Joining the U.S. Army was a childhood dream come true for Killeen resident Jennifer Meadows, but her once-promising career was cut short when a growing problem with alcohol finally caught up to the Michigan City, Ind., native.
“I got caught drinking in Kuwait,” Meadows said. “I don’t know about now, but back then, you could not drink at all.”
The now 39-year-old teacher’s aide was working as an Army food service specialist when her unit was sent to Kuwait in 2011. She worked long, hard hours but enjoyed every minute of it, even winning awards for her cooking. Beneath the surface, though, was a longstanding battle with depression and anxiety, and instead of taking prescribed medication, Meadows had a history of self-medicating with alcohol.
One day in Kuwait, she and some other soldiers went to a private party where the booze was flowing.
“It was like a fraternity party, and soldiers weren’t even supposed to be there,” Meadows said. “I love to dance, but in order for me to dance, I needed to have liquor in my system – liquid courage.
“So I was drinking and dancing, and it was time to leave. I went outside and was about to get into a vehicle, but there was another vehicle right behind me. I walked up to them – full of courage juice – and I asked them to move back a little bit, so we could get out.
“Turned out, they were the (military) police, and they smelled liquor on me. They were like, ‘Come here.’ I tried to hurry up and walk away, but they grabbed me and that was that.”
The ending of a little girl’s dream was underway.
Meadows joined the Army in 2007 while she was living in Germany with her military husband (now ex-husband). It was something she had wanted to do since elementary school back home in Indiana.
“I grew up with five older brothers and sisters,” she said. “One served in the Marine Corps and two served in the Army. Me being the youngest, I always looked up to my older siblings, and they would come home on holidays, sitting in the living room, telling stories and bragging about their branch of the service.
“So even as a little girl, I always knew I wanted to join the military when I got old enough. After I graduated high school (in 2000), I was going to enlist, but I had gone to visit my sister who was stationed in Georgia, and while I was there I met a soldier in a club.
“We wound up getting married, and he asked me not to go into the Army, so I didn’t.”
Eventually, that long-denied dream started coming back to haunt Meadows, and while the couple was stationed in Germany, she decided to go ahead and enlist. Her husband agreed and she was soon off to basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., then AIT (advanced individual training) at Fort Lee, Va.
“I loved it,” she said, of boot camp. “I loved the intensity of it. There were people who were crying, but I was not one of them. I grew up with a hollerin’ mama, so it was no big deal.
“I was always athletic all my life, from elementary (school) on up — basketball, volleyball, track, all the sports. I always loved to be challenged, and my mindset was I wanted to become stronger. The whole time I was thinking I wanted to make a better life for me and my family.”
While she was at Fort Lee, Meadows learned that her 44-year-old brother was dying from lung cancer back home. That was a blow, but she finished her training and was soon headed back to Germany.
She was well on her way to a promising new career, but her demons were also catching up with her.
“Now, I’m doing a lot of drinking. More than usual, since my brother just passed away. At the time, I was also still dealing with depression, but not wanting to get on the pills (antidepressants) because you can’t drink and be on the medication.
“Fast forward … I was getting a lot of awards for cooking. I had a great duty station. There was a lot of camaraderie, but I had been in Germany for a long time by that point. I wanted to be closer to my family, so I re-enlisted for Fort Hood because I heard it was a high-risk deployment station — where you get deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, because that’s where I wanted to go. I wanted to fight for my country.”
Both Meadows and her ex-husband came back to Fort Hood in 2010. He wound up getting injured at work and eventually was medically discharged. Meadows wound up in Kuwait and got busted for drinking.
“I told them that I was thinking about killing myself,” she said. “They thought I was just saying that because I was in trouble, but that was not the case.
“I was supposed to be on antidepressants for many years, even before I joined the Army. But I chose alcohol to be my medicine. That wasn’t my first time (being in trouble), but it was the last straw. They sent me to a rehab center first (two months in 2012), and then they put me out.
“I thank God now because, if I hadn’t been in the Army, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to go to a rehabilitation center. I would not have been able to afford to get help for my depression and anxiety. It saved my life.”
Along with going to rehab in San Antonio, Meadows was doing lots of soul-searching, trying her best to find peace of mind and slay the dragons that had plagued her for years.
“I was watching a preacher online, and I used the things I heard him talk about. I made up my mind when I was in rehab that after I get out, I’m going straight to a church. And that’s what I did.”
When she made it back to Killeen, this time as a civilian, the first church she attended and ever became a member of was Destiny World Outreach Center. Something happened one Sunday that tested her newly growing beliefs, and also showed Meadows that she was finally on the right track.
“I was scared,” she said. “My husband was getting out, so there was no money coming in. I was the breadwinner.
“One day at church, I put five dollars in the offering plate. I had to go out the next day and I went to get some gas, but my debit card wasn’t working. I called the bank and they said there was no mistake. I had gotten paid the prior pay period, and I didn’t have any money in my account.
“So I was driving, and I was talking to God: ‘OK, God, I’m going to trust you.’ Now, I’m thinking about different ways to get some money. Go home and look under the couches; look in the blue jeans pockets; under the mattress.
“Finally, my husband at the time called and said, ‘Guess what? My money came in.’ The money he was getting as part of his discharge hit the bank account that same day.
“From that day forward, I learned to put my trust in God.”
Meadows has been alcohol-free since 2012, and off all antidepressant medication since 2015. She became a licensed and ordained minister and now serves at Encourager of Life Ministries in Harker Heights.
“Discovering my relationship with Christ was the key.
“I tried for a long time to quit drinking on my own. Then I asked for God’s help, and the temptation started to fade away.”
A talented bowler who once rolled a near-perfect 275 game, Meadows is also a gospel rapper, writing her own music and songs. She says being forced out of the military was devastating at the time, but she is grateful for the experience and believes joining the Army ultimately saved her life.
“If that’s what it took to get me to where I am today, then, hey … it was definitely a difficult experience, but I trusted the process that God was putting me through.
“If I had to do it all over again to become the person I am today, I would.”