Face of Defense: Unlikely Soldier Proves Self in Reserve
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Mullett
Special to American Forces Press Service
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq, Sept. 10, 2009 Why would a 34-year-old mother of three -- a high school teacher with two master’s degrees -- join the Army Reserve? Just ask Staff Sgt. Pamela Bleuel.
Army Staff Sgt. Pamela Bleuel, a high school math teacher and mother of three from Kentucky, joined the Army Reserve in 2000. Now, at 43, she is a military police officer and a drill sergeant individually deployed to Contingency Operating Base Adder, Iraq. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Bleuel, who is assigned here with the 167th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, said she always felt she would do well in the military, but didn’t give it much thought until one day in August 2000. She was leaving the gym near her home in Frankfurt, Ky., when she noticed two soldiers hanging a banner outside a recruiting office. The banner said the Army would repay student loans.
Bleuel, a high school math teacher, decided to speak to them about repaying the loans on her three college degrees. “I spoke to the recruiter and everything sounded like what I needed to do,” she said.
While Bleuel was set on her new path, her family was set against it. “I went home to talk to my husband about it, but he wasn’t very enthusiastic.
“Everyone was saying, ‘You can’t do that’ and ‘How could you do that to your girls?’” she said, “That was my true motivator. Since nobody thought I could do it, it just made me want to do it that much more.”
She decided she was joining the Army, no matter what.
Bleuel is one of a growing number of U.S. soldiers who are making the decision to join the Army later in life.
“I joined the Army 19 days before my 35th birthday,” she said, explaining that, even though she worked out regularly, no one from her husband to her best friend had any faith in her ability to make it through basic training.
At the time she joined, the cut-off age for entering the Army was 35. In 2006, Congress raised the maximum age for entering all services to 42, but the Defense Department allows each of the services to set their own age limits up to 42.
“I don’t think I had a friend or family member that supported the idea,” she said. “My drill sergeant asked me if I thought I would be able to handle it. I said, ‘I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I could.’”
She eliminated any doubt when she completed her first physical fitness evaluation. “I ran a seven-minute mile and he shut up.”
The combined military police training was 18 weeks and would extend into the school year for Bleuel. “I went to my school to try to visit with the principal to work out a schedule,” she said. Although some told her she would lose her teaching job, “the principal had a meeting with someone from the Army shortly after that and I still work there.”
Since she was with the reserves, she expected to only have to work one weekend a month and two weeks a year.
“My husband says I messed that up,” she said with a smile. “I was going through my ‘Rites of Passage’ as an MP when Sept. 11  happened. We didn’t find out about it until that night.”
Her reserve service hasn’t turned out to be quite how it was explained to her.
“Once I got in, I loved it,” she explained. “I love the structure and the camaraderie.”
Originally, Bleuel said, she looked for the shortest advanced individual training she could find. She ended up choosing military police “because of the cool DVD,” she laughed. “One of the first things that happened when I got to AIT was they handed me a set of keys to a [Humvee]. I didn’t know that much about preventive maintenance, checks and services, but I learned.”
Since arriving in Iraq, Bleuel has become a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle driver and has been a convoy commander more than once. She has been in the Army Reserve for eight years now as an MP and became a drill sergeant in 2004, which she does during her summer breaks from teaching.
“I sometimes think about what would my life have been like if I had joined when I was 18. Then I think, I wouldn’t trade my life. I have a wonderful husband and three wonderful kids,” she said. “My girls are my biggest cheerleaders!”
Bleuel is used to being in the middle of the action, training soldiers and getting sweaty, she said. “The last thing I wanted to do was be behind a desk.”
Some cultural issues exist in regard to having female soldiers train Iraqi soldiers, but Bleuel hopes to extend for a time when she transfers to the 36th Sustainment Support Battalion.
“I haven’t been in [an MP] slot most of the time I’ve been here, so I haven’t been able to wear my MP patch, but I’m in an MP slot now,” she said.
“I love the Army,” she said. “You are responsible for your actions in the Army. I like that. There are very few loopholes.”
(Army Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Mullett serves with the 28th Infantry Division’s 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, Multinational Division South Iraq.)