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Sergeant Shepard, Army National Guard at Kuwait

Nov 17, 2014

PHOTO: From left, lifelong friends Melanie Walton, Sgt. Tara Shepard, Maria Stevenson

 

A few members of our extended family responded to our country’s call to service.

My father served in the United States Air Force during the Korean Conflict. He gave the country four years of his life. The country repaid him with a college education at the University of Missouri, a first for our family; a home bought with a loan backed by the federal government; a successful, rewarding career as an electronic engineer for the Federal Aviation Administration that allowed him to work at headquarters in Washington, D.C.; and a retirement plan that he was able to pay toward and afford. He’s retired now. But probably busier than ever.

His brother, my uncle, was a lifer in the U.S. Navy.

Four of my mother’s five brothers served.

My wife’s father died while in service; he served in Korea and Vietnam in two branches of our Armed Forces.

My cousin Mike Dell spent four years in the Navy and his son Michael repaired helicopters for the U.S. Army.

The common denominator among this group? They all are fine countrymen.

Now we can add Tara Shepard, my wife’s cousin, to the list of fine countrymen from our family. She is beautiful. She is a mother. She is a Sergeant in the United States Army National Guard deployed at Kuwait.

“I always knew I wanted to be in uniform,” she told SEMO TIMES. “I always wanted to be in service; to be a part of something bigger than myself.

“Helping others and our country is the greatest thing a person can do,” she continued. “Something my children can be proud of.”

And her service at Kuwait is no picnic. Although she cannot discuss the dangers of her duties, they are many. Even though the State of Kuwait is a bit smaller than the state of New Jersey, it borders the Persian Gulf between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, which makes the area a prime strategic location.

The Central Intelligence Agency noted:

Kuwait was attacked and overrun by Iraq on 2 August 1990. Following several weeks of aerial bombardment, a US-led, UN coalition began a ground assault on 23 February 1991 that liberated Kuwait in four days.

The AL-SABAH family has ruled since returning to power in 1991 and reestablished an elected legislature that in recent years has become increasingly assertive. The country witnessed the historic election in 2009 of four women to its National Assembly.

Since 2006, the Amir has dissolved the National Assembly on five occasions (the Constitutional Court annulled the Assembly in June 2012 and again in June 2013) and shuffled the cabinet over a dozen times, usually citing political stagnation and gridlock between the legislature and the government.

Shepard said it’s not easy being a woman in the military and deployed in a male-chauvinistic society that rates women as second-class citizens.

“I have had to prove myself and I still do,” she said. “But I’m tough and I work side-by-side with my male battle buddies.

“They are my brothers.” she emphasized. “They trust me and depend on me just like I do them. I have earned my place. I believe they see me as their equal now.”

Since Shepard serves in an engineer capacity, the days are long and dirty. Up at 4:30 a.m.; squad meeting; chow; then off to the job site where she works until late in the day. Repeat ad infinitum.

If Kuwait is anything, it is diverse, she said. “People are here from all ends of the world,” the sergeant said. “Here on post the nationals that work for us are very nice.

“But outside post they could care less,” she added. “Although Kuwait for the most part is happy we are here. As a woman in uniform, the local men won’t make eye contact and seem disgusted with my presence. The women aren’t allowed to have interactions with us.”

Despite hardships like separation from her children, long, blistering-hot summers and short, cool winters, Shepard noted she extended her contract for her current deployment and plans to re-enlist for another six years after her return home.

“I don’t think we’ll ever completely leave here,” Shepard said. “We are part of this country.

“They love having us here,” she added. “It makes them feels safe, knowing we are here. We protect them.”

And, she’s proud of what she’s accomplished and what others might accomplish by enlisting.

“Joining the military is a very personal thing,” the sergeant said. “It’s bigger than you.

“It’s a family,” she continued. “It’s a community. It’s something only a very few get the chance to do.”

And Shepard’s thoughts regarding Veterans Day?

“Vets Day isn’t about us,” she said. “It’s about other people getting the chance to thank us.

“I think about and remember my battle buddies every day,” she added. “I don’t need a special holiday for that.”