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Back On the Block

HU4071 Capstone Project


By: Kelly Rouse

Prologue
Throughout this essay I explore my experiences with the military,
and others experiences in relationship to mine. I use the tools of
creative nonfiction, which I have developed in a few of my literature
courses. I also use the Military Decision-Making Process (MDMP), which
I learned in my ROTC courses at Michigan Tech, in order to organize my
story.
In this personal essay I use creative nonfiction elements
including personal presence, self-discovery and self-exploration,
reflection, and veracity. I attempt to bring you into the scene with rich
description of characters and setting. I use dialogue to help explain the
setting and to put emphasis on the scenes. I use exposition in areas
that need more detail in order to get the point across and ensure
understanding, while throughout I analyze and reflect on the events.
The material is organized into seven different parts; those being
the parts of the MDMP, which include:
1)
2)
3)
4)
5)
6)
7)

Receive the mission


Mission analysis
Course of Action Development
Course of Action Analysis
Course of Action Comparison
Course of Action Approval
Orders Production, Dissemination, and Transition

According to the Army FM 101-5, Decision-making is knowing if


to decide. Then when and what to decide. It includes understanding
the consequence of decisions. Decisions are the means by which the
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commander translates his vision of the end state1 into action (Chapter
5, 1). We use this decision-making structure in the military in order to
better plan and organize missions to make the best decision possible in
a certain situation. It allows the commander to propose a plan to the
rest of the staff in an organized way and get input from his/her fellow
soldiers. I used this structure to organize my essay because it helps
examine my situations and decisions. Some events show up in more
than one part, depending on the type of development and decisionmaking that it ties in with. The piece is about my journey and how I
developed and grew throughout my experiences with the military. With
the help of my English and Army courses I am able to explore it in a
creative way.
*

September 4, 2011. 1600 hours.


There I was lying prone on the bug-infested ground, dummy rifle
in my hands, with sticks poking me in uncomfortable places. I was
watching my designated area, pulling security just like the rest of the
freshman with my head on a swivel, like I was told to do. I had no clue
what I was looking for. Anything? Everything? I was lying with the dirt
and the sticks and the leaves, just like I used to do when I was little. I
was never a huge fan of bugs and stuff. Yet there I was: body fully

1 End state: final decision.


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exposed to all the creepy crawlies, making sure I kept my eye on all of
their movements, flicking them away if they came too close.
Our whole squad2 was so stealthy and quiet. We had our combat
uniforms on, helmets stuffed with leaves and moss for extra
camouflage, vests with all the fixings (canteens, compass, eye
protection: thats what we call full battle rattle. Its not like we were in
a war zone or anything; we were on the Tech Trails. Mountain bikers,
runners, and walkers with their dogs would pass by us often. Some of
them would see us, but those that didnt at first got the daylights
scared right out of them. The funniest part for me was when we finally
did see the enemy, who happened to be our senior ROTC cadets
dressed in all black, we would take our fake rifles and shoot at them
with our mouths.
BANG, BANG, BANG! everyone yelled.
I wanted so much to laugh. That was, until someone saw the shiteating grin on my face.
Be loud! Engage! Shoot at them!
So I went for it, Bang! Bang! Bang! I shot at the enemy.
Pew! Pew! Pew! someone yelled. I smiled and refrained from
laughing while continuing to yell bullets.

2 Squad: a group of six to ten soldiers.


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Our Cadre member3 didnt think that was too funny, WHO said
pew?! His cheeks got red as he yelled through the huge dip of
chewing tobacco in his lip. He was looking back and forth, searching for
the smartass. I dont think he enjoyed being mocked by his own
cadets. No one had answered him, we were too busy engaging the
enemy. The mission was moving too fast now and it seemed like he
had forgotten all about the incident. We searched the bodies and got
the intel that we needed and the mission was over.
At the end of that first day in Army ROTC, I didnt understand the
point of it all. Why would they make us waste our time staring at the
trees for and hour and a half? I didnt understand, but week after week
I continued to show up. I followed orders, and I learned to keep my
mouth shut and lay in the dirt.
All the older cadets would tell the freshman, We had to do it
when we were freshman. Thats the only answer I could get. I would
have to wait and see.

3 Cadre member: another word for military instructor. Includes Noncommissioned officers, Officers, and contractors.
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Part 1: Receive the Mission


When we are young we fantasize about what we want to be
when we grow older, like a firefighter, a doctor, a veterinarian, or an
astronaut. You never really hear of young children wanting to serve
their country, and if you do it is because someone they are close to is,
and they want to be just like them. As a child I wanted to be a doctor. I
wanted to save peoples lives and help little babies, grandmas, and
grandpas feel better. It wasnt until I was a little older that my dream
changed from being a doctor to being a helicopter pilot in the military.
My first memory of wanting to join the military was when I was
pretty young, nine years old. This was also the year that 9/11
happened. My dad at the time was still in the Navy, stationed in Japan.
My brother and I attended school in Frankfort, Michigan, a small town
where my moms family resided. I was in my third grade classroom
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when my teacher got a call. As all of us students watched his face turn
from smiling to devastation, we knew something was wrong. Our
cursive lesson stopped and we turned on the T.V. and watched the
news. All I remember is how confused and terrified I was. I didnt
understand what was happening, but I knew it was bad and I knew it
was serious. I was terrified about where my dad was and if I would ever
see him again. My principal came out on the loudspeaker and
announced that we would be joining the rest of the school in the
courtyard around the flagpole. As we made our way down the hall, our
usually loud and spunky class walked silently without a word. Two
hundred students circled around the flag as we stood and listened to
our principal explain what happened, and the flag was lowered to halfstaff. We all sang in unison the Star Spangled banner and recited the
Pledge of Allegiance. That was something that we did every day before
class started, but when we sang this time it was different. It wasnt the
fact that there were more people; it was the fact that we all shared this
same sorrow in those moments. In the middle of us singing, three
fighter jets flew directly over us. Everyone sang and looked up toward
the blue sky in awe, eyes wide, jaws low, but hearts hung lower.
When I arrived home, I got news from my mom that my dad was
okay and that he was safe. All I wanted was for him to come home and
be with us. We sat on the couch watching the news on the T.V.,
anxiously engaged with what was happening to our country. All I saw
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was rolling grey smoke and debris flying around everywhere. It was
something Id only seen in the movies. They played the vision on loop,
over and over again, like a bad song that you just cant seem to get
out of your head. The visions, the sounds and the look on my moms
face said it all. This was bad, and the problem wasnt going to be
solved for a long, long time. As I watched the footage I felt that I
wanted to change how other people in this world treated each other, or
at least try to make a difference. I felt that the way to do that was
through the military. Also, I thought that if I did what my dad did, I
could protect him from all the evil that was happening around the
world.
I come from a long line of veterans; both of my grandfathers, my
parents, aunts and uncles, and my brother all have served in the
military. My dad and my brother were the biggest influences on my
decision to join the Army. All throughout high school my dad was the
one person who constantly pushed me to get good grades, stay
physically fit, and eat healthily. My parents also taught me discipline,
respect, and integrity. My brother, though, was the one I looked up to
and always strived to be like. Connor is about three and a half years
older than me, and four years ahead of me in school. He was a model
student, something I never was, but I tried to be just like him. He not
only was a good student, but he was one of the best cadets in the
Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at Michigan Tech and he
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received the position of Battalion Commander4 his senior year. This


meant the he was dependable, smart, physically fit, and an overall
respectable person who got the job done. Connor was on his way to
becoming an officer, and I feared that I wasnt going to be able to take
that path with him because of my grades. They werent bad, but they
werent excellent either.
My parents didnt have the money to send me to school, so in
order to go to college I had to get a scholarship, and if I went through
the ROTC, like my big brother did, I wouldnt have to enlist in order to
join the Army. Enlisting would mean that I wouldnt go to college; in its
place I would go to boot camp. Instead of taking general education
courses, I would be taking How not to laugh in the Drill Sergeants
face so I dont have to do more push-ups101. It was an alternate
route that I didnt particularly want to go down, but would if I had to.
Many nights I would lay in my bed and wonder if what I really wanted
in life was to be in the military like my whole family. At times I felt like I
was doing it just to make them happy, but I also had a vision in my
head. My dad was a helicopter door gunner and crew chief as well as a
rescue swimmer; he spent most of his life in a Blackhawk. My brother
was becoming an infantryman (the guys that do all the hard-core, onthe-ground warfare). I had a vision of myself as the Blackhawk pilot. I
wanted to be the helicopter pilot that flew around the door gunners,
4 Battalion Commander: Head-honcho of the battalion, person in
charge.
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with someone like my dad as the crew chief, on a mission to rescue my


brother from the ground. I had been dreaming of that since I was in
third grade standing and singing in the courtyard around the flagpole
as the fighter jets flew overhead. I wanted to be the savior of my family
and everyone elses families as well. I wanted to be the pilot, not only
of the helicopter, but also of my life, and it started with that decision.

