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Sense of Community: 1st Lieutenant Stephanie Starkey on What Makes a Good Soldier

This afternoon, we’re continuing the story of 1st Lieutenant Stephanie Starkey, who, as we heard this morning, was separated from her four-month old baby boy when she was deployed to Iraq. But that wasn’t her first deployment. Today, we hear about why she joined the Army, and listen to her recount some details of her service.

“I had finished college, and I had had a change of heart about entering the counseling profession,” Starkey said.

She signed up at a recruiting station near Long Beach, where she was living at the time. She was 25.

“As far as how the garrison works, I didn’t even get a taste of that, because I got to the unit and found out that day, ‘Yep, you’re going to Afghanistan.’ And two weeks later, we were gone,” she said.

She was enlisted in a Military Police unit at the Kandahar holding facility—in other words, a prison in southern Afghanistan.

“There were no colors,” she recalls of the landscape. “The prison was on an airfield, so as far as surrounding landscape, there wasn’t very much…the climate was pretty extreme. It was very, very dry, and it was the hottest of the hot, and the coldest of the cold,” she said.

Her platoon started out running the prison.  Other platoons had other responsibilities outside the prison, she said, like manning the gates, and running law enforcement.

“However, the population in the prison got so out of control that the manning requirement went up. And by then, not only was the entire unit working in the prison, but we had to borrow a platoon from a different unit,” Starkey said.

She says she was never in the direct line of fire, but tells me about three friends she lost. It’s hard for her to talk about them.

The first friend was someone in her first unit who had been moved to another unit in Iraq, where he was killed. A few months after that, another friend went on leave, and on the way back, he ran into inclement weather, lost control of his vehicle, and died.

“About the following year, President Bush was making a speech about the Iraq situation, and decided to share an anecdote about this young man…and then they showed a picture of him, and it was a friend from my platoon in basic training. And he had been killed in a roadside explosion…that’s how I found out. It was on tv,” she said.

I asked her what makes a great solider.

“It’s not just the one who can run the fastest, or who has the best looking uniform, and the tightest haircut, and answers the most questions at a Solider of the Month board. It is honestly the one who incorporate the important underlying principles of determination, persistence, and most of all, teamwork,” Starkey said.

When service members return from serving overseas, she says, they’re changed.

“I’ve known very few that don’t find that they’re more appreciative of the little things in life, and about being American. I think that many come back and they look around at the rest of the country, and at other Americans, and feel that people just don’t understand,” she said.

“They don’t appreciate what’s available to them, and they don’t really understand how much others have to sacrifice so that they don’t have to sacrifice anything,” said Starkey.