From Morris to Kuwait
MORRIS - There is no such thing as a typical day on the Army Life Support Area (ALSA) at Ali Al Salem Airbase in Kuwait for Sergeant Tracy White.
White, a 23-year-old Morris native, and member of the Minnesota Army National Guard, was deployed to Kuwait last July. She works in the Emergency Operations Center on the ALSA, where she helps monitor weather, travel conditions and safety concerns for all groups working in the area.
"We are an emergency help desk that's primarily reactionary, and thus we see a variety of emergency scenarios on a daily basis," Tracy explained in an e-mail interview. "Our resources help service members and contractors accomplish their missions. Each day is different, which keeps things interesting.
"From lost items, power outages, medical emergencies and coordinating travel safety, we see it all."
Joining the Guard
Tracy signed up for the National Guard when she was a junior in high school. Because she was a minor, her parents, Pat and Nancy White, had to sign for her.
"She came home and said, 'How would you feel if we had the representative from the Guard come out and visit with us?" said Nancy, an office manager with the University of Minnesota Extension Service.
"I was pretty nervous about it," said Pat, a claims adjuster for NAU County Insurance Company. "After I did it, I was kind of regretting it, but I knew she would have done it at 18."
Nancy agreed. "I said let's sign for her and show our support. ... I was surprised, I thought, 'She's got her head on her shoulders.' She knew."
"I signed up to defend the United States of America," said Tracy. "I knew there was a need and thought that I could be of service to our great country."
Tracy is the White's youngest child. They also have a son, Tony, who is 26.
Through the rest of her junior and senior years, Tracy did her one weekend per month training with the Recruit Sustainment Program out of the Morris Armory before going to basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C. shortly after her high school graduation in 2006.
Nancy and Pat said they wouldn't forget the moment of driving Tracy three hours out to Sioux Falls for her flight to South Carolina. After dropping her off and saying their goodbyes, Pat and Nancy turned around and headed back to Morris.
As soon as they got into the yard, they got a call from Tracy asking for one crucial forgotten item - her driver's license - which she needed to get on the plane. National Guard members head to training with very few personal items, and Pat said they were just under the impression she wouldn't need it.
"I told her I knew I wasn't meant to say goodbye the first time," said Nancy.
"The most touching thing for me so far was when she graduated in South Carolina," said Pat. "It was something that I would never miss. ... It was pretty emotional. We've never been involved with the military at this level."
Following her graduation from basic training on Sept. 1, 2006, along with 1,262 other guard members, Tracy headed to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Tex. for medical unit training.
When she returned home, Tracy started college at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn., a Christian liberal arts college home to about 3,000 students which she graduated from in 2010 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance. While in the Twin Cities, Tracy continued to serve with a National Guard medic unit in Cottage Grove, Minn.
"I was able to attend Warrior Leader Course, a two week course aimed at developing soldiers into non-commissioned officers who support the Army's mission at all levels," said Tracy.
In November 2010, while training with Charlie Company 134 BSB medic unit out of Cottage Grove, Tracy was told she was on a list of ten people scheduled to be deployed.
As part of the process to prepare for deployment, the White family went to the Twin Cities to meet with one of the Family Readiness groups. The family also held a deployment party in May before Tracy left for Camp Ripley in Little Falls, Minn. Family and friends went to Little Falls when they had a send-off party, and others travelled to Fort McCoy in Tomah, Wisc., for a final send-off event.
"One of the hardest parts about deployment is the send-offs, said Pat. "They're really a tough part."
"I think she finally got to the point where she was like, 'I'm ready, let's go.'" said Nancy.
Tracy left for Kuwait in July 2011 as part of the 134th Brigade Support Battalion out of Camp Ripley and is scheduled to return in the summer of 2012.
Communication and Support
Advances in technology help Tracy and her friends and family keep in touch over the long distance from Minnesota to Kuwait.
"When they're at school you could at least pick up the phone and call and talk or leave a message any time you want," said Nancy. "We can't do that now; we have to be more patient with her schedule and wait for her call."
Her parents have a weekly scheduled call over Skype, a service that allows users to make phone calls over the Internet, almost every Sunday about 3 p.m. CST - around 11 p.m. in Kuwait, when Tracy is finished with her shift in the EOC.
"We're so thankful for the people who were there before her and had all this in place," said Nancy. "The day she got there she was calling us. It was amazing. We're very fortunate."
"I really enjoy being able to communicate with friends and family," said Tracy. "It gives me something to look forward to, calling back home after work. I also am very thankful for all the support from back home!"
Pat and Nancy also said Tracy gets a lot of mail and care packages from friends and family back home and Tracy sends monthly update e-mails to those back home.
"It's always exciting when you get mail here!" said Tracy. "It's been great because when I receive a care package I share the goodies with those that I work with in the Emergency Operations Center so they can enjoy them as well. Keeps the co-workers happy, you know."
Community support has also been helpful during Tracy's deployment. Pat and Nancy have a lighted yellow ribbon hanging on their deck, which was loaned to them from friends who had a son deployed.
"It's been burning ever since we got it," said Nancy. "We've had it plugged in since they gave it to us, and it will be until she comes home."
"We probably don't go a week without somebody asking what they can do," said Nancy. "I think that's one of the benefits of being from a small community. We're so grateful."
"Besides missing family and friends I really miss the seasons of Minnesota" said Tracy. "I miss being able to do the activities each season has to offer" - spending time on the lakes in the spring and summer, hunting in the fall, and snowmobiling, ice fishing and skiing in the winter.
Another project when she returns home will be finding a job. Between her graduation and deployment, Tracy worked part-time with an investment firm in the Twin Cities, since it didn't make sense to start looking for full-time work when she would have to leave in a few months.
Pat and Nancy said they're looking forward to spending time on the farm, going fishing and "just having her home."
"Being deployed hasn't changed my plans, only delayed them by about a year," said Tracy.
"Being immersed in a goal driven environment has fostered greater personal development than I would have observed staying stateside," she added. "Each day brings new events and decisions that leave their mark on who I am as a person. I am grateful to have the opportunity on a daily basis to help individuals from all walks of life. Serving those in need is truly rewarding for all those involved."