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Part 2: Mission Analysis


Growing up, both of my parents were in the Navy and this affected our
lifestyle, which I became accustomed to. At eighteen I chose the
military lifestyle for myself, even though it was hard for me growing
up. I missed my dad for nine years of my life, seeing him for only one
month out of each year. Why in the world would I continue on this
course? Easy answer: familiarity. It was all that I knew, and it is still all
that I know today.
Another reason I chose to continue this lifestyle was because of
the type of people that the military produces. Even in elementary and
high school I could tell that I was different from them and from my
peers. I was never uptight; I would always be calm and carefree while
everyone else felt the need to be perfect. It bugged my parents that I
was like this because sometimes opposites just dont attract. To my
peers, I was the one who didnt care what anyone thought of me, which
was out of the ordinary at my high school. I loved making people
laugh. A lot of the time this got me yelled at, or in trouble. I would walk
around the hallways with my sweatpants up past my belly button like
Steve Urkel. My dad was convinced that our living situation and how I
grew up made me a rebel. In grade school and high school I was
always talking to everyone, during class, at lunch, after class, and
whenever I was told not to. If my dad would tell me not to do

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something, there was a ninety percent chance I would do it, at least


attempt to.
Not to mention the cursing. Oh man, the cursing was horrible. I
mean I was fine with it, but my teachers at school werent. The phrase:
you got a mouth like a sailor applied to my brother and me. We grew
up in a household run by not one, but two sailors. When we would do
something wrong (which was often for me) it was always, You fucking
dumbass/jackass, what were you thinking? In the mornings with a
crinkled up grumpy face, What the hell are you doing, get your shit
and go to school. By far the favorite word in the household was
fuck. It could be used before, after or even in the middle of the
sentence. Depending on the anger level maybe even in front of each
word, or syllable. It wasnt even considered profanity to us. My mom
tried to put a stop to it for years, but she couldnt stop her own word
vomit, let alone everyone elses. It was a good try nonetheless, mostly
because she tried at all. As we got older and more mature, my brother
and I use the profanity sparingly and appropriately (if there is such a
thing).
Still, sometimes it feels like I am living a double life. I always
have to carefully watch what I say. I have to make sure that I dont
offend anyone because no matter where I go Im representing the
Army. Its really hard to not say whats on my mind, especially when
there are controversial topics in classes. In private, that is not who I
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am. I have a voice and I say what is on my mind; that is who I actually
am. Only my close friends and family see that real side of me because I
know its safe and they wont get offended. Half the time I have to be
in Army attire, the other half I like to look girly and throw in my nose
ring and curl my hair. Ive found that people seem to treat me
completely different if they have only seen one side of me. I have
witnessed people looking at me when I am in uniform, being
intimidated and avoiding eye contact. When in classes, it makes the
difference between who strikes up a conversation. Most students dont
talk to me when Im in uniform, or if there are enough seats they will
leave at least one in between them and me. A lot of the time they will
just stare, but on rare occasions someone will actually have the guts to
say something to me.
Why are you wearing that? a girl asked me, pointing to my
Army Service Uniform5 (ASU) as I sat next to her in class. I was wearing
a button down short sleeve blouse tucked into my blue polyester skirt,
pantyhose, and one-inch heels. Not something I particularly wanted to
wear in 30-degree weather and a foot of snow.
So I can freeze my ass off, and have people stare and point
fingers at me all day while Im walking to class. Thats what I wanted to
say, in my most sarcastic tone possible. But, she was just curious so I

5 Army Service Uniform: Dress uniformt-shirt, jacket, pants/skirt.


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answered politely. It is a requirement for all contracted cadets6 to


wear the dress uniform on the days that we have Army classes.
She just nodded; that was the end of our conversation. I feel like
I always have to justify to random people on campus why I am doing
the things I do. It is irritating at times, but I also want to explain to
them so that they will understand me better. Its not exactly
confortable when I walk by people in my ASU and they stop talking, or
turn around to stare at me. Even though Im not alone on campusI
have the rest of the ROTC populationI sometimes still feel like Im
being alienated. Almost like Im the freak show of the campus circus,
and Im always trying to justify my reason for existenceand the
militarys reason for existence. Its important to have ROTC programs
on campus because we bring a certain culture, just like other
organizations do. It is nice knowing I am not alone though. I not only
have the rest of the Army ROTC cadets who understand this issue, but
the Air Force cadets as well. Although there are only a few of us, we
have a special bond.
My freshman year ROTC class started off with twenty-six cadets,
and now that I am a senior we only have thirteen cadets. Those
thirteen people have been some of my best friends in college. Not only
are they supportive and understanding but they also have a
characteristic that my childhood life-long friends could never have, and

6 Contracted cadet: Taken the oath, and committed after graduation.


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that is the understanding of the military lifestyle and mindset. As


cadets we have worked together and overcome the struggle of
balancing our studies, personal lives, and Army lives. From waking up
at 0530 for physical training, to snowshoe rucking through the woods
when it is thirty below while managing to keep our grades up, our
ability to juggle everything has been amazing. Half of our class
couldnt handle it, and that is why they are not with us today. My
journey through Army ROTC opened up a lot of opportunities for me to
get out into the world and figure out for sure if the military life was
right for me. I could always back out, but, of course, there would be
consequences.
If I were to decide that the Army life was no longer what I
wanted, I would have two choices: 1. Enlist, go to basic training, and
spend four years serving my country to pay back the government for
all the money theyd spent on me, or 2. Pay back the government with
my money instead of my time. It has never crossed my mind that the
Army life isnt for meyet. At times, especially during my first and
second year at Tech, I would have doubts about whether I could
balance all of the activities and time that ROTC demanded of me. Like
some of my fallen ROTC comrades I went through a rough time with
my classes and GPA. Unlike them though, I got my shit together and
came back from it.

