Esmeralda is sharing her story of her Iraq deployment as an Air Force service member assigned to an Army unit. Esmeralda and I connected when she started liking and commenting on some of my posts on Facebook. She really related to my story of transitioning from military to motherhood. We quickly became friends through the connection of the military. I’m so excited to share her story here. She recorded her story and you can find Part 1 and 2 on YouTube.
Active Duty Air Force
Senior Airman (E4)
Stay at Home Mom/Grad School Student
Where did you deploy to?
Camp Victory, Iraq, near Baghdad National Airport, it was one of Sadam Hussain’s palaces
What was you or your team’s mission?
Headquarter Multinational Corp Iraq/Surgeon’s office. I was not a medical person, but rather worked the administrative side of the house. Our mission was to the look at the overall picture of health within the theater of Iraq. Ranging from injuries, casualties, processing Purple Hearts to providing training to the Army medics, ensuring people had needed shots (flu, anthrax, small pox, etc.). Also in charge of water quality, quality of the air, think of us as the health department.
They also were providing medical coverage for Iraqis. Taking medical and food supplies to the local people/hospitals.
What was your job?
Administrative/Internet Technology (IT) support. I also did various jobs requested by my boss. Even though I was in the Air Force, but deployed with the Army. I picked up various supplies for the office, drove around the complex, picking up people/moving people around for meetings, IT support, info and paperwork.
What cultural differences do you remember between the country you went to and the United States?
Didn’t interact a lot with the Iraqis, but I did get to go outside the wire one time. I went to the green zone where the US Embassy was located. I saw females covered from head to toe.
Another cultural difference I remember is the call to prayer. Muslims pray five times a day. There is a call to prayer that is played over the loud speaker in the camp in Arabic when it is time to pray.
What landscape differences do you remember between the country you went to and the United States?
My first step getting into Iraq was Qutar. I got off the plane in the middle of the day and it was white, like seeing snow. Pretty shocking how white and deserted it was.
The thing I noticed when I got to Iraq was there was actually infrastructure. There was always some sort of haze. It reminded me of being in a constant fog, but it was caused by the bad air quality. There were also trees, water, palm trees and vegetation.
Were there any particular foods that you ate while overseas that was different from the United States?
I remember the curry, rice and bread. It was so good. I got to have it at the Dining Facility (DFAC) once a week. I unfortunately didn’t ever eat with the locals. The DFAC had shrimp night, steak night, different themes during the week.
What was the hardest thing you faced with the cultural difference in the country you were deployed to?
Seeing a third world country. I grew up in Mexico and this was so different. The level of poverty was overwhelming. Seeing what it was like to live in a war zone, not understanding the language and the culture. It opened my eyes to the good things we have at home.
As a female, do you remember being treated differently because of your sex, explain?
Not among the office/leadership. But there were regular sexual assaults by the latrines (bathrooms) and women were told not to go alone at night. My roommate worked the opposite shift as me so I was often alone and had no one to go with. The latrines are not in your room, I lived in a B-hut and when I needed to use the restroom I would put on my shoes and walk to the bathrooms. I had to keep my guard up whenever I went.
I would also get random emails from males who saw me either at the DFAC or just around the Camp and they would see my name on my uniform. Look me up on the global (email network for the military) and ask her if she wanted to come hang out.
The first time I walked in the dining hall I felt as if everyone was looking at me it. It was as if they knew I was new to the Camp. Girls were a rarity and it was uncomfortable. I felt singled out because of the ratios of males to females.
Another incident was when an airman who was the same rank was talking to me, making small talk. Everything seemed fine until he started asking inappropriate questions about getting together and doing things that shouldn’t be talked about. It was pretty awkward and uncomfortable, I just walked away.
What challenges did you face?
A higher ranking person took a vehicle when he wasn’t supposed to. I called him out for what he did. And in the end leadership was involved and they ended up siding with the person who took the vehicle. The whole incident was not dealt with professionally and just made me want to go home. The Army and the Air Force have a very different culture, people of lower ranks in the Army are not given the same value as the Air Force.
It was really hard to be treated the way I was mistreated. I also felt discriminated against because of my skin color. It was truly the lowest part of my deployment. I was continually mistreated by these individuals for the last 1.5 months of the deployment. It was hard. You meet good people and bad people when you deploy. And the bad people really make the deployment hard. Those people were the worst part of my deployment by far.
Did you have any regular frustrating situations or a frustrating situation you can share about?
Dealing with different personalities.
What is the one thing you remember most from your deployment?
The trip to the Green Zone. I went on a convoy to get there. I was in a RHINO, there were two gunners. We were in our gear waiting at the gate to go off base and then we were cleared and it was time to go. It became real in that moment.
Bad things could happen. We went on Route Irish – one of the most dangerous routes in the world because of all the Improvised Explosive Devices. The driver would zig zag over the bridges and they were driving really fast. We had to keep our combat gear on even after we arrived at the Embassy. It was really interesting to actually get to go outside the wire and see what it was like to go on a convoy mission. We took a Blackhawk helicopter back to Camp Victory. Overall, it was a really neat experience.
Is there a memory or story from your deployment you want to share?
Some parts of the deployment were hard, but when I look back I remember having a lot of fun. I interacted with many different people and cultures. There were Australians, Koreans, Turks, Nigerians, lots of different countries were at the Camp because of all the contractors working in Iraq and sending the money home to support their families.
I really had fun there was country night on Thursdays at the Morale and Welfare Tent. Hanging out, learning to dance was an outlet and one of the ways I blew off steam. There was also Salsa night on Saturdays. It was fun and made you feel like you are not in a war zone.
I also saw Kid Rock when he toured through, I didn’t get to go and see him perform, but I saw him from our office balcony across the Camp. WWE also did a Christmas show. All of this was the through the United Service Organization (USO).
What question do you get when people find out you deployed?
People don’t know how to respond. They often thank me for my service and I don’t know how to respond. It is kind of awkward. They are often surprised/disbelief. There is a misconception of females serving in combat roles. They may have just signed documents to allow women in combat, but they have been out on the front lines for a long time.
Don’t forget to check out here whole interview on YouTube. There was so much more that she shared. Thank you for sharing your story.
Today is Day 14 of 31 Days of Deployment Stories. If you want to see the whole series click here. Yesterday I shared How Knowing Doesn’t Make it Easier, my third spouse spotlight. Tomorrow I will share my friend who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as an interrogator. Don’t miss a post. Join my email list. Sign up here.