Transformation to a warrior

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Tracey Rickert
  • 56th Medical Support Squadron
In October of 2006, I found out that I was deploying to Iraq. I was not happy. Are you surprised? Read on to learn the rest of the story.

My husband and I are both active duty stationed here at Luke. We had a plan already developed for the future, and deploying was not part of it. I was going to finish my degree, we were going to expand our family by one more and then separate from the military in December. Needless to say, my plan did not work out.

My family came out to spend Christmas with us. It should have been a wonderful time, but all I could think about was leaving. I knew there was a reason why I was chosen to go, but at the time I did not understand and did not want to go. Many others in my career field were willing and wanting to go, why not send them? I did lots of crying and dragging my feet, and Jan. 17, I said goodbye to my husband and my 18-month-old son, and boarded a plane with five others destined for Balad Air Base, Iraq.

My first few weeks of being at the hospital in Balad gave no relief. I saw terrible things and still missed my husband and baby, often crying myself to sleep. I worked in the Patient Administration Department area of the hospital.

We were responsible for loading and unloading all patients from the helicopters; we were the first to see the wounded. We filled admission and discharge paperwork, tracked all the patients within the hospital, collected patients' valuables
and safeguarded them until they were discharged. We positively identified every patient that came into our facility. We also did one of the saddest and worst duties; we tagged and bagged all the bodies. Somehow it turned out to be one of the best and most honored things we did.

Now, you may ask why I say one of my best? I say best because you could never believe the honor and pride you feel when you wrap an American Flag around an American hero's body and tuck the belongings along the side for the family members to have and remember him or her by. Don't get me wrong, I would cry and feel terrible for the troop's
family. I remember having an American soldier's wedding ring and family picture of him, his wife and their child sitting on my desk while I filled out the death certificate.

They tell you not to personalize things, but it is hard when you see their family and think of your own.

Now, you may still ask why I would say, "the best." That American hero, no matter if he or she were Army, Air Force, Marine or Navy gave the ultimate sacrifice; they died for our country. They died to make it a better place for their family and mine. I had the honor to make sure their remains were taken care of and treated with the respect and
honor they had earned and deserved for their sacrifice.

It was not long after the first American soldier died and the first Iraqi child came into the emergency room screaming, that I knew the second reason for me being there; to care for others and take care of our own. I did not just feel pride and honor taking care of American heroes that had made the ultimate sacrifice; I would help those in the units and wards as well. Some just wanted someone to listen to their story and some needed help accomplishing simple tasks. I remember one evening after dinner the chief was passing out ice cream for the workers.

We would always offer the ice cream to our American patients as well. The American unit had three patients in it. All three of them had both arms wrapped up. I stayed behind and helped feed them their ice cream and listen to their stories. They talked about what they had been through, how they got hurt, but most wanted to talk about their families and how excited they were to see them.

By this point I no longer cried myself to sleep. I'd realized the importance of my service. I was there to help others, to make sure the Iraqi men, women and children could see a friendly smile, to be there for the Americans and let them know they are in friendly territory.

I hated leaving my family, but I knew my family was safe. I was there to help take care of other families. As much as I did not want to deploy, it ended up being one of the best experiences of my life. I am back with friends and family now and I am grateful for that. My experiences have given me a different perspective on life and my military career. I see the big picture now. Since being back, I've decided to continue my Air Force career and reenlist for another four years.

I am still following through with some of my original plans. I'm expanding my family by one and finishing my degree. I just had a little delay in the process, but a delay worth more than I can express.