Tag Archives: National Guard

One Door Closes

Stretching out a bit during the long layover in Ireland.

As is so often the case in my life I find myself asking “where did the time go?” once again.  November seemed to fly away!   I browse through my notepad looking at writing topics and see that I can fill at least one more November, maybe two, with stories from my deployment.  However, because Christmas will be upon us very soon, I have decided to take my blog in a different direction in December, and then revisit the Deployment Retrospective in the Spring of 2014.  Readers who enjoyed my stories about deployment, don’t worry.  There will be more.

One final deployment related thought for now:  coming home and transitioning from a soldier to an Army wife was not as difficult or scary as I originally imagined.  For me, the process of one door opening while another closed actually took place almost exactly this same time ten years ago, so I always reminisce about it during the Holidays.  In November I attended my final National Guard drill before leaving military service.  It was anticlimactic, disappointing even.  I spent most of the drill collecting urine samples for the 100% accountability drug test as the Unit Prevention and Abuse Resistance Officer.

This was not how I imagined exiting my National Guard career, but it was rather fitting.  After sixteen months of locking horns with leadership and fighting to be taken seriously as the youngest female NCO in the company, I got to sit behind a table and tell everyone to have “Happy Holidays” as they handed me a warm cup of pee.  Nice.  I will admit, I was a bit distracted during the drill though.  See, there was this guy in Texas and I had realized that I had really blew it by turning down his proposal that I run away with him and live a very happy life (because I was a chicken shit).  So I had to think of a plan, and quick, to get this guy back!

My beautiful picture

Not even three weeks later I was walking down the stairs of the Bexar County Courthouse in San Antonio Texas, hand in hand with my new husband, a handsome ROTC cadet who was just hours away from commissioning as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army.  I had finally recovered from my fear of becoming a military spouse, and together we took the leap.  After frequent and frantic conversations with this great guy, I somehow convinced him that I would not flake out, and somehow I charmed him into thinking that he could not live without me.  No more chicken shit!

One door closed and another door opened.  My days as a soldier in the National Guard were over.  Now I had become an Army wife, still serving in the military, but in a different way.  I have never looked back at this transition with regret or wistfulness.  And my life has been rewarding in more ways than I can describe!  Constant traveling, living in different parts of the country, raising Army Brats, and making new friends everywhere we go is our story now.

People always ask me if I miss being a soldier and wish I could go back to serving, wearing the uniform, the whole “Hooah” bit.  I don’t have to think twice before saying no, that was a prior chapter in my life.  I lived it, I enjoyed it.  I served well.  Now I am living a new chapter.  This is my life now, and I still serve, but I am part of something bigger.  A family, a team, and that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

— G

My beautiful picture

The very last time that I wore my Army uniform, just one day after getting married. Here I am, ready to put my family in the forefront.

Getting Duped in The Great Laundry Swindle

Me at Breaktime

No one wants to wash their boss’s dirty underwear.

Okay, I am going to be really candid here; I am not criticizing the National Guard.  When we deployed I was incredibly proud of my Guard unit.  Especially in South Dakota, the National Guard is a prestigious organization, and members are viewed as elite citizens in their communities.  Our Guard units are prided for being so cohesive.  One big happy family serving gallantly together is how we all likely envisioned our potential performance before deployment, and morale was high.  But things started to happen, and by the time we left Kuwait, I was doubting the leadership.

Perhaps as a consequence of being National Guard, it seemed that our unit lacked the infrastructure necessary to act the same as a regular Army unit and execute the same caliber of decisions through its chain of command.  We had less accessibility to resources, we spent less time in training, and as a group we had a general lack of knowledge when compared to our regular Army counterparts.  Even so, we were extremely efficient in our missions because our soldiers were amazing!  My peers in the company worked with dedication and immense optimism for sixteen months!  Many of our officers were also amazing, but some of our leadership demonstrated a noticeable lack of respect for subordinates.  It became obvious that some did not believe that soldiers, regardless of rank, deserved basic respect.  This empathy gap was quite possibly the biggest threat to unit morale and cohesion, and the incident known as the Great Laundry Swindle convinced me that nothing would close it.

