Duluthian remembers Iraq deployment
Former Chief Master Sergeant and Duluthian Jodi Stauber enlisted in the 148th Fighter Wing of the Minnesota National Guard directly after graduating from Denfeld High School in 1986. She served in the guard for nearly 24 years before retiring in 2010.
In honor of Veterans Day, Stauber shared some of her experiences with the Budgeteer about her five-month volunteer deployment in Iraq in the summer of 2009.
Dust storm and famous faces
"July was the worst dust storm in their recent history," Stauber said. "So all of July it looked like snow outside, only it's dust. It looks like all particles in front of you. No sun, dust everywhere."
The dust storm was considered the worst in living memory, according to news reports. All of the photos taken outside by Stauber in July show particles floating everywhere.
"You come inside and you have it on you everywhere, even on your eyelashes, because it would just settle. It's the craziest and most disgusting thing to have dust all over your clothes. To go to bed at night and your bed is full of dust. It's just everywhere and it's nasty," Stauber said.
Stauber was grateful to see the storm come to the end, partially because it allowed planes to begin flying into the Baghdad again.
"If you come to Iraq, you're going through that airport, Baghdad International. We greeted and met any dignitaries that came through. We got to see everybody, then," Stauber said.
Stauber has photos with Vice President Joe Biden, Senator John McCain, Stephen Colbert, Angelina Jolie and several other coaches, politicians and singers.
"Governor (Tim) Pawlenty came when I was there. That was kind of funny. He recognized my last name and was like, what are you doing here?" Stauber said.
Stauber was deployed alone from her base, which she said surprised Pawlenty. But Stauber said it's a fairly common occurrence.
"A lot of the time, when the bases deploy, they send an airplane package. You see that on the news a lot where 200 people are going and it's a big hoopla. But everyday, there are people like me who went by themselves," Stauber said.
Being deployed on your own can be lonely, according to Stauber.
"It's a different scenario, because I didn't know anybody and nobody knew me versus going with 200 people you know," Stauber said. "It was very scary. I was very honored to serve, but I was nervous about leaving my family. We had our four kids at that time already."
What Stauber missed the most was hugging her kids. She could Skype with them often, but the lack of hugs was difficult.
"To go that long without a hug was hard. I didn't think about it before I left and now I realize the sacrifice so many have made by choosing multiple deployments. I mean, I only went once for five months. So many have it worse," Stauber said.
'You are my sister'
Despite the difficulty of deployment, Stauber found rays of light in new friendships. She became good friends with an Iraqi woman named Lena. Lena's family members lived on the same base as Stauber.
"She was very special to me. She and her family were wonderful," Stauber said.
Stauber wanted to give Lena a gift before she left because she knew she might never see her again. Stauber searched Amazon for a copy of her favorite book, "The Little Prince," written in Arabic and English.
"I couldn't believe that I found it! I ordered it and gave it to her and she was so thrilled," Stauber said. "The last time I saw her, she gave me a hug and said, 'I love you, you are my sister.' I felt so touched and said, 'You are my sister, too.'"
Today, the area where Lena lived has been taken over by ISIS, according to Stauber. Stauber said she's very worried about Lena and her family.
"It's hard because I don't know where she is now. I have no idea what she's up to. If she's scared, if she's hiding or what," Stauber said.
Lemonade to care packages
While she was away, Stauber's family was hard at work. Her children picked up extra chores around the house while her husband adjusted to extra responsibilities.
"My husband really had to step it up. He had a full-time job and a lot of responsibility already. And then he had these kids he had to get off to school, be fed, be bathed, help with homework, lawns to be mowed. It was a lot for him. Family members are really the unsung heroes for it all," Stauber said.
She soon found that the families of Iraqi soldiers being trained on the base in Baghdad have problems as well.
"I visited with several of the families that were there. One of the mothers was crying because she didn't have diapers for her baby. And that's when the lemonade stand project started," Stauber said.
Stauber's children and her sister-in-law's children made a lemonade stand over the summer. The children donated a few hundred dollars to the Good Neighbor Program at the Sather Air base, near where Stauber was based. The program sent boxes of donations of shampoo, clothes, diapers and several other products that are hard to find.
"The whole back of the truck was just full of stuff that got sent. Then we bagged stuff up and brought it over to the neighborhoods and gave it away to try to help," Stauber said.