From Boots to Business
As I prepare to close this chapter of my life, I am feeling a bit emotional. This was not an easy decision; in fact, it has been a major burden on my mind for the last month. A week until my final day of my Army Reserve contract, I have finally decided to move on. Both retention NCO’s that I have spoken with, have not held back, in letting me know, all the things I will be losing and giving up, in regards to benefits. Analyzing and reflecting this past month, I realized all the things that I have gained. Ten years of military service, for what? I won’t have a pension; I won’t have the lifetime benefits. I guess that is one way of looking at it. Fortunately, that is not how I have decided to look at it.
I was born and raised in Minnesota, my background is of a Native American and Mexican mixture. I had a rough childhood, moving around a lot, in and out of foster homes, group homes and shelters. I lived on the reservation for a bit, and at 16 years old, began my adult journey. At 18 years old I gave birth to a little boy, and 3 months later, I said good-bye to him, as he didn’t make it out of his second heart surgery. Although, this was a tough time in my life, I decided to go back, and finish high school. I remember going to a recruiting office after I graduated high school and a recruiter telling me, that I needed the military more than the military needed me (in terms of finance and education). I took this, as a challenge, and walked out of there thinking, I will show him.
I signed up for college that summer and graduated 4 years later, with my B.A. in Sociology and an emphasis in Criminal Justice. While graduating did bring me some satisfaction, my heart still craved excitement and an experience like no other. So, I went to another recruiter, and joined the Army.
"who just wanted to be part of something bigger than himself"
What was I thinking
In 2007, I left to South Carolina for boot camp. I remember waking up, time and time again to the sounds of yelling drill Sergeants, before the sun was even up, thinking to myself, I can’t believe I am here. It wasn’t a negative thought, as I would think it, with a smile on my face. “I can’t believe that I am here”. If you have ever seen Captain America, and remember the scrawny, Steve Rogers, who just wanted to be part of something bigger than himself; that was me. I was never in sports, not athletic, whatsoever, so basic training was very hard, both mentally and physically. Although, I did not come out, the way Steve Rogers did, I made it.
My first duty station was FT. Drum, NY, and I firmly believe the Army sent me there because I was from Minnesota, so snow wouldn’t be an issue for me. What they didn’t take into consideration, was my top 3 choices were sunny and warm locations. Six months after arriving, our unit was off to Camp Taji, Iraq. The experience of a year-long deployment, is an experience that will never be forgotten. Six months after returning to Ft. Drum, I was on my way to Wiesbaden, Germany. I remember someone telling me, not go there and get married. Wouldn’t you know, that is exactly what I did (of course, not right away). My husband was the second person I was introduced to once I arrived in Germany.
All the benefits
Soon after getting married, we were blessed with a baby boy. At this point, I decided that serving my family full-time and serving the military part-time was the best option for our family. When we left Germany and stationed in North Carolina, I decided to completely get out. I took a two-year break from the military, and by this time, we had moved to Arizona. I decided to go back into the military to complete 10-years because I did not want the education benefit to go unused. If I completed 10-years, it could be passed to a family member. So, I signed a six-year contract, to serve in the Army Reserves, once again. Two-years later, my husband was being activated, as he went part-time also; so, we were off to Texas. While in Texas, I decided to quit my government job and pursue my graduate degree, with my post 9-11 benefit, that I earned. I graduated with an MBA and a MS in Leadership in December 2019. We now live in Maryland, my husband once again, active- duty; and in a week, I will be at the end of my military journey.
This is a very, very summarized version of my story, but the key take-away is this: for all the things that I may lose because I did not do 10 more years, I absolutely, appreciate and acknowledge, all the things I have gained and benefited from, while in the Army. The many travel experiences, the cultural experiences, the friendships and bonds, I have made, the family I have, my education, the education that my children can receive from the extra 6 years I completed; so many things to be grateful for.
As I sit here and reflect, I acknowledge that this is a bittersweet decision. I will no longer put on the uniform, that I felt so proud to wear, but I will also no longer have to report at 5 am on a Saturday morning, to drill either. Closing this chapter in my life, I thank the Army, not only, for the opportunity to serve, but also for how the Army has served me. Maybe that first recruiter was right, I did need the Army; to get me exactly, to where I am today.
© 2020 Crystal Romero