SPRAGUE: Today is September 4, 2019, and this is an interview with alieutenant colonel, Traci L. Earls, who currently commands the 169th Combat Sustainment Battalion, and deployed earlier with the 287th Sustainment Brigade during Operation Iraqi Freedom from October 2008 to September 2009. This interview is being conducted by Luke Sprague at the East Branch of the Milwaukee Public Library in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There are no other people present in the room. Okay, Traci, when and where were you born?
EARLS: I was born in 1973, August of 1973, in Crescent City, California, whichis a coastal town, really, right on the Oregon border, just south of Oregon.
SPRAGUE: Okay. And where did you grow up?
EARLS: I grew up in California as well, up until about the third or00:01:00fourth grade. My family moved to Wyoming, I spent about eight years in Wyoming, and then came back to California.
SPRAGUE: Okay. And while growing up, what did your family do?
EARLS: So we did a lot of--when I was younger, we did a lot of outdoorsy stuff.I remember camping a lot, just playing outside a lot. My dad is a mechanic. And so I just remember him--on the weekends, him working on cars, and me either right there in his back pocket or playing in the woods. I used to always play army a lot. [Laughs] You know, just a lot of outdoorsy kind of things.
SPRAGUE: Tell me a little bit about playing army.
EARLS: So I used to--I just remember seeing a cartoon once, a GI [GovernmentIssue] Joe cartoon, and thinking wow, I want to do that. And so I remember being outside playing army. My sisters would be my prisoners of war, and 00:02:00I'd throw rocks at them as grenades. We would low-crawl [laughs] in the dirt. They hated it. But I remember getting my very first pair of camouflage pants, and I remember how cool I thought I was. But that was my favorite game to play.
SPRAGUE: Okay. When you were growing up, what schools did you go to? Tell meabout that a little more.
EARLS: So I went to just normal schools like anybody else. I went to anelementary school in California. Most of my middle school years were in Wyoming, which was a very small school. I had a class of about twelve people. So very much different than being in California. And then when I moved back to California, my sophomore year in high school, it was back to a bigger school. And I played sports. Basketball was my favorite sport. I was into old 00:03:00cars, so I helped rebuild a car. My dad bought me a 1957 Chevy Belair when I was fifteen. And I drove it for the very first--it came on a flatbed trailer, most of the parts were in the trunk or in the--it sat in a field forever. We brought it home, and he and I restored it enough to drive it for the very first time on my sixteenth birthday. So I can remember those high school years, right when it was important to have your driver's license, just sitting in that car dreaming about the first day I was actually going to get to drive that thing. So basketball and that old car was my thing to do. And of course at that age, hanging out with your friends.
SPRAGUE: So you mentioned earlier playing army. What initially made you want tojoin the military? Or was it specifically the Army right away?
EARLS: It was definitely the Army. There was no other branch that I00:04:00was even going to consider. I knew it was the Army. I can't tell you why, I just--it just felt right. And I felt very--even at a young age, I just felt this sense of patriotism. And you know, at that time, I didn't even know that I have two grandfathers that had served in the military. But when I had made up my mind, that didn't influence me. I had already known that that's what I was going to do. And so as a kid, just playing Army, and then going through school and high school, that never wavered. I just knew that that's what I was going to do.
SPRAGUE: Was there any particular motivation or drive behind that?
EARLS: I think it was just the patriotism. But I can remember when Desert Stormkicked off, I was still in high school, a senior in high school. And I couldn't graduate soon enough, because I just remember feeling that overwhelming sense of pride and patriotism, and that feeling of I want to be a part of this, I want to do something. And so as soon as I was able to, I joined. 00:05:00
SPRAGUE: Okay. And when you joined, what was your family's reaction?
EARLS: [Laughs] Well, they weren't--it was a little bit of a surprise. I hadbeen talking about it obviously for years. And I don't know if anybody really thought I was truly going to do it. And you know, I had bounced it around for a long time. And senior year, though, I was living with my grandparents, so my parents weren't really--they didn't really get to hear me talk about it a lot that last year. And I just remember going rollerblading downtown one day, and I rollerbladed past the recruiter office, and I went in. And I did--I'll admit this--this was the first time ever I had went into the Navy side of the [laughs] recruiting office, and I--you know, they told me all the great things that I would be able to do if I joined the Navy. And I thought, you know what, that's not what I want. I'm going to go over to the Army side. And that's 00:06:00what I did, and I rollerbladed home and told my grandparents that I had just gone down and did the preliminary work to join the Army. And so I think everybody was a little bit surprised, but what do you do?
SPRAGUE: Now were your parents involved? You mentioned enlisting at seventeen.Tell me about that a little bit.
EARLS: Yeah. So I had to get--obviously, I had to get consent. So there was--youknow, I still don't know if they thought I was going to actually do it. You know how kids are, they say, "Oh, this is what I'm going to do," but then when it really comes down to it, you back out, right, when things get real. But I just couldn't wait to do it.
SPRAGUE: Wow, okay. So you enlist. What was your first experience, your realmilitary experience? Where was it at, and how did it happen?
EARLS: So I would say when it got real, that I really did this, is00:07:00when I went to the MEPS [Military Entrance Processing Station] Center down in Oakland. And back then, they put you on a Greyhound bus, and it was a very long and miserable ride. My aunt and uncle dropped me off at the bus stop. And waving goodbye, I thought, Wow, this is real, I'm really doing this. And then just raising my right hand and taking the oath, I think that was my real gut check that I just did this, I really did this. And then basic training, getting off, you know, you get checked in, and you get off the bus, and you have your duffle bags packed. And the drill sergeant comes hightailing over to you, you know, in your face and all of, you know, yelling at you, and you don't know what hit you. And I remember that being the shock of, Wow, was this really what I wanted to do. [Laughs] I can remember having a female drill sergeant, and I can't remember her name, but I will never forget her. She--to this day, if I see a 00:08:00female drill sergeant, I can feel that tingle, like that--I stand up a little bit straighter because they--she scared me.
SPRAGUE: So what were the--how was basic training set up at that time in termsof the men and women?
EARLS: Yeah, so it was coed in the fact that it was in the same location. Wewere in the same building, and they had the males on the second floor, and the females were on the first floor. Other than that, we really didn't part--you know, we didn't train in the same training sessions or anything like that until I got to the Advanced Individual Training [AIT], and that's when we were commingled, but again separated. Our classes were together, but as far as the sleeping quarters and all that, it was separated by floor.
SPRAGUE: And what were the facilities like for the women?00:09:00
EARLS: The same as for the men, there was absolutely no difference. It washarder for us to get through the latrines because there's just more of us. And there was no difference.
SPRAGUE: Okay. So you mentioned there might've been more of you. What was theratio like in your basic training class?
EARLS: Well, you know, it's hard to say because in basic training, I think theyfill up a class. So I didn't--when I enlisted, I still have probably about three or four months, what they called the Delayed Entry Program, until they had gathered enough people to form a full class. And I think that they top out at a certain amount of soldiers. So it was a full class, and the guys had a full class as well. So it's hard to say what a ratio was in basic, per se, because again, we weren't really commingled a whole lot.
SPRAGUE: Okay. So any particular experiences you remember from basic,00:10:00other than running into the drill sergeant initially?
EARLS: [Laughs] Yeah. I hated it as I was going through it, but I can rememberwhen I was done, having such a sense of pride in actually wearing the uniform, but more so that pride that I had accomplished something that was hard. And I realized that there wasn't much that I couldn't do. If I can make it through basic training, there wasn't much that I couldn't do. So it instilled that sense of pride and confidence in me. And just reflecting back on the late nights, and the efforts and the focus of having to become a team. And being an individual to start with, but then having to rely on a team to accomplish your mission or accomplish your goals. I think that was a really good life experience for me, and anybody just coming right out of high school, really.
SPRAGUE: So you mentioned advanced training, AIT. What was that like,00:11:00and where was that at?
EARLS: That was really fun. That was at Fort Leonard Wood as well, so wejust--primarily, we just graduated from basic training, we had our graduation. I believe we had a weekend pass, and then we went right into, you know, we marched down the road a little way and went right into our classes not very far from where basic was. But it was fun because now you were--it was a little bit more relaxed because they were truly focusing on what your new skill was going to be. And mine was an 88 Mike, which is a Motor Transport Operator, a big fancy way of saying truck driver. And we were practicing on Deuce-and-a-halfs and Five-tons. But the fun part about that is, you know, you still had to get up in the mornings, and you still had to go march and do PT or physical training, you still had to do all those soldier skills. But then in the afternoon, you were learning how to drive a truck, and the road rules, and how to maintain your vehicle. And I can just remember when they were teaching us how to 00:12:00check for leaks, oil leaks, and doing the preventive maintenance on your vehicle, I can remember crawling under my vehicle. And we would find ways to--we would be wearing gloves, and you'd find ways to hook your gloves up into stuff up into the truck. So it looked like your hands were up inside the truck doing something, but we'd be laying under there taking a nap [laughs] because we were so tired. And I can remember we would watch out for each other, and we would have signals if we saw that the drill sergeants were coming. But it was a good time, it was really fun, because it was doing something--it was learning how to do your job.
SPRAGUE: Was the decision to become an 88 Mike a continuation of the mechanicalexperiences you had in high school? Tell me more about that.
EARLS: No, I had no idea that that's what was going to happen. So I had takenthe pre-entry, the ASVAB [Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery] class or test, and mechanical things showed up. Like there was a helicopter 00:13:00mechanic, there was a wheeled vehicle mechanic, so clearly the mechanical aptitude stuff that I had picked up from my dad was there. And it showed up in my testing, but that's not what I wanted to do. So there was all of those things, and then there was this 88 Mike job that was way low on the list. And the reason I chose it is because it had--all the other mechanic positions were for a six-year enlistment, eight-year enlistment, and an 88 Mike at the time was only a three-to-four-year enlistment. And so I thought--I kind of panicked for a second and thought, Well, what if I hate this? What if I join, and I hate it? So if I do the truck driver thing, at least it's only a few years, and then I can be done. And my grandpa is a truck--was a truck driver, and so I thought, Well, okay, this'll be cool. He can show me the ropes.
SPRAGUE: And just curious, what was your grandfather's name?
EARLS: Richard Barrett.
SPRAGUE: Okay. So you complete AIT. And your first duty station I00:14:00have as the 76th Transportation Company in Pirmasens, Germany, if I've got that right.
EARLS: Yeah, Pirmasens, Germany.
SPRAGUE: Tell me how that--tell me about that.
EARLS: Yeah. So I'll never forget my first day there. So I'd gone through 88Mike school, had driven Deuce-and-a-halves and Five-tons, thought I knew what I was doing, I was all confident. I get to Pirmasens, Germany--first of all, when you get your orders saying you're going to Germany, that was pretty cool anyway, your first duty station. Especially, you know, I turned eighteen in basic training, so I'm eighteen years old, ready to take on the world, and I'm getting orders over to Europe, so this is pretty cool for me. So I arrive, I get there--they get me--it was still dark when I got there, so they just took me right to my barracks. My platoon sergeant met me and got me settled in. Now there wasn't many women in my platoon, so I got this huge barracks room that was supposed to house six soldiers, I got the whole thing to myself. So 00:15:00that was pretty--I thought, Wow, this is pretty cool, especially after just coming from basic when you're all smashed into a small area. So the next morning, I get up and report to formation, and they--the formation is in the motor pool, and I show up, and I about--I stopped and just, my eyes got huge, and I thought, Oh my god, what have I gotten into? These were 915 vehicles, which are the equivalent of civilian tractor trailers, and they didn't teach us how to drive tractor trailers in AIT, so I was very much intimidated. And my platoon sergeant came up to me and said, "This is your truck right here. This one will be yours; you're going to take care of it as if it's your own personal vehicle, and we'll get you going." And so I had this big lump in my throat thinking, Oh my gosh, what am I going to do? [Laughs] So I'll never forget that day.
