Face of Defense: Louisiana Guard Member Finds Fulfillment Later in Life
By Army Sgt. Tresa L. Allemang
Special to American Forces Press Service
ALEXANDRIA, La., Jan. 26, 2009 At 38 years old and with a 15-year-old daughter, Angela Fry took on the challenge of basic training and the possibility of deployment. She already had a degree, so it wasn't for college. She had a job, so it wasn't for the money.
Army 2nd Lt. Angela K. Fry hugs her cousin Stephanie G. East, of Hackberry, La., after East and other family members were rescued from flood waters by the Louisiana Army National Guard after Hurricane Ike in September 2008. Fry joined the Louisiana National Guard when she was 38 years old. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Rebekah L. Malone
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Now 41 years old, Fry said she enlisted in the Louisiana Army National Guard because she felt as if something was missing in her life.
She said she wanted to make a difference, and knew she could if given the opportunity.
"I know people say this a lot, but I really wanted to serve. Enlisting in the Guard gave me an opportunity to not only serve my country, but also my state, and most recently, my own family," the Eros, La., resident, said.
Fry said she first thought of joining when she was volunteering with the American Red Cross in New Orleans after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
"I think, after an event like that, anyone who has compassion wonders if there is more that can be done," Fry said, “if there is something they can do to help. Joining the military was something I always wished I had the courage to do, but I thought the opportunity had passed. I thought I was too old."
A colonel from the Michigan National Guard told her about the Guard and assured her she still met the age requirement. That was all she needed to know.
Susan J. Avery, Fry's sister, said that when Fry began to talk about joining the military, her family thought she was crazy.
"We would have never thought she would join the military, especially at 38 years old, but we should have
known better," Avery said. "She is a very determined person."
Many may think that going through the rigorous training at 38 would be more difficult than going through it at 18, but Fry disagrees.
"It was difficult, but I felt like I had an advantage over the younger soldiers,” she said. “I had life experience. I had already been out on my own for a while, and I knew many people in the Guard who warned me that a lot of the training was psychological.”
"They break you down as a civilian, but build you back up as a soldier," she said.
After returning home, she began drilling with the 527th Engineer Battalion’s 1022nd Engineer Company in West Monroe, La., as a nuclear biological chemical specialist before transferring to the 528th Engineer Battalion in Monroe, La.
"Most new soldiers are younger than 38, but her age did not stand out in her physical appearance; it did in her maturity level," Army Command Sgt. Maj. Brent D. Barnett, the battalion's senior enlisted advisor, said. "She is just one of those individuals who will jump right in and take charge."
Fry enlisted as a specialist, but soon was promoted to sergeant. With her diverse skills, she was confident that she would be able to serve as an officer. "I not only wanted to be a part of the everyday lives and events that our soldiers participate in, but I also wanted to lead them," she said.
She submitted her direct commission packet and anxiously waited to find out what her future held.
"I, as well as many others, immediately saw the leadership potential that she had and encouraged her to become an officer," Barnett said.
Fry's life was struck with tragedy when the house she was sharing with her sister burned down in February 2007. Everything was destroyed, including her computer, and the homeowners insurance covered very little. She also found herself jobless, since she worked out of her home in Monroe, La., as an independent medical consultant.
She did not stay down for long, though. Within a month of losing everything, she learned that the Louisiana National Guard had started a public affairs program and was looking for journalists. She said she was ecstatic at the news. Fry had earned her bachelor's degree in liberal arts, specializing in public relations and journalism, from the University of Louisiana at Monroe in 1995.
"Not only did I want to be part of such a great team when I enlisted, but now I would be able to tell the soldiers' stories. I would have a chance to tell everyone about the great things they do," she said. "Sometimes there is so much negativity about the military, but I wanted people to see what I saw when I was working with the American Red Cross during hurricanes Katrina and Rita … and what I still see today."
Though she saw much of what the Guard did while she was volunteering, she gained even more appreciation of their efforts when her own family was rescued by the Guard after Hurricane Ike in September 2008.
I knew the night before the storm hit that my aunt's house was starting to flood as she, my uncle and his father left with my cousin to ride out the storm in my cousin's house, which is on higher ground," Fry said. "But I began to get nervous when I lost phone contact with them."
The next morning, as soon as the weather permitted, the National Guard teamed up with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to begin search and rescue missions with boats and high-water evacuation vehicles.
"I was riding in a Humvee on my way to cover some of the search and rescue missions, hoping that I would hear from them, when amongst the many evacuees, I saw a familiar dog on the back of a high-water evacuation vehicle, and then began to see familiar faces," she said smiling. "Sure enough, it was them.
"I felt immense pride being able to help not only the residents of Louisiana, but by circumstance, my own family," she said. "This time I had the opportunity to make an immediate impact with the full force of the Louisiana National Guard behind me."
Fry's direct commission was finalized Oct. 25, and she was promoted to second lieutenant.
"I think she'll polish her leadership skills as she goes along," Barnett said. "She will always lead from the front, and she'll never ask anyone to do something that she hasn't done, or can't willingly show them how to do."
Fry's co-worker, Army Sgt. Rebekah L. Malone, of Pineville, La., spoke highly of the newly commissioned officer.
"She exemplifies the highly regarded journalistic quality of 'going after the story,'" she said. "She works extremely long hours to write well-rounded stories that highlight the hard-working Louisiana National Guardsmen."
Fry said there are times when, as a soldier-journalist, she needs to put down her camera and help to fill sandbags. "I gladly do both," she said.
Fry said this is exactly where she wants to be.
"I plan on staying in the Guard for as long as they will let me,” she said, “and I am ready to face any challenges that may come, even deployment.”
"Joining the military and becoming an officer were both dreams I thought were out of reach,” she continued. “But I've learned that it's not what is pushing against you that matters, it's how hard you push back."
(Army Sgt. Tresa L. Allemang serves in the 199th Brigade Support Battalion.)