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Part 3: Course of Action Development


In high school I made my decision to join ROTC, but after I turned
in my application packet, it was completely out of my hands. I had to
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do multiple things to get my packet done. I had to set up a formal


interview with an officer in the Army, do a bunch of medical tests, and
write down every award I had ever received as well as all the sports
and organizations Id participated in throughout high school. Id done
all that I could and my fate was in the hands of the Army now. Anxiety
set in, and every night I would wonder if I was going to get my shot at
my dream.
The anxiety that overwhelmed me my senior year was agonizing.
Putting my fate in the hands of people I didnt know and would never
know scared the crap out of me. I would lose sleep thinking about
alternative lives I could possibly live if things didnt work out. I have
noticed, through my tiny bit of experience with the Army that
unpredictable situations like this happen a lot. As nerve-racking as it
can be sometimes, no matter what the outcome, we as humans can
make the decision to never give up. All of my alternatives included me
never giving up. I had other options; they just werent the best options
for melike boot camp, for example. But two months after I turned in
my packet I got the call.
Hello, is this Kelly Rouse? A low, loud, and rough voice vibrated
the earpiece.
Yes sir, this is she. I was terrified. I couldnt stay still, so I paced
around my room as I waited for a response. My heart sank to my
stomach as he spoke again.
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This is Lieutenant Colonel Fox calling on behalf of Michigan Tech


Army ROTC. I would like to congratulate you on winning the National
three-year academic scholarship along with a four-year room and board
scholarship.
Are you serious? Are you serious? Jackass. I had just asked a
Lieutenant Colonel if he was serious about me winning a scholarship. I
smacked myself in the forehead and hoped he didnt notice.
Uh, yea Im pretty serious? His tone said, No Im just calling to
prank call you because I have nothing better to do. Dumbass.
Thank you so much, sir! I couldnt contain my smile as I
jumped around my room.
Alrighty then, well congratulations! We will be in touch. Then
he hung up the phone and I sprinted downstairs to tell my parents the
great news.
I was one step closer to my dream.
That phone call gave me the freedom to choose my destinyit was no
longer in the hands of people I didnt knowand if I was going to enlist
at this point in time it would be because I chose to and not because it
was my only option. There was always a chance that I might decide
college wasnt for me, and if that happened it would be MY choice. For
example, when my mom was twenty-one years old, she was attending
Northwestern Michigan College working on her computer programing
degree. She was only on her second semester when she realized that
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she was bored of school and wanted to do something else with her life.
She and a friend that she was attending college with decided to talk to
a Navy recruiter one day to see what he offered for them. He must
have been convincing because my mom and her friend agreed to
enlist. Not only that, my mom also got both of her sisters to join her.
When I asked her how she managed to persuade my aunts to join the
Navy with her, she explained to me that they were at the point in their
lives when they didnt know what they wanted to do. So they signed up
and at the end of boot camp my mom got a pay raise for recruiting.
When making the decision to join the military you want support,
but even if you dont receive the support you want, you might join
anyways. Everyone was generally supportive of my decision. In fact,
they were ecstatic. But, my mom had a different experience: her father
was not supportive of her decision to join the Navy. Its not like
enlisting was something completely random she decided to do; she
had actually been thinking about it for quite some time, but shed put
it on the back burner because she knew that her father wouldnt
approve. With my grandfather being a Korean War Marine veteran, he
had his reasons for why he didnt support her. Stereotypes of women in
the military were one of those reasons. My grandpa had known women
in the military to be two things, promiscuous or lesbians. He didnt
want his daughters to have to deal with those stereotypes, or become
them. Another reason that he was unsupportive was simply because he
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enjoyed my mothers company. Once the decision was finalized, he


didnt speak to her for six months. When I asked my mother if she
regretted her decision to join the military, she quickly answered, No.
Even though she disappointed her dad, she knew that it was something
that she wanted to do, and she had her two sisters by her side to do it.
My mom ended up being an airman; a machinist mate that worked on
the aircraft. She was in the Navy from 1984-1997. She was active duty7
1984 to 1988, then did eight years with a reserve8 unit from 1989 to
1997she was activated and deployed during her reserve years due to
the Gulf War.
My father had a different experience. His motivations for joining the
Navy were getting out of the small town that he grew up in, and
getting away from his family. My dad didnt have the best family
situation; he had a mentally unstable mom, a retarded brother, and a
dad who was a cop. The crazy and random fits his mom took out on
him, the strictness of his dad, and the fact that he couldnt hold a
normal conversation with his brother; it was difficult for him. He
wanted to escape and if that meant that he also would get out and
travel the world, even better. He told me once about the men who
influenced him to join the military, his High School Jr. ROTC instructors.
They were in the Army and were a bit disappointed when my dad told
them he was almost certain on joining the Navy. Where my dad was
7 Active Duty: Full-time soldier.
8 Reserve: Has civilian job, only called to duty for emergencies.
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fromSanford, North Carolinayou didnt go to college unless you


were well-off or got an athletic scholarship. So his two choices were to
stay in Sanford and work at a factory, or join the Navy. His choice
wasnt too hard to make considering the circumstances.
Not only has the Army made me think about decision-making,
but my parents have also. The more I talk to them now that I am older,
the more I realize how much influence parents, siblings, peers, and
superiors have on a persons decision-making. I made my commitment
official the day I contracted, my second year at Tech. I had been
working my ass off to get my GPA up and to get into top physical shape
to do well on my PT test. Those were two important factors making me
eligible for contractingmaking my military service official. It was one
of the most proud days of my life, because I knew that I had done it
and all my hard work had finally paid off. I raised my hand and gave
my oath on the eleventh of October, 2012.

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Part 4: Course of Action Analysis


I hugged him tight. I didnt want to let go but the force of my
future was sucking me towards the terminal like a vortex. At the same
time the weight of my past was anchoring me down, right there with
my dad, saying goodbye. I knew that I would be back at the end of the
summer, but somehow I knew everything would be different, I would
be different. As the vortex continued to suck me toward the security
line, my grip loosened and I wiped my salty cheeks.
Before I turned away my dad looked at me once more, I am very
proud of you, Kelly. I know that you can do this. You are my daughter
and you are tough. Go kick some ass!
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I rolled my eyes as I laughed. I will, Dad, I love you.


This is where all of your hard work pays off, be confident in
yourself. I love you, too, baby girl. Be safe. As I turned away from him
he forced a smile and his forehead wrinkled all the way up through his
shiny crown. This was the look I always saw when I left for long periods
of time. Leaving felt like freedom with a hint of nervousness and
excitement, but it looked like pain and worriment, especially on dad.
Other than my big childhood move from Jacksonville, Florida, to
the tiny town of Frankfort, Michigan, I didnt travel much before I joined
ROTC. I never went on spring breaks, and never went anywhere cool
with my family for a long weekend. We just stayed at home. It was like
that because my dad had spent his whole life traveling and only
wanted to stay home. Now that I was free to make my own choices, I
was excited and overwhelmed. Along with my fellow cadets from Tech,
I was being sent to Fort Knox, Kentuckythe heart and soul of Army
ROTC Cadet Command. Wed be there for a month with cadets from all
over the country to be evaluated on our leadership skills that wed
learned at our universities. It was called Leadership Development and
Assessment Course (LDAC). It was what wed prepared for, for the last
three years of our lives.
When I turned away from my dad I didnt look back mostly
because I wouldnt be able to contain all the emotions whipping around
inside of me like a theme park roller coaster. Who knew what would
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happen if I did turn back to look at him one more time, because I sure
as hell didnt. My eyes were glued open like my face had gotten stuck
after someone scared the living crap out of me. Even when I handed
the security lady my ticket and identification she made a double take.
She wearily handed my things back to me, as I continued through the
security checkpoint. Im sure I scared a few more people that walked
passed me. Their stares were enough to confirm their thoughts but I
didnt care because I was preoccupied. There was nothing much going
on upstairs, but there was a whole lot of activity going on in my
stomach. I wasnt sure if I was going to projectile vomit, or if I was just
hungry. So just to be cautious I chewed on some chalky Pepto-Bismol
tablets that dried up my throat and made me even more
uncomfortable.
The plane I took from Traverse City to Chicago was comparable
to a short bus. The thing was miniature. I sat on the side with only one
seat and threw my head back as I buckled up. I had to close the blind
on the window because the sun was fiercely beaming into my wide
stuck eyes. Not only was the plane short, but so was the flight. I had to
duck my head lower than usual as I stepped off. Next was Chicago to
Louisville.
When I entered OHare, there was an explosion of camouflage
backpacks. We looked like a cloud of grasshoppers among a colony of
ants. I didnt know any of these people, but I definitely would know
24

