War a Life-Changing Experience

By: Kathryn Caggianelli, The Record (Troy, NY), 10/29/2006

WATERFORD - If you ask U.S. Marine Pvt. First Class Deanna Higgins whether she is a changed person since finishing two tours of duty in Iraq, she'll admit that she is.
The 24-year-old Waterford native said she doesn't sweat the little stuff anymore. And, more importantly, that she has developed a much deeper appreciation for what it means to be an American.
She arrived at Albany Airport Friday night. Saturday afternoon, Higgins relaxed with family at her mother's 21 Timber Drive home. It was going to take time to re-acclimate herself to life in the states, she said.
Higgins enlisted with the Marines in 2004 for five years. Until 2009 the Marines own her, which is something she had to quickly make peace with when she learned that she would serve a second and possibly a third tour of duty in the war-ravaged country.
"I was deployed the first time from February to September 2005 to El Asad. During that tour of duty I worked as an air traffic controller in a tower. The second time I was assigned with the MACHS-1 Security Battalion. I was there from February until the end of September of this year. This time what I did was more like grunt work," Higgins said.
What she referred to as "grunt" work involved sitting atop a humvee as lookout for her six companions below. 
The job was grueling and dangerous. When queried about it, Higgins downplayed the danger, adding that she didn't think about what could happen every moment. She just did it and got through it. But it was a huge responsibilit, she said.
"It was a good and bad experience. I got to socialize with some Iraqi soldiers," she said.
Higgins characterized living conditions for Iraqis as deplorable. They have only filthy water to drink and don't come close to enjoying the standards of hygiene that Americans do. It's doubtful that they ever have clean water for showers, when they shower, she said.
Things are somewhat better for U.S. soldiers at their base camps. They're given only bottled water to drink and can enjoy a shower on a fairly regular basis, Higgins said.
"The worst part was being secluded for so long from the world," she said.
In fact, getting back into a routine here at home is tougher than she imagined.
"There's so much going on all the time here. When you're over there, you only have your team," Higgins said.
Higgins was the only woman on the team of seven. Everyone got along exceptionally well, she said.
"The guys were all great. You get so close that they become your family. There's nothing you won't share or tell each other. I miss them," Higgins said.
She isn't likely to see her teammates anytime soon because they are all stationed at the Marine base in Miramar, Calif., and she's based out of Yuma, Az.
Higgins knows that in all likelihood she'll be deployed a third time to Iraq.
"It will probably be next year this time. I'll go over again with the security battalion. I don't really want to go but who does? I'll be ready, though," she said.
Higgins' future career plans include earning an engineering degree. 
Patty Higgins, her mother, said she's proud of what her daughter has accomplished. "We're relieved and proud of how she's handled it all," she said.
The only noticeable difference in her daughter since she has become a Marine is her level of maturity, Patty said.
"She's always been a team player, very athletic and shown endurance. She should be proud of herself," she said.
Barbara Plummer, Higgins' grandmother, said she wished everyone would think more of the soldiers who sacrifice so much when they serve their country.


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