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Vet Paints Positive Picture of Iraq Service

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Vet Paints Positive Picture of Iraq Service

Vet Paints Positive Picture of Iraq Service

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

We just heard about soldiers dealing with physical wounds brought back from war, but some troops are able to lead surprisingly normal lives in war zones, Troops like Alexia Cain. She's a U.S. Army specialist. And in August, she returned from serving in northern Iraq where she helped organized supply deliveries. Now, she's working at an Army base in Fort Hood, Texas. Alexia visited the studios of NPR West recently and I asked her was she did in Iraq to keep things normal.

Specialist ALEXIA CAIN (U.S. Army): The main goal is go to home with at least enough hair to cover your head, so…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Spc. CAIN: …trying to get somebody to, you know, do you hair and understand, you know, what it takes to maintain your hair was the hardest part. But they actually had people there to actually, you know, did your hair, condition it. Just basically do the basics.

And they actually had a little beauty shop set up, you know, on post where they had the Filipino men to, you know, do your hair. Like I said they did the basics. They can wash it. They can blow-dry it. And that was the basically - and they can perm. All right, let me say that, they can perm. And that was the best that they can really offer. They couldn't offer the spirals or the up-dos or whatever, but just the general basics. But I was just grateful for that.

CHIDEYA: So were they contract workers who were working on base?

Spc. CAIN: Yes. Yes. Yes.

CHIDEYA: The reason I asked you about all this is because, I mean, there's so many different experiences that people go through in Iraq, but give me a sense of what one day might have been like for you. When you were in Iraq, what time did you wake up? What did you do? What were your responsibilities?

Spc. CAIN: Oh, wow. Wake up was probably around five. We did our exercise for an hour. You have to be at work by eight. So you come back and take a shower. You get ready to go to work. Well, you stop off at the (unintelligible) get something to eat, eat some breakfast. Catch the bus. You go to work until about 4:35. Once you get off, you have the afternoon for yourself. And my typical day was to go to the gym, be in aerobic class or a yoga class or just working out, you know, with friends. But that was a typical day.

CHIDEYA: And you were in the Green Zone. No?

Spc. CAIN: No.

CHIDEYA: But that's right. You weren't in…

Spc. CAIN: No.

CHIDEYA: So describe to me what part of Iraq you were in and you were working an office job. It sounds like your routine was actually not that different in some ways from people's jobs here in the U.S.

Spc. CAIN: Right. It really wasn't. The only difference…

CHIDEYA: Where were you?

Spc. CAIN: I was in Balad. And the only difference was the heat. Every now and again we had to wear our gear, but, you know, we had our weapons with us. And it was just a typical day. Your weapon became like - my weapon became my boyfriend in a sense. You know, I can never leave without him and I had to have him 24/7, it never mattered, you know, where I was. And my weapon always had to be with me so.

CHIDEYA: So I assume, you're here without a weapon. I assume that's a big change.

Spc. CAIN: Yes. It's a big difference.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: You left your boyfriend on base.

Spc. CAIN: I left my boyfriend. We broke up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: Now, in our series that we're doing this month on African-Americans in the military, we're looking at things like, do people go into the military for patriotism? Do people go in to move their way up in the world, both? How would you describe your perspective?

Spc. CAIN: My perspective is I was a both, but more so toward what I can get out of it. When I graduated from college, a lot of places were like you don't have any experience. So that was kind of discouraging to me. So what I did was I gave myself six months. If I cannot find the type of job that I was looking for with the next six-month period, I'm going to the military. It didn't kill my sister. Hmm. Why not try it? So doing that and becoming…

CHIDEYA: But how long before you went into the military had your sister gone?

Spc. CAIN: Six months prior. She had gone six months prior. And when she would call home, I'm like, are you okay? You know, what are they doing to you? Are they beating you up, you know? It wasn't really going to us. She's like, okay, I'm fine. I'm fine. So that kind of helped me a little bit. And then she was the baby. And I'm just like, I'm not going to let the baby outdo me.

CHIDEYA: And you and your sister aren't the only people who've gone into the military from your family.

Spc. CAIN: No. Both of our parents were in the military. I have a couple of aunts that retired from the Air Force. So it's kind of a military family.

CHIDEYA: What did your mom and dad do?

Spc. CAIN: Honestly? I have no idea.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Spc. CAIN: I was too young to remember. The only thing I remember about my mom was that she went to the first Desert Storm and it was kind of traumatic for my sister and I, so that's the main reason why I remember that.

CHIDEYA: You're still enlisted.

Spc. CAIN: Yes.

CHIDEYA: What's ahead for you?

Spc. CAIN: Korea. Korea will be my next place of duty. So it's kind of exciting, kind of sad about it because just coming back from Iraq, you don't want to pack up and leave and leave your family. But then again, it's like doing another tour in Iraq or go to Korea. Korea sounds pretty good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: Do you stay in touch with any of the friends that you made in Iraq? Any of the…

Spc. CAIN: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

CHIDEYA: How are they adjusting?

Spc. CAIN: A lot of them are doing good. I have one friend who's going to have a baby in April. I have some more friends that are getting out as we speak. My significant other got out and is having a ball. So we do stay in touch. We're all pretty close.

CHIDEYA: Now once you're done with the military…

Spc. CAIN: Yes.

CHIDEYA: …what do you want to do next?

Spc. CAIN: Just lay on the beach.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: I can understand that.

Spc. CAIN: Lay on the…

CHIDEYA: I can understand that.

Spc. CAIN: Lay on the beach. No, I'm ready for corporate America. I'm ready for the desk job, I'm ready for the nods of life because that's something that I haven't - that's one of my challenges. That's going to be a new challenge for me. Will I be able to make it in corporate America because, you know, you get used to the 6 a.m. formations and the P.T. and having somebody over you. While in the civilian work, it was like, oh, carefree, so to speak. So I'm looking forward to it.

CHIDEYA: Well, Alexia, we wish you all the best in all your travels.

Spc. CAIN: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: And all your adventures.

Spc. CAIN: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Thanks a lot. Alexia Cain is a specialist in the U.S. Army. She spent a year in Iraq and is now based in Fort Hood, Texas.

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