February 16, 2006

By Jessica Chapman
The Kaselehlie Press

Juliet Obed does not want to be thought of as a hero. She is quick to point out the unglamorous aspects of military life, such as cleaning latrines, and is reluctant to voice support for the U.S. occupation of Iraq. She spent a year in Iraq repairing Humvees, occasionally traveling short distances in a convoy. To her, being a member of the U.S. military was a job, nothing more.

Obed's humility weaves a thread throughout her descriptions. "I'm the type of person, that if I throw a rock and you see it, fine, but if not, I'm not going to tell you about it," she says. When coaxed, however, she self-effacingly proceeds. She acknowledges, for example, the great stress of service in a warzone. "When we first went there, it was kind of hard." she said. "Every day you hear about a convoy that got hit."

Obed downplays her military service though, one year of which she spent in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. It's part of who she was, not who she is. "That part of my life, I'm done with," she says. Since her honorable discharge last year, she has disposed of her fatigues and shifted focus to being a mother to her three children, ages 11, 9 and 11 months. In fact, she chose to leave the military to care for her newborn son.

Her only mementos from Iraq appear to be a handful of photos she sent to her family in Pohnpei while she was away. In them, she smiles and strikes goofy poses with friends. In a couple she huddles with others around a Scrabble board. She looks healthy and tanned.

Obed, who grew up in Mwoakilloa, returned to Pohnpei last November after more than three years of service with the U.S. Army, most recently with the Fort Campbell, Ky.-based159th Aviation Brigade. She served in Mosul from March 2003 to March 2004. Obed is just one of dozens of Micronesian youth, few of them women, who join the U.S. military each year. Enlistment offers undeniable benefits, among them education, healthcare, steady income and opportunity for travel. "Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be in Iraq, or Greece," she says, referring to excursions to Europe during her service in the Middle East.

A COM graduate, Obed, now 26, was attending school at the University of Hawaii-Hilo in 2002, a year before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, when she decided to enlist. At the time, she was struggling with her academics and felt she needed a way out. She admits her opportunism. An adventurous spirit assisted her decision to join as well.

While she acknowledges - quite animatedly at times - enjoying the travel, physical training and discipline she developed, Obed stops short of praise for her former employer. "Nobody wants to be there, but everybody has to be there to do their job." Further, she asserts, "What gave us the right to go over there?"

Obed concedes she was known for her willingness to speak her mind, recalling in particular a reprimand she received for asking U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld a question about the rights of FSM servicemembers during a visit to her base in Fort Campbell, Ky.

Obed also admits disappointment about some details of her service and cautions others to take heed. For example, while U.S. servicemembers were able to send mail to friends and families in the United States free of charge, Obed had to pay full postage price for her correspondence to reach the FSM. She found this out the hard way, after having a handful of letters returned several months after sending them.

She was also denied the free phone calls provided to servicemembers calling the United States. Right now, Obed is concentrating on the future. She plans to return to Kentucky with two of her children in October where she will reunite with her husband, a former Army aircraft technician currently serving the military as a civilian contractor. She plans to use the education benefits she accrued during her service toward completing her B.A., an option for which she is thankful. She would like to teach young children, or perhaps work at a daycare.

"I would advise people not to join, but if they do, best of luck with it," she said.The U.S. Department of Defense currently reports over 1.3 million active duty military personnel. Of them, just over 200,000, or approximately 15 percent, are women. The department cited 2,270 U.S. casualties from Operation Iraqi Freedom as of Feb. 10. U.S. military recruiters will be in Pohnpei through next week.