For many college students the sort of things they have to worry about involve passing their exams, not drinking too much or how they are possibly going to pay off their student loans after graduation. For one Castleton State College student, the things she had to worry about become much bigger in 2007 during her sophomore year. Half way through spring semester Heather Slater was called to serve in Afghanistan. She had decided to join the Army Reserves because she was nervous about college and didn’t know what to do. She had hoped though that she would have been able to finish college before she got deployed, however that didn’t happen.
Getting deployed was difficult as she had to say goodbye to her family and friends and being gone for a year delayed her graduation date between a year and a year and a half. Slater’s friend and teammate Carisa Chadburn said that Slater leaving was hard for her and the the soccer team as they were then short a player who was mature and had a lot of experience.
In March, Slater went for basic training and by July she was in Afghanistan. She worked as a military police officer at a secret facility in Bagram. When she wasn’t working 12-hour days, dealing with prisoners, she played soccer and went to the gym.
It wasn’t all about the war while she was there though. Slater got to experience the parts of Afghanistan that are rarely showed by the media. She got to know the locals on and off the base. The military hired locals to work on the base so they could learn a skill and make a living and Slater said she “became very close with the guys who cleaned the bathroom, we even exchanged gifts.” She also got involved with humanitarian things, which she said was her favorite part about being in Afghanistan. Among the things she did, Slater worked with kids, giving them toys and clothes as part of Operation Care, which is an organization that helps people in Afghanistan. The humanitarian aspect was a good life experience for Slater who is double majoring in social work and sociology.
While she was there she received a care package from the CSC soccer team that Chadburn said contained “the new warm ups with her name, and a ball, and let Slater know her number was being held.” She also received letters from Rutland Elementary School students, courtesy of Slater’s FYS Professor Tom Rutkowski. Both Chadburn and Rutkowski also made sure to keep in touch with Slater via email although Rutkowski said, “Slater’s responses had to be very vague.”
After being in Afghanistan for a year, Slater returned home in July of 2008. Glad to be back she felt “being there for a year felt very long, you miss out on a lot and miss people”. Chadburn says that Slater “is making up for lost time and is always out catching up with the friends she was apart from.”
Slater feels that her time in Afghanistan made her more patient and tolerant and feels like she has a lot of free time here. Although there is no telling how long that free time will last as Slater’s unit is getting deployed to Iraq around later 2009, early 2010. When asked how she felt about going she said she “gets pulled in different directions and wants the experience,” but she would like to finish college first.