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Interview with Connie Rose Spinks [1/26/2006]

Kathleen M. Scott:

Today is the 26th of January 2006. The interview is being conducted for the oral history program for the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation. This is a partnership with the Library of Congress Veterans' History Project. My name is Kate Scott, and it is truly my privilege to have Connie Spinks on the phone with me. Hi, Connie, if you could go ahead and tell me where you're calling from.

Connie Rose Spinks:

I'm calling from Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Could you state your name and your current age?

Connie Rose Spinks:

Sergeant Connie Spinks, and that's E-5 paygrade.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Tell me the parameters of your recent service: what unit, what location?

Connie Rose Spinks:

I'm assigned to the 426th Civil Affairs Battalion out of Upland, California.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Where are you now, and what are you doing?

Connie Rose Spinks:

I'm currently at Brook Army Medical Center, it's called BAMC (bam-see), at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, going through rehabilitation, and occupational therapy, as well.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Let's back up. Tell me when and where you were born.

Connie Rose Spinks:

I was born in Asheboro, North Carolina.

Kathleen M. Scott:

What's your birth date?

Kathleen M. Scott:

Let's talk a little bit about your childhood. Tell me about your parents and what they're like as people, your siblings, and that kind of thing.

Connie Rose Spinks:

My mom's name is Lynette, and my dad's name is Eddie. They've been married for over 20 years. I have an older sister named Nicole, and she's 26. She lives in Wisconsin with my nephew and her husband. Then I have a younger brother who's 16. His name is Ernest, and he's a sophomore in high school. I come from a very good family. They're very supportive, very Christian. They're very family-oriented.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Were you guys Protestant then? Are you a religious person?

Connie Rose Spinks:

Yes, I'm Pentacostal. My family is Baptist. Which, as you know, all Christians, just different denominations.

Kathleen M. Scott:

When and where did you graduate from high school?

Connie Rose Spinks:

I graduated in 2000 from Southwestern Randolph High School.

Kathleen M. Scott:

When you were graduating from high school, did you have any particular dreams or goals? What did you want to do with your life?

Connie Rose Spinks:

When I graduated from high school, I was undecided whether to go to school or to get a full-time job. So that's how I enlisted through the Army Reserve. It was an opportunity for me to see the world a little bit, and support my country, and also receive money for school.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Did your family have any tradition of military service?

Connie Rose Spinks:

Yes, I have four uncles and two cousins that are in the Army, active duty.

Kathleen M. Scott:

So you had a good support system.

Connie Rose Spinks:

I did, except for the fact that my dad is not [?] approve. Of me being in the military, not of the military, just of me being in it.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Cause you're his baby girl.

Connie Rose Spinks:

Exactly.

Kathleen M. Scott:

How did they react when you decided to join up?

Connie Rose Spinks:

My mother was okay with the idea. She was glad that I had made a decision. My father, on the other hand--cause I enlisted when I was 17-but my father, it took awhile for him to be convinced. He finally did decide to go ahead and sign the papers for me to enlist into the military, but it took three months of me begging and pleading with him before he finally signed the papers.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Did you have any specific mentors growing up, any specific role models? Who did you look up to? Or who do you look up to?

Connie Rose Spinks:

I would say I just look up to my mother. Because I love her so much, and she's such a strong woman. She's always taught me to be independent, strong-willed, and to believe what I believe in, and not to let anyone alter that. So I've always looked up to my mom, and I still do.

Kathleen M. Scott:

That's good. That's a good answer. Where did you go for basic training, and when was it?

Connie Rose Spinks:

I went to basic training October 13, 2000, so it's the day after my birthday. I took basic at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

Kathleen M. Scott:

"Relaxin' Jackson."

Connie Rose Spinks:

That's what they call it! It was, too. They were strict, and they taught you military discipline and things like that, but they wasn't droppin' you all the time. They were pretty relaxed there. I was in for a reality check when I went to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to do my AIT...advanced individual training. When I got to Fort Bragg, that was a reality check. That was real military. That was real training. They were hard on us; they were real hard.

Kathleen M. Scott:

How so...physically, emotionally?

Connie Rose Spinks:

Physically, mentally, in every kind of way. They had us pushing--if we wasn't working as a team, if we thought we had individuals instead of being a team effort, then everyone got dropped. They was trying to teach us to have that camaraderie straight up. That's where you get your training, so you're in classes part of the day, as well, to learn your job. They're strict on you to study during study hall time. Just all areas. They're very strict.

