on August 1, 2007 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Friends celebrate Pendleton woman’s return from Iraq

ANDERSON, S.C. (AP) _ In the last week and a half, Rebecca Gimenez’ life has undergone a metamorphosis.

Instead of having to wear a uniform every day, she picks out what she wants to wear.

She has access again to all of her favorite foods including deviled eggs and Waffle House hash browns.

And she gets to spend every day with her husband, Tomas.

Gimenez, who recently returned home to Pendleton after a yearlong tour of duty in Iraq, admits the changes have been overwhelming.

Even a trip to Sam’s Club the other night was an experience.

“I’ve forgotten what’s it’s like to have all this stuff,” Gimenez said.

The 39-year-old arrived home July 25 after serving on the largest military base in Iraq. In August, more than 30 friends gathered at the Gimenez 13-acre farm to celebrate her homecoming.

Since July 2006, Gimenez had been stationed about 40 miles northeast of Baghdad at Balad-Anaconda, the largest military base in Iraq.

After serving in Iraq, Gimenez said it’s apparent most Americans take their freedom of mobility for granted.

“People in Iraq aren’t able to leave their homes and go to the market not knowing if they are going to encounter a bomb,” she said. “We totally take that for granted.”

When she stepped off the plane about a year ago in Iraq, Gimenez admits she had her doubts.

It was a scorching 132 degrees, and she was dressed in full uniform, including boots and 80 pounds of gear. Things were so hot, personnel were instructed to put water on door handles before touching them.

But eventually she learned to adjust to the heat.

“They are hydrating us all the time,” she said. “If you say anywhere in the theater ‘I’m thirsty,’ they will take you to the nearest water cooler and make sure you have something to drink.”

Gimenez entered the ROTC in 1989 while attending Wofford College, a school with strong military roots.

“I’ve had an opportunity as a woman to do things most people don’t get an opportunity to do,” she said.

U.S. Army Maj. Mark Mellott, who met Rebecca during her one-year stint in Fort Bragg, N.C., described her as a nontraditional Army officer.

“Most people go into new situations fairly reserved, but she goes in chin out, pushing forward,” Mellott said. “It’s fun to watch her with people and watch her interaction with them … she’s hilarious and people want to work with her.”

Adjusting to life without Rebecca took some getting used to, but Tomas, who retired in December 2006 from Clemson University after 32 years of service at the school, said he maintained close contact through e-mails and telephone calls.

“For me, it wasn’t too bad,” Tomas Gimenez said. “I got used to living alone and developing a routine.”

Gimenez estimates she sent 10 e-mails a day to a mailing list of more than 350 people.

Besides the encouragement from friends and family, she received boxes of letters from complete strangers, she said.

“That was amazing,” she said.

She also drew strength from her military comrades, who would visit makeshift coffee shops on the base or even visit a nearby air field to watch takeoffs and landings at a nearby military base.

“We called it our Disney World,” Rebecca Gimenez said. “It may sound crazy, but it was our positive way of dealing with things.”

Whenever possible, she said the troops tried to create that close-to-home atmosphere.

At Christmas time, evergreen trees arrived at the base and at Easter a shipment of Peeps came in. A friend even mailed Gimenez a piece of a horse’s mane.

“You want to make it as much like home as you can,” she said.

In the short term, the couple plan to continue traveling the country providing technical large animal emergency rescue training to fire departments, veterinarians and law enforcement.

Rebecca Gimenez, who has a doctorate in animal physiology, also has aspirations of attending veterinary school.

“If I don’t do that, I’m sure I’ll stay busy with training,” she said. “I was worried that I might get bored when I got home, but I don’t think I’ll get bored.”