SPRAGUE: Wow. So did they train you within that unit and then qualify00:16:00you for--
EARLS: Yeah. So we--they had a driver's academy. So you would go--ourheadquarters was in--where was the headquarters? The headquarters was in Kaiserslautern, Germany. And so we would go there for classes, and you did your basic classes as well, so you learned how--you know, like some country rules and just the basics, kind of like an orientation of just getting into the country. So you spent a week doing that, and then you went into what they call the driver's academy, and so that was about a month. And that's learning pretty much the rules of the road for driving a commercial vehicle. So you do that, and there's some hands-on driving that you have to do there. But then when you come back to the company, you are put with an instructor driver. And so you had to drive X amount of miles with that instructor driver before you're even allowed to go out on the road by yourself.
SPRAGUE: So did you have to get a German license in West Germany, or00:17:00was that not necessary under--
EARLS: It wasn't necessary. I ended up getting one anyway, I mean you could goahead and do that if you wanted to, and I did. There was a European driver's license, and then we had our military driver's license that had everything that you were qualified to drive on that license.
SPRAGUE: So you talked about, in one of your narratives, the downsizing. Tell memore about that, about downsizing those posts.
EARLS: Yeah, so that was in the early-to-mid-'90s. And a lot of the smaller--apost in Germany is called a caserne, so a lot of the smaller casernes were being either completed eliminated or drawn down. And today, Ramstein Air Base and like Frankfort, those weren't as big as they are today because we were so spread out. So what we did was downsize a lot of these smaller casernes, sent a lot of stuff home, but then consolidated in some of these larger ones. And so that 00:18:00was really fun for me as an 88 Mike because you were actually doing your job. We were picking up supplies or, you know, as we were closing down barracks, you would have a truck full of furniture or whatnot that would have to be delivered someplace. And then you would backhaul, so we still had to keep all of the hospitals and stuff going. So you might pick up a load of medical supplies that now you would take to a hospital, drop it off at a hospital or on one of the small casernes, and then go pick up another load someplace else that would have to go back up into a barge to be sent back to the states. So it was a constant haul-backhaul situation during those--that, gosh, that was probably a good year. So if you liked driving a truck, that was definitely the job to have and the place to be.
SPRAGUE: And so was it--what did you most enjoy about that job?
EARLS: I loved the autonomy of it. I loved the fact that there was no00:19:00cell phones back then, right? And you had to have so many miles under your belt before you were allowed to go out on your own. But then even when you were out on your own, you weren't allowed to have a CB [Citizens Band] radio until you got so many miles because they wanted to make sure that you didn't have distracted driving. Now looking back, you know, I don't know [laughs] if that was the right thing to do because there were plenty of times that, at the time I was a private, that Private EARLS would take unscheduled stops because I would find a festival, or I would find something fun to do that, to me, seemed better than delivering on time. [Laughs]
SPRAGUE: Any experiences you'd like to share or [inaudible]?
EARLS: Yeah. You know what, I can--there is one particular time--I didn't findthis out until it was too late, but there was cameras in certain places on the highways throughout Germany. And to come back home on Pirmasens, there was--on one of the routes we had, there was this tunnel that we'd have to go through. And I was speeding, and so the camera got a picture of me. But the 00:20:00funny thing is--so I wasn't allowed yet to have a CB radio or anything in there, and so I would wait until I'd get down the road a little way and get out. In my gym bag, I would have a little CD [compact disk]--not CD, a tape player radio, and I would get that out, and it'd have batteries in it, and so I'd have my music going while I was going down the road, bee-bopping down the road. Well, they--at that particular time, I saw--I remember seeing a flash and thought, Oh no, I'm in trouble. [Laughs] But the good thing is, the truck was at a distance and at a height that, you know, we don't have license plates on our military vehicles. So it didn't catch my bumper number, but it sure did catch my face, and so both of my--at that split second, they took the picture, both of my hands were off the steering wheel up in the air because I was dancing to music, [laughs] and I was speeding, and so I thought, I'm in trouble. And so 00:21:00luckily it took a good month for that picture to get back to our unit, and I did get in a little bit of trouble, but by then, it'd had already been a month. [Laughs] And there were some other times that I remember taking a load of produce up to a Navy ship up in Denmark. And so there was a convoy of about seven of us, and we got to go up there, and we offloaded--got all offloaded. And the Navy guys were there and took us in that night, and we got to go see the sights up there. And so that was one of those fun moments that you got to experience. For one, another branch of the service, but another part of the country, and away from your home duty station, and get out and really do something else. And I remember that feeling of--I think that was the very first time that I'd ever driven in a convoy. And there's just this feeling of being in a convoy, and the strategy of driving in those situations, and how 00:22:00you block for each other. And just it's--it was just a really fun great cool experience.
SPRAGUE: So what was it like in terms of--you mentioned being one of the fewfemales in the unit, or the only one. Clarify that for me, and then tell me about [inaudible].
EARLS: So I was the only one in my platoon; there was another female in anotherplatoon. So from what I remember, we were the only two females in the truck company, so to speak. There was a female in the administrative office, and she was transitioning out of the military. So from what I remember, there was only two of us, and one per platoon. And so she and I didn't see a whole lot of each other. We saw each other on the barracks floor because our barracks rooms were pretty close to each other. But you know, I don't feel like it was any different. I knew that I was going to have to prove myself. And you 00:23:00know, just growing up with, you know, around maintenance and my grandpa being a truck driver, it was no problem for me to perform my own maintenance on my truck. And same with the other female that was there. She was more experienced than me, and she was very much--loved being on the road just as much as anybody else. And I would say that, that she and I were--we pulled our weight in the fact that we both loved being out on the road, and just like anybody else. And all of the guys in our platoon, for me anyway, my experience was, they took me, and I almost felt like I just had this platoon of brothers. I always felt protected all the time. I always felt safe. I felt like one of the guys. And a funny story about that is, my instructor driver, I had to ride with him for so many miles. And after we were done, after I had graduated, and I had 00:24:00gotten my license and able to go out on my own, he showed up at my barracks door and asked me out on a date, and I couldn't believe it. I told him no right off the get-go because he was my instructor. And I can remember one time driving down the road, and he asked--I was getting tired, and he asked me if I was tired, and I said yes, so he told me to pull over, which I thought he was going to switch out and drive for me. No, he made me do laps around the truck and do pushups. [Laughs] So when he asked me on a date, I definitely said no, I'm not going to date this jerk. [Laughs]
SPRAGUE: Any other experiences like that, that you'd like to share, in that unit?
EARLS: Yeah, I would say that was the one unit that I've been, throughout mywhole twenty-seven years now, that I felt the tightest with everybody. And there's people that I stay in contact with yet today. And I don't know if that's because we were away from home, we were young, so we were all trying to figure this out together. And plus, it was a small unit. There wasn't 00:25:00anywhere else to go, it wasn't like there was a big city right there. So when we weren't driving trucks, we were hanging out like family. We'd have movies, we'd play softball, we did everything together as a family, and I think that's why there's that camaraderie and that bond. But that's a feeling that you can't replicate either.
SPRAGUE: So how did you communicate with your family back in the states?
EARLS: You know, that's funny because both of my kids are in the military rightnow, and they can Facetime me anytime they want. And when I was there, there was--right outside my barracks, there was a phonebooth, and I could see the phonebooth from my barracks window, so I could look down there and see if there was a line. But you would have to go down there and put change in it and call back home. So I was only calling home maybe on a monthly basis. And even that, because of how much we were working, there was only maybe one weekend a month that I wasn't on the road, though. So not a lot. I did a lot of 00:26:00writing. My parents, my mom wrote to me quite a bit. But it was the good old-fashioned snail mail and waiting in line at a payphone.
SPRAGUE: Sounds familiar. So your next duty station was Fort Eustis, Virginia,7th Transportation Group, 89th Transportation Company. Tell me--did I get that right?
EARLS: Yeah. So that was really unique in the sense that--okay, so the 76thTransportation Company, through the whole downsizing, they weren't unaffected by that. We actually closed that post down. And then so once that deactivated, we had a deactivation ceremony and the whole bit. So once that was deactivated, the soldiers stayed, and they just transitioned us over to the 89th Trans Company. So we were with the 89th Trans for maybe a year. I'm not sure the exact dates, but it was a short amount of time. And then they brought the 89th Transportation Company home to the states to Fort Eustis, Virginia. So that was 00:27:00unique in, you know, that's not a common practice.
SPRAGUE: Thank you for clarifying that. And it was also a separate--I'll call ita separate historically transportation company. About how many people are in that, and how many units?
EARLS: You know, I really don't--I can't say for sure.
SPRAGUE: Okay. So you come back to the states, you're in Virginia. What is thejob like here?
EARLS: It was night-and-day difference. In Germany, you drove your truck everysingle day. And once in a while, you would do your soldier stuff, you would go out into the field, and you would do all those training things that you had to do, but you were on the road all the time. When we came back to Fort Eustis, I don't remember ever--maybe two or three times driving a truck. And it was still a linehaul truck, but you just didn't drive anymore. If it was for a 00:28:00parade or something like that, but there wasn't a mission like there was in Germany. And so you found yourself during the day, your day looked like, you would come in, go to formation, and then you'd find out what extra additional duty you'd be on for that day. So you'd be cutting grass somewhere or working in something other than what your job was. And that's when I started to get really disgruntled with the Army and my mission. You know, we were working late hours, but it wasn't--you know, it was getting ready for other things. Now we had--I can remember a hurricane, prepping for a hurricane and the possibility of being activated to go out and help and do something like that. But really all in all, I hardly ever drove, so I kind of lost my--you know, in twenty-seven years, the military is definitely a love/hate relationship. And I went from love, and I started thinking, Wow, if being in the states, if this is what 00:29:00it's like to be an 88 Mike, I'm not sure that I want to do this. And my husband and I had just had--so I ended up marrying my--the instructor that came to my door to ask me on a date, we ended up getting married later. And so we had--our firstborn was born in Landstuhl, Germany, and so he was only a few months old when we came back to the states. And so I was disgruntled with my job, I wanted to spend more time at home, and so that's when I started kind of kicking around the idea of getting out.
SPRAGUE: Yeah, so maybe that affected your decision to leave active duty.
SPRAGUE: Okay. So the next duty station, I have you here in May 1996 joining theTexas National Guard, is that correct?
SPRAGUE: HHD [Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment], 372nd Support Battalionout of Dallas, Texas, does that sound right?
SPRAGUE: Tell me about that, and tell me about that transition from00:30:00being on active duty to the Guard initially, the Texas Guard.
