B United: Ellie Pugel, U.S. Army

MEET ELLIE! She and her husband (a sailor in the Navy) have spent more than half of their relationship long distance, as they serve our country on deployments. Thank you for your service and for sharing your story with us!

Name: Ellie Pugel

Age: 23

Hometown: Bellevue, WA

Family: I’m married to a sailor in the Navy with two dogs!

Branch: Army

Job Title: Engineer Officer

Enlist Date: commissioned June 2019

What motivated you to join the military? I missed team sports and wanted a community that was similar to a team.

Are or were any of your family members in the military? Yes both of my Grandpas served

Why did you choose this branch? I chose army engineering for the applicability towards my BS in Environmental Science. They both involve developing project management skills.

What are some things you miss most about home when you are deployed? Cooking, my own food, being with my family, having a space that’s my own.

What are some of the biggest challenges of being a woman in the military? Respect has to be earned and it is not assumed that you are equipped for your job level.

How do you stay in shape? I lift weights and run.

B United: Cara Leaf, US Air Force

When I asked Melissa Dixon, last month’s B United featured soldier, if she knew any bada** women I could send a healthy care package to, without hesitation, she exclaimed, “CARA LEAF!” :) I am honored to share part of these women’s stories with you. Thank you for everything you do for our country and for blazing the trail for future generations of courageous women.

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1.   Name: Cara Leaf

2.   Age: 26

3.   Hometown: Aurora, Colorado

4.   Family (significant other, children and their ages, fur babies, etc): Husband (Alex) and my cat Winston

5.   Branch: Air Force

6.   Job Title: Sexual Assault Response Coordinator

7.   Job Description: I work with/advocate for victims of sexual assault. This includes the prevention piece- teaching about what leads to sexual assault and how to support survivors. This is a huge push in the military right now. I will be in the job during my deployment and then I will transition back to my normal job (food, fitness, lodgining- the funs stuff!). 

8.   Enlist Date: I commissioned on 2 June 2016

9.   What motivated you to join the military? An interest in doing something bigger than myself. I remember what 9/11 felt like when I was younger. I was only in third grade and very confused. Deployments are necessary because they help keep the war away from home instead of in the U.S.

10.Are or were any of your family members in the military? If so, who and what branch?My dad and grandfather were in the military and my sister, brother-in-law, and husband are in as well. All Air Force.

11.Tell me a little about your time in bootcamp.Long story but I have been through it three times! It always starts out feeling impossible and then it becomes easier and easier. Just a mental game.

12.Where have you traveled to while in the service?All over! Poland, South Korea, the Middle East.

13.What are some things you miss most about home when you are deployed?Hanging out with my husband at home! Cooking dinner with him, watching tv, going to costco. All the simple things!

14.Which medals or citations are you most proud to have earned and why? I have only been in 3 years but I have been proud of what I have earned so far. I earned a Commendation medal for PCSing.

15.What rank are you most proud to have earned and why?I am a First Lieutenant and have automatic promotions until Major. I am proud of commissioning and graduating from the Air Force Academy. Becoming a second lieutenant was hands down the best day of my life.

16.What are some of the biggest challenges of being a woman in the military? Balancing who I think I should be with who I want to be. There is a fine line in leadership where a female is either “the mom” or the “mean girl”. It’s hard to accept that and what people say about you. 

17.Tell me about some of the special people you have met. I have met a lot of amazing people with truly inspiring stories! I think my favorite one has been Holocaust survivors. There stories were hard to hear! It was so sad to hear them share the losses of their children, spouses, and friends. Knowing they could get through something like that pushed me to look at my own life.

18.Do you plan to retire in the military? Or what are your post-military plans? I would love to stay in the military 20 years and retire. I know you can’t plan life so I am going with the flow right now.

19.How has your service and experiences affected your life? The service has really shaped me. It has helped me branch out to do things I never thought I would. It pushes me to go farther. I have traveled to different countries, took water survival (even though I hate swimming), jumped out of an airplane 5 times on my own, and pushed my physical and mental abilities.

20.What do you like to do for fun? I am from Colorado so I love to hike! Running has also become a passion of mine (partly because I love to cook and bake too much!).

21.How do you stay in shape? I run!I have really been focusing on fitness on my deployment.

