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Interview with Denise Wathen [12/30/2004]

Sarah Gore:

My name is Sarah Gore and I am here with Denise Wathen. The date is December thirtieth, and we are in Newburgh, Indiana, and that concludes part one. Now we're going to start the second segment, jogging memory. What did you do before you joined the service?

Denise Wathen:

Before I joined the service I graduated from high school in 1981, and I went to college at Purdue University for about 6 months and figured out that I wasn't ready for college at that time, so I moved back home with my parents, and I worked at Western Ribeye until I joined the Army in March of 1984.

Sarah Gore:

Where were you living at the time?

Denise Wathen:

I was living in Boonville, Indiana at my parent's home.

Sarah Gore:

So you enlisted in the Army?

Denise Wathen:

Yes, I actually filled out a card in a TV Guide and I really wasn't sure what branch of service that I wanted to enter, and I received a call from an Army recruiter and I told him the same thing and he recommended that I maybe go to some other recruiters and some other branches and, and he would make the appointments for me and I had a feeling afterwards that maybe he had let them know that he needed a female to be recruited because neither one of the other recruiters that I spoke to , Air Force and the Navy, seemed that interested in me, and didn't really act like they could help me, so when I got back to this other recruiter he took me to Louisville and I took the ASVAB which is the Army test to iterance test to see how well I could score and I did really well on the pretest and he was really excited and after I finished the ASVAB I was given a list of choices that I could make and for some reason I decide to pick MP. I had a lot of different things that I could have gone into but I chose Military Police.

Sarah Gore:

So he was kind of like your mentor through the whole thing?

Denise Wathen:

Pretty much he helped me through a lot of concerns and things that I had so he was, he was pretty helpful.

Sarah Gore:

Okay. Tell me about your first days in the service.

Denise Wathen:

They were really kind of scary and confusing at first because I didn't really know what to expect, but we had entered in what they called the reception station we were there for three days before we actually went onto our first basic training unit, and there all the drill sergeants that were there they were, they were what we found out later were burnouts. They had been recruiting for or they had been drill sergeants for quite some time, and they were just getting tired of doing the yelling and getting up early and stuff so they, they sent them there for I guess a little vacation is what they called it and they didn't really have to get on us that much. They just had to make sure that we were where we needed to be and that we learned how to be in a straight line. We didn't have to do any marching or anything like that, but that was where we got our uniforms and our IDs and all that and I only remember one person yelling at anybody and that was a girl we were standing in line waiting to get our first pay and she was turned around talking to me, and he got right up in her face and he yelled at her and I thought okay I better not do anything to mess up. I don't want to get yelled at. So.

Sarah Gore:

So were you really nervous when you first got into it?

Denise Wathen:

Yes, I was really nervous but what made it really good is that I was there with a lot of other females. We were all together in one area, and the only bad thing that happened, I know that at the reception station which made it kind of scary. There were some people that we found out later were from the chemical company there on post, and they had broken in and tried to attack some of the girls in one of the bunks right next to me. She was in the bunk like right across from me, and I honestly didn't really understand what was happening, but I just heard a lot of girls screaming, and I didn't never see anyone or anything like that, but they interviewed all the females that had seen anyone, and we had to stand out in line, in the hot sun. This was like, you know, March or April. I mean it was April, and they had all the males from there at the reception station they had them all lined up in a straight line and all the females that had seen a glimpse of anything, of anybody at all, they had them walk down the line and all of the rest of us had to stand there and watch, and it was kind of intimidating, but, and then they later found out that it was some guys from the chemical company there because one of them, I guess he felt kind of guilty, he told on the rest of them.

Sarah Gore:

Where were you when the war started?

Denise Wathen:

The Persian Gulf War, I was in my reserve unit. I had actually quit going to my weekend drills 'cause I was unsatisfied with some of the ways that they had been treating some of the people in the unit. They would kinda discrimination, discriminating against some of us. So, I got a call from my platoon sergeant in my company. I was at home when he called and said we had a mandatory meeting coming up the following weekend, and I asked him what it was about and he said he didn't know, and then a couple of days later my step-mom had called me and she asked me if I had the television on, and I said no. Then she said well turn the channels on so and you probably need to sit down, and I asked her why and she said well they called your unit's name, the thirty-eighth quartermaster, and said that you were being activated for, at that time it wasn't the Persian, it wasn't called Desert Storm, it was Desert Shield. He said that you were being called up for that, and that was really kind of a bad way to find out about it is on the television, and later on we found out that they had, apparently someone from the National Guard had leaked it to the media that our unit was being called up.

Sarah Gore:

Now we're going to go into section three, experiences and life. What was your job assignment?

