This month we celebrate Veteran’s Day and truth be told, I knew last year who I wanted to feature for November 2018’s Stunningly Strong Woman. I’m not sure if anyone else is this way, but I always get a lump in my throat when the National Anthem is sung or veterans are honored. I’ve had to waited a whole year to tell Storm’s story. She not only enlisted in the Army, but she was deployed and lived in a combat zone. That’s strength, and I’m enamored by her selflessness. When we were talking she told me that her first reaction to the question “I want to feature you as November’s Stunningly Strong Woman, are you interested?” Was “Lord Jesus, I don’t feel stunning or strong.” But that is not true. There’s not a more stunningly strong woman I know and I’m so proud to know her and I’m so thankful for her service and the example that our daughters have in her.
Growing up, my family didn’t attend church, it was something that we just never did, so the only time I would go was when I stayed with Grandma and she would take me. My favorite part about going to church with her was knowing that we were going to eat after the service because the women would be downstairs cooking and I could smell the food. She would also give me $3.00 to put in the offering but I would go down to the corner store and buy a $1.50 worth of penny candy, then put the other $1.50 in the offering. She knew what I did, but didn’t say anything about it, probably because she also knew it was a long day for me since she was there from early in the morning until the very last service. I didn’t realize the legacy she was leaving behind until I became an adult.
Why the Military?
My brother was my friend and I was his shadow, everything that he did, I would do. When we were kids, he jumped into the deep end of the pool and I followed him, never mind the fact that I could not swim and he had dive in and save me.
When my brother enlisted in the Marines and was preparing for boot camp I would go with him and do the training regimen. I loved the physical aspect of what he was doing and I loved spending time with him. When he left for boot camp I began to realize that once I graduated from high school I would need a job, but in order to get a job, I needed experience, but to get experience I needed a job, it was a catch 22 for me. I remember thinking to myself “I know how to get a job and experience at the same time. I’m going to join the Marines like my brother.” I wrote to him and told him my plans and he wrote back and said, “No. This is not a place for ladies.”
I know that sounds sexiest, but my brother knew me and what he really meant was the Marines where not the place for ME. I got that, so I looked at other branches of service. Neither the Air Force or Navy appealed to me, there was no way I was going to be stuck on boat under water in close quarters and I just didn’t have a desire to fly planes. That left the Army, and really the physical fitness aspect of the Army is what I liked. One day I asked an Army Recruiter; “Will you push me out of a plane?” “NO.” “Will you cut my hair?” “If it fits under the hat then no.” That was good enough for me.
At the age of 17, while in my senior year of high school, I signed up as a delayed entry and then I enlisted at 18. Before I left for boot camp I remember my brother telling me, “When you get there, you don’t know anything. Let them show you.”
How was Boot Camp?
The whole point of boot camp is to break you down so they can build you up. It was tough. I had weird hours; I was constantly breaking down weapons, doing arms training, and hand-to-hand combat. It can be a frightening time, but I learned more and grew more than I was scared. I ended up having six years of active service and six years of reserve service for a total of 12 years. I was deployed during the first Gulf War and did four campaigns that expanded a year and half while I was stationed in Saudi Arabia.
The call for my deployment was very surreal, because of the way it happened. I had just arrived in Germany and the rest of my Company was out in the field, when they called everyone back. Of course we were wondering what was going on and then we got the news that we were going to Saudi Arabia. We all knew what was happening over there, but we weren’t really thinking it would affect us since we were in Germany. It took six days to get us processed; it was the fastest paper work I had ever seen. Now, when my Company gets together and we sit back and talk about it, it still doesn’t feel real even though it was. The processes, the things we experienced, it was like one of those realistic dream you have, that’s the best way I can explain it.
War is very different. You’re resting with you’re eyes closed. You don’t really sleep and you are on high alert all the time. Being a female in war you give up the things that you do as woman. All the pampering has to go by the wayside. Being in a combat zone, as woman, you have to do it like the guys do. You go over there and you just deal with all the things females deal with. No special treatment.
When I was in Saudi Arabia, we had been taking what are called bird baths for about seven months. We finally got to a place that had showers, ones that where outside, but still they were showers and it felt amazing being able to stand under water and just get clean. After my shower I had put oil on and was feeling like a girl again, when I started walking back to my barracks in my shorts and tee-shirt. There I was all clean and oiled up when I got caught in a sandstorm and I just sat down in the sand and cried. My Lieutenant came over and asked if I was okay, I just sobbed and said, “I took shower.” He just looked me and asked if I wanted to take another one? And no, I didn’t, it was too much work, I was too tired and defeated so I just dealt with the sand.
When I was deployed, women were not in combat, but I was living in a combat zone. We were a supply unit that supported the 82nd, 101st and another infantry unit. Our job was to make sure those units got the supplies they needed. One day when we were on our way to deliver supplies our caravan came under enemy fire. We had to roll out of our vehicles and use them as cover, one of our guys froze and we had to have cover fire so that we could get him to safety. That’s what we had trained for and when we came under fire, our response was second nature to us.
What about God?