The Great Laundry Swindle was executed one hot day while we were still in Kuwait.  There hadn’t been anything to do in quite a long time, so we were just sitting around waiting for something to happen.  Oh how trouble enters this way!  A handful of our leadership mentioned they were going into Camp Doha for a meeting and they needed several high speed volunteers to help with assorted errands.  For our efforts, we would have a free afternoon of shopping and dining in Doha’s large market.  They made it sound very simple, some light lifting, a bit of walking, nothing too laborious.  A cardinal rule in the Army is NEVER, EVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, VOLUNTEER FOR ANYTHING!!!  But, we were so bored that four of us said we would do it.  How bad could it be?

“By the way, Sir, what is it that you need us to do, exactly?” one soldier asked as we loaded into the Humvee.  “Oh, don’t you worry about that, Sparky… Heh heh heh…” the officer answered shiftily as he tossed laundry bags into the back with us.  We “high speeds” didn’t catch on that we and the half dozen laundry bags in the Humvee were all going to the same location until we pulled up in front of a plain building with a little brown placard marked with a name and corresponding laundry facility number.  Our fearless leaders were snickering as they unloaded their bags and dropped them on the ground in front of the building.  “Your mission today is to do our dirty laundry for us while we are in our meeting.  We’d like everything fluffed and folded too.  See you in a couple of hours.”  “Seriously?”  One of us asked with a half smile, because it HAD to be a joke.  “Yes, seriously.  Get it done,” they drove off laughing.  We stared at each other in disbelief.  “Holy shit! What the hell just happened?” the biggest NCO of the group asked.  “No really!  What.  The.  Fuck.  Just.  Happened?  I am an NCO!  I am not a damn laundry lady!!  Come back here, you motherfuckers!”

For those readers not terribly familiar with the military, here is a quick lesson.  In the chain of command, it is normal for subordinates to take orders from their superiors to do assigned military related tasks in the course of duty.  However, it is NOT normal for subordinates to wash their superiors’ fucking laundry.  Not only that, it is highly inappropriate, and an abuse of authority for a superior to coerce a subordinate into doing laundry, whether through a direct order, a threat, or in this case, trickery.  We had been duped into doing something that felt like punishment and our bosses were laughing at us.  Even in the regular Army, soldiers were never required to wash their superior officers’ smelly, nasty underwear.  The message sent was that our chain of command thought so little of us that they had lost the sensibility to treat us like real soldiers.  It was a slap in the face and an affront to what we had all worked for during our time in the Guard.  So what if we were only enlisted soldiers and junior Non Commissioned Officers?  We were still soldiers who deserved basic respect and dignity, but that had been stripped away in one very bad joke.

We spent some time discussing possible revenge strategies: mixing up all the dirty laundry and just putting it back unwashed so the bastards got each others’ disgusting socks and underwear; putting everything into the dryers still dirty to set the sweat stains and pungent smells into the fabric; or throwing the clothing out onto the street in an act of protest.  In the end we decided we were all professional even though we had been put into a degrading and embarrassing situation.  We decided to be  the bigger soldiers and do the laundry.   It was humiliating!  We washed , dried and folded it neatly, and when our so-called leadership returned we placed the clean bags into the Humvee and climbed in without so much as a word.  They could tell that we were livid and tried to make light of the situation by offering to buy us lunch.  We got an hour or so at the market, just long enough to grab lunch and browse a bit, not the “free afternoon at the market” that had been promised, but it wasn’t about that anymore.   We were still fuming from a worse betrayal.  During the drive back to camp we wracked our brains for memories of times when we had ever been treated worse, but couldn’t think of any scenarios to top this.

