CN Salutes Specialist E-4 Andrea Barringer who served at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) in D.C. Walter Reed Army Medical Center has since closed its doors in 2011 and combined with a Naval hospital and is now called Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC). Barringer was 68S, Preventive Medicine Specialist, E-4 in the US Army. Barringer had actually went to WLC (Warrior Leader Course) to train to become a sergeant but was sent away because of an injury received in Basic Training. Specialist E-4 Barringer earned several Army Achievement awards along the way.
What were/are your duties?
My duties as a Sierra were interesting and dirty to say the least. There were times when I had to lug around “rabbit juice”. It was rabbit food that had been putrefying over a six month period in water so that we could use it to attract mosquitoes. My sergeant was the one with that brilliant idea of a recipe. As a Sierra I had to catch mosquitoes and then freeze them so that I could take them out and count them and see how many male and female we had. I also had to see what type of mosquitoes we had in the area. Then I would send several samples to a lab where they would test to see if we had any disease such as West Nile disease.
I also had to take water samples to ensure its safety. My favorite task was conducting dining facility (DFAC) inspections. I literally loved every second of it. I felt like I was actually doing something to keep our soldiers safe and healthy. I really took the job seriously.
There were times when the job wasn’t so pretty. I had to crawl through the interstitial floors of a building to look for rats and rat feces. Search for mold on walls, deal with bed bugs. Oh my gosh, so many bed bugs!
What was the training and prep for your MOS?
The training for my MOS was fun. The military schooling is very fast paced. I remember a lot of people dropping out of the class because they failed out. If we got sleepy in class (and most of us did…death by power point) they would force us to stand or do pushups. That’s how I stayed fit during those years!
During one particular class, zoology, they required us to catch a bunch of bugs, kill them in the “kill jar” (a glass jar with something that asphyxiated them, typical killing agents are ether, chloroform and ethyl acetate. My classmate and I had to fill our box with 20 bugs which we then have to identify the bugs and label them.
Well, we had 19 bugs and needed one more. My friend said that we should just get a roach and be done with it. I told her that was fine as long as she did all the hard work, I’m terrified of roaches. (I don’t mind snakes, scorpions or spiders, but roaches are a no go for me!)
We were in class and she grabbed a pair of tongs and walked over to this massive glass jar on a table and grabbed a roach which was still alive and very much squirming. She asked me to bring her the kill jar.
For some reason I held out the kill jar instead of just placing it on the table near her. Well, the roach touched my hand and I THREW that glass kill jar on the floor while I had a real spastic moment. I was yelling pretty good.
One of the male soldiers in my class said “Ramirez, you’re acting like such a girl” I responded, “I AM a girl!”. He came to help and clean up the broken glass, I’m still jumping around having my spastic moment and then I touch my neck.
Guess what was on my neck? Yes, the FLYING roach decided to perch itself on my neck. I flipped out a bit more. Needless to say, I’m still very afraid of roaches.
What did/do you like most about serving?
I loved the DFAC inspections. I loved talking with other soldiers. We had a physical therapy pool where hurt soldiers would go during their therapy sessions and I had to go there to take water samples. I used to love talking to them and seeing them improve physically each time I saw them.
What prompted you to serve?
Several things. 9/11 certainly helped spearhead my decision to join. I joined in 2004. Before then I had talked to a lot of friends that were in the military and they told me what it did for them. How it helped them get in shape. Not only physically but also mentally. It really has a way of growing you up.
I was originally going to join the Air Force. I was in Air Force ROTC. I wanted to join so that they could help me pay for nursing school. Although I had a very high GPA (3.945, yes, I still remember after all these years) the nursing college said there was no space for me and asked me to apply again next year. That was the last straw for me. Let’s remember I was only 21 at the time and you know how people can be when they are young. I just said, forget it, I’m joining the Army. That’s a strange story and doesn’t sound very heroic, but that’s how it happened. I was frustrated with how my schooling was going and just made a rather spontaneous decision.
What was/is some of the greatest challenges you faced?
