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Features: Two Years Time

January 30, 2008

(Features is a semi-regular post in which I’ll be reposting the work I do for my Feature Writing class on this blog. These are not strictly published pieces, but they certainly have the whiff of journalism about them. This week: a profile)

Gretchen Doggett was sitting at her friend Scott’s apartment with a large group of friends, debating the topics of the week: Britney Spears’ breakdown, Heath Ledger’s death, and anything else that would keep them from their homework a little longer. Her ears opened up a little more, though, when she heard the words “war” and “Iraq”.

“Are we even doing anything to help them?” Scott asked rhetorically, “Or are we just bombing and killing?”

Gretchen felt her cheeks flush. “I was really upset”, she said “Especially coming from Scott.” She turned to him, “Actually they’re doing a lot. Nelson and Zack are both helping rebuild towns that have been destroyed.”

Zack is her younger brother, a private in the 3rd Infantry Division, and Nelson, a sergeant in the 101st Airborne, is her fiance. Later on this year, her cousin will go Iraq with the Air Force.

As recently as two years ago, she felt very differently, “I was resenting this whole country. I wanted to get out.” Gretchen spent the first two years of college firmly opposed to the war in Iraq and in the fall of 2006, made plans to spend six months studying abroad in Melbourne, Australia, where she has family.

Her feelings about the Army and about the war in Iraq have changed. She says she’s more patriotic, although quick to point out that doesn’t mean the same thing to her as it does to others.

“I don’t necessarily have I heart USA bumper stickers and wear Army shirts all the time, although I do have one. I’m just prouder of my country.”

She feels this way because she has more of an insight of what goes on day-to-day in Iraq from her conversations with her fiance and her brother, “When people say things to me that I used to believe, I feel myself getting more defensive about it. Just saying these things won’t change anything. We’re over there and we have to deal with it.”

It was during her time in Australia that Nelson proposed to her on Phillips Island, a nature preserve not far from Melbourne known for it’s “Penguin Parade”. He was gearing up for another 15-month tour of duty in Iraq and had taken part of his leave to spend time with Gretchen.

He’d gone to see her parents before he left in order to tell them what he planned to do. He’d had the ring for two months already, buying it shortly after the couple’s sixth month anniversary. “Blessings”, Gretchen’s mother said in response.

While her friends were supportive, if surprised at, her engagement, some were taken aback by the fact that the relationship was only 8 months old, and most of that time had been spent apart. “That’s the military life for you”, a friend said off-handedly to Gretchen when they were discussing her early wedding plans. One of her roommates advanced the theory that Nelson was “marking his territory” before returning to his duties in Iraq.

“I didn’t think it was fair [to say that]” she said. “He’s not going to be in the Army when we get married, and we didn’t have to go through all the awkward getting-to-know-you stuff at the beginning…I think there’s two kinds of people: ‘why wait?’ and ‘why rush?’. If I know I want to be with him – life is short – why I would I put it off for so long?”

Now Gretchen is finishing up her last semester of college at the University of Connecticut, planning a wedding, and keeping up a long-distance relationship between Storrs and Baghdad. Last weekend, she went to a bridal fair, where they had vendors for everything from the DJ to the preservation of the wedding dress. She felt overwhelmed.

The wedding is still a way off though. The date is set, but not until October of 2009, their 3rd year anniversary. By that time, Gretchen will have graduated and Nelson will be permanently home. The engagement, in her eyes, was simply another step over many more years.

She first met Nelson in high school, where they were both members of the concert band. Gretchen played flute, Nelson played trumpet, rows away, but Gretchen knew Nelson had feelings for her early on.

“We kept in touch after he left high school and even as he joined the army.” she said. “We’d always been good friends before, but he didn’t get the nerve to ask me out until much later.”

There’s a different attitude towards soldiers near the military base in Kentucky where Nelson is stationed during his time in the U.S, she says. “Support the Troops” signs dot the road and businesses give additional discounts to those with military IDs. There’s also a different expectation when it comes to relationships.

During one of her visits, both were waiting in line for sandwiches at a Subway on base, the man behind the counter asked Nelson what his wife wanted to drink. At the time they’d been dating three months. “They assume if there’s a girl around a solider, she’s his wife”, she said.

For Christmas, Nelson gave her a bootlegged copy of her new favorite show, Army Wives. She knows the stereotypes, but also knows first-hand how her life is different than many of the wives living on base. “They’re young. They have babies. They do hair or work at Walmart, but they’re really cool.” she says of the women she met in Kentucky. “I told Nelson, if we ever move down there, though, I want to do what I want to do, have a good job or go to grad school.”

During her visit to Kentucky this summer, Nelson was promoted to sergeant. She “pinned” a velcro patch representative of the new rank to his uniform and gave him a solid punch to the solar plexus. The initiation tradition continued as each one of officers at or above his rank, the men she said she was glad to meet because she trusted them with her fiance’s life, punched him in turn.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mom permalink
    February 1, 2008 10:19 pm

    Hi Tay!
    Really enjoyed reading your features. I can see a byline in your future! Now you’ll just have to decide if it will be Taylor Kate or Taylor Katherine or T. Katherine
    Love Mom

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