22.What makes you feel strong? Pushing my mental and physical abilities. Sometimes I go to the gym thinking “I will just do a quick 20 minute workout because I am tired” and then I get there and do way more than I thought I could! That makes me feel strong.

23.Favorite part of your job: Seeing how caring people are. My job can be tough emotionally but people do care and want to help.

24.Any additional comments or things you would like to share with readers? Smile- life is good!

B United - Jori Wiskow, US Army

I am SO EXCITED to share this beautiful, intelligent, and STRONG woman’s story. She has more wisdom, life experience and class at age 22 than some gain in a lifetime. I had the pleasure of meeting her mother over social media - and after we met for coffee and I learned that her daughter, Jori, was deployed overseas, I put one of my healthy care packages in the mail to her and asked if I could feature her in my B United project!

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1.    Name: Jori Wiskow

2.    Age: 22    

3. Hometown: Prior Lake, MN

4.    Family: Oh goodness, are you ready for this? Dad (Mike), Step mom (Nicole), Mom (Kari), Step dad (Matt), my sisters Kaci (who is the mom of the CUTEST soon-to-be 1 year old girl), Cami, and Lexi. Step siblings Bri, Jordan (step bro with the same name, how lovely), Ali, and Brando. My boyfriend and his daughter have also been an amazing support system while I have been overseas.

5.    Branch: Army

6.    Job Title: Human Resources Specialist (42A)

7.    Job Description: I work with personnel files and information. Including things like birth certificates, marriage certs, transcripts, awards, advancements and promotions, flags (which is what we call it when someone does something wrong and it goes it their record). I also track the movement of personnel in Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East. I have a Secret Security Clearance which allows me to access different sites in order to do this. 

8.    Enlist Date: 20 August, 2014

9.    What motivated you to join the military? The dad and my grandpa inspired me. My dad served in the Army during the first Gulf War in the early 90’s. He was stationed in Germany for the majority of his career. My grandpa was a Marine, and he never let anyone forget it. The kindest soul I knew but also probably the biggest badass up until he passed away last March. 

10.Why did you choose this branch? I chose the Army because I felt I could make the biggest impact here. I felt that, though I knew it would be difficult, the challenge would teach me a lot of myself and breaking through those limits you subconsciously make for yourself. 

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11.Tell me a little about your time in boot camp. Well, basic training sucked… I’ll just be blunt with you. I always say “It was the most fun I would never want to have again,” and that pretty much sums it up.  I got to experience things at 18, though, that many people won’t experience throughout their entire life. When we first got there, we were issued our weapons and it was the first time I had ever held an M16. The first two weeks were the worst. Basically the Drill Sergeants are awful because they’re weeding out the weak. They break you down so they rebuild you into a Solider. The advice I was given by my dad was if the Drills don’t know who you are, that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, or fortunately, that didn’t last very long for me. I was the only female throughout my cycle to score a perfect 300 on the Physical Fitness test. My Senior Drill Sergeant quickly noticed the leadership potential in me and referred to me as the Super Soldier for pretty much the whole cycle. I was names the guidon bearer for our Platoon, and held the honor up until we graduated. The most challenging part of the whole thing for me was the ruck march at the very end of the 11 weeks. We had spent a week in the field, no showers or bathing other than the baby wipes and water bottles we had brought along with us, and had to march back 12 miles in the middle of the night. During the march I kept saying to myself, “Remember why you’re here,” over and over again. Those words, and the thought that I would be seeing my family again in a week or so, kept me going and helped to make it all worthwhile.

12.Where have you traveled to while in the service? The Army brought me from Minnesota to Arizona, where my Guard unit mobilized to Afghanistan through Ft Bliss, TX. I was also sent to school at Fort Jackson, SC, which is where my basic training and AIT took place as well, just before our mobilization last summer. I’ve been through Germany and Kuwait before finally getting to Afghanistan.

13.What are some things you miss most about home when you are deployed? The hardest part of being deployed for me is missing my usual routine and having to establish a new normal. The time change is tough, being about 11 hours ahead of everyone you love isn’t easy and makes communication a real challenge. I miss my niece more than anything. She turns one on Feb 11thand I’ve missed quite a few milestones since I’ve been away. My sister sends me lots of pictures and videos of her, but it still doesn’t equate to being there and holding her and watching her big blue eyes take in the world with wonder. I can’t wait to kiss her squishy face when I get home!

