregnant and working at Defense Department.

Paula, pregnant and working at Defense Department.

When calling for new orders they told me for a week I didn’t have any, then the following week they said, “You got assigned last week. USS Nimitz, deploying in a month. Make arrangements for someone to take your baby.” When I got pregnant – because I was single – I had to provide the name of who would take my child in case of deployment. My mother agreed but when it came to it, she did not want me to miss my baby’s first year of life. I was discharged on a hardship parenthood discharge.

What is the most difficult thing you’re endured during your time in the Navy?  What is the moment of which you are most proud?

I was, and am, NOT athletically inclined. Simply making it through boot camp was both the most difficult thing I endured and that of which I am most proud. It was so not what I thought I would ever do. I was the “girliest” girl when I was in that recruiter’s office. I had long red hair, long painted nails and a mini skirt and I made it through eight weeks of boot camp in the strict company plus three weeks of intensive training at 0230 for getting in trouble (another story for another time) and I lived.

Paula (with friend), just prior to enlisting in the Navy.

Paula (with friend), just prior to enlisting in the Navy.

Finally, how did your service and experiences affect your life, especially as a mother?

I am glad I did it, but I did not encourage my children to enlist.  I think I disciplined my children more than a non-military person, but I don’t know. I hold my children to high standards and expect them to do what I tell them. They don’t always.  Looking back, my experience was not wonderful.  I chose the Navy because I liked their uniforms and they had a reputation of drinking, swearing and sleeping around and that sounded fun, but it was too politically correct for me. My Chief once said that I belonged in the Navy of the 1940′s.

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Thank you Paula for your candor and perspective and for your time volunteered in our U.S. Navy.

“We Poured Our Heart and Soul Into that Country”

Welcome to Veterans Week here at BPS!  Every day I will introduce a fellow Veteran and share her story of military service.

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Debbie

Debbie and I are childhood friends, the same-aged daughters of two very close friends, our mothers.  Debbie herself is now a mother and grandmother living in Colorado, working as an eCommere Operations Manager for a major IT company and enjoying hiking, volunteering and traveling.  Debbie is also a Veteran.

  Here is her story:

When did you enlist in the Army?  Where were you living and why did you join?

I joined in 1988 in Monroe, Michigan.  I was a senior in high school – I joined the Delayed Entry Program in January and shipped off to Basic Training in July after high school graduation.

I was a bit of a tomboy growing up with my brother and my cousins. I grew up running through corn fields, making mud pies and building tree forts.  I did not get a lot of scholarships for college and since I had planned on becoming a foreign war correspondent it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.  Following my enlistment my brother joined the Marines.  We ended up both being stationed at Oahu at the same time!

Tell me about your boot camp and training experience.

I had no idea what I had gotten myself into and it was honestly a little overwhelming but I kept my mouth shut and did well. I buffed the floors listening to a Walkman playing U2 in the Quonset huts on Fort McClellan, Alabama. These things will never happen again in the history of the military. I did get in trouble for having Clinique in my personal drawer. Where else would one put it?

And when a female Drill Sergeant told me to “fix my kitchen” I had honestly had no idea what she was yelling at me about. The incessant hair thing continues to plague. Some female soldiers have great Army hair, I do not.

Fort Carson, Colorado 1989

Fort Carson, Colorado 1989

You served during the Persian Gulf War and have been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan.  What was the feeling you had upon landing in those countries?  What was your job there?  Tell me about a couple of your most memorable experiences.

My experiences have all been uniquely different. During Desert Storm I was stationed in Hawaii as a Battalion Supply Clerk and we were busying “Guarding the Pacific” and only specific jobs were called to support the effort. I was also pregnant with my daughter. I had her on Feb 7th 1991 and as many remember, things were wrapping up and soldiers were returning home. During that time I watched a lot of CNN.  Wolf Blitzer was much younger.

Iraq and Afghanistan both presented amazing opportunities to serve, grow, learn and discover.  Most recently in Afghanistan I was able to work with women in the Farah province. I helped a few women get small business grants to start home based businesses (sewing and embroidery). We worked with the women on education of their constitutional rights and that they could indeed vote. We helped to get some improvements for the orphanage and the women’s shelter. It was a very special time in my life. Both deployments changed me and helped mold me into the stronger person I am today.

Living out of a ruck sack.  Kuwait on the way to Iraq.

Living out of a ruck sack. Kuwait, on the way to Iraq.

Last year I sat with a woman, Parween in Farah, a widow with five children, and she shared with me the importance of education. She told me how very fortunate she was to have an education because without it she could not take care of her family.  The little girls in rural Afghanistan still struggle with finding an education.

In Afghanistan I was able to serve daily with the US soldiers, Afghan soldiers, and the Italian and Slovenian Armies. What a great opportunity to learn cultures and create balance in a specific mission when not everyone completely agreed, a great lesson in multi-culturism for sure.

When and how did you become a member of the National Guard and how has that military experience been different from active duty?  What are your plans for retirement?

I joined the Hawaii National Guard in 1992 right after Active Duty.  I decided to get out of the military when my first Active Duty enlistment was finished and stay with the National Guard. The commitments are typically one weekend a month and two weekends a year. I will say after 9/11 all of that changed when the Department of Defense reached out the Guard and Reserves for assistance. The retirement question is at the top of many conversations. I think I am staying for a little while longer and then finding another project to spend my time on.

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What is the most difficult thing you’ve endured?  What is the moment of which you are most proud?

Hmm – this is a tough one.

One thing that has been difficult to watch lately is the current state of Iraq. We poured our heart and soul into that country and had many sacrifices along the way and now to watch some places that I traveled fall into ISIS is disheartening.

Difficult – As weird as this sounds, coming home can be very difficult.  I fall back into my normal corporate rhythm but I miss the companionship and sense of purpose that I had with the people I served with. We all have busy lives but I try to connect as much as I can.

I am just proud to serve in general. It is truly my passion – I love and respect freedom.

Sergeant First Class Manzanares, Iraq

Sergeant First Class Manzanares, Iraq

Finally, how has your service and experiences affected your life, especially as a mother?

I think it has been a positive and a negative.  My daughter is born on Feb 7th. In the National Guard drill weekend often falls the first weekend of the month.  I missed some birthdays to be honest but she is resilient and pressed forward.

Service is a theme that runs through every part of my life.  I have seen the challenges of women around the world and hope that I can make small differences that will someday end up as big difference. I currently serve on the Board of the Human Trafficking Task Force of Southern Colorado. It is energizing and rewarding experience.  Modern Day Slavery exists everywhere and I take it pretty seriously to try to shed light on these dark areas.

What an honor it is to share your story as an active and proud patriot.  Thank you Debbie.  The good work that you do is admired today and always.

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