There is a particular group of soldiers and veterans who largely go unrecognized and under-appreciated. That would be our women in uniform. To change that, I’ve decided to do a “Ladies of Liberty” series, in which I ask many of our heroines who have served, or who are still serving questions about their service.
Our debut Lady of Liberty is Mrs Christine Fortenberry from Hamden, Connecticut. Christine is a 38 year old mother of two, and she works part time from home. In the Army, she was a 91Bravo Army Combat Medic stationed at Ft. Wainwright, Alaska. She was part of the 706 Combat Support Hospital, Trauma Treatment squad, Jump Team, 6th Infantry Division. Christine says that in the future, she hopes that she can open a Veteran’s center to care for and respect our Veterans in the areas that are so critical and important yet obviously not being addressed enough in regard to our soldier/veteran suicide epidemic.
I asked Christine a series of questions about her time as a soldier in the U.S. Army, and you can read what she had to say in return.
KL- When and why did you join the military, and was there any particular reason you chose your specific branch?
CF- I tried to join the Military on the same day I obtained my driver’s license at the age of 16. I drove myself right to the recruiter’s office and stated that I was ready to join! I was very disappointed when I was told to finish high school and wait until I was 18 years old. I had wanted to join since the age of 10. One evening at my Aunt’s house, we were flipping through the TV channels, and I caught part of the movie Hamburger Hill. I have never been exposed fully to the Vietnam War or any war in such detail. My aunt had explained that Service members fight and die for our future and freedoms. Shocked, I finished the movie and could not understand where the medical help was for these troops. This is what I call my “Patriotic Light Bulb Moment.” I just knew I wanted help our service members. Hopefully less would die alone, 10,000 miles from their home and their mother. The 20 minutes of that movie had fully shaped my future and set up a strong base of respect or our Troops. Sometimes it’s the littlest things in life that have the greatest impact.
KL- What is one of your greatest accomplishments, as you see it, as a soldier?
CF- My Greatest accomplishment as a Soldier, as silly as it sounds, was making the Jump Team. I wish it was an accomplishment of saving lives. I was the only female at that time in my unit that made it. The Jump Team was composed of three medics who are given grid coordinates of a gravely wounded Soldier. We would find that location, set up a small trauma/surgical area to stabilize until a medevac could get that Soldier out.
The accomplishment closest to my heart would be the connections and brotherhood that you make. This gives you the connection to anyone who has served, and it is why I can see there needs to be proper support and more support in general for our soldiers and Veterans. The suicide rate is alarming and heart-breaking to say the least. Hopefully saving one life in this type of situation will then become my greatest accomplishment.
KL- What is your fondest and/or least fond military memory?
CF- My fondest memory would be about one of our male combat medics who had deployed to Iraq with my unit. They returned 2 months before I went to Ft. Wainwright. One night he knocked on my room door, around midnight, and stated he could not be alone in the dark. He looked scared, pale, and was shaking. He seemed embarrassed.
I thought maybe he was trying to get lucky. So I took a chance in trusting him. He slept shaking all night and had asked me to hold him tight. He never tried anything inappropriate, and he never really spoke either. He slept this way for a few months until he ETS’ed (exit time in service). This is my fondest memory because his emotion and need was so raw and innocent. The courage it must have taken for him to ask. This experience has taught me so much about the human spirit, the heart of the American Soldier, and the depths of the pain that our Service Members go through. Completely unforgettable.
My Least favorite memory- that’s easy- was the 45 days in the box, training in the artic weather.
KL- When and why did you ETS?
CF- I did ETS because of the frost bite in my lungs making it very hard to breathe, more so in the cold, in addition to not being able to exercise enough. I wish I had fought harder and I wish there was a way for me to have stayed in.
KL- What would you have done differently, if anything, during your military service?
CF- What I would have done differently would have been to question my injury and options more, and not trusting the advice about leaving. Being active duty can be difficult, but what a true badge of honor it is to serve others in harm’s way.
KL- In recent times women have gained the right to join combat arms M.O.S.s. What are your views on this? Also, many people- both men and women- disagree with this choice. What would be your message to them?
CF- Women by nature are extremely protective, resilient, and stronger than they think they are when under pressure. I have met so many inspirational female service members. My concern would only be in the psychological aspect, not in competency. I worry that the instinct males have to protect females, even when it may not be necessary, can cost a life. Witnessing a severely injured female might take a different toll on our soldiers. I have served with both very strong males and females, whom I have trusted equally.
KL- Knowing what you know now after having served, would you do it all again?
CF- Yes, I would serve again even with all the knowledge I have now, good and bad. There is no other experience that even comes close to being a part of our Armed Forces. As hard as it was, I am a better person because of it. I feel the little things in life are more appreciated. Friendships mean more to me than something materialistic and I have learned from experience the value each person holds.
Check out Kevin’s new book “Isle of Kapre” here
Kevin E Lake is an Iraq War Veteran and author of the book “Off Switch,” which was written to raise awareness of the veteran suicide epidemic in the U.S.