A favorite childhood pastime has led a young Dedham woman to the deserts of Iraq, where she lives in a concrete bunker, repairs Humvees for the U.S. Army and watches CNN to keep up with the news.
Kristy Decesere was one of the lucky members of the 101st Airborne Division to get a two-week pass home for the holidays. She will return to her platoon in northern Iraq on Jan. 3 and, like so many of her military peers, will begin counting down in earnest to the day when she can come home to stay.
“We all miss home,” the 21-year-old Ellsworth High School graduate said during a recent interview. “Everyone is so excited to get out of there. A year is a long time to be in a foreign country.”
Especially a foreign country where not everyone is happy to see you, you live under armed guard at all times, and the best entertainment of the day is playing Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004 on the XBox video game system.
“It’s been a major learning experience,” said Decesere of her stint in the Army, which ends next October. “I’ve been able to do so much I wouldn’t have done otherwise.”
Decesere, an only child, often hung out with her father as a girl, watching and helping him work on his vehicles.
“I used to help my dad. I thought it was neat. I wanted to learn,” she said.
Her fascination with mechanics deepened after training to be a mechanic for the Army. She plans to come home to Dedham, study mechanics at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor and someday run her own repair shop.
Decesere smiled as she talked about how some of the Iraqi men who help repair Army vehicles at her base often scurry over to her and take the wrenches out of her hand, shaking their heads and saying, “No, no, no.”
It’s not too surprising, Decesere said, from men who, when asked how many children they have, don’t count their daughters.
“They are really fun and really hardworking people,” Decesere said of the Iraqi civilians who help the Army mechanics keep up with the workload, which is overwhelming sometimes.
“They’ll take the wrenches right out of my hand,” she said. “Sometimes I say, ‘OK,’ and sometimes I say ‘No, I’ll do it.'”
What does she do when she surrenders her tools to the men?
“I watch and make sure they do it right,” she said, smiling again.
Decesere’s Christmas flight home lasted about 18 hours. A highlight of the trip, other than the happy homecoming at Bangor International Airport with her parents and friends, was the stop in Baltimore on her way north.
“When we walked through one of the [airport] doors, we heard ‘U-S-A! U-S-A!'” she recalled. “Members of the VFW were cheering so hard and handing out presents. I got phone cards, cookies and gift cards. I was on the verge of crying. It was so amazing that people cared that much to do that.”
Decesere never intended to make the military a career. She was unsure what she wanted to do after high school, and surprised her parents when she joined the Army in November 2001.
She does not fear for her life in Iraq, despite the turmoil and uncertainty there. She grew used to mortar attacks during her stay in Kuwait before driving through Iraq late in the spring. They no longer scare her.
She is glad for the experience she has had in the Middle East and all the friends she has made in the Army.
But home is home, and she’s ready to return.
“I miss it,” she said. “It’s a good place.