Denise Wathen:

When I was on active duty I trained to be an MP which is MiUtary Police, and that covered any and all aspects of safety and security from doing the road duty like you would see, you know, policemen doing, to physical security where we would have to be in a fenced off or enclosed area and we'd have to guard it and have to monitor everyone that came in and left the area, and whatever was contained there in. I had even signed up if I had, if I wanted the option I could've gone to a nuclear sight, but apparently you have to have a certain classification and go through all kinds of processes before they would let anybody there since it's really, you know, highly classified. But anyway I did my training as an MP at Fort McClellan, Alabama, and my first duty station was at Fort Carson, Colorado, that's where I did the only road duty experience that I had, and I only did that for about 3 months. So as far as being an MP, I can't really say that I had that much experience at that. I was placed in a unit there at Fort Carson where they, it was actually the provomartial's office where they take all the depositions and all the police blodders from the night before they put all that information in the computer, and 1 was actually filling in for someone on a temporary basis, and they said because I did so well and did my job very thoroughly they called my first sergeant at my unit and asked if they could keep me there at the povomartial's office, and he said fine we could, we don't have to have her. So I, that's my first experience with computers. I really enjoyed that, and when I was at Fort Carson then I got married, and my husband at that time was stationed. or was on orders to go to Germany, and so I had to put in for orders to get transferred over to Germany, and it took almost six months before I finally got over there after we were married, and that was, that was kind of hard, but I spent almost three years in Germany and I did what was called physical security there that where I think most of my experience came from was security, and I was at a HAWK missile unit, and HAWK stand for, the Army has a lot of an acronyms a lot of abbreviations for things, and HAWK stand for Homing All the Way Killer, and that was what they called their missiles. They were not great big humongous missiles. They were missiles that were portable that could be moved with little cranes, small cranes. They were just, they looked like little tiny tanks. I mean, they could just move them form one position to another and they carried them on the back of the missile trucks. They could carry like two or three at a time on the back of a flatbed truck, and they would move those around when we had to go out into the field and do our wartime, they called them war games, and you had to go out into the field and do that. That's what they would move them on was the big flatbed trucks, and my job over there was just to help provide security, and I ended up working in the arms room with the weapons which I really, 1 kinda liked even though that wasn't my, my training, I didn't have formal training in that, and I had a class when I was over there but a lot of stuff that I did in the Army was on the job training.

Sarah Gore:

What was your most memorable experience?

Denise Wathen:

I was in the Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf War. I was outside pulling guard duty the day that the scud missile hit. It was about a mile and a half down the road from where we were, and up to that point we would always hear a siren or get some kind of advanced warning when the scuds were going to hit, and we were in these metal buildings that they built for us to have barracks, and I was actually outside on guard duty and when it hit we had no advanced warning whatsoever, and it felt like an earthquake when it happened, and I was standing next, I was in a bunker type area. It had overhead protection and it had sandbags, and whenever we pulled guard duty we always had to have chemical our chemical gear on and we had pants and a jacket and boots that we always put on because they were, they took the longest to put on, and then after we felt that there was any threat of gas or we were told to dawn our chemical gear we would put on our gas mask and clear it, and then we'd put on our gloves and we'd be somewhat protected. And the first thing that happened after it hit I went ahead and put on my gas mask even though I wasn't told to and we had radio contact but it's really hard to hear when you're wearing a mask and I'm like well I'm not taking this thing off till I'm given the all clear, and at that time I was dating someone and he had come running out and he wasn't wearing any chemical protection at all and of course it was just right after it happened what we knew something was wrong, and he wasn't wearing anything and I told him you need to go back inside undercover and you need to get your gas mask on, you can't be out here. But he was checking on me, and I'm like I'm fine I got all I need you get back in there and get your stuff. And later on we found out there was a patriot battery that was up the road from us and the patriot battery would fire the patriot missile and it would intercept the scud and that usually would happen, you know, within a mile or so fi-om where we were and we could always hear the blast and we always knew, you know, that the patriot had fired. If we hadn't heard anything then we needed to take cover or whatever, but when. apparently we found out later on that something had happened and that the patriot never fired, but the, the Army first told us that it had fired. It had hit but apparently the warhead was attacked. Well we found out later on that that wasn't the case. But that was probably the most memorable thing that happened, and later on when I, that before I was off duty, I was up on top of our battalion which was like two stories tall, the building there, and they had a hospital that wasn't very far fi-om where we were located and we could see they had people, bodies, on the back of the, one of the trucks that they were taking to the hospital, and I know that that area, they had were mainly national guardsmen in that building. I don't know how many people got killed, but that was, that was probably the biggest catastrophe up to that point of the whole war.Sarah Gore:: What were your foods and provisions like?

