Memorial Tribute to Ed Mangan

I first met Ed Mangan in 2018 when I joined the Ahwatukee American Legion Post 64.  He was the Commander of the Post and welcomed me with a hearty laugh and a warm smile. At my first Post 64 member meeting, I noticed the Captain bars on Ed’s Legion cap and the tri-color band that held a round medal signifying he was a member of the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame. I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, this guy is squared away!”.   He impressed me even more when I learned that he was active in MOAA (Military Officers Association of America) and volunteered for ESGR and JROTC programs.  Having served as a Captain in the Army, I know what these organizations are and hold great respect for people who participate and support them.  

Ed was an inspiring leader who walked the walk and spoke strongly and passionately about the importance of remembering those who have served as well as younger members of the community.   He took his roles seriously and enthusiastically participated in hundreds of parades, flag ceremonies, and honor guards.

The world needs more people like Ed Mangan and it is my honor to write and share this tribute article about him and his life.

Edmund “Ed” Louis Mangan III was born in Chicago, Illinois and was the fourth of eight children. He graduated from Joliet Catholic High School in 1961 and served in the United State Air Force as an aircraft maintenance technician, communications engineer and recruiting officer.

He was deployed during the Vietnam conflict and was stationed with units in Wisconsin, California, Mississippi, Texas, Missouri, Kansas, Arizona, Germany, Thailand, and Vietnam. 

After completing correspondence courses at numerous duty stations, Ed graduated from ASU in 1973 with a Bachelors degree in Electrical Engineering. He took 18 credits each semester and took summer courses to complete his degree.

Following his military career, Ed worked as an energy management consultant and eventually started his own company, Energy Design and Consulting, “EDC.” He specialized in saving schools on their electric costs so their funds could be allocated elsewhere.

When not working, Ed truly enjoyed dancing and his favorite dance was the Swing. He professionally taught ballroom dance at Fred Astaire Dance Studios in Phoenix, Arizona. When he was a new instructor, Ed was introduced to a new student, Ann Schminke, when the two were paired together for a few dances. They loved to dance together and eventually taught dance lessons to other couples at the Ahwatukee Recreation Center.  

Ann Schminke and Ed Mangan

Ed attended many Arizona Diamondbacks games and enjoyed going to Spring Training with his daughters Lisa and Laura.  He and Ann had Sunday tickets for a few seasons directly behind home plate.

Ed and the Post 64 Color Guard behind the home plate at a Diamondbacks game, 9/14/2015

Ed passed away on October 17, 2022, five days after his 79th birthday.

He is survived by a large family including his sisters Margaret “Marge” Mangan and Joann (Scott) Jeralds both of Marion, Illinois, brothers Michael “Mick” (Barb) Mangan and Larry (Lesa) Mangan, both of Marion, Illinois, daughters Lisa M. Mangan and Laura Lynne Mangan both of Gilbert, Arizona, and numerous cousins, nephews and nieces.

Thoughts and reflections from Ed’s daughter Lisa:

Dad had an infectious and jovial laugh and cheers with loud applause. When he was excited about something, everyone around him would know. He would cheer the same at a Diamondbacks game as he would seeing a concert of The Duttons, Forever Plaid, or The Celtic Woman; his exuberant “Attaway! Attaway!” was heard after a great baseball play or musical number. He never had an “inside cheer.”

Dad loved to travel. While stationed in Germany, he and our mom traveled to Spain, Italy, Austria, and France. With Ann, he visited Hawaii a few times and went to Laughlin frequently. He went to Ireland in 2005 with his eldest sister, Marge, and Laura & I. While on our trip, we visited the Dunbrody Famine ship and we were able to locate the names of the ships some of our ancestors took to get to the US. He made plans to go on a river cruise in Europe prior to COVID and, unfortunately, was never able to make the trip. He loved traveling back to Illinois to visit family and attended the 2015 & 2021 Mangan Family Reunions. “

RIP Ed Mangan

You lived the words: Duty, Honor, Country.

Opening our Hearts and a Place for Ashley

I didn’t think I would cry while attending the Open House and Dedication of Ashley’s Place, but I did.

