Bonding in Baghdad: Two Soldiers share promotion, experiences
February 26, 2009
CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq - Roxanne Johnson and Tamara Smith put off military careers earlier in their lives to start families. Both married former Soldiers, raised children and longed for a chance to serve. Now, it's their turn.
"I had wanted to go in 15 years ago, that had been my plan, but I got pregnant," said Smith. "I'm glad I didn't join then, I wouldn't have met Johnson, and I wouldn't be working at the Justice Center."
Now, the two Soldiers whose lives have run parallel courses take one more step forward in their emerging military careers. During a promotion ceremony Feb. 21, at the Multi-National Division-Baghdad Justice Center here, Johnson and Smith took turns "pinning" on each other's new private first class rank.
"At Fort Hood, (Texas), family members usually come out and do the pinning," said Smith. "If I can't have my family, at least I have my Army sister."
In 2008, the timing became right for them to start their own Army careers.
"Both of us wanted to serve and both of us needed to support our families," said Johnson.
Johnson, a military justice paralegal from Smithfield, N.C., and Smith, a paralegal assistant from East St. Louis, Ill., are not shy in expressing their feelings for each other and support each other in many ways. As best friends, both found themselves assigned to Alpha Company, Division Special Troops Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division; sharing more in common than just the Army.
Johnson has two children; Jeremiah Jr., 7, and Melonie, 4. Smith has 3 children; Gabrielle, 14, Bryant, 13, and Giavanni, 11.
Both women started their military careers at the same time. They have known each other since basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C.
"At (advanced individual training), when I found out Johnson was going to Fort Hood, I felt more at ease," said Smith. Johnson said she felt similar sentiments when she realized they would be deployed together.
Currently, as roommates and work partners, who cross train the other on the different aspects of their job, their friendship strengthened.
"We're both going through the same kind of personal stuff," said Smith. "We've found comfort in each other."
A strong bond with other Soldiers is common on deployments. Army leadership strives to build camaraderie and esprit de corps within the ranks. For Johnson and Smith's chain of command, their friendship stands as a hallmark for teamwork.
"Often, there is a steady flow of clients coming for legal assistance," said Sgt. 1st Class Tou Cha, the division law center non-commissioned officer in charge, from Sacramento, Calif. "Johnson is able to cover down and help out, even though I don't require that of her. It's a great thing for the office."
They work hard, but also keep things light and entertaining for those around them. "We find humor in almost any situation," said Johnson. "We always make everybody laugh. The environment at the Justice Center allows us to be ourselves."
They know the Army life well, as both come from military families growing up. "We say the same things a lot, and I can hear what she is thinking sometimes," said Johnson jokingly.
The paralegal occupational specialty has been a good fit so far for both Johnson and Smith. "I wanted to be in admin to help my fellow Soldiers," said Smith.
Johnson and Smith have shown dedication in all areas of their work in the Justice Center.
"I've trained a lot of Soldiers. In terms of motivation and job knowledge, Johnson and Smith are two of the best I've trained," said Staff Sgt. Cedric High, division NCOIC for military justice from Leesville, La. "Those two working together has been a good thing." High added that the specialist rank should be coming soon for both Johnson and Smith.
Considering their paths in the Army, another promotion ceremony to the rank of specialist wouldn't be the same if it wasn't together.