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September 20, 2007

Life as an American Female Soldier

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jennifer errington

Jennifer Errington

Photo Credit: Alessandra Petlin

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CAPTAIN JENNIFER ERRINGTON, 30
COLUMBIA, MD

"'IT'S FINE,' YOU SAY, SO THAT NOTHING WORSE HAPPENS."

I joined the army when I was in high school. I'd been the girl who didn't fit into any cliques. I wanted to travel, and I liked the idea of not having to choose an outfit every day. I was never into getting prettied up and trying to impress the boys.

In the army, it's hard to tell male from female when you're wearing a helmet and combat boots, an M16 swung across your back, and a gas mask on your hip. Underneath, some girls still go for Victoria's Secret — I'd see all their pretty pink and blue bras on the lines behind our tent when I'd hang my laundry out.

Shortly after I got to Kuwait, a master sergeant asked if I'd join him to pick up some civilians at the airport. He was a well-respected man — married, with five daughters.

At the airport, we got dinner from Burger King. Usually, my meals were standard military fare. Breakfast was mush-in-a-pot — the military claimed it was a mix of grits, hash browns, and eggs. Over dinner, the sergeant started telling me how he'd put my computer near his in the office so he could work closer to me. Later, as we were driving back to the base, he leaned over toward me and started to undo my seat belt. I was scared.

"You're driving," I said. "You're going to kill us."

He stopped the car. It was midnight. I had no idea where we were, and getting out of the car was as scary as staying in it. At some point, he placed my hand on his penis. I just looked out the window. You tell yourself, "It's fine," so nothing worse happens.

When we got back to the base, he said, "Well, maybe not tonight. Maybe later." He meant he wasn't through with me.

I went straight to a brigade command sergeant major and told him about the incident. The next day, my commander prepared papers for a Serious Incident Report. I spent hours talking with an investigator about what had happened. I felt the army wasn't going to help me — that they'd change the story to focus on it being my fault.

Eventually, I went to Iraq. My favorite part was helping to rebuild a local zoo. After the war broke out, the animals escaped. We found the lions and bears; they'd survived. The giraffes were lying half-eaten by the road.

The Iraqis helped paint the buildings and bring life back to the zoo. I really liked them. I remember one security guard who was completely in love with me.

He said, "Will you be my third wife?"
"Your third wife?" I asked.
"My other two wives look like monkeys," he said. "But you're beautiful." That made me laugh.


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