EARLS: Yeah, it was a different time back then because you still had thatcamaraderie from the active duty. And then when I transitioned into the Guard, you know, you had--after the drill, everybody would go out into the parking lot and still drink beer and BS [bullshit] and you were building that camaraderie. And I can say that has changed. I've been in the National Guard since, I have one more stint in active duty, but the majority of my time has been National Guard. And I would say that's something that has changed over the years. So the transition was okay, and I had a break in service in there. So when I got out, and before I joined the Texas Guard, there was three or four months. And I realized those three or four months that this was in my blood, I needed to get back into the uniform. And so when I got back in the National Guard, even though it was part-time, it was exactly what I was looking for. I still had 00:31:00the camaraderie, I still was able to bond with those soldiers that I was serving with, but yet I was able to go home every night and still be a civilian. So it wasn't a hard transition at that time.
SPRAGUE: Okay. So going back to the camaraderie issue, you found that in the--itsounds like in the Texas National Guard and in your older unit in Germany before it was deactivated. What commonalities do you see there? What--is there any tie-ins, other than hanging out in the parking lot together--I mean you tell me.
EARLS: No, I mean it was that simple and that basic. You know, the soldiers, youknow, when you're on active duty and hanging out, you are in contact with each other all the time. In the Guard, my first Guard unit, yeah, it was one weekend a month, but I had bonded with a few of them, that we were still friends in between drill weekends. So it did still feel like that camaraderie 00:32:00all the time, and not just one weekend a month.
SPRAGUE: So while you were in the Guard, it looks like--and help me out withthis--you used your GI Bill to come to attend college. And then did you go green to gold, or was it another program, or tell me.
EARLS: So yeah, it was--I went through ROTC [Reserve Officer Training Corps].And so how this is unique to--my whole career has some little unique twists and turns in it. So I was actually--so with the Texas Guard, the 372nd, but that was a two-and-a-half-hour drive, and so they allowed me to be attached to the--there was a National Guard unit literally two, three--I could walk to drill--in Kilgore, Texas. And it was an infantry unit, so back then, women weren't allowed in the infantry, but they allowed me to be attached to it so that I wouldn't have to drive to Texas and could still perform all my duties. And so 00:33:00I got to play infantry with these units, and so--and I think that's why some of the camaraderie still was happening on your drill weekends, is because you actually go to the field, and you would do infantry type stuff, and they just seemed to have a tighter bond anyway. And then to be a female, being allowed to be in this trusted circle and be accepted by these guys was really cool. And it--you know, I loved it, I loved being in the Texas Guard. So while I was there, though, there was one of my--you know, there's a staff sergeant there that was also acting as the retention and the recruiting officer, or NCO [Non-Commissioned Officer]. And he told me about this program that the state of Texas had, and it was through ROTC, and you could--you applied for this full ride scholarship by just writing an essay. And two people in the 00:34:00state of Texas were going to be granted this full ride scholarship. And so he told me, "Hey, I know that you're wanting to go to school and use your GI Bill and all that, so you ought to maybe think about this." And I told him "no," there was absolutely no way I wanted to be an officer, so "no." And he goes, "Well then write about it." So I wrote this long essay about why I never--that I didn't want this, and I didn't want to ever be an officer because my opinion is that all officers should be enlisted, you know, prior enlisted so that they understand what it's like. And I went on and on about why you should be enlisted before becoming an officer. And then it was about three months later, I get a phone call congratulating me that I had won this scholarship. [Laughs] So whether I liked it or not, I was--you know, I wasn't going to take it at first. I had told my husband, "I do not want to be an officer." And he was like, "I don't think you have a choice." [Laughs] "I think you need to do this."
SPRAGUE: And so the unit in the Texas Guard was--that was infantry00:35:00you were attached to. Is that also HHD, or was that a different infantry unit?
EARLS: That was a different--that was different, yeah.
SPRAGUE: Do you happen to remember the name of it?
EARLS: No, I can--
SPRAGUE: Okay, that's--yeah, if you do, that's great. If not, that's--yeah, wecan follow up with that later. So you--yeah, I was--one of my curiosities was--so you get the scholarship. Is it an ROTC scholarship?
SPRAGUE: So then tell me about your experience--okay, and you've already told meyou want--you didn't want to become an officer, you wanted them to be enlisted prior to becoming an officer. Then were you a cadet in this while still being prior enlisted? Tell me a little bit about that experience.
EARLS: Yeah, being a cadet was awful because you had to wear this dot, for one,that wasn't even like a real, [laughs] you know, not even a real rank. Now if you're right out of college and have no experience being in 00:36:00the Army at all whatsoever, you think it's cool. But you know, you have to remember, I didn't want to be an officer to begin with, and now I have to wear this dot, so there was that. But it was--they started giving me more responsibilities, and so that's when I started learning, oh, well this is a little bit different. And so they started kind of introducing me to what it was going to be like to be a lieutenant, which by the way was the second worst rank, you know, being a butter bar with prior service, and everybody looking at you as if you know nothing was an awful experience. And then you had to prove yourself that hey, you know, I didn't just graduate yesterday. I actually have four or five years prior service under my belt. But knowing that that's how people look at butter bars, and being prior service, that was awful. But you know, it was a good experience because it gave you time to go to school and focus on 00:37:00school, but yet give you a little bit, a taste of what it's going to be like, and give you some experience and leadership and kind of break you in, so to speak.
SPRAGUE: So was it the Guard unit giving you a little bit more taste of--
SPRAGUE: Okay. What were some of the reactions from within the Guard unit, andwhat was that like?
EARLS: You know, it was well received. Of course, you know, these are like yourbrothers, and so they would give you a hard time that you're becoming an officer now. And there was some like, "Oh, you're going over to the dark side," or "We're going to stay enlisted because we work for a living," you know, all of those kinds of things. But for the most part, for all of it, I would say, it was--they were supportive.
SPRAGUE: And the ROTC program was at--
EARLS: That was at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, and sothat was about a sixty-mile drive one way. And so I was doing that 00:38:00full-time, plus getting my--using some of my GI Bill, but then also this scholarship. So it was a great deal for me. I had two--I was able to not work during that time, just do my National Guard stuff and full-time school, so I was taking as much school as I can. And by this time, I had two toddlers at home, so the timing was perfect, the benefit was amazing. And giving me the chance to just stay home, raise my kids, go to school full-time, and still serve my country, so it all kind of just happened at the right time. And to be on the road two hours a day, that was a long haul, but yeah, that's what I did.
SPRAGUE: Wow. So who did you receive your first salute from?
EARLS: I received my first salute from Master Sergeant Howe, who is in the book.He's actually one of the Delta Force operators from Blackhawk Down, 00:39:00so Paul Howe. He was--you know, my whole class, we had a special class, and there was a handful of us, but he was--is our hero. And he didn't hold up on us, I mean he made sure that we knew what we were doing. And if we weren't, he made sure that we knew that too. He really developed us into the officers that he would expect to follow in combat. And to have that experience was really special, because not every ROTC cadet gets to be instructed by a Delta operator, so that was pretty cool.
SPRAGUE: So in general, any reflections on your transition from the enlistedside to the dark side, the officer side?
EARLS: [Laughs] You know, yeah, I don't have any regrets. And I still00:40:00haven't changed my way of thinking; I still think that you should be enlisted before becoming an officer. And I know a lot of people would disagree with that, and I've worked with a lot of officers that weren't prior enlisted that are fine officers. But just for me personally, I'm glad that I had that experience. And that's why I've encouraged both of my kids to enlist first before doing anything else, because I think it's just really important that you get to go through the hardships that an enlisted soldier has to go through.
SPRAGUE: So would you--what route would you encourage them--if they were todecide to become an officer, which way would you tell them to go?
EARLS: Yeah, I had this conversation with them. One of them is talking aboutgoing--being a warrant officer, and I think that's a great route. And the other one wants to be commissioned officer, which I think either way, it's-- now looking back, it's just do what your heart tells you to. So if 00:41:00being enlisted is where you want to be, then do it, but do it the best that you can. If you feel like, You know what, there's something more, and I want to look at the office side of it, no matter which way you choose, just do it at the best of your abilities, no matter what.
SPRAGUE: Okay. So August of '99, you returned to active duty followingcommissioning. And you get branched to ordnance instead of transportation. Tell me about that.
EARLS: Yeah, so as you know, in the military, you get to put your wish list in,and I don't even know why they call it that. But it was--here's another little twist to the story. So the scholarship I received was through the Texas National Guard. I was supposed to go back to the Texas National Guard, but I wanted to go back into active duty. I had enough, you know, I had been bitten by 00:42:00the bug and decided that I wanted--after commissioning, I wanted to go back on active duty. So I was able to get a waiver to go back on active duty for three years, but the caveat to that was, I had to come back and serve out--you know, when I got the scholarship, you had to give so many years--I want to say it was six to eight years--back to the National Guard. So Texas was like, "Okay, your three years is up. Plan on active duty. You need to come back and give us your time."
SPRAGUE: Okay, so that's how that ties in.
EARLS: That's how that tied in. But so while, you know, I got commissioned, andI got my branch, I just kind of assumed I would get transportation because it made sense. And I put that number one on my wish list, and I had that, and I had aviation, I wanted to be a helicopter pilot. And I don't remember--those are the only two that I remember putting on there. And so I remember thinking, Wow, I didn't get anything that I put [laughs] on there. And ordnance, what the heck is that? What do you do with that? And so once I learned more about 00:43:00ordnance, I was still--because at first, I thought it was all about ammunition. I thought, Well, this is not going to be great. But then the more I got into it, I realized there's a huge maintenance side to it, and that's the side that I specialize in. I've not hardly touched at all on the ammunition part of that. So it all ended up working out okay because I loved being an ordnance officer. You know, I commanded a maintenance company in--I don't know, it just kind of felt natural as well. I think drive--being transportation would've felt natural, but being an ordnance officer also felt good.
SPRAGUE: Anything you want to share in particular about ordnance officer basicthat sticks out in your head?
EARLS: You know, the most--it was long, it was very long, when you compare it tosome other basic courses. So it was fun because we were in Maryland. 00:44:00And I had never been--I had been stationed in Virginia, but I'd never been to Aberdeen Proving Ground, which isn't that far from Baltimore. In the class that we were in, you know, we worked hard, we got our school done, but we sure did play hard too. And so I remember just having a great time in Maryland, and that class was just really tight knit. We would go to baseball games. We would go do--you know, our weekends were just out having fun and living it up. So it was--there's nothing specific about what I learned, so to speak, I was learning my trade, but it sure was a good time, we sure had fun.
SPRAGUE: So what was the ratio there of men to women roughly?
EARLS: Probably less than twenty five percent of the class was female.
SPRAGUE: Okay. So moving on, moving to your first duty station, the 101stForward Support Battalion at Fort Riley, Kansas, what can you tell me 00:45:00there? It looks like--tell me your first role there.
EARLS: So that was an eye-opener because I had been--you know, up until now, I'deither been in schools or an enlisted soldier. So now, this was my first true taste of active duty as an officer. And when I got to the 101st, it was--you know, as an officer, it was no nonsense. I mean there was--immediately, I was put into a platoon. My very first platoon had 103 soldiers. I thought I knew what leadership was, and I was wrong. I realized that I was not only responsible for all these soldiers and what they were doing during day, but all the stupid stuff that they would do at night or on the weekends, or if they weren't paying their bills, or you know, every other aspect of their life, I had no--I was not prepared for that. And then reflecting back, I was thinking, Man, all 00:46:00those times when I was an 88 Mike, and I never delivered my, [laughs] you know, met my times and didn't deliver my load on time, now I [laughs] really felt bad for the officers that had to manage me. But that was an eye-opener and my first introduction to leadership.