I didn’t think I would cry while researching the life and tragic death of 1LT Ashley White, but I did.

I didn’t think it would be so hard to write this article, but here I go.

Like a patchwork quilt, I will stitch together the background, experiences and efforts of over twenty individuals, three non-profit organizations, and  countless volunteers and donors.  The threads have been interwoven and created an amazingly rich, colorful and strong fabric.

This community fabric is strengthened by connections, common bonds, gratitude and giving.  

The story begins with a visit with Jennifer Gewarges, Executive Director at U.S. Vets in Phoenix, Arizona in July 2022.  I met her along with fellow veterans from American Legion Post 64 and we were given a tour of the U.S. Vets housing facility.  My friends Al, Bill and Jack were impressed with the professionalism and services they provided.   During our brief meeting, I asked how our American Legion post could directly help veterans in the community and Jennifer told us about Ashley’s Place and how it was planning to open later in the year.  We were all excited about the opportunity to assist in raising money and awareness for female veterans in need of safe and affordable housing in the Phoenix area.

Members of the Ahwatukee American Legion Post sprung to action and helped in fundraising events in September and rallied to present a donation to U.S. Vets at the Open House for Ashley’s Place in November.

Who was Ashley White?

I feel a special connection to 1LT Ashley White because we took such similar paths during the six years of our life after high school. We both participated in ROTC in college and received our US Army officer commissions after graduation.  Though our deployments to war and combat operations took place 20 years apart with mine in Saudi Arabia and Iraq in 1990-91 and Ashley’s in Afghanistan in 2011, I’m sure we shared common experiences and emotions.

The harrowing story of what happened to 1LT Ashley White on October 21, 2011 is chronicled in the book Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team or Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.  Ashley and her special unit gathered intelligence from local Afghan women who, for cultural reasons, couldn’t talk to men outside of their own families.

While traveling on a night patrol with US Army Rangers, Ashley was killed by an IED explosion in the Kandahar Region of Afghanistan. She was part of a newly formed Cultural Support team CST-2 which deployed alongside various elite units of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. Ashley was 24 years old.

Looking at photos of Ashley in her military uniform reminded me of the strong and fierce female soldiers I served with and reading about her unit’s mission inspired me to take action.  Her bravery, determination and commitment to helping others made me so proud of her.  I am humbled, touched and motivated to write, speak and advocate for women veterans across Arizona and our great country.

What is Ashley’s Place?

Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona, in partnership with the Milanovich Trust, U.S. Vets-Phoenix, and Arizona Sustainability Alliance came together to create Ashley’s Place, a two home complex for women veterans in need of affordable housing.

Ashley’s Place will provide transitional housing focused on addressing the unique needs of women who were exposed to trauma during their military service. 

The two five-bedroom homes will provide a safe environment for up to 30 women annually with low incomes or who are coming out of homelessness, as well as daily meals. During a stay, women will receive individually designed wraparound services including individual and group counseling, case management, healthcare, transportation, career and life skills training and other vital supports, helping them transition to a permanent home of their own.

For more information on Ashley’s Place including referral forms, applications, donation and inquires, please contact them at:  AshleysPlace@usvets.org .

The Open House and Dedication

It was clear, cool and sunny Saturday morning in Phoenix, Arizona and over a hundred people were gathered outside of two special homes in the Maryvale Village neighborhood.   After the Presentation of the Colors by an impressive and well-trained Color Guard and a beautifully sung National Anthem, guests were asked to assemble and be seated in the large front room of one of the houses.

Jason Barlow, CEO and President of Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona, welcomed everyone and shared the story of the genesis of Ashley’s Place. He thanked all of the volunteers and donors for their great work and dedication to this special and important project. He introduced Dave Elston, House Leader, who recognized and appreciated the large team of local Habitat for Humanity volunteers.

Pictured from l. To r. -Dave Elston, Hilary Werner, Nora Carrillo, Kylie Abler, and Brianna Tavilla

The most emotional part of the Dedication ceremony for me was hearing the brief and powerful words of Ashley’s mom, Deborah White.   I could see and feel the intense feelings of love and loss in her voice and face as Deborah reflected on her daughter’s fierce spirit, dedication and commitment to her country.  She was proud of Ashley and greatly appreciative that the two new houses were named in her honor.