We returned to camp in time for the daily platoon meeting.  None of the leaders involved attended (they were probably too busy putting their clean laundry away) so we vented to the rest of our platoon about what had transpired.  They listened in disbelief.  Until that day I had worn an Army Values tag on my ID tag chain.  It was the acronym LDRSHIP: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.  I took it off during the meeting and tore it up, which was no small task since it was made of the same material as a credit card.  As long as any soldier in our unit could be abused by our leadership in such a manner, there was no such thing as Army Values, I proclaimed.   We were a great National Guard unit that did amazing things in Iraq.  Sadly, a tone had been set by leadership during that incident at the laundry; a picture was painted of officers with absolutely no respect for the driving force of our unit, the enlisted soldiers who made the unit so successful.  If they found it perfectly ethical to dupe their own soldiers into washing their laundry, where would the line be drawn?

Being a true leader is not accomplished through coercion and trickery, abuse of authority, and neglect of subordinates’ best interests; it is earned when a leader gives subordinates all the resources to realize their potential and encourages them to succeed.  Leaders have to invest in their soldiers, not draw the life out of them.  My leadership never got that.  Nobody should ever have to wash their boss’s nasty drawers!

— G

P.S.  Did a little research, and in 2011,  a National Guard brigade commander was relieved for taking bad leadership to the extreme.  Guess what…one of the unethical abuses of power that he used to degrade his subordinates was…coercing them into doing his laundry!!!  Read it here:


To The One, Who Waited For Me

This story is dedicated to The One.

Me up Close

When I signed up for the National Guard, my recruiter showed me a list of occupations and told me to choose one.  The MOS, or Military Occupational Specialty, is the job a soldier performs during time of service.  As I scanned the list, the title 51T, or 51 Tango, was described as something like ‘technical engineer specialist, surveyor’.  I knew absolutely nothing about surveying, but something drew me to the words on that paper.  Although they were as ordinary in appearance as all the other words on the list, it was as though they had been highlighted by some benevolent force.  It would be this MOS and none other for me.  My recruiter advised me that to become a 51T was not easy; I would have to score quite well on my ASVAB, or Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, a multiple choice test measuring a candidate’s potential to succeed in various military jobs.  Not only did I score high enough to perform many occupations in the Army, I scored high enough to become a surveyor, and so I was on my way!  Advanced Individual Training, known as AIT, where I attended survey school, was located at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  I spent five months there learning the exhaustive methodology behind 51T work ethic.  But that is not what this story is about.  It was at AIT where I met a boy.  He was a boy who became the one I wished for, and the one who waited for me, and well…I don’t want to end the story at the beginning, now do I?

I noticed this boy one day during break time at Brown Hall, our big school for engineers at For Leonard Wood.  When classes let out for short breaks, Tangos would clamor into the Break Room and noisily let off as much steam as possible before the next round of classes were to begin.  We had access to soda and candy machines as well as a traveling concessions cart affectionately coined the Gut Truck, and we were unsupervised during this time, so just about anything could happen.  So on this day, as I was listening to two Marines argue about the theory of relativity (Marines are highly intelligent), I looked over at a table and noticed a boy sitting there quietly reading a newspaper and drinking coffee.  He was wearing glasses and intently scanning the paper, occasionally taking a sip of the coffee, and nothing going on around him invited distraction.  He stood out from everyone else, just like the words 51T, technical engineer specialist, surveyor on my MOS roster.  I thought to myself as I watched him, that looks like the kind of person I would like get to know. 

I did get to know the boy soon after first noticing him, on a weekend break from training.  Male and female trainees were forbidden from fraternizing off post, but it was too difficult to resist.  We were all hardwired to interact and inevitably I found myself in a conversation with this boy about where we were from and where we were going after AIT.  This conversation led to many more: what kind of wild game hunts we had been on, what kind of foods we liked to eat, and what kind of books we liked to read.  We discovered we both had similar tastes in musicians (Led Zeppelin) and authors (Ken Kesey) and the more time we spent together, the more attached we became.  He was in the class ahead of me, which meant he would graduate and leave two weeks before I would.  I dreaded the day.  When it came, I handed him a card with a message inside predicting that we would meet again.  Neither of us knew exactly when or if this would happen, but I never stopped wishing for a miracle.

