• Interviewee: Smull, Brenda E.
  • PDF Interview: smull_brenda_part2.pdf
  • Date: April 27, 2022
  • Additional Interview Dates:
    • Date: April 12, 2022
    • Date: June 1, 2022
  • Place: Phoenix, AZ
  • Interviewers:
    • Kathryn Tracy Rizzi
  • Transcript Production Team:
    • Jesse Braddell
    • Molly Graham
    • Kathryn Tracy Rizzi
    • Brenda E. Smull
  • Recommended Citation: Smull, Brenda E. Oral History Interview, April 27, 2022, by Kathryn Tracy Rizzi, Page #, Rutgers Oral History Archives. Online: Insert URL (Last Accessed: Insert Date).
  • Permission:

    Permission to quote from this transcript must be obtained from the Rutgers Oral History Archives. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Kathryn Tracy Rizzi: This begins an oral history interview with Brenda Smull, on April 27, 2022. I am Kate Rizzi, and I am in Branchburg, New Jersey. Brenda, thank you so much for meeting with me again to do this oral history interview.

Brenda Smull: Thank you. It's good to see you.

KR: Can you please state for the record where you are today?

BS: I am in Phoenix, Arizona.

KR: At the end of your first interview, we left off talking about Operation Desert Storm. What I would like to ask you about first today is, what are your recollections of Operation Desert Storm and the invasion of Iraq?

BS: I think the biggest memory and impact was in January of 1991. We had been in Saudi Arabia since October, just sitting, waiting for the invasion. We were in northern Saudi Arabia. I just remember when the ground war kicked off. We didn't have any news. We didn't have TV or radio like have today, but I do remember seeing and hearing these--they were called MLRS [multiple launch rocket system]--these rockets, and they went off many at a time, and the lights, just watching these rockets take off, knowing they were going north into Iraq as we attacked, and just thinking, "Wow, how much destruction and/or death is occurring at the end of that?" It was really bizarre and surreal, but that was the only thing I remember and I saw at the time. It was scary that first night. We didn't know if we were going to get attacked with Scud missiles that had chemical or nuclear/biological weapons. We were mostly scared of chemicals at the time, but it could have been biological. [Editor's Note: On January 17, 1991, U.S. and coalition forces launched Operation Desert Storm with a campaign of air and missile attacks on targets in Iraq and Kuwait.]

I do remember the first night, and that was really the only night that I slept in my mask, my gas mask, and the full protective gear. It wasn't too hot. It was January, luckily. When you wear that equipment in the heat of the summer, it was very, very uncomfortable. Funny story, I remember one of my soldiers in my platoon did wear his. He was hot, and he didn't wear a t-shirt under it. He said he finally took it off; his skin was all black because the inside of these suits was charcoal, black charcoal, so that absorbed into his body and his skin. So, that wasn't as good. You're not supposed to not wear a t-shirt or your uniform, you should have that, and then you put it [on], but he thought he would be too hot. That was a memory. Yes, just fear the first night.

Then, we moved, and we went north into Iraq. That was only a few hundred hours, and the war was over. We had a convoy, and we went many kilometers north into Iraq. We occupied this site, and we just stayed there for thirty days. That was hard because of the water restriction. Again, we only had one water tank, so we had to make sure we limited and rationed our water. It was surreal just knowing what we were doing. It was happy, but it was surreal. In southern Iraq, there's no water. There were no trees. There was no landscape. It was just like you'd imagine Mars to be. Those were my recollections. [Editor's Note: The ground campaign of Operation Desert Storm lasted from February 24 to February 28, 1991, when President George H.W. Bush declared a ceasefire following Iraq's retreat from Kuwait.]

After thirty days, we were told, "Okay, everybody, pack up. We're going back to Saudi Arabia," which, at the time, we were all happy about, but we were like, "Wait a minute. We just got started. We're not done." We hadn't gone to Baghdad, north, for example, but we had accomplished the mission and a lot of us were ready to get back into safer ground where we can relax a little. Those were the things I remember most, would be January and February of '91.

KR: How did you cope with the stress of being in battle or the fear of being in battle?

