It took joining the army to grow up.

Looking back on old Facebook posts and photos, I discovered one jarring fact about myself before I joined the army: I didn’t know what it meant to be an adult until I arrived at my first unit.

Before I was a Soldier, I was ambitious and eager to excel in English, following my love of writing and literature. Receiving feedback on my essays was almost addicting; I couldn’t wait to figure out my professor’s standards and exceed them with every draft.

I was a dance instructor, pushing myself out of my comfort zone of simply being the student. It was one thing to make it to a dance class and follow, but it was another to lead. Simultaneously, I studied and taught yoga.

Then I was a performer, joining a small dance company and participating in late night ballroom dance rehearsals.

I was a traveler. My best friend and I joined a tour group, enduring two fast-paced weeks of visiting seven European countries. Before then, I traveled to Ireland for one week with another tour group, having met no one before the trip. On domestic soil, I flew to Nebraska to read a research paper I wrote for the 2015 Willa Cather Conference.

I was a journalist, an editor of a local newspaper and intern at a Los Angeles based yoga and Ayurveda magazine.

All the while, I was still living under my parents’ roof and reaching my mid-twenties. Despite my hunger to embody what I loved doing – dancing and writing, I could never support myself or keep more than a few extra bucks in my checking account.

Flash-forward to now, I am still struggling financially. I predict that I will be struggling for at least another year, before I finally have it all figured out. I’m no longer under mommy and daddy’s roof; I’m under Uncle Sam’s.

I have much more growing up to do, milestones that have yet to be crossed. The journey isn’t black and white, though. I didn’t leave my childhood behind and begin adulthood when I joined the military. A new chapter began, furthering the tale of my existence that I hope to pass on to the children I hope to have one day.

Even then, I’ll never stop learning and exploring who I am, who I was meant to be, and who I am supposed to be with. I have faith in the journey and everything that is beyond my control.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering the Good Times

For those reading who have gone on deployments and have years of military experience under your belt, you should be forewarned that I’m about to talk about my baby Army moments in AIT.

As for my fellow comrades who suffered the stupidity with me – the strict TRADOC regulations of limited cell phone use, formations, curfew, never walking ANYWHERE alone, etc. – this one is for you.

I’m not gonna sugar coat it – Advanced Individual Training (AIT) had its tough moments. I think I sprouted more gray hairs and several wrinkles after trying to follow every damn rule at Fort Meade than I did in Basic Training. I feel so fortunate to be in a much better place now at Fort Lewis and out of TRADOC!

It warms my heart to know that I’m still connected with wonderful individuals who made the time in AIT fun and enjoyable. It’s also cool to look back at the things I did (like interviewing a NASA astronaut!) and learning some lessons (like turning up my ISO inside).

There are more of you out there in Social Media Land who aren’t mentioned below (this would be too long of a post). You know who are you, and know that I love you and I’m thankful for our friendship.

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Specialist Tricia Andriski, AKA “Driskis,” was the best battle buddy in the world! I don’t know what I would’ve done without her!
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Private “Vidro One-Thousand,” always ready to rock ‘n’ roll.
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Private Kirk, eating a pine cone, being weird and always making me laugh.
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Timothy L. Kopra, NASA astronaut who came to speak at DINFOS Sept. 13. I had the honor of interviewing him and getting an article published on the school’s website! (This is the photo I was referring to when I learned that I need to work on my ISO adjustments…)
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Specialist Claire Charles, a wonderful battle buddy who kept everyone in check and set an example for the young-uns.
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Private 1st Class Danyelle Thompson and Seaman Morrissey putting a smile on my face in the hallway at DINFOS when practicing with bounce flash.
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Our company commander’s puppy cheered me up after a long day!
*reflection
Private 1st Class Amanda Stock was an excellent Platoon Guide and awesome friend.
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Private Josh Weaver, a fantastic photographer and ruck march motivator.

Published in LA YOGA

 

Amanda Ridder Paratrooper Yoga

Breathe through Fear: Yoga for the Courage to Jump from a Plane

“The thunderous roar of the C-130 engines filled the inside of the huge aircraft that was in flight at an altitude 1,200 feet above ground. I stood with shaking legs behind three other jumpers. Every muscle in my body quivered in anticipation. What allowed me to stand strong in this moment was the clarity and focus I found in my ability to breathe through fear because of yoga….”

Read more of my story by clicking the link above in LA YOGA Magazine!

