Pennylee Deere began her military service in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and served in Desert Storm/Desert Shield. Her career spans 20 years, from 1975 -1995. It was interesting to hear her experience having begun her service as part of the WAC and then transferring over to the US Army in 1978. She also shared a number of stories of her time during Desert Storm. The interview ended with her sharing about the work she does to give back to Veterans and how it helped her in her healing journey.
Currently, she resides in Albany NY. She credits “the Arts”, as saving her life. She is a multi-media artist, writer, and photographer. You can learn more about her at mindbodysoulbypenny.com.
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Penny graduated from a class of thirty-six and was told she was not college material. With the other option of becoming a farmer’s wife, she decided to join the military with the plan that if she joined the military she would serve for twenty years. Initially, she looked into the Marine Corps but picked the Army instead. She began her career in the Women’s Army Corps and was one of the first women platoons to have a male drill instructor as integration was beginning. In 1978, the Women Army Corps disbanded and she became a member of the US Army.
She spent twelve years of her twenty-year career overseas in Germany and she started her career as a Postmaster and then transferred to become an Army Intel Analyst to help ensure she would get promoted. She ended up getting promoted from her previous job while she was at training to become an Intel Analyst but she was excited about the change in careers.
She was in Germany when Iraq invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990 and they began preparing to deploy for Desert Shield. All the paperwork and arrangements were in place. She was a single mom and her children 4 and 7 were set to fly back to the states when she deployed. She ended up leaving for Desert Shield in November and came home in May. One story she told was she remembers getting to talk to her daughter once. Her daughter had seen the announcement on the television that the war was over. And she wanted to know when her mom was coming home. It was a challenge to be separated from her children but she was thankful for her parent’s support.
She shared some memories from her deployment as well. She talks about a story of getting lost in the blackout Forward Operating Base and deciding to stop and sleep in the next open tent she found. It happened to be the Dining Facility and the cooks didn’t understand why she was there are 4 am. She also talked about an incident in guard duty that almost led to a friendly fire incident.
After the war
The military downsized after Desert Storm and she helped her unit close up the base she was at in Germany and then went to Georgia where her unit had been reassigned. She left the military after twenty years of service in 1995 but did not identify as a veteran. She went to the VA in 2003 to get help for some of the medical/mental issues she was dealing with. And through that slowly became part of the veteran community. She used art to help her find healing and then the VA closed the programs. She went to the local American Legion asking for space to hold an art class. They gave her space and then when they saw she was doing added her program to their chapter.
Giving back through art
She continues to work to help other veterans through Art. With COVID they began working through zoom to share different stories verbally. And this summer Art from her post is going to be displayed at the Women Memorial in DC. She recently graduated from New York State SUNY Empire State College with a Community Human Services Bachelors in Science degree in March 2020 at age 65.
Connect with Penny:
Check out her writing at: https://www.warriorwriters.org/
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