Over the next three years we cultivated a close long distance friendship.  We chatted on instant message and over the phone.  We called each other after bad dates to make fun of the people we had just gone out with and describe the hilarious debacles.  We discovered that we both hated the smell of vanilla, the taste of water chestnuts, and the sound of Van Halen.  The more I talked to him the more I wished for a miracle.  Then my unit was activated and I broke the news to him.  He told me he would come visit me at Fort Carson.  My heart stopped.  I had just given up on him and had resigned myself to being his friend and secretly pining after him for the rest of my life.  Would it be too much to start hoping again?

My beautiful picture

He visited on a long weekend.  It was just like we had never been separated by distance and time; we picked up right where we had left off.  We squeezed every bit of fun out of every second of that weekend, and we did everything we could possibly think of.  When the time came to say goodbye it was so fitting that rain was pouring down because we were both sad.  He dropped me off in front of my barracks, and I ran through the downpour, grateful for the camouflage to hide the tears running down my cheeks.  I wondered if there were tears running down his cheeks as he drove away.  There were still a couple of weeks of training left before deploying from Fort Carson, and I still had my cell phone, so we called each other constantly when I had free time.  We talked as much as possible, about the San Antonio Spurs’ amazing season, going to Mexico together when I came home, and how much fun we’d had in Colorado Springs.  Then, much too quickly the day arrived when I had to put my phone in a box to send to my folks so they could keep it for me.  I recently found a journal entry from our last conversation before I had to put the phone in the box:

…we were both having a hard time letting go, and thinking of the right words to say to each other was impossible.  An hour later he called back.  “I hang up the phone and think of ten million things I want to say to you” he said.  “Then say it!  Spit it out! Don’t be afraid.  I won’t laugh at you.”  I said.  I already knew what he wanted to say.  “I’m being a wuss.”  was his answer.  He told me how much I mean to him, how wonderful a friend I am, and how he wants a relationship with me when I get home.  He said he had never had such good feelings about a girl before, and he can’t believe how amazing I am!  The whole time I waited for him to say the phrase that had been on his lips since we met again after all these years, and finally he said it, “I love you, girl.”  The world stopped.  Everything faded into the background.  I’d been standing in a line to draw my weapon and when he said that, all the clattering of rifles and chattering of soldiers ceased.  I melted.  “You don’t know how long I’ve waited to hear those words, ” I said breathlessly, “I love you too!”

My beautiful picture

He waited for me during the deployment.  He was patient, supportive, and kind.  I cannot claim my deployment was all beer and skittles and we had a great long distance relationship and then at the end we reunited happily.  In reality, the pressures of deployment were too overwhelming and I balked at the life that my boy back home was fabricating for us.  I didn’t think I could live up to his ideals and be the perfect Army wife he was envisioning.  With every letter that arrived from him, I felt more convinced that I would hold him back, and if he had to wait for me now, well what if he would spend his whole life waiting for me?  What if I was never going to be available because I was never going to be good enough?  So in order to spare him the embarrassment of having a sub standard partner, I gave him the cold shoulder and broke his heart.  I was such a bitch.  But I wanted to let him go so he could find someone better than me.  He deserved so much more than a train wreck who couldn’t figure out what she wanted in life.  And I think he still waited, because after I had been home for a few months he wanted me to come to Texas for a visit.  As soon as I stepped through the security gate at the airport and took one look at his handsome face and felt his arms around me, I realized what a fool I had been.

