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Michelle Poole

Ohio History Connection
Jess HollerTy Pierce, Interviewer |
Standing Together: Ohio Veterans and the War on Terror |

0:00 - Introduction

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0:42 - Early Life and Childhood; High School

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  • Born in Galion, Ohio on April 31st, 1981 (4-31-1981)

    • Parents were factory workers; grew up in a family with multiple siblings

      • Early life was influenced by family military experience – in particular, an uncle’s service in Desert Storm; and also influenced by media coverage of Desert Storm at the time. Poole notes that this coverage was a strong part of the cultural climate during her high-school years; she remembers being impressed by the strength and bravery of the men and women who served – and, in particular, the women, who left their families at home to help take care of Kuwaities.

      -High school education was at a Catholic school. Poole recalls being friends with everybody; and involved in a lot of activities.

      • Attended Marion Technical College starting in her junior year of high school; and also began to talk to a recruiter. She ultimately selected a “split option,” with basic training in the summer between her junior and senior years, and MOS training following her senior year. She still planned to attend college full-time afterwards.

      • Poole attended basic training at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. She notes that her decision to enlist was largely influenced by coming from a large family and watching her parents help pay college tuition for her siblings; Poole didn’t want her parents to help pay for her tuition, and wanted to break the mold by enlisting and paying her own way through school.

      • Poole notes that attending basic training fundamentally transformed her experience of her last year of high school – it helped her “prove herself “ to her peers; and she felt an immense amount of respect from her peers.

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8:10 - Basic Training

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  • Poole enlisted on Feb. 5th, 1999

    - Basic training was transformative for Poole because it brought her into contact with an extremely diverse set of fellow recruits; she felt prepared, but scared; and became aware of her own privileged upbringing.
    
    - Poole’s parents dropped her off at Port Columbus – it was one of her first experiences away from home, and she notes that she “needed that” to learn to be independent; she then joined fellow recruits on a bus to South Carolina, and was greeted by screaming drill sergeants
    
    Poole was “expecting the worse”; felt prepared, but scared
    
    - Poole scored well on her tests, and had free reign to pick almost any MOS she wanted – she went over the available options, and ended up as a 92-A automated logistical specialist and mechanics part clerk with a unit in Mansfield. 
    
    - The summer after Poole graduated from Bucyrus High – in June of 2000 –  she took on her AIT at Ft. Lee in Virginia, to become a 92-Alpha, with the 1486th out of Mansfield.
    

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16:12 - College and Career Plans

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  • Attracted to the business/HR side of things

  • Started out on Ohio State University’s Marion campus

  • Wanted to be close to family; planned to be in the Guard and full-time student

  • Took college classes in the senior year of high school; pushed hard to get through to what she wanted to be doing

  • 3 other classmates also ended up joining the Guard; all three drilled together through their senior year, and then undertook Advanced Individual Training (AIT)

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18:38 - Family Reactions to Enlistment

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  • Enjoyed her being close to home

  • Poole was adamant about paying for her own college

  • Stepfather served in the Vietnam War, sustained hearing loss

  • Mother has a love/hate relationship with Poole’s deployments

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21:02 - College and Ohio National Guard

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  • Poole opted to break up basic training and AIT; enrolled in winter term at OSU Marion; simultaneously served in the Guard and worked a factory job

  • Didn’t want student loans, so worked factory job to live and used GI Bill benefits to support classes

  • Sophomore year: became pregnant, bought a house

  • 2002: Poole gave birth to her son; her SRP received the alert to prepare to be stood up in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF); completed a family care plan, but fully expected to be alerted and then stood down. Message came across that this was “for real.”

  • Leadership said there were too many 92-A’s and Poole would have to stay with the rear detachment; for her, this was “not OK”

  • Poole reclassified her MOS to become an 88-M, driving heavy trucks

  • 2003: trained in Ft. Liggett, California for her MOS reclassification as 88-M

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27:39 - Remobilization and Deployment to Iraq

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  • Mobilized with the 1st platoon of the 1486th

  • Poole was engaged with a wedding planned for February of 2004; she and her fiancé quickly changed plans — set to mobilize to Camp Atterbury, Indiana on January 5th, 2004. Got married in December in Vegas

  • Service is about resilience; learning to adapt

  • January 2nd: packed to head to Ashland Armory; reported on the 2nd and 3rd and had January 4th off to spend with family

  • 180-odd people ended up deploying

  • Pre-mobilization at Camp Atterbury, Indiana; “total temperature difference” than conditions in Iraq

  • Lots of good camaraderie and goofing off in Iraq; space for being people and getting connected

  • Mobilization orders said a year

  • Kinship and connection developed around servicewomen and -men “dealing with the same stuff”; training further cemented the bonding