some of them a month later. It wasnt until I reached my next terminal


that I saw familiar faces, people Id seen each other at some sort of
training throughout the years. We would look at each other in
recognition and quickly look away, not knowing if the other knew your
face too. Now there was the awkward feeling to add to all the other
ones. There is no Pepto for awkwardness unfortunately.
Ninety percent of the people that boarded the plane to Louisville
were headed to the same training event I was. I could tell just by
looking at them. If it wasnt the dead giveaway of the camo backpack,
it was the haircuthigh and tight, or their attirepolo with a logo and
khakis.
My seat on the plane was next to a girl with a ponytail and a
sickly worried face, similar to mine minus the creepy wide eyes. We
exchanged names and our concerns about what was to come once we
landed in Kentucky. It eased my anxiety a little to know that she was
just as nervous as I was. We quickly ran out of things to talk about so I
began to stare out the window; we still hadnt taken off. I watched the
baggage workers in their reflective orange vests and soundproof
earmuffs haul Army green duffel bag after Army green duffel bag onto
the conveyor belt that went up to the side of our plane. I searched for
mine one after one. Im not sure why, maybe it was to make sure it
made it on, or maybe it was because I was hopeful that theyd lost it.
The one and only time I would hope for such a thing.
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The engine started and we wheeled around to position for


takeoff. We accelerated, the plane gained elevation and my back was
glued to the seat. Up and up we went, it was like we were going
straight up, how I would imagine a rocket ship. My eyes were shut and I
gripped the armrests. When it finally leveled out, I began to feel that
sick feeling in my stomach again. The fewer miles there were between
Louisville and me, the more I wanted to upchuck. Not that anything
would come back up, because that required me actually have eaten
something that day. I had to accept that there was nothing I could do,
and just get over my nervousness for a moment and relax. So, I did
and the rest of the flight I watched the inside of my dark eyelids.
LDAC was a big step in my life because by the end of the month,
they were going to tell me how effective of a leader I was going to be.
For a future Army officer this is a huge deal because I will be in charge
of over 40 Soldiers lives one day. I couldnt eat that whole day I spent
traveling and switching airports. I was feeding off of my nerves and
anxiety. This was one of those times in life where I wouldnt get to
choose my fate; Id just do my best and work my hardest and leave it
in the hands of the tactical officers and non-commissioned officers
(NCOs) who would grade me. The minute I arrived in Louisville the
chaos started. Just imagine a bunch of wide-eyed, empty-stomached
cadets wondering around like lost puppies getting yelled at in the
middle of the airport.
26

Welcome Cadets to LDAC 2014!A large, bright yellow


digitized sign hanging from the ceiling of the gate greeted us when we
arrived. How comforting. Our grasshopper cloud migrated to baggage
claim, where we were greeted again, but by a very loud and
intimidating group of individuals. They were all in uniform, some
officers, and some non-commissioned officers (NCOs)9, all yelling
directions on what we were supposed to do. The Army is a lot of
hurrying up and a lot of waiting.
Hurry up, cadets! Were waiting on you! was one of the most
common phrases said by the Cadre. We all rushed and found our bags
in baggage claim, stood in line for check in, then hurried to chuck our
duffels among hundreds of other duffels in the back of this massive
truck that would transport them to Fort Knox; where our training was
held. Now we waited, for hours. Kentucky was a hot a humid sauna,
and someone kept throwing water on the rocks. When the school buses
arrived it only got worse. They packed us in like sardines, our sweaty
arms rubbing up against one another. It smelled like salt and body
odor. What a wonderful way to get to know the people I just met! At
least we were all in the same boat I supposeor bus. We spent an hour
and a half on that hot, rolling, tin can.
Arriving at Fort Knox, Kentucky was, in a way, relieving.
Exhaustion had set in, though it was only four in the afternoon when
9 NCOs: Enlisted officers that have been to basic training and have
been in the Army for at least 4-5 years.
27

we arrived. Little did I know, we would all be awake, In-processing10, for


the rest of the day. The first station I started at was where they went
through our backpacks for Pogey Bait11. This saddened me because
my best friend from childhood gave me a care package before I left
that included a bunch of candy and sweets for the plane ride. I hadnt
eaten any of it because my stomach was so upset. A Cadre member
watched me as I emptied all the sugary goodness into the large
trashcan. All unopened, every item went. I thought about what a waste
it was, but quickly moved to the next station so I could stand and wait
some more.
The next day, all of us were in our physical training uniforms
because it was so incredibly hot out. Three hundred of us stood outside
the barracks at three-thirty in the morning. After we got in alphabetical
order, we sat and waited for busses to arrive to take us to the hospital
on base. It was dark and the moon was still high in the sky. It was
about sixty-five degrees, and it felt amazing.
Shivering and crossing his arms I looked at the kid sitting next to
me, Are you gonna be alright?
Its ssssso ccccold!
As I giggled I asked, Where are you from?
Florida he responded.
10 IN-processing: A checklist of things that need to get done before
training can start.
11 Pogey Bait: Any non-issued food/items, Examples: Candy, sweets,
tobacco products, and porn.
28

Oh! Well that explains it.


Where are you from? he said defensively.
Michigan. This is summer weather for us, you dont even know
what cold is. I continued to laugh and he continued to shiver.
Of course the front of the alphabet got to leave on the busses
first. They gave those of us who remainedwhich were most of usan
MRE12 for breakfast. I opened the thick brown plastic bag that
contained my preserved food and looked through the contents. A kid to
the other side of me asked, Hey, you wanna lean on me while I lean
on you, ya know like back-to-back so we can eat?
Um, yea sure. I felt like I was in a Forrest Gump knock-off or
something. We were Bubba and Forrest, the best of friends for ten
minutes in that silent moment while we ate. I saw him a few more
times throughout that month but we only greeted each other.
Being in the R category, I waited for 4 hours, just sitting there
in the grass. When it was finally our turn we filed on the bus. All that
day consisted of was standing in lines and being poked and prodded
like cattle. Line after line after line, urinalysis after pregnancy test,
height and weight measurements.
The girls were separated from the boys when we took the
pregnancy test. Obviously. We all sat and waited for our turn. When we
were done with our business, we sat and waited. MTV was on the T.V. in

12 MRE: Meal Ready to Eat


29

the waiting area, and how ironic was it that Teen Mom was playing. It
was almost like they planned it out. Sneaky bastards.
It would suck to find out of you were pregnant at LDAC, one girl
yelled out.
Another looked at her, I heard it has already happened.
Well, what happens if you are?This one looked worried.
Then they send you home, of course!
They called our names one by one and told us our results. No
one got escorted away so I assume all of the tests were negative. The
next station was blood pressure and blood extraction. I was running on
hardly any sleep so I had been eating these caffeine mints that I had
gotten in my MRE. As I sat and waited I was tapping my foot up and
down as if a fast-paced jazz band was playing. No music, just nerves
and caffeine. The nurse that grabbed my arm and wrapped the Velcro
clothe around my arm.
How you doin today, honey? she asked in her southern twang.
Im doing fine maam, and yourself?
Oh, Im just peachy, she looked around and we waited for the
machine to beep. Dear lord, girl, your blood pressure is so high it
wont even register! Ive got to try it again. What have you eaten
today?
I answered her quickly, Some peanut butter and caffeine mints.
I dont know why I was so worried; I felt like they were looking for
30

