After serving at the Camp Eggers military base in Afghanistan for the past 10 months, U.S. Navy Reserve Petty Officer 2nd Class Vernetta Taylor is finally back home.
The Greenport resident — a former Air Force servicewoman who joined the reserves to travel the world and further her education — returned home last week from her deployment to a joyful reunion with her two adult daughters.
Ms. Taylor, 49, spoke with The Suffolk Times while in Virginia on her way back home and shared what it’s like to wear 70 pounds of battle gear, work with men half her age, and why she’s already scoping out her next deployment.
Q: You joined the Air Force right after high school. What made you want to rejoin the armed forces after all these years?
A: I got out and was doing various things. Carpentry, secretarial work. It got kind of slow, the economy on Long Island, and so four years ago I wondered if I could get back into the military. It would give me some security and I could go back to school.
I went to an [Air Force] recruiter, but I was past their age requirements. I didn’t want to go into the Marines or the Army so I said, “Why don’t I try the Navy?”
Q: Was there an age limit for the Navy?
A: Their cutoff happened to be … age 45, and I was about 44-and-a-half at the time. [laughs] I got in by the skin of my teeth.
Q: Who knew about your plans to rejoin the military?
A: I wouldn’t say it was a secret, but I didn’t want conflicts or anyone’s opinions coming in. Nobody knew what I was doing. Not one soul … When I was finally sworn in and I had made it I had [the Navy] take a picture of me getting sworn in, and that was how I showed it to them.
I said to my daughters, “Who’s that?” They were absolutely shocked.
Q: What is your role with the Navy Reserves?
A: I’m a Logistic Specialist, 2nd Class … In the reserves component, I would try to help out at the [Navy Operational Support Center]. It’s kind of low-key on the reserve side, so that’s why I wanted to do my deployment, to get a better idea of my career field.
Q: What was life on the base like?
A: Where I was, we sustained quite a few incidents, I’ll say, where we were under attack or where there were vehicles that would come in with improvised [explosive] devices under them. When that would happen the sirens would go off and we would have to don all this gear, and I tell you it’s 70 pounds of what we call “battle rattle …” [Then] you have to be back to your desk and do your work with all this gear on!
You can get somewhat complacent. They make accommodations on the base so you don’t feel too stressed out that you’re in a war zone. There’s a spa there, they have some shops, you can go get your hair done, your nails done. They have a movie theater, church service. They’ll have nights where they teach you dances like salsa or merengue or line dancing.
But when you have incidents like when a suicide bomb came through, that brings you back to reality … it feels like an earthquake. Just “boom” and everything shakes.
Q: Who did you work with on the base?
A: It was predominantly males. You work 12 hours a day so it becomes like a second family, and everybody’s talking. You hear everybody’s stories and this one guy is talking about his age and his kids and I said, “Am I the only one with old kids in here?” My daughters are in their 20s. They didn’t realize it until I told them.
They saw my daughters’ pictures on the wall and asked if those were my sisters. I said, “Sisters? Those are my daughters!” [laughs]. It was a great rapport.
Q: What other roles did you have on the base?
A: I was the victims’ advocate. They have a lot of sexual encounters on the base, women — military and civilians as well — who have issues with sexual abuse by their co-workers, so I was the advocate for them. My picture was all across the base … If any of them had issues, I was their first point of contact.
Q: Now that you’re back home, would you go back on another deployment to a different base?
A: Absolutely. I’ve actually been trying to see what’s out there. You have things in Kuwait, Qatar, all over the world. I want to travel. Five months in New York with the same people doing the same old thing? I’ll be ready to jump out of there again!