In honor of Veterans Day Lafayette mom Nicole Lopez shares her story of being a soldier and a mom.
I wanted to feel accomplished. I wanted a sense of usefulness. I was 23. Still in college. I had moved away from Lafayette and back again. For whatever reason, I was easily distracted and just never seemed to finish anything I started. It was spring of 2004 and I was back at UL. I was taking college algebra for the third time. I had gotten so frustrated with school and my lack of sticktoitiveness that I told myself and a few friends that if I failed Math 105 AGAIN, I was joining the Army. They laughed. Heck, I laughed. I was somewhat of a tomboy, but not one to go on extended camping trips or stay dirty or love pushups enough to want to do them daily. But, I was ready for a change, whatever that entailed.
As I predicted, I failed Math 105 miserably and without hesitation went to the Army recruiting office. My recruiter was a friend whom I had occasionally babysat for. It was no surprise he thought I was merely joking when I sat at his desk and matter-of-factly said, “Sign me up.” After a little convincing, he realized I was absolutely serious and more than ready to leave as soon as possible — before anyone could try and change my mind. I signed my eight-year Army Reserve contract April 13, 2004 and left for basic training within a couple of weeks. My family had mixed emotions about my decision but knew once my mind was set, there was no stopping me.
My family came and watched me graduate from camp and saw me off to advanced individual training. For the first time in my life I felt proud of myself. I felt like I gave my family something they could look upon as one of my greatest accomplishments. I embraced the military life. I tried to switch from reserves to active duty, which proved more difficult than one would think. When I returned from all of my training, I volunteered deployment to Kuwait, but my job position and rank was not needed. In my mind, my purpose and goal in life was to excel in the military, to break stereotypes of females in the military, and to prove to myself I could do it. I joined as a single woman with nothing to worry about but myself. I was an army generator mechanic in a military intelligence unit. I was the only female mechanic. That alone brought a newfound confidence to me. However, life has a way of letting you know that whatever plans you may have just aren’t meant to be.
December 2005 I was living in Austin, working as a flight attendant, and serving my military duty in a military intelligent unit there. I got the call that I was being deployed to Iraq. I was nervous, nervous to break the news to my family because getting deployed was their biggest fear. I was not scared. I was ready. You don’t join the military scared to get deployed. That same week, Friday to be exact, I found out I was pregnant. Six weeks along. Oddly enough I was more frightened by that news than about my pending deployment. My entire life was about to change. I had to quit my flight attendant job due to my pregnancy being unexpectedly high risk, my deployment obviously had been cancelled, and I moved back to Lafayette.
July 26, 2006, my pride and joy, Alexander, was born. My priorities, my goals, my focus had changed. I went from wanting to excel in the military to excel as a mother. I completed eight years plus with the Army in June of 2013, without one deployment; which still shocks me. I was fortunate enough to make lifelong friendships in the military and learn a trade I would have never pursued in the civilian world. I learned what it was to be a part of something greater than myself and to care for others in a way that can only be experienced and understood by fellow soldiers. But being a mother brought a new feeling of pride and accomplishment that I feel daily watching my son grow and learn; something that cannot be replaced by medals and promotions. On this Veterans Day I salute my brothers and sisters at arms. I salute those we have lost and I pray for those who are deployed. Last, I applaud the moms who are both soldier and mother, able to pursue two of my most treasured vocations.