July 2012. This month’s featured veteran is Adria Garcia. This is her unedited story, in her own words.
Pictured below is Adria Garcia, Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Baghdad, Iraq.
My name is Adria Garcia, I am 40 yrs old, was born in Puerto Rico, and raised on the East Coast (NY and RI). I have two daughters, one is married to a soldier and they have two little girls, Iviana and Glorimar; they all live in Hawaii and my other daughter which I relinquished to adoption almost 19 years ago. I have three brothers from my mothers’ side and three sisters and a brother from my fathers’ side. I recently founded Latina Vet’s, A Tribute to Women Veterans; past, present and future and I recently became a local provider of Discovery Kids Puterbugs Technology Education for kids under the age of eight through my other business Virtual Adventures. I have a Bachelor in Business Administration and Project Management; which by the way took me almost 20 years to finish.
I grew up in the projects in RI and never really knew my father until I ran away from home around 14. Growing up with all boys in the house I had no other choice than to become a tom boy, because none of them would play dolls with me. J I played softball, hunted for snakes and frogs in the swamp and loved to wrestle with my brothers between WWF shows. Our mother raised us on her own and did her best.
I had a tough upbringing, but thankfully I had an aunt, Titi Hilda, who always saw something more in me, she encouraged me and always made sure that I knew that I was special and she always made me feel like I could do anything. I will always remember the day, I was 13, when she grabbed me by my chin, looked me in the eyes and told me that there was absolutely no reason for me to always be walking around with my head down. That day was burned in my memory for ever, and I don’t even think she realizes what an impact those words had on my life from that moment on.
Fast forward to when I run away at 14; I left with another aunt to Puerto Rico where I decided I would find my dad. I had the opportunity to work with my dad during my junior and senior years. It was awesome to spend that time with him; today I realize that I have so much in common with him; Work ethic, entrepreneurship, the love to help others in need, Veterans status and so much more. He is my hero; I am blessed to have such a close relationship with him.
So, remember I grew up with boys and was a little rough around the edges? Well now I have sisters, WOW, sisters!!! I was excited; even though we didn’t play with dolls anymore it was great to do girlie things. I soon broke out of my tom boy phase, thanks to my step mom, and started seeing life a little differently. I never had the “traditional” home environment, but here I finally did, I had a loving mom and dad who never gave up on me. (Even though I was a handful in the beginning) They showed me what good nurturing parents look like, they challenged me to always do my best and they supported me in every crazy thing I did. And when I did screw up they always had loving encouraging words for me. Needless to say, my life had taken a huge turn for the better.
Fast forward to graduating from HS in 1988 from Colegio Nuestra Sra de La Providencia; Shortly after, I moved myself to Virginia to attend Norfolk State University and met my daughters’ father, a Navy man. Long story short, School went to the back burner and I had my daughter at 19.
My baby girl had complications at birth but thankfully she was a trooper, and after three months of surgeries and ICU hospitalizations she was given a clean bill of health and we moved to PR. Our stay in PR did not last long; I met an old boyfriend and was swept off my feet. Shortly after we moved to New Jersey, but things did not turn out quite as we had planned and I moved my daughter and I to RI where I stayed with my Titi. Two months later I realize I was pregnant again. There I was, with a toddler, no home, sleeping on the couch with my baby and no plan. I was scared; I knew I could barely take care of one child never mind two. I decided to take a trip to stay with “some friends” for a while. I went to the adoption agency where I was given all the information I needed to make an informed decision. I was heartbroken to leave my baby behind but I knew at that moment I had to think of what was best for her. I was able to choose and meet a wonderful family for her and I look forward every day to that knock on my door when I can meet my little girl again.
After relinquishing her, I made a promise to her and to myself; that I would do something “significant” with my life. I want her to be proud of me.
Shortly after, my first daughter and I moved back to PR. It felt great to be around family again, and the support I received from them was amazing, I don’t know what I would have done without my dad and step mom. Even though I never told them about my other daughter till last year, I always had the feeling that they knew. (And they did)
It was tough being a single mom, but I did the best I could to always give her a good example, I worked and provided a roof and all necessities for her. But I always remembered that promise to do something greater with my life. I stumbled around for a few years until one day I picked up the paper to hunt for yet another job and I saw an Ad for the National Guard. (I was 28) I decided I would go take the ASVAB and see what happens. What happened was that I was soon scheduled for basic training on May 18th, of 2000. I was a bit nervous; I had 10 yrs. on most of my peers, but I love a challenge and didn’t even worry. I figured it would only make me stronger. And it did, it made me ARMY STRONG!!!
I went to basic training in Relaxin Jackson (Fort Jackson SC) and to tell you the truth I don’t know why they call it that, there’s nothing relaxin about Fort Jackson. I quickly took on the role of mother hen, not sure why, maybe my age or that I come off a bit motherly sometimes. But whatever the reason, all I know is that I had young girls coming to me for everything. And of course, I quickly took on the role of protector.