Kathleen M. Scott:

What's your most positive memory of Fort Bragg?

Connie Rose Spinks:

Oh, let's see.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Is there one?

Connie Rose Spinks:

Yes. Honestly, there is, because Mom [?], I explained earlier how much I adore her, she was diagnosed with MS, which is multiple sclerosis, three months approximately after I got to Fort Bragg. By this time, we was learning how to become a team, and as soon as I found out, and then everyone came up to me, and we started a prayer circle, and they said, we're gonna be here for you. They asked if I needed to take time off to go home or whatever. My mom told me to just stay out there, and she'd keep me updated. That was my fondest memory.

Kathleen M. Scott:

How is she doing?

Connie Rose Spinks:

She's doing real well. She has to walk with a leg brace, and sometimes she has a cane. Sometimes she gets dizzy or faint-headed. She has occasional spells to where she'll pass out or black out.

Kathleen M. Scott:

So you went straight from Fort Bragg over to Kuwait? What happened before your deployment?

Connie Rose Spinks:

No. Before my deployment, and then we get a 30-day FTA, which is a field training exercise, at Fort McCoy, which is in Wisconsin. There we learned how to do tactics as far as where we head out on convoys with our military vehicles-Humvees. We learned weapons training with the M-249, which is the semi-automatic weapon, or the SAW gun. We learned about the 50 cal. We learned about different weapons and different tactics and things we were going to be using, so we did a 30-day field training exercise.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Does that mean you were living out on the land?

Connie Rose Spinks:

Sometimes we were in the field overnight, and other times we would be able to go back to the base, or to the barracks, whatever you want to call it. It depends on the actual activity.

Kathleen M. Scott:

What happened after Fort McCoy?

Connie Rose Spinks:

After Fort McCoy, that's when I went back to Fort Bragg to actually go overseas. I was at Fort Bragg for approximately three weeks before shipment to Kuwait, and then later to Iraq.

Kathleen M. Scott:

When did you hear you were getting deployed? At what point did you know you were going?

Connie Rose Spinks:

With me, I was activated for the homeland security in 2001. I did that for approximately five, six, months. Then I was activated again in 2002 to go over to Iraq, but at that time, my entire unit wasn't being deployed. It was this particular team. So I didn't have to go, because they didn't choose my team to go over at that time. So at the end of 2003 was when we found out that in 2004 we were gonna go overseas. So we had approximately 8 months to prepare, and for six of the eight months I was doing language training. So for six months I was doing Arabic language training and Kurdish because we have teams in Kurdistan(?) as well. So for six months I was doing language, and then for two months I had time to relax with my friends and family before going to Wisconsin, Fort McCoy, and then Bragg, and so on and so forth.

Kathleen M. Scott:

That's kind of intense language training. Was it hard for you? Was it easy for you?

Connie Rose Spinks:

For me, it would be quite a challenge to learn those languages. It is. It was. It's difficult because my primary [garbled]. I knew some Spanish just from taking it in college before I quit school to go overseas. Arabic, it's difficult, because you have to read everything...you read everything backwards, and everything's written backwards. Everything's just hard cause you have like, what they call guttural sounds, which sound like you're coughing, or hacking. Because of that, sometimes it's hard for me to do that, because I don't cough a lot, and I would really be spitting and all that. It was hard to make those guttural sounds to speak the language fluently.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Was Civil Affairs a choice you made, something you wanted to do? Language would fit pretty appropriately in Civil Affairs.

Connie Rose Spinks:

Exactly. Yes, before I went-when I took the ASVAB to enUst into the miUtary, they tell you your scores, how you do on the test. For Civil Affairs, you have to have at least a GT score of 110, if not better, to even be eligible to be in Civil Affairs. And I did. I asked, what do you do? Do you sit behind a desk, filling out papers, trying to help pay people or whatever? Exactly what are you? They was like, no, you go out when you deploy, you do reconstructions, you rebuild, you allocate resources. They were just telling me about all the different areas in Civil Affairs, we have doctors, we have teachers if you're on the educational team, we have--there's so many different areas. I love it. It suits me. You get to interact with people, you get to help people, or tell them what to do, so it just seemed like all around it was a perfect fit for me.

Kathleen M. Scott:

You had eight months to prepare for all those responsibilities, but how were you feeling about having to go over there on a personal level? Were you nervous?

