As I write this, I’m a week out from returning from a deployment in Iraq.
When I first arrived, I was nervous and anxious. How would this deployment play out? Would I be able to support the mission effectively? Were my leaders going to be supportive or would I feel isolated? What would it be like to be confined to a small patch of desert in the Middle East for 6 months without the ability to leave? Would the guys accept or reject me as the only woman in the operations center? Was it going to be a lonely 6 months? Not to mention all this was in a combat zone.
Like every other Marine here, I had volunteered for the deployment and was grateful for the opportunity to serve overseas. At the same time I was also leaving behind a full life. Newly engaged and stationed in New Orleans, I loved my routine with the dogs, cooking meals, lazy weekends with my partner, volunteering, and working out regularly with my FiA NOLA Pax. All this would have to be put on hold.
With time, I would learn my deployment job well, settle in with my fellow Marines, Soldiers, and Airmen, and quickly get used to the concrete barrier walls around us to absorb the blast of potential enemy rockets and bombs. This was my life now. To combat anxiety and a 12-hour-day, 7-day workweek, I had to stay physically active.
Due to my schedule, workouts had to take place in the middle of the night, when most others were asleep. Alone in the gym, I made the best of it by pretending I was in an ashram, a place of meditation and reprieve. But I missed the camaraderie, comfort, and friendship of FiA. On top of it, I was one of very few women, so there was little interaction with other females in general.
Eventually, my shift changed, allowing workouts in the afternoon. I began inviting all the women I could find into an impromptu FiA Baghdad. Finally, I was no longer doing workouts alone.
At 123 degrees, it was too dangerous for us to do our thang outside, save for the very occasional short run, so we claimed some open territory inside the gym with our neon yoga mats and christened our AO The LZ. (That’s Landing Zone in military speak; Ladies’ Zone for us FiA types.)
Looking around the AO, it was easy to see Pax were having the most fun out of everyone. While the men lifted weights alone, did squats and pushups alone, listened to their headphones alone, Powder Puff, Bars, Wild Child, Oorah, Gypsy, Smokie, Bookworm, and Zelda laughed, talked about stuff back home, and lifted each other up through the stressful rollercoaster that is a deployment.
To stay connected, I kept comms with the FiA NOLA gals via Facebook, who would post backblasts that I used for our Baghdad workouts. One day, I even received a surprise care package from them! They had included books, health and beauty essentials, and even some awesome local FiA swag. This enormous gesture of thoughtfulness and generosity made me feel so grateful that it cemented my commitment to FiA. That was it; I would put every woman I knew into an emotional headlock from now on. In other words, I wanted to pay it forward.
I totally get now why women around the country get so excited about FiA. And yet it’s such a simple concept: get a group of women together to work out. But the impact it has on us is enormous.
Some of the best friendships are borne out of hardship; that’s why the military is known for camaraderie among its members. But so too does waking up early, in the dark, to do burpees, create that same esprit de corps among FiA women.
When I return to NOLA, there will be a month of R&R waiting for me. Lazy weekends with my fiancé and the dogs will resume, as will daily routines and work. I hope to focus on gratitude for life. I hope things that plagued me before will be less so.
Throughout it all, I will be showing up at workouts. I will continue with the loving beatdowns, along with the positivity, enthusiasm, and faith in humanity that FiA provides. I’m glad I got pulled into this community, and I can’t wait to Q when I get back.