By Princeville Lawrence, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored DivisionSeptember 25, 2009
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq - You can find tucked away in a quiet corner of Contingency Operating Base Adder, next to the chapel, and near the cafeteria, an area of repose and comfort; an oasis called God's Grounds.
There you'll find Sgt. Maj. Virginia Stickler, a Half Moon Bay, Calif., native and a member of the 287th Sustainment Brigade.
She's in charge of the place, and if you ask, she will be more than happy to give you an espresso or a slurpee or a honey bun or a muffin. There is a refrigerator full of drinks and shelves of snacks courtesy of the chaplains, people back home and Army supply. If you so desire, you can kick back on the couch while you munch your muffin and watch a movie. The best part is that it's all free.
If you're in need of some guidance in your life, well, that's free too.
"A number of Soldiers come here, and they're stressed and they're away from their families, away from their support systems and they come here to kind of talk and ventilate, and I'm able to listen," said Stickler.
For many Soldiers, God's Grounds is a source of help in troubled times. Soldiers can talk to people like Stickler, who draws from a lifetime of experience in helping people. She has two master's degrees, a Ph.D. and experience as both a drug and alcohol counselor and a marriage counselor.
"That experience and knowledge has helped me help some Soldiers get their lives back on track," said Stickler, "and the ones that I wasn't able to help, I generally refer some to the chaplains' office or various other resources."
"But for the most part, I have been able to talk to Soldiers who have been in crisis and they came here, basically for something to drink, and just started pouring their heart out," said Stickler, "and I listened and gave them some guidance and helped them put their lives back together."
It's gratifying to help people, said Stickler, noting in particular a "special case near and dear to my heart."
"There was a very troubled individual whose marriage was on the rocks. This Soldier had two children," said Stickler. "I was able to talk to this Soldier, as well as the spouse in the States, and we worked on their priorities."
Helping other Soldiers is Stickler's way of breaking the cycle. Stickler has been dealing with family issues her whole life.
"I came from a pretty messed up background," said Stickler. "My father was a World War II veteran and he had post-traumatic stress. As a kid I didn't know what that was. He was a very violent man. And all I could think of in my high school days was leaving my family because I was tired of being afraid of my dad."
"When I turned 18 years old I left home and joined the Marine Corps. And I met other people in life, and I realized that not everybody's like my dad and I started to grow."
Stickler started building up her self-esteem as she went to college. After taking a psychology class, she was hooked. Between gigs as a school teacher, college professor, counselor and government worker, she amassed years of experience and was getting ready to retire.
Then she got deployed.
"I had just finished a weeklong retirement seminar with my civilian job and that Saturday following, I received a FedEx package in the mail with a set of military orders for [Iraq]. So I put my civilian retirement on hold and in six weeks I had to go to Fort Jackson, South Carolina."
A religious person, Stickler said she found her purpose during a sunrise Easter service at the birthplace of Abraham. As the sun came up over the ruins, she had an epiphany of purpose, and she knew why she had been placed in Iraq.
"I didn't want to do this because it really disrupted my life. But you know, sometimes God places us in places we don't want to go and when we get there - after the experience, I realized why I was here."
"I think I'm blessed as a Soldier who came here kicking and screaming, so to speak," Stickler said. "Not only was I able to help a lot of people, but I myself have had a lot of spiritual growth and development while I was here. God has used me in a great way and I'm glad for that."