Connie Rose Spinks:

I was. I was so scared. Even though I knew about it eight months in advance, it was like- when the time came, I was like, I'm really leaving. I was in shock. I can't believe it. I was a little bit excited to see what it was goima be like, I was nervous, I was anxious. I had all types...I was sad. I was definitely a little bit sad, too. I was on every type of possible emotion before I left.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Were you leaving a boyfriend behind, in addition to your family?

Connie Rose Spinks:

Yes, I was. We had been dating for a year and a half I told him, I don't know how it's going to be, because we'd never been apart from each other, especially for an entire year. That's a long time. I was like, we should just break up. I told him we should just break up. That way I won't be stressed over there about you, what you're doing, and you don't have to worry about anything. He just begged and pleaded with me. He's like, no, let's just work it out. Let's just try to make it. So I still had a boyfriend when I went overseas.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Are you guys still together?

Connie Rose Spinks:

No. As soon as I got hurt, we broke up.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Do you think it was too stressful for...

Connie Rose Spinks:

Yeah, I think it was too stressful for him. Also, he didn't know how to handle me being hurt. Of course, I was a burn patient. I had numerous broken bones, on the top of a lot of other issues, so I don't think he knew how to handle it. And that was okay with me because apparently that wasn't somebody I could marry, because if you're to marry someone, it's better, worse, in sickness and health. If he couldn't be there for me when I was sick, then I'm better off without him anyway.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Good for you.

Connie Rose Spinks:

Thank you. As a burn patient, I'm like-everything is just healing up so well. I look real good. I'm a beautiful girl, so other people they really can't tell what happened to me when they just look at me. So I moved on; I was meant for a little better, anyway.

Kathleen M. Scott:

What was your initial reaction to arriving in country, and tell me a little bit about what your daily Ufe was like over there, before this incident.

Connie Rose Spinks:

Well, if I could start at Kuwait, because Kuwait was definitely the cultural shock. When we arrived in Kuwait, it was 120 degrees. And you have all of your armor, as far as your IBA, which is your initial body armor, you have your weapon, you have your Kevlar, you have your ruck, you have tons of water. So in 120 degrees, it's hot. It's killer hot, and you have all this extra weight, so you really-it's not comfortable to walk around, to move around. So it took awhile. We were there for two weeks, and then bodies could get acclimated to the temperature, and I adjusted well. After the first week, I was adjusted to the temperature, and it was gonna be to go around, and move around the base. So when I got acclimated, I thought okay I can deal with it.

And when I got there, it was actually cooler in Iraq; it was like 100 degrees. Instead of 120. I was like, oh, it's cool here. The wind would blow, we had trees there, it wasn't just all sand and dirt. We had trees in some areas. So it was okay. And my schedule that I was on, I would have gate guard, which is like for the initial gates, people would say I want to come onto the base, and have to go through, and we were there for our Civil Affairs with our interpreter. And then there was like [?], so they were there to protect and help us as well. So we had them once a week. Then we'd have tower guard, which is outside the perimeter, where you guard the perimeter; I would have that once a week. Then the days I didn't have those duties, then I would be doing CA missions, going outside the wire, working with interpreters or the national populace. I stayed inside until about seven, and that was pretty late. I felt pretty good. I was getting a lot of things accomplished, and our teams completed missions successfully, and we was making a difference. We were starting to have an impact in-country, and I enjoyed it.

Kathleen M. Scott:

What month and year would this have been?

Connie Rose Spinks:

We didn't actually go over until 2004. It was September 8, 2004.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Tell me about your living arrangements, and how you kept clean, and things like that.

Connie Rose Spinks:

We had two-man Conexes, which are little two-man trailers, basically, is what they are. We had...I wouldn't even call it a cot, because it was actually like a bimk bed. So we had those bunkbeds in there, and that was nice. When I got in-country, the team that we was relieving, or from the unit we was relieving, they had already like TVs, they would have Play Stations, things like that, and cell phones, so they were selling all their stuff So when I got in-country, I bought a TV, I bought an X-box, and a cell phone. So our room...me and my battle buddy's' room...was basically set. It was set up. We had [?] DVDs. We was livin'...

Kathleen M. Scott:

You were kinda livin' large.