The Booksitter

It’s raining outside my window at the Iron Bank coffee shop on 11th and Broadway in Columbus, Georgia. I have missed this alone time so much. Oh, so much.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any new material for my book or creative pieces to offer at the moment. It has taken me over a week to squeeze in two hours of alone time, to enjoy a cup of espresso and be at peace with my keyboard.

Besides finding time to be alone, I have been searching for peaceful and calm thoughts in a stressful environment.

On my flight here from Maryland 10 days ago, I realized that the next time I would enter an aircraft, I would be exiting it 2,500 feet above the ground with a parachute strapped to my back.

You’re insane, Brain 1 said. Why would you volunteer to go airborne? 

The answers unraveled naturally, as if this entire conversation with myself was an argument I couldn’t win.

The promotion points, said Brain 2. Think about those 30 points! The exciting stories you could cover! The maroon beret and the badassery!

Brain 1 almost won a few days ago when I was cooped up in the barracks all day, thinking about the hazards of my choice. After speaking with a few other soldiers, Brain 2 kicked in and sucker punched Brain 1 to the ground.

So here I am, two days of training and five jumps to go before I graduate from airborne school in the army.

I don’t know what lies ahead in this next week. (Disclaimer: I am ditsy. I may just slip out of the freaking plane or let the jumpmaster push me.)

Besides the stress from my own thoughts mingling with the sight of countless injured soldiers from training, I am back to my main love.

My book.

The poor thing is collecting dust, suffocating inside the locker I store away my life in. My story is like a child tugging on my jacket for an ice cream cone. So badly do I want to pick it up and treat it to a freaking Dairy Queen, but airborne school is taking up so much of my time and energy that I must leave the child with a babysitter. Er, I mean my book… in the locker…

What I’m trying to say is that I haven’t given up on writing the book. It’s there, but to give it the attention it deserves means waiting until I have finished this chapter of my life in training.

I hate sounding selfish and steering away from my book to focus on myself, especially with this self-reflective post. But I cannot give my book the attention it deserves if I haven’t given myself some room to breathe.

I’m not certain if there will ever be a scene or character involving a paratrooper, but some things are bound to find their way into the story through avenues I haven’t even ventured down in my mind yet.

It’ll be exciting when that time comes. I predict that I’ll be celebrating with my two besties, Ben & Jerry.

 

Boxed In: Part 10

This wasn’t what I pictured, Jasmine thought as she opened her eyes to destruction.

Screams rang in her ears. Blood and limbs scattered across the street. A few lone survivors cowered in and out of the alleys. The gray sky blanketed the city of Dublin.

Jasmine turned around to see the Soldier limping onto the sidewalk. She propped herself against a building that was half blown off.

“Well,” grunted Jordan. “Guess I was wrong. Where’s the Ref?”

“Right here,” Shane shouted from a rooftop above. “What the hell, Scribe?”

Despite the dismal view surrounding them, Jordan couldn’t help but laugh at the displacement.

“Sorry,” Jasmine said weakly. She closed her eyes and wrote the word “Down.”

Shane instantly materialized on the street before them. He looked around the street and frowned.

“Thanks. The city didn’t look much better from up there,” he said.

In the gruesome lonely air came a subtle sweet melody. The quiet sound of strings broke the ravaging moment of misery, casting an enchantment upon their ears.

A violinist danced down the remains of O’Connell Bridge, not seeming to care about the water breaking through the cracks. A purple velvet cloak draped over her shoulders, exposing her pale naked arms. The three stared, mesmerized by the magic she produced.

“There’s one,” Shane said. “A For-seer.”

“Wow,” Jasmine whispered. “Her music is so beautiful.”

A moment later, the Musician stopped playing and sighed.

“Thanks,” she said with a soft Irish accent. “But I’ve lost it.”

“Lost what?” Jasmine asked.

The Musician hopped onto a ledge and glanced behind her.

“My power,” she replied.

Without skipping a beat, she continued to play. Jasmine looked at Jordan who raised an eyebrow in annoyance.

“What do you mean?” Jasmine shouted over the music, following her as she crossed over the bridge.

“You know what I mean,” said the Musician eyeing Jasmine’s pen and paper.

“How?” Jasmine asked, stumbling on the broken bridge. “When?”

The Musician led them down the path along the River Liffey which had floating planks of wood and piles of brick stacked above the water.

Jordan and Shane both power-walked behind them. They walked past homes still fuming from the attack.

“We just missed them,” Shane said to Jordan in relief. “The Waiting must be sweeping through the continent. Where do you think they’re going to hit next?”

Jordan looked at him silently with worried, tired and hungry eyes.

