FORT BRAGG, N.C. – After being discouraged time and time again, she has shown it is possible to do it all: Soldier, paralegal, mother, wife – this 18th Field Artillery Brigade Soldier wears many hats, all equally important to her, and all fulfilling in their own right.
Despite only having a year and a half of Army experience under her belt, Pfc. O’Taysia Smalls, a paralegal assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment, 18th Field Artillery Brigade, knows she made the right choice when enlisting in the U.S. Army in October 2021. For her, this dream was a long time coming. She wanted to enlist right after high school, but her parents weren’t so sure. They encouraged her to go to college and then commission if she really wanted to join the military. While in college, she met her now-husband who felt if she enlisted, they would never get to be together because he was serving in the U.S. Marine Corps at the time.
“We ended up being separated for over a year anyway due to his service,” Smalls laughed. “So fast forward to right after I had my daughter; my husband took me to the recruiter, and I enlisted.”
Smalls said she felt her husband, now in the U.S. Army himself, could see how low her morale was despite loving her job at an on-post Dominos and having two kids. He eventually changed his support for her desire to enlist.
“I would mention joining from time to time and he was hesitant because we have two kids,” Smalls said. “But he could see my morale going down and said ‘You know what? Let’s do it. It will make you happy.’”
Her husband’s support means everything to her, but being in a dual-military marriage isn’t easy. Smalls said she and her husband, currently stationed at Fort Stewart, haven’t shared a household in over a year.
“It’s not easy,” she said. “Obviously, we have the usual marriage problems, but when you aren’t living under the same roof there is a bigger disconnect that adds to it.”
Despite that, Smalls said the pros far outweigh the cons. She has someone who understands the Soldier life and her whole family enjoys the military benefits.
“Both our kids can have the GI Bill now and it’s also just really nice having someone who understands the late nights and the sometimes-unpredictable schedule,” Smalls said.
Since joining and becoming a Steel Soldier, Smalls said she could not be happier. She said she was nervous about being a female in the military, but her work environment is nothing but supportive and motivating.
“My whole office is family-oriented; everyone has kids,” Smalls said. “They understand when things happen.”
Smalls said working for Maj. Shaloe Green, brigade judge advocate for the 18th Field Artillery Brigade, is encouraging because it allows her to have close female mentorship. Smalls said Green, as well as her Noncommissioned officer in charge Staff Sgt. Robert Bennet, are both great at guiding her through her mistakes and providing proper courses of action while she navigates her often hectic paralegal duties.
“Major Green is one of the people encouraging me and helping me transition to become a warrant officer,” Smalls said. “I love my whole office.”
Smalls’ end goal is to become a Chief Warrant Officer and then, after retirement, take the legal skills and knowledge she has learned in the Army and use it in the civilian world.
“I have always wanted to be a paralegal,” Smalls said. “I love my job and wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Smalls said although she took longer than she planned to enlist, it taught her to ignore the nay-sayers and just go for what you want in life. To this new Soldier, balancing the Army life with her roles as mother and wife may be challenging at times, but all worth it. Her kids are already looking up to her and her husband. Her five-year-old son wants to be Soldier, and while her daughter is still only two, she likes to wear her mother’s patrol cap.
“My advice for females: don’t let anyone tell you no,” Smalls said. “There are still a lot of people who don’t believe females should be in the military, but females are just as capable of getting the job done as anyone else. Don’t let people say, ‘You have kids, think about their future, it’s selfish.’ Bump all that. It’s not selfish. You’re setting an example.”