I never meant to join the Army.
I was nineteen and stuck in a volatile marriage to my high school sweetheart who had just finished the Special Forces Qualification Course the year before. By our one year anniversary our fights were getting worse every day and I knew something had to change. So I enlisted and two weeks later I shipped off to basic training, followed by language school at the Defense Language Institute. I didn't tell my husband what I had done until the contract was signed.
I graduated from the Basic Korean course in July of 2002. By January of 2003 I was arriving to my duty station at Fort Campbell. During the two years of language school my husband and I fought constantly, but decided to give our marriage one more chance. Then war was declared on Iraq. So my husband left for Kuwait a mere three weeks after I arrived at Ft Campbell. Six weeks later, I would follow him.
Preparing for the Iraq deployment was difficult. I was essentially a brand new soldier who had been issued mounds of equipment that I had no idea what to do with. I was also extremely broke, and had developed some questionable means to make it to the next payday. I was the queen of floating checks and lived on peanut butter and jelly. I didn't get to buy any of the "cool guy" Army gear but made do with what I was issued. The day before we left, I patched up a busted out window in our rented house with newspaper and duct tape.
A few months into my deployment I received a message that my husband was sick and was sent back to the states on emergency leave. His prognosis was extremely poor. His family took over his care, and persuaded me to sign over legal guardianship since I was so young, only twenty two. I never returned to Iraq, which was always an internal struggle for me; I hated leaving my team who had become my family in a short time but my husband had only been given six months to live.
His parents kept him alive in a persistent vegetative state for five years, with the help of feeding tubes, supplemental oxygen, and other great advances in modern medicine. During this time I decided that the enlisted life wasn't for me. I got selected for a Green to Gold scholarship and went to college, where I got a BSN. I had become pretty good at providing care, so why not get a degree in that?
My husband passed away during my senior year of college. Shortly after, I graduated and commissioned as a 2nd Lt. in the Army Nurse Corps. I changed my name back to my maiden name and moved. I thought that if I changed everything about myself, I could erase the past from my memory. It doesn't really work that way, especially since I became a nurse.
I've been a nurse at a military medical center since the fall of 2009. I initially worked caring for the wounded warriors. It was incredibly rewarding and emotionally taxing at the same time, and after a couple of years, I was ready for a change.
Preparing for this deployment has been a complete 180 from the Iraq deployment ten years ago. I was able to afford cooler gear such as new Oakleys, as well as a spa day the week before I left. The girl who wrote hot checks to pay the light bill is a distant figure in the past.
The week before I left, I was invited to a function at the White House as a guest of a good friend, for Women's History Month. It was a cold, wet Monday afternoon in March. All of my nice clothing had been packed away in storage with the rest of my apartment, to include my umbrella. I was wearing the best outfit I could scrounge up and looked like a drowned rat next to all of the other women in their beautiful dresses and elegant coats. I almost turned around to leave, not wanting to embarrass anyone when it finally dawned on me. I am a female soldier going to Afghanistan to serve my country. I may not look my best, but that's OK.
Part 2 of a 13 part miniseries following the personal memoirs of a TXMF soldier