14.Which medals or citations are you most proud to have earned and why? Because of my ability to take charge, I was awarded an Army Achievement Medal at the end of basic training. It was a great feeling knowing my hard work had been recognized and acknowledged. 

15.What rank are you most proud to have earned and why? I know it’s hard to believe, but getting my time in service and time in grade waived during my basic training days to be pinned E3 was probably the most memorable advancement to me. Ask me the same question once I get pinned E5, though; I’m sure the answer will change.

16.What are some of the biggest challenges of being a woman in the military? Being a woman in a primarily male dominated profession is always a challenge, but being a female in an Infantry Battalion is a whole different story. In a Battalion of almost 400 people, we have less than 20 females, all of which are either medics, admin personnel (like myself), or intel workers. The spotlight is always on us in some shape or form, which has both its benefits and its drawbacks. For the most part, though, we’re like a big family. We all take care of each other like brothers and sisters, because we are all each other have while we’re overseas.

17.Tell me about some of the special people you have met.The military has brought me lifelong friends. I still keep in contact with people from basic training and the school I was sent to before we deployed. My friends Anna and Jasmine who I met in basic and AIT are both still in the military. Jasmine, who lives in Idaho, went OCS and is now a 2ndLieutenant, and Anna is in the Kentucky National Guard. The friends I met in training before mobilizing are doing various things: some are deployed to Iraq or did a quick tour in Kuwait, and some are back at their units in the States. A few of the marines I trained with are stationed in Okinawa and hearing about how their experiences differ from mine is pretty cool.

18.Do you plan to retire in the military? Or what are your post-military plans? I plan on staying in for as long as I can. The military has great benefits that pretty much get better the longer you stay in. I plan on finishing my Communications degree online when I get home, and have been fortunate enough to have gotten invited to attend an awesome Police Academy in Arizona. 

19.How has your service and experiences affected your life? The military has taught me to work hard for everything I want and that nothing comes easy. It has motivated me to become a harder worker and an all-around stronger person. The part about the military members don’t usually talk about is who they’ve lost along the way. A few of my friends from basic have passed away over the last four years, and one of the marines I trained with before my deployment was killed this past fall. Losing friends is a part of what we signed up for. It’s part of fighting for this country and you have to be able to recognize and accept that some of your friends might not make it home from their tour. You also have to recognize and accept that you, yourself, may not get home either. I think the most surreal experience I have had throughout my military career was sitting down with my mom before I deployed and talking to her about the wishes I have for my funeral if I were to be killed. That’s not usually something a 22 year old sits down with their mother to talk about. 

20.What do you like to do for fun? For fun at home, you can find me hiking in upstate Arizona, going out with my girlfriends in Oldtown Scottsdale, or spending time with my boyfriend. I love to go on weekend trips to visit my sister, niece, and brother in law in San Diego. Here, I occupy what little free time I do have with going to the gym, finding new series on Netflix, or reading. Right now I am in the middle of the book 13 Hours.

21.How do you stay in shape? I am at the gym at least 6 days a week here in Afghanistan; at home it’s more like 5 days a week. I train legs 2-3 times per week, and work upper body in some shape or form the rest of the days. I run at least 4 days a week, anywhere from 3-4 miles. I just began training for a half marathon, however, so my running routine is about to become much more tedious. My diet consists of pretty much a little bit of everything. I don’t like to restrict myself from eating certain things; I believe everything is okay in moderation.  

22.What makes you feel strong? Being in Afghanistan is kind of like the movie Groundhog’s Day. Every day is the same (with the exception of a few things). When you get into a routine like that, it often times feels like what you’re doing doesn’t have an impact. Sometimes I have to sit back and remind myself that this is a field only 1-2% of the American population works in. I have to remind myself that not many women can do this job or live this lifestyle. This is uncommon. This is unique. I am uncommon and unique. That makes me feel strong. That makes me feel like I’m making an impact not only in my Unit, but in the lives of people back home. 

23.Favorite part of your job: The best part of being a Human Resources Specialist in the Army for me is watching career progression in Soldiers. We quality check promotion packets each year and getting to see people move up in this field is awesome for me. I love helping people and being that person they go to for questions about certain things. I get calls from 1stSergeants and Commanders asking me questions and for my advice on who should be given the chance to promote and who, by regulation, should maybe wait another year. It’s a great feeling knowing you’re appreciated and get to be there for the battalion at the same time.