FORT CARSON, Colo. -- One of my mother's favorite stories to tell goes like this: it was the early 1990s, and I was either 3 or 4 years old. We were living on 31st Street on Fort Hood. My older sister and I were ready to be carted off to the day care. Suddenly, I stopped and stared at my mother with what she calls "the funniest look" on my face.
"Mommy!" I said indignantly, "You're an Army!"
My mother, now retired Sgt. 1st Class Vicki Reiff, still laughs about this.
"You saw me in uniform every day," she said. "You acted like I was hiding some big secret from you. You would point out every single Soldier, no matter where we went on Fort Hood, all while I was in BDUs and holding your hand. But for you, it just never clicked I was in the Army. I loved it as a mom."
Sgt. 1st Class Reiff served 21 years in the Army before retiring in 2001. Now, as a Soldier and a noncommissioned officer myself, I've slowly started reconciling the two sides of the woman who raised me. And the more I learn as a Soldier, the more admiration and respect I have for her.
My mother is originally from Hatfield, Pennsylvania, a small town about an hour north of Philadelphia. Mom said she was not the best student in school. She graduated from North Penn High School in 1977 and then took a job working in a factory. She said it was a dead-end job with no future prospects.
My mother enlisted in the Army in April 1980, just two years after the Woman's Army Corp was disbanded in 1978. Women were being integrated into previously all-male units. While she was not one of the first women to enlist in the active duty Army, she was stepping into a male-dominated world.
People who knew my mother were shocked she had even considered, let alone joined the Army, she said. She was told she wouldn't make it in the Army - that she would fail.
She refused to let that happen.
"One of the biggest compliments I ever received from a Soldier was that I made being a single mother in the Army look easy," Mom said. "I was like 'Are you kidding? I don't sleep! I'm in a constant state of internal panic.'"
I remember when my view of what being a Soldier really meant surfaced, and I truly realized for the first time what it was when my mother said she was a Soldier. I was around 15 or 16 years old in high school and sitting on the floor watching the evening news, Mom on the couch behind me. A news segment was on about Soldiers and the War in Iraq.
And it hit me.
I turned and stared at my mother.
"Mom," I said, once again that small child, who felt like the big secret was finally revealed to me. "Mom, you were in the Army."
My mother's colorful response was something I heard many times over the years and was just as flippant as if she had just watched me discover my own foot or something.
"No, Mom," I said, tears welling in my eyes. "You were in the Army. You were, like, trained to go to war and kill people. Mom, you could have killed people!"
The look on my mother's face softened as she realized something every Soldier knows but does not dwell on: we train to fight, go to war, and win wars. Winning wars is not peaceful, and a Soldier who does his job risks not only killing enemies, but being killed himself. My mother, the veteran she was, knew this.
Now, so did I.
My mother held out her arms to me.
"Come here, baby girl," she said, as sobs escaped me. I sat in her lap crying, a teenager who suddenly had the harsh realities of the world in which I had grown up hit me. Finally realizing what it truly meant to be a Soldier and the sacrifices one is willing to make in order to serve his country.
My mother let me cry, saying nothing, just rocking me gently like when I was a small child.
I asked her if she remembers this obviously life-changing moment for me - the moment I truly realized Mom and Sgt. 1st Class Reiff were truly one and the same person. Like any teenager going through a prolific life experience, my mother does not remember the moment, nor does she thinks it was as prolific as it was.
Trust me. She told me so.
What my mother does remember is loving her daughters through years of work, hardships, growing pains, tears over boys, achievements at science fairs, academic competitions, and waking up early to follow a yellow bus to swim meets around Texas.
My mother remembers long nights on staff duty, leading Soldiers, enjoying range days, going out to the field and missing yet another birthday, and wondering through it all if she was a good mother and a good Soldier. There was always food on our table, clothes on our backs, but most importantly, a home with love.
When I enlisted in the Army in 2013, I thought I knew what I was getting into. I had seen my mom get ready for PT every morning, saw her working in her BDUs. I grew up playing around in a motor pool where my sister and I were the darling children of Sgt. 1st Class Reiff. I knew exactly what the Army was about.
Looking back now, I have no illusions that my mother was not only amused at my naiveté, but howling with laughter that I thought I knew what the Army was all about.
Mom made the Army look easy.
It is, in fact, not.
I have grown so much in my career in the Army. I have made mistakes, learned, trained, and fought to be a better Soldier and NCO every day. I go to bed exhausted, wake up tired, and never feel as if I have enough time in the day to accomplish all my taskings.
And my mother did this for 21 years, all while raising two children by herself.
The enormity of the fact settles on me more and more each day. My mother truly did it all. Since I have been in the Army, I have met several Soldiers who knew my mother before she retired. And each time they all said the same thing.
She was a darn good NCO.
As a daughter, I continue to strive to be the child my mother raised me to be: kind, caring, considerate, curious of the world, and willing to stand up for what is right in the face of opposition.
As a Soldier, I continue to strive to model my behavior on the NCO I admire most: an expert, an undeniable professional, an understanding and creative leader who would fight for her Soldiers no matter what.
I strive to be my mother's daughter.
Happy Mother's Day, Momma.