Back in the USA

Back in the USA
ESSENCE.COM Jul, 13, 2012

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“Putting our lives on the line takes a lot of strength and courage,” says Specialist Kendra Sanders. With a father who served 20 years in the Army, Sanders understands sacrifice from both sides of the equation. She had to put everything on hold, knowing that she might not return, as did her longtime boyfriend, Michael (far right), who redeployed to Iraq only a few days before she left. “What matters most is that we both made it back alive and are more in love than ever,” she says.

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“To whom much is given, much is required.” This is the code Sergeant Siphra Tchoua has lived by during her six years of service in the Army. She takes pride in serving a country that has opened so many doors for her. “Most of the Americans I encounter tell me how much they appreciate the military’s hard work,” she says proudly. “They thank me for holding down the home front and continuing to fight for America’s security and independence.” The Cameroon native moved to Dalton, Georgia, with her parents when she was 19 years old. Now she spends her days giving back in a different way: She works with the Chaplain’s Office, offering spiritual encouragement to her fellow officers, helping to plan weddings and single soldiers’ retreats, and organizing luncheons and prayer breakfasts. “The smile on their faces just makes my day,” says Tchoua. “I pray daily for God’s strength, wisdom and mercy for them and the work I do.”

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While scaling a 60-foot-tall tower in basic training, Private First Class Lenishia Sauls overcame a fear of heights. “The fear and anxiety just left me,” says Sauls. “Fear was no longer in my vocabulary.” Receiving two Army Achievement Medals—awarded to soldiers who go above and beyond the call of duty—also boosted her self-confidence. She says her medals are a reminder of her ability to meet the goals she has set for herself: “I look back and think about the things I thought I wasn’t able to do and found out otherwise.” Sauls plans to pray this Fourth of July for the military personnel who are still deployed.

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When Sergeant Major Henney Hodgkins returned home, she thought she might have a little time for R&R. But, like most of us, she found that time was all too fleeting. Since being back, she has graduated with a dual master’s degree, celebrated her 18-year-old daughter Nicole’s high school graduation, bought a new house, changed formations and joined a new battalion. “I’m adjusting well, but I’m busier than I thought I’d be,” says Hodgkins, joking. The 19-year Army vet says she intends to take time this Fourth of July to enjoy her family and remember the soldiers who never made it back.

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There’s nothing more important than family to Staff Sergeant Charista Williams. After losing her mother several years ago, Williams secured full custody of her younger sister, Shavon, 19, and is stepping back into mommy mode with 6-year-old daughter, Mashajn. This Fourth of July the sergeant says she will reflect on the freedoms and rights we often take for granted.

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On returning home, First Lieutenant Danella Williams says, “It feels as if time stopped, but then you fall back into your life and realize nothing stopped at all.”

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When Specialist Karina Davis returned from a two-year deployment, she knew that adjustments would be part of the deal. The freckle-faced Davis is slowly easing back into being home with her children Kasey, 13, and Armando, 14, but admits it hasn’t been a piece of cake. “I didn’t want to be around people and was having bouts of depression,” she says. “And it was hard for me to fall asleep because I hear everything.” After going to a counselor, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. She says she’s working through it with the support of her family and friends. On base at Fort Hood, Davis is taking classes to reorient and readjust herself to everyday life. She’s also getting used to being a bride—she married fellow soldier Army Specialist Joe Davis, Jr., last January in a courthouse wedding.

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After 16 years in the Army, four Iraq deployments and overseas stints in Turkey, Germany, Japan and Korea, Staff Sergeant Angela Stevenson obviously loves her job. Now, though, she’s head over heels to be back home with her husband, Joseph, who is also an Army vet stationed at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. The couple never went more than three days without talking to each other. Stevenson intends to give the Army another four years and then pursue her passion for health care management. While she knows there is much more work to be done to diversify the ranks, she is honored to be one of the women who is leading a command. “I don’t take anything for granted,” says Stevenson. “There are many Black women who are making it to higher ranks. I admire them so much and I’m really proud to have them working beside me.”