Connie Rose Spinks:

Yes. For in Iraq, it was. I was very much surprised about that. When we had time that was like down time, we actually had entertainment. We had a trailer that was set up with about eight different showerheads, and then the males had their set-up for showers. So we would take a shower every night or every morning. One of the old palaces was our MWR building, which is our welfare building for morale-morale, welfare, excuse me, and recreation--where that was the building they used, to have workout equipment, as far as gym equipment, they had computers there with internet access. They had a little chi bar-- you understand what a chi bar is? The Iraqi there that was working, he knew how to bake cakes. So when there was an occasion, they would have a cake baked. It was nice. The palace was nice, and our living conditions-they weren't horrible--it was just long days and a lot of sleepless nights. There was an attack at the gate. There was an attack at one of the towers, as well. One of the towers was attacked. So there was a lot of activity, but as far as living, it was okay.

Kathleen M. Scott:

You said there were some attacks at the towers. Was that something that was happening routinely?

Connie Rose Spinks:

At least once every two weeks. While I was there, there were about three attacks, and then there was a mortar that had failed to...it was about 300 or so feet from us. So that was scary. To hear it and to feel the vibration, and hear the siren go off, yeah, that was really scary.

Kathleen M. Scott:

There's obviously a certain level of stress associated with that kind of thing. What did you do personally to cope? How did you get by, psychologically, when you were going through that kind of stuff? I would exercise a lot. I was a fitness maniac.

Kathleen M. Scott:

I would exercise every single day. Going running or just anything to keep my mind off of it, and not to worry about so much that was happening back home and over there where I was at. I would write letters. Every day I would write a letter, cause it was free, to mail off things. So I would do that. I got little souvenirs. I was trying to collect things for my family members, and I would send them over, so they could have them. So they'd have something to remember this experience, and this situation, for. And I used the computer a lot. I would e-mail any time I had the chance to chat with people back home as well.

I didn't receive any sexual harassment while I was over there. There was an incident because...it wasn't with my unit, it was the unit we was replacing...where they changed things for us. Because the unit we replaced, there was an actual rape at one of the towers. At that time, when you did the guard duty, and then it would be one female and one interpreter. That's how they implemented for females the battle buddy system for the guard duty. That's why a lot of times our unit would have to do more duty because we had such few number of females, that if your battle buddy had guard duty, you had it. So we had it twice as often as the guys would. But that's because of the unit before us, there was a female that was raped, because it was just her and a national Iraqi interpreter there. But as far as me and the females I was with, there wasn't any incidents that I know of.

Kathleen M. Scott:

That begs the question, how did the Iraqi people treat you, and how did you feel about seeing the way women live over there?

Connie Rose Spinks:

Before I left, and then, I just already had the mentality that they would just treat us awful because they don't respect women, so I was like, okay, I'm gonna have to deal with some men that are just not gonna like me because of my skin color, they're not gonna like me because of my sex. I was prepared. But when I got over there, the Iraqis that I worked with, they were very respectful. When I was there, they were very friendly. They were teaching me more about their language and their culture. They were very...they were just helpful. And they treated me so respectfully, I couldn't even say anything about it, though. I know how they treat their women, but as far as being a U.S. soldier, as far as being a female soldier, being an African-American female soldier, I was not treated bad by them at all. Nope. It surprised me, too, it really did. I wasn't ready for that, but I accepted it, okay, that's good.

It was again on October the 13th, this time it was the year 2004, the day after my birthday, the day after my 22nd birthday. The night before they had said it was a [?] mission. We had the different teams that was gonna go out, and they told us that we wouid--that I specifically would need to be doing security. So I was gorma be a SAW gunner in the middle vehicle. So that day I got up, we didn't leave out until that morning, it was late morning, it wasn't early morning. The first thing I did was prepare the weapon, got everything ready, made sure all my gear was correct. We went ahead and got everything loaded up, went out to Ninevah, which was a marketplace that we was rebuilding. We went out to take some pictures and things like that. We did that successfully.