Nine years of marriage later, he is still the patient, supportive, and kind man who waits for me when I need him to slow down a little so I can figure things out for myself.  But I finally got over feeling like I was holding him back because he told me that he loves me exactly as I am, the girl from AIT, and Fort Carson, and now.  We take life a day at a time, as a team, moving together, side by side.  Maybe that is part of being in a relationship with someone you are meant to be with, someone who truly complements you and makes you feel like a whole person.  All those years ago when I first noticed him, he stood out to me because he was The One, and no matter how hard I tried to tell myself that I didn’t deserve him or couldn’t have a boy like him, he waited for me, even if he didn’t realize that it was me he was waiting for all along.  Remember the card I mentioned giving to him the day he left AIT?  As he was reading it on the bus ride home, another soldier leaned over and said “You know, you’re going to marry that girl.”  The universe has funny ways of hinting, doesn’t it? — G

My beautiful picture

Soul mates, ten years ago.

Ten Years: A Retrospective on My Deployment

For the month of November I have decided on a writing project that will be very challenging, but hopefully rewarding. I will be sharing stories that until now only certain family members have heard.  I have been scouring my closets, old photo boxes, scrapbooks, and my external hard drive to piece together fragmented memories of the time I spent in the Middle East.  It was ten years ago, so while many details are extremely vivid, other things like specific dates, events, and especially people have become fuzzy. I was hoping to gather enough helpful documents, photos, and memorabilia to jog my memory.  Some of these mementos were not to be found: a favorite picture of pillars near a body of water as we whizzed by on our way to a survey project, letters from family and friends that I likely packed away so carefully I just forgot where I put them, and little objects purchased in the bazaars that probably went missing after so many moves.  However, I did find enough other items to assemble a clearer picture of where I was, literally and figuratively, ten years ago, and how far I have come since then.

Love You

At my camp with a sign I made for family and friends back home.

In 2003 when I deployed to Iraq, I was barely old enough to drink alcohol legally, just on the verge of true adulthood, and suddenly bombarded with so much responsibility in a very dangerous world.  Life at the time was far from easy, and yet the fact that I stuck with the mission gave me a deep sense of gratitude for being part of a bigger picture.  I sacrificed, knowingly as well as unwittingly, more than I like to admit, but I would never go back to undo my decision to sign up for National Guard service or try to get out of deployment.  I served, and I gave a piece of myself for my country and for Iraq too.  I believe that has made me a better person despite all that was given up along the way.  Ultimately my life has only become better because now, after ten years of wondering what it was all for I can look back and say it doesn’t matter why I went to Iraq, just that I went.

An Iraqi translator who took a shine to me gave me the nickname ‘Malak’, which is the Arabic word for angel.  I was surprised to be given this lofty title, especially during a time when I constantly felt insecure, self conscious, stressed out, lonely, homesick, scared and far from perfect.  When I asked him why such a special name, the translator said he liked my smile.  Well!  He also pointed out that he knew I had potential to be like a guardian angel to many Iraqis, and that I could spend my deployment reaching out a hand to those truly in need instead of worrying about my own shortcomings.  His words inspired me to think of others rather than myself, to take chances and risk my own safety to be there for others.  I spent the whole deployment trying to live up to the name Malak.  Not every day went well for me, but I came home knowing that I did good things for as many Iraqis as I possibly could while I was there.

Headed for a free day of Rest and Relaxation, with my camera ready.

Headed for a free day of Rest and Relaxation, with my camera ready.

I have been warned by another blogger, who is also an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, that writing my stories about deployment will not be easy.  I didn’t want to believe him, but it turned out he is right.   Just gathering the mementos and jotting down notes to piece the stories together has been painful.  Many of my memories of deployment are at best unpleasant and at worst, quite sad.  However, some of the memories are good, and some of the bad memories are worth sharing.  So I am left with deciding which are worthy of turning into stories that readers will find valuable, and which are best kept to myself for the time being.  Not everything could make the cut, so I followed my husband’s advice: “Share the stories that will benefit and educate the readers.  If you don’t feel good about writing it, don’t share it.”  Please visit me frequently throughout the month of November for more stories.  And don’t forget to hug a veteran in honor of Veterans’ Day!

— G