By Sgt. Rodney Foliente
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division
CAMP ECHO, Iraq – "What do you want to be when you grow up?" It is a question every child hears in the States. They answer with child-like confidence rooted within their tiny bubbles of experience. Many grow up with those young dreams unfulfilled, changed by circumstance or choice.
But ask most adults what they wanted to be when growing up and most will answer with that young spark shining through. It often nags those adults with the feeling of something left unfinished. But some hold on to those dreams until a point in their lives where it can be fulfilled.
For one such woman whose dream was to be a Soldier, life kept pushing it back until she thought time would prevent it. After multiple attempts to join, as a grandmother, she finally got her chance ... a quarter of a century later.
43-year-old Pfc. Alexandria Enmund, supply specialist currently working as both a petroleum and water supply specialist with 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, fulfilled her dream and is currently deployed to Patrol Base Hillah.
Enmund, who comes from Orlando, Fla., enlisted into the Army at the age of 41, turned 42 before completing her training and was sent to her unit at Fort Carson, Colo., approximately six months before deploying. She turned 43 here in January.
Facing criticism and stark disbelief, Enmund's tale is inspirational - a testimony of not letting go of dreams when most would give up.
"I wanted to join after high school in 1984, but I got pregnant with my first son. I wanted to serve, but it was more important for me to raise my baby. I didn't want to leave him," explained Enmund.
Over the next few years she had another son and a daughter. With the joys of raising her children and remaining busy as a cosmetologist, Enmund immersed herself in daily civilian life.
But the itch to be a Soldier stayed with her. Her father had been in the Army and served in Vietnam. Her sister was also in the Army, eventually retiring from it. After seeing her sister's discipline and what the Army did for her, Enmund, was driven to try again.
At the time, she was fast approaching 35 and learned that the cutoff for an age waiver was her birthday. She rushed to join.
"I decided I should still join. I took the test and did everything else but had to wait for an age waiver. The waiver didn't come in time," she said.
Disappointed but unwilling to let it keep her down, she continued with her life and remained happy. But the old dream continued its whisper, leading to an impulse in July 2007 that changed her life.
"I was sitting in my yard one day and a recruiter was passing by. I flagged him down and he stopped his car and asked how he could help me. So I told him to waive the age limit so I could join the Army," said Enmund.
She said she was partly joking, partly curious. The recruiter surprised her and said the age limit was raised during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"The problem was I wasn't in shape at that point," she said. She worked hard to get fit and approximately one month after meeting the recruiter, she enlisted. She received a $20,000 bonus she hadn't known about prior to signing up.
She was grateful for the bonus, but to receive it meant she had only 10 days to settle affairs with her house and her family before shipping for Basic Combat Training.
She said her younger son, Bhritten, was the most nervous about her joining.
"He said to me, 'Ma, I understand you've got a dream, but tell them you can't do it anymore. Don't do this. I can't deal with you gone so long'," recalled Enmund.
But Enmund was determined, though admittedly nervous. She was grateful for the support from her eldest son, Osaybeyon.
"I remember he said, 'You can do this. You're always taking care of everybody else. This is your dream. Don't give up on it'."
Enmund finished Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training and was first stationed at Fort Carson in March 2008. At this time she was visited by her younger son; the same son who did not want her to join.
He told her he was so proud of her, she recalled. He was curious and asked her all about the Army, and was impressed by the camaraderie he saw in his mother's unit. The experience left an impression on him and he surprised his mom by telling her that he was planning to join the Army as well.
"I was so happy he wanted to join. But he told me he wanted to do something more exciting than my job. He wanted to be airborne and military police."
Bhritten has passed his entry test and is waiting only for his friend to pass before they join together. He met with the same recruiter that helped Enmund.
Now Enmund is a little jealous, she admitted with a laugh. "I want to jump out of airplanes!"
Enmund is close to the half-way mark in a year-long deployment. Though there are hardships inherent in deployment, she said she stays positive, makes the most of it and works hard.
The physical hardships and lack of amenities don't really bother her. Missing her family is the hardest part.
"They're all proud of me and support me," she said of her family. My oldest son always knew I could do it. The others thought I had forgotten how old I was," she said with a fond giggle.
Her lips twitched in a complex smile of pride, joy and sorrow and her eyes cast a far-away look as she spoke the names of her children whom she misses so dearly: Osaybeyon, 24, Soldier-to-be Bhritten, 22, and daughter Keinyaddia, 20.
The emotions appeared even more poignant when she spoke of her grandsons: Tyon, 4, Jai, 2, and 'Ron Ron,' 2.
"It's very hard being away from family," she said. "But, these people; they're my family too ... a big family. You've got to live it to understand it. A lot of these young Soldiers, they're just like my children away from home."
Throughout the day, some Soldiers called her 'ma,' even those that outrank her. Many can hardly believe her age. She said she cuts many of the Soldiers' hair, listens to their problems and encourages them as they work and live together. She said she is proud to serve with them, proud to know them.
"Yeah, my family misses me a lot and I miss them," she said. "It's worth it though."
She said she is glad for the opportunity to serve her country and deploying to Iraq has taught her a deeper appreciation for the freedoms and way of life that America offers.
"I think everybody should experience this," she said of the Army and deployment. "To come out here and deal with it, it's something else. It helps you appreciate things more. It's spiritual."
Enmund said she is probably too old to stay in the Army much longer than her four year enlistment, but is still glad to be doing her part.
"I'm here to serve my country and my family. By seeing me do this when so many people thought I couldn't, they can look to their own goals, no matter how impossible they might seem, and plant seeds for their children. You can't give up. Take the good with the bad and do what you need to do."
From mother to grandmother to Soldier, she had a dream that life kept denying, but she stuck with it and fought to do it her way.
"I don't regret my decision at all," she said. "I'm living my dream. Hooah!"