BS: I wrote a lot, and I still have the journal today. I had a blank notebook, because I was kind of alone being the only woman platoon leader; everybody else was enlisted, so I had to keep to myself more. I didn't have a lot of people to talk to. I didn't have other friends that were local to me. So, I did a lot of writing. I did a lot of reading. I read fiction, and that kind of gives you an escape. Then, whenever you can, you'd try to sleep to just escape and relax and get away, but sleeping wasn't always easy. Luckily, we did have thick mats for our cots that were given to us by the Saudis, and they were quite comfortable, because we were on cots the whole time, but I remember the thickness. It was nice, and I did have a pillow with the sleeping bag. You make it as comfortable as you can. That's what I did to cope.

I was young. When you're only twenty-three, twenty-four years old, you're certainly more--resilient would be the word. I can't imagine what it was like for people that were in their forties or fifties at the time. That's my age now [laughter], but I can't imagine doing what I did then now. I suppose that's why people in the military tend to be younger. But the generals, they're all older, and they had probably more stress than anybody with the weight of everything on their shoulders. I didn't think much about the generals at the time. I was a lieutenant; I was concerned about my chain of command, majors and colonels.

I have to say, the other thing that helped me get through it was just taking care of the people in my platoon. I was an officer. I was a platoon leader, and they taught us the thing you do most is make sure your people are taken care of. You make sure they're fed. You make sure they're secure and their needs are being met as best we can. Focusing on other people's needs helps you feel better and not worry so much about what you've got going on. That would be the other thing.

KR: Along with that, how did you see fear or stress manifest in your unit, in the enlisted people and the NCOs? What did you do to address that or help them or something to that extent?

BS: It's interesting. Fear manifests differently based on the person and even by the time of day and how tired they are, but some people got really quiet and other people just want to talk and talk and talk. You have to meet people where they are. I did visit my platoon, because, remember, we were communications, so we were spread out over this area with our vans. We would make the rounds and walk around and knock on the van and see how everyone's doing. That was a daily thing, check in on people, just asking questions, making jokes. The fear, a lot of people chose to, in the mornings, get together, and some of them would group up and they would say prayers at the morning standup. I don't know if that was the word--standup. But there's a protocol in the Army that before sunrise, you're supposed to be on high alert--stand-to is the word, actually. Some would pray. Other people would sing, so we did have music. That certainly helps calm the fears. Just do your job and stay focused was the best advice. What can you do? We have control over so much. What limited control we had, that's what you do.

KR: Going through ROTC [Reserve Officers' Training Corps], you were taught to be a leader, you were taught to be an officer. When you were in the war zone, did the responsibility of leadership ever become a burden? How did you feel about that?

BS: I wouldn't say it was a burden. I would say, sometimes, the responsibility of leadership is tiring. It's a weight on your shoulder. You never really got to totally relax. When you're an officer, if anything goes wrong in your platoon, it's your responsibility, what the people in your platoon, the soldiers, do. In that respect, it was almost like being a parent or a teacher or a coach. But it's amazing what you can adapt to and get used to. We were working seven days a week, twelve to fourteen hours a day, for ten months straight. That's no days off. There's no days off in a war zone. Yes, you can have R&R [rest and recuperation], but where are you going to go? [laughter]

I wouldn't say it was a burden. Occasionally, it was tiring and I just wanted a day off, but when you know you don't have that as an option, you just put it aside and you do other things. You focus on the few positives or comforting things, like the reading or the playing cards or the joking with your teammates. Luckily, a lot of people had a good sense of humor and had a good attitude. There were certainly people that were very scared and angry and grumpy. It's amazing, all the personalities come out. When things got really tense and scary, it was amazing. Certain people that you didn't expect to be solid, calm and steady were, and some people that I thought would be calm and steady weren't and they were kind of freaking out. People's true colors [came out], when they thought, "Wow, we really could get shot or bombed or die." I remember thinking--because in college, I had studied psychology--and I was thinking, "Wow, what an amazing sociological or psychological experiment this is to see right up close." It was funny, I think I commented on that in some of my journals, how people were responding to the stress. Like I said, everybody was different.

KR: In your platoon in the First Cavalry Division, you talked about how you were setting up the MSEs [Mobile Subscriber Equipment], which were the digital cellular networks. You talked about jumping and moving from point A to point B in Saudi Arabia and then into Iraq. What were the challenges that your unit faced when you were jumping?