Now the accident occurred when we was heading back to camp. It was comfortable, I would say high 90s, as far as the temperature outside, and it was a clear day. There was a lot of traffic, though, on the road. Especially on the left side, and as so far as the middle vehicle, which was the position that I had, I was doing left-to-right security. So at the particular time of the incident, I had my weapon positioned to the left, because that was the heavy full of traffic. I noticed we was coming up to a ramp, to where a vehicle was trying to get into our direction. Whenever you're in a convoy, you're not supposed to let anyone get in between your vehicles. So, this vehicle was speeding up to get in between the first vehicle and my vehicle, and so I positioned my weapon to the right, and I said the Arabic, oba, which means to stop, and then the vehicle slowed down, but he didn't completely stop. So I said, oba ter erami, which is, "Stop or I'm gonna shoot." And at that time he floored it. He hit the gas so hard to where, before I even had a chance to pull the trigger, he was already...he had ran into my vehicle, and that's when it had exploded.

When it exploded, I was ejected from the turret. I sustained burns to my face and my hands. I had broke my femur, shattered my right ankle, fractured my left ankle, broke two fingers in my left hand, had perforated eardrums. I had a lot of injuries. There was some people that were ejected as well. One had a broken jaw; the other had a broken foot and a broken rib. But they were sent to Womack when they got back in country; they were sent to Womack, which is the hospital at Fort Bragg, and I was sent here to BAMC for my burns, because I was a burn patient, and this is the best burn hospital. The two people, unfortunately, that was sitting on the right side of our vehicle were killed instantly. They had memorial services and funerals for them.

Kathleen M. Scott:

What do you remember about...were you conscious...I don't really know where to start with the right question.

Connie Rose Spinks:

I understand...I know where you're gonna go with it. Honestly, my greatest regret is not pulling the trigger. Because if I would have known that the man [?] at me, cause I saw him--I looked at him dead in the face. He was driving...it reminded me of one of my dad's old pickup trucks, it looked like a little Toyota, one of them little bitty of Toyota pickups, that's what it looked like, or maybe a little Nissan pickup, or something. I saw the gentleman, he was just driving it, he didn't look like he wanted to kill. I wanted [?] like for someone that was a homicide or suicide bomber, that they used to call them, and they would be like clenching the wheel, looking like they're on some death mission. And this gentleman, he was just driving. He had both hands on the steering wheel, he didn't have any passengers in the vehicle, but he looked me right in the face. He looked me right in my eyes. Even though I had on the sunglasses, he looked right in my eyes, and that was it, I thought he was gonna obey me. I did not know that he was out on this mission. I did not know that he was gonna attack us, or that he hated Americans, or that he hated the military. He looked like a normal Iraqi. And over there, not to be rude or anything, but they don't know how to drive. So they don't obey the signs. So I'm like, okay, I'm gonna give him the warning, I'm gonna put my weapon over there, no big deal. And it's a [?] that it happened that way at all.

Kathleen M. Scott:

When the vehicle actually hit your convoy, were you were awake? It broke your femur, and your face was burning. Did you remain conscious?

Connie Rose Spinks:

Yes, I was conscious. That was the sense, because of course I could smell flesh burning. I could hear small arms fire, cause it was an ambush. There was firing coming from the left side after the explosion on the right. So we were set up. And all I could remember was hearing our first vehicle lay suppressive fire, and people coming to rescue me and those two other gentlemen, the two lieutenants that were injured as well. I can remember hearing the machine guns laying down all these rounds, just laying down all these rounds, and I can remember feeling pain. I felt this for just a brief second, and then I didn't feel any pain. All I can remember was yelling help. I yelled help one time, and by that time, two people from the third-which was the last-vehicle came, and they drug me, and they threw me and the two lieutenants on the vehicle, so we was about six or seven people piled up in this one vehicle, and we headed off to the hospital. My face was bleeding, and they just kept saying, "Spinks, you're gonna be okay. Spinks, you're gonna be okay." Lieutenant Haunkita(?), he had the broken jaws, but I can remember his face was so swollen. He was trying to talk to me. Everybody was just sitting there, they were just trying to reassure us. But honestly I know we was about 35-40 minutes from the hospital, and it felt like we got there in ten minutes. It felt like as soon as they threw me in the vehicle, we was there. I was real nervous, and I was scared, because I remember getting to the hospital and seeing the light. I used to watch ER, I used to watch these medical shows, and they say that if people have fluid coming from their ears, it means they had a head injury, and that they had a brain injury. So as soon as we get to the hospital, they was like, "She's leaking clear fluid from her ears." So the first thing I thought about was, oh, my god, I've got a brain injury. That's the only thing I could think about. I couldn't think of the burns, anything else. I was...

