Balancing Two Lives: Military and Civilian

ONE: Tesha Crawford, pausing at City College,
is ready to return to Army action.

Tesha Crawford has seen death in Iraq, as an Army X-ray technician treating U.S. soldiers and Iraqi prisoners. She has felt fear as bombs ripped into the prison compound, known the high anxiety of riding towards Baghdad in a non-bulletproof Humvee. She has coped with long separations from her husband, and interruptions of her college studies.

Yet graduating from City College was her "greatest challenge," and after 12 years, she has reached her goal. "It has been a long journey," Crawford, 30, said the day before her last exam, in biochemistry, her major. A day later, she would receive her diploma, keeping a promise she made to her grandmother.

On graduation day, May 29, the reservist fulfilled another pledge - to her country, returning to Army service for three days of training. Early next year, she expects to be sent to Afghanistan.

"It's hard for a person who's not in the military to understand that when you're called up for duty, you do not hesitate," says Crawford, who plans to serve 20 years, earn her pharmacy degree, and possibly, open her own pharmacy someday.

"I love the Army. I love that I actually am giving of myself," she says. The Army empowered Crawford, a naturalized citizen from Jamaica. She first enlisted as a CCNY student in 1999, two years out of Evander Childs High School in the Bronx. "I joined mainly for college tuition," she says.

She also sought the kind of structure she had experienced in her convent-school days in Jamaica.

Crawford trained as a military radiologic technologist, figuring it was a profession that could support her well in the civilian world. She was assigned to the 344th Combat Support Hospital based at Fort Totten, Queens.

She returned to CCNY in fall 2001; combat training followed. She took a leave from school in 2003, the same year she married fellow CCNY student Rodrick Crawford; she returned to college in 2004, and was deployed to Iraq in 2005 - to Abu Ghraib prison hospital, after the scandal over U.S. troops' abuse of prisoners there.

Crawford recalls her second day at Abu Ghraib: "We had a Marine. He was injured - they ran over an I.E.D. - an imploded explosive device ....We tried to assure him that everything was fine. And then, while I was performing the X-ray, his head just felt much heavier than before. I said, 'Okay, soldier,' and he was gone. It was my first experience with death. I started shaking, but I had no time to absorb what happened. The next wave of injured Iraqis came in."

During her year at Abu Ghraib, it was "bombed intermittently at least once a day," Crawford says. When one attack crippled the water supply, U.S. troops cut back to three-minute showers to save water for the Muslim prisoners who had to wash before prayer.

"Knowing you were rendering aid to them, it was mixed feelings," she says of the prisoners. "They would tell me they were innocent and they didn't belong there. At the same time, they were not afraid to let you know they would hurt you if they had the chance."

Crawford returned to the States in 2006, then spent time "preparing myself mentally, transitioning from deployment back to civilian." She was back at CCNY in spring 2007.

The support of professors, her husband, mother and grandmother helped her meet her goals. She has also been active in the City College Veterans Association, where vets can discuss concerns from post-traumatic stress syndrome to dealing with people on campus who "tend to have a disdainful attitude towards veterans," notes Crawford.

Crawford, who lives in Brooklyn, says her military experience has strengthened the Christian faith she shares with her husband, and boosted her confidence.

She quotes poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: "The heights by great men reached and kept / Were not attained by sudden flight, / But they, while their companions slept, / Were toiling upward in the night."

"I keep repeating that," Crawford says. "We were taught that in high school and it has always been with me.

"I came back with the attitude that there's nothing I can't do."