Denise Wathen:

For the most part hey really weren't too bad, and I never really complained about Army food. 1 always thought it was pretty descent. We had a lot of those MREs, those meals ready to eat in packages, and a lot of the stuff we ate actually came from Evansville, Indiana form the Ameriqual company there, but when I was, I did some field duty when I was out pulling security out in the field when I was in Saudi Arabia, and some people had some dentil more, those little meals I guess you could heat them up in the microwave, but of course we didn't have microwaves out there, and they weren't too bad. I know the shower situation wasn't too great out there out in the desert. We got to take showers every few days or so, so that wasn't too bad. I mean I never complained. We, we had cover and we had food, and there really, that kind of stuff I really wasn't too concerned about.

Sarah Gore:

So the living conditions were pretty well?

Denise Wathen:

I mean I was used to being out. You know. I mean in the desert it was just take it or leave it, but we had, we had tents that were set up, the big large tents that everyone stayed in the same tent, and as long as we stayed out of the wind and out of the sun it was pretty much okay. And at night it got really cold and we had heaters to keep warm, and our sleeping bags they were, you know, pretty good. The only thing was, when the, when the sand storms, when they blew up it was kinda hard to keep cover, and we had goggles that we had been issued, and we had bandanas and stuff to keep on our faces and when I was out in the field we did, we refueled helicopters, and that was something I never did before, but I just kinda learned on the job, as with a lot of my Army experiences.

Sarah Gore:

Was it easy to stay in touch with people at home?

Denise Wathen:

Yeah, I was able to call home on numerous occasions, of course that would be kinda hard two or three o'clock in the morning, but lot of times if I was off duty, getting off guard duty or something and I could go wait in line, 'cause a lot of us did that, and we got a lot of packages and mail, and , I mean, it wasn't constantly, but we got them on a pretty regular basis.

Sarah Gore:

How'd you like pass, did you have any downtime that you just enjoyed with the people you met there?

Denise Wathen:

A lot of what we did, we had, a lot of people had the game boys like when they first come out we'd sit around and play that. I think 1 had some pictures where we had, we'd had a scud warning or some kind of warning where a missile was approaching or had already approached, and we were waiting for the all clear and I took a picture of one of my roommates and she was sitting in her chemical gear and she was playing game boy, and some people had some videos and stuff sent from home, and a lot of times we'd sit around and watch TV or I listened to a lot of music when I was over there. I took quite a few cassette tapes with me.

Sarah Gore:

How did you celebrate the holidays?

Denise Wathen:

Well, when we were in Saudi Arabia, we were some of the first people that celebrated Easter is what we were told, and when we celebrated that we went on top of the battalion headquarters which is a two story building and we had a sunrise service with the chaplain there, and that was really nice. The, any other holidays that I spent, I spent back in the states. That was the only holiday that we celebrated when we were in Saudi Arabia.

Sarah Gore:

What skills did you learn?

Denise Wathen:

I learned how to refuel a helicopter which I have never ever done before, and that was quite an experience. And I, I just learned how to, to get along with a whole different culture of people, and that, I thought, would be kind of difficult at first, but they were very welcoming over there. My main thing is learning how to refiiel a helicopter. I had never done that before.

Sarah Gore:

Do you recall the day you left the service?

Denise Wathen:

Yes, the last day that I spent in service was when I came home from Saudi Arabia. And we had a welcoming parade back home and everything, and about a week later, my former husband and I, we turned in our gear at our reserve center and told them that we would not be going back to drills, and they informed us that we would still be obligated for like the next couple of years or so, and we told them we understood that, but that we no longer wanted to be a part of the reserves, and they never did call us back, thankfiilly. But that was, that was my last day of service was when I turned in my gear.

Sarah Gore:

Where were you when the war ended?

Denise Wathen:

I actually, I think I was still over there technically when the war had ended, and the main thing we were waiting for a transport to come home. And our commander he had said that he didn't want anyone being left behind that wasn't required to be left behind to get all of our equipment shipped back home. He wanted the whole imit to come home together, and that was mainly what we were waiting for. I mean, we kept hearing stories people that were working there that had come out because they knew that we were coming home. They waved and everything and that was really neat. They had, our reserve center's next to Robert's Stadium and they had all kinds of people there. All the families and stuff waiting for us, and they had a ceremony for us and my family was there and that, that was probably the second most memorable thing about the whole war was being able to come home and feeling like a hero.

Sarah Gore:

Did you make any close friendships while you were over there?

Denise Wathen:

Not really, not anymore than I had already had because I knew most of the people in my unit. And the females, you know, we stayed pretty close 'cause we all had to sleep in the same area. There were a few people that were on active duty that I met and really told them I was gorma really miss seeing them. Some people were from New York and some other place. So I got to see people from all over the country when I was over there, so, and I met a few helicopter pilots that were really interesting, talking to them, and I got to take a ride on a helicopter one time. That was really neat.

Sarah Gore:

Now we're moving on to part five, later years and closing. So you said you continued to work at Whirlpool after the war?

