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Face of Defense: Soldier Serves up Counsel, Coffee

By Army Pfc. J. Princeville Lawrence
Special to American Forces Press Service

CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq, Sept. 25, 2009 – Army Sgt. Maj. Virginia Stickler enjoys serving up drinks and snacks, as well as a bit of advice, to her fellow soldiers here at a coffee shop that speaks volumes about her deployment.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Sgt. Maj. Virginia Stickler, a member of the Kansas National Guard’s 287th Sustainment Brigade, is the manager of God’s Grounds, a coffee shop on Contingency Operating Base Adder, Iraq, that serves free drinks, snacks and movies -- as well as advice -- for soldiers. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. J. Princeville Lawrence

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

God’s Grounds is next to the chapel in an area of repose and comfort that soldiers come to for more than just a cup of coffee.

Stickler, a California native serving with the Kansas National Guard’s 287th Sustainment Brigade, is the manager, and is more than happy to serve up espressos, slurpees, honey buns and muffins. There is a refrigerator full of drinks and shelves of snacks courtesy of the chaplains, people back home and Army supply. This is a place where folks kick back on the couch, munch on a snack and watch a movie. The best part is, it’s all free.

And for those in need of some guidance, that’s free too.

“A number of soldiers come here, and they’re stressed and they’re away from their families, away from their support systems and they come here to kind of talk and ventilate, and I’m able to listen,” Stickler said.

For many soldiers, God’s Grounds is a source of help in troubled times. Soldiers can talk to people like Stickler, who draws from a lifetime of experience in helping people. She has two master’s degrees, a doctorate and experience as both a drug and alcohol counselor and a marriage counselor.

“That experience and knowledge has helped me help some soldiers get their lives back on track,” Stickler said. “The ones that I wasn’t able to help, I generally refer some to the chaplains’ office or various other resources.

“But for the most part, I have been able to talk to soldiers who have been in crisis and they came here, basically for something to drink, and just started pouring their heart out,” Stickler said, “and I listened and gave them some guidance and helped them put their lives back together.”

Stickler finds it gratifying to help people and recalls a “special case near and dear to my heart.”

“There was a very troubled individual whose marriage was on the rocks. This soldier had two children,” she said. “I was able to talk to this soldier, as well as the spouse in the states, and we worked on their priorities.”

Helping other soldiers is Stickler’s way of breaking the cycle. She has been dealing with family problems her whole life.

“I came from a pretty messed-up background,” Stickler said. “My father was a World War II veteran and he had post-traumatic stress. As a kid, I didn’t know what that was. He was a very violent man. And all I could think of in my high school days was leaving my family because I was tired of being afraid of my dad.”

Stickler left home at 18 and joined the military. “I met other people in life, and I realized that not everybody’s like my dad and I started to grow.”

Her self-esteem continued to grow as she took college courses. After taking a psychology class, she was hooked. Between gigs as a school teacher, college professor, counselor and government worker, she amassed years of experience and was getting ready to retire. Then she got deployed.

“I had just finished a weeklong retirement seminar with my civilian job and that Saturday following, I received a FedEx package in the mail with a set of military orders for [Iraq]. So I put my civilian retirement on hold, and in six weeks I had to go to Fort Jackson, South Carolina.”

A religious person, Stickler said she found her purpose during a sunrise Easter service at the birthplace of Abraham. As the sun came up over the ruins, she had an epiphany of purpose, and she knew why she had been placed in Iraq.

“I didn’t want to do this because it really disrupted my life,” she said. “But you know, sometimes God places us in places we don’t want to go. After the experience, I realized why I was here.

“I think I’m blessed as a soldier who came here kicking and screaming, so to speak. Not only was I able to help a lot of people, but I myself have had a lot of spiritual growth and development while I was here. God has used me in a great way, and I’m glad for that.”

(Army Pfc. J. Princeville Lawrence serves with the 1st Armored Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)

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Multinational Corps Iraq

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