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The 2nd Lieutenant

Letís Have A Ball!

2nd Lt Julia Mulqueen, USA
MSM Class of 2012

(9/2012) Despite my being currently assigned to Fort Lee, VA, I find myself making preparations to go back to Mount Saint Maryís. I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed, reading countless posts about returning to school, and my mind wanders into thinking about the details of fall courses and school supplies. Then I catch myself. I have to shake my head and remind myself that I have graduated from college, and therefore, will not return to Mount Saint Maryís for some time. What an inexplicable feeling that is! I cannot believe my college education has finally come to an end.

With that end comes a new beginning. Instead of moving back to Emmitsburg, I will move to Hawaii. The other day the movers came to my humble hotel room and began packing up my unaccompanied baggage. It wasnít much to pack, just a bicycle, a printer, and some books. As I sat cross-legged on my bed, watching the movers wrap up my things, I found myself strangely comforted by the screech of the packing tape as the movers pressed it onto my boxes.

I was comforted because the sound reminded me of the countless times movers came to pack my things when I was a little girl. Every time they came, I knew we were moving. Every time, I knew fresh adventures awaited me in an unexplored land. So instead of feeling upset or unsure like I imagined I would, I feel excited and ready to move to Hawaii.

As I write this, I have only 3 weeks until I hop on a plane. These past few months have been incredible. I could not have imagined how much I would learn or how many amazing people I would meet. The Army has immersed me in its customs and traditions, and I remember on a daily basis why I joined this great organization.

For example, just a few weeks ago, we celebrated the 70th birthday of the US Army Transportation Corps, and what is a celebration without a party and cake? Because itís the Army, we had a military ball in honor of the Transportation Corpsí 70 years. Military balls are one of my favorite traditions of the Army. They offer an opportunity to socialize with all sorts of officers and noncommissioned officers. The Transportation ball was a perfect place to meet fellow leaders within my branch.

The ball was on a Thursday evening at dinnertime. All students from my Basic Officer Leader Course attended. We were dressed to the nines in our Army Service Uniforms. The ball was held in a club called the Lee Club on Fort Lee. I stepped inside, patent-leather feet first, and took a glance around. The outside of the building looked like a tiny, white, clapboard mansion. The inside was even more charming, with a staircase covered in warm red and golden carpet rising to the second floor and mahogany accents throughout.

The waiters ushered us into a room with high ceilings and windows for walls. We grabbed drinks and began socializing as we waited for the opportunity to walk through the receiving line. It was exciting to meet people from my future unit, the 25th ID, and discuss the ins and outs of Hawaii.

Soon it was time to walk through the receiving line to meet the distinguished guests of the ball. I glided up the staircase and made my way toward the line. As I got closer, my palms started to sweat and my heart began skipping beats. I suddenly felt awkward and gangly, no longer graceful and professional, as I walked closer to the high-ranking officers in the line. Fortunately, before we shook hands, I had to use hand sanitizer. I knew I could blame my cold and clammy palms on the anti-bacterial gel instead of nerves.

I stepped up to the start of the line and extended my hand. Each person was incredibly nice, including the female three-star general whose hand I shook. I should make note, her hand was neither cold nor clammy. She must be used to meeting people by now! As quickly as the meeting started, it ended. I worked my way back downstairs, almost crashing into some Army major sprinting toward the ballroom.

The bell rang and the wait staff ushered us into the dining room to take our seats and prepare for dinner. The MC introduced himself and began to lay down the rules.

"First of all, there will be no loud noises," he said. Suddenly, the people at the table next to us shot off party poppers and blew noisemakers. Unperturbed, the MC said, "Secondly, there will be no raucous conduct." Again the table next to me interrupted him. This time they shouted, "I thought this was a birthday party?!" I was horrified, until I realized everyone in the dining room was laughing. The Army major I had seen sprinting earlier was actually working the ball, and he had directed them to make noise and shout. Just one more tradition, I suppose!

After the MC introduced the distinguished guests of the ball, the same generals I had met in the receiving line, he explained the tiny round table in the front of the room. It is tradition at Army events to set a table for our fallen Soldiers. Each object on the table has meaning. For example, the glass is turned upside down to symbolize the fact that our fallen comrades can no longer participate in our festivities. There is a lemon wedge on the table to symbolize their bitter fate. Our MC explained the objects, and we bowed our heads as we offered a moment of silence.

Our chaplain delivered the invocation, and the wait staff then began serving our meals. Because I adore meat, I had chosen the filet mignon when I purchased my ticket. Naturally, it was excellent. The wait staff came back to our table and cleared our plates in preparation for the guest speaker.

The MC called up none other than the female three-star general I had met earlier in the receiving line. I was so excited to hear her speak and see what words of wisdom she had to offer us. It is no small accomplishment to make the rank of general officer, especially as a female. She is one of four female three-star generals in the US Army! Her name is Lieutenant General Kathleen M. Gainey, and her speech was truly inspiring. She talked about various tips to put in our Army "toolboxes." In the Army, Soldiers frequently refer to toolboxes. Putting something in oneís toolbox is a metaphor for remembering it and using it later.

General Gainey really emphasized the need to take time out for families. I was happy to hear this, because sometimes it is daunting as a woman to think about having a family and staying in the Army. Knowing that she was able to do it and still lead troops effectively put my mind at ease. She helped me see that anything is possible. So if I fall madly in love with someone, but remain madly in love with the Army and leading soldiers, then maybe I can have the best of both worlds after all.

General Gainey ended her speech with an invitation, "Iíll see you on the dance floor!" And she was serious. Once they retired the colors, she promptly stepped out on the dance floor and started the festivities. Meanwhile, the waiters began serving the birthday cake in honor of Transportation Corpsí 70th birthday. I quickly grabbed a bite, and then made my way over to the dance floor. I learned something about military balls and dancing that night. I learned that only the lieutenants, colonels, and generals dance. The lieutenants are too young to know better. The colonels and generals are too brave to care otherwise. I busted a move alongside my buddies and the generals, dancing to the electric slide and the Macarena in turn.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. The dancing slowed and the people dispersed. My friends and I made our way to the exit, waving goodbye to our newly met colleagues. The Transportation Ball was certainly a highlight of my time here at Fort Lee. I absolutely love the traditions of the Army, especially this one.

As I said, all good things must come to an end, including the Transportation Basic Officer Leader Course. In just two weeks, I will fly to Oahu to officially begin my career. I do not know what awaits me, but I am sure it will be an exciting new adventure. After these past four months of training at Fort Lee, I feel ready to make the move to Hawaii and start leading soldiers. I am ready to move out completely on my own, and mostly, Iím ready to learn how to surf. Aloha all! See you in the Pacific!

Read other articles by Julia Mulqueen