Being in the military you make all kinds of promises to God while you’re in the foxhole, or you use church to get out of a particular duty you didn’t want to do. Honestly, it’s only by God’s grace that I survived, but I didn’t know Him or have a relationship with Him. After Saudi Arabia I went back to Germany and then went to California. While I was stationed in Cali, I went to a concert with a guy, and we ended up back at my place. While he was in the bathroom, I was scrolling through the TV stations on one of the channels was a preacher and his sermon was called the Prodigal Son, as I paused on that station, the Pastor was looking straight in the camera saying, “ It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, God loves you.” I was shocked. It was like he was talking to me, but NO ONE had ever told me God loved me. I had heard plenty of times that I was going to hell, but I never heard of God’s love. I was so shook up in that moment that when the guy came out of the bathroom I told him he had to leave I needed to think about some things; after he left I sat watching the TV thinking “what do I do now?”
The program had a line on the bottom of the TV that said if you needed prayer to call the number listed, I called the number and the person on the phone explained salvation to me. That all happened on a Thursday, on Sunday I went to the church that was on base, and that was an ordeal. I chose to go on the ONE Sunday that they were trying to pick a new Chaplin, it was just crazy how they were going about it and I was so over it so I went back to my room not knowing what to do. But then, a dear friend named Pamela come over and talked to me and told me that were going to go back to the chapel the next Sunday and I thought, “Oh Moses, this is going to be awful”, but it wasn’t. The new Chaplin and his wife were amazing; they really taught me how to have a relationship with the Lord and because of that it fostered this beautiful life of continued repentance and growth; because of them I learned so much while on base.
When my active duty contract was up I joined the reserves and I really felt like I was supposed to go to Bible College. I didn’t know anything about the Bible. All I really knew was that I God loved me and that He had forgiven me but beyond that I was clueless. I registered for classes and started attending a Bible College in Columbus, Ohio as a reservist. In one of my first classes, the Professor told us to open our Bible to Genesis. I didn’t even know where Genesis was in the Bible, the only thing I knew about Genesis was that they were a great rock band. I ended up in the book of Matthew, when one of the girls sitting next to me leaned over and explained the Bible had a table of contents and I could find the order of the books there.
While in school, I found a civilian job very quickly because people would look at my resume and see military. That experience opened doors for me. BUT, I did have a hard time adjusting to civilian life. For every field training that we did we usually debriefed twice, after Saudi Arabia we debriefed three or four times and it was hard. Even now, when I walk into a place I think differently, I’m looking for exits and thinking about what I would need to do to protect others and myself if something happened. I often think “How do I get off this bus, out of this store, or away from this restaurant?” I also have to constantly think about my attitude. I can be very direct and straightforward because we don’t sugar coat things in the military and sometimes people think I’m being harsh when I’m not; because of that I have to be super aware of how I talk to people, I have to soften my words. The biggest thing I had to realize, even today 25 years after the fact, is that it’s unrealistic to put military expectations on civilians.
Thoughts about 9/11 and Military Spending?
After 9/11 I really wanted to go back in to the Army, but God made it abundantly clear that I shouldn’t and that my time was up. It was hard. And now days when I hear about military spending being cut I know it’s not guns, bullets and tanks that they are talking about, it’s the jobs, health care and benefits for the service members and their families. When I came back from Dessert Storm, we didn’t see the amount of service members on welfare that we see today. There are dual income military families that are living on food stamps and that shouldn’t be. I think how? Why? I can’t believe that it’s like that now.
Military and Ministry?
God gave me a heart for missions long before I knew what that was. I always thought I just had a strong desire to travel and see the world and the Army allowed me to do that. It was incredible but I always felt like there was more and I could never put my finger on it. It wasn’t until I had accepted Jesus into my heart and was attending Bible College that I realized my desire to travel and to see the world was really rooted in my heart to serve the Lord through missions. When I recognized that calling I was eager to jump in and start traveling the world but it didn’t happen like that. I watched other friends move over seas and start churches or head off to do missions trips and the doors never opened for me and it made me angry and jealous.
And yes, I’m admitting that I was envious of others who were heading out to the mission field. I feel that a lot of times when I’m ministering to women they are afraid to say ‘I’m struggling with anger, or a short temper or feelings of envy and jealousy” and to that I say, admit the struggle and then struggle in that with God. After all, we are fully known and fully loved by Him so we should be real and honest with God and not be afraid to put it out there. So yes, I was angry and jealous of others who seemed to be moving into their “calling” and I felt stuck. However, looking back at it now, I was in no way ready to embark on any kind of missions trip. If I had, I can guarantee you that I would have done more damage than good, so the Lord in His infinite wisdom knew exactly what He was doing when I was made to wait. But now, years later, I’ve been to Africa, Costa Rica, Columbia and things are happening so fast it’s hard for me to keep up. I’m confident in the Gospel, not confident in me, but confident in knowing my purpose is to lovingly convey the Gospel and walk people through discipleship.
Your Stunningly Strong Story So Far?
If I were to sum up my stunningly strong story so far it would be that Christ makes my life full. He really does, there’s a whole lot of crazy happening in my world right now and in the midst of all the crazy I can see His grace and His glory. It doesn’t mean that I don’t feel pain or cry or deal with feelings of anger or resentment or jealousy, but because I am so fully known and loved by the Heavenly Father, I can be one hundred percent honest with Him knowing that He will work all that out of me.
Gena’s PS: In January, Storm will be launching a Facebook Group called Disciples of Disciples of Faith it’s a group for women with an emphasis on missions and discipleship, I highly encourage anyone who has a heart for missions or who wants to go deeper in the knowledge of the Lord to join with her in this endeavor.