Q. Jaymie, tell me, how did your involvement in the military begin? What about it interested you from the very beginning? When did you first enlist? Just tell me about your early experiences.
My interest in the military started when I was eighteen. I was working at Fareway bakery and had gotten laid off. I'd wrecked my car and didn't know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, but I knew I needed to pay my bills, and so I decided to enlist in the Army. I didn't have a clue what I wanted to do there, but they said I could do anything. I said, "Give me something leaving fast." So they said, "How does 'medic' sound?", and I said, "Okay." I left two weeks later, spent my 19th birthday in basic training, and then headed to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for four years.
Q. Where was your basic training?
My basic training was at Fort Linoin, Missouri.
Q. At that point in time did you think that there was a possibility you'd be deployed overseas?
Actually, I anticipated it. I joined during Desert Storm and was hoping to go, and then I got orders to Walter Reed. I kept hoping that I might go, and then the war ended and that's where I did my tour of duty.
Q. And so when did you choose to enlist in the National Guard?
I chose to enlist in the National Guard right after 9/11. Actually, I was pregnant, so I didn't choose then. I knew I wanted to come back then, but I was pregnant, so I waited another two years after my daughter was born. The regular Army won't take a single parent. You have to give up full custody of your kids or be married. So I decided that that wasn't an option. I started looking at other options and found that the National Guard doesn't require that.
So I called the nearest recruiter and told them I wanted to go. I told them I was military occupation specialty qualified where I'm OSQ's, and that I wanted to volunteer and go with the next unit leaving. They got me in very quickly. Within the year I was activated once and didn't leave. I left home for about a month, and then I came back. So I had about three months before I knew I was going to leave again.
That's when I started preparing my kids and everything else. But as soon as 9/11 happened, I knew I'd be back in.
I chose to enlist in the National Guard two years after 9/11 happened. I was pregnant with my daughter when 9/11 happened, and after a lot of consideration and heartfelt thinking about whether this was something I wanted to do or not -- to leave my child to go or not -- I decided that it was definitely what I needed to do.
There was no way around it. It was just something inside of me that said I have to go. I had to go do what I'm trained to do and go help in any way that I can. There's no way to really describe that. It was a sense that I knew had to be fulfilled.
So I did the best I could. I waited until she was just about to turn two, and then I called a recruiter after I found out that the National Guard wouldn't make me give up custody of my kids. I called a recruiter, and they were more than happy to take me. I volunteered right then and there. I got to my new unit, once again told them that I'm volunteering to go.
The first unit they put me with was already in Iraq. So I went up to chain of command and I said, "Look, I joined with anticipation to go, and I want to go. So here I am. Get me there." And they said, "Okay, we'll put your name in." And I said, "Okay."
It was within the year that they activated me the first time and I ended up not leaving. That was the hardest thing. Two let-downs right at once.
Leaving my children… I can't describe what that feels like, to leave your children. The guilt, the feeling of abandonment, the self-doubt. Is this really what you should be doing? You have so many people that will sit there and say "How can you do that? How can you leave your kids?" You try to look at them, and you try to explain that "I'm not doing anything. I'm doing what I need to do, and really I don't need to explain myself to you. Here's where I'm at, and this is what I'm doing." And then I didn't leave.
I went through one whole leaving ceremony -- the crying and the front page pictures and kissing them good-bye and leaving -- just to be told a month later that "Oh, we don't need you this time around." Which was both devastating and kind of a life saver, too. Because when I kept saying I wanted to go, reality wasn't there yet about actually leaving. That first time leaving, that was reality right there.
So I had a little reprieve. I had three months to figure out and just let them know how much I loved them before I left. I let them know that no matter what happened, Mommy had to go do what she had to do, but it wasn't because she didn't love them. I'd be back before they knew it.
We spent the summer doing things. I was in school, but I didn't work at all. I just went to school and tried to spend as much time with them as I could.
I got a phone call that I knew was coming. It wasn't much of a surprise. It was just a matter of when. And the only surprise was "Okay, you've got two weeks."
I had to readjust prior, because the first time I got activated, my sister was coming to my house and I wasn't going to have to uproot my kids. The second time, she had a job and we ended up uprooting my kids and trying to get them two hours away from where I lived, and get all my stuff packed up in two weeks.
So that time I didn't have my children come to my going away ceremony, because that was the most incredibly hard thing. I can't even -- one time was all it took. If I get deployed again, they won't be there. They can come to the welcome home ceremony, but they are not going to me leaving.
Q. How old was your son when you were deployed?
Between eight and nine. He was nine, I believe, when I left. I missed his 10th birthday and was home for his 11th birthday.
Q. And your daughter was about two when you left?
She was just about to have her 3rd birthday. I left actually before her 3rd birthday, because it was a year after I enlisted but I waited until she was 2. I left just a week before her 3rd birthday, so we had it early.
Q. When you joined the National Guard, what were your feelings about being deployed?
My feelings on being deployed were that I was ready to go. That's what I enlisted for the first time, because of Desert Storm. It's what I wanted to go do when I was young and didn't have kids, and then 9/11 happened, and I felt it was my second chance and it was not going to happen this time.
I knew they were taking volunteers, and it didn't take long for them to say: "Okay, we've got a medic. Let's go." So I was glad about that. I didn't necessarily want to be in the Guard, I just wanted to go to Iraq. Those feelings have changed -- I love the Guard now, but from active duty to Guard is a very hard transition, and I didn't necessarily really want the weekend drills and all of that. I just wanted to go do my job and be helpful and bring my guys home. That's what I wanted to do.
Q. How long were you enlisted in the Army? Was it four years the first time?
Four years the first time.
Q. Then when you enlisted in the National Guard, how many years did you initially enlist for?
Only three. Enough to go to Iraq and get back out.
Q. Do you feel your training at Walter Reed then ended up being… Was it fate that you were more prepared for Iraq?
I believe I had excellent training at Walter Reed.
That training, it pulled through when it needed to. It pulled me through, and it pulled some of our guys through. So it got them back home.
Q. That's amazing. I can see that would be some pressure. It's an important job. I want to talk to you a little bit about Iraq. Tell me about your arrival in Iraq. How long were you there before you faced firsthand the reality of combat?
We first arrived in Iraq after spending 16 hours flying over the ocean on New Year's Day in 2005. We spent several months at different camps, living out of bags and moving numerous, numerous times, kind of like nomads. And then we convoyed into Iraq, I believe, in February.
It was a couple of months that we spent just getting acclimated to the weather, getting used to it. At Duke, it was an insurgent police camp or camp for the insurgents. We never got mortared, never -- it was just way out in the middle of nowhere.
So when we first got to Ramadi in Iraq… when we convoyed there, we spent approximately 10 or 11 days moving the whole battalion there. Our battalion was four hundred-and-some people, so it took us numerous days. One of the last convoys that we did, my convoy into Ramadi, is when we got hit with an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). That was the first real taste of what combat was.
