Deployed twice overseas as a member of the U.S. Army Reserve, Marietta resident Sue Lambert learned the differences between people in different nations aren't always as great as they seem.
Preparing to go to Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Storm, Lambert was instructed not to talk to the men in the country, where women must wear a headscarf and robe in public and cannot travel, get married or enroll in college without a male relative's permission. Female soldiers weren't allowed to drive off the base, and they had to wear shirts to cover their bathing suits at a nearby resort unless they were in the women's section, recalled Lambert, 65.
But when she was at a store one evening in Al Khobar, without even thinking about it, Lambert complimented a Saudi father on how beautiful his two young daughters were.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Wearing the hat she got while serving in the U.S. Army Reserve during Operation Desert Storm, Marietta resident Sue Lambert discusses the plaque she received when she retired from the West Virginia Army National Guard six years ago.
"He just looked at me and said, 'Thank you,'" Lambert said. "I wasn't supposed to talk to him, but I gave him a compliment about his children and he knew I meant it."
Lambert joined the U.S. Army Reserve in 1978, under the Civilian Acquired Skills Program. Although her father served in World War II and her great-grandfather was career Army, Lambert's interest was initially piqued simply because "I needed the extra money."
"And then I got so I liked it," she said. "And then they'd give me a bonus, and I thought, 'Oh, I'll stay some more.' Next thing I know, it's 30 years."
Sgt. 1st Class Sue Lambert (ret.)
Family: Brother and sister-in-law, Don and Judi Lambert; niece, Alyssa, all of Virginia.
Occupation: Retired shipping coordinator.
Military service: U.S. Army Reserve, 16 years; West Virginia Army National Guard, nine years.
Lambert started out in the 463rd Engineer Battalion, Company D, in Marietta, but moved to a couple of other units before becoming a part of the 157th Military Police Company in Moundsville, W.Va., in the late 1980s.
In January of 1991, the unit was sent to Saudi Arabia to support Operation Desert Storm following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
"It was kind of exciting to me," Lambert said. "It was upsetting to my family. They were crying and everything. I was like, 'I'll be fine.'"
By the time the unit arrived in Saudi Arabia, the war was mostly over, but Lambert and company were still needed to help process prisoners taken during the war. Soon they were redirected to help out with postal duties with mail piling up and going undelivered, Lambert found she enjoyed that work and was asked to stay on.
"You can move around. You weren't just sitting at a computer," she said.
Today, packages must be sent to specific individuals, but when Lambert was serving, care packages - bearing everything from homemade cookies to cards from children - often came for soldiers in general. When Lambert wound up with some of these, she enjoyed writing back to thank the senders.
"I don't know how many letters that I wrote - more letters than I'd written in my entire life," she said. "They worked hard to do that, to try to make your life a little bit easier."
Lambert spent about six months in Saudi Arabia. Five years later, her unit was deployed to Bosnia and Herzegovina for a peacetime mission following years of ethnic strife. Although there were occasional instances where some groups looked like they might start trouble, Lambert, who worked as a first sergeant's clerk, said things went smoothly.
"We weren't allowed to go off the base, but I wasn't scared one bit," she said. "I never heard any gunfire."
And once again, she found the people friendly and welcoming, even bringing the soldiers h omemade food.
"The people were really, really, super nice," she said.