BS: Well, it's a lot of work and logistics. Every generator and electronic van had to have a grounding rod, which is a long metal rod for electrical in case lightning strikes. Pulling those out and then pounding them back in was never fun. We had to pack up the equipment, pull out these grounding rods. Sometimes, they asked us to jump in the dark at nighttime. Then, they also want you to not have any light. There was this thing at nighttime, you don't want to have any lights that the enemy can see. It's like, "Well, how do you want us to jump and then not see anything?" That was always an interesting challenge.

Then, we'd have to get our locations, because every unit would go to a different spot on the battlefield. Realize, we didn't have as good a GPS [Global Positioning System] as we do now. We did have some. The device was called a slugger; that was the nickname for it, and it did have GPS with a few satellites that were in geosynchronous orbit. That was just the beginnings, in the late '80s, early '90s, when we deployed those satellites. So, we did have some GPS. It was rudimentary compared to what we have today. They would give you a grid coordinate. We had maps, and we had grid coordinates. Finding where you're going to go was always fun because, like I said, there's not a lot of mountains or trees or terrain. If you look at a map, it was just all blank and just a couple of contour lines. Looking back, just twenty-nine years ago--the technology today with our phones tells you exactly where you are at any time--we didn't have that. Those were the challenges. [Editor's Note: The SLGR, nicknamed "Slugger," was the AN/PSN-10 Small Lightweight Global Positioning System (GPS) Receiver.]

It's a lot of work. When you jump, it could be you're up for thirty-six hours working, depending upon how long the convoy was, because you break down, you move your convoy, and then as soon as you get on-site, you have to set everything back up. Then, you have to reestablish these antennas that made the cellular network work, turn the radios back up. It was quite a process, when you think about it. It's like taking AT&T or Verizon's little network in this one town and just tearing all the stuff down, moving it, and reestablishing it. It was fun, actually. That's at least action. I remember, when you sit for a while, months, you get bored. At least you had adrenaline and it was more exciting to move. But then, of course, you're exhausted at the end of it. I think the longest I stayed awake was about thirty-eight hours straight, and your mind definitely doesn't process as well when you're that sleep deprived.

KR: You talked about the lightning rods. In your first session, you talked about a windstorm and your tent getting swept off of you while you were sleeping. What were some of the other environmental challenges when you were jumping?

BS: Let's see. Well, for me, personally, just having to go to the bathroom, because oftentimes there's no place to go or stop. Women got more creative and clever. [laughter] That was one challenge. The other interesting thing, that I don't know if a lot of people have talked about, is when we did have a site and we stayed there for a while, we had PVC pipes, which were white and made of PVC, which is plastic. A lot of the latrines, they would have them in the ground so that the men could use them as a urinal. I didn't get to use that. It wasn't functionally working [laughter], but I remember seeing them and almost being envious and jealous that they got that convenience. They were located in other places, not near food, but they had them outside their sleep tents; I just remember that. So, those kinds of challenges.

What else for jumping? The wind, the sand. Sometimes, if the storms came, the visibility was so low, but luckily, the two big times we jumped, we didn't have that as much. I did get caught in a storm when we were reconning a site. That's when you go out in advance, scope it out, and make sure it's going to work. I did that with some of the sergeants. I got caught in a windstorm.

Again, relieving yourself in the middle of a windstorm is not pleasant, and then you don't have the opportunity to shower well. Handy wipes and feminine wipes were my friends, and I had and used a lot of them. The most treasured things for me were handy wipes and toilet paper. You carry toilet paper in your side pockets of your BDUs [Battle Dress Uniform] everywhere you went, just in case. These are the things people don't think about.

It's funny, when I came home in 1991, I gave a speech at my school, my grammar school, in New Jersey, and I brought with me Charmin toilet paper. I told the kids--and this was like third grade--the most important thing to me was Charmin toilet paper. You didn't always have the good stuff, the Charmin, because that was soft. The stuff they issue you is like paper. That made everybody laugh at the time.

KR: My sister, who is in the Navy, always carries toilet paper around with her, even when she is doing her civilian stuff.