There had been one other IED explosion, but nobody got hurt. It scared them, but everybody walked away. Then we convoyed there, and it was like the 10th day of straight convoy, and we got hit with an IED. We had five casualties, three of them very serious. Another one was surgically serious, but he went and pulled security instead of waiting for me to… I didn't even realize he was that bad.
I remember asking him if he was okay, and he looked around a little bit and said: "Yeah, I'm fine." And that was the last I heard of him until we got to the gates of Ramadi, and it came across the radio that we still had a soldier that needed to see a medic.
But that day that we lost Lt. Gineau. and a week later we lost Garceau. So we had choppers come in, and all I can remember is not being able to breathe the rest of the way because I had used everything in my bag. I was the only medic on the convoy, and with that many casualties, I had nothing left… and we still had an hour and a half to go.
I just kept thinking "Please, please don't let this happen again, because I have nothing to fix them with," and I couldn't breathe. They put you in these Kevlar vests and a bulletproof vehicle and say "Go," and if something like that happens…. I didn't want to get back in my vehicle. I was so claustrophobic, and then I had all this gear on, and I just didn't know what to think or how to react. It's pins and needles the rest of the way.
Finally, it had been about an hour and a half. I was thinking, "When are we going to get there?" I just started almost… not panicking, but I just wanted to know right now when we were going to get there. We happened to be right outside the gates, so that was outstanding, because I didn't think I could be in that vehicle for another second. I just wanted to get there and know that everybody else came in that gate.
Q. What was it like -- how hot was it that day?
The day the IED hit was not a hot day. They have a winter season. I don't really remember how hot it got during the days because it wasn't very hot. I know it got very cold at night. So it was a very cold trip.
I remember the next day being even more cold, because it was raining. We had open vehicles, and rain was coming in through the turret, and up under the dashboard or under the floorboards. On any average day during the summer, it gets between 140 and 150 degrees in the heat.
Luckily we did a lot of night missions, so we slept mostly during the day. Which was fine if we had a building. It sucked if we were sleeping in the desert, trying to get to sleep before the sun came up and just trying to stay asleep during the heat of the day and moving your cot with the shade.
The nights get very cold too, very shocking.
Q. Tell me about Ramadi. Is it a large city?
Ramadi is a very large city in their terms. I can't remember the exact amount of people but it's a very compact city. It's on the Euphrates River. A very dirty city, stinky city. A complete culture shock.
Even at Duke you didn't see anybody else around you, and the people when you would drive anywhere or convoy anywhere were happy to see you. Little kids would come running with no shoes on in 40 degree weather to run out there and wave to the Americans and smile and give thumbs up and all of that. It warmed your heart.
And then you got to a city like Ramadi and they would just as soon not look at you as to even acknowledge your presence or glare at you. Just a whole different feeling, and there you knew that these people don't want you here. You know, some of them probably do, but the overall feeling is: "You are in our city, and you're in the wrong city."
Very compact. It was very hard to get our equipment that we used through the city because of the narrow streets. But we did it, and it was a very dirty city. Very terrible. I can't describe it.
Until you've actually experienced it, the difference in culture.... Say you and I go to the store and buy meat, and they slaughter it there on the street and then hang it up in 140 degree weather with flies all over it. And you're just like, you know, "ew." But base camp at Ramad, no Iraqi people were allowed on there.
There was very little to do there. Some bases have really built up for their soldiers a lot of things to do. They have pools, and we did have a nice couple of gyms. There was the town hall and a couple of different chapels, I think, and then the PX.
Rockets and mortars were daily. Usually in the morning, usually in the evening. You could almost set your time by it, and we definitely set bets on it. So you just got used to it.
The first few nights you run around like a chicken with your head cut off. Then after that it's like, "Hmm, that wasn't close enough to even get worried about." And then if it doesn't rattle the roof, I'm not even putting my stuff on any more. Because you have to have full accountability, and so you sit around with your Kevlar and black vest on until everybody in the battalion has been accounted for and it's been an all clear. Like I said, if it didn't rattle the roof, I'm not getting up on a Sunday morning to put that stuff on. I don't care if they just mortared us. I don't care.
It was very loud at night. Most all air support or any troop movements would be done by helicopter at night. We were constantly having Schnook's flying overhead or Blackhawks if it was air vacs out. Usually only at night, though. So a lot of patrols during the day, too, because they did air support patrols. But it got really loud at night.
We just made our own fun at Ramadi. That's all you really could do. Water balloon fights and trick or treating on Halloween. I think my first sergeant even had a telescope sent over there so we could look at the stars, because they do have very beautiful…. That's the only nice thing about Iraq, is the sky that they have at night and their sunsets, because of the stars. You never knew there were so many stars until you see them in Iraq.
Q. Tell me a little bit about your daily duties. What was the mission of your unit and what was probably the hardest part of that mission?
My daily duties were relatively simple. My guys made sure that I didn't have a whole lot to do outside of taking care of them. Occasionally I'd post a call, but for the majority of our time in Iraq, my platoon were improvised explosive device hunters.
We went out nightly, while every few nights try to switch up our routine. Some nights it would be two or three times in a row. We'd go into the city of Ramadi with buffalos and RG31's (those are vehicles), and mechanically we usually took out our tracks.
We would hunt bombs with flashlights. I know that sounds almost unbelievable. Many times I joked: "Where is my camera? Nobody is going to believe that a single mother of two is out here with 155 rounds outside her vehicle." But that's what we did. We did it nightly. No matter how bad it got, the next night you just loaded up and went out and you did it again. And the next night too -- I don't know how many nights they'd tell you to go do that same street, even though you know the next night you're going to go out there and you're going to find more again.
Then they put us on a convoy escort for a while, and we were very grateful for the break. But then you're like: "Yeah, no, send us back to hunting bombs." Because you just get used to the intensity. And then you go do convoy escorts, and you're like: "I don't think so. Let's go back and do what we're trained to do."
So when we were in Duke, I'm not sure that anybody knew what we were actually going to be doing when we got to Ramadi. I know it was a shock to me.
For me, I think the beginning was the hardest. Because every IED or bomb that went off for me for the longest time was a killer. Because that's what my first experience was. It killed two of my guys. And so for me, when that bomb went off, I know that I just needed to get there. I didn't care about secondaries. I didn't care about me being in danger whatsoever. I needed to be there right now, whatever it took.
I had a very good driver called Juice. He knew that the minute that that went off, that foot better be on the accelerator, because Doc was going to go nuts.
We even had it worked out with chem lights so that -- when a vehicle gets hit, your communications go down, and I couldn't wait that 30 seconds for them to recover from having their bell rung to let me know or for that communications to be up. I needed to know right now.
So it was a green chem light if they were good, and I knew I could sit back and say "Whew!" If it was a red chem light, I knew I was going to work. So my guys were very good about that, that quick notification just for my sanity, because they didn't even have to call for a medic. I'd just be there.
That was awesome that Juice would go through the streets, go over medians, whatever it took to get me there so I could be there. It was the longest 30 seconds of your life, right there. When you're waiting to find out who is walking out of that and who is not, and what you need to do to get them wherever the heck they need to go.