[end of side 1]

Kathleen M. Scott:

This is side two of an interview with Connie Spinks. Let's keep going, Connie. You're doing an incredible job. You're talking about it like you've really come to terms with this whole experience. You said that two of your guys got killed in this attack. Do you remember knowing about that when you were...

Connie Rose Spinks:

I did not know until the day I was gonna be released from the hospital. And at the time. Lieutenant Perry, which is in charge of family readiness and support group, from my unit, he had come down from California. He was there. My mom of course was here, cause she was here through the entire ordeal with me, through all my surgeries and everything. They came to me, and they brought a chaplain in, and when they brought the chaplain in, I knew something was up. I was like, okay, why is the chaplain here? I said, "Mom, why did y'all bring the chaplain? I'm getting out of the hospital." She was like, "Well, sweetie, we have something to tell you."

Cause I would always ask how the guys were doing, and they always told me, the guys are doing fine, they're at Fort Bragg, or at Womack, they're getting treatment there, they're doing good. They never specified how many of them were there, they never specified exactly the full details, but they told me everyone was okay. But what they didn't say was the fact that two didn't make it.

So the day I was getting discharged, Lieutenant Perry said, "Spinks, I need to tell you something. I'm going to tell you now because I think you're strong enough to handle it." I said, "Sir, what is it?" he said, "Lieutenant Colonel Phelan and Major Saltee(?), they didn't survive the accident." I said no. I started crying. I said I should have shot that guy. I was just saying all these things. I said what exactly was it? Why didn't they make it?

They said, of course, in the attack, that side of the vehicle was crushed. Then all of the shrapnel, and then the vehicle was on fire. So they sat there and they told me that. But they reassured me, they was like honestly, they didn't feel it. They said as soon as the vehicle struck the Humvee, they were already gone. So they didn't make it. I asked about the families. How are their wives, and their children, how they were doing. They're like, everybody's doing fine. Everyone's just concerned about you, and the others. It was hard. I had a lot of guilt, I had a lot of anger about the situation. It took about four days for me to come out of that.

Kathleen M. Scott:

You said your mom was with you. Logistically, what was your route of return?

Connie Rose Spinks:

The first hospital I was at was the hospital in Mosul, which is a [?]. I stayed there for one day. Then I went to Germany. I was in Germany, Longstaul(?), for two days, and they did two surgeries. Then I was sent directly here to BAMC. The accident happened, like I said, on the 13*, and by the 17*, I was already at the hospital BAMC.

Kathleen M. Scott:

When was the first time you were reunited with your mom?

Connie Rose Spinks:

I remember waking up on the 17th, I was in the ICU, I was in the burn ward, and I think it was the next day...I remember the first day I woke up, she wasn't right by my side, and I was drugged up, and I don't know what else was happening to me. But the next day after that, I remember she was there when I'd woken up again, I guess cause they was giving me more medicine. I remember her and my dad was there. My dad was in the room for like one minute, and I just looked at him, and then he left the room. I turned to my mom and I said, why did he leave. She said, oh, he just went to get something to eat. Later on, she has told me that cause he was crying [?]. That was it. She said that was the first time she'd ever seen him cry. Even when my grandfather was killed, he didn't even cry at the funeral. Then when I was in the hospital, he cried. He cried over me.

It was very emotional, because I kept asking my mom, how do I look? My hands were bandaged. Everything was just bandaged on me. Both of my legs were casted. So I'm like. Mom, what does my face look like? Is it okay? Because they would put cream on it, they would be doing all these things to my face, and I'm like, do I look really bad?

She said, no, baby girl, you're still beautiful, and stuff like that. But for two weeks when I was in the hospital, they didn't let me see myself. No one would bring a mirror. No one took pictures on a digital camera. I knew something was up, but I didn't know exactly what it was. So one night I had the little TV in front of me at the hospital, and I turned the TV off, so it was just a black screen, and on the black screen I could see my reflection. When I first looked at it, I thought, well, that is light. I was expecting something different. It was so white. I thought, this can't be right. My mom came in the next morning, and I said, "Mom, I want a mirror. I've gotta see my face." When I looked at it, it was light, and it was blistered. On one side it was blistered up, and I was like, oh, my goodness. My doctor was like, you're gonna be perfect. I was asking tons and tons...

Kathleen M. Scott:

What did they tell you? They told me that my pigmentation's gonna start to come back, it's gonna take a while, I need extra protein, for me to eat a lot of meat with protein. They gave me Ensures, just like milk, a lot of calcium. They were telling me all the things I needed to do to get healthy and how to take care of it. That's why they was putting creams on it so much, and they continued to do that until I could use my hands for myself.

