Stevens carries stories, memories that set her apart

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sherri Stevens doesn’t consider herself a war veteran.

The 25-year-old Copiah-Lincoln Community College student studying microcomputer technology likens herself to a chameleon in the crowd. She rarely talks about her war experience with her peers, and when she does, she speaks with wisdom beyond her years.

“You can’t really spot the Iraq veterans so well because we blend in and we’re so young,” Stevens said. “I tend to forget sometimes that I’m a veteran, but I never forget that I went.”

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Stevens enlisted in the U.S. Army at 17 to escape Mississippi’s foster care system, and was later deployed with the 400th Quartermaster Company of Maysville, Ky., to Camp Anaconda in Balad, Iraq in 2005.

Camp Anaconda, one of the largest American military bases in Iraq, is often to referred to as “Mortaritaville” because several mortar rounds and RPGs were fired there every day.

“I wasn’t on the front lines shooting people, but it was the behind the scenes stuff that really bothered me,” Stevens said. “It was really hard to come home … to adjust and get back to a civilian lifestyle.”

Alarms at Camp Anaconda usually warned soldiers of attacks, but one day in October 2005 — one month after Steven’s deployment — the alarms malfunctioned.

“Explosions were going off and you could see stuff flying everywhere,” Stevens said with tears in her eyes. “One of my battle buddies had shrapnel puncture her lungs and slice through her legs and feet.

“I went back to my trailer that night, and that’s when I decided to write a letter to my (biological) family … I told them that I loved them despite the differences we had in the past.”

Stevens stowed away photos of brothers Joey and Zackary, sister Mandilyn and a copy of the Serenity Prayer in her pocket. The small treasures were her greatest comforts.

“It kept me sane and helped me remember what I’m fighting for,” Stevens said.

Working in the supply yard on the base, Stevens said Iraqi civilians often taunted her by shouting profanities or throwing items in her direction.

But there were also Iraqi civilians who confided in Stevens about their hopes and dreams for freedom and democracy.

“These young males … they believed in our lifestyle and culture more than their own,” Stevens said. “Hearing their stories made me agree more with why we’re over there. Everybody deserves to be who they want to be.”

Stevens was discharged in 2006, turned her focus to education and earned a degree in business and marketing from Co-Lin. Today, she is a member of the 321st Sustainment Brigade of the U.S. Army Reserve in Baton Rouge.

She meets with a counselor once a week to talk about her war experiences, giving her the strength to press forward.

“I’ve done what I can do for my country, but I want my life back,” Stevens said.

“I’ve earned my right to get an education and I’m trying to get all that I can out of it.”

Stevens said Veterans Day means more to her now than ever before. This year she will commend all veterans with a simple, but meaningful formality.

“I have respect for anybody who’s been anywhere, and you exchange respect without even speaking,” Stevens said. “With the shake of a hand and a nod of the head, you know you have respect, and it’s a different kind of respect I can’t explain.”