SPRAGUE: Do you think you faced any particular challenges as a woman in that role?
EARLS: You know, it's hard for me to say because I've always been around men anddoing things that are traditionally male-dominant. So just being around my dad all the time working on trucks. I'm very close to my grandfathers, and hanging out with them and doing things that they were doing, whether it be working around the house, working on cars, you know, driving trucks, all those things. And then going into a truck driver field, again I was around guys. 00:47:00But I've always been able to prove myself and pull my weight. So when I got into the--as an ordnance officer, I was the only--that I can remember, I think the only female platoon leader at the time. I didn't feel any different, I've just always fit in wherever I've gone to, so I didn't feel any hardships. Now do I think that sometimes you have to prove yourself? Yeah, but if you're just a hard worker and put your head down and do what you've got to do and not be a victim to your circumstance, I think then you're going to be just fine.
SPRAGUE: Any leadership experiences you'd care to share?
EARLS: This is one of my experiences that I shared today, you know, when I giveleadership development classes in my civilian job is, I'll never forget I had this platoon, and I was the platoon leader, and my platoon sergeant--so that was my right-hand person who was also female. She was--used to be a drill 00:48:00sergeant, so she was no-nonsense. And I've already told my story about how I fear female drill sergeants, so I had an immediate respect for her. And I can remember, I had a handful of soldiers that were my troublemakers, and I had decided that I was going to make it my mission to get these soldiers out of the Army. I just didn't want to waste my time on them anymore. And so she pulled me to the side one time, and she did the whole drill sergeant hand thing to my face and said, "LT, you don't get to choose who you lead. You have to lead everybody the same, and you have to learn how to love the unlovable. And until you learn how to do that, you're not a leader." And that was a--I will never ever forget that moment, and it has changed the way I've led to this day. How it 00:49:00changed me was, those soldiers I started looking at in a different way and started to try to find out why they were behaving the way they were behaving. And what I found was, one example, both of his parents had died, and he was raised in the foster community and just never really had anybody that cared. And so he took us--you know, it was me asking questions or me getting into him all the time and needing him to perform, he took that as--he was defensive about it because he didn't know what to do with it. And so the more I learned about him, the more I opened up to him, and he ended up being a decent soldier. So that was a lesson in leadership for me that I think has helped me throughout my whole life, and so learning to love the unlovable.
SPRAGUE: Okay. And that position as platoon leader was the automotive00:50:00and armament platoon?
EARLS: Yeah, so I had the--they called it the A and A Platoon, so that's allyour mechanics that work on the vehicles and then all of the weapons.
SPRAGUE: You listed two other jobs. Could you tell me about being a maintenancecontrol officer and what they do?
EARLS: Yeah, so that was fun in the sense that that was your first touch ofbeing a maintenance manager. So when you were a platoon leader, you were managing the soldiers that were fixing whatever it is, the equipment. As a maintenance control officer, you had your customers, which were the battalions that you supported--we call them the war fighters, so that's your tankers, your infantry guys, or whatever. I was responsible for going to their maintenance meetings and explaining why their truck was still broke down, or where the parts were, or when I was going to get them fully mission-capable. So I 00:51:00wasn't so much managing the soldiers anymore as much as I was managing the process.
SPRAGUE: What kind of experience was that like, having to come to tankers andsay, "This isn't ready."? Tell me about that.
EARLS: Yeah, so a couple funny stories here, and they definitely were not funnyat the time. But I remember going to a maintenance meeting, and they had a Hum-V that had been down, and they had been waiting on a starter. And this Hum-V was supposed to go out to the field the very next day. And so the starter had finally came in, and there goes--you know, "Tell me, LT, how in the world do we--you know, we're not going to not do this mission because you can't get us a starter." So I'm kind of--and these, they're all captains and majors that outrank me, and they're pretty gruff because they're tankers. And so lo and behold, the part comes in. And there was a private that was still there cleaning up the shop. And I said, "Hey, Private, before you leave for the 00:52:00weekend--because this truck has to be fully mission-capable by Saturday morning, before you leave for the weekend, make sure you put that part on the truck, and then you can go." And he's like, "Yes, ma'am, roger that." Well, the next morning, I've got some angry tankers wondering where their truck is. And I go into the maintenance bay, and there's the truck with the part still in the box sitting on the truck. [Laughter] So when I had told the soldier, "You put this on the truck, and then you can go," he literally put it on the truck. [Laughs] So that was one experience with this. And then the other was, I was also in charge of--when we would change out motors, we would change out full components. So you would--we'd call it "stabbing" a vehicle, so you would take out the whole motor or the transmission or whatever, and then you would put in a full new one. And that's field-expedience, so if you're on the battlefield, you 00:53:00have more time, it's easier sometimes to just change out a motor than it is to do an overhaul or anything like that. So we had--when you do this, you kind of stockpile spare parts. And through the years, I had inherited--in this position, I had inherited a stockpile of parts that all needed to be turned in and refurbished, you know, they needed to be anywhere but where they were. And so there was this big push, and I had about three weeks to get all of this stuff taken care of and turned in, which meant that some of these parts, like these big motors, had to be purged of all the oil and gas for environmental reasons. And so I tell my senior NCOs that "I don't care how you do it, but you have to get rid of this stuff by" whatever that deadline was. Well, that was the second leadership lesson. It was several months later, I get called to come 00:54:00to the post commander's office, and I had to bring my commander with me. I have no idea why, and I'm going through my head just thinking, What have I done? Well evidently, it wasn't what I had done, other than tell them to get rid of the stuff. They had--there was a retired sergeant major out fishing in the lake and had caught--on his pole, had caught a tag from--a tag that we used to tag the parts to turn them in. And it had my company, it had the maintenance control officer's name, and all of that. So evidently, some of my soldiers had decided to load up some of these parts that were hard to get rid of, put them in a truck, and put them in the lake. So needless to say, I got a visit--I got to go visit the commanding officer of the post of Fort Riley, and that was not a fun experience. And yet again, another lesson in leadership of being more 00:55:00specific on how you're telling soldiers to get something done. Because in a lot of ways, and a lot of times, they will take a shortcut. And I unfortunately [laughs] learned that the hard way.
SPRAGUE: You also listed a logistics plan officer. Can you tell me about that at all?
EARLS: Yeah, that was a very short-lived--it was really boring. They had movedme over into that position because I had already been given my orders that I would be released from active duty and transitioning back to the Texas Guard to give that time back. So I was just put in there, and it was a desk job, and I hated it. And it was just developing plans, and I wasn't there for very long. And the biggest thing that I did while in that position was, the unit I was supporting was getting ready to go to California to the National Training Center for a mission there. And so I helped plan the logistics of that and then went to the NTC [National Training Center] with boots on the ground to 00:56:00make sure everything went smooth there. But that one wasn't really one of my--being in that role, I decided, you know what, I would hate to be a plans officer. And then you'll see down later throughout my career, [laughs] I become a plans officer.
SPRAGUE: So August 2002, you're released from active duty. And if I understandyou correctly, you returned to the Texas National Guard 372nd Support Battalion in Dallas.
SPRAGUE: Talking about the Guard in general, was this after your three-yearcommitment was up? Or could you--what was your motivation? So could you have stayed on active duty? Tell me about that.
EARLS: Yeah, so I wanted to stay on active duty, I really did; I was trying tofight this. I had gone through the legislature trying to get them to release me and to forgive this. But there had been several instances with a lot 00:57:00of the National Guard--not just Texas, but the National Guard in general, who was giving scholarships, and then those soldiers would end up going on active duty, and then the National Guard, the state would lose that money so to speak. And so while all of that was still being determined--and I don't know where that--I don't think it was being fought in court, but I think it was more of a legislature kind of thing. I was in that between period before they had decided whether or not they were going to or not going to relieve people of that and let them stay on. But the fight was, can we let them stay on active duty and then have the active duty pay the National Guard back? And so that was the question on the table. And so the answer for me was no, I needed to return to the National Guard, and so it was bittersweet. That was a day, the day that I got off active duty, I just remember going back to my house and just crying and thinking this was definitely not what I wanted to do. I had settled 00:58:00into my skin of being an officer, and I felt like I was doing a good job, and I felt good about it, and I was having fun, for the most part. And now I had to go back to the Guard, and so that was kind of one of those back again, you know, that hate, that love-hate roller coaster, I was back down into the hate side right there.
SPRAGUE: So at that point, had you made captain already, or were you about to?Just curious.
EARLS: I don't think I had made captain yet, but it was soon after because I hadmy first command actually in the National Guard in Texas.
SPRAGUE: Right. So did the command--and looking at the chain of events, was thecommand your first item, or were you the Brigade S-4?
EARLS: I was the S-4, the assistant S-4 for a little while. And then00:59:00that's when the command position came open.
SPRAGUE: Okay. Quickly getting back to the Assistant Brigade S-4, did you feelthat your previous logistical experiences had, or ordnance experiences had helped you for that position at all?
EARLS: Not really, in the fact that as the assistant S-4, you know, I was thesecond in line there. And so the primary--the actual assistant S-4, he was pretty knowledgeable, and he was doing it full-time. And so I was just a traditional one weekend a month, and so when I would come to drill, there was really nothing that he was helping me with, or nothing that he was having me do. And so I would hang out with the S-4 shop, and I had some senior NCOs that really ran the shop. And so there was a couple of master sergeants that were getting ready to retire, and so I think that position for me was more fun just hanging out with those two guys. They were fun, they were funny, but 01:00:00they had that thing down to a science, so I was just kind of there hanging out with them.
SPRAGUE: Okay. So your first command was for HHC [Headquarters and HeadquartersCompany] 372nd Support Battalion, is that correct?
SPRAGUE: So tell me about that in terms of--as a headquarters company, asopposed to a line company, tell me about that a little.
EARLS: So when they asked me--when they told me that they were going to--thatI'd been selected to be the HHC company commander, I was trying not to show my disappointment, but you know, you take the mission that's at hand. I wanted to be a commander for sure. I had made captain, you know, I was ready for the mission. But I wanted the line companies; I did not want the HHC. And what's unique about, as you know, the HHC companies, is you have all the other officers that are reporting into you. And you really have no power because all the senior officers are, you know, they're going to do what they want to do 01:01:00anyway. And it was a challenge, but I think it was a really good challenge in the sense that it made me learn how to influence people. So when you're in a line unit, you're in charge, so people are going to do what you say because you're in charge. When I was the HHC commander, people weren't going to do what I told them to do because they had their own agendas, they had their own missions, they had their own--they outranked me, most of them. So I had to influence them to get things done that I needed to get done, you know, to influence them to make sure they were getting their PT test--taking their PT test. And me, an HHC commander telling the battalion commander, "Hey, I need you to do this and that." So I learned how--that leadership isn't just about dictating; I learned that leadership is about influencing others.
SPRAGUE: Any other experiences as an HHC commander that you'd be willing to share?
EARLS: Yeah, I would say the unique thing--I can't remember if I was01:02:00HHC or Bravo Company at the time--but I took my company to--we had Hurricane Rita had hit. And being able to lead a group of people in a real-world situation on our home front, that was probably the hardest thing I've ever done in the sense that, for one, it was surreal. Two, you got to see the really great--you know, you got to see Americans come together and take care of each other, but then you also saw the really ugly side of people. And just the hours we were putting in because this was real-time. This wasn't like you were going--it was much different than going to Iraq, because in Iraq, you went, and you fell in on another unit, and you picked up a mission, and you continued to do the mission. This was, "Hey, you guys got to go," and we had to figure it out on the fly, and in our own state. So that was a unique experience in itself. 01:03:00
SPRAGUE: And what role did your unit play during Hurricane Rita?