Q. Let's talk about that first experience. I just want to back up to that so we're really clear on what happened. I understand that that was the last day on your trip where you're heading to Ramadi, the very last day of your convoy. You haven't even gotten to your post yet.
No, it wasn't the last day. We still had some troops there, but it was the day that I rode with that platoon. We had some rear people yet that we still had to go back and get, but it was the 10th day of doing the same convoy. So rather than another two days of doing that convoy after that IED hit and we lost LT, we made another trip the very next morning.
I'll explain it the way it was. We were traveling to Ramadi, and it was the 10th day. We still had troops we had to go back and get at Duke when that IED exploded on us. That dictated how fast we got the rest of the troops up there. We did not do it again more than once.
We went up -- it changed our whole mission. We weren't going to take the chance. We actually ended up going down a route we weren't supposed to go to get back to Duke to get the rest of our battalion up there.
When I came on post that day, our whole battalion met us. Everybody that was there had already heard, and they were all waiting for us to come in, everybody on that convoy. All the medics that were there that had already gotten to Ramadi, and I remember being extremely scared that they wouldn't think that I could go back out. They were already telling us that we were going to turn around that same -- the same people who were on that convoy were going to go the next morning, and we were going to go back to Duke and get the rest of our guys.
I was very scared that my NCO was going to tell me: "We'll send another medic." And I didn't want that. That was the last thing I wanted. I did not want something that extreme to happen and then not believe that I could go back out with them. If the guys that I rolled in there with had to go back out, then Doc was going back out. That was extremely important to me.
So we left the very next morning. We gathered up all of our stuff again, and we got in the Humvees and drove so many hours out of our way so that we wouldn't have to take the same road that we took.
We went through a rain storm that was coming in through the turret and up through the floor. It was freezing cold rain and there was no Humvee. I was soaked from head to toe. We left early in the morning and didn't get in there until late that night. I think I got probably maybe 2 or 3 hours of sleep before they had everything loaded back up and we were ready to take the rest of our troops into Ramadi.
And then we went down the same road. Instead of taking the hours out of our way to go the other road, we went back down the same road where the IED had hit the day before.
I can say that that is a very hard thing to do. Extremely hard, but everybody was extremely watchful, expectant, fearful. Expecting it to happen, fearful it would happen, and watching like hawks to try and make sure that it didn't happen by looking for the IED's.
That day forever changed a lot of people. I may have been the only medic on that convoy, but I'm not the only one that stepped up to take care of those boys. A lot of good people with medical background luckily were there, combat life saver trained, and they did an outstanding job to try and help me get people the help they needed as fast as we could.
I'm sure most of us won't ever completely be the same. Definitely it scared me for a very long time, with each IED that happened after that.
It took I don't know how many Purple Hearts before it finally got through my head that one could go off and my guys would be walking and talking when it was done. It gave me the edge that I needed to always stay ready, because it was just a matter of time. It wasn't that it might happen. No, it was a matter of time of when it was going to happen and who it was going to happen to. We all had that feeling every night when we went out.
It wasn't a feeling of "Oh, that could happen." I mean, it's night by night. "Is tonight the night that my best friend over here might not come back?" You did it. You just went out there, you did it, you focused on the mission. But those thoughts always run through your head.
But when you came in and everything was all right, it was a feeling that you can't --everybody fought for their positions on that line up.
Through the fear, through it all, we loved going out there. We loved doing our job. Especially in Ramadi, which was manned by ground troops who are trying to control the city.
For every bomb we found, God only knows how many lives we ultimately saved, because who knows who they would have hit with that? Whether it be Bradley, who carries four or six guys, or a Humvee or a platoon of ground soldiers. The city is just full of them. On any given night, you could find seven bombs, twelve rounds each, and one right after another.
The pride and friendships that you form, and the things you talk about while you're out there actually doing it, are crazy. But you'd go out and do it again, if we could be IED hunters. I don't know if a whole lot of people want to go back over and do convoy escorts, but if we could go back and do our job again, I think we'd all go back.
Q. Tell me a little bit about those relationships. I know you mentioned to me on the phone that part of what made them so significant is that you relied on each other with your lives every minute of every day.
I think the relationships that I formed while over there have changed me far greater than any person that I've ever met individually. Those relationships made me trust people that I might not even get along with on a day-to-day basis. Their actual personality and I would clash. I might not even take the time to talk to them on the street.
Everybody has their -- "I don't like this certain person" or when you meet somebody and they rub you the wrong way from the beginning. Over there you don't have that option.
You may on a day-to-day basis bicker back and forth, because you don't like that person. But when it comes down to it, you know all of you rely on each other. All of you have a job to do. I can't do my job without your help; you can't do your job without my help. It doesn't matter if we like each other. When it comes down to it, you've got my back; I've got yours. We're going to get this done, and we're coming home.
And it's a really outstanding feeling to know that somebody is always watching out for you. Somebody is always there -- I personally could go anywhere and get anything from any branch of the service I needed, as a medic, for my guys if we were on a mission.
So even people that I didn't meet every day or go out on missions every day, they are a kind of friendship you don't just walk away from. You still IM them, you still talk to them while they're back in Iraq for the third time. I don't necessarily call them on the telephone, but I'm always e-mailing, making sure they're all right. "Can I send you anything? Do you need something?"
The relationships with the guys in my platoon, especially. I think that each and every one of them know that I would have done anything for them. And I'm certain that any of them would have done anything for me.
I'm forever in their debt for the way that they watched out for me and picked me up when I was down. Because of the IED that I lost people, my guys were like: "You're still coming with us, Doc." Because I really just really wanted to go home then.
I went over there wanting to bring them home, and right from the start of it, I didn't bring home two of them. And that was terrible, because I really did have the mentality to bring all my guys home.
So through it all, we made it through the three that we didn't bring home. I really can't describe it. It's a horrible, horrible loss and a real reality check of what we were getting into. When it was all said and done, we were all still standing there with that same job to go do.
So we pumped each other up, and bickered back and forth, and yelled, and fought a little bit, and had all kinds of crazy fun doing probably insane things. Who knows? At some point over there, you lose grasp of what's insane and what's not. I mean, you're hunting bombs with a flashlight and you're getting mortared daily. What's normal anymore?
I know that there are a bunch of guys that will always be just as special to me as my kids. Most of the people I went on the deployment with.
I've never been one to get along with women too much, but we solely relied on the sixteen of us that were there. It made me believe that women can be decent to each other. Women in general can be decent, but it's very hard to find a woman friend or pal that you can just be like sisters with. You can be friends, even associates, but not… It was like a bunch of sisters there, always calling on each other and making sure everybody was all right. When you're only seventeen out of four hundred-and-some men, you start to be -- girl time in the bathroom, two hours doing a facial in the bathroom, whatever.
But, yeah, it was a fun time. You just made fun. Where you normally wouldn't do the kind of stuff you do back here, like a water balloon fight. But all of them are somebody that I'd bend over backwards if they called me. Any time, anywhere, any place. I'd definitely go back to war with them, any time. I hope I lived and proved myself enough to them that they could at least say the same about me. I hope.