Veterans Helping Veterans

Also in attendance at the Open House event on Nov. 19, 2022 were over fifteen members from two local American Legion posts.

John J. Morris Post 62,  Peoria, AZ

Coni Moore was joined by over ten members from the Post 62, Auxillary, Sons of the American Legion (SAL), and Legion Riders in attending the Open House/ Dedication event.  Together they raised over $5,000 to help provide supplies and furnishings to the two Ashley Place homes.

https://www.azpost62.com/

Ahwatukee American Legion Post 64

Darlene Hunter and Post members Al Hunter and Jack Armstrong joined me at the Ashley’s Place Dedication event where we presented Jennifer Gewarges from U.S. Vets with a $550 donation to help veterans during this holiday season.

Post 64 looks forward to future collaboration in on-the-ground, community events were the American Legion members can assist fellow veterans in need.

https://www.americanlegionpost64.com/

Pictured (l. to r.) Al Hunter, Gerard Cox, Jennifer Gerwarges, Jack Armstrong, and Brenda Smull

More about the Organizations

U.S. Vets

U.S. Vets is the largest non-profit organization with boots on the ground to combat America’s Veteran homeless crisis head-on.  Their holistic approach provides housing, counseling, career and supportive services to help Veterans rebuild and thrive. With over 32 sites across 11 regional locations in Arizona, California, Nevada, Hawaii, Texas and Washington D.C., U.S. Vets is uniquely positioned to help Veterans and their families across the nation successfully transition to civilian life.

https://usvets.org/

Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona

Since 1985, with the help of generous donors and volunteers, Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona has built more than 1,180 homes, affect more than 3,000 repairs, and improve a place called home for more than 4,000 Arizona families.  To learn more, please visit habitatcaz.org or follow them on Twitter @habitatcaz.

For more information about Ashley’s Place and video interview with Jason Barlow and Jennifer Gewarges check out:

https://habitatcaz.org/us-vets/

Arizona Sustainability Alliance

The Arizona Sustainability Alliance is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit action and advocacy organization that creates and supports cutting edge, project-based sustainability solutions in Arizona through civic engagement, collaboration and education.

In collaboration with volunteers and partners, Arizona Sustainability Alliance is greening the two homes by planting trees and plants and installing vertical and raised gardens. Other outdoor features include ground cover, pavers, and fencing. This project creates a welcoming outdoor space for the veterans and their families.

Kayla Killoren, Programs Manager for Arizona Sustainability Alliance said, “We’re honored to partner with Habitat for Humanity and U.S. Vets on Ashley’s Place, an incredible project that will provide housing for female veterans in Phoenix.” More information is available at https://www.azsustainabilityalliance.com/

The Courage to Communicate

It’s the weekend before a huge mid-term election in the United States where millions of voters will let their voices be heard.

As I celebrate my 28th year as a communicator in Toastmasters, I am keenly and closely watching and listening to my fellow citizens boldly and bravely expressing their thoughts and opinions about what is happening in their communities.

It takes a lot of courage to openly communicate political preferences and policy priorities but more and more people are doing it in 2022.

FILE – In this July 26, 2016, file photo, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Gabbard says she met with Syrian President Bashar Assad during a recent trip to the war-torn country. Appearing on CNN, she says there is no possibility for a viable peace agreement in Syria unless Assad is part of the conversation. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

It’s been intriguing and entertaining to witness the rapid change taking place at Twitter since Elon Musk bought the company last week. So many opinions are flying back and forth- I find it a fascinating and exciting time.

Free speech and democracy are on everyone’s minds. It will be a roller coaster of emotions and declarations next week and I am looking forward to the open dialogue that hopefully will occur as a result.

We can’t solve problems if we don’t communicate and listen to one another. Courage and humility will be needed in heaping portions as we enter into a new phase of political balance.

The Courage to Communicate is the subtitle to my first book- Strong Words and Simple Truths but this week it is the Headline!