BS: Oh, me too. I have it in the car, in the trunk. If you go camping and I ride mountain bikes, so you're out in the woods or wherever, you never know. It's one of those things.

KR: I have interviewed some women veterans who have served in Vietnam and Afghanistan, and all of them have talked about challenges that women face at war. What are some other challenges that you think you faced as a woman in a war zone?

BS: Just having to prove ourselves, that when stuff gets tough that we're going to be solid and steady and not overly emotional. Luckily for me, I think my temperament and personality had shown that. But people assume--it seems to me that they assume the worst of a woman leader until we proved ourselves. That was one. Then, on the technical level, I was in a highly technical unit. Again, I had to show that I could learn and understand the technology, which I did. It helped that I had a hard science major, biochemistry, at college. I could remember things. Having a good memory certainly comes in handy, but you have to read a lot. I feel like, as a woman, I had to do more homework and read and study to be ready if I'm challenged with a question. Steady, knowledgeable, and then the physical. I'm only five-foot-four; I was a 110 pounds. I'm smaller, and a lot of people in the military, they're stronger and taller. So, there's that. Again, luckily, I was an athlete and I exercised, so I can run fast and do a lot of push-ups to show myself.

I'd say the fourth thing was my voice. You have to project and be heard. I prided myself with practicing that, and I speak loudly and clearly. I don't say a lot of words, but the words I do say are clear and strong. They taught us that as well: to be a leader is to be a strong voice. As I've said, I've been in Toastmasters, a public speaking organization, now for twenty-seven, twenty-eight years. It's all about public speaking. I really started that in the Army, in ROTC at Rutgers. I wrote a book last year called Strong Words and Simple Truths, and it's about your speaking voice, getting to the point. I learned that in the military, because you don't want to waste a lot of time. You don't want to waste a lot of time getting your message across; it's life or death, go. So, those were the things. I don't know if I answered the question, but you're getting me thinking this morning.

KR: A follow up to that, before you actually deployed to Saudi Arabia, did you talk to other women to get advice about how to prepare yourself for a war zone? Was there any specific training for women about getting ready? I am just wondering if there was any sort of preparation ahead of time.

BS: Right. No, I don't really remember. Actually, there were two other female platoon leaders, so they were my peers, but I don't remember us really talking much. We had so much work to do with our own platoon to get ready that we didn't have much time. I will say that in preparation to go, I was on birth control at the time. I had just gotten married, and I remember thinking, "Well, I don't really need this," but I was thinking that I should stay on the pill to stay regular on cycles. But that didn't work. I think the stress of it--whether I was on the pill or not--so ultimately, I just stopped taking it because it didn't help keep me regular. I had been regular most of my teens, and the war changed that. That was an interesting thing. They didn't really talk about those kinds of things as advice, but that's what I chose to do. Again, just fascinating how your mind and your body can affect each other, and the stress can change a woman's cycles pretty dramatically, as I recall. I didn't talk to anyone about it.

KR: Were there any religious services when you were in Saudi Arabia or Iraq? Were there chaplains around to do religious services or counseling?

BS: In Saudi Arabia, we were told to not have any outward displays of religion, Christianity, Judaism. We did, in our tents, have some Christmas [trees], but, again, it wasn't [extensive]. There were chaplains, but, again, they were told to not put their insignia on their uniform. As I recall, the officers that were chaplains would have their rank on one side and then you would have your unit on the other, but I think they had either a cross [or] Star of David, and they were told to cover those. I don't recall ever talking to a chaplain, seeing them. I suppose, if it was needed and someone needed counseling, we could have called into the DMAIN (rear operations) we called it, the centralized command, and asked for it, but we didn't need it. The same for doctors and nurses and medical. I'm sure these support units were there if we needed them, but I didn't interact with them either. We were forward operations.

For women, we were in the frontlines with these communication vans. In fact, there were Iraqi soldiers surrendering to some of the units that I had, and it was a woman that they surrendered to. She was the sergeant of this little remote radio tower. It was her and three other soldiers who were men, but Iraqi soldiers surrendered to them. For me, I was like, "Wow, a Muslim man from Iraq just surrendered to a woman, an American woman." That was kind of interesting.

KR: Did your platoon have any casualties?

BS: No, luckily.