Q. You were talking about hunting for the bombs at night, and then going and doing convoy, and the difference. It's almost like you started being driven by that adrenaline.
You did, you did.
Q. Tell me about that.
The change from being fearful to living for your mission was the pride that you took in what you did, and the lives that you knew you were saving by each one that you dug up. It wasn't so much that people wanted to go hunt bombs. But you did want to, because you didn't want one more soldier to die. You wanted to be the one that found it.
All of them that ever rode in the lead track night after night after night -- because statistically, that is the vehicle that gets hit the most -- they were all willing to go do it for the platoon. They didn't want the rest of their platoon to get hit for all of the soldiers that we will never meet who were just thankful. They knew who we were. We were Task Force Ironhawk and we were coming through their AO tonight, and maybe nobody would die tonight.
That is what drove us. Not so much the adrenaline but the mission. The mission to not have anybody needlessly die by a coward. We had the equipment to go do it. The equipment that they finally got to us to do these missions was outstanding. It could take a heck of a blast.
We got 32 Purple Hearts, but most of them are not that serious. It's serious, definitely, emotionally to come that close that many times. Some of them are several -- Eckenberg who is a double Purple Heart recipient, and goodness only knows how many times he actually got blown up over there.
Countless nights of getting out there and ready to go find bombs was for other people. Not because we wanted to do it, but we knew we needed to do it. I think that is an outstanding mission to have, to know what you're doing can take and save so many soldiers who are doing things that you need them to do in that city.
It's very profound. It's pride that nothing I've ever done can remotely touch, and one that I will always hold very true and be proud that I did it. If I could be an IED hunter/medic, I'll go again.
Q. Being a minority, did you ever think about that in terms of your service of representing or just that uniqueness of being a smaller percentage of that group that was serving?
Being a female in Ramadi, Iraq, yeah, there is alone in that a great pride. Not one that you felt so much while you were there. Usually fear was the biggest thing you felt. But to know you're only one of a handful of women out hunting bombs, and to know that Marines want to know why the Army run with women, and then they ride with you and they're like: "Okay Doc, we'd ride with you too."
To take time out there when you're actually doing it, and to stop for one second and not be mission-focused, but you look down, and you just dug up three bombs, and there are 155 rounds. You think: "What am I doing here?" And then there's just not too many women in the world that can say that's what they've done. There's not too many males in the world that probably believe that's what I've done.
But I think the biggest thing for us female medics was to be an active part of the platoon, other than just the medic. I know that I'd help if they needed me to help. Most of the time they had their own duties -- getting the trucks ready, fueling them, and all of that. But I tried to be as much a soldier that they could be proud of, not just feel like "Oh God, we've got to help Doc."
I tried to be one of the guys… their best friend, anybody they could joke with. Just be the best soldier that I could be. I didn't want them doing anything for me. I just wanted to be one of them, doing our job, and I think we accomplished that. A tremendous amount of respect.
Even though if you were somebody outside of our platoon, it didn't sound like there was a whole lot of respect going on there. But that's only because they had earned the right to talk to me that way. And I'd earned the right to talk to them that way. The whole platoon had that right to talk to each other that way. But don't let anybody else talk to us that way.
I know the guys got a lot of ribbing from Marines to our higher ranking officials about why a female would be going out on combat missions with them. As far as I know, they've all stuck up for me.
I'm sure there is the few of them that will say: "Oh, you know, she was Doc." But I think for the most part, most of them were happy I was there. There comes a certain degree of lightening the mood as a female also.
I know it was being debated back here in the United States whether females had a place in combat while I was actually there. And that perturbed me a little, I must say. Because I was there, and I'd like to think I was doing just as good a job as any man could do. Hopefully most people would agree with me.
I think that when you look at the kind of things that we did all the time, it just really can lighten a mood. "Well, Doc is out there doing it. Let's just go." If a woman can do it, then no man wants to be outdone by a woman. So I think that it can actually help, when it's an intense environment like that, if there is a woman out there right alongside us.
I don't really think my guys really ever gave me too much trouble about being a woman. We were soldiers first, and bomb hunters, and all kinds of different things. But they never said I couldn't do something. They were very respectful in terms of making me a part of the group. Everywhere we went, I was just part of the group, and that was awesome.
I would have hated to be singled out because I was a female. I would have hated to not been able to do my job because I was a female. I would have hated to not have been able to ride with my guys because I was a female, or some of the missions that I went on because I was a female. They can say whatever they want to in Congress, but I know that I had every right to be right where I was.
Q. Now I'm going to talk about some of the people that you were close to that you lost. I just want to get clear on the incident with IED. When your convoy hit an IED coming into Ramadi, was it that the Humvee drove over one that was hidden in the ground?
That one I am not too sure about. I don't think it drove over it. I think it was buried on the side of the road. However, I wasn't the one that went. I was busy doing my own thing. So when that IED went off, I believe it blew out the tire and then the Humvee rolled twice, which is why we had such extensive injuries to all of them that were there.
Q. How many people were in the vehicle? If you can just kind of run through what you witnessed, what you experienced.
While we were convoying into Ramadi, my vehicle was actually in the middle of I don't even remember how many vehicles, and the vehicle that got hit had five people in it. It was the last vehicle in the lineup, and I'm not even sure we really realized they were hit right away. Then all of a sudden it came across the radio: "IED, IED."
At the same time as the IED went off, they went off the road and hit a big pile of sand and rolled. I'm not sure if the driver was actually knocked unconscious by the IED or not. But when I finally made it, when they finally called for a medic, and when we got turned around and went down the entire lineup and I got there, the vehicle was on its side.
Garceau was pinned in the vehicle, and Lieutenant Gienau was already pulled out, and Smutzer had crawled out. Shay was the one that I was talking to, and his hand was extremely messed up. He actually needed to be air-vaced out to Germany later and have surgery. I think he did two or three months of rehab on that hand and then rejoined his platoon in Iraq. So he went and pulled security, and then Edgington had some minor wounds.
I remember yelling that I needed my combat lifesavers. I was going to need more help. We did. We had people working on everybody.
We lost Lieutenant Gienau shortly after we started working on him. I think that had to be one of my hardest moments, to decide that there was nothing more I could do for him and to move onto the people who I could still save. I didn't want to quit, and I know that the other person working on him probably didn't want to quit either, but the fact of the matter was that there was nothing we were going to do there for him. He had already passed away, and there were two other very seriously injured people there.
I remember them hollering down what they needed, because they were calling in for an air-vac. There is a certain call line that you call when you want a rescue helicopter to come. I called that up and continued doing what I needed to do. So I knew relatively quickly that we had a bird en route, but it felt like forever. It felt like eternity. And we all worked together and got to a point where there was nothing else I could do. It felt like an eternity. I finally got to a point where we had done everything in the field that we could do, and now we were waiting, and it was driving me nuts.