Here are some triads that I wish for everyone in the coming week:

Strength, Tolerance, and Respect

Balance, Perspective, and Agility

Gratitude, Serenity, and Joy

Truth, Knowledge, and Common Sense

Strong Words, One Year On

One year ago I published my first book, Strong Words and Simple Truths: The Courage to Communicate.

Now more than ever, the topics covered in this edition are critically important and relevant in our polarized world. Pervasive virtual communication has left many people feeling isolated, lonely and struggling to communicate effectively.

Areas of focus include: Communication, Toastmasters, Veterans, Agile, Health and Science.

Click on link below to order now.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09HFTBDN8/ref=nodl_?dplnkId=291723f2-e7eb-4ad1-bb69-adba641bd9d5

Memorial Tribute to Dave Von Tersch

What impressed me most about Dave Von Tersch was his dedication and loyalty to fellow veterans, friends, and the members of the community.  Dave’s commitment to and passion for the Ahwatukee American Legion Post 64, where he was an active member since 2013, was evident in the long list of volunteer roles and leadership positions he held. 

Dave helped to organize and support so many important events including ceremonies for Flag Day, 4th of July, Memorial and Veterans Day, the spring Easter Parade, Evolution of the Flag, the annual Winterfest and Color Guard and Honor Guard for countless school, community and funeral events.  He also assisted in the installation and dedication of the new flagpole and flags at the Ahwatukee Recreation Center (ARC).

Dave was a true servant leader who could be counted on to lend a helping hand and served as the Post 64 Sergeant at Arms for many years.

I first met Dave when he was the Color Guard Commander in 2018 and greatly appreciated how he enthusiastically led us with strong and confident “forward, march”column left, march”,right face”, “present arms” commands.  He was serious and earnest when it came to proper flag protocol and etiquette and took to heart the solemn and crucial obligation to honor and respect our fallen comrades.   

At a Post 64 Meeting in September 2022. Photo by Steve Smull.

Another vivid memory I have of Dave Von Tersch is from Flag Day 2019 when he bravely and tirelessly endured extreme heat and large flames to ensure the proper disposal of unserviceable US flags.  This was the first time I had ever witnessed such a ceremony and I was in awe of Dave’s strength, commitment, and respect for our nation’s banner.

On a personal level, Dave was born in Sioux City, Iowa and was one of eight kids. He had a twin sister and his childhood nickname was Dutch.  Dave married the love of his life, Jean (Jeannie) and they spent 22 wonderful years together before she passed from Alzheimer’s. He is survived by his two daughters, Lara Clagett and Stephanie Jones, step children Shirley Archuletta, Darci Strang and Toby Ellis, his sister Jeanette (Nettie) Graham, and three brothers, Sid, Tim and James Von Tersch.

Dave loved to dance, play cards, and tell silly jokes. He could often be found dancing up a storm at the many Winterfest and Oktoberfest events at the ARC!

From May 1970 to May 1976 Dave served on Active Duty in the US Navy and achieved the rank of Petty Officer Second Class (E-5) Machinist Mate.   He received the Silver Dolphins badge and served on the USS Sunfish SSN-649, a Sturgeon-Class Nuclear Attack Submarine.   

After his six years in the Navy, Dave worked thirty years in technical positions such as Test Engineer supporting Agilent 3070 In-Circuit and Takaya 94xx Flying Probe test systems.

Dave was a proud military Veteran and enjoyed serving his community. 

In April 2022, Dave attended his last Spring Easter Parade and proudly marched alongside the Post 64 Color Guard for a good portion of the route. Dave was a strong man who took his responsibilities and obligations seriously.  He kept active for as long as he was able and he never quit.  His fortitude was unfaltering.

Dave marching in the Easter Parade, April 2022. Photo by Steve Smull.

Dave Von Tersch embodied the mission and values of the American Legion by continually advocating patriotism, honor, and duty to his fellow veterans.  He was committed to selfless service to his friends, family, and community and will always be deeply respected by those who had the privilege of knowing him.

The US Navy motto is Not Self but Country (Non sibi sed patriae) and Dave certainly lived by these words.

