“We all wear the same uniform”

In mid-December, I posted a photo of a female US soldier with an Iraqi woman. I also posted it at Winds of Change under the title “Just two women changing the world“. A few commenters at WoC and in other places acted predictably lame, and the soldier, PFC Janelle Zalkovsky, happened to notice and respond. I contacted her, and she agreed to do a little “email interview” for Murdoc Online.

Another photo of PFC Zalkovsky managed to make it into the US Army’s 2005 “Year in Photos” Feature. Here it is:

Here’s the Q & A, edited only slightly for readiblilty. (All the words are there and no words have been added.):

I’ll start with a few background questions

1. When did you join the Army?

I joined the army June 15, 2004.

2. Did you join because of 9/11?

No, I did not join because of 9/11. I was born September 11, and I remember I had to stay at home for my birthday because my mother thought that Dallas, Texas (thirty minutes away from where I lived) was going to get hit next. So it definitely made me think about the impact it had on everyone and what was going to be the result of it. I knew, joining, I would be going to war but it was not my reason for joining.

3. How long have you been in Iraq?

Since September 17th, 2005. Basically four and a half months.

4. Now that you’ve been deployed to Iraq, do you feel differently about being in the military?

Definitely.

5. If so, how?

I have a different perspective of life and what is most important to me. I will not re-enlist and I hope to never be away from my husband again in these kind of conditions. I fear for his life everyday. We are both deployed. We are relatively close so I can see him often but this is something I never want to do again. I have many more reasons but do not feel that I should share them at this point.

6. You had mentioned that you were recently on leave. What did your friends and family have to say when you saw them?

My friends were just really happy to see me, most of them I have not seen in two years. They just wanted to know all the details about the war and wanted to give their own opinion of everything. My family is very proud of me. They are just worried about my safety. I have an Aunt who wanted to keep me at her house, saying I couldn’t go back. They just do not want to see me go again. It’s like i keep coming in and out of their lives all the time.

Next some questions about your mission:

7. One of the pictures of you that was published was taken while your unit was distributing humanitarian aid in Thyad, Iraq. Can you tell me a little bit about that aspect of your duties?

We basically escort the Civil Affairs Team to different villages in Iraq. Sometimes they have meetings with Iraqi nationals, and so we guard the perimeter of the building it’s being held in. When we actually go into the villages and do a dismounted patrol we will have the gunners stay in the truck to pull security while we befriend the Iraqi children handing out toys and books. We also give to the women lotions and candles, things any female would like to have.

8. Roughly what percentage of your time is spent on humanitarian/aid missions?

Civil Affairs mission was normally not my duty. I worked in the BOC which is where all our battalion information comes through. I monitored radios all day, but I would volunteer to go out. The rest of my platoon would go on these missions everyday for at least 6 hours a day.

9. In your time in Iraq, have you seen a change in the overall feeling of “security”?

Yes I have but we have to not get complacent at anytime. I feel more secure now that we have moved camps, though. We are now in a different camp and we patrol the inner part of the FOB. So I feel really safe. We still have this one village that we go to but even there I feel safer.

10. Have you worked with any troops from other Coalition nations?

No.

11. What have you personally observed to be the general feeling of ordinary Iraqis toward the US and/or Coalition troops? Joy? Tolerance? Uneasiness? Outright hatred?

Well, I’ve seen mixed reactions. Most women and children seem to love us. Some males will smile and wave but I think it’s more tolerance for them. The children know all kinds of curse words and some of them will give us the finger and curse us out. It’s kinda funny at times but then again it’s hard to tell if they really understand what it means and if they are serious. I believe some of them are two-faced.

12. Have you worked with the Iraqi security forces much, and if so, do you have any thoughts?

We don’t really work with them but we see them working. I don’t really have any thoughts about them. Most of them seem to be doing their job just fine, but then again I haven’t always heard that to be true.

13. Do you have an impression of what the Iraqi citizens think about the Iraqi military and police forces? Pride? Uncertainty? Distrust?

Just like with anything there will always be mixed reactions but I believe it’s about half truly hate the Iraqi military and the other half are just hoping that this is what’s right.

A few questions about being a female soldier in Iraq:

14. Do you think you are treated or received any differently by the Iraqis because you are a woman?

Well we are considered different in some ways to the Iraqi people. When it comes to their females they really only want to talk to females and only will invite females into their homes. So in the niceness of it all we are more accepted by the females in a sense but I don’t believe that we are considered any different to any terrorists. We all wear the same uniform.

15. What do you think Iraqi women (in general) think when they see an American woman in uniform with a weapon?

They are really happy to see us. The female children love us. They tell me all the time how beautiful I am. I think they are kind of in awe when they see a female doing the things we do. I don’t believe they really think about the weapon or the uniform…they just see a female face and it makes them happy.

16. What do you think Iraqi men (in general) think when they see an American woman in uniform with a weapon?

Well, I am really not sure but just going back to their culture I believe they do not think it is right. Like I said earlier most of them will smile and wave and say hi but other than that I haven’t had too much interaction with the males.

