Face of Defense: Soldier Recalls Rise From Childhood Environment
By Army Sgt. Scott Akenwich
79th Sustainment Support Command
LOS ANGELES, Apr. 18, 2013 As she was growing up in poverty-stricken South Central Los Angeles, an environment notorious for its drug and gang activity, now-retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Angela Haslip-Farris knew her destiny did not lie there. She knew there was much more beyond the seemingly inescapable cycle of chaos surrounding her.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Angela Haslip-Farris smiles during her retirement ceremony at Joint Forces Training Base Los Alamitos, Calif., April 6, 2013. She overcame tough childhood circumstances to have successful military and civilian careers. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Scott Akenwich
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“I had seen so much of the lifestyle around me carry on from one generation to the next. I knew I had to lift myself up out of it,” said Haslip-Farris, who recently retired after 32 years in uniform. “Back in high school, I had no sense of direction. What I saw for myself was a predestined life of poverty, and I vowed to myself I’d never live like that.”
“I never thought for a minute that would be me,” she said, recalling visits to her high school by Army recruiters. After graduating, she began attending Los Angeles Community College, but something still wasn’t quite right, she added.
“I had always been told growing up I was a bastard child who would never succeed,” she said, noting that she was born out of wedlock to an alcoholic mother and that her father was not part of her life. “For a long time, I believed I couldn’t escape from LA and the environment I was in. Many friends of mine were into drugs or getting pregnant.”
Haslip-Farris was raised by her grandmother from the age of 8 months, and despite the traps that constantly surrounded her, another constant was religion.
“As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been in church,” she said. “I was taught to always love myself, because God loved me more. This gave me a sense of purpose and made me realize my destiny truly [was] elsewhere.”
Armed with her faith, a newfound sense of drive and strong-willed determination, Haslip-Farris marched on -- literally and figuratively.
During her first few semesters of community college, Haslip-Farris got a phone call that would lead her to the destiny she always knew awaited her, she said.
“One of the recruiters who had visited my high school called to check up on me and see how I was doing,” she said. The call led to taking the pre-test for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery and doing well on it, she added. She enlisted Nov. 13, 1980.
Before she left for basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., she had one last roadblock to overcome.
“I had an uncle we just called ‘Lucky,’ who kept telling me things like ‘You won’t make it through,’ and ‘You’ll be back home in no time,’” Haslip-Farris said. “I used this for motivation during the tough times, because I wanted to prove him wrong.”
During basic training, a foxhole confrontation with a snake and a bout with heat exhaustion helped her realize that Uncle Lucky’s discouraging words had been a psychological ploy all along.
“He really didn’t want me to fail,” Haslip-Farris said. “It sure worked. After that, I knew I could accomplish anything.”
From there, she went on to Fort Gordon, Ga., for advanced individual training. After a tour of duty in Germany, she joined the Army Reserve and served for 28 more years in a career that included instructor duty. Training troops from the front of a classroom is where she found her true calling within the ranks, she said.
“Just having the ability to provide information and bestow knowledge on soldiers was the proudest accomplishment of my career,” she added. “I believe it was an innate gift from God to bless me with the ability to give instruction to others and have many of them approach me after the fact and thank me.”
In fact, Haslip-Farris was so immersed in her work it sometimes was difficult for her to switch off the intensity, said her husband, retired Army Sgt. Maj. Robert Farris.
“Once, I went to pick her up at the conclusion of annual training at Camp Parks,” he said. “It was about 8 p.m. when I got there, and she was sleeping while she waited for me. So I tried to wake her up and ask her if she wanted anything to eat, and all she could say was, ‘Hurry up! Wake up all the soldiers -- we have formation in 30 minutes!’ She was so into the training, she didn’t know where she was, what was going on, or even that it was me waking her up. I just said, ‘Girl, you need a rest.’ I had a good laugh about that one for a long time.”
Army Command Sgt. Maj. Winsome Laos, 650th Regional Support Group, has known and worked with Haslip-Farris for 20 years. They met at Camp Parks in 1990 when Laos replaced her as an instructor after a rotation of training had ended.
“What first struck me about her was her kind-hearted nature,” Laos said. “For example, she offered me all her notes and materials from the course to help me make a smooth transition -- something a lot of people wouldn’t have done.”
It was not only her wealth of knowledge and experience that made her so effective in front of a class, she said, but her engaging and entertaining teaching methods.
In her civilian career, Haslip-Farris has worked for a shipping and delivery company for 22 years and has used what she learned in the Army to catapult herself up the corporate ladder. She is a field human resources specialist, overseeing two districts encompassing all of Southern California.
“Every skill set I’ve learned in the Army has transferred over to my [civilian career],” she said. “My military experience has helped me progress and be promoted several times.”
During her April 6 retirement ceremony at 79th Sustainment Support Command Headquarters, Joint Forces Training Base Los Alamitos, Calif., Haslip-Farris was wistful about only one aspect of her career: that it had to end.
“The military was my parent and grew me up from when I was 18,” she said. “I’ve spent my entire adult life in the Army. I was in a bit of a period of mourning, but I don't feel sad anymore. I count this journey as one of success and honor. It was truly an honor to have been known as a soldier.”