Well, Basic Training was now over and on to AIT in Fort Lee, VA where I was trained to be a 92A, Automated Logistical Specialist. During AIT I decided to change my Home of Record to Rhode Island. I graduate from AIT and head to RI where I became AGR, Active Guard, which means I had a full time job wearing my uniform every day. I loved it; I wore it with so much pride. For those of you who don’t know much about Rhode Island, there really is no Army base, just units, and seeing a soldier in uniform on a daily basis is a rare thing; Unlike the area where I live in now, Fort Hood TX, where you see them everywhere. I felt a part of an elite group; I felt I served a purpose.
Then comes September 11th 2001, I hadn’t been back from AIT for a full year yet when I get a call from my cousin Junior in NY urging me to turn my TV on. As I stand there in my room, staring at the TV, we both watched the second plane go into the building. I instantly felt this rush coming up my legs and up to my head, not sure what it was but I felt like that would be how Superman felt whenever he had to go out and save the world. I immediately started packing my duffle bag and called my Platoon Sgt. I know it sounds crazy that I was expecting to just hop on a plane that very day, but that’s how I felt, I think only another soldier can understand that feeling of wanting to run out there to do something ASAP. Well I didn’t get deployed until 2 ½ years late when my unit was attached to a Field Artillery Unit and we all went ILO MP (In Lieu Of Military Police)
We get there and not even five days boots on ground we get hit, one hummer disabled, and one soldier seriously wounded. We secure the perimeter, remove sensitive items from the disabled truck and rush to the hospital. When we arrive to our building I sit on my bunk and stare into the wall thinking to myself “dear God, this is only five days in country, what am I to expect for the rest of our time here?” It was Mothers Day!
Months pass by and we are out on the road every single day, eight hour days turn into 16 hour days on the road. Throughout my tour the windshield to my hummer had to be changed about four times. Some of the guys would joke about me having a force field around me because, thankfully, nothing ever happened to me or my team during any of the attacks, until September 11th 2004.
On that day, at 8:15 am, it was our turn to relieve some folks from their posts. I make sure my team has water, we do commo check, and I move two feet towards the back of the HMMWV and BOOM! A mortar lands no less than 8 feet from us and five more immediately after that. We all react and do as we were trained; two of our guys were injured.
Later that day, at 2:15 pm, we go out to relieve at a different check point and BOOM! Now nine mortars land in our area within just a few feet away from us, the gunner jumps into position but can’t see anything because the walls are 12 feet tall. I instruct him to get inside the HMMWV and close the turret. I run away from the sound looking for cover and realize that the bunker is on the other side, I turn around and run towards the entrance of the bunker and that is when I get hit. A mortar landed about four feet away from me and bits of shrapnel sprayed into the back of my neck, my left hand and behind my legs. I am alone inside the bunker and see blood on my hands, I get so angry because I can’t do anything, 12 feet walls all around us, and that mortar more than likely came from at least five miles away.
Later that evening as I am taking a shower I let the tears blend in with the water and all I could do was thank God for a second chance. (That was the best shower I took during my tour.) I again make a promise to live my life with purpose.
During my tour I encountered many other situations, not dangerous like the story you just read but none the less traumatizing. It was hard being one of just a hand full of women in my company and being one with a strong character was even harder.
I finished my tour in Iraq, moved to Texas and got out in 2008.
I wanted to retire from the military, I wanted to be all that I could be, but all of those experiences had an effect on my psyche.
I strongly feel that there are still resources needed for our female veterans and one of my missions with Latina Vets is to help create them by collaborating with other organizations geared towards women. We women are different, and our experiences in combat are different so our resources should be tailored to our needs and not “generic”.
I know what it’s like to come back and feel lost, feel that you have lost control when you react to a loud sound or when you’re in a room that’s a little too crowded. When you lay in bed exhausted but can’t fall asleep, or when you’re late for work because your sleep is so deep that you slept through the annoying sound of the alarm clock. I also know that pride can prevent us from getting the help that we so desperately need.
I will never forget the words of Cassaundra StJohn CEO and Founder of F7 Group, Empowering Women Veterans. I had the honor of meeting her at one of their Lone Star Retreats, which by the way, I was sponsored to attend by the Fe-Ma-Le Foundation. She said we needed to start pulling more chairs to the table for other women and if it gets crowded that we should get a bigger table. WOW! To me that was one of the smartest things I had heard in all my life. I finally found a female mentor. Unlike in the military, my unit didn’t have many females, maybe nine, so most of my mentors were men, and eventually I was disappointed for one reason or another.
I finally found my purpose; first through Latina Vet’s: my mission is to create an environment where every woman will feel that she has a voice, that someone understands her and will help her figure things out so she can get back to being the superwoman that she is and to assist with and encourage entrepreneurial spirit.
And second with Virtual Adventures where I can contribute to our children’s future today by providing affordable education and teach them how to use technology as a tool and not just a toy. Eventually my goal is to turn Virtual Adventures into a STEM organization.
I will end with this; before F7 I was very depressed and felt lost, as if I had no drive to do anything no reason to get up in the morning. I had a vision; I just didn’t know how to execute it. After the F7 Group retreat I have been on fire. As if the chains that had been holding me down had busted and the gates were open. They truly do exactly what they say, I was Empowered and enlightened and my mission is to someday have that same effect on other women.