Denise Wathen:

And my job, my whole department was actually eliminated. They were going to replace us with non-union personnel, and they gave us a severance package and everything. I had been there a total of six years because I had only been there six months before I got that either a plane wasn't, didn't have enough seats, or it had too many seats and I thought well if it has too many seats why can't we go home. But anyway, when we finally got the all clear to come home we were waiting in line getting ready to have our gear gone through customs and then they told us that guess what, there's not enough seats on the plane. So they had to divide us up, and what they did is they had all the single people stand apart from the married people, and they said well married people you're coming home with us, but they gave us the choice and I looked around and I'm like you know what I've spent enough time with you people I just want time away from you. So I raised my hand and said I'll wait, and they came back around 'cause they could tell that I wasn't real happy the fact that they had separated us because I had families just the same as the rest of them and just 'cause I wasn't married or didn't have a child or anything didn't mean that I didn't want to come home to see my family. So that kind of petered me a little so I decided I'll just stay as long as I need to. But we ended up leaving about, I think it was eight hours after the rest of my unit had gone, and they told us that they kept coming around telling us well we found some more seats we found some more seats I said I don't care, tell somebody else I don't wanna go home with you people. So anyway, we ended up getting sent to Georgia, and we spent the night down there and then they flew us to Indianapolis which is actually where we did all of our end processing and where we got activated at, and that's where they had to do our end time in service which is ETS, and then they gave us our reserve cards and everything back and we got to ride a bus home. Now that, that was really neat because everywhere, every town that we went through, they had people there and they would wave and wave their flags and honk and support us and when we drove down highway forty-one past Whirlpool there was some activated and sent to Saudi Arabia, but it, it was a job that I really liked, and I enjoyed. My dad had retired from there so I really was kinda sad to go, but part of my exiting process, they gave us the opportunity we could go back to school and not have to pay for it. It would just be for a two year program, but 1 chose that option, and that's how 1 met your mom was through IVY Tech, and it started out I wanted to do computer programming, and it was kinda hard for me because I had a little one at that time and I didn't have a computer at home and with the programming aspect I did, took a lot more time, than what I had to give as far as spending time at school and working on projects. And I met your mom in one of my classes, and she had recommended marketing. I switched over to that and found out I, I really liked it. 1 liked the business aspect, and I never thought about doing any business classes or anything when I went to college at Purdue, but I enjoyed it, and I did a lot of part time work where my son was going to school, and I ended up getting a job after school there, and 1 subbed quite a few times for the school corporation, and I kinda got my foot in the door, and I ended up getting the job that I have now which is working for the Special Ed Co-Op which is, they work partners with the school corporations in Gibson, Pike, and Warrick counties. And now I work at the high school, Boonville High School, where I've been for four years, and I really like it, and I get a change to talk about my time in service with the students and everything, and they really seem to be interested because they don't know that many women that have been in the military, and our school does participate in veteran's day programs. The last couple of years they've invited, there's myself and a couple of other faculty members that are veterans, and we get to observe the ceremonies and everything and be participants, and this past year, the other faculty member who's a veteran, he's a Vietnam veteran, he talked about his son being in the service because his son was just getting out of active duty. He had been a sniper, so he had done a lot of things which you really couldn't talk about, like where he was stationed and everything, but he knew for the most part where his son was stationed by talking to other people that knew friends of his son. So it was interesting how he found out where he was located and everything. But his son is glad to be out, although, he ahs signed back up to be part of security over in Iraq, and he's, he gets to make seven hundred and fifty dollars a day doing that. I'm like well that wouldn't be too bad, but I don't know. It'd take a tough person to do that. I enjoy what I do now with working with the kids and stuff It keeps me on my toes.

Sarah Gore:

Do you attend any reunions for like the unit that you worked with?

Denise Wathen:

No I don't. If, if they ever have any, I don't know of any. I am a member of the VFW Post in Evansville, and it's supposed to be the world's largest. That's what they claim to be. But when we were in Saudi Arabia they recruited us as members, and I signed up, and when I came back home, I had had a couple of relatives who had passed away, and I inherited some money and I went ahead and purchased my lifetime membership. So I am a lifetime member of the VFW Post in Evansville.

Sarah Gore:

How did your experiences contribute to your thinking about war and military service?

Denise Wathen:

I know that it was kinda difficult for my family having, my father especially, sending a daughter off to war, but I know that I had never really considered myself ever having to go into a battle so to speak, and I know that, I think my security experiences help me quite a bit with that. It was just really unusual, I think, for anyone in this area to know of any females that had to go to war, and I know it was really hard for the women that I knew that had children. But I just feel at that time it was what I needed to do, and, you know, when I raised me hand and made my oath to protect and defend against all enemies that's, that's what I intended to do no matter what, and that's what I feel like I did.

Sarah Gore:

Thank you very much.

Denise Wathen:

You're welcome.

 
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