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Navigating a New Reservation

I’ve heard many speak of humble beginnings. I didn’t understand adversity would be a part of my life. At first, I was surprised to find out I would go from one reservation to another. How is it said? “Oh, the irony!”

My journey began in April 2001. I had followed my heart to marry a soldier who was taking me to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. I had no idea adversity was coming my way. I had to learn to navigate a new environment while leaving the comforts of familiar surroundings, people I love, family support, life-long friends, and a job I was proud of.

Everything I was accustomed to was now a lonesome feeling deep inside. I longed to feel happy, confident, and determined; I just wanted to be me again. Anguished thoughts flooded my mind; I never should have left home! What was I thinking? Did my heart not know I would feel so alone? My confidence and life’s determination were all back there on the Six Nations Indian Reservation, Ontario, Canada.

I sat alone in a rented house on base with no friends or job. The honeymoon was over. Is this going to be my life? My solace came from my calls back home, which unfortunately resulted in sky-high telephone bills. In his stoic posture and stern voice, my soldier said that I would have to find another way of communicating with my family back home and get my loneliness under control, or we would go broke.

Not long after, I got up early—like “zero-dark-thirty” early—and rode to the base with my soldier. In these early days of our relationship, we had one working vehicle; the other had a broken transmission. Nevertheless, I was determined to find myself a job on this new reservation, and if getting up before the roosters was what I had to do, I was going to do it.

I didn’t yet understand the alphabet soup jargon, but while in conversation, my soldier spoke of three things to me: AFTB, ACS, and the PX.

My saving grace was the Army Community Services (ACS) center. ACS was the hub of information where every soldier and their family could get help maneuvering this new lifestyle. It was there I was introduced to the Army Family Team Building (AFTB) program.

AFTB helped me learn what I needed to be comfortable in my new element; my heart was smiling. I took the training and volunteered, and I’m so happy I did. The new friends I made are still friends, some 21 years later.

This free army training for soldiers and their families was amazing. I was in awe and felt this program should be in every community in America. Who would have thought that just knowing there was a place to access resources would change my life?

From the ACS office, I quickly walked to the Post Exchange (PX) Human Resource office and filled out an application. There, I gained my first employment serving our young Army basic trainees in the shoe department. I admired the youth so determined to be soldiers. They were far from home, their families, and familiar surroundings like me. To this day, these basic trainees hold a special place in my heart.

One young female always comes to mind when I reflect back.

I was volunteering one day at ACS when a young female basic trainee came with her drill sergeant. I could tell she had been crying. Her deep blue eyes were bloodshot and puffy. I saw the teardrops that had dripped onto the collar of her BDUs.

When the sergeant spoke, there was a firm but ever so slight tenderness in his tone as he gave the young trainee an, “At ease,” and then set about requesting information on Army Emergency Relief.

One by one, ACS staff came out from their offices in full force, having heard the sergeant.

Among them was a seasoned spouse of a Chaplain and AFTB volunteer. What I saw that day from those ACS employees and volunteers was heartfelt. They were like family for this young trainee.

The Chaplain’s spouse introduced herself and spoke very tenderly to the young soldier. The young woman never waivered from her stance and answered every question with a, “Yes ma’am,” or “No ma’am.”

The care provided by the ACS staff was like they were wrapping their arms around her, almost to shelter the young trainee in her sorrow. The ACS staff was hopping and popping, giving the sergeant the direction he needed to meet the needs of the young trainee.

I didn’t know much about anything, but it was clear the service that day was intense, immediate, and long-lasting. Assistance was always there for the basic trainees that day and in the days to come.

Later, I learned the young woman had lost her mom in a tragic car accident, and her dad had passed away of an illness. She had joined the military to help pay the bills at home. She had no siblings and was now alone.

Weeks later, while working at the PX, I witnessed this young female soldier in her dress blues graduation uniform. She stood alone in the checkout aisle while others dressed like her were with their family members and other graduates.

She was clearly not in a celebratory mood like the rest of her classmates. But she had graduated from Basic Training, and I was so proud of her that day. I sensed she was walking towards greatness. I could only smile as I watched her walk away confidently and purposefully.

For more information on Army family programs and services:

Army Community Services for families:

Army Family Team Building:

Army Emergency Relief:

Army Chaplains:

Written By: Monica Staats


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