Rest In Peace Dave Von Tersch.

Losing the Magic:  Virtual Toastmasters is No Laughing Matter

Toastmasters International is losing more than clubs and members- it is losing its magic!  The nonprofit organization has 1,400 fewer clubs than it did in 2019.  As a result, there are 82,000 fewer people receiving the benefits of the educational programs.

The mindset of virus avoidance and remote meetings is taking its toll. In person meetings, training and contests are the exception while virtual events are the rule in 2022.

Many members are dissatisfied with the distant and disconnected experience of Zoom meetings and especially virtual contests at the area, division, and district levels. 

Delivering a humorous speech without a live audience is no laughing matter.  The lack of body language cues, emotion and feedback makes it hard for the speaker to connect and adjust to the audience’s reactions.  The lack of energy can add an extra burden to the speaker. 

Photo by Henri Mathieu-Saint-Laurent on Pexels.com

A long-time Distinguished Toastmaster in Arizona recently shared this in an email, “Live entertainment in the Toastmaster world seems to be coming to an end. The winter contests have been eliminated and now the Spring contests in 2023 are virtual.”  This dedicated mentor and coach joins hundreds of people in expressing their frustration with the lack of live audience speaking opportunities at Toastmasters.

Nature abhors a vacuum and the live-speaking gap will be filled by other groups. The desire and demand for direct, in-person events is raising in 2022 and a growing number of clubs and people in Arizona are organizing to meet the challenge.  Innovative and creative ideas are being implemented to provide large-scale speaking experiences and competitions.  Once such event will be held on Oct.11, 2022 at the Tempe Improv where 8 finalists will perform in a humorous speech competition.  The laughter, fun and festivities are free and open to the public and is not an official Toastmaster contest. Click here for tickets to the event.

I have attended this high energy and boisterous competition for three years and am happy that the tradition continues.

Twenty-eight years ago, I joined Toastmasters for the communication and leadership training but I stayed for the friends and the connections.

I love the positive energy, support, and camaraderie of the clubs and had no idea that the program and the people would have such a profound impact on course of my life. The last two decades have been an amazing experience of growth, experimentation and achievement.

Some of my best friends were met at Toastmaster meetings in Arizona, Colorado, Texas and California. These close bonds would never have been made had I only attended meetings through a zoom portal.

A Toastmasters club holiday party

I am still active in three clubs in the Phoenix area but worry that some of the great power and magic of Toastmasters is being lost as fewer and fewer in-person training sessions, leadership conferences and contests are being held.

The value of live language connections should not be underestimated and Toastmasters Districts across the country should strive to meet the needs of all of its members.

I strongly believe that the benefits are of the strong educational programs are not fully realized when a speaker and an evaluator never get to meet and talk in person before or after the meeting. 

Virtual Toastmasters is falling flat and can be energized by creative and innovative leaders who think out the box to find in-person and hybrid event options.

Laughter is the best medicine and can be the prescription for what ails lagging club and membership numbers.

Energy, excitement, engagement and enthusiasm can all be recaptured.

Commitment, connection, confidence and coaching can be reinvigorated.

The magic of Toastmasters is not a mystery. 

The magic of Toastmasters is live and in person.  

This Is Me: Family and Foundation

I watched the award-winning speech twice, first with my right brain and then with my left.

The first time I viewed the 2022 World Champion of Public Speaking, Cyril Junior Dim, I sat back and enjoyed the story, the humor and the emotional drama. The impactful message resonated with me and inspired to write this article.  My creative mind was activated.

During my second observation of the speech entitled “Ndini”, I used my left brain to analyze the structure, word usage, and delivery techniques. Click here to view the speech.

It is with both sides of my brain (with help from my corpus callosum) that I write this article.

The foundational phrase of the winning Toastmasters speech by Mr. Dim was “This is me” which translates to Ndini in the Bantu language Shona.   The repetition of this powerful message struck a chord in me and caused me to reflect on my own family and identity. 

Cyril Dim wove a powerful story around self-acceptance, family and tradition as he reflected on his middle name which came from this father’s language.  He boldly asked the audience, “Have you ever hated or been ashamed about some aspect of yourself?”  I wasn’t proud of my answer to that question but knew that this was an important topic and worthy of further contemplation.

