Post 9/11, for a couple months, the United States was a country of love, a country of support, and a country of patriotism. Prayer vigils were being held, churches were inundated with new congregants, and our military was held in high-regard. It was not uncommon to see a man or woman in uniform being thanked for their service.
The tides have shifted and it breaks my heart – our military is being portrayed by liberals, actors, and the drive-by media as basically terrorists. Never do we hear the stories of soldiers saving lives. Never do we hear about their humanitarian efforts. Never do we hear how the United States military is making our world a cleaner, healthier, and safer place. Even more so, rarely do we hear the stories of soldiers who have returned home from active duty.
While the loony-toon-left continues to undermine our military, I thought it about time to recognize those who put themselves in harms way.
This week I spoke with a friend of mine, Corporal Sheryl Verhulst, who has since returned home from active duty. Sheryl is not only actively involved in our armed forces, but she is also involved with the College Republicans. She does her best to stay active regarding many conservative causes. Her life story is truly inspirational.
The interview is as follows:
Sheryl, I just wanted to thank you for your service in the armed forces. You are the reason we here in the United States sleep safely each night.
First of all, can you explain why you joined the military?
Thanks Chaz, I would be happy to.
Joining the military is something I have always considered, especially with the encouragement of my father who has also served. My desire has always been to join a greater cause than myself. The military allows me to aid individuals who are suffering, build positive foreign relations, and ultimately protect our country. I also desired to aspire and challenge myself. Then in 2001, after the September 11th attacks, my consideration became a reality when I enlisted to fight for the freedom we as a country hold dear.
You have been in the armed forces for a couple of years, what military branch are you associated with?
I am a Marine. I joined this particular branch because I felt, personally, that it would challenge me the most, not just physically but mentally as well. While serving I not only made rank of Corporal but I also was a Fireteam leader and for a short time, as a fill-in position, I served as Squad Leader.
Of course you have been home for a couple of months, but where did you serve your first tour of duty?
For seven months I was stationed in the Horn of Africa in country called Djibouti. The base in Djibouti is strategically positioned as a port between the entrance of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Indian Ocean. Surrounding countries include Yemen, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. The weather is extremely arid making it the world’s hottest climatic zone. Djibouti’s temperatures consistently exceed 110 degrees during the day and may only drop to around the high 80’s at night.
Wow! I cannot imagine wearing military gear in that sort of climate!
While you were stationed in Djibouti what type of military actions and tasks did you perform?
Bravo Company, which is the company I was in, performed many tasks. Our typical obligation revolved around the security of the base. Other priorities involved humanitarian efforts around the country along with building a strong relationship with the Djibouti citizens. For example, we had days where we would go to villages and hand out clean and bottled drinking water.
Many people think that our military is just out there in battle, but not many realize that it is more than a gun-battle of strength. It is also a battle of foreign relations between our country and say Djibouti.
How did the citizens react to the presence of the United States military?
They were very welcoming and happy that the United States does have a presence in their country. Not only because we were a source of protection, but because they understood that our service made their country a better place.
With the presence of our military, their economy improves because we do hire Djibouti citizens to do odds-and-ends around the base such as laundry, maintenance, and janitorial jobs.
On the flip-side, our enemies are not too happy with our presence in the region. For example, we have had security issues with some Somalians. But overall, through our communication, protection, and aid that we offer to those in Djibouti we are warming them over to the United States.
That is absolutely wonderful to hear. The media presents such a terrible picture of our military, thus we obviously never hear how we are winning in many parts of the world and in this case Djibouti.
Now I am sure you have retained some good memories of your time abroad, but after experiencing that particular African culture what was it like returning home? I mean, did you feel different or have you somehow changed?
It was such an eye-opening experience for me. Especially being one of the few minority female marines. One thing that really made me emotional was the fact that women and children really have no rights. In fact, they are really considered second-class citizens.
Like I previously mentioned, some days we would go out and give clean drinking water to villages in which it is scarce to find. After handing a water bottle to a young child and seeing him gleefully run back to the house I witnessed a man come up to that child and smack him hard enough that he fell to the ground. The man proceeded to take that child’s water bottle in order to drink it himself.
From that experience, I learned how precious the rights that I have in the United States as a Korean-American woman really are.
Kind of along the same line, I have been taught how good we really have it in the United States. Many modern conveniences such as air-conditioning make ordinary life that much more enjoyable and comfortable.
I know exactly what you mean. I have had the privilege to experience many cultures around the world and it never ceases to amaze me at how blessed we as citizens are in the United States.
Well, you have completed your first tour of duty, what does the future hold?
Right now, I am finishing my last class at Grand Rapids Community College and will begin schooling at Grand Valley State University this coming fall. I am working toward a degree in Psychology and I hope to work with the United States Department of Veteran Affairs to ensure that our soldiers, whether in battle or returning home, receive everything that they need.
I am also in the lottery for another tour of duty which would begin shortly. I do not know any of the details but it looks as though I will be serving in Iraq. We will see what heads my way!
Thank you for all that you have shared, Sheryl! It is so nice to get a refreshing perspective from someone in uniform. Is there anything else you would like to communicate before I let you go?
Thanks for having me, Chaz. Yes, there are a couple brief things I would like to share. A life as a marine at times can be really tough – you not only put your life at risk in order to defend your country, but friends who are a part of your company may die for protecting liberty. I just want to ask everyone to support their military and most of all pray for them. We are often in harms way and it is only through God’s grace and protection that we live to see another day.