Kathleen M. Scott:

This is unreal. You just sound like such an incredible person, I just can't believe you've been through all this.

Connie Rose Spinks:

Thank you. I could send you some "before" pictures, but I don't even know if you would want to see them.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Of course. But I want to ask you a few other questions here. When was the last time you got emotional about what happened that day, and about this whole recovery process?

Connie Rose Spinks:

I guess the last time, about two weeks ago.

Kathleen M. Scott:

What happened to make you feel bad?

Connie Rose Spinks:

It was just...I was thinking about physical therapy, and I was at the point of discouragement, because I walked...I was in a wheelchair for four months, and then I slowly learned how to walk again, and things like that. I've been trying to run again. I used to run two miles, like in 14 minutes. I'm airborne, so I used to jump out of airplanes. I used to be able to do so much. Play basketball-I used to play basketball in school, I ran track in school, and all these activities. I was just so discouraged in physical therapy about two weeks ago, because I couldn't run. And I couldn't just do the stuff I wanted to do. They told me it was going to take awhile. They told me it was going to take a year, year and a half, if not longer. They told me the earliest would be a year. It's been a year and two months. So I was at a point of frustration with the whole...being injured, having to take it slow and take it easy, and I was just tired of it.

Kathleen M. Scott:

I'm assuming you got the Purple Heart?

Connie Rose Spinks:

Yes, I did!

Kathleen M. Scott:

I don't know if you're aware of this, but there are only about 200 women in history that have gotten the Purple Heart. I know that number is growing now with Iraqi Freedom, but how did it make you feel to receive that medal? What did that medal mean to you?

Connie Rose Spinks:

To me the medal meant...it's not something I wanted to ever get, or course, but for me to get it, I felt honored. I felt honored because I was a survivor. That's what it meant, just surviving. Facing difficulty, adversity, and not giving up. Not just laying in the bed and accepting your situation, but trying to change it. I was so ecstatic when I got my Purple Heart. For two reasons. That I got it-that I survived and I was doing okay and I was gonna be okay. From day one I knew it. Because God gives me...I was dreaming and things like that- [?]. Something in my spirit said everything's gonna be okay. You're gonna have a full recovery. In my spirit I was honestly satisfied and content. The second reason I was ecstatic during my Purple Heart ceremony was because Denzel Washington presented my Purple Heart. When he gave it to me, first of all...

Kathleen M. Scott:

What was he doing there?

Connie Rose Spinks:

He came to do it. He came to do the ceremony, and to see some injured soldiers. He's such a down-to-earth guy. Before he came here...Colonel Ford is in charge of the ceremonies, she said, "Spinks, if you get your Purple Heart in December, Denzel Washington will present it to you." She said, "If you wait 'til January, President Bush is gonna be here." She said, "So when do you want to receive your Heart?" I said, "Denzel, President Bush, Denzel, President Bush." I said, "Colonel Ford, this is a no-brainer." Could I please get mine presented by Denzel Washinbush (?) ? Before he even got here, I said, "Mom, if he touches me, I'm gonna faint. I know I'm in a wheelchair, but if he touches me, I'm gonna faint." So he just sat there. He was taking pictures before he actually pinned it on me, and he touched my shoulder. I had this big cheesy--this grin from ear to ear. So then I just touched his hand gently, it was on my shoulder, and I just looked at him. They read off the "Attention to Orders," he bent down and he actually pinned it on me, and then he bent down and he gave me a hug and a kiss on my cheek. And I said, "That is just too--that's just amazing. Everything worked right there just to get a hug and a kiss from Denzel Washington."

Kathleen M. Scott:

Is he as good-looking in person as he is on TV?

Connie Rose Spinks:

Yes. I'm not lying. They do not have to do a thing to him. Those cameras don't have to do a thing. And you know what? I just looked cause he smelt so good. I don't know what he was wearing, but it was wonderful. He was saying how...he gave a little speech and everything...he said he was like a lot of actors and actresses. They're saying they're anti- war, anti-this-and-that. He was like, I'm not gonna take a side on that, but I am for the soldiers. He said, "I am gonna support you guys." He just gave a nice speech.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Do have you a picture of that? I'd love to get a photo, if you don't mind sending one.

