Soldotna's Sierra Mello joined the Army Aug. 22, 2001, in hopes of seeing Germany and France and to get money for college tuition.
Nineteen days later, things changed.
Although her basic training did not begin until Sept. 13, she and her fellow recruits were sheltered from news of the events of Sept. 11 and did not know terrorists had attacked America until about two weeks later.
Now, her Germany-based unit is assigned to Iraq.
Home on leave in Soldotna until Wednesday with her mom and stepdad, Debbie and Gordon Griffin, Spc. 4 Mello said the 141st Signal Battalion to which she is assigned currently is receiving rocket attacks every night, and whenever the unit travels by convoy, they get shot at with small arms fire.
"We convoyed through Baghdad when (Division Engineers) were doing construction on the city zoo, and we convoy to ceremonies for promotions or when there's a change of command," she said.
Her unit, which provides cellular phone and Internet support for the engineers of the 1st Armored Division, works in the field with switching equipment mounted inside a military Humvee vehicle.
In addition to providing strategic military communications, the battalion also provides phone, Internet and video telecommunications to soldiers for morale purposes, she said.
When asked about President George W. Bush's goal to turn over the government of Iraq to Iraqis by June 30, Mello said, "It's not feasible.
"I don't think there's a definite goal, and we're not getting enough cooperation from the Iraqis," she said.
From her perspective, Mello said she believes the U.S. military is actually spending more time, money and energy defending itself than it is spending on doing good for the Iraqis.
"The longer we're there, the more tired they are of us being there," she said.
She also said her unit does not have enough generators and equipment is breaking faster than it can be repaired, but she believes in her commitment.
"I have to go where they tell me to go and do my job," she said.
Mello originally was assigned to the signal battalion in Wiesbaden, Germany, in June 2002, after completing her advanced military training.
The battalion was sent to Iraq one year ago and recently was informed its deployment is being extended 120 days.
She will head back to Germany after her leave and then rejoin the 141st in Iraq.
Her four-year enlistment will be complete in 16 months.
When she is discharged, she plans to start college at DeVry Institute in Phoenix in October 2005, where she will major in business administration.
Looking back on her decision to join the Army, Mello has mixed feelings as to whether it was a good move.
"Right now I'd say it's about 50-50," she said.
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