  • Challenge at the time: higher-ups didn’t necessarily know what the mission was

  • Feb 18th: began deployment overseas; in an airport terminal off by itself, not around civilians; but flew on a Delta plane — stewardesses and flight staff were so thankful for military service

  • 18-hour flight, and not allowed to get off the plane; pilots gave permission for the service people to smoke on stairs

  • Flew into Arifjan in Kuwait; attended mandatory briefs and protocols; prisoner of war/engagement training; work with Iraqi cultural; customs work. Still, Poole didn’t know what to expect

  • Received assignments at Arifjan; bussed to Camp Navistar on the Kuwait/Iraqi border

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40:10 - Camp Navistar and Kuwait

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  • Lived in tents with 18 other female soldiers; brought in thin mattresses and did have air conditioning available

  • Unit from Texas passed over their mission: transporting all difficult supplies; running with the “TCN” (Third Country Nationals) from all over the world

  • Culturally difficult mission: hard to know who was “bad” and “good”

  • Integrated teams created opportunity for cultural exchange: security briefing meetings including prayer service offerings before every mission

  • Missions operated both in Kuwait, and crossing into Iraq

  • Unit became a tight family with a fantastic bond; the 200-odd people at Navistar still communicate to this day

  • Poole was always the “mother hen” of the female tent at Navistar; took care of people - Day-to-day life involved running missions

  • Returned home in April for 3 days for family funeral; felt needed

  • Returned to Iraq from emergency leave; came back to a different situation: insurgent forces blowing up bridges and supply routes

  • Missions ran for days, all over the field; some camps were well-equipped, some not so much

  • Partnership with the Marines and Air Force on base — different U.S. service branches and service people from different nationalities bonded

  • TCN’s didn’t receive bullet-proof vests; “they security was on us”

  • Lots of cultural diversity and exchange at Navistar

  • Missions were strictly driving truck: no laundry, no cooking, no cleaning

  • Very difficult conscience-tugging moments: navigating IEDs; small arms fire; small children attempting to stop convoys

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58:00 - Easter Ambush

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  • Mahadi Army seized the Baghdad International Airport

  • Poole noticed a different set of flags, gestures and feelings in the air — “not safe,” and “weird-feeling”

  • Mission pulled into Baghdad, where there had been an ambush; insurgents poured over the bridge; called it back on the radio; everyone exiting vehicles and running security

  • Difficulty and danger of the situation: not knowing how people will react in such a high-stress situation

  • Message came down to stay in vehicles; took small-arms fire; “sitting in the middle of a kill zone”

  • Humvees eventually came with more supplies, but it “felt like forever”; this kind of event wasn’t what the team had been prepared for in their training, but didn’t know what to expect — too many different engagements at once

  • Post-Ambush: MedEVAC’d as many of the wounded as possible; Poole adamantly didn’t want to leave any fallen comrade behind. Her Battle Buddies ultimately survived, and were recognized with Purple Hearts

  • Finally pulled into Baghdad International Airport, behind the constantina wire; everyone was given 2 minutes to call home; everyone was numb and trying to process. Poole was able to talk to her step-dad in a short and quick call.

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66:14 - Hauling Missions; Post-Easter Ambush

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hence; lots of adrenaline

  • Hauled missions all over town; usually had to drive

  • Gun-truck driving work was busy — lots of missions all over; once, gas tank was hit with a bullet — repaired it with a tampon. Experience of being the “only girl on the gun truck.” Dangerous work: lots of exchanging/suppressive fire. Didn’t lose anyone from the mission; but many TCN’s were lost — didn’t get to wear FLAC vests or the same protective gear.

  • “Dust Bowl Tampa”: unpaved, famously pothole-pocked road; difficult to see in either direction. U.S. forces did the best they could to protect TCN’s assigned here; brought them hot meals, parked at the staging base; Poole still wonders where some of them are

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82:15 - Return Orders; Demobilization and Homecoming

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  • Deployment orders to Iraq were one 1 year; but exit dates kept changing

  • Poole ultimately didn’t know if she wanted to leave; hauling co-missions at the time; working closely with troops from North Carolina, Marines, Hungarians

  • At 13 months in-country, finally got exit orders to head back to Camp Atterbury

  • Lots of different emotions: thrilled to get to go home to her son; but didn’t want to leave her brothers & sisters in arms

  • Atterbury: de-mobilization for 3-days, lots of out processing; Poole wanted to be home, or to be back in Iraq; instead, “doing stupid stuff.” Got to meet Jared the Subway Guy.

  • Home to Ohio on a GSA bus, to homecoming ceremony at Ashland University; then back to her unit’s field house. Poole remembers people standing everywhere with welcome home posters and flags.

