When I was 11 years old, my mom married a man from Omaha, Nebraska and we moved there from Texas. I had a new step-dad as well as new family members (my step-dad’s relatives). For the first time, I really felt that I had grandparents. Although I knew my mom’s parents, I never saw them enough to develop a relationship where they truly felt like grandparents to me, and I have no memory of my birth mother’s parents. My new grandpa took to us kids right away and took us places such as fishing, camping, carnivals and fairs. But some of the best memories I have of the man I grew to know and love as Grandpa Walt, were the times where he would tell us stories, complete with pictures, about his time as an infantry soldier in WWII. Those stories of bravery, self-sacrifice and pride in serving our country, would provide the spark and impetus of my later decision to join the military.
L to R: My Stepdad Don, My brother Donnie and My Grandpa Walt
Those who know me now find it hard to believe, but I was a painfully shy kid. I felt awkward and uncomfortable in pretty much all social situations outside my own family. Because of this, I kept to myself and was constantly reading and studying. This would prepare me well for the later rigors of college, law school and studying for the Bar. Also, my shyness served an important purpose. It taught me the crucial skill of listening. It taught me to really listen to all points of view without the need to jump in to have my say. My gregarious and well-meaning mom would encourage me to come out of my room when we had company, in vain attempts to bring me out of my shell. But, as I was too shy to interact with anyone, I would sit and listen, sometimes for hours, as the adults talked about various subjects—everything from, kids, love and relationships, to politics, the economy, and of course Nebraska Cornhusker football. Always Cornhusker football!
I excelled in school in most subjects, and with my mom’s constant encouragement and support I developed an intense love of learning, and by the time I was in high school, there was no doubt in my mind that I would go to college, despite the fact that no one else in my family had ever done so. My family did not have enough money to pay for tuition, but I received scholarships, grants, and student loans, and I had many part-time jobs to help pay my way through college. I graduated with honors from the University of Nebraska with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, advertising and mass communications. I began taking graduate classes in business and psychology, with the goal of obtaining a Master’s Degree. I had enlisted in the Nebraska Army National Guard the previous year, wanting to continue my education while serving my country, at least on a part-time basis, while earning extra money to help pay for my continued education. I went to basic training in the dead of winter at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, and went on to Ft. Sam Houston in Texas to be trained as a combat medic and behavioral science specialist, after which I returned home to Nebraska and my National Guard Unit, which was essentially a M.A.S.H (mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit.
Something remarkable and unexpected happened to me in the Army. I learned to push myself beyond what I thought possible, and in so doing gained a self-confidence that I had never known before. My crippling shyness disappeared. My mom was astounded at the seemingly miraculous transformation in my personality, as were those who had known me throughout my life up to that point. I loved being a soldier in the National Guard and I felt proud that I was carrying on my grandpa’s legacy. One day, a sergeant in my National Guard unit approached me an encouraged me to join ROTC (reserve officer training program), believing I had the aptitude and leadership qualities to make a good officer. So, I enrolled in ROTC under a program where I remained in the National Guard as a cadet until I received my commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army.
I met my husband, Onorio, while in ROTC. He was an instructor who made my life miserable as a cadet. He was in charge of whipping us into shape, and he wanted to ensure that the future officers he was training would be well equipped to perform as leaders in the Army. As such, he accepted no excuses and demanded excellence. A year after I received my commission, my husband retired a Master Sergeant, after 20 years of service. We began dating, and eventually married; we recently celebrated our 33-year wedding anniversary. I was named a Distinguished Military Graduate from ROTC and because of my high scores, I was offered and accepted an active duty assignment in the Signal Corps. Putting my continued education on hold, my new husband and I moved to Ft. Gordon, Georgia where I began my training as a Signal Corps Officer in the United States Army. I subsequently received Orders for the 11th Signal Battalion in Kaiserslautern, Germany. Thus, my husband and I with our new puppy, Tanner, flew to Germany to begin my duty as a platoon leader. The next five years on active duty would prove to be some of the most challenging and rewarding years of my life. The lessons I learned while in the Army are many and varied and I carry them with me to this day.