By Spc. Michael Pfaff, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Kirkuk, Iraq – It’s 1989 in Czechoslovakia, and the children have the day off from school for a mandatory “fun day.” Only, instead of drawing chalk lines on the sidewalk for a game of hopscotch, or climbing through the iron web of a jungle gym, they spend the day donning gas masks, throwing plastic grenades, and navigating through the wilderness with a compass.
Long before she went through basic training for the U.S. Army, Pfc. Jana Rutherford was one of the those children participating in the mandatory fun days in communist Czechoslovakia before the revolution that would lead to the creation of the Czech Republic.
Rutherford, 25, is now a driver with the 426th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division stationed in Iraq, after joining the Army in January of 2005.
Rutherford’s history with the military began long before then.
She met a Soldier in the U.S. Special Forces, with whom she would later marry and move to Germany. After his tour in Europe was over, she moved with him back to Fort Bragg, N.C.
“When I first came to the states, I didn’t know any English,” she said. Rutherford joked that her English was limited to only a few phrases. “I knew how to say, ‘Hi, how are you? What is your hobby?'”
At Fort Bragg, she found a job at the officer’s club and improved her English. Language wasn’t the only thing she learned though; she also learned a lot about military culture.
Rutherford decided she wanted to be a part of that culture.
“The idea of seeing other people being so strongly attached to one another, when you see men and women standing at attention and tears are coming down when the National Anthem is being played, I guess I just wanted to be a part of something like that,” she explained.
Rutherford signed up a few years later with the intention of going to airborne school and returning to Fort Bragg. Her plans didn’t quite happen as expected though, and she was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell, Ky.
Soon after, the 101st deployed to Iraq.
“One of the biggest reasons why I joined was that I did want to come to Iraq,” Rutherford said. “I wanted to get that experience my friends were talking about; the friendship among Soldiers. And, I wanted to help the people of Iraq to change to being democratic.”
Rutherford can empathize with a people who have not known the concept of living in a democratic nation. When her native country was being formed from the remains of communist Czechoslovakia, she witnessed firsthand how the transition can be difficult.
“It’s a long process,” Rutherford explained. “It’s not like one day we were Czechoslovakia and the next day Czech Republic, everything was changing and it was affecting a lot of people. It didn’t happen overnight.”
Rutherford now reflects on growing up in a communist country and being so poor that college seemed out of reach. In democratic nations like the United States, she said she has a chance at going to college and pursuing whatever her heart desires.
Her stay in Iraq and sacrifice for a country experiencing trying times, much like her native country once did, will hopefully help do the same for a young Iraqi child who wants to go to college one day and pursue a dream.