KR: Did platoon members encounter any medical problems, sickness?

BS: Not that I can remember, no. We didn't have to evacuate anybody. Nobody in my platoon got pregnant, although I did hear of other women becoming pregnant in Saudi Arabia. They, of course, would be sent back home, but not in my platoon. Those kinds of activities did happen. There was not a whole lot to do in the desert. We didn't have alcohol. That was forbidden--we were [in] Saudi Arabia--although the soldiers tried to make their own alcohol. Some of the wives were sending them yeast, thinking they'd ferment something. Unfortunately, I do recall, I don't think it was in my platoon, but somebody got very sick trying to make a screwdriver with orange juice and isopropyl alcohol. They drank it, and it didn't go well. [laughter] Some of these people that were deployed used to drink a lot on post. Now, you're just in the middle of nowhere with a lot of stress, and you don't have as much entertainment. Hence, we read a lot of books, and we played a lot of cards.

KR: Did you have any direct contact with soldiers from other countries that were in the coalition?

BS: I did not, but I do remember when we moved, we did one of our jumps, and we entered an area that another country had just vacated, and the country was Syria. They were on our side in the coalition, which, looking back, is kind of interesting in and of itself. I remember as we occupied, noting that they didn't have the same cleanliness guidelines on policing up their trash that the Americans did. I remember there was this huge hole in the ground, and it was just all their trash just left there. I was just thinking, "Oh, they weren't very considerate," these Syrian soldiers. [laughter] But we didn't see them. We just were told that's the area where they were occupying. I do remember seeing British soldiers and tanks going by, and the only reason I knew that, I asked one of my sergeants as these tanks and convoy were going by what equipment that was and what units. He's like, "Those were British." That was kind of cool. Those were the two main ones, Syria and Britain.

KR: You brought up the trash. How did your unit dispose of trash? What was the procedure?

BS: We burned a lot. We had these big five-gallon drums and we had diesel fuel, so we burned what we could. I think that's the primary. That was done every day for trash and the body waste. That wasn't a very fun activity. The smell wasn't very pleasant, but, luckily, my platoon was not exposed to those oil fires that occurred. I know that a lot of soldiers from the Gulf War in other branches got exposed to that and had health problems later. I had a major health problem ten years after the war, an autoimmune disease, but I don't know if it was related to the war. I had Graves' disease. It could have been. It could just be stress, but that's a thyroid autoimmune disease. That's the only thing that I noticed.

KR: That is actually something that I wanted to ask you about. There has been, of course, a lot of attention brought to these long-lasting physical and mental effects of the Gulf War and then, later, the Iraq War, on soldiers. There has been a lot of talk about the burn pits. I read an article that some soldiers suffered physical effects from the pills that you were talking about in your first session, the antidote to the nerve agent.

BS: Right.

KR: You talked about facing an autoimmune disease ten years later. What about the psychological effects of the war? What did you hear from your fellow veterans? Did they suffer mental effects or any physical effects?

BS: Yes. When I do talk to the younger veterans that are my age or even younger from Iraq, PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] is certainly more accepted now than it was for Vietnam and World War II, so people are talking about it more. A lot of us don't like fireworks as much because of the loud noise and the jarring. They're a little more jittery. I personally don't ever want to watch a war movie, Saving Private Ryan. Even though I wasn't in the full battle--the horrors of World War II, or World War I is even worse--there was just something about being in combat and hearing weapons, or, for our case, it was missiles, psychologically, I just couldn't watch those kind of movies. Physically I haven't had any--I do think some of the veterans that were exposed to those burn pits have some severe issues long term. Thankfully, we have better help and getting the help we need psychologically is there. There's a lot of great organizations. In addition to the American Legion and VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars], some of the other ones are called Project Sanctuary, which is really into bringing families back together that served and reuniting and working on their mental and spiritual health, so Project Sanctuary. There's Team Rubicon, a great organization, Team Red, White, and Blue. Those are catering towards the younger veterans to meet the newer needs. Those are just a few. Now, we have Twitter and Facebook and all these other things to share and connect. Code of Vets is a great Twitter account that helps veterans all over.

KR: How much contact did you have with civilians in Saudi Arabia and Iraq?