I never deployed like most of my counterparts. So I can’t say I had any truly great challenges. It would certainly pale in comparison. But if I had to answer this, I suppose being the correct weight and passing my pushups. I was never good at pushups. To point where I swore I would never do another one as soon as I got out of the Army. My weight was pretty high. I was usually at 150 lbs and that’s too heavy for a female soldier of my height, 65 inches. My weight was supposed to be at 132 pounds, but it was impossible to meet even though I worked out up to 3 hours a day almost every day. I was not the only female soldier to go through this. I’ve seen friends lather on certain creams with clear plastic wraps and then go to the sauna to try and sweat something off in time for the weigh in and tape test (they measure your body with a body tape). Other than that, I was pretty good and have nothing to complain about. I loved my time in.
What was the most rewarding experience?
It was a big deal for me to travel to different states for military training. My parents and brother grew accustomed to me being away for so long. They live in Florida. I came to visit each time I had a chance.
Knowing that I was helping keep soldiers safe and healthy by doing my job right was the biggest reward. I also loved speaking to the soldiers and seeing them heal. It was therapeutic to me.
How did/does serving affect your family? Did/Do they find their part of service rewarding?
At the time I was single so I had no husband or child. It was no big deal for me to travel to different states for military training. My parents and brother grew accustomed to me being away for so long. They live in Florida. I came to visit each time I had a chance.
My mother is super proud of my service. She is always talking about it.
What is your advice to someone thinking about serving their country?
I would first want them to fully explain to me why they want to join the military. Are they doing it for money for school? If so, it’s not really worth it. You have to understand you can lose your life doing this. You also have to understand that you might see your best friend lose their life or that you might be haunted by PTSD. Not everyone goes through that, I didn’t. But many do, in some way or another. Chances are, if they join, they might be exposed to that part of the military and they have to understand what this contract comes with.
I love the Army. I am forever grateful for everything I have learned. But the military is not for everyone. It is a commitment that you just can’t quit on. But, if you want to join because you want to be a part of a close group of people that will have your back, help protect your country, and grow in a way you never thought you could, then I would say, you should consider joining the military. It has so much to offer!
What are you up to now that you are out of the Army?
While I was in the Army I kept a journal. I wrote in it during basic training and figured that one day I would deploy and write about that too. It was my plan to publish my journal as a biography. It wasn’t until my last year in the active duty Army that I realized that I might not deploy. It was during this time, while I was at Walter Reed, that I started paying attention to how many hurt soldiers we had. So many were coming back missing a limb. Some missing part of their cranium!
Most of my friends were medics. They always had crazy stories of how they have saved a life and they always told me that we are receiving so many hurt soldiers because they are surviving wounds that would have normally killed a person in the prior wars. Our medics and the training that all soldiers were receiving was focusing on life saving. Even I, who was just a Sierra, knew how to do a tourniquet and perform basic life saving procedures. It was absolutely drilled into us. All of this training was paying off. Soldiers were coming back alive. Broken, but alive!
I had to write about it. I decided that I would write the book and just make it a fiction novel instead. It wasn’t hard to find material for my book. Nearly every single one of my peers had deployed at one point or another. I just interviewed every single one of them, to include my sister.
There was one guy in particular, Jason, he actually gave me his diary. There was some scary stuff in it. I made a copy of it and read it many times over. Then I gave it my own voice. I even interviewed a soldier named Sammy. He let me sit there with him while he was getting physical therapy on his good leg, the other one he lost to an IED.
I then studied videos and writings on soldiers who have lost a leg. I had to educate myself on the jargon and the type of exercise they undergo. I had to learn how long the recovery time took. For example, how many skin grafts do they usually undergo? Do skin grafts hurt?
Once I had all the information I started writing. It took a life of its own. I was able to find an editor, she’s a Christian and her husband is a veteran. What a perfect editor for me. She really made my book to what it is today. I’m a pretty good story teller but I’m not a great writer. My editor really helped bring my book to life. I am so grateful for her.
So if you read my book you’ll see so much truth in it. Very little is actually fake. It’s just the story of many soldiers all mixed into one person’s perspective. If you would like to read the book, you can go onto Amazon.com and find it there. If you want a good idea of what the book is about you can also listen to this free, 15 min, audio chapter. Its my favorite chapter of the book.