Sgt Fadell

CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait, Oct. 31, 2003 -- When Army Reserve Sgt. Julia Fadell finished high school, she had one burning ambition: "to do something different and not get caught in a routine job." If she could get in some traveling, that would be a bonus, she added.

Now, 24 years later and thanks to the U.S. Army, she's still doing something quite different from the routine most 41-year-old mothers of six do. As a bonus, she's lived in Panama, Japan, Alaska, Kuwait and Iraq.

Fadell started her career in Army avionics navigational systems, and spent eight years on active duty. She joined the Army Reserve in 1988. Her husband, Jose, a career soldier, completed his last tour in Tucson, Ariz., where the couple settled after his retirement and where in 1996 she joined a newly formed Reserve unit, the 257th Transportation Company, and became a truck driver. She drives one of the Army's huge heavy equipment transporters, or HETs.

"We were mobilized in January, got to Kuwait April 6, waited two weeks for our HETs to arrive, and have been driving ever since," she said, adding with pride that her unit reached the 1-million-miles-driven milestone Sept. 1.

The 257th hauls equipment like M1A1 tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and bulldozers, as well as containers filled with supplies.

At 5 feet 5 inches tall and 118 pounds, Fadell may qualify as the lightest heavy equipment transporter driver supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. But she's proven that her heart and ability are big enough for the job, as she's driven her 40-ton rig fearlessly and proficiently throughout Iraq.

"I wouldn't want to have missed out on this. Every day's an adventure," she said. "What I'm doing is important. I'm doing what I was trained to do so other soldiers can do their missions."

Fadell has experienced her share of hardships on the road. She's come under fire. She's been separated at night from her convoy in Baghdad through no fault of her own. She became a heat casualty from the rigors of traveling nonstop during the extreme heat of August.

Still, she's undaunted.

"I work with great folks, and from the start conditions have been better than I ever expected," she said, rattling off such amenities as hot showers, tents with air conditioning, post exchanges, hot food and third country nationals to handle dining facility duties. "The Army didn't have to do all that, and the quality of life here at Camp Arifjan and at the bases where we make our deliveries has continued to get better and better."

While remaining vigilant on the road, Fadell has not lost her fascination with the scenery and people she sees along the way.

"The clothing, the buildings, the camels and donkeys, all seem like something from biblical times," she noted. "And when I see the kids along the road, I think if what I'm doing can make a difference for them, it's all worth it."

While her contact with Iraqis has been limited, Fadell has enjoyed her interaction with the coalition partners when she's hauled their equipment.

"The British, Italians, Polish, Hungarians and others have been really good to work with and fun to chat with," she said. "It's good to have other participants involved in this effort for the Iraqis, and I'm proud to support them."

She does admit she misses her husband and her six children who range in age from 9 to 22, but she says they're all shouldering their individual responsibilities. In fact, her eldest daughter, Shannon, is carrying on the family tradition of military service. She's an Air Force Reservist with an intelligence unit that was in Baghdad earlier this year. Unfortunately, mother and daughter were not able to link up, as their duties carried them in different directions.

"I tell them the same thing I tell soldiers in the unit: 'Keep your chin up; this is only temporary, and what we're doing is helping people,'" said Fadell, who has decided to extend her Operation Iraqi Freedom tour for another year after consulting with her family.

After all, it's different and certainly not routine and she's getting to travel.

Source: Army Sgt. Maj. Larry Stevens, public affairs officer for Coalition Forces Land Component Command.

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