BS: None. We steered clear of--there were not many towns. I only remember going into one town, doing a recon [reconnaissance]. It was real small. I remember, there was like a 7-Eleven kind of convenience store. It wasn't a 7-Eleven, but it was like that, and it had gas. I had to go to the bathroom. I'll never forget it. This was the only time I really ever went into a Saudi Arabian civilian building. I went in there, and I had my scarf over my face, a bandana. They didn't have a women's room or a men's room. I went into the one bathroom they did have, and it was just a hole in the ground. There was no toilet, and they didn't have toilet paper. They had a hose, and it was not the cleanest. I literally left that building and went outside around the back of the building and [laughter] nobody was around, luckily, but it was just bizarre. We'd be in the middle of nowhere, and you would just see these kids walking around with no shoes. It was like, "Where do you live? Where is everybody?" I'm sure there was a village close by, but, no, we definitely didn't want to interact. My team, we kept to ourselves.

KR: After the hundred hours of the ground war, was there any sort of celebration?

BS: Yes. We did get word from the command that we've won, it's kind of over, sort of. What could you do? We cheered, we laughed, jumped up and down, but we didn't have any bottles of champagne or anything, no party. [laughter] That all came later when we got home. I think we came home in May. The ground war ended, what, that was January, right? There was a lot of work to do before you got to go home, again, packing up all the trucks and then getting them back on boats. We had to do that whole process again. That's not fun, the repacking of everything for travel, but once the vehicles were gone on the boats, then we could relax more and we were in buildings by that point, Khobar Towers. We stayed there for a few weeks, and that was luxury compared to being in the tent all that time. We were there a couple of weeks before we flew out. [Editor's Note: The hundred-hour ground war phase of Operation Desert Storm occurred from February 24 to February 28, 1991, when Iraq agreed to a ceasefire after retreating from Kuwait.]

KR: How did you feel during that time, knowing that you were packing up and going home?

BS: I was pretty excited. I couldn't wait to see my family, my new husband. Just the little things--I just remember being so appreciative of running water and a toilet. The Khobar Towers were apartments, and they had bathrooms with toilets and a bathtub, so I did get a few [baths]. Those were the few things that were important to me, cleanliness, because I gave up on cleanliness most of the time and opted to sleep because the showers in the middle of the desert are not as good.

KR: Are there any other recollections that you would like to share from your time in Saudi Arabia and Iraq?

BS: Yes. There's this one other fun story. The final two weeks, we're getting ready to go home, and I'm walking in the Khobar Tower complex. I'm outside, and they were high rises. These were bombed later, not all of them, but a building was bombed. I'm walking outside, and it was a very windy day. On top of a lot of the buildings were these huge satellite dishes for all of our communications back to the U.S. On this windy day, one of those satellite dishes blew off of the roof, and it was--I don't know how many stories--ten stories and crashed on the street. Luckily, it didn't hit anybody, because it probably would've killed somebody. [This happened] probably ten feet away from me. I'm standing there. I look up, and not far is a general, a U.S. Army general. He almost blamed me. He's like [in a shouting voice], "Lieutenant, get over here. Why did that happen?" I was like, "Sir, I don't know." [laughter] It was just the funniest thing. I had no idea. I had no control, but I was a signal officer. I was communications and he saw my branch, so we own all the satellites, but that wasn't my unit's satellite. That was a funny recollection. I don't remember how it all panned out. I think I ultimately told him, "I don't know" and walked away. That was the only thing I really remember of that. [Editor's Note: On June 25, 1996, a truck bomb detonated near the Khobar Tower housing complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing nineteen members of the U.S. Air Force and injuring over four hundred American and coalition military personnel. The Khobar Towers housed coalition forces engaged in Operation Southern Watch, the no-fly zone operation in Southern Iraq after the Gulf War of 1990-1991. The Iranian-backed Saudi Hezbollah al-Hejaz terrorist group was responsible for the attack.]

It was kind of neat being in those buildings at nighttime. You would go up to the top and just look at the stars, because the stars in the sky were amazing there because there wasn't as much light pollution. That was kind of fun to be able to do that occasionally, but that was a treat to be able to do such a thing. No, no other recollections that I could think of.

KR: When you went home, what was your homecoming like? Where did you go?