At some point during all that, I found out that Seth was Garceau's first name, and that hit especially hard. Because I didn't believe I was going to get him to the helicopter, and my son's first name is Seth. So I started yelling at him like I probably would if it was my son, though I never had actually met Seth before he died.
I'm not saying that I wouldn't do it for anybody. I didn't want to lose him. I just wanted him to hold on and fight for me, and his name being the same as my son's just kind of caught me off guard.
I remember screaming "Where is my bird?" I just needed to know, because I had nothing more I could do for him, and I needed somebody to come fix it now. The bird got there, and we got them out of there as fast as we could. The helicopter pilots were excellent, and the medics that came out to me to help us load them were excellent. We had some very great leadership out there.
After that, once we got the casualties en route to some place that could hopefully get them further than what we got them, there's so much more after the fact when that happens. It's not just take a deep breath and say: "Wow." You have to recover your equipment. It's not like you can just say: "Hey, I've had a really rough day" and go home. There's still a mission to accomplish. You have to clean up the aftermath. You have to get all the military equipment and continue on.
We still had a destination to get to, and we weren't there yet. That is a hard realization, too. No matter how bad it gets, or what happened, or who you lose, you're not done until the mission is done. You become almost like a robot to do your mission.
You can't have feelings attached to the people who are there. You feel very deeply for your friends and your fellow soldiers and the people on your mission. But when tragedy hits, from somewhere that I can't describe comes a "what we need to do" approach to everything. The human side of it doesn't come out until you've reached the gate and everybody is through it - and then sometimes not even then.
You get to have that minute, and then you go so long without those feelings of what happened, or what you had to do, or how un-human it really is. You just get used to not having them come out. It can make it difficult, definitely, when you come home. Because you feel it. It's not like you don't feel it. It's just whether you show it or not and how you approach things.
Some people who are hurt will just say "Hey, you really hurt me," and that's not so much there. If I feel hurt I go into overdrive mode. I'm just focused on getting through it.
So I'm not sure in any way, shape or form if I'm over what happened over there. I have a good grasp that I did the best that I could with what I had. And hey, I'm not the one that decided I didn't bring everybody home. Because that was a big thing for me was to bring everybody home.
I think I've got a good grasp on it, but once again, what is reality any more? What's normal?
In most people's eyes -- in my own eyes -- I'm doing outstanding. I just purchased my own home. I'm going to school. I've got a great job that I love, at the VA working with veterans, which is the only job I wanted after I came home. The kids are doing far better than they were when I first got home.
It's the little things that make you wonder if you're ever going to be emotionally or mentally what you were before you left. Do I think I can handle anything? Yeah. I know I can. Can I still be that loving person I was once that could feel certain emotions? They're coming back slowly. And it's on an as-needed basis. I can pick and choose which ones I let in and which ones I don't let in. And that scares a person.
While over there I really found out what I can do and what I can't do. You see a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde side of yourself in that kind of situation. In any one second I could be fixing an Iraqi, and the next second pulling my weapon on them if I needed to. And knowing for the first time in my life that I could use that weapon and walk away and be okay if I needed to. Very scary realization to know that about yourself, that it's in you, to be that kind of a person.
Then there's the medical side of it. Do I want to be that kind of person? On any given day I live to help somebody and to make them feel better. Even if it's with a smile, or making them laugh on a crappy day, or when they're feeling like crap, like in the VA. I live for that moment when I can make them feel better for a second, and I definitely didn't like the realization to know that "Yep, I can go from wanting to help you to wanting to kill you." Come back and say something like that here, and they're ready to arrest you. But over there, it's have that mentality or risk the consequences.
It makes dealing with people back home different. You have to keep yourself in check a lot. People who have not been through what I've been through, who take for granted the things that actually make the world go around and make life worth living. The need to help somebody else, to be helpful and grateful and thankful for what people do for you, and their inability to be that way when you come back, and the anger you feel towards that, that's definitely scary.
And that ability to turn instantly when something is not going your way is scary. I don't like being that kind of person. That is something new since I've been back. It used to take a lot for me to get to a point where I'm going to be rude or even say anything. And now it's: "No, I'm going to let you know what I think right now," because there's just not a lot of time in this world to let people treat you any way they think is okay.
Q. I don't know how you and John Wayne Miller served together, but I'm under the impression that you had time to develop relationships. So this is somebody that you knew?
No more so than the others. He used to like to steal my Pepsi's.
John Wayne Miller was quite a character. Always trying to make me laugh and always wanting to steal my Pepsi's. I still did not know him very well, but I did like what I did know of him. He was always very polite and always very nice, and he happened to pass away on a day where we were out doing a day mission.
Lieutenant Gienau and Garceau died about a week after he did. John Wayne wasn't the TC of the track, but we were still hunting IED's with tracks. We happened to do a day mission, and then we turned down a road in Ramadi, and there was nobody. The meat was left hanging, and we knew something was going to happen, because there was no individuals in sight. Nobody. It was just dead.
We started looking and found an IED, and our buffalo had gone up to start digging it up. We were in another supportive unit out there with us as our backup. They were having some radio commotion about a vehicle coming at us, and they wanted permission to stop that vehicle. Which they did, and in that same time one of my guys radioed that they needed a medic, which seemed very bizarre because I didn't hear any big boom. The only time they call is when there is a big boom.
Then all of a sudden, it came across that one of us was down; one of us had been shot. So Juice got me there as fast as he could, and I was there within less than two minutes to the track that John Wayne was in.
I got out. Of course in Ramadi, it's not just jump out and get to where you need to go. There are a lot of considerations. We have a sniper, and I'm the only medical asset, so there is positioning of the vehicles. There are IED's out there, so they are always concerned about secondaries. Not so much me; I'd jump out there anyway. But still, all said and done, I was there in less than two minutes at the track, and he was already gone. There was absolutely nothing I could do.
We called in for ground evac group that comes in, so I would not leave and our vehicles did not leave. We had ground support that came in and took John Wayne out for us and got him to another hospital-type medical unit.
After Sergeant Zu had inspected John Wayne's wounds a little better, we were pretty sure it was coming from the mosque. The sniper was a very good sniper, considering all the equipment that we wore.
And under no circumstances could we get permission to fire upon the mosque. And there is where the anger came -- anger that they're not even giving me a chance.
Up to this point, every time I've had to work, there was nothing I ultimately could do. Smutzer we got out of there, and ultimately we could fix him. He was seriously injured, but we could get him out of there, and that was the one that I brought home. Shay was seriously injured but still walking and talking, which was better than Smutzer was doing. But Sergeant Garceau, Lieutenant Gienau and now Miller. I didn't have a fighting chance with any of them, and that's what was irritating me. This was not fair. We couldn't see these people, and before I know it, they're gone.
And then we don't have any way to retaliate, because they're not out front, they're not where we can see them. In Ramadi, it's a very political place to be, because that is what they want to make their next capitol after Baghdad. So the mosques are taboo, and they use that to their full advantage.
