9/11: One Happy Ending
September 11, 2008
Fort Hamilton, N.Y. - Sept. 11, 2001, was a horrific day for Americans. The sights of our countrymen losing their lives are forever seared in the mind's eyes of our Nation, including the memory of a young Brooklynite named Monique Page.
Born to two hard-working, Italian-American parents, Page was raised in the hallways of the family business - a women's clothing manufacturer. Years of training and grooming to assume a key leadership role in the family business was certainly the Page family's goal for their daughter's future. Growing up, life was relatively easy for Page.
"I was 33-years old and single when 9-11 happened," said Page, now a U.S. Army sergeant and a noncommissioned officer assigned to the U.S. Army Recruiting Station - City Hall. "I was a retail sales manager for an upscale women's sportswear store in Manhattan, and I was easily recruited for the next better deal. I had gone as far as I could within the family business without taking over, and I just wasn't ready for that. For a short time, I had even attended college studying business management ... again ... preparing me to take over my parent's family business. I look back now and realize I didn't really know what my future held."
When the news reached her at work of two planes crashing into the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan's financial district, she watched in horror as television stations broadcasted unbelievable images of planes crashing into the famous New York skyscrapers and then later collapsing in furious mushroom-like clouds of smoke and debris. The toll - over 3,000 innocent dead - nationality immaterial.
Page's normally energetic and glowing personality became unusually morose in the weeks that followed. Weeks became months as broadcast and print news agencies carried storylines of memorial ceremonies, investigations and the spouses, mothers, fathers and children alike, who continued to search desperately for their loved ones that never came home that unforgettable September day.
This pervasive tone of sadness, this uncharacteristic disposition loomed in her all the time and deeply affected Page. An otherwise strong-willed and feisty woman had been reduced to tears. Sleep, for her, was becoming an old memory.
"I couldn't stand this other person I had become," admitted Page. "I cried all the time, and this wasn't me. I am normally a happy person, a vibrant person, and this just wasn't me. I knew I wanted to go to Iraq. I just didn't know how. Someone I knew informed me that the way to get to Iraq was by going to an Army recruiter. I didn't even know about basic training back then. I just knew I needed to go to Iraq to help."
Despite mounting disapproval from her parents, Page realized she was solely responsible for improving herself. She researched her options, and made her decision from a position of strength and knowledge. She could stay miserable, or she could be earning more, getting an education or specialized job training - truly getting an edge on life.
On July 3, 2004, Page enlisted into the U.S. Army at the Staten Island Recruiting Station - South Shore. Not only did she now share in the responsibility of supporting and defending the people of the United States of America, but also securing and preserving all the freedoms the American people hold dear - a burden in which she was proud to stand tall to shoulder.
From applicant to private first class, Page successfully completed her initial entry requirements: graduating from not only Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, S.C., but also her Advanced Individual Training as a motor transportation operator from Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. She was assigned to the 27th Main Support Battalion, a subordinate unit of the legendary 1st Cavalry Division - a rapidly deployable armored division - located at Fort Hood, Texas. She was immediately promoted to the rank of specialist.
Page realized her dream in 2004 when she deployed with her unit to Iraq the same year in support Operation Iraqi Freedom 2. For 365 days, she braved the dangerous Iraqi roadways. Her job was to perform re-supply missions along myriad Iraqi roadways. She defined her end state as safely arriving at the objective to deliver the cargo or personnel for continued U.S. military operations.
The missions were not always easy, a lesson Page learned when she came under attack.
"I was stationed at Taji in northern Iraq at the time," Page began. "I was assigned to drive a load departing from LSA [Logistics Support Area] Anaconda arriving at the BIAP [Baghdad International Airport]. We made the delivery successfully, so we went to the DFAC [Dining Facility] for chow. Anti-Coalition Forces began lobbing motor rounds into our area and started shooting at us, so we took cover. Between mortars and fire, we ran fast back to our unit and prepared for whatever or whoever was coming through the gate. I was so glad we had no casualties, but we were definitely attacked."
"My parents and my cousins never thought I was going to make it through basic training, let alone combat," continued Page. "They knew me as someone who liked getting her hair and nails done, and they thought I couldn't hack it. Six years later, look at me. I am a very structured type of person, very disciplined, and I like everything just so ... so for me, the Army is perfect. I don't drink, don't do drugs, and I love working out every morning. I'm now a combat veteran, in the best shape of my life, and my happiness has returned."
For her achievements and overseas military service, she was decorated with the Army Commendation Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal and the Combat Action Badge-an award symbolizing active participation in combat. She returned home to her family unwounded and feeling a strong sense of personal accomplishment to herself and to her country.
Shortly after her redeployment in 2005, Page was selected by the Department of the Army for recruiting duty in her favorite place - New York City, more specifically the U.S. Army Recruiting Station - City Hall.
Seven years after the single event that inspired her to answer her nation's call to service, now Sgt. Page - soon to be Staff Sgt. Page if she has any say in it - returns the favor to her community by educating all ages of people about the life, career and educational benefits of the U.S. Army.
"The great thing about what I do here in New York is that I know for a fact that I am changing a lot of applicant's lives because I am giving them a better place to live or a career or an opportunity to go to college which they maybe couldn't pay for before," Page said confidently, further underscoring the Army's position as a credible partner in education.
"I think I was made for being a Soldier and recruiting because I enjoy talking to people on the streets, high schools and colleges," she said. "I get the chance to talk about the Army and how much I love it. Nowadays, people are biased, and they do not know what the Army truly offers to us. They think Army and they think war, and that's not always the case because sometimes we provide stateside support, homeland security and even assistance with natural disasters."
According to 20-year old Pvt. Christina Edwards, now an Army supply specialist who knew Page for three years before she made the commitment to serve her country, Page's success is in both her magnetism and her honesty.
"I was drawn to her as a recruiter because she has a lot of energy and is very upbeat," said Edwards. "She's also very honest, and she never lied to me. The truth may have been hard for me to hear, like my ASVAB [Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery] score, which was lower than I had wanted, but I was okay with the hard news because I knew she would give me the tools and the motivation to keep going."
"I have taken some great young people out of the projects, and through the Army, we have given them a safe place to live, given them a career plus an education," said Page. "They like me because I motivate them. I make them feel positive, and I lay all the cards on the table and let them know what to expect so they aren't surprised. To this day, I know I have touched many lives in a positive way because I still get phone calls, emails, regular letters, even hometown visits from applicants I brought into the military."
Many of her recruits have proven themselves to be leaders in the making.
"Before they leave for basic training, I give them classes on how to tell military time, how to use the phonetic alphabet, how to use a compass for land navigation, how to march and other basic common tasks so each one is prepared to succeed in basic training," said Page. "Many of my recruits move on to be squad leaders and honor graduates, and that makes me proud I helped march them to success."
"She's definitely a go-getter," said Page's Station Commander, Staff Sgt. Melvin Hunt, 42, fellow Brooklynite and 17-year Army veteran. "I highly commend her for her patriotism and for such a selfless act of enlisting after and because of 9-11."
"I did it for those 3,000 people that died in 9-11," Page said humbly, her eyes sympathetic but firm. "I went to Iraq like I wanted to for my country, and for those 3,000 people that lost their life that day, and I've done good things. My parents may not have agreed with my choice, but years later, they see I am happy, and that I love this Army way of life!"
Since 9-11, more than 537,603 American citizens have volunteered for the Regular Army, while more than 176,317 citizens have joined the U.S. Army Reserve. To join them, log onto www.goarmy.com.