BS: I first went back to Fort Hood, Texas. It was a huge auditorium, and all the families were there. It was the most emotional and joyous event, mostly fathers coming home to their wives and children, and then me to my husband. He saw me, and he ran over, big hugs. It was an amazing experience, a lot of adrenaline going on there. So, that was that. The first thing I did when I got home was take a bubble bath. That was the first thing I wanted to do, because even though I got to take a bath in Khobar Towers in Saudi, there was no bubble bath.

Then, a couple weeks later, I flew home to see my family in New Jersey, and that was around Memorial Day. Actually, it was Memorial Day. They had a big homecoming party for me at the VFW, my father. I was in the parade. I brought home my camouflage uniform, and that's what I wore at the school when I spoke with the third-grade students. I wore that. That was fun. My dad was pretty proud. They had a yellow ribbon around the tree in the front yard just like the song, "Tie a yellow ribbon," but it was a maple tree, not an oak tree. It was a happy time. [Editor's Note: This is referring to the song "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" by Tony Orlando and Dawn.]

KR: What did you do next in your service?

BS: I went back to Fort Hood, and then I changed units. I was still in the First Cav, but I went from my signal battalion that I deployed in to a military intelligence unit, MI. I served another year before I got out of the service, in the '92-'93 timeframe.

KR: What prompted that switch from Signal Corps to military intelligence?

BS: It's normal to change. They move people around. New people came in to be the platoon leaders, and then you moved to another kind of position. I was a battalion signal officer in the MI unit. We changed jobs typically every two to three years; you changed units and/or what you're doing. It's never boring.

KR: Were you promoted in rank?

BS: I was. I got promoted, first, from second lieutenant to first lieutenant after a few years, and then at the four-year mark, you get promoted to captain. That was my final rank, as captain.

KR: What was the transition like for you, going from being overseas to now being Stateside?

BS: I remember being angry with civilians and people who didn't get deployed overseas and not appreciating all the trivial little things they worried about. It took me a while to realize that people don't have the same experience and mindset, but when people would get upset over the smallest little inconvenience, I would be like, "You don't even know how some people live," when you see poverty or you go without certain comforts. It took a while to acclimate to the civilian mindset. Then, some people didn't stay focused on the mission. You get in this mindset, and you've got to break out. I think that's why a lot of people struggle when they get out of the service to integrate into the civilian world. The slow pace of it is another thing. Not being prepared, being late, when people would do that, it would frustrate me and I'd have short patience for that. That's the main thing I remember. When someone didn't go to the war, and we did, we were almost on different levels of understanding and appreciation of life. My husband at the time didn't deploy and he went to West Point, the Military Academy--that was just the unit he was in--and I did; I was ROTC. That was always an interesting conversation. He wished that he had gone and was almost jealous. He was jealous that I got to go to war, and he didn't. I was thinking, "I would have preferred to stay home and you go," but it just didn't happen that way.

KR: What was it like reuniting with your spouse?

BS: It was very nice, because we had only been married a couple weeks before I deployed. We eloped, and we got married in a courthouse in Texas along with eight other couples in the Army. We were only twenty-four, twenty-five years old, newlyweds, so we were still in honeymoon mode because we only got a one-day honeymoon in Austin, Texas, before I deployed. But, after that many months apart, you had to relearn each other. We were in an apartment outside of base. We didn't have any children and no family there. You just reunited with your friends and you get back to work. Then, like I said, after I got back, it was another year or two, and then we both got out of the military together. We ended our time in service, and then we moved on and got careers in the civilian world. That was fun.

KR: I have a reflection question for you. As a veteran, you have been very involved in veterans' organizations. How would you compare the recognition of women veterans to the recognition of men veterans? I wonder if you have any anecdotes about that.

