Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Face of Defense: Officer Uses Teaching Skills in Iraq

By Army Pfc. Emily Knitter
U.S. Division Center

BAGHDAD, Oct. 15, 2010Army 1st Lt. Rachel Adair sits on a weathered, wooden picnic table here, shrouded in yellow light from a dust-covered lamp mounted overhead. Soldiers walk by through the dark, combat boots crunching on the gravel as they carry on with their evening.

Adair is a former middle school and high school teacher-turned Army transportation officer. Today, she serves in Iraq with the 3rd Infantry Division as executive officer for Company G, 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Advise and Assist Brigade.

Adair recalled how she decided to join the Army.

“When I finished high school, I wasn’t too sure about anything,” Adair, a Bonner Springs, Kan., native, said. “The stories of military life always fascinated me. My 12th-grade government teacher was a retired lieutenant colonel, and he used to tell the absolute best stories.

“All his stories really fascinated [the class],” she continued. “And it made you want to be in the military -- even just for a short time to say that you did it. I was definitely interested, but I wanted that college degree.”

Adair applied to the University of Kansas to pursue a career in teaching.

“I enjoyed working with kids, so it just seemed a natural fit,” she said.

While pursuing her education degree, Adair again ended up in class listening to a teacher tell stories of the military.

“The professor that we spent the most time with had great stories too,” she said. “He was never in the military, but when he spoke about World War II and Vietnam, there was always such passion behind him. When people do look at our military, [they see] the history behind our whole country.”

Even though she was still fascinated by the stories, Adair said, she never had any serious intent to join the military at that time. While completing her graduate studies, Adair taught seventh-grade geography and 12th-grade government, just like her own teacher years before.

“That last year I was teaching, I had my 12th-graders who were ready to go out into the world,” she said. “At 18 years old, they are kind of in that transition where some of them kind of know what they want to do, but they are still full of energy and they want to get out there and do something. A lot of them were joining the military.”

And then, Adair realized she still wanted to be part of the military.

“I figured that was a good time [to join the military] because I didn’t have a family yet and I could travel,” she said.

The Army was an easy choice when deciding which service to join, Adair said.

“I never really looked at the Marines,” she said. “At the time, I didn’t think Air Force, and I’m from Kansas so I definitely didn’t think Navy or Coast Guard. The way I looked at it, the Army is the military, just because it is so versatile and [it offers] the most opportunity. I could have done a whole slew of things in the Army.”

So in late spring of 2007, Adair officially became a U.S. Army officer.

“I am a transportation officer,” she said. “I was the distribution platoon leader for 22 months, and I got my chance while we were here in Iraq to be out on the road a lot with my guys, which was a natural fit.”

Adair said she quickly discovered she was even more suited for the military lifestyle than she expected.

“At the end of the day, being a teacher and being in the military is about the same amount of work, which is kind of scary,” she said with a laugh. “It [says a lot about] how hard teachers actually work.”

Adair said her training as a teacher helps every day, even when she may not notice it.

“The younger soldiers, I know what they are interested in and I can kind of relate to them,” she said. “Because all the conversations and all the classroom discussions I have had in the past, I know what they are going through at that age. With the added deployment, I can also relate to them as a soldier.”

Adair said the rewards of being in the military are even greater when she works with soldiers in a deployed setting.

“The soldiers here are relied on to do an awful lot,” she said. “It is kind of that same pride that a teacher would feel when their kids finally get that diploma. Except we get that on a much bigger scale over here because there is much more at stake.”

Among all the experiences Adair has had since joining the military, one will always stick out for her.

“I think the biggest and best memory I am going to have of this deployment is being out on the road with my soldiers,” she said. “After all the planning and all the days of training and load up, once you actually get into the truck and you leave the [base], that is the best feeling in the world. The mission is not even over yet, but you feel good because all that planning has already paid off.”

But there are downsides to every adventure, and for Adair, that’s being away from home.

“The challenge is, when you look at your military career as opposed to your personal life, there isn’t a whole lot of time for your personal life,” she said. “That has been a pretty big challenge for me, especially as a female in the Army, because you want to be a soldier, you want to be a leader. But at the same time, you also want the family stuff.”

However, Adair uses the examples set by her mentors in the military as inspiration.

“There are enough female leaders I have seen who have managed to juggle both, so that is my goal,” she said.

Adair said while having a family is a goal of hers, for now, she embraces each moment she gets to spend with her soldiers.

“The time you do get to hang out with the soldiers and talk to them is usually the best part of any officer’s day,” she said.

Adair said she plans to return to teaching eventually.

“I don’t know if it’ll be three years from now, or 15,” she said. “I think the Army is the life I want to stick with for right now.”

When Adair does go back to teaching, she said, she’ll have even more in common with her old high school teacher.

“[The Iraq War] is the stuff we taught, and now I have firsthand knowledge of it,” she said. “So one day when I do go back to teaching, the stories are going to be that much better.”

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