EARLS: So we went to Vidor, Texas, and we handed out supplies, so mainly food,tarps, and water. We had a slice mission there of--we had a small recovery mission where we sent some soldiers to a nursing home to help recover some of the residents that needed to be taken out. And unfortunately, a couple of them passed away during it, so we had to deal with that. And then we did a lot of--I can remember going into--we helped clear some roads so that the utility workers could get into the town. And so I can remember going into a Lowe's, and FEMA was there, and you know, this was all controlled, but it was like a science fiction movie because the town was totally a ghost town. Windows were busted 01:04:00out of everything. There was a sheriff there at the door letting us into the Lowes. There was absolutely nobody in the Lowes, other than some first responders. And we had shopping carts that we had to fill with chainsaws and protective gear, goggles, and gloves, and we didn't have to pay for it. So you're going in there, and you're putting all this stuff in your cart, and then you're leaving. and it was like this just doesn't feel right--it was really weird, bizarre. But then we--so that was the part of the mission, going out and helping remove trees that had blocked other people from getting in. And then we had a Guard mission at specific intersections to make sure people weren't coming into town, because we had to protect against looters and stuff like that as well.
SPRAGUE: So that Vidor, Texas, how is that spelled, just out of curiosity?
EARLS: I believe it's V-I-D-O-R.
SPRAGUE: Okay. And could you explain to the listener, who will be the01:05:00public generally, what a slice is?
EARLS: It's just so you're--you have your full company, and then there were fouror five separate missions, and so you just take what we all a slice element, so maybe five or six soldiers to go do this piece of the mission.
SPRAGUE: Okay. So you're second company command, Bravo Company, tell me aboutthat and what that experience was commanding?
EARLS: That was fun. That was--you know, somebody had told me a long time agothat being a commander is the toughest job you'll ever love, and that was true. So as the HHC commander, you know, I told you the uniqueness there, and then plus, being able to support the hurricane. But then Bravo Company, it was just leading a group of mechanics, that their job was to keep the war fighter going, to maintain--they were maintainers. And it was fun, there was--it was 01:06:00hard, it was--there were not many females. In fact, I may have been the only female in that company; there may have been just a handful, but not many. And it was just a really empowering taste of what it was like to be a commander. So that was my favorite position.
SPRAGUE: Any interesting challenges?
EARLS: Just the challenges of being out in the field and doing the job, youknow, making sure that the soldiers--you know, at that, when you're a commander, it's not about making sure you get the parts anymore. Now it's about soldiering and making sure their wellbeing and their--you know, that's when I learned more about--I started to learn more about the soldier as a whole and how their entire wellbeing is my responsibility. So you had to worry about families, 01:07:00you had to worry about--you know, especially in the National Guard, as a traditional soldier, what about your soldiers that don't have civilian jobs or have just been laid off, you know, taking care of them in that sense. And it wasn't just one weekend a month anymore. Once I became a commander, it was, you know, you had your conference calls with the battalion commander during the month, and you had the different calls. And this was before electronic signatures, so there was lots of paperwork that would get sent to me literally in this big manila envelope, and I would have to sign it all and send it back to the unit. And so I mean it was just--it was a busy time, it was a really busy time. Very rewarding though.
SPRAGUE: Okay. So 2008 looks like you transferred from the unit you had been inin Texas to the Kansas Army National Guard 287th Sustainment Brigade in Wichita, Kansas. What could--is that correct?
SPRAGUE: What can you tell me about that move?01:08:00
EARLS: So the whole time--so I got off active duty--I think it's important tonote that I got off active duty at Fort Riley, Kansas. And so my intent, my whole intent was to go back to California, actually; I wanted to get a civilian job there. And I knew I had to pay back Texas, but I was just going to fly to Texas. That didn't work out, and I ended up getting a really good job--civilian job right there in Kansas near Wichita. And so this whole time that I'm paying back my time to the Texas National Guard, I'm still--I'm living in Kansas, so that was quite a hike, about a five-hour drive one way to go to drill. And so after my command--command was worth it for me. I had to get my three years in, I had to pay that back, and then once those three years were up, I was still in command. And I thought, Well, I want to stay in this command position. And then once command is over, then I'll look at transitioning and do 01:09:00an interstate transfer up to Kansas. So that's what I did, and I ended up going up to Kansas, and I wasn't very particular about what Guard unit. I just wanted somewhere in Wichita, and the Sustainment Brigade had an opening for an ordnance officer, and so that's kind of I fell into that.
SPRAGUE: So you had held multiple positions in that unit. We can look at acouple of them here. Tell me about--maybe you can help me order them--Logistics Planner, S-1, XO, and Chief Operations Officer. Which one was first sequentially, and tell me a little bit about it, if you would?
EARLS: So I was a log planner, the logistics planner right off the bat, so theyplugged me into that. What I did not know was, the Sustainment Brigade was getting ready to deploy, and so they had just gotten their orders 01:10:00that they were deploying in a year. I came in, and they said, "Hey, we're going to put you in this log planner position." And I thought, Okay, well, here I go. And the ironic--fast-forwarding, when we actually did deploy, we were over--we were a sustainment brigade, and then we had all these other entities, these battalions reporting up through us. And the 372nd out of Texas was one of the subordinate units, so it was kind of fun. It made me realize that whether I would've stayed in Texas or came to Kansas, Iraq was in my future, [laughs] for sure.
SPRAGUE: So what thoughts went through your head when you heard that you weregoing to be deployed?
EARLS: I couldn't wait. I joined the Army because of the patriotism and becauseof giving back. And I felt like finally--finally--you know, it's like you train, you train, you train, and you never make it to the Super Bowl, and now I was finally going to get to go to the Super Bowl, and that's kind of how I felt about it. And so going as a logistics planner, was that--you know, 01:11:00that's not what I had fantasized about going into war. But it was what it was, so it ended up being a great experience for me too. So as that role--so there was all the train-up. So you didn't really do a whole lot with the logistical planning in that train-up phase because you were just doing all of the soldiering stuff on your weekends, and then we would go--we had to go to Fort Lewis, Washington. So there's all these things that prep you to deploy, and that all starts a year before.
SPRAGUE: So you were the logistics planner 2008 to 2009, is that correct?
SPRAGUE: And then the other positions would've occurred after your return from Iraq?
EARLS: That's right, yeah.
SPRAGUE: Okay. So why don't we--we'll go ahead and talk about that, and thenwe'll come back to the other positions, if that's okay.
SPRAGUE: What--tell me about being put on active duty and deploying.01:12:00Tell me about that, what that was like.
EARLS: You know, it's you have to learn to compartmentalize your feelings, andso I had two kids in middle school by this time, and knowing that you were leaving them. So you had to detach that part and really focus on what your mission at hand was, and realize that your kids truly are more resilient than we give them credit for. But then the excitement of, again, learning what my new job is going to be and learning--you know, this was the real deal. Up until now, everything that I had been doing is for training, you know, everything is training. And if you mess up, you--nobody--it's a training exercise. Now I had to learn how to be a planner because I was going to Operation Iraqi Freedom. And I was going to actually plan stuff that people are actually going 01:13:00to execute on, at least I hoped. And so that was kind of one of those a-ha moments that--like when I first joined the Army, that first moment that I had, this is really real, I just joined the Army. This was really real, like wow, I'm really going to deploy, I'm really going to do this.
SPRAGUE: So you get in the country, you're in Tallil, Iraq, at the COB,Contingency Operating Base Adder. What are the conditions like? Tell me about it.
EARLS: Well, it was hot, it was definitely hot. [Laughs] It was an old airbase,so there were some bunkers, some raised bunkers there. They had--you know, we had been there for quite a while, so there was some, I would say, hardstand-type buildings. So we had some tents that had been hardened so that they could withstand the wind and all of that. And then we had just taken over 01:14:00buildings, so you had--like our commander was in an actual building with a concrete floor and walls and all of that. And then we--they had built us like--imagine like a Morton building, a tin building, and then we would fortify it with concrete barriers around it, what we call T walls. So you know, it was hot. Our living areas were, for me, a mile to work, and you walked everywhere. So your day, you wake up, you go do PT, your physical training, shower, get ready for work, walk to work, do your job, go get chow, go back to work, go get chow, and go back to your room.
SPRAGUE: So could you tell me--quickly explain to a listener what a contingencyoperating base does versus a--a lot of people are familiar with a forward operating base, so tell us about a COB [Contingency Operating Base].
EARLS: So a COB is where-- a forward is just that, it's more forward01:15:00where there's a higher risk. And your COB is more where you have logistical assets there that can help support the fight, so to speak.
SPRAGUE: So you walk to work, you get into your space. What that's like in yourday-to-day--tell me about that when you're doing your job.
EARLS: So imagine like the NASA Command Center. So it was kind of stadium-styleseating, so your desks were in a stadium style, so I had somebody sitting behind me that was raised up, and then the people sitting in front of me were down lower. So we had three to four platforms, I would say, and I was up on the second. And then we had three big screens in front of us that we would monitor, and so you would have the battlefield as a part of it. And by 01:16:00now--from when I joined the Army to now, it's more digital and technology has definitely advanced, and so you could kind of see what was going on as far as logistics goes. So all of the people that we were supporting, we were able to track that. And then we had the news stations up on a couple of the screens to kind of monitor intel and what was being said, what was--and then keeping us connected with what was happening in the real world. For example, that's where I'll never forget when we learned that Michael Jackson had died, I was [laughs]--one of my responsibilities was taking care of the linguists, the interpreters, and they were more intrigued by Michael Jackson [laughs] than I think any of us were.
SPRAGUE: So what was the handoff like for logistical support from your unit tothose forward units? How did that--what did that look like?
EARLS: So we looked at them as a customer. And so we had command and01:17:00control of everybody in the southern part of Iraq. And so if you were going through our area of operation, which spanned that whole area, we would be able to support you from our COB.
SPRAGUE: And what was it like in terms of being able to communicate with yourfamily back here?
EARLS: By then, I didn't have to wait in the long line for a phonebooth. Butalso, you didn't have a cell phone either, you didn't have Skype. That was when I was introduced to Skype, so I had the big camera at the top of my laptop, and you would pay for Internet service. So we really focused on giving back to the community and building up the local economy. And so there was an Internet company on post, and you would pay a fee and get some Internet. And 01:18:00sometimes it would work, and sometimes it wouldn't. And sandstorms are definitely not conducive for good connectivity.
SPRAGUE: What did you do on your downtime?
EARLS: Well, you try not to have any because it's boring. What I did is, Iworked out, so I worked out before I went to work. When I got off work, you know, you work twelve, fourteen-hour days or whatever it was, typically twelve. And then you go back to your hooch, and I had to--depending on rank would determine if you had a roommate or not, and if you had running water or not, and so I didn't have enough rank to warrant that. So I'd go back to my room, I read a lot, I went back to school, so I was taking some masters classes during that time.
SPRAGUE: You mentioned that in your writing. Tell me a little bit about that.