17. Does being a woman make any difference when you are interacting with Iraqi children?

I believe it’s more interesting to them only because it’s unusual for a female to be doing the things we do. I think that they rarely see a female so when they do it’s kind of like “wow” to them. But all children will run up to any U.S. convoy and follow them around everywhere.

18. I’ve long thought that the issue of women’s rights is a major one in Iraq and that resolving it is vital to the future of the nation. Do you agree with that?

I definitely do. I see that it is changing and that in some parts they are not as strict in some of their rules. I believe that giving the Iraqi women more rights will help out dramatically.

The media’s coverage of the military is a topic near and dear to Murdoc’s heart:

19. When you were on leave, did you spend any time looking at mainstream media coverage of Iraq?

No, not at all. Even here in Iraq we get CNN but we choose to turn it off.

20. What did you think of it?

Our reason for that is the media’s coverage seems to only portray the bad in everything that we have done over here.

21. Have you had any contact with the media while you’ve been in Iraq

No.

22. Do you or any soldiers you know have a personal weblog about your military experiences?

No.

Finally, a few last questions about your sudden “fame” as the subject of some published Army photos:

23. How do you feel about your picture and name being “out there” for the whole world to see?

I don’t really mind it at all. I want everyone to see a female out their doing the job well. I want them to see a different side of what the Army and what this war is really about. I know that there will be many different opinions about what my picture portrays to them, but all I can say about that is that they have no clue as to what is going on out here.

24. After I posted the photos on Murdoc Online and Winds of Change, a number of commenters said things like “yeah, but she can also kick down doors and arrest that woman” and “it’s a feel-good picture of US girls handing out cosmetics and chatting about glamour” and comparing your humanitarian aid mission to a Tupperware party. Should we just go beat those commenters up?

No, because they are just uneducated.

24a. Scratch that last question. Question #24 was *supposed* to be “What’s your response to people who say things like that about what you do?”

The media I believe is the one doing that and just the fact they are so closed minded. If they were out here maybe they would understand. To me it feels good to give to those women who don’t have the same lifestyle we are given or the same luxuries. What some of the commenters said was to me just plain ignorant.

25. In a response to some of those commenters, you mentioned that sometimes the humanitarian aid is paid for out of the pockets of the soldiers. What can Americans do to get you guys what you need?

We have many supporters that send us things. Many people will send toys over here to give to the children. We have Soldiers Angels that provides us with anything from letters to DVDs. If they want to help they should join one of the organizations that specialize in sending troops what they need.

Our men and women in uniform are America’s finest ambassadors, and PFC Janelle Zalkovsky does more than hold up her end. I thank her for her willingness to answer these questions for MO readers and I thank her for her service to America.

Comments

  1. Great interview! Have been interested in the female/male relationship as far as Iraqi views go (both iraqi man, US soldier and vice versa). This explains things a bit more.

  2. Just another example of our great military personnel doing their best under very difficult circumstances. Keep up the good work, and god bless you. PS: Working in the mid east myself—I think it’s terrific that male dominated Arab culture see a women like trooper Zalkovsky working in a role they have difficulty conceiving of. Positive role modeling (in a VERY non traditional way) like this (even if trooper Zalkovsky doesn’t consider herself to be one)for Arab women is wonderful for encouraging a better understanding between ‘us & them’. There’s no doubt in my mind it opens new possibilities and visions of what ‘could be’ for some of the locals over there.

  3. i was so glad to read the follow up this time on janelle.it was more supportive than the last time.but,as i discuss with her while home that is also a part of what she is fighting for like it or not. stay safe both of you.your in my prays mom2 (janelle married my son brad while both on leave in dec)

  4. Pfc. Janelle Zalkovski : I think you are a guardian angel, You, in all your beauty not only look like one, you are one, defending our country, defending each of us in the free word. You are an extremely important example and inspiration to all. You are my hero! Rod Rodriguez

  5. I was very taken back by the photo of Janelle handing out lotion or whatever it might be to the Iraqi women. It stands for so much more than what it might seem at a glance. A female US soldier interacting with Iraqi woman. Breaking strides not only for our culture as Americans but the Iraqi people as well. Janelle, I know you’re one of many soldiers in Iraq busting your hump to do the right thing and make it day to day. Keep up the great work, stay safe and god speed to both you and your husband. ~E

  6. Great interview! I will introduce myself. My name Wijasmara Sabda Pranawa. I come from Indonesia. My E-Mail wijasmara_male@yahoo.com. Can you send your e-mail to my e-mail, Private Janelle? Sorry, if you consider me too dare to do you. Im just want know about you. Maybe my english is bad, sorry. Because my english just litle. I like your photo, you appear strong, brave, with authority, discipline, and very beautiful. To wish you always lucky, sucsess, and what do you want is granted. I think thats enough, I will waitting your E-Mail. Thankyou in advance.

  7. Hey. Great interview. I am currently working on a tribute video to our troops. It’s with Toby Keith’s Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue. I was wondering if it was okay for me to use the pictures of PFC Janelle Zalkovsky. I won’t put her picture in until I get yours or her confirmation. Anybody who reads the post is welcome to contribute. My contact info is below. natedapope@gmail.com