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Army Sgt. Rodney Foliente, Special to American Forces Press Service
CAMP ECHO, Iraq, Feb. 17, 2009
– When some people reach a certain stage in life, they may decide to set their dreams aside. But one grandmother of three decided to make her dream come true -- a quarter of a century later.
Army Pfc. Alexandria Enmund, an Orlando, Fla. native, enlisted at the age of 41, and served at Fort Carson, Colo., for about six months before deploying. The 43-year-old grandmother now is deployed to Iraq, where she is serving at Patrol Base Hillah as a petroleum and water supply specialist with the 4th Infantry Division’s 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
“I wanted to join after high school in 1984, but I got pregnant with my first son,” she said. “I wanted to serve, but it was more important for me to raise my baby. I didn’t want to leave him.”
Enmund stayed busy raising her children and working as a cosmetologist.
But the itch to be a soldier stayed with her. Her father had been in the Army and served in Vietnam. Her sister also was in the Army. After seeing her sister’s discipline and what the Army did for her, Enmund was driven to join.
At the time, she was fast approaching her 35th birthday, and she learned that the cutoff for an age waiver at that time was 35. She rushed to join.
“I decided I should still join. I took the test and did everything else, but had to wait for an age waiver. The waiver didn’t come in time,” she said.
She said she was disappointed, but unwilling to let it keep her down. The old dream continued its whisper, leading to an impulse in July 2007 that changed her life.
“I was sitting in my yard one day and a recruiter was passing by. I flagged him down, and he stopped his car and asked how he could help me. So I told him to waive the age limit so I could join the Army,” Enmund said.
She said she was partly joking, partly curious. The recruiter surprised her by explaining the age limit was raised during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“The problem was I wasn’t in shape at that point,” she said. She worked hard to get fit, and about a month after meeting the recruiter, she enlisted. She received a $20,000 bonus she hadn’t known about prior to signing up.
She was grateful for the bonus, but to receive it meant she had only 10 days to prepare before she had to leave for basic training.
She said her younger son, Bhritten, was the most nervous about her joining.
“He said to me, ‘Ma, I understand you’ve got a dream, but tell them you can’t do it anymore. Don’t do this. I can’t deal with you gone so long,’” Enmund recalled.
But Enmund was determined, though admittedly nervous. She was grateful for the support from her eldest son, Osaybeyon.
“I remember he said, ‘You can do this. You’re always taking care of everybody else. This is your dream. Don’t give up on it,’” she said.
Enmund finished basic training and advanced individual training and was stationed at Fort Carson in March, where her younger son -- the one who did not want her to join – visited her.
He told her he was proud of her, she said. He was curious and asked her about the Army, and said he was impressed by the camaraderie he saw in his mother’s unit. The experience left an impression on him, and he surprised his mother by telling her that he was planning to join the Army as well.
“I was so happy he wanted to join, but he told me he wanted to do something more exciting than my job. He wanted to be airborne and military police,” Enmund said.
Bhritten has passed his entry test and is waiting for his friend to pass before they join together. He met with the same recruiter who helped his mother.
Now Enmund is a little jealous, she admitted with a laugh. “I want to jump out of airplanes,” she said.
Enmund is close to the halfway mark in a yearlong deployment. Though there are hardships, she said, she stays positive, makes the most of it and works hard.
The physical hardships and lack of amenities don’t really bother her. Missing her family is the hardest part, she said.
“They’re all proud of me and support me,” she said of her family. My oldest son always knew I could do it. The others thought I had forgotten how old I was,” she said with a giggle.
“It’s very hard being away from family,” she said. “But these people, they’re my family too. … A big family. You’ve got to live it to understand it. A lot of these young soldiers, they’re just like my children away from home.”
Throughout the day, some soldiers called her “Ma,” even those who outrank her. Many can hardly believe her age. She said she cuts many of the soldiers’ hair, listens to their problems and encourages them as they work and live together. She said she is proud to serve with them and proud to know them.
“Yeah, my family misses me a lot, and I miss them,” she said. “It’s worth it, though.”
She said she is glad for the opportunity to serve her country, and deploying to Iraq has taught her a deeper appreciation for the way of life that America offers.
“I think everybody should experience this,” Enmund said of the Army and deployment. “To come out here and deal with it, it’s something else. It helps you appreciate things more. It’s spiritual.
“I’m here to serve my country and my family,” she continued. “By seeing me do this when so many people thought I couldn’t, they can look to their own goals, no matter how impossible they might seem, and plant seeds for their children. You can’t give up. Take the good with the bad, and do what you need to do.”
From mother to grandmother to soldier, Enmund fought to make her dream come true. “I don’t regret my decision at all,” she said. “I’m living my dream”
(Army Sgt. Rodney Foliente serves in the 4th Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team.)