reasons to send us home, and I wasnt leaving because of some damn


caffeine mints!
Mmmmhmmm, thats what I thought. Ive had quite a few of
yall that this has happened to. Mmmno worries, it registered this
time so you can go along to the next station. She shooed me on.
Now it was time for them to draw blood. It looked like a scene
from some horror movie. The walls were white, and the nurses were
wearing greenish scrubs with masks over their mouths. The suspense
of sitting, watching people in front of me go, made me feel sick. When
they called my name a hot feeling rushed over my face like someone
came up to me and smeared rubbing alcohol all over it. There were two
options: sit on a bench chair while they sucked the blood out of me like
thirsty vampires, or sit in a lounge chair so just in case I passed out, I
wouldnt get a concussionwhile they sucked the blood out of me like
thirsty vampires. They chose option two for me based on my paleness
when I walked in the room. It smelled like blood. Salty, irony, blood. As
they started to collect my warmth, I glanced over at the other cadets
sitting up in the bench seats. The nurse had taken the needle out too
fast or something because one kids blood was squirting straight in the
air. With my eyes wide in horror I looked at my nurse.
She noticed how urgently I looked at her. Are you feeling
alright? I couldnt say a word. I shook my head horizontally, and she
laid my seat back a bit more. I closed my eyes and pretended I was
31

anywhere but in that chair. They took seven vials of my blood. These
tests made me feel like we were all there competing for most perfect
human, and I was happier than ever when it was over.
Sleep was one of the only times that I kind of had to myself while
I was at LDAC, and I wasnt even alone. I was in a room with twelve
other females and I knew none of these girls. I also got placed into a
room late so I wasnt able to be with the girls in my platoon13 because
their room was already full. On day four of training, after all of the
medical testing, poking, and evaluation, we were told that we were
going to be woken up at four oclock in the morning for a fire drill. After
finishing up all of our tasks for the daywhich was around eleven at
nightwe all set our alarms and started getting ready for bed. I was so
exhausted from all the medical stuff that I dont even remember falling
asleep, but I sure as hell remember waking up.
WAKE UP, LADIES! Turn the lights on, get your tennis shoes,
dont even think about opening your lockers, and get out here now! No,
you cannot use the bathroom so dont even think about asking.
I sat up so fast it was like my bed was spring loaded. What in the
actual fuck is going on? My heart was pounding out of my chest so
hard that I could hold it in my hands. The lights flashed on and I was
blinded.

13 Platoon: made up of two or more squads.


32

This must be the fire drill. I frantically checked my watchit was


only three-thirty in the morninga half hour before we were supposed
to have the fire drill and there were no alarms sounding off in the
building. The female Cadre screamed so loud that I thought we were all
dead, like we had done something wrong. I looked at the other girls.
Does anyone know what is going on?
DO I HEAR TALKING? The female Cadre screamed, Get your
shoes and get down to the courtyard NOW!
The girls just looked at me and shrugged their shoulders with
confused faces. They didnt know what was going on, either. We
quickly put on our shoes and ran down the stairs to the courtyard for a
company formation14. It was so incredibly dark outside that I couldnt
tell where my platoon was. I frantically tried to find someone I knew
was a part of my platoon so they wouldnt think that I went AWOL15.
I found where I was supposed to be and then the Cadre split us
up into male and female formations. Once we formed up, they decided
to fill us in on what the heck was going on.
Today, ladies, said the female captain as she paced in front of
us all, we are having a drug test. Heads turned left and right. Not
sure if they were worried head turns or I really have to pee head
turns. There were at least sixty females in our formation, and the

14 Company formation: made up of three or more platoons; in this


case it was five.
15 AWOL: Absent Without Official Leave.
33

males had at least twice as much as we did, which made me feel bad
for the ones who were at the end of the line.
If you absolutely cannot wait your turn, move to the front of the
line, but you better have to go when you get in there because we
arent putting up with the stage fright thing. Girls moved up to the
front of the line and the rest of us continued to stand in formation in
the pitch dark. The captain came back about 10 minutes later.
What did I tell you ladies? If you dont have to go, dont come to
the front of the line. One of you just went in talking about how bad she
had to pee, and then when its her turn she cant go. This is your last
warning so you better be sure. So thats what she meant about stage
fright. This worried me; I didnt want to be the girl who suddenly lost
the urge to pee when the pressure was on.
An hour later, it was my turn. I walked into the building and stood
in line. The Cadre kept yelling at me because I didnt clearly
understand the directions about what they wanted me to do. Touch
this, no this, dont touch that! I had never participated in a drug test
before, so this whole process was foreign to me. I stood there holding
the cup over my head waiting for the next available female Cadre
member. This is so stupid. I cant believe they are making me hold the
cup I am about to urinate in over my head. Then it was my turn now.
I walked into the stall, the cup still placed on my head like I was
going to gather water and bring it back to my fellow cadets. The
34

bathroom was bright and white; I could hear the girl next to me in the
stall and I could see the Captain staring in at her. I looked at the Cadre
member that was assigned to me. Well, go on, she barked. Nice to
meet you too, excuse me while I just pee in front of you now. She was
staring at me with this scary look on her face, like she wanted to beat
the shit out of me mixed with disgust. She must just love her job right
now. Her eyes dug into me as I finally got the courage to let go what I
had been holding for over an hour. At that moment I decided the fear
of what would happen if I couldnt pee was far greater than the
awkwardness of doing my business in front of a stranger. I couldnt
help but think that I would have to do this one-day. Watching people
pee wasnt in the job description! As I quickly found out, there were
various physical challenges that we had to go through. First it was all of
the medical stuff with the poking and prodding, then the pee test, and
most importantly there was the heat and field training that we had to
do, which was the longest and most challenging of all.
We were on our second week of training and they moved us
from the barracks to the tents out in the field. We lay there on our cots
under the canvas, sweating, groaning, and trying to keep our minds off
the heat. We werent allowed outside the tent because the heat was
dangerous. I was convinced that it was hotter under the tent, but it did
get us out of the direct sun. Being in the tent was like going to the
sauna with your friends, except our sweat was evaporating with
35

nowhere to escape through the canvas. We had nothing to do except


tell stories and secrets.
So, out of the guys in our platoon, who do you think are the
cutest? one of the girls asked the rest of the tent. We all looked
around and each other, scared to say anything at first.
Come on! she begged. Pick top three, well go around on a
circle. So, we did, and that was the beginning of the twelve of us
really bonding. Through the next two weeks we would beat each other
at card games, and pick on one other for our platoon crushes. We
played never have I ever and two truths, one lie, which spilled all
of our dirty little secrets about our love lives, and dumb things we did
in high school and college. It was like a middle school sleepover,
except for the fact we didnt really get to sleep.
When we were allowed out of our tents during R&R, we would
walk around the tent city to go communicate with the guys in our
platoon, who were separated from us on the other side of the tent city.
As we walked through I saw hundreds of cadets in PTs16, with their rifles
slung from their shoulder, at the low ready. Around all of the tents
including my tent cadets had made clothes lines to hang up the
clothes they had just washed, in an MRE box. We had to get creative
because it took too long for the laundry truck to get us our clothes
back. Our tent city looked like a refugee camp instead of a military

