CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait - It may be a small world, but it’s even smaller when you’re a member of the U.S. Army. For Sgt. Christina Christensen, of the Oklahoma National Guard, and her cousin Pfc. Tyler Wade, it was enlisting in the Army that brought them together after not seeing each other for 10 years.
During their pre-mobilization process, the two members of the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team were reunited while preparing to support Operation New Dawn with the 1st Squadron, 180th Cavalry Regiment stationed in Camp Buehring, Kuwait, where they work with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division “Red Bulls” in the draw down effort.
On a dark night on the firing range of Camp Shelby, Miss., soldiers who had already fired sat together in a waiting area. Included in the group were both Christensen and Wade. In the darkness, however, they couldn’t see one another.
“There was [another soldier] talking about working at the prison in McAlester. I mentioned that my uncle used to work there. And when I said that, she asked ‘Who’s your uncle?’” Wade recounted the story. “When I told her she said ‘That’s my dad!’”
“I hadn’t seen him since he was 8. I knew who he was when he told me his name. But we didn’t get to see each other for a couple of days.” Christensen added.
Growing up in McAlester, Okla., both Christensen and Wade had struggles with home and family. Wade was abandoned by his stepmother, who was Christensen’s father’s twin sister, when he was a young teenager. He stayed in a shelter for awhile, but was fortunate enough to be taken in by a police officer named Max Clark and his wife, April.
“When I was younger I went to this church and his wife, April, knew me. I guess her brother’s wife worked for [the system] and she had told him that I was in the shelter. April told Max to come pick me up,” explained Wade. “They wound up letting me stay there for a little bit and from there I decided to go to military school.”
Wade made the choice to go to military school when difficult times arose after Max took pay cuts from his job with the McAlester Police Department. The school he attended was the Thunderbird Youth Academy (TYA). TYA is a program offered through the National Guard and the Oklahoma Military Department. After graduating from the program, Wade decided to enlist in the Oklahoma National Guard.
This was nearly 10 years after his older cousin, Christensen, made that very same commitment to the state of Oklahoma.
“I had just graduated high school and was a foster kid. The state basically pays to raise foster kids. They generate the money for parents to be able afford to raise us,” Christensen said. “It was just my way of giving back to Oklahoma; for giving to me, and giving me an opportunity at life and giving me a family and a mom and a dad. They’re irreplaceable to me.”
It was Christensen’s 15th birthday when she moved in with her foster mother.
“She made me a birthday cake. Her not knowing me and being able to take me in and make me feel wanted just made me feel good. Wanted. That’s what kids want. They want to feel wanted,” Christensen described. “If it wasn’t for the state having opportunities for people to be foster parents, I would have never gotten the opportunity to get to know the family that I have. That was why I made my decision in high school to give something back.”
Now, 10 years later, Christensen is still giving back to her home state of Oklahoma as an active member of the National Guard. She does this while also providing for her family and maintaining her role as a wife and mother of a 2-year-old daughter.
“It’s a good experience. It’s life-changing. You never know what’s going to happen. I never knew I’d meet my little cousin 10 years later in the military,” Christensen said. “Being in the military is hard to explain. We’re trying to make a difference in our lives to choose the right path and have a better future.”