This week I salute Traci Smith and Kinga Kiss-Johnson. (That’s right, my game, my rules). These are two of the strongest women I know, both of whom represent the best the Army has to offer. No matter what life throws their way, they get up, dust themselves off and proceed in a classy and inspiring fashion. Too many women in life compete with each other: both of these women know how to give a girl a hand up when she needs it most. I thank them for giving me strong role models to admire…and a giggle when I need one.
And usually that's where I'd leave it. But not this time.
I want you to understand why these woman are admirable. Both are Army trained, although Traci started with the Marines. You've heard me talk about Kinga before....my 6'7" pal from Romania who came to the U.S. on a college basketball scholarship. Sad at the number of one parent families she saw at work because the other parent was deployed, she told her husband she wanted to help. So she enlisted in the Army, having already begun the steps toward U.S. Citizenship. But it's where she was sworn in as a citizen that speaks volumes about her character: on Baghram Air Field during her Afghanistan deployment. You should've seen the pride in her eyes when she told that story. I only wish homegrown Americans felt as proud. Traci is the one who told me how Kinga scooped up one of her injured comrades and literally threw him over her shoulder to carry him to safety. Kinga will only say she just did her job.
Traci, on the other hand, did the kind of shooting where you have bullets fired at you, but you can't really shoot back: she was a combat photographer. And she didn't hesitate to put that camera down and assist wounded soldiers. I still can't hear that story without choking up. She was instrumental in bringing several soldiers to our Foundation's attention who could benefit from what we offer. To this day we laugh at how the "grump in the corner with the biting wit" became a social butterfly who is hilarious (and he won a car on The Price Is Right!). He's the first one to wrap me in a bear hug during our soldier events. Traci & I agreed that our problem child has become the poster child for what you can do when you try. Traci is the consummate cheerleader, knowing exactly what it takes to motivate a soldier during archery events. Okay, so I had adjust when she barked at one guy like a Drill Instructor and traded insults with another. But that's what each needed to keep going. The confidence I've gained in interacting with our soldiers came from Traci. At one event she quietly pinned something on my collar. Straightening my collar, she said softly, "It's a combat pin. You've earned it." Before I could thank her, she was off, growling at a slack soldier to try harder, while complimenting a shy soldier on doing better.
When I have moments of "can I REALLY do this?", I think of what these two have overcome. Kinga's initial archery for therapy has taken her to representing the US at the Paralympic Games in Thailand to competing in Rio. Just last month, she was named Archery Coach for the Army's Wounded Warrior team. The only one more proud of her than me is probably her service dog, Balto. (Okay and her husband Bill, a former Army medic).
Traci is currently working on her physical self while at the same time helping raise a 3 year old grandson. On days that are probably tough for her, she'll post a photo or video of that cute little fellow and get all of us smiling. She's the one who likes to include me on, "You are a strong woman" posts...usually on the days I need to hear I'm still a candidate for that category. And she's the one who, out of the blue, will offer a compliment when least expected and most needed.
Thanks ladies. For your service. For your friendship. For just being you.