That is what was the most upsetting. Just not being able to get the man that did it. In any instance that it happened was not being able to make it right, to take into custody or to do whatever we had to do to make sure that the people who murdered our friends were taken care of.
Q. One of the things I want to understand. I know with the IED's sometimes you were looking for them with flashlights. But you say you ran tracks. Did sometimes you explode them with some device? I read in an article you used to collect them and then set them off. But then you didn't set them off later, because you didn't want the insurgents to know. If you could just tell me about that.
There were several different procedures we used when we did IED hunting. The main way to locate them at first was with a flashlight and bodies hanging out of vehicles. And then we got better vehicles, and they had their own floodlights, or we specially equipped them with floodlights.
When it came to disarming them, we had a piece of equipment called the buffalo, and it had a pitchfork arm on it that was hydraulic. It would come out and go in and start digging them up, and then it had like a thumb on the back of it. So it looked like a four-clawed creature with a thumb on the back, and that would pull the blasting caps out. So then they were disarmed and they were just rounds.
Well, you can't leave the rounds for the insurgents to come back and pick them up. When we first started, we would blow the rounds in place with a charge that EOD would place, or explosive ordinant device people specially trained to take care of those. They would go with a little robot and a C4 charge, and go place that on there with a little robotic arm, and drop the C4, and then run a blasting cap back and a charge wire, and then they would blow it right there.
After a while we got smart that was probably tipping insurgents off on where we were at, because we tended to get hit a lot more often after we did that. So we then changed our tactics a little, and we started picking up the rounds and carrying them with us. Which is quite funny when other people who weren't used to being with us would get in our vehicle, and they'd want to know why we had a lot of rounds at our feet clunking around in the back of a Cougar.
It was just really quite comical to watch other people and their reactions to us, because they definitely thought we were crazy. They'd run and call somebody else, and here were those somebody else that you would go call. So here's Doc with seven, eight, twelve rounds right down at her feet, waiting to go blow these somewhere.
But that is a great rush. Not so much when they do it to us, but when we blow our own, it's quite fun. We just had training with my unit last time to do demolition, and they let me finally do it. They wouldn't let me do it in Iraq, but under training conditions I got to blow some demo. So that was pretty fun.
But it was just fun being over there. A totally different scenario when they did it to us, but we used to like to try to take their lights out, because we had no other recourse for getting even with them. So when we'd blow them, we'd strategically place them to try to take their lights out and get some satisfaction that we were getting back at them.
Q. Tell me a little bit about -- the other thing I wanted to get clear on is the civilians. You said at one point in time that you did some work on some of the civilians. So did you do medical work? I was also curious what danger the IED's were to civilians. Couldn't they wander out and be injured as well?
The civilians knew, like the scenario I gave you where we went around the corner and that whole block was empty. They knew where they were at. Some would give us intel. A lot of times we would get our intel from civilians who would talk to somebody and let us know. But for the majority they know.
And they're not like trip wires. They are set with det cord, which means that it has to have a charge from some location. The Iraqi insurgents are always sitting there watching, whether you know that's what they are or not. They're always there, and all it takes is a cell phone to activate them.
We've had ones activated on us that were set by dryer timers, where they could see us coming down the road and our vehicles. Because of what we do, we move at like five miles an hour, looking or stopping to dig, and they can anticipate how long it's going to take us to get down to that location. They just set a dryer timer, and when it dings it booms. Their tactics are a lot of hit and miss. We like it when they miss.
You've heard in the news that they really don't care about the civilians. They blow them up or take them out with a car bomb. They don't care. More for their cause, so they're not worried about their people. The American soldiers over there are more worried about civilians than their own people are. We're very, very aware of the civilian sector. They're not a part of this for the majority of them, and we do whatever it takes to destroy any more of their lives than what their own country is doing to them.
Q. Tell me about contact with home when you were there. I'm curious about the amount of contact you had. What did it mean to you? Was it a relief or did it create its own stress?
Contact with home while overseas was very difficult for me. A lot of my guys, they called every day, and it was very relieving for them. But as a mother who left her children and was doing what I was doing, calling home took a lot. One, to hear my children's voices and to hear what's going on in their lives, and knowing that their lives didn't revolve around me, that hurt.
Two, to hear them say that they missed me, and "Mommy when are you coming home?" Especially for a long while there, where I personally had the constant feeling that I might not be coming home, to answer those kind of questions… We had incoming so often that I worried about them hearing the booms in the background, or me having to say "Mommy's got to go. I've got to go right now."
When bad things would happen, it would be a long time before I called back home. Usually just trying to deal with things myself, and without letting my family -- who really stepped up to the plate to take my kids -- without letting them know really what I was going through. Because I didn't want them to worry. I definitely didn't want my kids worrying.
One time my son and I were having a conversation, and he said, "Mom, do you have sand bags all the way around your tent so if they shoot at you they can't hit you?" And my response to him was something like: "Seth, honey, you worry about math. Mom is in the safest place in Iraq." And that's all I wanted them to believe.
I don't know if everybody is the same way, but as soon as you call home and you hear that familiar voice, and you're not putting on that facade for the guys in your platoon that "Hey, everything's all right," you tend to break down more. In some ways, it frustrates you to hear about all the fun they're having, without wanting to tell them what you're doing.
I never called before a mission. I did call from a mission once to wish my daughter a Happy Birthday. Which was outstanding, that we have technology like we do. Because back in the Vietnam era, you couldn't be out hunting bombs on a mission with an antenna sticking out of your vehicle and a satellite phone and call home. "Hey honey, just calling to wish you a Happy Birthday!"
So yeah, the technology that they have come up with to help with being able to call home and keeping in contact with your loved ones, for the majority of the people helped out tremendously.
I on the other hand, I used IM. The computers and the satellites that they got for us over there made IMing great, because I didn't have to go through the emotional -- and I call it emotional torture, because that's what it was for me, to hear their voice and not be able to tuck them in that night or -- for a while there I didn't really have much to say. It's the same thing for us, day in and day out, and it's very hard to make believe that there is something to talk about.
Because they ask what you're doing, and I'm not one to tell them a lie. I'm not one to tell them what's going on, so it was just easier not to call. I didn't keep in contact with any of my friends, either. The only people I called when I called home were my Dad and my sister, who had my kids. And that was basically it.
Q. Tell me about leave.
I'm sure most medics feel this way -- most of my guys I'm sure felt this way. They were extremely happy to go home on leave and get a chance to see everybody back home, because they missed home so tremendously. And I missed home so badly that it posed a divide inside myself, to go home on leave and leave my guys and not be there for them if something should happen.
To go home and see my kids… I almost didn't go home on leave when I thought it would be too hard to come back. I didn't know what kind of mental zone I'd be in when I got back, if I could fully concentrate on the missions I needed to be worried about and not worried about things going on at home.
I didn't go home until the end of July. And by July, I was very ready to go. I'm like, "Get me out of here!" Because I just needed a break.
