FORT KNOX, Ky. –
It was during the surge in Iraq when a mother in Alexandria, Virginia, wrote a letter to her deployed daughter. In it, she asked her not to call until she finished reading the entire letter where she explained why, at age 42, she was following her lifelong dream to join the Army.
Sgt. 1st Class Carol E. Newland, sexual assault response coordinator, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, said that she always wanted to give back to her country.
“I wanted to follow my dream of serving in the Army,” said the Kingston, Jamaica, native. “I wanted to do what most Americans don’t.”
When Newland wrote that letter to her daughter, she sent it to Iraq where her daughter was serving with the U.S. Army.
“She didn’t listen,” Newland explained. “She called me as she was reading the letter to tell me not to join the Army.”
Newland’s daughter, Stacy-Ann Smelser, even had her fellow Soldiers speak to her mom on the phone. They all told her not to do it.
“At first, I was mostly shocked that she enlisted,” Smelser said. “That was because I was in Iraq at the time, and knowing what I was experiencing there, no, I wasn’t too keen on her joining.”
Smelser was surprised by her mother’s decision to join, just as her mother was surprised by her choice to serve.
“I couldn’t imagine that my daughter would join the Army,” Newland said. “I thought she was going to go to college, but at 17 she asked me to sign for her to enlist.”
“Then when she left for Iraq, it really tugged at my heart to say goodbye,” Newland shared.
Smelser said she thought about going to college but decided to enlist in the Army because it had more to offer.
“I thought that with my track and field experience, I might be able to pursue that. I could also get experience and then go to college,” she said.
“I also wanted to give back to the country that has given me so much,” Smelser asserted.
Newland said that she was very proud that her daughter wanted to serve and give back to “this great country.” She also wanted to serve and was happy they raised the age requirement so that she could finally realize her dream.
“It is an honor and a privilege to serve,” Newland said.
Smelser said that once her mother was in the Army, she was very proud of her. “The Army has definitely blessed me and my family,” she said.
This mother-daughter duo has always shared a very close bond throughout their lives.
Newland explained how she was her daughter’s biggest fan when she played sports.
“I was always in the stands cheering the loudest,” Newland said. “She participated in track and field events, and I enjoyed being there.”
Smelser shared that she was very happy that her mom was able to be there for her, since a lot of parents don’t always have the opportunity to make it to every game or track meet.
“Now I am there cheering on my daughter at sporting events,” Smelser said.
Other memories that Smelser has from her youth include travelling with her mother.
“I am so thankful that my mom and I travelled a lot together. It allowed me to see what life is like for others and to be accepting of people from all walks of life,” Smelser said
“That is something that I like to do with my daughter too,” she said.
Their bond was strengthened even more when they were both assigned to the 101st Sustainment Brigade at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. They even deployed together to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in 2008.
“We celebrated my 21st birthday together in Afghanistan,” Smelser said. “We even lived together and shared meals. Well, she would cook, and I would eat,” she laughed.
Smelser said it was a unique experience serving in Afghanistan with her mom, and she was glad that she was there, especially during the tough times.
“We lost teammates in Afghanistan, and that was hard for all of us,” she said. “We leaned on each other for support.”
She shared that it didn’t matter what time it was. If they lost someone, they would line the streets in Bagram to pay their respects. Smelser knew how to deal with loss, having served in Iraq already, but having her mom there during this time was comforting.
Smelser left the Army and currently works as a project manager at the Food and Drug Administration where she ensures that medication manufactured in other countries is 100 percent effective and meets FDA standards.
“I get to see a lot of behind the scenes that other Americans don’t,” she shared.
The two may no longer be wearing the same uniform, but they equally take pride in each other’s accomplishments and will always share that bond of service.
“She continues to serve as a civilian employee now,” Newland said. “I am very proud of her.”
“I’m so proud that my mom followed her dreams,” Smelser said. “It worked out for her, and now I am very proud that she serves. She is like a blossom that bloomed into a flower,” said the daughter who once outranked her mother. “She is the rock of our family and I brag about her to everyone.”