16 PTs: Physical Training uniform.


36

training camp. It got so bad that the cadre made it a rule that we
werent allowed to wash and hang our clothes anymore. They were
definitely living conditions I wasnt used to, and it made me appreciate
something as simple as a washing machine and a dryer.
Over the course of the month I was Platoon Leader, Platoon
Sergeant, and Squad Leader. Not only was I putting to use my
leadership skills, but I was observing others as well. I would observe
when we were doing our missions, when we were eating, when we
were getting ready for bed, all the time. There were so many different
personalities and perspectives in one small area; at times it was hard
to handle. You put forty trained leaders in an area together; you are
going to get forty different opinions. As the days passed, we learned
that that wasnt good leadership. Those who chose to keep quiet when
it wasnt their turn to shine were the smart ones of the group. In order
to be a good leader, you must first be a follower. LDAC put a lot of
pressure on cadets, some more than others. Once we got to know one
another, we learned what the others could handle stress-wise. Some
people cracked. They just couldnt handle the pressure. I helped one of
the girls who had a hard time, and I tried to guide her back on track
the best I could. She had told me that she didnt think Army is what
she wanted to do anymore. She just didnt want to. We were five days
from graduating and she decided that all the stress and pressure and
evaluating just wasnt what she wanted anymore. Her dad was a full37

bird Colonel in the Army. She explained to me that she wanted to be


just like her dad, but she didnt feel like she was ready for the
responsibility of becoming an Army officer. I did the best I could to
comfort her and help her come to her decision, but ultimately the
decision was hers to make. Not her dads choice, not mine, but hers
and only hers. She graduated with us, and decided to make her
decision at a later date.
What that event made me realize, was that the influence that
parents have on their children is HUGE. I mean, I knew that my parents
had a big influence on the choices I made in my life, but ultimately it
was my decision that I made to join the Army, they just steered me in a
certain direction. But what my friend was experiencing was the
aftermath of ultimately not making her own decision. She went along
with the decision and guidance that her parents gave her without
stopping to think about if that was really what she wanted in life. At the
point where our careers were about to start after graduating LDAC, she
didnt even know if that was really what she wanted to do. I think that
some children live in fear of disappointing their parents, and that they
would do anything to make them proud, and that was exactly what I
saw that day. I saw the big alligator tearsnot sure if they were
genuine or notof a girl that I had only met less than a month prior,
finally making her own choices and realizing what kind of a person she

38

was. She might have grown up in a military family, but being an Army
leader just wasnt what she was ready for at that time in her life.
Join the Army, travel the world, and meet interesting people!
This is the slogan that a lot of recruiters use to get people my age who
dont know what they want to do with their lives yet, to join the Army.
A lot of the time its not what its cracked up to be. You have to deal
with difficult people, see and hear things you dont want to, and make
difficult life-altering decisions. I might not always be a great journey,
but it is a journey nonetheless. Other times, the slogan is right; you
travel, meet great people, and have the time of your life.
My second ROTC journey took me through happened directly
after I graduated from LDAC. It was another training opportunity that
was offered to me called Cadet Troop Leader Training (CTLT)17. I was
going to get hands-on learning in a real Army unit, with real Army
soldiers, and real Army equipment. For this trip I was a little more
excited, not only because Id been successful at LDAC, the biggest test
of my cadet career, but also because I was on my way to Hawaii. I
would be shadowing a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter pilot, which is
exactly what I wanted to be.
Its a completely different experience seeing something on the
television or in a brochure, and actually seeing it in real life. You dont
believe it until you see it. At least I didnt. The beginning of my

17 Cadet Troop Leader Training (CTLT): Internship with an Army unit.


39

transformation started when I went on my first flight in the helicopter. I


buckled my seatbelt, which was more like a harness or one of those
seatbelts that Nascar drivers wear. I was holding onto the top straps
and using every centimeter that I had to try and look outside the
window. We hadnt even left the ground yet either. I watched the crew
as they opened the doors and checked the radius around the
Blackhawk. They wore headsets that connected to the inside of the
aircraft to communicate with the pilot, so they had to carry an
extremely long cord as they walked around. There were three seats on
my left side where the other crewmembers sat and on the opposite
side was a stretcher with a practice dummy strapped to it. I was mostly
focused on the pilot though, and all the buttons and switches that he
was pressing and flipping. I wanted to be him someday. I felt
excitement electrify through me. This was my first flight in a helicopter.
I had been waiting for this moment since I was a little girl.
The doors were open; the rotor blades blew warm Pacific air into
my face. I closed my eyes and breathed it all in. I kept them closed for
a long moment. The helicopter sounded like a high-pitched ringing,
extremely loud; I could hear it through my earplugs. It was an exciting
sound. When I felt the lift, I opened my eyes and watched the ground
below drift further and further away. The houses looked as small as the
houses you use in the Monopoly game, and the cars looked like mini
Hot Wheels traveling on the highway. I wanted to reach down and pick
40

them up. It was so surreal. The ocean was all different shades of deep
blue leaking into each other, with cliffs and mountains surrounding the
coast of Oahu. The mountains were shaped with cuts up and down, like
vertical stripes. The waves turned into whitecaps as they crashed into
walls of the island. There were yachts in the water that looked as small
as paddleboats and left white streaks in the water like jets leave
streaks in the sky.
My eyes were scanning as much area as they could as fast as
humanly possible. We took a sharp turn into the mountains, twisting
and weaving, dodging and ducking. My stomach tickled and I laughed
as it jumped up and down with the movements. We cut through clouds
like butter, and when we were above them the sun shone so bright it
was like a light from heaven. I couldnt believe this was a job. Those
people actually got paid to fly around that beautiful island.
I though of my dad and what it must have been like for him. I
imagined him in the crew chief seat, peering out the window, smiling
and enjoying the ride. He always told me how much he loved his job.
He used to say, If you love your job, you never work a day in your life,
and I loved my job. I looked down at the water and envisioned him
jumping out of the helicopter to go rescue some poor soul. He was a
search and rescue swimmer. He flew in helicopters and he saved lives.
What a job. This is why I wanted to be in the helicopter so bad. I
wanted to feel the way my dad felt. I wanted to love my job, I wanted
41

to fly amazing people like my dad around, and I wanted to rescue


those who were stranded. He told me I would love it, and he told me
once I started I would never want to stop, and he was one hundred
percent correct.
Well, how did you like it? a crewmember asked me after we
had landed back at the hanger.
Honestly it was the most incredible thing I have ever seen and
felt, I said with a permanent smile on my face. So when are we going
again?
We went from the island of Oahu to the island of Kauai. It was the
most beautiful thing that my eyes have seen. As I sat in what they call
the hurricane seat (because of stability of the seat itself was bouncy),
my eyes were glued open watching the magnificent blue water crash
into the sugary sand, while the mountains twisted and turned along the
coast. From that moment on I was hooked. Every chance I got I went
up. After that first day, I walked into the hangar asking who was flying
that day and if it was possible that I would get to go. After a week or
two the pilots just started coming up to me and offering if I wanted to
go fly with themthey knew I was going to ask anyways. No matter
who the pilot was I wanted to tag along. If no one was flying that day,
didnt matter. If I couldnt fly, I wanted to be out with the maintenance
soldiers working on the helicopters. I just wanted to be next to it, and I
wanted to know everything about it. Being next to one was the second
42

best thing and I didnt mind getting my hands dirty one bit. I was
finally able to act on my passion, and ask all the questions that I
wanted. My stomach would get butterflies, my heart would speed up,
and my palms would sweat just at the possibility I might be able to fly
that day.
By the end of my time with the Aviation MED EVAC unit, I had
been on roughly nine flights, three of which went to Kauai (hardly
anyone gets to do that). Id also learned how to take care of soldiers by
counseling them and helping them adapt into becoming better leaders.
I had an up close and personal view of the marriage problems that the
soldiers were facing. I heard my mentors talk about young adults my
age getting married and divorced faster then they could turn the legal
drinking age. It was a situation that I had a hard time comprehending,
mostly because I was older then these soldiers but they were
experiencing things that I couldnt even fathom. Often I thought to
myself; how am I supposed to help these soldiers when I havent
experienced marriage? Or, what if I say the wrong thing? These were
issues that I was going to have to deal with once I graduated, and it
made me nervous. The thought of divorce scared one young mans
wife so much that she informed him that she was going to commit
suicide if divorce was the answer. Like most people would be, he was
terrified and had no clue what to do. He was unhappy in his marriage
but the situation now just horrified him. As I listened and observed
43

these stories, I snapped out of my fairytale and life got a little more
real. Being a leader wasnt all fun and games and going flying every
day. Looking out for your soldiers and finding the help they need, is
what happened every day.