“We’re safe here for the time being,” she replied. “But the commander knows where we are. He knows everything.”

“Perfect,” he said sarcastically. “Not to be rude or anything, but weren’t you just trying to kill the Scribe? How can I be sure you won’t kill her, or me, in our sleep?”

Jasmine glanced behind her, giving them a look that said ‘I can hear you.’

Jordan sighed and ignored the glare. This was the first time the Soldier felt like a criminal, a monster, and a failure all at once.


 

to be continued..

Boxed In: Part 8

One year ago…

Shane stretched his arms wide above his head, releasing a loud yawn.

It was an early humid Saturday morning in July. His mother and father were sleeping.

Lucky them, he thought, recalling his long nights of insomnia.

The light from the moon cast his shadow on the pavement as he roamed his driveway to the end of Alpine Street, lugging his camera bag over one shoulder.

After about a mile of trekking, he reached the bottom of the hill. He hiked the familiar steep paved road just like every weekend. Once at the top, he scanned the gray horizon at the quiet streets of Baldwin below. The street lights lined the small suburban town.

Shane removed his camera from the bag and wrapped the strap around his neck. Assembling and twisting on his new lens, he felt a rush of excitement and anxiousness to test the equipment. He worked all summer at the Box picking up trash and escorting new trainers around the facility to pay for the stronger lens.

“Hello, beautiful,” he said to camera.

He waited on a patch of dead grass for the sun to rise over the hill to catch the perfect moment.

The golden glow slowly swept across the land, highlighting the dew on each blade of grass. He could see everything.

He adjusted the focus to capture a butterfly kissing the tip of a nearby leaf. He wanted to shoot something farther away, so he shifted his viewfinder across the horizon trying to catch some of the thick patchy clouds.

Click. Click.

Turning to his monitor, Shane noticed an object in the photo he didn’t see through the camera; a dark silhouette of a thin aircraft flying straight toward the hill.

“What the-” he said glancing away from the picture.

Nothing was there.

Suddenly, the outline of a drone appeared.

He sat perplexed at the machine flying closer toward him.

Two thin tubes disengaged from the body and shot fire into the neighborhoods. Shane jumped to his feet as a grenade dropped onto a rooftop near his home. The force threw him onto his back, kicking the air out of his lungs. His camera dangled from his neck and knocked him hard on the sternum.

Thick yellowish smoke climbed higher up the hill to where he laid groaning in pain from the blow and sharp ringing in his ears.

He coughed from inhaling dust and scattered debris from destroyed buildings. The smoke settled in messy layers for miles.

Ashes and desperate cries rang from the few survivors of Baldwin, along with the simultaneous mass attacks in North America.

Boxed In: Part 7

Present day…

“I don’t know where we are, to be honest with you,” Jasmine admitted.

The Ref narrowed his skeptic green eyes and glanced toward Jordan who returned the look with a shrug, pushing herself away from the tree and kicking a branch off her boot.

“What kind of Scribe are you?” he jabbed. “I thought you crazies knew how to use your powers.”

Jordan chuckled. Jasmine’s cheeks reddened in embarrassment.

“I’m still working out the kinks, alright? Now, can we please focus? I don’t remember how I ended up in that Box with a Soldier and a crowd of monsters,” Jasmine said, throwing her hands up in frustration.

Her ribs and neck still ached from Jordan throwing her down on the ground.

Why can’t I remember anything before the Box? 

“If you think I have all of the answers to your problems, you’re wrong,” Jordan stated bluntly. “You were an assignment, and technically, you’re still an assignment. Just be glad that I haven’t taken you down… yet.”

Jasmine sighed and slowly wandered about the wooded opening, observing the deep forest. Nothing appeared familiar. She couldn’t tell how far she took them away from the arena which also frightened her.

They’re coming for me. 

“We can’t stay here,” Jasmine spoke up.

“No, really?” said the Ref.

“Okay, Mr. Sarcastic. Keep pissing me off, or I’ll-”

“It’s Shane,” he interrupted. “And go ahead, Scribe. Do your worst. It’s not like you can take me to a worse place than here, anyway.”

“Then why do you want to go back to the Box so badly?” Jordan inquired.

Shane looked down at his feet, clutching the blood-stained sleeve.

“Because I have nowhere else to go,” he confessed coldly. “No home. No family. Nothin’.”

This caught Jasmine’s attention, and mellowed her anger.

“What happened?” Jasmine asked cautiously.

“Dawn. That’s what happened.”


 

To be continued…