“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.