How A Beauty School Drop-Out Became A Veteran: With A Twist of Thought

My dad and I had very little in common until I joined the military. He served as a Marine in Vietnam. I was in the Navy during Desert Storm. He was very surprised I had chosen to serve and to be very honest, so was I.

In 1990 I was 19 and working as a manicurist in Davis, California. My original plan was to work as a manicurist while attending beauty school to earn my Cosmetology License. I am forever grateful to my classmate Dianna. One day, I was doing a perm on my first human client. It took me two hours to put her in rollers, her clothes were soaking wet from our time at the shampoo bowl and Dianna kindly took over before I had the chance to give her a chemical burn. I still believe my subconscious had stepped in and decided to take matters into her own hands. I was not meant to do hair. That day I re-evaluated my goals. I eventually dropped out of beauty school and started taking academic classes. It was a better fit, but I still could not decide what I wanted to do with my life.

My social life wasn’t so hot either. I got tired of doing nails and took a temp job for an insurance company. I was falling asleep at my desk because I was delivering pizza at night. I had just broken up with my boyfriend who was as hot as Bradley Cooper but had the personality of Jack Nicholson’s character in “The Shinning”. It was time to leave Davis. I grew up ten miles from the beach and wanted to do something near the ocean- get back to my roots. My first thought was Club Med or a cruise ship. My leads turned out to be dead ends. There was an age requirement of 26 at the time. My youth and inexperience were working against me. Then I thought, “Why not the military?”.

First, I looked into the Army. Running with 80lb rucksack did not appeal to me. The Air Force would not guarantee me any specific job until I enlisted and one Marine in the family was enough. I finally chose the Navy. I was promised an automatic promotion (in writing) to E-4 upon completion of Radioman” A” School. They couldn’t tell me where I was going, but I didn’t care. The idea of being on a ship sounded like exactly what I needed. The ocean is one of the few places I find peace when I really need it. My direction had changed from a destination to a journey.

I can only speak about my reasons for joining the military. I served to challenge myself and get out of “Dodge”. It might sound selfish but loving my country and wanting to serve it is implied when I signed on the dotted line. Doing it to better myself was my reward.
and my reward was greater than I had ever imagined. I learned a solid work eithic and learned how to be part of a team. This was by no means a perfect transition. It took some time, but I learned. I discovered that I was more capable than I had ever imagined. The biggest challenge of any task for me is the belief I can do it. Once I have faith in myself, I can accomplish anything. It could be why denial is such a great tool for me. If I can think I can, I do it. Just try and tell me I can’t- it’s practically a dare.

I started bootcamp in July of 1990. Then, Iraq invaded Kuwait and ruined what was supposed to be my Christmas in France. I spent the first half of my Naval career in Deck Division on a Destroyer Tender class ship, The USS Yellowstone. It was the only type of ship they were letting females on at the time. I learned to do maintenance on small boats and a lot of paint scraping, sanding and painting (the joy of rust prevention). It was dirty and hard work but how could I complain when I was outside all day? My “office” view changed often. Sometimes, it was the mountains of Crete, a blanket of blue with nothing but dolphins swimming nearby or a great view of the stars as the screw kicked up phospherescent kelp in the nightime sea.

The second half of my Naval career was spent inside a communications office with no windows on the USS Acadia. I used to look for things outside our “shack” that needed to be painted. I did enjoy working with teletypes, but they were phased out and replaced by quiet computers. To this day, I still bang the hell out of the keys on my laptop. As my time grew short in the Navy, I made my plans for college. After receiving an honorable discharge, I headed to Viterbo College in La Crosse, Wisconsin to earn a nursing degree. Shortly after school started, I was diagnosed with Scleroderma. My symptoms were relatively mild and I resided in a state of denial. It was a very confusing time for me, but I was managing. Then, it got cold.

The cold made my symptoms of Scleroderma worse. It was November and I was homesick. One morning, my dad called. He was the very first person to wish me a Happy Veteran’s Day. I was over 2000 miles away, but I could feel the warmth and love through the phone. It was an unexpected right of passage and admission to an exclusive club. I could feel how proud he was through the phone.

That phone call from my dad was but one of many gifts and curses of being a veteran. At one time, Veteran’s were percieved as escapees from the Island of Misfit Toys- which they are not. Veteran’s are a group of men and women who were put in harm’s way by many who have never served. Veterans volunteered to do what was asked of them by their country and lived to tell about it. I belong to this group of men and women who have done things I can only imagine. I often have to remind myself I did a thing or two to be in a group of such amazing people.

Being a veteran has also changed my perspective of the spirit of the United States and what it means to me to be a patriot. Growing up, I believed the flag was represented the spirit of the United States. Something almist worshipped. Don’t get me wrong, I follow proper flag protocol and everytime I see it folded and handed to a loved one, I cry. It’s a symbol of patriotism, but i do not have to wave one to proove I love my country.

After coming home to the States from 15 different countries, I have my own ideas about what it means to be a patriot.* The spirit of the United States is in the hearts of it’s citizens; not a beautfully crafted piece of cloth; a red, white and blue bumper sticker or a plastic flag hanging out of the window of a car doing 80 mph. Patriotism is not cheering while sending a Service Member into harm’s way based on hype or anything other than fact. It’s patriotic to make damn sure if sending anyone into harm’s way is the last possible resort. Being a patriot is supporting families of Service Members not with magnets and bumper stickers, but by making sure their loved ones have the equipment they need to do their job so they come home safely to their families. Patriotism is not turning away, but looking at and seeing the true cost of war.

As a veteran, I also belong to a proud group of people in my family. I do not say tradition, because I think no one should feel obligated to serve just because someone in their family has. On the Vasquez side, I joined my father, grandfather and great grandfather. On the Curiale side, I joined my mom’s brother, my grandfather and my cousin Frank, who like many Veterans, his life was taken far too soon. Frank passed away in 2010 from complications due to Agent Orange. Like many Vietnam Veterans, he was denied the care he needed until it was too late. I visit the Veteran’s hospital as a patient often. I see young men and women young enough to be my children with very visible injuries and invisible ones that are tucked away deep inside. Their pain, suffering and premature death is the true cost of war.

This Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day during the celebrations, parades and department store sales, take a moment to remember Veterans as people. Not symbols but people who took an oath to stand in harm’s way for their country and do what was ordered by many who have never been in harm’s way. Take one moment and think of Veterans who came back psycholgically and physically maimed. Think of the Service Members who never got the chance to be Veterans, brought home to their families in flag drapped coffins. Take a moment and think of the sacrifice of a minority of the citizens of this country. Is there a better day to think than Veteran’s Day? Yes, every day there is a Service Member far from home in harm’s way. Stop waving your flag for just a minute and think.

*It’s different for everyone and these are my feelings and opinions.* Cheers
Excerpts from this post were taken from Scleroderma, Sarcoidosis and Box Wine from the post dated 11/11/2010. Also written by Karen Vasquez