Back from war, seeking peace at home
Appeal Staff Writer
While U.S. politicians and pundits debate how to get out of the Iraq war, Julie Sawyer wishes she could get in.
Sawyer wants to devote her talents to a mission – a goal not yet grasped by many her age. The 24-year-old veteran of the War on Terror spent six months in Afghanistan, where she endured the “100 days of wind,” sand-sweeping summer storms, crushing encounters and the ubiquitous mine fields. Sawyer called it all a “neat experience.”
Sawyer, like many veterans, discovered her calling while in the military. She is pursuing that dream in the real world after her discharge from the U.S. Army.
Sawyer is one of 306 veterans from Carson City who have sought help this year from Nevada JobConnect to re-enter the workforce. About 80 percent of the veterans obtain employment through the service, said Scott Palsgrove, veterans career consultant with Nevada JobConnect of Carson City.
Veterans receive priority on job referrals and counseling from two former service members. Palsgrove said he’s seeing an increasing number of War on Terror veterans, many of whom are National Guard or reserves returning from extended deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan. If they don’t want to step back into the jobs they had before, Palsgrove helps direct their paths. Since 2002, they’ve aided an average of 327 vets a year.
“I interviewed Julie (Sawyer) and asked her if she’d every worked with the disabled,” he said. “She is going to school for her nursing degree, so I thought the Eagle Valley Children’s Home would be a great match.”
Palsgrove is aware of the special needs at the home because his wife works there as a shift supervisor assistant. Katie Palsgrove is also an Army veteran.
“When I first saw her (Sawyer) I thought that she’s really small framed, but big things can come in small packages,” she said. “Her heart is wonderful.”
Sawyer is using the GI Bill, which is through the Veterans’ Administration, to attend Western Nevada Community College full-time, in addition to working part-time at the home for disabled children and adults.
“I get to work on a personal basis with a disabled client,” Sawyer said. “This is great training for me for going into a medical field.”
A trying day involves a difficult client, attending her classes and completing four to five hours of homework, rather than mortars exploding just outside the Army compound or navigating the Afghan markets looking for supplies.
“I enjoyed Afghanistan,” she said. “I enjoyed the experience of being over there. It didn’t stress me out that much. Some situations weren’t fun to be in, but it was still a neat experience.”
A woman soldier stands out in the Middle East. She was pawed at by the Afghans, who are accustomed to seeing women completely covered head-to-toe by the burka, a garment worn by some Muslim women. She remembers one time when the curious crushed against her and other female soldiers. They had to get escorted out of the crowd.
Before joining the Army, this Douglas High School graduate didn’t know what to do with her life. She knew she wanted to study, to travel – that’s it.
But there had to be more to life, she knew. Twice she was set for deployment to Iraq. Twice she was disappointed. A stress fracture in her left foot aggravated by constant running and a jump from a high platform during parachute training brought about the end of her military career. The Army doctors could’ve – and should’ve, she believes – caught the problem before the bone fused together over a joint. Her foot gives her some pain now when she walks or stands for too long.
Before that came to light, Sawyer took an emergency medical training class. Supply convoys were getting hit heavily by insurgents. The capture and imprisonment of Private First Class Jessica Lynch made news. She was also a supply clerk, like Sawyer. The Army wanted some soldiers who would be on those convoys trained in emergency life-saving techniques.
“I loved the emergency medical part of it,” Sawyer said.
She knew then that she wanted to work in an emergency room or as a Care Flight nurse. She could serve as a civilian nurse, but for now Iraq is a world away.
“I was very happy she didn’t have to go,” said her mother, Norma Sawyer. “It’s so scary over there and I didn’t want anything to happen to her. If she would’ve went, I would’ve said a lot of prayers. I would’ve been very proud of her. I’m proud of her already.”
Despite mounting casualties on both sides and a downturn in support for the Iraq War nationwide, Sawyer defends it while in her political science class. Sawyer said she may not have argued with these other students if she hadn’t lived through it, visited an orphanage and seen the Third-World conditions.
“Sometimes people say we shouldn’t have gone to Iraq. I say ‘would you prefer we let the terrorists come and attack our country and do nothing about it?’
“Of course not. We need to go over there and take care of the problem.”
Sawyer would’ve loved to go to Iraq just for the experience.
“That’s Julie,” said her father, Jim Sawyer, a sales manager for a local manufacturing company.
“What she’s been though most people don’t go through in their lifetime.”
For your information:
Veterans who need assistance with finding employment, or with career consulting, should call Nevada JobConnect at 684-0400 and ask for veterans services.
• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at email@example.com or 881-1212.