Kuwait 2010 – part one

I joined the United States Air Force straight out of high school in 2007. After the required 6 1/2 weeks of Basic Military Training (BMT) and 3 months of the Security Forces technical school, I was sent to Great Falls, Montana. This was where I spent the entirety of my Air Force career, with the exception of my six-month deployment to Kuwait in 2010. The time spent in Montana could be seen as a period of isolation from society due to location and weather, all depending on the individual or the best time of your life. For me, it was similar to isolation.

In 2010, I was fortunate enough to be given a spot on a 13-man team for deployment. Malmstrom Air Force Base was not known for deployments and so this is why I say I was fortunate. You do not normally hear the word fortunate and deployment in the same sentence since many would associate deploying to a foreign country that is in the throes of war or conflict as a negative thing.

Armed and fabulous with an M4 Carbine rifle and M9 pistol Photo courtesy of Yahaira Seawright

For many of the enlisted personnel stationed at Malmstrom, deploying was the holy grail. I was the chosen one. With this assignment came excitement as well as nerves. It was a new adventure for me. A time to experience something different and be away from everyone and everything that I knew. One of the reasons I enlisted was to be able to travel the world. And this was my first step into doing exactly that.

I arrived in the country in August of 2010, considerably the hottest time of the year in Kuwait. Common knowledge told me to expect an extreme temperature change compared to what I was accustomed to in Montana. Extreme was an understatement to the blinding heat I experienced for the first half of my time in Kuwait.

The temperature, on average during those summer months would be around the 120s. It was unbearably hot, blinding and dry at all times. The only difference between night and day there would be the literal darkness. The temperature would be the same but without the blinding sun bearing down on you.

In the gear that was mandated for security forces personnel in a deployed location, the heat felt ten times worse than it would normally be without all the additional gear! I remember taking off my vest at the end of shift and seeing the sweat stains from the day. It was pretty disgusting. I did my laundry every other day to ensure I never wore the same dirty uniform twice in a row.

Being part of a 13-man team, I was fortunate to know a couple of good people that would be with me in this new and foreign place. One was a really good friend of mine and would also room with me during these 6 months. It is said that you never know who people truly are until you live with them. This is normally used when in a romantic relationship, but I feel it can be true for any relationship.

For me and my friend, I can honestly say that without her there with me, I am not sure what I would have done. She held me steady and was ALWAYS there when I needed someone most. I am, and will always be, grateful for her.

The threat was always real during my deployment. I know this because every single day before posting out, we would be given the same briefing. Be vigilant. Be wary. The threat is real. Even though nothing is going on does not mean that nothing is going on. If we posted on social media, we could not put our location or anything specific in our posts. Also, GPS had to be turned off to avoid potential pins to our location via our posts.

But in actuality, our location was not what one would consider the hot zone. This did not stop us from being cautious and remaining vigilant as was our job. And since the location is relatively safe, we had liberties that other locations were not privy to. Aside from not having the usual freedoms we were accustomed to in the States, we had it pretty good. We had access to a free gym that was open 24/7, a small Base Exchange (BX) store, a few eateries on the Air Force side, with more choices on the Army side, brick dormitories vs. tents and free Wi-Fi to keep connected to our loved ones back home.

Keeping connected wasn't a huge concern with me being single and no children. I did keep in contact with my parents on occasion, but for the most part, did my own thing. I used the opportunity of the downtime I had to go to the gym and focus on finishing my degree online. My work schedule was four-in-one. I worked four days with one day off. That day off was usually spent sleeping in until noon and just relaxing in my room, working on school assignments or writing. My goal was that by the end of the deployment, I would obtain my Community College of the Air Force degree (CCAF) and be in better shape than what I was when first arriving in the country.

That is the common goal for the majority of people that deploy because there is so much free time and we are not held down by schedules. Our focus is honed into working out. Because, why not?

My goals were met by the end of the deployment as well as I made new friends/connections to include meeting my future husband. I had some rough mental moments while I was in Kuwait and I feel I can attribute that to being so young and naive. I grew a lot from the experiences during this time and left Kuwait a different person with a different mindset.

Kuwait 2018 – part two

In 2013, I separated from the Air Force and was reserves for a few years. From the time of separation to 2018, I was in and out of jobs and actively looking for work. I was trying to find a career that I could call mine for the next 20 years or so. I wanted to find something that I loved doing. You know the phrase, do what you love and you will never work again? That was the end goal for me.

I guess you could say that I was finding myself. Or a better word could be floundering. From the time that I was 18 up until 2013, I was used to working every day. Being a housewife or a stay at home mom was not something I saw myself doing until I was doing it. And it affected me. I found out later on that what I needed was work. I needed to keep myself constantly moving or I would go insane.

