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Soldier Specialist E-4 Jessica B. MAG
When and why did you decide to join the Army?
I made the final decision to join in November, 2001. Many of my friends serve in the military and I knew after September 11 that our country would be going to war. I just couldn't picture staying home and watching the news as my friends fought. However, I had considered the service while I was in college - and thought about doing Officer Candidate School but never did. After September 11, I spoke to recruiters from every branch of the services and finally decided on the Army.
If you weren't in the Army, what would you be doing? What did you study in college and what did you do before joining?
If I weren't in the Army, I would probably be working either in the communications industry (public relations or advertising), or in politics. In college I studied both: I have a degree in Public Relations with a concentration in political science. Immediately before enlisting, I worked in public relations.Hopefully, if I hadn't joined the military, I would have moved to Washington, D.C. and be working on Capitol Hill.
What are the best and worst aspects of being in the Army?
The best part is the benefits - not just money for school and loans and discounts, but you get to travel and meet new people. However, because you travel a lot, it is difficult to settle into something permanent. That is the worst part. I serve in the Army Reserves and am on active duty right now. I know that it's going to be hard over the next few years to get a steady job and an apartment because every few months there is the possibility of being put on active duty for anywhere from a few days to a couple of years. Especially now,when so many reservists are deployed to the Middle East and Afghanistan, it's going to be hard to have a normal life.
What places have you visited while in the Army and how did you train for them?
I did Basic Training in South Carolina and job training in North Carolina. After that, I decided I never want to live in the South during the summer again. But I feel like I learned a lot about myself. I am more confident in my abilities to do just about anything, physically and mentally. I learned a lot about people who are from other parts of the country, too, and made a lot of friends.
Now I live in California and am studying Russian at the Defense Language Institute. In just under 47 weeks, I have gone from not even knowing the Russian alphabet or how to pronounce the letters to being fluent enough that I could move to Russia and do fine.
I never would have believed that I could learn a language so quickly, and I would never have been able to if I hadn't joined the Army because language studies here are so much more intense than in college. Even though sometimes I wish I could do something other than speak Russian five days a week,I know in the long run I will benefit from all I've learned.
What is your opinion of the United States' involvement in the war? Are you worried about being sent to a different country? Is there a chance that could happen?
I think the United States got into this war with the overall intention of doing something good, but circumstances in Iraq have become too difficult to control. Now it's going to take a lot of damage control to repair some of the situations. But I support the military, and I know that the soldiers and sailors and Marines and flyers are following orders and working their hearts out, putting their lives in danger because they think we can make a difference in the world.
There is a definite chance that I could be going to the Middle East, Afghanistan or a completely different place, like Bosnia or Kosovo. Right now most of the members of my unit (the 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion in Rhode Island) are in Iraq. But just because my unit has already done a rotation doesn't mean another one can't come up right away. Soldiers are going to need to go in and replace those who are coming home, so there is a chance I could get deployed.
Have you ever regretted being in the Army?
No - I am so glad I made this decision, and I would definitely do it again. In fact, if I could re-do it, I would have joined the Reserves after my senior year of high school and done basic training the summer before I began college. Then the Army would have paid for my education and I wouldn't have so many loans, plus I would have been able to train all over the country and in Europe while still in school.
What are your plans for the next five years?
I hope to go to graduate school and get a Master's degree in international security studies. I am getting married this year, and my fiancé also serves in the Army, so I will be moving wherever he gets stationed when he graduates from school. But eventually I hope to end up in Washington and work in foreign policy.I am not exactly sure doing what yet. My contract with the Army lasts until 2007,so I will continue to drill once a month once I come off active-duty status, and do at least two weeks of active training a year in addition to monthly drills.There is a definite possibility I will be deployed, which could happen anytime.
What is your rank in the Army? What did you do to reach that rank?
I am a Specialist (E-4). I received this rank when I enlisted because I already have a college degree. Normally you come into the Army as a Private (E-1) and have to serve for a few years to work your way up the ranks.
What is the greatest experience or knowledge that you have gained from your experience in the Army?
Well, besides learning to speak Russian fluently, I have learned that I am capable of doing anything I want if I put my mind to it. I have learned my physical, mental and emotional capabilities are far greater than I thought, and I have made many good friends. I know I will continue to learn all kinds of new things!