I suppose that before I can proclaim “This is me!”, I need to ask “Who am I?”.

More than a result of the human reproductive process of my mother and father, I am a Heinz 57 blend of genes and traits from my ancestors from numerous countries across Europe (UK, France, Germany and Italy).  I am also a US citizen who represents the values and ethics of my family and friends.  My parents and home environment growing up surely shaped me and made me into the woman I am today.

I love and respect my parents and wish they hadn’t left the earth so soon. 

My parents pinning on my 2nd Lieutenant bars after the Army Commissioning

Who I am is strong and solid thanks to the love, support and encourage of my parents, my siblings and extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins.

Me and my siblings

My foundation is a resilient and durable patchwork quilt of genetics, experiences, traditions, and values.

I lived at home with my parents until I graduated from college and received a US Army commission.   In retrospect, I should have spent more time with my parents and thanked them more for all that they sacrificed for me but, like most adolescents

 I didn’t appreciate what I had.  During my teenaged years, I wasn’t as proud of my Mom as I should have been and was often embarrassed by her hearing impairment and her simple words. It pains me to think of how badly I treated her when she couldn’t understand me.  My impatience and rudeness were horrible, and I am embarrassed by my immature and selfish behavior.  It wasn’t until I moved out on my own and was married that I fully appreciated who my parents were.

Like Cyril Dim, I came to embrace and be proud of my family name and my parents’ values.  I know that they are responsible for my strong foundation, my work ethic, and my patriotic spirit.

The words below were read to me recently by my Yoga Therapy coach, Nancy Martch, and truly hit the mark on idea of Ndini- This is Me.   

I am steady, resilient, direct and complete.  

“Foundation Stones”

by Danna Faulds

Here is my past—

what I’ve been proud of,

and what I’ve pushed away.

Today I see how each piece

was needed, not a single

step wasted on the way.

Like a stone wall,

Every rock resting

On what came before—

No stone can be

Suspended in mid-air.

Foundation laid by every

act and omission,

each decision, even

those the mind would

label “big mistake.”

The things I thought

were sins, these are as

necessary as successes,

each one resting on the

surface of the last, stone

upon stone, the fit

particular, complete,

the rough, uneven

face of these rocks

makes surprising,

satisfying patterns

in the sunlight.

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

Birds, Words and Green Trees

Every time I spend a few days away from home in a house surrounded by green trees, I get the urge to write. I’m not sure if it’s the clean air, the amazing views or the lack of distractions that prompts my literary desire to share my thoughts with you but here I go.

It could be the fact that I’m staying in a charming AirBnB in Prescott, AZ with my husband Steve and the owners from France have an amazing collection of books. Our bibliophile hosts feel like family to me as I view the many family photos on the white walls. I can feel the love and joy they get from cooking and sharing meals with their children and their friends.

As a recent and neophyte author, I have an immense appreciation for prolific and complex writers like Tom Clancy, Dan Brown and Michael Crichton. The main wall in the master bedroom has a large bookcase filled with pages of an adventure and intrigue. I could feel the emotion emanating from the titles on the spines.

So what is my story to share with you? Why would you be interested in my thoughts and experiences as I type these words from a wooden deck over looking the city of Prescott?

A large hawk just landed on top of a telephone pole about 50 meters from me. He hung our and watched me for a while and then flew off. Sometimes I wish I could be weightless and fly.

The morning air is clean and cool and crisp. My hands are getting cold as I type so I just grabbed my large, white ceramic mug of hot green tea and took a healthy sip. I look up again at the baby blue sky, the green and brown mountain horizon and feel a sense of serenity and gratitude. I feel happy to be able to share my thoughts and photos of this lovely place.

I feel connected with the trees and the birds and it brings me comfort and relief. I feel connected to the warm family that owns this home and as a result my own family in New Jersey is close in my heart and mind. I miss them dearly and look forward to my trip to see them in a few weeks.

