Jeanene Pollard wanted to be just like her grandfather, who served in the U.S. Navy as a landing boat driver — a coxswain, in military terms — during World War II.
“I loved to look at the yearbook for his ship, the USS Goodhue,” she said. “Unfortunately, I swim like a rock … so I joined the Army instead.”
Pollard, 29, is a committed Christian who grew up in the Cloudcroft Church of Christ in New Mexico. A staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, she serves as a civil affairs specialist. Escorted by a team of soldiers, she travels to rural villages in Afghanistan, assessing the villagers’ needs for medical care, food, water, security, shelter and schools.
“In my opinion, it’s the best job a soldier can have,” she said. “I get to help people, and I get to see the positive impact a soldier can have when we let Christ shine through.”
Pollard’s six years of military experience also includes a year in Iraq. She attended Lubbock Christian University in Texas for three years before enlisting.
“After the horrible incident of 9/11, I began to think of a career in the Army,” she said. “God and I did a lot of talking about my choice, and eventually the weight on my heart to do the right thing took over, and I joined.”
Her family has served as her “rock” while she is deployed, she said.
“I have a twin sister who is seriously the greatest friend I could have ever asked for,” she said, “and four great brothers — three of whom have served in the military and one who graduated from the Adventures in Missions program in Lubbock.”
On Sept. 11, the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, she plans to marry Toby Hall, a civil affairs team leader in the Army. She also plans to return to Lubbock and complete a degree in criminal justice. How do you practice your Christian faith in Afghanistan?
You can’t help but rely on God over here. God and prayer are the only two things that have kept me alive, and I fully understand that.
One night I was lying on my cot when a mortar round landed somewhere on the FOB (forward operating base). We have sirens that go off to signal us to get to the bunkers, so I sat up and listened to see if I could hear them. All of the females on the FOB live above the gym, and we had one set of stairs to get to the ground.
Then another mortar round landed and knocked things off my wall, and there was smoke and debris everywhere, so I knew that one was closer than it should have been.
I got my chest protector, helmet and weapon and left for the bunkers.
When all of the females got to the stairs, we realized the stairs were gone.
If that siren had worked (no one could explain why the siren wasn’t working), then all of the females would have been on the stairs when the second mortar hit.
God works in mysterious ways, but I never doubt that prayers are working because I know who gets the credit for that night. What are the most significant challenges to you and your faith, and how do you deal with them?
The most significant challenges have got to be remaining Christlike in tough situations.
It’s hard to not question God after seeing the truck in front of you hit an IED (improvised explosive device) and injure the soldiers you have worked with daily.
It’s hard to still love and want to support the people in Afghanistan when you know that their brothers and cousins are most likely part of the Taliban. But I pray for peace about what I do, and I pray for God to soften the Taliban’s and the insurgents’ hearts, because I know that, until that happens, this war will never be over. How do you deal with the challenge of living in a desolate country far from home?
Well, it’s like camping for a really long time — good thing I like camping. But life out here is so simple, it makes you realize how spoiled we are as Americans. I only have two choices of clothing — the physical training uniform or the fatigues we wear daily. So it makes choosing what to wear pretty simple.
There is no Starbucks, so I have lost a lot of weight and gained a newfound love for water — and lots of it. FOB life isn’t that bad, and in most cases, it’s pretty good. I think back to the conditions the soldiers and marines fought in World War II and can’t imagine what they went through. We have Internet, decent chow halls, mail from home, decent living quarters, so I try not to complain.
The most challenging thing for me is knowing Toby, my fiance, is here on a different FOB. I worry about him a lot, and it’s hard for me to put him in God’s hands. I struggle with it daily. Do you have a favorite passage of Scripture?
Colossians 3:17 — “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
This Scripture is the motivation for what I do as a soldier. In uniform I cannot speak about Christ, but I can portray him in my actions and the way I conduct myself as a Christian woman. What is life like for a female soldier in Afghanistan?
The perception of most Americans is that females do not leave the FOB or base, but in reality that is not true.
There are female medics, civil affairs officers, military police, truck drivers, helicopter pilots and so on. There is a lot of pressure on us to not slow down the male soldiers or do something tactically inappropriate.
It took a long time for me to integrate with the platoon I am with now. I had to prove I was an asset to them and would not hinder them before they became comfortable with me and addressed me as any other staff sergeant.
This culture is not familiar with women working other than in their homes, so it was priceless to see some of the local nationals’ expressions when I walked by in my uniform. After a few months, though, the kids would come and speak to us, and the locals became friendly and very hospitable. Describe a typical day in Afghanistan.
A typical mission day would begin with a convoy brief at the trucks just before we leave — making sure everyone knows their job if an incident occurs and discussing the plan for the mission. We go over the route and discuss scenarios so that we all know what the other truck is going to do.
Then get in the trucks and go to a village. The soldiers pull security while my interpreter and I conduct what we call an SLE (street level engagement).
I ask for the local leadership or what they call a “malik” — usually the oldest male in the village. Because the people of Afghanistan are very hospitable, we are usually served chai (spice milk tea) and some kind of food.
After getting an idea of their problems and concerns, we move on to another village until it begins to get dark. It’s my job to be the non-lethal connection to my commander and help him understand the perspective of the nationals. What can Christians do to encourage you and other members of the military?
I have a great support group of Christians that continually sends me snacks, encouraging letters, excellent magazines like The Christian Chronicle
and even books or movies.
Morale can get pretty low after being here for many months, and you begin to really miss your family and friends. Pictures from home and letters in general can do so much for a soldier.
Sometimes we can feel so cut off from life in the U.S. and miss big events like birthdays, the Super Bowl and especially holidays. Packages and pictures can give us a feeling that people have not forgotten us and they do appreciate what we are doing — especially around the holidays. What have you experienced that you would like us in the U.S. to know and understand?
All I ask is that you remember to teach your children and your grandchildren to respect Old Glory and to remove their hats when the flag goes by or when the national anthem is played. It breaks my heart to think of all the great men and women who have died so that flag and all it represents remains free.
There are so many things we take for granted as Americans, and I believe that all Americans should be given the chance to spend some time in a Third World country to appreciate the little things like a shower, ice in your drinks, a college education, a job, paved roads, health care, centralized air-conditioning and so on.
I know I will leave here a changed person, and my relationship with God will be that much stronger, I will thank him every day for another day of life —for me, my brothers, my fiance and all who have served.