FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska – Many people were motivated by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 to join the military, or, in the case of veterans, to rejoin after a break in service. For Army veteran Julie VanHouten, hearing that her mentor Sergeant Major Lacey B. Ivory had been killed in the attack on the Pentagon was what sparked her desire to rejoin the Army.
There was one significant obstacle to her second tour of duty, as two prior service recruiters told her: at 5’4” and 289 pounds, VanHouten was too heavy. It had been more than a decade since she completed her service from 1983 to 1989, and she was no longer in fighting form.
VanHouten did not let that stop her, however, and she committed herself to an exhausting physical fitness and weight loss routine: general physical fitness training at 6:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day with a third prior service recruiter who did agree to work with her. She also committed to two runs per day, primarily on her own.
Initially, the weight came off fairly quickly, but “eventually, I plateaued,” VanHouten said, so she hired a personal trainer “who put me through the ringer.”
By the time the date came for a weigh-in, she was 10 pounds under her goal weight, meaning she had lost 189 pounds.
After that, “it was on,” said VanHouten, and she began to prepare for her second stint at basic training. At age 37, she was the oldest recruit there, and the younger recruits would come to her at night and ask for advice or support.
“It was really, really hard running with young people,” VanHouten said, but she powered through and succeeded.
After boot camp, she was sent to Fort Wainwright, where she worked in the Stryker Brigade headquarters office, but for her, “there were too many officers.” She had rejoined the Army because she wanted to work directly with working Soldiers in a line unit. She was eventually assigned to 1/72nd Brigade Support Battalion, and within the year, she was heading to Iraq, her objective when she first decided to rejoin. It would be her first of two tours there.
While working in the supply section for the BSB, VanHouten met fellow Soldier Tom McDaniel Jr., on whom she made a lasting impression.
“Working with Mrs. Julie VanHouten was great! Anything we needed for any mission—she fought away to support the mission. She is awesome,” he said recently.
On the second tour, she served in Mosul and ran logistics and supply at a detention center, also assisting with physical searches of Muslim women at checkpoints.
Concerning the return to service, “It was hard,” she said, on a number of levels. She recalled commanders telling her “‘You’re so outspoken for a private,’” and she replied, “I can’t help it, I’m 38.” She hung out regularly with a couple other Soldiers of a similar age to cope with the challenges.
When VanHouten returned from Iraq, she needed surgery on her leg due to problems that developed in boot camp, and after six years of service on her second enlistment, she had to separate, despite a desire to stay in. Her first job after leaving the Army was to join the Alaska State Troopers as a dispatcher. She knew it was not for her though, and she worked there less than a year before making her way back to Fort Wainwright, this time as a civilian employee.
She worked a number of different positions on post and then off post again, but eventually, in 2018 VanHouten took a position with the U.S. Army Network Enterprise Center where she has been ever since. She had a unique connection with her first supervisor there: he was the son of a previous commanding officer of hers.
VanHouten has excelled at her job, working in the supply section for USANEC, managing to turn in $12 million in excess equipment over the last four years.
“The chain of command was so impressed with her performance,” McDaniel said, but he “already knew of her love and dedication for whatever mission that was set in from of her.”
What is always first on VanHouten’s mind, however, is mentoring and working with Soldiers.
“I work because of them,” she said.
VanHouten regularly works side-by-side with Soldiers on the job and feels it is important for civilians to mentor young Soldiers and help them build up life experience.
Her message to Soldiers is this: “If a civilian doesn’t help you, find another; someone will care and help you out.”
She also recommends that Soldiers should not wait to attend school, that they should always ask questions and try to learn something new throughout their lives. She recently earned a bachelor’s degree in history after 22 years of working on it and is going for a master’s in the same field, this time with a focus on Tudor history because she is fascinated by the topic.
“I have 600 books on Tudor history and the Reformation,” she stated, with perhaps only a slight exaggeration.