My husband, Robert, was deployed from 2017 until 2018, so it was just me and my two wonderful children. And we were struggling financially. I hated it. I hated being dependent on someone else when it came to finances. I missed making my own money. I also knew that we needed a second job to make ends meet. That's when we came across contracting with the military.

This job, this foot in the door, required me to commit myself to a year in the Middle East. The location was the same as my earlier deployment in 2010, and so I thought, easy. I've done this before, I can do it again. The only difference being, I had a substantial amount of responsibilities I did not have the first go around.

The first and most pressing concern was my children.

Adrianna (left) me (center) Robert (right) at the Sacramento Airport as I prepare to leave for Kuwait again, after Christmas
Photo courtesy of Robert Seawright

My daughter, Adrianna is seven years old and my son, Robert III, is four. They are my heart and the center of everything I do. This job required me to leave my kids and I knew it would affect me as well as them, but I also knew that I was doing this for them.

It isn't easy to leave your children behind, especially when leaving them behind involves leaving the continent.

The next step was more like a leap, but a necessary one. Early in 2018, I left California and all I knew to return to Kuwait. I already knew this experience would be different from my first. For one, I was going as a civilian and not bound to the strict limitations of the military. Second, I was a different person entirely from my 20-year-old self.

Upon arriving in Kuwait, I already experienced something different from my first stint. I was arriving as a civilian through the international airport vs. arriving through military means. I was immediately immersed in what to expect of the locals from that first day in the country.

Having this civilian perspective of Kuwait, I was able to see the cultural differences first hand and the basic interactions with the locals. I found the locals friendly and engaging for the most part. The majority of locals were westernized, but there were also those locals who were traditional. They also were very conservative with their dress in comparison to Americans.

I made sure to be aware of the local customs and ensure I never wore anything that would be deemed inappropriate in a Muslim country. I had to make adjustments to what I would normally wear, avoiding shorts and sleeveless tops unless I was on a military installation. Even being on a military base, I had to comply with their dress code: no sleeveless tops unless you were going to and from the gym and no revealing clothing at all. The rules were simple enough but could be annoying if people were nit-picking, which on a military base, was likely.

Another change I had to adapt to quickly was learning to leave with other people. I have spent the last 10 years living independently, either in my own apartment or my family home with my kids and husband. I was used to doing my own thing without considering other people. I went from living in my home and going to and from to living in a building with military members and sharing a room with a complete stranger.

It was like I went back 10 years to when I lived in the dorms on base. But the difference was, I knew and loved that independence and freedom, only to not have that freedom. For the most part, I found it frustrating. I had to go back to sharing the laundry room and dealing with broken machines due to overuse and living in a teeny room with no real privacy. For lack of better words, the experience sucked.

Riding camels in Dubai Photo courtesy of Yahaira Seawright

Some similarities from my first trip to Kuwait to my second were: free 24/7 access to the base gym, access to the dining facility (free food), access to eateries on base, free Wi-Fi, substandard dorm living and shared facilities (laundry rooms). Some differences were: freedom to go wherever I wanted to whenever I wanted to, visa trips to other countries, holidays, travel and I got my own dorm room so I received some more privacy than initially. I came to Kuwait alone instead of with a team, which made adjusting a little harder than my first time

I never realized how hard living in Kuwait and being separated from my family would be. I missed them all the time.

The time difference did not help much. My family was in California, an 11-hour time difference from Kuwait. It made phone calls difficult since I had to account for when my husband would be awake if he was at work and if the kids were at school. I left it to Robert to call me so I would know they were available to talk.

I started a Master's program at the same time I left for Kuwait, so I have enrolled in school once again. This helped the days go by quickly since each week I had a deadline to meet. I also had a much busier work schedule. Instead of the 4-1 schedule that I worked when I was deployed in Kuwait as a military member, I worked a 6-1 schedule. I committed myself to the gym, being known as the girl that would be seen running around the base or lifting in the gym. On occasion, I socialized with my coworkers and would shop and eat.

At the Grand Avenues Mall, Kuwait City Photo courtesy of Yahaira Seawright

For this second deployment, I kept to myself. I kept busy with the gym and school work and made time to talk to my husband and kids. I focused on doing a good job at work. As the year closed out, I realized more and more that this job was not meant for my type of personality or even more, for a married mother of young children. It was an experience, it got my foot in the door for potential connections and it helped resolve the majority of our financial issues.

I do not regret the choice I made to contract out in Kuwait for a year and being away from my kids but I also know I would not take another job offer that would require me to be apart from my family again. It was a learning experience that had its pros and cons as most jobs are expected to have. But it was not the job for me.