EARLS: So I went back to school, and I had started an MBA a long time agothrough Touro University, which really caters to military personnel 01:19:00and their uniqueness, you know, taking classes while they're deployed or in the field or whatnot. And so since I had the time--and we had half-a-day off every Sunday, which like what do you do with half-a-day, and so I tried to fill it with education. so yeah, I finished my masters in logistics. And the cool thing about that was, it was an MBA, but my emphasis was in logistics, so I remember having to write a paper, like the thesis part of the paper on like linehaul trucking. And I thought, well, I'm going to put a different twist on this. And we were managing a truck company; all the truck assets were being managed through us. And so I was able to kind of talk about, in real world, real life, how the military was doing it, and how efficient we were, and how maybe we could learn from that on the civilian side. So that's what I wrote my thesis on while I was there. 01:20:00
SPRAGUE: Interesting. So you were also involved in the Read Iraq program. Tellme a little bit about that.
EARLS: Yeah, so if you wanted to, you could also volunteer to do some of thecommunity affairs stuff. So we had our mission there which was command and control of this other half of Iraq logistics. But then there was also what we call winning the hearts and minds of the population. And so trying to show the local Iraqis that we're good people and trying to really get into the heads of the young kids. Because if an adult is going to get involved with an insurgency, they have already decided that. What we have to do, or what we had to do, was how do you convince these young kids not to go that same route? And so that was also a big part of the mission, and so these missions were going on all over Iraq, not just at Tallil. And so if you wanted to, you could volunteer to go on that. And so I did the Read Iraq thing, and it was really amazing for 01:21:00me because the schoolhouse itself was made out of sand, and then it had the palm tree roof. And they would have to rebuild their school every three years or so because just erosion, rain and erosion would essentially kind of just dissolve the school. And it was just a one-room, very small hut. But they weren't used to seeing women in a leadership role. And so going out to the school, these little girls would just stare at me and not let me out of their sight and would just cling to me like Velcro, I mean they were just on me all the time because they just were not used to seeing--they had never seen a woman in this role before. And so that was probably one of my highlights, is getting--you know, being able to read to the kids and having them react, but then afterwards, we would like color. And for that few seconds or those few minutes that you're 01:22:00doing that, you forgot that you were in a war. And you really just realized that people are the same, no matter what, and people just want to connect with people, and people are good. You know, I think we're all born with something good in us, and when you see it at that age, you realize that there is hope. And you were missing your own kids, and so getting to sit there and color with these Iraqi kids that are just like our kids that are mischievous, that are happy, it was really good to get to see a different side than what you were seeing on the news, or what you had heard, or what you think you assume of the Iraqi people.
SPRAGUE: Anything else about the program that you'd like to share, experiences?
EARLS: No, I think that was the main thing. And that wasn't the only01:23:00thing that was going on, I mean there were other great things going on. I think the frustrating thing for me is that those weren't the stories that were always being told.
SPRAGUE: So okay. Tell me about that--tell me about that frustration.
EARLS: Yeah, so you would--you know, like I said that we would have differentnews stations up twenty-four-seven in our command post. And you would hear about or have to manage something that was happening in real life, and then you would hear about it in the news twelve to twenty-four hours later. And the stories were different from each news channel, but neither one was accurate to what had really happened, and so that was frustrating for me. It was frustrating to hear the negative side. But all the good things that were happening, like 01:24:00I was able to be there, and it was a big celebration. They had voting, they were actually letting women vote for the first time, and the celebrations that were happening, it was a big step forward for that country. And being over there at the same time, it felt like you were a part of something so much bigger than yourself, a part of history. And what you were doing really mattered, and it was just unfortunate that those weren't the stories that were being told. So I took it upon myself. At the time I was working for a different company than I work for now, but I was sending newsletters home on a regular basis just to tell them the good stuff that we were involved with.
SPRAGUE: So what was that--what was it like in terms of the women being able tovote in Iraq and the excitement levels? Any more detail you can give me there?
EARLS: No, it was just a sense of pride and liberation and making you feel likewhat we were doing, you know, right or wrong--you know, there's a lot of opinion why we were there and if we should've been there. But for me, my 01:25:00opinion was, I don't have any control over that, but we are here, and so let's make the best of it. And so it was just, you know--and the Army was helping, and I think this was a coalition effort, but there was also this entrepreneur program for women entrepreneurs. You could volunteer to be a part of this where you would kind of coach or mentor a female Iraqi, and you would help her build a business plan on how to start up her own business. And the government was--I don't know specifically where the money came from, but the government would give them their starter loan for them to build these businesses. And so when you would see them on post selling their rugs or haircuts or whatever it was, that was also really great to see that, you know, the community was also benefiting from these programs. 01:26:00
SPRAGUE: So you mentioned earlier, managing the interpreters. Can you tell memore about that a little?
EARLS: I had six interpreters, and my job, that was an additional duty. My jobwas to make sure their missions were lined up for the week. So whenever my battalion commander or the brigade commander would go out on missions, I would make sure--I'd have to make sure that there was an interpreter scheduled to go with him at all times. And so I would just manage their schedules and then manage their pay and make sure they got paid at the end of the week. And what was special about that is, you got to see the Iraqi people as people. And the more I talked with them, the more I realized their stories. For instance, there was one of the interpreters who, he had seven brothers, and they all refused to join the Army, Saddam's Army, and so they were all executed right 01:27:00there in front of him. And so he had promised his mom that he would not join the Army, and they had said that, "Let this be a lesson to you." And so when he got old enough, he went to the University of Baghdad, and his way of fighting back, he promised his mom he would not become a part of the insurgency, he would not become violent. He went to the University of Baghdad, learned English, and came back to work for the US as an interpreter. And so that was his way of giving back. And just hearing those stories and realizing that, you know, some of these people were dealing with way more--way worse than some of us could even fathom. But then there were fun parts too. I was getting to know them as people. Some of them had never worked with a female either. And so I had this one in particular, he was younger, and he was looking for a third wife. [Laughs] And so anytime he would come, he would always try to bring me gifts, he would bring me perfume or scarves. [Laughs] And he would ask me if I would be his wife, and I 01:28:00would have to tell him no. And so then he wanted to come back to America, and he would ask me places that he could go find a wife. It was just, you know. And another comment I remember one of them made to me was, you know, "When you guys go back, make sure, will you go see President Bush for me and tell him thank you?" And so they didn't even have any concept that I couldn't just walk into George Bush's house and say, "Hey, this guy says thank you." They didn't have any concept of that. But it was interesting to hear, you know, even with all the strife that we have within our own nation, that the lives that were truly saved because of what we did, and hearing just from a very personal side. And there was that fear too with the interpreters that you don't realize until 01:29:00you build this relationship with them is, once the war was over, you know, they were in danger all the time. If anybody knew that they were working for us, they could've been executed at any given time. And so your fear when they wouldn't show up on time, for whatever reason, your fear would be that oh no, they were kidnapped, and now you're never going to see them again, or that the worst would happen to them. And so they were offered asylum when they're done with their interpreter duties, they have a choice that they could come--some of them went to Australia, some of them to the US or the UK. But it also gave me another unique perspective.
SPRAGUE: Okay. Any close calls with any of those interpreters or anything?
EARLS: No, they were--you know, this is kind of weird to say, but it wasbusiness as usual. Once you find your new norm, I mean I guess wearing an M16 to work every day and walking isn't normal at all. But it did become your new norm, and it was interesting, it was fun, just like anybody else that you 01:30:00would work with and go to the office with every day. And you just did what you had to do.
SPRAGUE: What were some of the key moments that you remember from your servicein Iraq?
EARLS: Definitely the Read Iraq program. That first moment getting off theplane--so we came into Kuwait first, and so you don't go right into Iraq. So we flew into Kuwait. You're there for several weeks getting acclimated, there's more training you have to do, there's just stuff that you have to do. And then they put you on a plane to actually go into Iraq. And here's another one of those pivotal moments that I thought this is the real deal. So you're in this Army plane, they put you in there, you're in the full, what we call full battle rattle, so that means your helmet, your flack vest, your gear, your 01:31:00weapon, you've got it all on. And we're moving at night, so it's a night movement, because you don't want to be a target. And the flight--so it's not like your traditional plane where you get on the runway and you go for a while and then you gradually go up. This was they got up to speed, and you went straight up because it's a risk, right, they don't want you to be in the RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] range. And so then we fly, and it was quiet on the way over to Kuwait, on the way--all the other flights we had taken, everybody is talking, everybody was just enjoying each other's company. But this flight, this particular flight, this was the one, this is the one. And we were all just sitting there, and you're just--everybody is lost in their own thought, everybody is having their own moment, and you go up in the air. And there were a few people that couldn't handle that very well, and there was--let's 01:32:00just say that their lunch didn't stay down. [Laughs] So some of that was going on. But then when we landed, and it was the same thing, we came down, came in hot, so you just come down really fast. Get down, they drop the back hatch, and everybody comes off, and that's when you get that sense of wow, I'm here, this is the real deal. Now there wasn't any action or anything like that when we came off. We didn't have to go run off the plane and pull security or anything like that, I mean we single-line walked off. But it was, I remember it being hot, dusty, windy. And that newness, we had to stay in tents until we were able to move into our--get our assignments, anyway, to go into our new home for the next year. So that first day was just kind of like surreal. And I remember 01:33:00walking, so I had to go get chow, find out where the chow hall is, and then walking back to my room. I remember looking up and seeing a drone flying over, and I thought this is the real deal. [Laughs]. So that was a moment.
SPRAGUE: Were there any other days in Iraq that you'd like to share that stickout in your head?
EARLS: Yeah, just some of my memories were, you know, the first time we got hitby a rocket, I remember being in a--me and my battle buddies--so when you're in a combat situation, you never go anywhere alone, and so they call it your battle buddy. And so my battle buddy and I, after we get off duty, we would go to one of the workout tents and kill time and work out. It was the best shape I've ever been in my whole entire life. [Laughs] And so we would work out. And there was a rocket had hit fairly close, close enough that you felt the whole ground move and, you know, you had to react. You got up, you got to the 01:34:00bunker, you took--got accountability, you did all those things. But I remember thinking, Wow, I always wondered what would happen. You get all this training, and then you think, Am I going to do what I'm supposed to do? Am I going to freeze? What are you going to do? And I remember that, doing whatever we had to do, and thinking okay, this is no big deal. And then getting back to my room, I remember uncontrollably shaking and not being able to control it and not knowing where it came from. Because I don't know that I was scared per se, it was just different, it was different. And that was the first time that we had experienced that. And so a couple times after--that's how you can tell the newbies that are just getting onto the COB, because when you're new, you hear the incoming. And there were sensors that if something was incoming, you would get an alarm so that we knew that it was coming, and then you would go get into a bunker. And so for those of us that were new, I mean you're getting your 01:35:00stuff, you're hitting the ground, you're doing whatever, all the things that you're supposed to do. And then you realize that the likelihood of them hitting you with one of these RPGs or rockets, you know, they're very not accurate at all. And you kind of get desensitized to it, and you'd be walking down the street, and you hear the alarm go off, and you'd see the newbies [laughs] hit the ground, and you just keep on walking. [Laughs]
SPRAGUE: So can you tell me what returning from Iraq was like, coming back tothe states?
