by Spc. Elvyn Nieves
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division
CAMP TAJI, Iraq – The composure and sense of responsibility to help those who are in need is a distinguishing trait of many Soldiers.
Many already showed those values before joining the Army. Such is the case of Pvt. Kaci Steilow, who serves as a mental health specialist in Company C, 64th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division – Baghdad.
In August 2004, Florida was hit hard by Hurricane Frances. Steilow, a Fort Pierce, Fla., native, and then a junior at West Wood High School, moved with her mother from her house in Hutchinson Island to a school being used as a shelter. Because of the damage from the hurricane, her house was uninhabitable.
Steilow and her mother stayed for about a week and a half in the shelter. Instead of watching how the hurricane disrupted the lives of the people in her community, Steilow decided to do something to help.
"I could sit around, play cards and do nothing, but I wanted to help," said Steilow. "My mother and I helped 'Mrs. Cookie,' (who was) the cook at the school (that was) being used as a shelter, to cook and serve meals to approximately 1,500 people."
Steilow said there were many elderly people and pregnant women from the surrounding areas taking refuge at the school. The elderly and pregnant women were served first, followed by the rest of the displaced residents and the volunteers went last.
"My mom, Mrs. Cookie and I got up about 4 a.m. to start cooking breakfast," said Steilow. "By the time we finished with dinner it was about midnight, so we had like four hours of sleep."
A few weeks after Hurricane Frances ravaged Florida, a second hurricane, Hurricane Jeanne, struck the peninsula. Steilow said her house at Hutchinson Island was already damaged by Hurricane Frances so she and her mother decided to stay in an apartment inland. Nevertheless, Steilow drove every day for about one week to the same shelter to help the people there.
But Steilow's caring initiative and sense of responsibility didn't pass unnoticed. Steilow said among the people looking for shelter was the vice principal of her high school, who watched her work every day.
Steilow said she received awards from her school, such as Junior Youth of the Year, the Youth Volunteer of the Year and the Youth Volunteer of the County, which was awarded by the school superintendent.
Shortly after Steilow graduated high school in 2006, she joined the Army as a mental health specialist.
Steilow is now in her first deployment to Iraq, where she is helping Soldiers with problems adjusting to the deployment by providing relaxation therapy and stress and anger management orientations.
Capt. Christi Borrell-Moreno, an Oklahoma City native, who serves as the mental health officer in the same unit, said that during her time working with Steilow, the Florida native has demonstrated excellent clinical skills in the mental health area.
"She takes exceptional care of the Soldiers," said Moreno. "She's really wonderful to have in my team."
Steilow decided to become a mental health specialist to continue doing something she enjoys.
"The most rewarding part of my job is to see that I'm actually helping Soldiers to get through their problems," said Steilow.