  • Support for returning Iraq veterans was phenomenal; not the same as when she’d left. Best of all was seeing her family and her son; son didn’t want to let her go

  • Lots of emotions and lots of support in coming home

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89:45 - Transition to Civilian Life

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  • Working with Battle Buddies from Iraq, who had shared the same experience

  • Morals and background motivated her work in Iraq; no regrets — brothers & sisters in arms share that background

  • Every deployment is different; just as Poole came home, her cousin — an active Marine — was preparing to head overseas; wanted to give him advice, but didn’t have a chance to talk

  • Didn’t know how to belong — too many roles, at home: gone for a long time, but the connection to home was always there (talking once a week, emailing one a month).

  • Returning home, Poole felt disconnected; some people noticed this, and she began to push people away — stayed with son and step son

  • Other difficulties in adjusting: fear of gas stations (afraid she’d pump gas and not pay for it, as was normal in Iraq); stayed mostly at the house (always on alert)

  • Switching from one duty (mission) to juggling multiple duties — being a mom, wife, bills, cleaning, cooking

  • Network of Battle Buddies all experienced the same thing; lots of anger and anxiety

  • Poole’s husband — also in the service — understood her transition, and “pushed back”; refused to allow her to retreat and push family away

  • Left at 23, 24: difficult to be told that “the war changed you”; hard to tell if she had been changed, or if she was just growing into the person she already was

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105:36 - Transition Support; Battle Buddies Network

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  • 3 close female battle buddies gave each other support

  • By day 3 or 4 at home, began missing each other; didn’t understand the transition, at first

  • Group of women began checking in on each other daily; all transition back at the same time

  • Given some time off before drill; but then got to see the whole unit back together; military experience again helped to explain the hard transition.

  • Weekend drills brought relief: unit got to spend time together; wounded members received awards

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110:10 - Seeking Services

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  • Poole was “bull-headed” about seeking services to aid in transition; difficult, sometimes, in military culture, to show any sign of weakness

  • Poole now views seeking services as a sign of strength

  • Finally went to seek services in 2008 from the VA; but was told it was too late — sought counseling services, but she couldn’t seek services for free, because she hadn’t reported symptoms within a year. This has changed now.

  • Difficulty of her transition was figuring out why she was a different person than before — not from trauma, but from new formative experiences

  • Poole has experienced relief seeking counseling and services — family counseling with her children during husband’s deployment; husband has been able to benefit from services

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120:45 - Husband's Deployment to Afghanistan

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  • Husband had been deployed for 5-6 years, previously, with the Marine Corps; duties were on the seas, but not war deployments (1993-1998; post-Desert Storm)

  • Husband’s deploying unit was told about the potential difficulty of transitions

  • Met husband in 2003; he worked coaching football and then joined the Ohio Army National Guard as a federal technician

  • 2012-2013: husband was with the 1486th; deployed to Afghanistan; Poole was moved to another unit to try to prevent a simultaneous deployment (part of the military family care plan); sent to the 112th — sister battalion; a maintenance company

  • Much has changed since her deployment: families receive a year of notice before a deployment; sometimes can actually be harder for families

  • Soldiers are gone for 9 months, 12 months maximum; husband had experience Poole’s transition, and knew what it would be like, coming home

  • More difficult for Poole on the home side of things: working full-time, keeping house, bills, kids, jobs — “everything you can think” fell on her shoulders; had just moved to a new community and was spending 4 hours a day on the road commuting to work; missing kids’ sports events, etc.

  • “Every deployment is different”: husband had a “magic jack” and could call home whenever; packages arrived within a week; more communication and connection

  • Some comfort: Poole knew many of the people her husband would be deploying with — stationed in Kandahar Province; many were full-timers and knew Poole well

  • Husband served as a 91-B base mechanic; worked with MRAPs

  • Poole worked as a leader of her Family Readiness Group; organized the volunteers, spouses and parents of the deployed; soldiers got together once a month to discuss resources, financial issues, etc. Other spouses called to check in; gave guidance and advice and a space for Poole and other families and spouses to share the difficulties of having to pick up lots of duties on the home front

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139:41 - Husband's Transition Home

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  • Husband already knew the pain of Poole’s experiences; she went to sessions with him and helped him get enrolled in benefits

  • Husband had 30 days off, then back to full-time as a federal technician

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147:37 - Stateside Deployments

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  • Mobilization for Hurricane Katrina

  • Mobilization for Hurricane Gustave

  • Three other deployments stateside (state active duty): 4-day deployment with CDC drives to deliver vaccinations for H1N1; deployment for Hurricane Sandy to New York and New Jersey for clean-up; deployment for Guardian Neptune, delivering water to Toledo

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168:08 - Reflections on Service

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  • Wouldn’t change anything; excited for the opportunity to train soldiers and help them learn what to expect and better prepare

  • Changes in Guard culture

  • Changing relations with family members who have served — especially step-father, who served in Vietnam and who received her call after the Easter Ambush

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