44

Part 5: Course of Action Comparison


Closed-mindedness was common in the place I grew up and at
Michigan Tech. Both Frankfort and Houghton are small towns, where
small town politics exist and people seem to get stuck, or choose to
stay, for their whole lives. For me this was a problem. My dad growing
up in a small town as well and having a bad experience, it was out of
the question for his kids to be stagnant in one town for a lifetime. In
my mind I imagined what would happen to me if I stayed in Frankfort
my whole life. I imagined my life as lonely, married to a man sitting in
his stinky, old lay-z-boy chair that reeked of beer, while I unhappily
made dinner for us and the five to eight children that I spent all day
chasing around. The military was my dads way of escaping his
personal nightmare; he showed my brother and I that we were in
charge of our lives and that we could become anything, and go
anywhere we wanted. But in going to college all I did was leave one
small town and move to another. It was the same attitude and the
same mentality. Had I really escaped?
I was afraid of an unfulfilling small-town future, but I was also
afraid of how my military service might affect my relationships. This
was mostly because of what I have witnessed in my parents
relationship and my relationship with my parents. My dad was away for
eight years of my life and after she got out of the Navy, my mom
45

worked the night shift at the prison in Manistee, so my brother and I


stayed with my grandma five days a week. My dad would come home
for one month each year, because that is all the Navy would give him.
Each time I was happy for him to be home, but Id be angry with him
when he left.
My mom has reminded me that one time my anger was so strong that I
never said goodbye to him. He was leaving on a two-year deployment
but I wouldnt even hug him or say goodbye. Even though I was only
five years old Ill never forget that day. He called me into the kitchen to
say goodbye and I just stood there with my arms crossed, too stubborn
to give in.
Come give me a hug, sweetie, I looked at him and scrunched
my face and shook my head no.
My mom looked at me. You know you wont be seeing your dad
for a very long time, so how about you give him a hug and tell him you
love him.
I ran out of the kitchen and hid in my room. I didnt want him to
go and I didnt want to say goodbye. If I dont say it he wont go, he
cant go if I dont say it. My parents yelled a couple more times for me
to come out and say goodbye, but I never went. I sat on my bed and
stared at the wall in anger. I heard mumbling, and then a huge sigh
and the door slammed shut. I waited a minute for them to yell again. I
heard nothing. My heart jumped up into my throat. I panicked and ran
46

out of the house as quickly as my little legs would take me. I saw his
little green truck kicking up dust as he reached the end on the gravel
driveway. I ran after him crying hysterically, Daddy, please come
back, I didnt mean it! It was too late. He couldnt see me. My mom
ran after me and scooped me up into her arms. I had missed my
chance.
That night he called when he reached the hotel where he was
staying for the night to let us know that he made it safe. I was crying
and my mom handed me the phone. I was too young to realize, but
later I found out he was crying too. I cried to him and told him how
much I loved him and how sorry I was. I begged him to come back and
give me a hug, but he was too far away. My heart stayed in my throat
for weeks. Every time he called the house after that day, I reminded
him over and over again how much I loved him. Not only did I break my
dads heart that day, but mine broke too.
I didnt understand it then, but that could have been the last
time I saw my dad. I let the anger of his absence and leaving consume
me. I loved him so much that it made me angry I could never have
enough time with him. I worried every single day after that day that I
would never see him again, until the day he returned home eighteen
months later. If something would have happened to him on that
deployment I would have never been able to forgive myself.

47

It ran in the family, the leaving-caused anger. My mom told me a


story about when they were both still in the Navy. It was before I was
born; 1990, and my brother was one year old. My dad was getting
deployed to Egypt for the Gulf War and he got in a huge argument with
my mom over something ridiculous; she told me he did that every time
he left. So he left and they didnt resolve anything. About a week later
my mom got a call and she was also getting deployed, but to Italy. It
happened so fast; she tried and tried to get ahold of my dad to tell him
but she couldnt. My brother was sent to my grandmas and my mom
was off to Europe.
Months went by and my parents hadnt spoken. My dad said he
called and called the house, but no one answered. He was terrified that
my mom was so angry about the last time they saw each other, that
shed left him without a word. He worried for all that time. My mom
finally found a way to try and contact him; she found a mailbag that
was going to his ship, and she slipped a letter in there to him. They
ended up getting in contact and being able to see each other for three
days of leave in Egypt. When I heard that story it worried me.
Everything ended up being okay for the both of them but it was still a
really shitty situation.
I have frequently noticed that a lot of military people are married
to other military people. It makes me wonder, which is the better
choice: military marrying military, or military marrying civilians? From
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my perspective, there were a lot of times where I didnt think my


parents were going to make it. But then I see a lot of soldiers who have
married civilians and it also causes issues and a lot of divorces
especially among young soldiers. I think a lot of the reason was
because they got paid more when they were married. I got some
insight on this from two married officers. The man had three kids from
his previous marriagehis first wife had been a civilianand the
woman had not previously been married. I asked him about the
relationship and he told me, It is a completely different type of
relationship compared to my previous marriage. I dont have to explain
any acronyms, why I work so late, why we have to move, or how
difficult it is to go on deployments. It is a whole different level of
understanding and there is nothing better than having your spouse
understand those kinds of things, because she goes through them
too. Wow. Maybe this was a special case, maybe it was every case,
but it definitely made me see things in a different perspective.

Part 6: Course of Action Approval


The sign was something I had never encountered before. It was a
massive white board propped up twenty-five feet in the air, almost like
the base couldnt hold the weight of the content. The sun was so bright
49

on the white background that the big, black, bold letters burned into
my eyes, like when you stare at the sun too long. Divorce Here, is
what it read. From its size, it seemed almost like everyone was
searching for divorce. I always thought it was something people tried
to avoid and hide from. I had heard stories about young kids joining the
military making so-called stupid decisions, deciding to marry the first
woman/man they had ever laid eyes on. Later I would learn that in
most cases this was true. When I saw this sign it was my first time
living around an Army base. I was in Fort Benning, Georgia, living with
my boyfriend at the time had been sent there for Army training. His
name was Jarod we had actually met in ROTC. I decided to follow him
down to Georgia the summer after my second year.
When I saw that sign, it wasnt just something I shrugged off for
the evening; it made me think a lot more about my decisions in life and
how I didnt want to end up being one of those people frantically
searching for those two big, black, bold, and terrifying words; Divorce
here.
Divorce was something my family avoided talking about for the
most part. I didnt even know what it meant when kids would talk
about it in elementary school. I just assumed that everyone had a mom
and dad, and if they didnt they must be on vacation, at work like my
dad, or dead. I finally learned the meaning of divorce when my parents
started thinking about getting a divorce themselves. My dad was
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always gone and being away for that long is hard on relationships. I
just remember how tense and uncomfortable it was in the house
during this time. Especially when my dad was home on leave. I would
tiptoe around the house and be as quiet as I could, so that I would
have a better chance of not being seen. I didnt want to have to face
my parents, or their problems. That is why that sign is molded in my
brain. Now that Im old enough to get married and decide who I want
to spend the rest of my life with, it terrifies me. Left and right I hear of
couples in the military getting divorced, or hear stories of infidelity.
How could I not be scared? Is it just the military that has these
relationship issues or is it just a part of life? Since both of my parents
were in the same branch of the military, and so were Jarod and I, I
couldnt help but think that we would be put in that same situation one
day, our obligations to the military pulling us apart. So I tiptoed around
that also, and eventually ended my relationship out of fear of the big,
white, pasty sign.
I was sitting on my bunk, wiping away at the carbon that covered
the parts of my rifle and having a deep conversation with my
bunkmate. At this time I was happy in love with Jarod. He wrote me
letters about how much he loved me and sent me packages with my
favorite things, but I had noticed that my bunkmate never really got
anything in the mail. I knew she had a daughter but I never heard her
saying anything about any kind of boyfriend/partner/spouse. Since they
51