The elevation of this property is 5,790 ft and I’m a facing due west at 270 degrees. My mind and senses are open to new input and information and I’m happy to chronicle my journey and share it with you.

I hope you have enjoyed my short and simple story of birds, words and green trees from Arizona.

1st CAV in the Desert

I served as a Platoon Leader in the 13th Signal Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division during the first Gulf War. We deployed from Ft Hood, TX in October 1990 to Saudi Arabia and then Iraq for the short ground war in February 1991.

At age 23, it was strange and unsettling to spend Christmas away from my family and in the middle of the desert. The night skies were amazingly dark and full of more stars than I had ever seen. The occasional camel sighting did remind we of the three wise men headed to Bethlehem.

The last panel in Doonesbury cartoon below made me laugh. I found this newspaper clipping in my journal from 1990. I didn’t remember having it and probably haven’t seen it in over 30 years.

I was recently interviewed for the Rutgers Oral History Archives about my experience. Below is an excerpt from the transcripts.

KR:  At the end of your first interview, we left off talking about Operation Desert Storm.  What I would like to ask you about first today is, what are your recollections of Operation Desert Storm and the invasion of Iraq? 

BS:  I think the biggest memory and impact was in January of 1991.  We had been in Saudi Arabia since October, just sitting, waiting for the invasion.  We were in northern Saudi Arabia.  I just remember when the ground war kicked off.  We didn’t have any news.  We didn’t have TV or radio like have today, but I do remember seeing and hearing these–they were called MLRS [multiple launch rocket system]–these rockets, and they went off many at a time, and the lights, just watching these rockets take off, knowing they were going north into Iraq as we attacked, and just thinking, “Wow, how much destruction and/or death is occurring at the end of that?”  It was really bizarre and surreal, but that was the only thing I remember and I saw at the time.  It was scary that first night.  We didn’t know if we were going to get attacked with Scud missiles that had chemical or nuclear/biological weapons.  We were mostly scared of chemicals at the time, but it could have been biological.  [Editor’s Note: On January 17, 1991, U.S. and coalition forces launched Operation Desert Storm with a campaign of air and missile attacks on targets in Iraq and Kuwait.]

I do remember the first night, and that was really the only night that I slept in my mask, my gas mask, and the full protective gear.  It wasn’t too hot.  It was January, luckily.

KR:  Were there any religious services when you were in Saudi Arabia or Iraq?  Were there chaplains around to do religious services or counseling? 

BS:  In Saudi Arabia, we were told to not have any outward displays of religion, Christianity, Judaism.  We did, in our tents, have some Christmas [trees], but, again, it wasn’t [extensive].  There were chaplains, but, again, they were told to not put their insignia on their uniform.  As I recall, the officers that were chaplains would have their rank on one side and then you would have your unit on the other, but I think they had either a cross [or] Star of David, and they were told to cover those.  I don’t recall ever talking to a chaplain, seeing them.  I suppose, if it was needed and someone needed counseling, we could have called into the DMAIN, the centralized rear command, and asked for it, but we didn’t need it.  The same for doctors and nurses and medical.  I’m sure these support units were there if we needed them, but I didn’t interact with them either.  We were forward operations. 

For women, we were in the frontlines with our communication vans.  In fact, there were Iraqi soldiers surrendering to some of the units that were in my platoon, and it was a woman that they surrendered to.  She was the sergeant of this little remote radio tower.  It was her and three other soldiers who were men, but Iraqi soliders surrendered to them.  For me, I was like, “Wow, a Muslim man from Iraq just surrendered to a woman, an American woman.”  That was kind of interesting. 

KR:   My next question you have touched upon a little bit in some other questions that we have asked you.  Once Operation Desert Storm was being launched and the invasion of Iraq, what were your experiences like and the experiences of your unit? 