BS: Yes. It's not an equal recognition all the time. Once people do realize that I'm a female veteran, they are very appreciative, but sometimes when I would enter into buildings, they would assume that I was the wife or in the auxiliary. I can't believe it actually happened in 2018, here in Phoenix, and this was a younger veteran. This was an Afghanistan veteran who, when I went into the VFW--I even said I was a veteran, he didn't hear me, he didn't listen--he assumed I was the wife, and I promptly left, never to return. Yes, it's unequal. Some places are very progressive and embrace and recognize women. Denver is an example of that. VFW Post 1 is amazing, and they have a lot of women veterans there because they feel comfortable and appreciated. Then, there are other cities and states in this country that are not as open. They're more traditional; the men are the veterans. I would just say--advice for other women veterans--just be direct, stand proud, and not take it so personally if people make a bad assumption. It's their issue, not yours. They've got the blinders or a preconceived notion on what a veteran is. I'm over it now. I do have a really cool t-shirt that's got Rosie the Riveter. That's the woman from World War II, and she's got her arm [flexed], and it says "Veteran" on it. I just wear that, and there's no mistaking. [laughter]

KR: Did you ever think of making a career in the military? Did you ever consider that?

BS: No, I knew I just wanted to do my minimum requirement and get out. Partly, it felt like they didn't promote quality. There's no meritocracy. You just get promoted based on your time and grade. I wanted to be the best and do the best and get rewarded for that, and the military just doesn't work that way. So, I got out after four [years]. Quite frankly, my experience--I was in the desert most of the time--was very stressful and not pleasant. I asked myself, "Why do I want to do this?" But I know there are better stations to be assigned. [I thought], "Why didn't I get to go to Germany or Korea or someplace cool like that?" Some people got to go to Hawaii. I got to go to Texas and Saudi Arabia, so maybe that had something to do with it as well. Maybe if I were in Florida or Hawaii, I would have wanted to stay longer, but you never know where you're going to be assigned. That's the other thing. You give up complete control of your destiny oftentimes, when you're younger. Maybe when you're older, you get to pick and choose more. It was a good start to my career. I got a great job right out of the military, because they valued my training, so that was good. Even in a bad economy, we got jobs, but we were very technical, my husband and I; that helped.

KR: A follow-up question from the last session, you talked about ROTC, it's Reserve Officers' Training Corps, and you expected to be in the Reserves, and you went active duty. Why did you go on active duty?

BS: Because I was told to. [laughter] I didn't have a choice. They made the determination, in some other higher-up headquarters place, and it was luck of the draw. I got this letter one day--I'll never forget. It was in April, and I was graduating in May. I get this letter, "Congratulations, you are assigned active-duty Signal Corps." I just remember reading this letter, "Active duty?" Yes, I didn't expect that. I was hoping to get a Reserve unit based in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, but like I said, they needed a woman that year in Signal to fill a need, and I got picked. Now, the Military Academy, the West Point people, were all active duty. But ROTC, some go Reserves, and some go active. Maybe the scholarship people get more active--no, I guess not. Some scholarship people still got Reserve. It worked out. I got to go to Georgia; that was interesting. That was the first stop before Texas.

KR: Well, we just have a couple more minutes for today. What was that first job that you got after the military?

BS: Yes, my first job was a pharmaceutical sales rep for Glaxo Pharmaceuticals. Apparently, they love junior military officers to do that job, because you have to have a lot of discipline to get up every day and visit these doctor's offices. I was biochemistry, so I wanted to be in the medical field, so that was the closest, was pharmaceuticals. I moved to Chicago and did that for a year. Ultimately, I got into IT [information technology], which is more of what I did in the military. But I tried it. It wasn't my favorite job, but it did pay a lot and it was a whole lot different than being in the Army.

KR: How does it sound to you if we could meet for a third session, and we can talk about your career, your time in Toastmasters, your veteran's involvement, and also your book. Does that sound okay?

BS: Yes, that would be great. I enjoy this. Thank you.

KR: Thank you. Just for today, is there anything else that you would like to add?

BS: No, not that I can think of for today. It's amazing how many memories you're able to bring out of me, things that I haven't thought about, talked about in twenty-eight years. Thank you. It's good stuff.

KR: Thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time.

BS: All right. Thank you. I will talk to you soon.

KR: Okay, sounds good. Bye-bye.

BS: All right, bye.

---------------------------------------------END OF INTERVIEW-------------------------------------------

Transcribed by Jesse Braddell 5/2/2022
Reviewed by Molly A. Graham 6/2/2022
Reviewed by Kathryn Tracy Rizzi 7/12/2022
Reviewed by Brenda Smull 8/19/2022