EARLS: Yeah, that was tough. So you just spent essentially two years with thesame group of people. So you had your year of train-up, and then you go and live together for a whole year, you get very close. And then you come home. It was very lonely. It was very lonely. You come home, and you're 01:36:00used to being around all those people, the people that you really truly bonded with. And you have the honeymoon phase, you know, you're happy to see your kids, you're happy to be home, and all the welcome home parties and all that. But after that week wears off, then you find yourself--at least for me, I found myself feeling guilty because I was really missing the people that I had just served with. And so I found myself wanting--like I couldn't wait for us to have our next--our first real drill weekend so I could get back to the people that I had just spent all this time with. But yet you don't want to admit that, you don't want to tell your family like, "Hey, you know, I missed you, but I really need to go take a trip to go see my battle buddy." So you have that conflict. But then you also dealt with--I did anyway--a lot of anger because you just spent time with people that were truly appreciative of you being there. You know, when I did the Read Iraq program, my kids sent me school 01:37:00supplies for these kids, and so I personally got to give those to them. I mean here, a kid would get excited about an Xbox or whatever. We were giving them pencils and crayons, and they were showing that same level of excitement, and so to see that and to feel that was really nice. And then when you come home, you realize just how materialistic--I felt materialistic, I felt selfish, I lived in this big house, I had to--I felt very uncomfortable in my own house. I had lived out of two duffle bags in this small space for a year, and now I came back to all this stuff that I owned that I really didn't need. So I went through that, and then I went through the anger of--I had a moment one time going to the grocery store, and I was at the checkout. And this young girl was complaining about her job and was barely moving, you know, not checking my 01:38:00groceries very fast, and complaining about everything, and kept stopping to complain. And I snapped, I lost it--I ended up walking out without my groceries after giving her an earful of how unappreciative and, you know. And she had no idea that I just came back from Iraq, [laughs] and so probably not something I should've done. But just having those outbursts, those angry outbursts much more surprised me, I guess. And you do go through a transition period where they brief you. They try to prepare you for that transition back, and so there were some things that they warned you about. Like don't go to crowded places, or don't go--like probably not go grocery shopping on your first week back. And definitely don't drive on your first, you know, that first month, don't drive. And you're thinking, you don't think anything has changed. Your surrounded by people that are going through the same thing you are, so you don't 01:39:00see a change in them, and they don't see a change in you. Then you come home, and you think that you're the same. And your family sees something different, but you don't feel anything different, you don't think you've changed. And so I thought, Well, what's the big deal? I'm going to go drive the car and go for a drive. And I got on a busy road, and I remember a car merging in and thinking, oh my gosh, what if it's a VBIED, which is a Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device. And so I remember my heart just starting to race, and starting to feel sick to my stomach, and I started to shake. And I thought, Yeah, I'm going to turn around and go back home. Now I know why they told us not to drive so soon. But yeah, just a lot of loneliness and anger, I think, in that transition back home.
SPRAGUE: How was the transition with your family?01:40:00
EARLS: They said that they noticed a sense of anger, and that I was different. Iwas short with people. Yeah, that's a hard thing, too, even when you're just going from active duty, but to do active duty on a deployment, you don't have time to waste on a lot of words. And so when you talk to people, you just are very direct, say what you've got to say, and you drive on and do what you need to do. And so that frustration of, you know, just even talking with civilians it was kind of hard to transition back. You know, I was in a supervisory role, and so when I came back, learning how to be a supervisor again for civilians.
SPRAGUE: So you're back in Kansas, the Kansas National Guard. Tell me about thepositions you took after Iraq. Like S-1 was the next one in the sequence, I think.
EARLS: Yeah. So as soon as we came back, my very next drill, I believe--I meanit was a pretty quick transition--I was the S-1. And so what the S-1 01:41:00is, is the S stands for Staff, and the 1, each staff just has a number. So the S-1 is the administrative officer, or what you would--the equivalent of the human resources officer. And so if you know me very well, you would say, "Why in the heck would they ever put her in a position [laughs] like that?" But that's also one of the things I love about the military, is you never stay in the same position very long as an officer, they want you to be well-rounded. And the last place they should've put me is in a human resources position. But because of that, they're like, "Earls, you're going to go be the S-1." And so you have to learn this new skill set. And so I actually went to school for it, and I got a skill identifier, which means that I [laughs] guess I'm a bonafide human resources manager. But I learned how to do that--it wasn't my favorite thing to do. But again, I learned-- that's where I learned that being an 01:42:00officer, you really do have to learn how to trust people and influence people, because as you move from each position--I knew nothing about the human resources side. But what I did know is, I had a master sergeant who had been in that field her whole career. And so you can't just bark orders to a master sergeant who's been doing this for years and expect that they're going to do what you say. They're going to actually help you. You may be the head on the body, but we all know who does the real work. And so what I learned the most out of that was, it's about trusting your subordinates to help accomplish the missions. And it's not always about--you're not always the brains in situations.
SPRAGUE: Okay, next I have that you were the executive officer, that would bethe Brigade XO [Executive Officer].
EARLS: That is the Battalion XO.
SPRAGUE: Okay. And that would've been with which battalion?
EARLS: That would've been--that was still in the 287th Sustainment,01:43:00that was the support battalion underneath a brigade. So that was in Hays, Kansas, and so that was a pretty good hike, that was about a three-to-four-hour drive as well. And so being the executive officer, it was a new experience because you are--by now, I'm a major, I'd been promoted to major--and so you are really the executive officer of the commander's staff, so all the S staff. So you had your S-1, which is human resources, your S-2, which is your intel, your 3, which is your operations, and your 4, which is your supply. All four of those report in to you by a dotted line, and while that leaves your commander time to lead the other subordinate commanders. So that was my first 01:44:00realization that being a major was probably the second-worst rank [laughs] in the Army, because you're nothing more than a staff officer, you're nothing more, you're not pushing troops anymore, you're not down where the boots meet the rubber--or the road. And that's all learning how to build strategies and figure out how to get things done and just leading a staff. I don't know, that was when I realized that yeah, this is what majors do. And if anything else, it motivated me to hurry up and make lieutenant colonel. [Laughter]
SPRAGUE: And that was which battalion again? Sorry.
EARLS: That was in the 287th Battalion Support--you know, I need to--
SPRAGUE: Okay, no problem.
EARLS: I think it's a BSB [Brigade Support Battalion].
SPRAGUE: I also have listed in here, Chief Operations Officer. I'm used tohearing that as an S-3, but what is that, tell me about that.
EARLS: So that was more of a--01:45:00
SPRAGUE: Was that a civilian position?
EARLS: No, it was--that was more on the--so the full-time staff has this chiefoperations officer that is really more around the logistics of it, and that's a full-time position. That also--so I would come in on the weekend, and there was somebody that would do this all throughout the rest of the month, that they work for the Army National Guard full-time. And so she had--the person that had that job full-time also happened to be my battle buddy that I deployed to Iraq with. So that was an easy job in the sense that she would tell me, "This is my full-time job, so don't you come in on the weekend and try to screw anything up, [laughter] so just don't touch anything." So that was kind of a, you know, that wasn't too exciting. Again, though, another staff-type role.
SPRAGUE: Yeah. I had some other positions that you had mentioned that wereinteresting to me. What does a Selective Service Officer do?
EARLS: I had no idea that that position even existed until I had that01:46:00role, and that's the role I'm just now transitioning out of. So the Selective Service Officer is what we call a broadening assignment. So at a level, they want you to do something that's completely outside of your norm. And whether, you know, on active duty, some people get selected to go be a professor of military science at a university. There's different things that they typically run around some sort of joint effort, meaning with another branch of service, or anything other than what you do. And so this role came up, and it is just that. So the Selective Service, as we all know, if we were to ever have a draft, the Selective Service would come in and initiate the draft. There would be a lottery. Young men would be--their number would be selected, and they 01:47:00would go off to war. Now there would be a percentage of them that would, for whatever reason, want to contest that and say that they can't go. And so they would have to go before a board, and that board would vote on whether or not they go. Now this board is made up of civilians in the community. So each county--Wisconsin has it too--each county has Selective Service board members, and the number of board members depend on how many--what the population is of the country. So the state of Kansas was split into two halves, and so I took half of it, and then there was a Reserve Army officer who took the other half. So I had eighty-five Selective Service board members, and my job was to make sure you keep the vacant--make sure there's no vacancies, so those positions are filled all the time. And secondly, there was annual training that has to happen. And so these are civilians. Let me just caveat with this, so they're 01:48:00civilians. You can be a Selective Service volunteer. The criteria is that you're not in any kind of law enforcement role, and that you did not retire out of the military. So anybody can do it if they don't have those two things. And but you can be a volunteer for up to twenty years. And so my board members--and I have to--my job was to make sure I make connections once a year with each one of them. And so I made connections with the majority of them, but there was a couple handful that I couldn't make contact with, and found out that, you know, I just did a Google search on them and found their obituaries on there, like [laughs] well, that's what happened there, and so now I had to backfill them. And so a lot of my people were at the age of, you know, they had joined the Selective Service maybe as a retirement deal. I mean you don't have to do a whole lot, but it looks good on a resumé sometimes, or just people being patriotic and wanting to give back. And so a lot of the people on my 01:49:00board were in their seventies and eighties, around that age group, very patriotic and very proud of what they're doing. But the year that I got this position was the year we decided to go from paper copy annual tests and training to web-based. So I had [laughs] that was quite a challenge because a lot of these volunteers didn't have a computer, or they weren't happy that we were going to a web-based. And so I would find myself calling them and spending an hour-and-a-half to two hours teaching them how to use a computer, so that was a challenge. And these are civilians, and so you had to learn how to--and you were representing the military, so you had to really--you had to dig deep and find a different skill set and patience. And a lot of the people I would 01:50:00call were just lonely and retired. They were, you know, some of them, their spouses had passed away. And so you would talk with them, and they would just talk with you for a long time. So it was a unique challenge in itself. The cool thing about that is, I recruited a lot of my family members and coworkers. There were some vacancies in Kansas in the--where the company I work for now, their headquarters is at. And so I recruited them to be board members, so that was kind of cool. [Laughs]
SPRAGUE: So moving ahead, 2011, US Army Command and general staff. Tell me aboutthat'll. You were still in the Guard unit at that time?
SPRAGUE: Tell me a little bit about that experience.
EARLS: So that was probably one of the hardest academic things I've done. Andeven though the majority of it was distance learning, you still were 01:51:00in a cohort, so in a class. And all the students, we would have mandatory meeting during the week, but then we would have assignments that were due at the end of whatever that period was. And it was probably a good ten to twelve additional hours, on top of your regular job, on top of your National Guard duties, this was an additional academia that required a lot. It's a masters-level program, and it was a year long. And so it was very structured, very stringent. The instructor was, they're professionals in their field, but it taught you about strategy. So it basically essentially taught you that next level of leadership. And once you become a major and lieutenant colonel, unless you're in a command-specific role, your job mainly now is 01:52:00strategy-building, and you're not so much in the tactical anymore, and so this teaches you about how to do that.
SPRAGUE: Right, okay. So your goal was to make lieutenant colonel, and you'vedone that. Tell me--and become a battalion commander, took command of the 169th Combat Sustainment Battalion 1 August 2019. Olathe, I hope I'm pronouncing that correctly.
SPRAGUE: Olathe, Kansas. Tell me about that, tell me about what your initialimpressions are.