Connie Rose Spinks:

I have several. Yeah, I will.

Kathleen M. Scott:

I've got a couple more questions. Not too much longer here. Clearly you were in a high-risk location over there in Mosul. I was just wondering how you respond to people that say women should not be in combat.

Connie Rose Spinks:

When they say women should not be in combat, honestly, the women [?] are already in combat. They don't have to be on the front lines, because there are no front lines. So many people have written articles that say-and I happen to agree with them, I have said, I give them kudos because there is no line. If you go out, anywhere that you go to, you have the opportunity to be attacked. So if you go overseas, period, you have that possibility. So since there are no front lines, and that's how they feel about it, that women shouldn't go over to Iraq or any other combat zone, but I personally feel that women can do anything-we can do anything we want to, anything that we put our minds to. It's harder, though.

I talked to a Marine who was injured. He said, "They had you on the SAW? We wouldn't have no female on the SAW." And I said, "Why? You don't think I could have handled it?" He said, "Not that. But we men, and especially the Marines, we would be worried more so for you than for anything else." He said we think of our mothers, we think of our grandmothers, our sisters and stuff. He said that would be a distraction right there. So I don't know. Possibly that's how other people feel as well. I feel that we can do anything. We jump out of planes together, we do all the training together, so I don't see anything wrong with it.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Do you have any regrets? Do you have any regrets about signing up that day after your birthday and heading out to basic training at Fort Jackson?

Connie Rose Spinks:

No, I don't. Because, like I said, everything happens for a reason, and maybe if I didn't go out that day, something else could have happened. So there was purpose behind it. And I've been blessed. I've truly been blessed. So I don't regret it. If I could do it all over, the only thing I would do differently was to shoot. That would be it. And if the accident-the truck would have kept rolling, or if it still would have happened, then I can't regret it. I wouldn't regret it.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Did you say, when we first talked, you're about to get out?

Connie Rose Spinks:

Yes, I am. I'm in the process of going through my medical board to become medically retired. I thought I could go for twenty years, but I guess six was long enough.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Now that you're getting out, what does it mean to you to have worn that uniform?

Connie Rose Spinks:

I admire and I respect anyone who can be in the military. Because it is a sacrifice. We have to demonstrate every day selfless service. We have to...there's a lot of responsibility. It's very demanding, and I definitely admire anyone who does. I was proud to have worn it. Sometimes I'd think! would want to stay in, because I wanted to go to air assault school. I had goals and plans and ambitions, but the fact that my unit's redeploying next year, and the fact that my mom and dad I don't think could handle it is the reason that I'm gonna get out. I don't want to put them through that. Even the idea, or the possibility, of going back over there I think would be too much for them to bear. So I have to respect that because, like I said, I'm family-oriented and I can't put my family through that stress.

Kathleen M. Scott:

You said your dad isn't too thrilled with what's going on over there. What is his position?

Connie Rose Spinks:

He thinks everyone needs to be withdrawn from Iraq. He feels like the reasons that Bush gave for going into the country anyway were not justified. My dad didn't feel like that's honestly what he even thought was the reason, as far as Bush. My dad said from the beginning, [Bush] knew that he wanted to go over there and get oil, so he's not happy about it.

Kathleen M. Scott:

In conclusion, tell me, Connie, what you've learned about yourself through all of this. Through all of this?

Connie Rose Spinks:

I didn't know I was sfrong. I never knew that...I knew I was pretty optimistic, I knew I was upbeat and I loved life and I loved people, but I never knew that even after so many bad things could happen and one person...you know they say one thing can spoil it for everyone, one bad apple ruins the bunch...I never knew that I wouldn't have any hostilities or resentment, that I would be able to move on and just enjoy life to the fullest, and that I'm not as weak as everyone else may think, or look at me as I am. I'm really not. And I never knew it, I really didn't. I never knew before. Even after completing airborne school and going to Korea and everything else, I never knew it. And now I do.

Kathleen M. Scott:

Is there anything else you'd like to add to this?

Connie Rose Spinks:

I can't think of anything now, offhand, I really can't. I definitely want more females to be encouraged. I definitely want them to know they're not alone, that anything and everything they go through, as far as in-country, and having to deal with officers, or the nationals, or just the ranks of the military, they're not alone. We all have been through it, but stay encouraged because in the end it's going to work out for your best, anyway.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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