I was a member of the Florida National Guard from 2000 to 2006. My unit was activated in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, from the day after Christmas 2002 through March 2004. At the time, I was working as a part-time teller for a credit union in Northwest Florida. I was also attending college full-time and working on completing my bachelor's degree. It was a surreal moment when I was told to pack my bags, say my goodbyes, and report for duty that next day.
We mobilized to Fort Stewart, Georgia, and prepared for deployment to Kuwait. We arrived in Kuwait in March 2003 and began preparations for a ground operation in Iraq. My unit was attached to the 3rd Infantry division that led the initial charge from Kuwait to Baghdad, Iraq. Once we arrived in Baghdad, we acquired an old Iraqi Republican Guard building that was adjacent to the Tigris River. I can recall many sleepless nights and heart-pumping adrenaline the entire time. Due to my military occupation, I had the fortunate, and sometimes unfortunate, opportunity to see more than most of the soldiers in my unit. My platoon was on the road six times a day and we traveled all over Baghdad and Iraq.
I believe my military experience has allowed me to approach things differently in my role at Orlando Credit Union—with a glass half-full approach. I can always recall what it was like in that moment. I now feel that it was one of the most challenging yet rewarding times of my life. However, at the time, I didn't necessarily feel that way, which is why I always try to step back and understand the full picture before jumping to conclusions. It helps me stay calm and collective during challenging times.