Adele Garcia had been in Iraq for a day when she found herself and her Army National Guard unit under attack while traveling on the main highway south of Baghdad on their way to camp.
“From day one we were under attack,” says Garcia, vice president of lending at $229 million asset BlueOx Credit Union in Battle Creek, Mich. “We were moving targets for the insurgents. Every other mission we had some sort of small arms fire or improvised explosive devices being blown up on us.”
Garcia deployed to Iraq in 2004-2005 with a National Guard Unit during the height of the fighting. While there, she was involved in three attacks.
The first involved small-arms fire that blew a hole through the gas tank of the truck Garcia was driving. She wasn’t injured.
In the second attack, her battle buddy was injured and lost an eye. Garcia suffered shrapnel injuries to her head and neck.
The final incident took place the weekend of July 4, 2004, when an explosion threw Garcia from the front to the back of the truck. She lost a couple minutes of memory and was later diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury after she returned home.
“I’ve healed a lot since then and I’ve gone through the different phases of grief,” says Garcia, who was a sergeant when she finished her service in 2006. “I’m finally at a point where I can reflect on it, know that it happened to me, but also know that I’m still here. It’s made me stronger.”
Garcia joined the U.S. Army at 17 to pay for college. She was a fuel support specialist responsible for setting up gas stations. After three years of active duty at Fort Lewis in Washington, Garcia left active duty and moved near her husband’s family in Michigan.
Garcia soon realized she missed the military and joined the National Guard. She signed her paperwork on Sept. 11, 2001. Shortly after, her unit began training to reclassify as truck drivers for an eventual deployment to Iraq.
“The military formed who I am today, and it gave me a sense of pride not just in what I do, but also in those around me,” Garcia says. “If I commit to something, I’m not just committing to getting the project done, I’m committing to the people around me, too. I think that can be taken for granted with civilians because in the military, when you say you’re going to do something, you do it and there’s no going back.”