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Sgt. 1st Class Christina Bhatti
CAMP TAJI, Iraq (Oct. 27, 2008) -
A string of chances before deploying from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, enabled a Soldier to become the Army's first woman Stryker Armored Vehicle driver, an experience she says changed the course of her Army career.
"It all happened by chance," said Spc. Tiffany Knotts, a signal support systems specialist. "I showed up at the unit at the right time, and I was sent to the training."
The right time for the Army proved to be the wrong time for her family. Knott's father passed away two weeks before she made it to Hawaii, but she said that even in death, her father watches over her, and his death made it possible for her to get to Hawaii at the perfect time. Her move was delayed two weeks to attend his funeral.
"I consider this opportunity as a gift from my father," she said. "He was always so proud of me and raised me to push and challenge myself, and being in the position I am in allows me to take on challenges."
She considers herself a jack of all trades. Assigned to the 556th Signal Company, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team "Warrior," 25th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division - Baghdad, Knotts is not only the commander's Stryker driver, she also works in the administrative shop, handling a variety of personnel issues, from promotions to pay. It's not the job she joined the Army for, and said she was upset at first when it happened but quickly gained a new perspective.
"It's really great to be able to take care of the Soldiers in the company," she said, as she performed her daily checks of the company's Morale, Welfare and Recreation room. "I learned what it takes to ensure Soldiers get what they need to be successful. It is hard work."
And her hard work does not go without notice.
"She works really hard and has learned a lot in a short period of time. She loves to goof off and laugh, but when it is time to work, she puts the game face on," said Sgt. James Canedy, a native of Radcliff, Ky., and Stryker team chief, 556th Sig. Co.
Like so many in the military, Knotts was shaped by a legacy of service. Her grandfather and father served in the Air Force and Army respectively. They fought for their country and lived to tell her their stories. She was intrigued by them and wanted to follow in their footsteps. The desire to serve hit her so badly, she gave up one love in the pursuit of another. This pursuit led her to switch high schools.
Her first school, in her hometown of Riverside, Calif., didn't have a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. Knotts was determined to find a school with JROTC program because that is what she wanted to do. With that goal in mind and with support from her Family, she moved to a new school - a better school for her to achieve her goals.
"I loved the Air Force JROTC program. Every minute of it was awesome," she said.
The program took up so much of her time, she was forced to give up playing the clarinet.
"I loved it, but the band's stance was 'band or nothing else,'" she said. "I wanted JROTC and sports more so that is what I concentrated on."
Knotts enjoyed a good amount of success during her tenure. She was awarded Cadet of the Year and spent her time as a member of the many different color guards.
Four and half years after she joined the Army, she has an even more prestigious position, one she proudly holds alone.
"It was pretty intimidating at first, but this is the coolest thing I have ever accomplished. It is such an honor and flattering to hold this position," she said, without an air of arrogance or a nonchalant attitude sometimes found in someone who has accomplished so much in such a short period of time. The vehicle more than dwarfs her short frame, but she makes climbing to the top look easy.
"It's like I am at Discovery Zone," she said, while checking the maintenance systems on her vehicle and spouting off parts of her Stryker as fluidly as a folk singer croons a melody. She attributes her proficiency with vehicles to her father, a former mechanic. She laughed as she recounted stories of Soldiers who struggle with something as simple as checking the oil on their vehicles but added that she is always willing to give them a helping hand and teach the right way to do things.
"Young Soldiers are so reliant on technology. They're not used to getting their hands dirty; but on the flipside, it helps when driving one of these," she said.
Being only 24 years of age herself, it may seem baffling to hear her talk about "young Soldiers," but she considers herself an "old soul" and much more mature than most of her peers.
"It was weird sometimes when I was growing up," she said. "All my friends were talking about clothes and what boys they wanted to date, and I was concentrated on my future and worried about school."
Even now, Knotts has her mind firmly planted in her future. She is undecided whether she wants to stay in the Army and continue what she is currently doing or come back with a commission. However, she said she does know the military will continue to be a part of her life.
"She could be a sergeant major," Canedy said. "She constantly amazes me with her knowledge, drive and determination. She knows more than I do."
That drive and determination will make her a sergeant soon, and she said she is looking forward to being a leader. But judging from her actions, she is already there.
"I take all of this very seriously," she said. "I take the lives of everyone in my Stryker seriously, and I take the responsibility of having a Stryker that is mine seriously. I take taking care of Soldiers seriously. This is an awesome responsibility and one that I hope I can learn from and pass on that knowledge to others."
(Sgt. 1st Class Christina Bhatti serves with the 2nd SBCT PAO, 25th Inf. Div., MND-Baghdad.)