On this Veterans Day weekend and nearly 24 years after spending my last day serving in the United States military, I was asked to share with readers my own experience as a woman in the army and what that service has meant to me.
You could say the military is in my blood.
Eldest daughter of a career Army colonel (and two-time Vietnam veteran) and granddaughter of a two-star general, I spent my first 18 years packing, moving, unpacking, changing schools and make many hellos and goodbyes within the same year.
When I graduated from high school, the thought of giving up this lifestyle was both exhilarating and frightening. I couldn’t imagine staying in the same place for more than a few years.
I was encouraged by my father to accept an ROTC scholarship: “You just have to join the Army National Guard. You will only have to serve a few weeks a year and one weekend a month. Not serious.
Except it was, in every way.
After graduating from Indiana University, I was immediately called up for active duty. In nine months, I was in Korea, leading nearly 100 Korean nationals, government employees and American soldiers, all men, just south of the DMZ.
I had to qualify on several different weapons and learn ballistics and ammo types from many others. I jumped out of planes. All the daily routines I had observed as the daughter of an army officer quickly became mine.
I soon learned that to lead soldiers of all ages, many of whom were twice my age, I had to listen, be humble, respect wisdom, be always ready, earn their respect, and beat them on the 2-mile race.
Shortly after (and only five months after my wedding), I was deployed to Bosnia for a year. I led soldiers who had to leave behind spouses and families in order to serve.
I can’t imagine any other job for a young woman that is so challenging, inspiring, empowering and life changing.
It’s always humbling when people thank me for serving our country. After all, it was my honor to have done it.
My contribution, although modest, is one of my greatest sources of pride. But that has nothing to do with the pride I feel when the national anthem plays.
I cannot express the gratitude I feel towards the men and women who have spent their entire careers in the military, of all ranks and branches. To soldiers who have had multiple deployments, served in wars and made the ultimate sacrifice. Because they are the real heroes.
Happy Veterans Day and a thank you to my dad, uncle, grandfathers and all who served and are serving.
Leslie Fergusson is a Regan Ferguson Group Estate Agent.