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Michelle Poole

Ohio History Connection
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00:00:00 - Introduction 00:00:42 - Early Life and Childhood; High School

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Segment Synopsis: - 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.

00:08:10 - Basic Training

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Segment Synopsis: - 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.

00:16:12 - College and Career Plans

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Segment Synopsis: - 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)

00:18:38 - Family Reactions to Enlistment

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Segment Synopsis: - 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

00:21:02 - College and Ohio National Guard

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Segment Synopsis: - 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

00:27:39 - Remobilization and Deployment to Iraq

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Segment Synopsis: - 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

00:40:10 - Camp Navistar and Kuwait

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Segment Synopsis: - 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

00:58:00 - Easter Ambush

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Segment Synopsis: - 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.

01:06:14 - Hauling Missions; Post-Easter Ambush

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Segment Synopsis: 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

01:22:15 - Return Orders; Demobilization and Homecoming

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Segment Synopsis: - 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

01:29:45 - Transition to Civilian Life

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Segment Synopsis: - 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

01:45:36 - Transition Support; Battle Buddies Network

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Segment Synopsis: - 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

01:50:10 - Seeking Services

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Segment Synopsis: - 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

02:00:45 - Husband's Deployment to Afghanistan

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Segment Synopsis: - 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

02:19:41 - Husband's Transition Home

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Segment Synopsis: - 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

02:27:37 - Stateside Deployments

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Segment Synopsis: - 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

02:48:08 - Reflections on Service

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Segment Synopsis: - 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