Dorothea Goodson was serving the first of three combat tours with the U.S. Army in Iraq when she found herself suddenly stranded with a fellow soldier after their Humvee broke down and the convoy they were in continued on down the road without them.
“My first tour (2004) was the roughest,” said Goodson, a 57-year-old Killeen resident who spent 22 years in the military before retiring from Fort Hood’s 13th Sustainment Command in 2011 as a master sergeant. “You couldn’t take a shower but every other day. We lived in tents, and bunkers were just getting set up. It was rough. Porta Johns were there, but we were still burning poop.
“When we left the port, one of the MI units (military intelligence) — 504th M.I. — had left some equipment at the port. So before we started to head north, our unit attached some of their trailers to our vehicles.
“The convoy headed out, and probably 10 to 15 miles later, my vehicle broke down and the convoy ended up leaving us on the side of the road. Other than mortar rounds and stuff being fired at us, that was the most traumatic experience I had over there.”
When her Humvee became disabled, Goodson said, the convoy commander spotted 504th M.I. markings on the trailer being towed behind it, and for whatever reason, said she and the soldier riding with her needed to wait for further assistance.
“She said (later) that she saw ‘504’ on the trailer, and so she didn’t realize that we were part of her convoy. They (Iraqis) were passing by, yelling at us; it was starting to get dark.
“I told the (other) soldier to grab all the sensitive equipment, our rucksack, mask, weapons. I figured we weren’t that far away from the port, and maybe we could walk back or something. What ended up happening was, some American civilians came by in a civilian vehicle and asked us what was going on. For whatever reason, I felt comfortable enough for us to accept a ride with them.
“People were telling the convoy commander, ‘You left Sgt. Goodson.’ She thought they were saying that they left me in the United States. She didn’t realize that I was a part of her convoy, and that she left me and that other soldier on the side of the road.
“I was angry with that captain for a very long time. I’m not going to tell you what I wished upon her life for what she did. It really bothered me for years — how do you leave any American soldier broke down on the side of the road? That’s one of the biggest reasons I have PTSD at the level that I have.”
Goodson was born and raised in Chicago, Ill. After graduating from high school in 1981, she went to work as a data entry clerk for Continental Bank, and later spent five or six years as a conductor with the Chicago Transit Authority.
She had gotten married during this time, and the relationship was having serious enough problems that her husband left Chicago and moved down south to Houston. Goodson decided to follow him to try and work things out.
Unfortunately, things did not go according to plan.
“That’s how I wound up going into the Army,” Goodson said. “I refused to go back home to my parents’ house at age 25. I had family members who had been in the military — uncles and my dad served — so I joined the Army.
“I called them (recruiter) and they said, ‘Come on in,’ and it went from there.”
Her first taste of Army life came with basic training at Fort McClellan, Ala. — “It was OK. I enjoyed it. I was a little bit more mature than the 18-year-olds there.” — then AIT (advanced individual training) at Fort Lee, Va.
Her first duty station was in Germany, where she worked in warehouse supply, an assignment she thoroughly enjoyed.
“When I joined, I told them that because the marriage didn’t work and I wasn’t going back home to my parents’ house, I wanted to join for as long as possible and go away as far as possible. So my first duty station was Hanau, Germany.
“It was a little scary. Besides going south to Alabama every summer, where my parents were raised, I had never been anywhere. Certainly never out of the country.
“I scored pretty good on the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery), so I got an enlisted bonus of $3,000. I took the whole thing and bought myself a Mercedes. So there I was, a 26-year-old private E-2 with my own Mercedes, and I thought I was the bomb.”
Two more deployments to Iraq and a few years later, Goodson decided it was time to retire from the service.
She worked as a substitute teacher for a while in the Killeen school district, and now spends her time volunteering with various veterans’ organizations, including the Women’s Army Corps Veterans’ Association and VFW post 9191 in Killeen.
Spending a career in the armed forces was not part of her life plan initially, but she is satisfied and happy with the way things have turned out.
“I enjoyed my military career,” said Goodson, a mother of two and stepmother of three who has been married to Steven for 28 years. “I spent a lot of my adult life — the prime part of my life — in the military.
“I went to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where I went through air assault school and was air assault qualified. I taught a leadership development course here at Fort Hood for almost three years.
“Prior to the deployments, I had never been anywhere, except my regular duty stations. I had no complaints for 15 years. Then, the deployments just continued to come and after the third one, I was just … initially my daughter was three and my son was four when I left the first time.
“As time went on, I just decided enough was enough. There would have been a fourth and a fifth deployment, and I thought it was time to be at home.
“The best part of it all was joining the Army here in the state of Texas. What they do for veterans here is incomparable to some of the other states. My kids have been able to take advantage of the educational benefits for college and that has been a real blessing.
“If I knew then what I know now … I had no idea life would pan out this way, but in the end, that move to follow him (ex-husband) to Texas and then join the Army. … I never saw it coming.”