What is it like to be a military woman? What is it like?
It’s like never being alone again in your entire life.
It’s having the family and discipline that your alcoholic parents could never give you.
It’s a chance for a high school dropout to turn her life around and make something of herself.
It’s building a firm foundation upon which to build life and family.
It’s always being a part of a team. It’s doing service for the United States
of America. It’s developing a work ethic that will stay with you every day of
your life. It’s going to the Middle East or Europe or Tunisia or anywhere in
the United States and always having a family.
It’s a level of understanding that those in the world outside of the military
cannot know unless they have been a part of it. It’s experiences that you will
never forget and relationships that will last a lifetime. It’s single moms moving
into one house during exercises and splitting the shifts so the kids will
have someone there at all times despite the fact that one of the moms is working
a 12-hour shift running around a simulated war zone in chemical warfare
gear playing “war games.” It’s walking into a USO anywhere in the world,
striking up a conversation with anyone about your time in the Middle East
and having an understanding of your situation that your family and civilian
friends will never get. It’s walking through the airport in uniform and
having someone come up to you and saying, “Thank you for your service.”
It’s not understanding how much you sacrificed because you just saw the
military as a way of life and a choice you made to support and defend the
Constitution of the United States. It’s a military member married to another
military member with a family who has to prepare legal documents for someone
to take care of their kids should they both be deployed at the same time.
It’s being on the Honor Guard, proudly firing the 21-gun salute and presenting
a casket-draped flag to the family of a service member who died. It’s
years of night school between duty assignments, after duty hours and on
the weekends to get your college degree. It’s hours and hours of studying for
a promotion test only to miss it by two points which was the equivalent of
one decoration that the supervisor was too busy to write.
It’s walking into a newcomers briefing at your base and seeing familiar
faces that you can’t quite place until you both realize you were stationed at
another base together ten years ago. It’s flying free on a KC 135-refueler or
a C-5 with your kids and watching the loadmaster take them to the cockpit
to hang out with the pilot and crew. It’s having the world as your backyard
and always a place to call home.
It’s unexpectedly being named the honor graduate of your class for your
ability. It’s being well respected and admired by your superiors, peers and
subordinates. It’s living by integrity first, service before self, and excellence
in all you do.
It’s crying when you have to return to duty after the birth of your baby.
It’s being torn between duty to your country and your duty as a mother. It’s
feeling safe to let your kids play outside or walking to school because you
live on base and are surrounded by a fence with military police patrolling.
It’s sparing with the neighbor about who leaves their uniform on the
longest after getting off from work. It’s being able to work on base close
to your kids’ school and have the freedom to go to their school events. It’s
being a Girl Scout leader for your daughter’s Brownie troop and taking them
to London to the Pax Lodge World Association of Girl Guides and Girl
Scouts World Center, one of only seven in the world and you are experiencing
it thanks to the military.
It’s exploring English castles and cathedrals with your kids. It’s riding
the Chunnel from England to France. It’s Harley-riding all over the United
Kingdom, across Europe and into Norway. It’s taking your photo by Loch
Ness, the Swiss Alps, the Venice canals and where the Rhein and Mosel
rivers meet. It’s walking by Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, the Eiffel Tower,
Notre Dame and eating Belgium chocolate.
It’s the shudder of your quarters in the Middle East when the C-17’s are
doing engine runs or the check-points you must go through to leave or get
on the base. It’s sleeping in a bunk and walking across the base to go to the
bathroom or shower. It’s working 16–18 hours a day, and people banging on
your door on your one day off for you to handle a problem. It’s a 141-degree
heat index and sweating so much that you have to shower two-to-three
times a day. It’s sweating and working so hard that you lose enough weight
to drop a pants size and you already wore a size small.
It’s a few precious moments that you get on the phone with your kids. It’s
crying because you miss them and are afraid they will forget you. It’s watching
them walk away as you head to board the plane for months away from
them to do your sworn duty and honor your commitment to your country.
It’s shooting expert on the M-9 when you barely qualified last time. It’s
playing paintball as a squadron or having a pie in the face contest and getting
the most votes for a pie because you are so well liked. It’s the confidence
you have gained to stand up and give a speech or briefing and knowing
the military has made you the person you are today. It’s experiencing your
retirement ceremony and knowing you will never again be in that place to
have that special camaraderie that only the active duty know. It’s the bittersweet
feeling that comes when you hand in your active duty ID card and are
handed a retiree ID. It’s the tears that fall for your lost comrades, and how
you wish you were still there to be a part of it all.
What is it like to be a military woman? For this woman, it was an experience
that I will cherish forever because the military saved my life, and gave
me the foundation that made me the person I am today. The heart of a military
woman beats for her children, her family and friends, her community,
the people she leads, the people she serves and the country she loves.
(C) 2009 Eldonna Lewis Fernandez
Deployed to the Middle East after 9/11 and retired from active duty as a contract negotiator in the Air Force in 2003 after 23 years of honorable service, retired Master Sergeant Eldonna Lewis Fernandez is a force to be reckoned with. Blog, Speaking Engagements, Motorcycle Adventures and more at http://www.pinkbikerchic.com
Published in Heart of a Military Woman:
Stories and Tributes to Those Who Serve Our Country,
by Sheryl Roush and Eldonna Lewis Fernandez.
All original and true short stories, poems, and tributes from military personnel, their families and loved ones.