Life as an American Female Soldier
By Tara McKelvey
Ashley Pullen and her son.
Photo Credit: Alessandra Petlin
SPECIALIST ASHLEY PULLEN, 23
"I SLEPT WITH MY BACK TO THE WALL SO I COULD PROTECT MYSELF."
I was raised to take care of myself. As a little kid in Kentucky, I'd follow my dad around, learning stuff like how to repair a truck. By age 8, I could tell you every working part of an engine.
I always wanted to be a singer. My mom used to think that as soon as I turned 18, I'd head straight for Nashville. Instead, I went into the army.
When you looked out the window of my trailer in Iraq, all you could see was sand. The unit was 16 by 18 feet, divided into three small sections, each of which housed two soldiers. My roommate was female, although the trailer was coed. In my tiny area, I had a laptop and an MP3 player and all my CDs from home. I slept in a twin bed under a blue velour blanket that my husband sent me and butterfly-print sheets that I bought at the PX [Post Exchange, a store for military personnel]. At bedtime, I'd change into a pretty nightgown I brought from home. But I only wore stuff like that inside the trailer. Outside, we always had to wear our uniforms.
At night, my roommate and I would hang mosquito netting on the door and turn the music up loud everything from Avril Lavigne to the Dirty Dancing sound track. The guys would come over, and we'd dance. It was fun. After they left, though, I slept with my back to the wall so if somebody reentered the trailer, I could protect myself. The chance of rape during wartime is high.
The first time I got hit by an improvised explosive device [IED] was at 7:30 p.m. on February 2, 2005. I was driving a Humvee near the base. The force of the blast picked up the truck and knocked it over, blowing the treads off the back tires. I was more angry than scared. I was like, "We're here to help. Why are you blowing us up?"