EARLS: This is what I think any officer aspires to do. And so it's that feelingof, yeah, I made it. But then it's like I made it, what's next? You know, I thought that, okay, I wanted to swear in both of my kids that are both in the Army. I wanted to become a lieutenant colonel, done that, and I want to be a battalion commander. And I thought once I had done that, I'm ready to retire. Well now that I'm here, I'm already thinking, okay, what's next? 01:53:00[Laughs] And so I don't know if I'm a glutton for punishment here or what, but it's only my first month, and you know I've already--it's taking a lot of time. You know, when I was in the Selective Service role, that was pretty much, everything I did there was based off of a computer or a phone talking to civilians. So I had been spoiled for a little while in the sense of, you know, just one weekend a month kind of thing. And so now as a battalion commander, that's not the deal. I'll be going back to Kansas for the last month and this month two weekends out of the month, and then plus conference calls in between. And again, going back to this, you know, somebody told me again, this will be the hardest job you love. And even though we're in the National Guard, it is all of the other things that you're dealing with. And so just in a short 01:54:00amount of time, we've had soldiers with suicidal ideation, and so that's something that, you know, how do you prepare for that? And again, just the overall soldier care.
SPRAGUE: So on the civilian side in Milwaukee, you're a manager for Cargill.Tell me a little bit about that and how that compares to your role as a battalion commander.
EARLS: Yeah, so it's kind of unique in the fact that it feels like both of mycareers are growing at the same time and at the same level. So that's been nice, the skills are very transferable. So I am a general manager for two facilities here in the Milwaukee area. So I have two manufacturing facilities that report under me, so I have 713 employees. And so it's kind of the same in 01:55:00the fact that you have, you know, as a battalion commander, it's like being the general manager, and you have all of these other entities that report up to you. And you have to make sure that they're doing what they're supposed to be doing as efficiently and safely as possible. And so they're very similar in that aspect. The difference is, one of them is managing manufacturing and putting out a product, while the other one is managing people and the wellbeing of people so that they are capable of--and being trained so that they're capable of conducting whatever the mission is. So one is very much people-oriented; the other one is very much manufacturing-oriented. But I think how it's helped me with the general manager role is, people are always first. And so it's helped me stay grounded in the fact that, don't lose yourself in how many widgets you're making; that's not what's important. If you take care of your people, they're going to be as efficient as they can, and they're going to make the best product that they can. 01:56:00
SPRAGUE: Moving back to the military question, how do you feel--do you seedifferences in management practices between an active unit and a Guard unit? And what is--what can sum that up as?
EARLS: Yeah, you know, back when I was active duty, I used to--I would've alsotold you not only would I never be an officer, that I would also never be a National Guard or Reservist, you know, the whole weekend warrior thing, "They don't know what they're doing." After being deployed, and after being in the Guard for as long as I've been, I realize that they bring--the Reservists and the Guard bring a whole unique perspective to leadership in the sense that this isn't what they do every day all the time. So we all have other civilian jobs that we go off to, so there's a whole 'nother skill set we bring to 01:57:00the table, a different level of leadership, of management, of experience. You may have--you know, I've been in a situation where I have a mechanic--had a mechanic that on their civilian side was a lawyer. And so you don't know what people do. And somebody in his case, he's like, you know, "I have to be a lawyer and be professional and be a grownup in my civilian world. I just want to turn a wrench when I go do the Army thing." So where I saw it unique was when we were deployed, there was a time when they had asked us, "Everybody write down, we need a list of what everybody's civilian jobs are." And what we were doing was standing up--help them stand up a water purification plant, and so they were specifically looking for people that had manufacturing experience, who knew how to build things, so we had pulled out somebody that was a general contractor in their civilian job. And so you really capitalized on that other skill set that a National Guardsman or a Reservist brings to the table. Where active 01:58:00duty, looking back and reflecting even on my own leadership, you're only leading by what you've been taught from the military. And sometimes you can be too direct, and when you are dealing with civilians, you have to learn again how to influence. They don't care about rank. You have to be more of a coach and a mentor.
SPRAGUE: So you have two adult children who are on active duty in the military.
SPRAGUE: What are your thoughts on that?
EARLS: I'm very proud of them. I've always tried to influence that they servetheir country in one way, shape, or form. And it didn't necessarily always have to be the military, as long as they were doing something that was--I really wanted them to have an experience of being a part of something much bigger than themselves. And they've been around the military their whole life, so I think it felt kind of natural and not intimidating to them at all. My son is a 01:59:00paratrooper, he's a mortarman in the 82nd, and so he's right now deployed in Afghanistan, and I couldn't be more happy for him. When he called me and told me he was getting deployed, he was so excited, and I got it--as a soldier, I get it. As a mom, that was a different story. But you know, some of my family think I'm crazy that I'm so--I don't have the traditional mom reaction to him being deployed. So I love having that connection with my kids that we can talk about stuff like that. Now my daughter, on the other hand, is having a very different experience. She is a food inspector, and none of the other branches have food inspectors, so that MOS [Military Occupational Specialty] can go and support any other branch. And so she happens to be on--she's in Guam right now, which is a Navy and Air Force facility. So if she were in the traditional Army, 02:00:00there's no reason she should be in Guam, right, there's no Army base there. So it's unique in the fact that she's getting to go do all these different experiences. So both of the kids, they're only eighteen months apart. When they joined the Army, one got--my son got stationed in Italy, and my daughter got stationed in Germany, so they were both at the same time--so they were over in Europe around the same time. And I had taken vacation to go visit them over there and show like my son where he was born, and we got to go to some of the--a lot of the same places that are still around when I was there, so that was kind of cool. And then he went to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He's deployed right now, and she's in Guam. The other cool thing about this whole, you know, this relationship thing is, she came here to visit me, and while she was here, I reenlisted her for Guam. And so in my backyard, we both put our uniform on. I gave her--I administered the oath, and that was really cool as a 02:01:00mom. And then we did the same thing, my son got promoted and wanted to reenlist on the same day, so me and his dad flew in, his dad actually pinned him and promoted him, and I reenlisted him, so he got to, you know, do the oath of office again with him. So I've reenlisted now both of my kids, so that's pretty cool.
SPRAGUE: So maybe I missed it. Was your partner or spouse in the military or not?
EARLS: Yeah, so that's another uniqueness for me. My husband at the time--he'smy ex-husband now--so we met, he was my instructor driver. We met--when we got married, I was nineteen--yeah, got married at nineteen and then came back to the states and kind of grew apart. And we are still best friends today, so he and I, you know, we teamed up and still--when we divorced, we were in--just got off active duty, so Fort Riley, Kansas, and were in Kansas. But we made a 02:02:00pact in case I ever had to deploy, we would live in the same school district, so that the kids wouldn't have to change schools if something happened. And it did happen, and so that plan worked out well, but we always partnered together. And then later, I met my current wife, and so she and I just got married in July, so almost two months ago. But she came into the picture right after Fort Riley as well, so she's been a part of this since the kids were five and six, so yeah.
SPRAGUE: So how has that experience been with her and being in the military?
EARLS: She doesn't get it always. The deployment was hard on all of us. She didnot have children of her own, so not only was she new to being a mom 02:03:00so to speak. She now gets to do it, you know, I left, I was pretty much gone for two years because you have that year of train-up and you're just gone all the time, and then the actually physically being gone. And so we lived in the same school district as my ex-husband, but those two became really good friends as well and partnered. And so while I was gone, those two took care of everything. And then when I came back, it was almost like, "Hey, this is our deal, we've got a routine," [laughs] you know, "Don't mess up our routine." But then the three of us kind of finished that out. But the military life was fairly new for her, and so a lot of the long weekends or the double weekends or the conference calls during the week, you know, doesn't like it, but she's been supportive of it.
SPRAGUE: Is there anything else that you'd like to share about that02:04:00experience being married to a woman and being in the military?
EARLS: Yeah. There was a large part of my career, my military career, that I wasserving in an organization that didn't accept me for who I was, but yet my love of my country was more important than feeling like I wasn't able to be my true self. And so once don't-ask-don't-tell was lifted, and all of that kind of started to come to light, and a lot of the old generation officers and policymakers started retiring, you saw this younger generation coming in. And I felt like I needed to be authentic to myself. I was authentic in my civilian world, and that's proven to be--I think what I realized about being my genuine authentic self in a key leadership role was that it gives others permission to do the same. And when I took the general manager role, I had talked 02:05:00to my partner at the time, now wife, and said, "If I am honest about this, and I'm going to be my authentic self, for one, you have to be prepared for this, but that's the way forward I want to be and lead." And what I found is, when we sent out an announcement about me being the general manager, and I had written a blurb in there in my bio, but then also talked about her as my partner and all that, I had people write to me and thank me for saying that, and it let them know that now that they could see that you can still move up in the company and not--and be who you are, and not hide who you are. And so having that civilian experience and realizing that's part of my responsibility as a leader, to be genuine, I thought, You know what, I'm going to try this out on my military side. And I've been, for the first time in my career, the last few 02:06:00years, been really open about who I am. And you know what, I've never experienced anything negative. I'm sure there's probably things that aren't said to my face, but I've never felt anything other than supported. And so that's been nice, yeah. And I think a lot of it too is that this younger generation of soldiers coming in, they're from a different timeframe, right, they're from a different experience. They're not as--I think the younger generation of people in general are more tolerant than they have been in the past. So yeah, I think it's been--the latter part of my career being my true self has been good. It was just unfortunate, during that first beginning, you know, those 02:07:00first several years, it was--you know, sometimes it was just so disheartening working for an organization that you love so much and knowing that you couldn't be your true self.
SPRAGUE: Yeah. How do you think the military, all of your military service,twenty-seven years, how do you think that's changed you as an individual?
EARLS: I think it's made me resilient. I think it's made me confident. I thinkit's made me able to adapt. I'm always ready for a challenge, I'm ready, you know. I always want to be in charge, [laughs] so I'm always looking for that role. You know, when I came into the company that I work for now, my goal was always to be the general manager because I essentially wanted to be the commander. And so I think the military has given me that drive, I guess, to want to lead people, but lead large amounts of people. And then the time 02:08:00that I spent in the staff positions, I think those were important too because you have to learn how to be a leader outside of just your direct reports. And the further up you go in any organization with any kind of responsibility, those responsibilities are more about networking and influencing and relationships. And I think you have to learn that at some point if you're going to be successful at any level.
SPRAGUE: What motivated you to do this interview?
EARLS: You know, telling my story--so I hope that people hear that you don'thave to be the cookie-cutter mold for any career, whether it's your military career or your civilian career. And you don't have to--you know, just do what your heart says, and people will accept you. If you're a good person, 02:09:00and you're a hard worker, people are going to accept you for who you are, no matter what. And sometimes we let our own fears, based on who we are, whether you're a member of the LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender] community, or you're a female thinking that, Oh, I'm never going to make it in a man's world, whatever that is, sometimes we hold ourselves captive to those fears. And I think by being your authentic self, that releases you of those fears because you realize that people are going to value you for who you are. And it opens up--just being you opens up a different perspective of what you bring to the table, and I think people are going to see that. I think corporations want diverse thinking and diverse ways of managing because it brings a different perspective, and it helps the bottom line. So I just want to let other people know that it's okay to be you. And you can still be successful, and 02:10:00there is nothing to be ashamed of. And if you want it, go for it.
SPRAGUE: Did we miss anything that you'd like to cover?
EARLS: No, I don't think so. We probably talked about more than I even wasthinking. So I was kind of going over some of the big things in my career and the things that were important to me. And as we were talking, I was remembering some things that I had even forgot about, so thank you for that. No, I think that's--
SPRAGUE: Okay. Well, then that concludes this interview.
SPRAGUE: Thank you for your time today.
EARLS: Thank you.