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Austin Peay State University’s ROTC has 20 combat veterans, meet their Iraq War veteran

 

Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, TN – On the night of the invasion, Christina Taylor drove a light-medium tactical vehicle from Kuwait to Camp Speicher. The drive was 30 to 34 hours, so she caught catnaps whenever possible. 

The convoy stopped to check directions, and Taylor’s noncommissioned officer in charge told her to rest. He’d wake her when the convoy was ready to move. 

Austin Peay State University ROTC cadet Christina Taylor served from 2003-04 in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a cook in the 104th Military Intelligence Battalion. (APSU)

“I woke up and didn’t see anybody,” Taylor said. “I looked over at my (NCO in charge) and he was out.”

Taylor’s vehicle and two other trucks missed the all-clear radio call and were separated from the rest of the convoy in a dark Iraqi neighborhood somewhere between Kuwait and Camp Speicher.

“We just hit that point of exhaustion,” she said. “I was thankful because we weren’t the only ones who had fallen asleep. I felt like we weren’t in this alone. 

“Soldiers learn to master sleeping with their eyes open or standing up.” 

Taylor served from 2003-04 in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a cook in the 104th Military Intelligence Battalion, and her fellow cadets at the Austin Peay State University (APSU) ROTC program treasure the stories she shares from the invasion. 

The cadets have plenty of stories to draw from. Twenty of the 117 cadets at Austin Peay State University have served in 41 combat tours. They wear the patches of the units they fought with on their right shoulders. 

Here are Taylor’s stories.

‘He wrote a little note that said I had a beautiful smile’ 

Fellow cadets treasure the stories Taylor, in blue, shares from her tour. (APSU)

Fellow cadets treasure the stories Taylor, in blue, shares from her tour. (APSU)

When Taylor arrived at Camp Speicher, there was nothing set up. Speicher was formerly an airfield, riddled with empty or destroyed buildings. Her company had to eat MREs for about a month and a half. 

“When we got there, we pulled up the containerized kitchen and served out of that for a few months, until we got a building up and running,” she said. “We personalized it to give people a sense of home. We had people coming from areas around Tikrit to our dining facility to come and eat because they heard we were the best.” 

Taylor also met her future husband at the dining facility.

Zachary Taylor drove colonels on base when he first met Christina.

“There were a lot of faces that came through, and I think his stood out more because he took the time to get to know me,” she recalled.

“He wrote a little note that said I had a beautiful smile and held it up to the window,” she said. “I didn’t know how to react. I turned bright red.

“He was actually a colonel’s driver, so they were always coming in late from missions they had outside the wire. I started making plates for them because they always came in late.”

She once accidentally stood him up.

“We had some sort of recreation building where we had movies and a pool table,” Taylor said. “They ended up calling it The Club. My husband asked me when we first met to go to The Club. I guess I had told him yes, but I never showed up. He was there waiting for me the whole time!”

‘My sister would find me everywhere. It was amazing’ 

Taylor is in a position of leadership for the first time in her military career at Austin Peay State University. (APSU)

Taylor is in a position of leadership for the first time in her military career at Austin Peay State University. (APSU)

Taylor and her two sisters, Chief Warrant Officer Mariana Cruz (the youngest) and Lillian Cruz (the middle sister), enlisted together. They were the first in their family to join the military.

“Mariana and I were the first to initiate,” Taylor said. “We ended up going to the recruitment office to enlist with the Marines around lunchtime and they weren’t there. Then the Army recruiters came out, and we told them were thinking about enlisting. They said, ‘Well, come over here, we have some great opportunities.’ So we went with them.”

Taylor was on her way to Tikrit while her sister, Mariana, was stationed in Saddam Palace.

“My sister would find me everywhere. It was amazing,” Taylor said. “It was like we had that invisible string connecting us. We’d park somewhere and there she was, in the desert, saying, ‘Oh hey! There’s 104!’” 

 


‘I had a couple of hard times in Iraq’

“What helped me cope was my husband and my family,” Taylor recalled. (APSU)

“What helped me cope was my husband and my family,” Taylor recalled. (APSU)

Taylor experienced severe trauma overseas that she still carries.

“I had a couple of hard times in Iraq,” she said. “I was sexually assaulted. I always kept it in. I never let it be known. I never went after that person.

“What helped me cope was my husband and my family,” Taylor recalled. “Talking about it when I was in Germany. I was an art teacher for an all-girls club, and we ended up talking about real-life issues, and I shared my story.”

‘That kind of leadership is what I like’

“I feel like I’m going to be that leader that likes to be with the soldiers, mentoring, answering any questions," Taylor, at left, said. (APSU)

“I feel like I’m going to be that leader that likes to be with the soldiers, mentoring, answering any questions,” Taylor, at left, said. (APSU)

Taylor is in a position of leadership for the first time in her military career at Austin Peay State University. She is excited for the opportunity to mold younger cadets on campus.

A recent field training exercise at Fort Campbell gave her opportunities to lead by example.

“I’m starting to get out of my shell,” she said. “I think surrounding myself with alpha females, I’m starting to pull that ‘Hey, don’t be afraid to correct somebody.’”

In a recent land navigation exercise, Taylor gave APSU cadets tips on how to quickly plot the points they needed.

“That kind of leadership is what I like,” she said. “I feel like I’m going to be that leader that likes to be with the soldiers, mentoring, answering any questions. I like to approach people in a respectful manner because I wouldn’t want to have somebody come up to me sideways.”

Taylor is also a devoted mother. She believes that anybody can tackle new challenges, no matter what responsibilities they have. She has embraced her new responsibilities at Austin Peay State Unviersity.

Taylor has an associate degree in graphic design and is pursuing a degree in history. She is in charge of a newsletter detailing ROTC accomplishments. She also takes pictures at ceremonies, events and labs, and she’s a full-time student.

“The faculty members are so accommodating,” Taylor said. “They know our situation and provide us with different solutions to be successful in their class.”

Taylor wants to become a public affairs officer. “That’s the dream job.”

Twenty of the 117 cadets at Austin Peay State University have served in 41 combat tours. (APSU)

Twenty of the 117 cadets at Austin Peay State University have served in 41 combat tours. (APSU)

Austin Peay State University ROTC’s combat veterans 

  • Richard Davenport – former staff sergeant – one combat tour.
  • Dustin Hinkle – former sergeant first class – four combat tours.
  • Herman Jex – former staff sergeant – two combat tours.
  • Stephen Kiesel – former staff sergeant – two combat tours.
  • Zachary Labas – former sergeant first class – five combat tours.
  • Jeffrey Mackie – former sergeant – one combat tour.
  • Zachary Miller – former staff sergeant – two combat tours.
  • Miran Murphy – former sergeant – two combat tours.
  • Ryan Nanzer – former staff sergeant – two combat tours.
  • Marshall Newman – former sergeant first class – five combat tours.
  • Damion Powell – former staff sergeant – one combat tour.
  • Adriel Ruiz-Rodriguez – former staff sergeant – one combat tour.
  • Katherine Sheffey – former sergeant – one combat tour.
  • Thomas Strait – former staff sergeant – three combat tours.
  • Ross Barber – former sergeant – one combat tour.
  • Daniel Cole – former sergeant first class – two combat tours.
  • Brandon Dickinson – former staff sergeant – one combat tour.
  • Walter Higbee – former staff sergeant – two combat tours.
  • Matthew Stauss – former staff sergeant – two combat tours.
  • Christina Taylor – former specialist – one combat tour.

 


To learn more 

To learn more about the Austin Peay State University Governors Guard ROTC program, go to apsu.edu/rotc/


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