BS:  Once the big launch in January occurred, we left our base, where we had been for many months in northern Saudi, and we convoyed north into southern Iraq.  We left in the middle of the night.  I just remember driving in this huge–it was a deuce and a half–a two-and-a-half-ton truck, very, very uncomfortable, for hours just driving north (20+ hours), but it was pretty exciting, because we knew this was the big thing we’d been waiting for. We’re traveling, and it’s exciting because we’re seeing other tanks and units from Britain and other countries alongside us traveling in the same direction.  Then, we got to a location, and we stopped.  This was where we were going to set up our communications.  I only have one picture from the whole war.  There was a burned-out military–it looked like a tank and it was an Iraqi tank and there were dead Iraqi soldiers on the ground.  It was taken out by a U.S. missile or an Apache.  My soldiers had to call and get body bags and put them in.  I made a decision that I didn’t want to see the bodies, the corpses, because I didn’t want it to stick in my mind.  I didn’t go near it, but we set up camp maybe a hundred meters away from that.  It was kind of creepy to be there.  We were there thirty, forty days.  We stayed there, and it wasn’t long before we won the war decisively.  We were all told, “Okay, time to go home now.” 

More stories and memories to come in my next blog.

Monsoon Winds & Stormy Memories from Saudi Arabia in 1990

I am excited to announce that in October 2022, I will be inducted into the Rutgers Oral History Archives- ROHA (https://oralhistory.rutgers.edu/) in New Brunswick, NJ. This is a great honor as my story will be documented and included with the accounts from hundreds of fellow veterans from the conflicts of WWII, Korea, Persian Gulf War, Cold War and Afghanistan.

In April 2022, two strong and articulate women from the Department of History at my alma mater, Rutgers University, interviewed me about my family history, campus ROTC life, and military experience in the Gulf War.

Me in Southern Iraq, February 1991

A bit about ROHA from their website:

Since 1994, the Rutgers Oral History Archives (ROHA) has been recording the life narratives of:

  • Alumni and/or New Jersey residents who served during times of conflict
  • People with a story to tell about New Jersey’s rich social and cultural history
  • Men and women who helped shape the history of Rutgers University

ROHA’s digital archive features 1,202 life course oral history interviews and over 32,000 pages of fully text-searchable transcripts.

Here’s the cover page of the first interview transcript.

RUTGERS, THE STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW JERSEY

NEW BRUNSWICK

AN INTERVIEW WITH BRENDA SMULL

FOR THE

RUTGERS ORAL HISTORY ARCHIVES

INTERVIEW CONDUCTED BY

KATHRYN TRACY RIZZI

and

GWEN ALLEN

PHOENIX, ARIZONA

APRIL 12, 2022

Below is an excerpt of my response to a question about my experience during Operation Desert Storm:

“I was there for about ten months.  Saudi Arabia and Iraq, in those months, there were seasons where there were monsoon rains and winds.  I’ll never forget, one time, I’m in my tent, and a huge windstorm came.  It literally blew the tent off me, and it’s just me on a cot in the middle of the desert.  That was quite interesting.  Everything you owned was in two duffel bags, so you didn’t have a whole lot of clothing.  We did have services that occasionally helped launder our clothes, but, oftentimes, we would wear the same pants for days, and I did not take a shower every day.  Then, when we went into Iraq, water was limited.  I remember, I went thirty days without a shower.  As a woman, that wasn’t as ideal.  We had birdbaths, but for anybody who’s been camping, birdbaths are good for like two or three days.  Thirty days is a whole other experience.  Again, I was young.  I survived.  It wasn’t that bad, but it was just very uncomfortable.  Your body doesn’t stop doing what it does, even though you’re at war in the middle of a desert.  That was that experience.  That’s why I was always envious [that] the Air Force people were in buildings, at least most of them were, and I didn’t get to be in any buildings.  

At the end, when we were leaving the country in April 1991, we went to Khobar Towers, which is actually famous because later, a few years after I was there, there was a big bombing there.  Khobar Towers were in Saudi Arabia, there was a big bombing, and I believe some were killed and injured.  I was only there for a week or two before they flew us back home.  That’s the story about that.  [Editor’s Note: On June 25, 1996, a truck bomb detonated near the Khobar Tower housing complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing nineteen members of the U.S. Air Force and injuring over four hundred American and coalition military personnel.  The Khobar Towers housed coalition forces engaged in Operation Southern Watch, the no-fly zone operation in Southern Iraq after the Gulf War of 1990-1991.
]”