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Army mom graduates at top of basic training class


FORT HOOD, Texas - As a mom, a grandmother and an owner of a construction company, Pfc. Terrill Stewart wears many hats. Now one of them just happens to be a beret.

Stewart graduated basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., Oct. 14. At 40 years old, she not only graduated, she was selected as the 'Soldier of the Cycle' for her company. Her son, Spc. Garret Good -- a driver for the command sergeant major of 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team -- was able to be on hand at her graduation.

Stewart takes the honor very seriously, since joining the Army has always been a goal for her.

"I have always wanted to join the military since I was very young," Stewart said in a telephone interview. "But I had small children and was working several jobs to support my family. So by the time I really could join, I was 36 and deemed too old by the Army standards to enlist. When I heard that they had raised the age limit for recruits I took that as a personal sign that I was supposed to join the Army. This was the time."

With the help of her son, Stewart came to basic training at Fort Jackson with a good understanding of the expectations. She found herself comfortable with the Army's standards of discipline and familiar with some of the military training exercises.

"My favorite part of basic was the combat live-fires and my least favorite part was when I had to wear a MOPP (mission-oriented protective posture) suit while digging my hasty fighting position. It made me feel a little claustrophobic," Stewart said.

Though the experience was totally new to her, she not only adapted very quickly to the foreign environment but found herself excelling. She began to understand that the maturity and discipline she already possessed would prove very valuable during her entry level Army training.

"Being an older Soldier made basic training not as difficult as I imagine it was for the younger Soldiers," she said. "Being a mom and an owner of a company teaches you a lot of things about responsibility and accountability, lessons that some of these younger Soldiers hadn't been exposed to. I could see how they had to be broken in by the drill sergeants. It was rewarding to see them grow, though, because it is a life process that doesn't happen overnight."

Stewart also shared how difficult it was to make the decision to enlist during this time of war.

"I hate to put my family through the emotional stress of not having me there at home with them," Stewart said. "I know that there is a possibility that I might go to Iraq, but my son has already agreed that if I were to be deployed, he would get a transfer to my unit so that we could be together. It sounds strange, but at least we would be able to keep tabs on each other and have a little home away from home."

Stewart had some thoughtful advice for women with goals to succeed.

"Always do what you feel is right in your heart," Stewart advised. "If you dream about being somewhere or doing something, then make it a reality, because there's nothing worse then looking back at a life wasted with regret."

Stewart is presently in advanced individual training at Fort Jackson to become a legal specialist. After her training is complete, she will be assigned to the 405th Civil Affairs Battalion, an Army Reserve unit in Pleasant Grove, Utah.

(Pfc. Sheena Williams serves with 1st Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs, 1st Cavalry Division.)

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