Life as an American Female Soldier
By Tara McKelvey
A month later, I was in a convoy, patrolling an area called Salman Pak. We started hearing gunshots and explosions then it was total mayhem. I felt excited, I guess. It's an adrenaline rush. People have this idea that women are fragile. That's bullshit. I saw a couple of guys who sat there looking stupid when we were under attack, and I never saw a woman do that. If someone were shooting at you, wouldn't you shoot back?
There was complete chaos, but I kept both hands on the wheel and listened to the radio to get the details of the situation. The whole time, we were getting fired on by insurgents hiding in a ditch next to the road. I put my foot on the gas, and we kept going as long as we could. Eventually, we had to bail out of the vehicle. If you stay inside, you're a target.
One of the soldiers was shot in the back. The bullet came out of his stomach. I dumped out a medical bag and pressed on his stomach to stop the bleeding. Trying to calm him down, I told him to think about the green grass back home.
From the corner of my eye, I saw six insurgents running across the field with grenades on their weapons belts.
What was I thinking while I was shooting? "Hit them before they hit you." There's no emotion involved. You just pull the trigger. There were so many bullets flying that day. There were 50 insurgents, and 27 were killed. I was awarded a Bronze Star.
Afterward, we found little pink pill packages on the bodies. They were all on something. They had left a row of seven cars all with the trunks open on the side of the road, with flexi-cuffs and rope inside. They had planned on taking hostages.
We captured three insurgents, and two of them were placed under my guard. I ordered them to lie on the ground and kept my 9-millimeter pointed at their heads. One was wearing a Walt Disney T-shirt with Mickey Mouse on it. The other kept saying, "I love America!"
I spent nearly a year in Iraq. How do you go back to normal life after something like that? You can't just turn it on and off. Home looks the same, but I'm not. I'm harsher; I'll get in these moods where I go from happy-go-lucky to "get away from me." I have nightmares. I can't stand it when a balloon pops. I'm less trusting.
My husband works part-time at Wal-Mart, and I'm not working at all. After everything I've been through, I can't concentrate. I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder last fall. I'm not looking to the future anymore. I look at every day and how I'm going to get through it.