As I opened the door to the barracks, I felt like a new student looking for a seat at lunchtime.
Most of the public affairs officers who assisted me during my five days embedding with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., are male. While they are all hospitable and welcoming and make sure I never go anywhere unaccompanied in the 100,000 acres of training grounds that is foreign to me, there was one thing they couldn’t do.
They dropped me off outside the female barracks Thursday night and I was on my own until the morning.
I’ve never seen the inside of a barracks and had no clue what to expect. The building was one big open room, with cots at arms-length from one another. As I scanned the cots, my gaze was met with stares. Finally, I slowly started walking inside, but couldn’t decipher which cots were taken and which weren’t.
Most of the soldiers looked at me blankly before returning to conversations with their comrades.
The cots lining the walls of the building were taken and as I hesitantly tried to figure out where to set up for the night, I saw Pfc. Sophia Everett, 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery, smiling as she tried to figure out who I — the only one not wearing a military uniform — was.
Everett helped me unpack and settle into the tiny space for the night. And soon, she became my “battle buddy.”
When the public affairs officer dropped me off, he said to make sure I found someone to go with me anytime I went outside since it was dark. Especially since we are in a mock combat zone.
While some training centers don’t have barracks and showers, I was lucky enough to be at one with both of those things.
Everett pointed out where the showers were and offered to go with me. If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t have cleaned up after a long day in the field.
As I was packing for this trip — my first time embedding with troops — I crammed everything imaginable into my tiny backpack, including personal hygiene items. But, I forgot one thing — a towel.
Everett just brought a new towel, which she gave me without hesitation. It was a small gesture of kindness that made me feel welcome instead of the outsider I felt like when I arrived.
Other soldiers in the barracks followed Everett’s lead, wondering who I was, why I was staying in the barracks and offering to help me with anything I needed.
After an incredibly long day in the field where just about nothing went as planned, I was thankful for support from complete strangers.