But the whole time I was home, I was constantly logging onto the Internet, constantly talking to my guys. I talked more to them while I was home on leave than I talked to my children while I was in Iraq. I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that I knew my kids were in a safe place. I knew that they were well taken care of. I trusted them with my Dad and my sister, and I didn't need to worry about them.
That doesn't mean I missed them any less. I just didn't need to worry about them. But when I came home on leave, I felt like I left my other children, and I really needed to worry about them.
I would log on and there'd be nobody on, and I knew they'd be in a blackout. A blackout occurs when somebody has been injured and they need to notify next of kin. And I'd be IMing them all: "You'd better get on Internet and tell me what's going on and what happened." I was freaking out more so than when I was there. And with my kids, it's just a total difference, when you know somebody is taken care of. When you know they're in danger, how you respond and react to it.
I hated leaving them. I left them in good hands and couldn't wait to get back. I was ready to take a convoy with somebody I didn't know to get back to my guys. So the night I came in, I went out on a mission -- the very night I got back from leave. So it really had nothing to do with the adrenaline rush. It was just to make sure that somebody was there with them out there.
Q. Everybody okay while you were gone here at home?
Yeah, none of my guys got injured, got blown up a few times. They were -- actually they got stuck at Anaconda which for a week, a whole week they got stuck there without me. They had a pool and everything else, and I was almost kind of jealous that they got to be stuck. I never did get to go to Anaconda.
I joke about that, because when you see only the inside of Ramadi, and then you hear of other convoys that get to go to these other really cool places that has shopping and Pizza Huts… The different bases have really built them up for the soldier morale, and then you're stuck doing this one mission that you know is going to be the same thing, and they come back off of leave and here they've been vacationing themselves. It made me feel better, but still, I teased them about it the whole time.
Q. Tell me about arriving back in the States. What was that process like for you? I hear they talk about this "honeymoon period," where you're so thankful to be home and you're seeing everybody for the first time, and then the dramatic change in lifestyle sets in, and it's not that easy.
I didn't particularly go through a big honeymoon. I mean, I was happy to see my kids. But as a single parent, I came back and wanted to jump right back into that role. So my sister stepped aside, and my Dad let me. And it was real apparent that I was no longer equipped to deal with -- somewhere along the line, I lost the ability to multi-task the way that a single mom does on a day-to-day basis, without even realizing the kind of things you do daily.
Then having to be responsible to fix supper for somebody else again. Especially if I was feeling down that day and wasn't hungry. Their constant need to be next to me both felt great, and at the same time I needed my space.
I was in a totally new environment to me that hadn't changed. I had changed so dramatically that I didn't know how to deal with it. Then they would leave for school, and not only did I have my five minutes of quiet that I longed for in Iraq, I had so much quiet after such an intense job that I had no way to respond. I did not know what to do with me.
If you can picture someone sitting on the couch, literally, with their thoughts bouncing off the wall but with absolutely nothing to go do. I knew I didn't want to get a job right away, because I wanted to bond with my kids again and take that time and let them know that "Hey, Mom's all yours. You don't have to share me right now." But it was killing me, because I didn't know how to be that person. I did not know how to sit and do absolutely nothing. I didn't know how to not be taking care of 32 people, emotionally, medically, friendship-wise… to absolutely nobody to talk to.
To get back in the routine, that was completely foreign to me, and I'm just supposed to know it. Because I'm Mom. That's how my children treated me. Like I'm just supposed to automatically know what time you leave for school, and know what class you have at what time, and know what size clothes you wear, and know what you like to eat any more. I didn't even know what they liked to eat any more.
Little chores that should be fun and bring you happiness and joy. I was so excited to know I was coming home for Christmas, and then so utterly guilty, ashamed, lost standing in Wal-Mart trying to buy my son clothes, because I didn't know what size of clothes he wore. That is a terrible feeling, for a mother to not know, to have to call one of his friends and say: "I'm standing in Wal-Mart, and I want to buy him something, but I don't know what he wears." "Oh, that's okay." "No," somewhere inside of a woman, that says: "That is not all right, that you don't know this about your child."
Or, you know, you fix something. "I don't like that." "Well, you liked it when I left." The littlest things, but they compound and they compound and they compound, until you'd rather be hunting a bomb and being called Doc than deal with all the things that you no longer know how to do.
Being back in Iraq, doing what I did and knowing that it was appreciated and it was important, and the bond that I had with the people that I had there, was so much easier than coming home to the guilt and the feeling that you left and you shut them off. The guilt of leaving, and then the guilt of not knowing your kids any more, and the feeling of being lost without the friends that you've grown to know and love, and all of a sudden you're not doing anything that is important.
Your kids don't think you're important, and they want their Aunt Sid back because she knows. And ... you've become a person that was -- that I was very proud to be to a person that I didn't like being.
Where do you find the pride in not knowing your kids' clothes or their food? Or the fact that they want their Aunt Sid back? Or that you can handle the craziest stuff over there, but the littlest stuff here gets you so frazzled, so upset?
So it is the little things, but it's compounded with all of the other aspects. Not just my children, but dealing with civilians again, and dealing with Americans coming home, and they don't care whether you've been to Iraq. They don't care what your family is going through.
Not all of them. Don't think I'm saying that. I have to say the "Welcome Home"s that we got in Iowa were tremendous. And on the most part the family readiness group and the work that the veterans have done for returning veterans… outstanding. I mean, I can say my welcome home was what Vietnam veterans should have had, because of the Vietnam veterans. So don't ever think that I'm not saying that coming home wasn't great. It was. It doesn't change the day-to-day stress that you feel after coming home.
And that is across the board, any time. I don't even think it's just the soldiers. Anybody who has had any kind of job that is that important, to go back to being -- I don't want to say "nothing," but that's the only word that comes to mind. It's going to nothing, to being nothing.
I have 100 people a day that tell me "You're not nothing. You have done this, and you've accomplished this, and you're doing this in school, and you bought a house, and I don't see why you don't see the pride in that." That's just life. That still feels like nothing right now. I'm waiting for the day when it brings me joy to say that's what I am, but it doesn't measure up too much to what we were or what we did.
I am proud of what I've accomplished, and I continue to strive to accomplish more and more. I love being home with my kids, and I love my new job. There's just this threshold of accomplishment, and it's a far cry from feeling that level that I felt over there. It's a daily reminder of: "Stop, girl. Make a list and check out what you're doing." Because it doesn't seem measurable to what I did. But anybody who has ever been there or done that is like: "You're doing really good for yourself. Look where you're at. You should be proud of yourself."
It's the feeling I strive for every day… to be grateful for the things that I've got in my life. I'm grateful. I just wish they made me feel like that did. I don't know if that's the right way to say that, either. But I wish they filled me up like being there did.
I guess the best way to say it is when you step outside yourself, and you're part of something that much bigger, that much more meaningful. To trust, and be trusted, and know daily that you're putting your life in somebody else's hands, and they're doing the same, all for a greater good. To come back to something that feels to me so self-centered as my own life, it feels like I'm stepping backwards. Does that come out clearly? Did you understand what I'm saying? It feels like I went from being much bigger to self-centered, and self-centered no longer feels good.