had taken our phones away, mail was the primary form of
communication, so her not getting anything concerned me, considering
I knew how good it felt to receive mail once in a while. So I popped my
head over the edge of the bed and looked down at her, Hey, you got a
boyfriend at home?
No, she replied. She didnt seem to upset about my asking so I
decided to proceed with the questioning. We had gotten pretty close
over the last couple of weeks; she was thirty-three years old, priorenlisted and someone that I turned to for advice often. She never
complained, always worked her hardest and looked to lend a helping
hand to others. Driven and beautiful, how could she not have someone
waiting for her at home? I didnt believe her, even though I knew she
wouldnt be lying to me either.
Well, I mean, were you ever married or anything? Like when you
had your daughter?
No.
Oh, well, what happened?
I have had a bad history of relationships, honey. She kind of
half smiled and let out a quick sigh. Almost a look of disappointment
mixed with amusement from a young kid like me questioning her about
her life.
What she told me that day really shocked me and made me see
her a whole new light. She not only raised a child on her own, but
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sacrificed everything to make her daughters life a great one. She had
been deployed to Afghanistan, cheated on, lied to, abandoned, and still
managed to keep everything together. She juggled taking care of her
daughter, her full-time active duty job in the Army, and going to school
full-time for two years. I respected her and thought she was a great
person before that conversation, but after she told me all the bullshit
she put up with and went through, it made me respect her and look up
to her even more.
Im done searching for a loyal and trusting man. Ive been done
for a long time. Ive been disappointed, heartbroken, and let down. All I
need is my babies; my daughter, my dog, my cat, and thats it. I take
care of my babies, go to school, and do my job.
I didnt exactly know what to say to her after a story like that. I
admired her for everything she had gone through, and how shed
handled it. I sat on my bunk and continued to scrape the carbon off my
rifle as I imagined how my life would turn out. Even though my
bunkmates life turned out to be okay, and the events in her life made
her into the amazing person that she was, I never wanted to
experience that kind of pain. The pain of being alone after your
significant other leaves you for getting pregnant, and never seeing or
hearing from then again. The pain of spending two years of your life
with a man and letting your daughter get close to him. Thinking he was
the one only to find out that he was living a double life. Her ex had a
53

wife and three kids thousands of miles away, and he lied and kept this
from her for so long. I couldnt believe I was so stupid and nave. This
is what happens when you travel around as much as we do, she had
told me, there are men like him everywhere, and women, too. They
call themselves geographical bachelors. It just makes me sick.
It made me sick, too. I had to pick my jaw up off of the ground
because I was surprised that this shit was still going on in the world, let
alone the military. It is against the Army values and goes against
everything we stand for. If caught and charged for adultery in the
military, it is the end of your career and service. This doesnt happen
all the time. What goes around comes around, and they will get
caught. This wont be me. This wont happen to me. I wont let it. I had
to tell myself that because all her stories did was add to my fear.
In my senior year at Tech, I lie awake many nights staring at my
wall. The only light is the glow of the streetlamps outside my window,
dimmed by my curtain. I rethink over my failed relationships and think
of what I could have done differently. If they actually failed or if I was
looking for them to fail so I had an excuse to leave and push away. I
know that is how my last one ended. I try so hard not to but its almost
an instinct now. I have this barricade with barbed wire fence at the top
and I just cant escape. It makes me sleepless. I want so much to let go
of my fear and have hope that someday I will be happy and that I
wont be alone, but that hope is just the dim glow of the streetlamp
54

surrounded by darkness. Im not even sure what frightens me, more


the thought of a failed relationship or the thought of living my life
alone.
There are a lot of factors that go along with having relationships
in the military environment. It is a lifestyle that not many people can
live with, considering that less than a half of one percent of our
population chooses to do so. Dealing with the distance, being away
from family and loved ones, and having to pick up and leave every two
to three years puts a lot of stress on relationships. We learned about
the family services and all the options they provide in one of my
leadership courses for ROTC. They stress the importance of budgeting
money, and make sure that all of the cadets are aware of the family
services and counseling that is available, when and if we choose to
have one in the future. They teach us these things because the Army
and the military have a history of divorce. That horrible, depressing
billboard exists because of the military lifestyle. It isnt for everyone.

55

Part 7: Orders Production, Dissemination, and Transition


Now that I am in my senior year of college, the time is ticking,
and the months are trickling down until I find out what the Army
chooses for me to do my entire career. Here I am, back to step one. My
entire future is once again in the hands of hundreds of individuals that I
have never met before in my life. Oh the irony. All I get to do is fill out
a worksheet, ranking my preferences, and then my cadre send it up for
the decision to be made. I will find out two weeks before I graduate in
fall of 2015. When I finally find out my results, I will be shipped off to
56

the BOLC18 of my specialtyhopefully aviationand have to adapt to


living in the real world on my own. Ill have to make new friends all
over againjust like when I came to collegeand of course it means
having more bills to pay. If I dont get aviation, I will just have to live
with what I get and learn to adapt, because thats what leaders do
thats what Ive been trained to do.
For every good hope and plan, there is a backup plan. I have to assume
the worst, in order to stay sane and know that there is a future for me
if I dont branch exactly how I want. If I dont get active duty I have the
freedom to choose my specialtywith the exception of aviation
because its so competitiveand my duty station as well. If dont get
into flight school, my plan is to get and internship with the Department
of Defense and try to build something there for myself, while serving in
the reserves like my mom did. Maybe Ill get activated one day and
have the opportunity to fly Blackhawks.
I still have hope for my dream, mostly because of this years
branching results for my classmates graduating this spring. Four out of
the five of them got their first choice of specialty, and all of them who
wanted active duty got it. The one who didnt get his first choice of
specialty was disappointedwhich was to be expected. It made me
think of how disappointed I would be too, but there is absolutely
nothing I can do about it.

18 BOLC: Basic Officers Leadership Course


57

Epilogue
July 16, 2014. 0300 hours.
This time I was in Kentuckysitting on security during a mission
lying in the wet grass. This time I had a real rifle but fake ammo that
made real noises. I liked not having to scream Bang, bang, bang!
Unfortunately I never got to shoot my rifle, because once again, I was
58

on security, not part of the mission itself. I could hear the rest of my
platoon was making contact the enemy in the distance. My squad
was in the safe spotwhere they would return to after the mission
guarding the equipment. Three years later, there I was, doing the exact
same thing I was doing my first day. Still hated the creepy crawlies, but
for some reason they didnt bother me as much.
After all of those years I finally realize why they made us lay on
security. Its about discipline and patience. I had to learn to stay awake,
not flinch and move every time a bug crawled on mebecause in a
real-life situation a sudden movement could be your lastand most
importantly I had to learn the importance of securing an area to ensure
the safety of the soldiers and sensitive equipment. The missions
werent just about the flashy stuff but about being thorough, alert, and
prepared. I came to realize that being patient and observant was
significant, and it not only applied to missions and security, but also
being an overall leader. Even though I didnt understand the orders I
was given at first, I learned to highly value those orders and trust the
people that are in charge of me. To be a leader, I must first learn how
to follow. Someday I will likely be in a position of giving orders, and
some soldier will be thinking exactly what I was on day one. In ROTC
I've learned how carefully orders are developed, and Ive seen what
values that good leaders need to posses in order to be successful.
Decisions and issuing orders arent made or given out of impulse; its
59

based on a process. I have accepted that the unglamorous missions


and the grunt work isnt over yetas well as other unpleasant things
but I am sure that being a part of the Army is what I want to do. I
believe that it was what I was meant to do. No matter what the future
brings, I can take the lessons I have learned with me, even long after
my service is over with.

Bibliography
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"Chapter 5: The Military Decision-Making Process." FM 101-5. 1. Print.


Bender, Geoffrey. "41 Phrases Only People In The Military Will
Understand." Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 1 Nov. 2014.
Web. 5 Dec. 2014. <http://www.businessinsider.com/phrasesonly-people-in-the-military-know-2014-10>. (Meaning behind the
title)

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