Monday, May 28, 2012
Remembering Memorial Day - 2012
I never gave the Army much thought growing up, but when the recruiter approached me as a young 17-year-old in high school, I knew then I wanted to go into the service.
I had several reasons. I had no future prospects where I was at. I'd learned that the only person I could count on was me. The Army offered a GI Bill and money for college as well as a chance to go all over the world as young woman. The Army would be a stepping stone to building my life as an adult and I took it.
As soon as I saw the tape about military police, I knew I wanted to be an MP. Of course, I was enchanted by the law enforcement aspect of my new MOS (military occupational specialty), but MP's were also responsible for prisoners of war, guarding supply lines, and guarding munitions.
I graduated high school in June 1986. July 7, 1986 I officially enlisted, excited to begin my grand adventure.
The first time I flew in a plane I went from Boston's Logan Airport to Atlanta, GA. Then I took a 15-seater plane to Anniston, Alabama. I found air travel exhilarating, despite the smokers. Shortly afterwards, smoking was banded from flights.
I arrived late at night, shoved into a cattle car, and brought to the 10th MP Battalion at Ft. McClellan, AL. Assigned to Delta Company, 2nd Platoon, it was an all female platoon, but we trained alongside males, earning a majority of their respect and admiration.
My adventures in Basic and AIT (Advanced Individual Training for MP) proved to me it's not enough to be physically strong and possess a hearty endurance, but one had to be mentally tough as well. I learned a soldier, airman, marine, and seaman needed to possess all 3 qualities. Not everyone can be in the military. It's a demanding job involving strength, endurance, and sacrifice.
In December 1986, I was sent to Germany and processed through the Rhein-Main Air Base in Frankfurt. After 3 days I was put on a bus and traveled 4 hours to Münster, Germany. My duty assignment was the 583rd Ordnance Company where I worked side-by-side with Infantry soldiers guarding nuclear munitions. There were highs and lows, laughter and tears. I came of age at the 583rd Ordnance Company and if I learned anything, life was complicated, but true friends always were there for you.
Once of my more humorous anecdotes I can share with you involved a major reassignment of munitions. The whole company was involved. I was a private E-2, (second class) at the time and detailed to work with a sergeant whose job was clerk/typist. I remember he was a nice guy and very pleasant. His name was Cruz. We would escort our item onto a Chinook, fly it down south to Giessen, and ensure the item was in the hands of Giessen's custodians.
Now a Chinook is a helicopter that can't fly on paper, but it is a very practical transportation craft for short to medium distances. However the ride can be very bumpy and loud.
Since I was a "female" every one thought I would throw up on the trip. Obviously they hadn't seen me train in Alabama to know I was made of sturdier stuff. I'll admit I was a little miffed to know the bets were against me, but hey, this was an opportunity to prove my toughness and strength.
Sergeant Cruz and I got in the Chinook and off it went. The flight was just what I expected – bumpy and loud. Sergeant Cruz lost his lunch on several occasions. Me? Not once. After the assignment was over I had the last laugh and it felt good.
It seems like such a lofty word, but if you're in the armed services of any nation, you live it every day. In Münster. I sacrificed. The city was in the British Zone of Occupation in West Germany. There were 10,000 British soldiers stationed in the city, only 200 Americans. Out of those 200 Americans maybe 20 were female soldiers, me included. Quite often and especially on field problems, we worked with British soldiers who were very impressed to work side-by-side with an American female soldier. And I was honored to work with them and learn about what it was like for them. I remember I enjoyed how the British soldiers had real field rations (not MREs) and their MOPP suits (NBC suits) were made of velcro, not ties, which was infinitely more practical when you only had 9 minutes to put on the suit. However, most of our immediate support services were given by British resources. Most Americans found that disconcerting.
I gave up my free time to drive soldiers to Bremerhaven, Giessen or Frankfurt for medical appointments at American facilities. I worked 24-hour shifts every 3 to 4th days. I learned the "metal" I'm made of. I learned how tough I am – mentally and physically. I also had a chance to see a part of the world at the end of the cold war that might never had if I didn't join the Army.
Why is Memorial Day important to me?
Memorial Day was a holiday born out of the ashes of the American Civil War. The intent of the holiday was to decorate the honor the graves of those who died in service to the nation. Initially, it was called Decoration Day. Both the south and north developed different customs. World War I brought the American north and south together and expanded the intent of the day to remember, reflect, and honor all who have died in service for their country.
During World War I, Moina Michael conceived an idea to wear red poppies in honor of those who died in service. The idea took off and even now throughout the nation, you'll find various veterans groups offering those red poppies.
In 1967, Decoration Day formally became Memorial Day.
I'm going to spend some quality time with my boys today. I'll show them some pictures of me in the Army and I intend on having a BBQ at the lake. I hope you take a minute or two to remember and honor the sacrifice made by all the men and women in the armed services over the years.
Stephanie Burkhart was born and raised in Manchester, New Hampshire. She spent 11 years in the military and 7 stationed in Germany. She's now a 911 Dispatcher for LAPD.
Her steampunk romance, Victorian Scoundrel is now on sale at Amazon for 99 cents! It's the 2011 Hope Chest Review Winner for Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy Romance.
Here's a link to Amazon. At 99 cents, it's a great "steal" for this Holiday weekend.