I love my children to no end, and I would gladly die for them, too, just as easily as I would for my guys. I don't know how to express that to them any more. I know it's in here. I don't know how to express it or show them on that level any more, because there is that emotional wall that is there. That just makes it hard for me to be that mother that they're used to.
It is coming back slowly. It just makes it hard for me to show them. It's not that I don't feel it, because I know I feel it. But whether they see it all the time is totally different. It's something you have to learn in reverse, is how to show people what it is you're feeling inside.
Q. How did your kids seem to take you being gone?
My daughter was three when I left. She's having a harder time dealing with me coming home. She was associating me being gone with me being at work, and now I'm working again. I'm working twelve hour shifts, so she's going through a lot of anxiety about when I leave for work, and missing me and separation anxiety while I'm gone.
My son, on the other hand, was very angry at me for leaving him. Very angry. I have to admit that when I came back, I'm used to: "Get it done, get it done, get it done." And that's how I parented when I first got back -- and I'm a lot like that still. I'm trying to curb it, but it's: "Get it done, get it done. Why is it not done yet?" And to an 11 year old, "I'm doing it!" I just have to slow down to the level of a normal life, instead of: "Got to go, got to go."
I have a hard time even walking with my co-workers down the hallway, because I walk twenty times faster than them. Waiting for the elevator is irritating to me. If it's too long, I will take the stairs, because it's a mentality. I've just got to go, got to go. I don't know if that is because I'm striving to create a little bit of chaos in my own life, or that anxious feeling to give me a little of that same level of adrenaline rush, maybe. I create it myself to give me that feeling -- but I don't like it in terms of how I relate to my children.
Especially with my five-year-old -- she's five now -- when she can't think of what she wants to say, and she's like: "Um, um…" And I hear myself answer back with: "Spit it out. What do you want?" I just need to take a break and breathe. I want to be able to answer with: "Yes, honey," the way I did before I left. But way too many times, I hear myself answering with: "Just spit it out. What do you want, hon? Go, got to go, got to go." Hopefully in time, that will come back. I'm not sure, though, because it hasn't relented a whole lot since I've been home.
So I had that mentality, right up to joining school. I promised myself I wouldn't work for the full time that I could take unemployment, so I could spend it with my children. Yeah, I had to enroll in school. I enrolled in school, and then it was: "Got to do it, got to do it, got to do it." It's something to just give me that feeling all the time.
Q. Tell me about what you are doing now. You got home in December. Tell me about your decisions of what to do with your life.
Well, we had the option while we were in Iraq. A lot of people to go to a school called WLCRPLDC. That's another military school for leadership, and I chose to do it right after I got home. I figured if I got home and was home too long, I wouldn't want to go at all. So rather than give myself the chance, I came home for Christmas, and I left two weeks later for another active duty. It was a thirty-day school, so I actually didn't get home until after February 3rd.
By March, I was enrolled in school. Sitting around the house was driving me insane. I focused strictly on school during the hours that my kids were at school. So I made my online courses my eight-hour-a-day job, which worked out well for me. I got 4.0's, but I was just taking my General Studies. I'm focusing on those and some prerequisites that I need to get into the Army PA program. I'm very interested in that. I'm pursuing that really hard, actually. Hopefully within the year or slightly beyond. I didn't have any real credits. They gave me some credits for my military time, but I just have this undying urge to learn. Any class, any time. Fill me with something.
I'd like to within the year be putting my packet together for the PA program.
Q. That is "physician assistant"?
Yes, physician assistant through the military. I re-enlisted for six years while I was in Iraq, and with the "physician assistant" I would obtain my commission. So I would also retire. I want to retire out of the military now.
I don't ever foresee my life with the military not in it. So much so that I even got a job at the VA, and I don't plan on leaving now that I'm here any time soon. If I was to get the physician assistant, I'd even probably come back to the VA as a physician assistant.
These are just the people I want to work with, and I do want to better myself. I want to always be moving, advancing forward… both in the military and my civilian life and here. So I hope that all comes together. If it doesn't, I'm right where I need to be, right when I need to be there. It will all happen when it needs to, one day at a time.
I'm just as content as if I never went one more step forward. I could find happiness here forever, or if I make it all the way, yay me. But I'm just going to enjoy it, try and slow down, try to take that time and enjoy getting there. It doesn't have to be done today.
Q. After witnessing firsthand the horrors of war and being separated from your family, why choose to re-enlist and possibly be redeployed?
I chose to re-enlist and redeploy because I love what I do, and I love who I do it for. There is a bond between -- and you don't even have to know that person -- but to know that they signed that same dotted line or even got drafted and saw some of the same hell you did for as long as you did. Willingly -- or not so willingly, if they were drafted -- but they still did what they needed to do to defend this nation, to make sure the people here continue the kind of life that I hold dear.
The deployment was the worst and the best thing that ever happened to me all at once. My desire to serve this country is because of that deployment. I wanted to go before, and then I lived through it. Now I know that until I'm too old, I will always be ready to go, to take care of anybody who is ready to go. It's that easy.
Anybody else that's ready to go over there, I'm ready to go with you to take care of you as best I can. And it doesn't matter where we've got to go. It doesn't matter why we've got to go there. If you're ready to go, I'm ready to go with you. Know I'll do my best.
I hope it doesn't happen for a while. I'm not scared at all. I just hope on behalf of my kids, until they're older and can understand a little bit more. It's not that Mom wants to leave them. Mom just wants to go do whatever it is she has to do.
It's a pride that comes with being in the military and serving your country. That by no way defines who I am, because I am a lot of different roles in this life. But it is not a role I'm willing to give up any time soon.
Q. Tell me a little bit about your decision on your return to work with veterans and your present work at the VA hospital in Iowa City.
When I returned home and was going to school, I had no clue where I wanted to get a job. And I wasn't stressing about it any time soon. I had eight months, you know, and I just focused on school.
I'm not even sure what really made me log on to USA Jobs. The first job that I noticed there was actually a vocational nurse, and I thought: "Ooh, maybe I could fit that bill." I could continue doing something that I really like on the civilian sector. Then I inquired some more. I talked to my uncle and said what I was thinking about doing. He happened to tell me about the trailer right next to his that was for sale, and he introduced me to somebody that did work here. She showed me a different Web site to go to, and it happened to be two openings for an IV tech, and everything just fell in place.
If anybody believes in being at the right time, the right place or "It just happens when it's supposed to happen…" That definitely was it, because a home that I could buy for a reasonable price fell into my lap, and I not only applied for the job, but I got an interview and got hired, even though I didn't even live remotely close to here.
I didn't think it could get any better than that, and then I got here and I started working, and I love my job. I love the veterans; I love the whole concept of the VA. I love doing my job. I like the Coralville area; my kids are adapting well to it. I have family close by. And it allows me to continue with school.
Right now I'm finally in a good spot. Still not overwhelmingly excitable like Iraq was, but there's no complaints, either. It's good to be here right now.