Closing the 2018 Chapter


I took this photo of my husband, Matt, whom I was away from all of January on a trip to West Virginia. I remember going back to work after the New Year and being told that three days later I would be traveling there for a month-long course. I was miserable in West Virginia. When I came back, Matt had a surprise date night prepared. He took me to an arcade where we played all sorts of video games and had a blast.

In March, I traveled to Okinawa, my first time ever seeing Japan. The views of the water were amazing, especially at sunset, but the sushi and ramen were even more amazing! I felt so fortunate to travel to such a beautiful country and be immersed in its culture.

In the Spring, we signed up for a couple’s retreat to the Hyatt Regency in Bellevue, Washington. We took our Australian Shepherd, Titan, with us. We spent one night playing pool and walking around a mall area. I remember one kid played on a grand piano and Matt took my hand to waltz with me in the middle of the mall. My heart exploded and I could not stop smiling.

I couldn’t have been more proud of my husband for receiving this award. He works so hard everyday and truly takes pride in what he does.

As a reward for Matt’s achievement, I signed him up for basic rider’s course to receive a motorcycle endorsement on his license. The bike hunting began soon after he completed the course, and he came across this beauty. He bought his first bike and rode it to work throughout the summer and fall. On some nights, he would ride me around town, cruising roads that overlooked the Sound. I had never felt so free. I smiled riding behind him while he listened to music play on his Sena. He would let one hand off the handle to pat me on the leg or do a little dance just to make me laugh, which happened frequently. And then I would smack him on the helmet to pay attention to the road.

On June 9, 2018, we had our big wedding in Missouri and it was the happiest day of my life. It truly was the wedding of our dreams. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day.

In August, we got all fancy and I took Matt to his first theater showing of Phantom of the Opera at the Paramount in Seattle. He surprised me with a beautifully orchestrated dinner at Ruth’s beforehand.

I found a new hobby with painting in my free time. Painting with acrylics was a little scary at first, but the more I practiced, the less cautious I became. It makes me proud to look upon my work that hangs on our walls and know that I created a work of art.

In October, I made the big decision to reenlist for an upcoming assignment that Matt and I are incredibly excited about. My coworkers and I took a short hike down to the water where our officer reenlisted me. Matt and Titan came along, and I gave Matt an appreciation award because of his continuing support of my military service and our future together.

I earned my first foreign wings following one of the best jump experiences I have ever had as a paratrooper. I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful December day in Washington or a softer landing! It was also an honorable day to participate among our Canadian partners and be led by a new Jump Master.

Matt and I attended the military ball together where we enjoyed many wonderful ceremonial events, especially hitting the dance floor at the end of the night!

We challenged each other to see who would give the better Christmas gift this year, and I do believe Matt won! He bought me my first really nice camera and paint set. He did, however, love his present which was a hand sewn Baker family crest on a leather vest. Matt said that he hadn’t felt this excited about Christmas in a long time, and that really made this holiday special.

We have so much preparing to do and I may not be writing as much because of this. But I am thrilled to announce that we’ll be moving to Germany next year! It has been my dream to travel more throughout my life, and now I have the opportunity to live that dream with my husband. I cannot wait to share this experience with him and possibly grow our family along the way. ūüôā It’ll be a huge adjustment, but I know we’ll be more than ready for this new chapter of our story.

Bring it on, 2019!

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Playing Catch-Up

It’s been four months since I’ve written anything. I am so glad that I am carving out this evening to finally put fingers to keyboard. There is no purpose for my desire to write, other than I simply must. I must write about the chaotic, amazing, stressful, new and frustrating experiences that have occurred.

One thing happened that was expected, which was travel. The army certainly took me to the weird state of West Virginia for a month-long course in January. It was cold, snowy and isolated. I did not enjoy the cabin fever, the time I almost spun-out in my rental vehicle and died, and the time away from my husband. Fortunately, I returned home for one month before I went to somewhere much cooler. Japan. Although it was only for a couple of weeks, I loved getting a tan near the ocean, devouring the most delicious sushi I have ever tasted and seeing all of the small cars that made my little Mitsubishi at home look like a monster truck. I brought home many gifts and checked off a huge travel bucket list item.

I have been home for two weeks now and adjusted back to the normal timezone. It is incredibly nice to be back with my husband who was recently hired at a nice steakhouse in Seattle. Our schedules have been opposite, but he’s been working his butt off and making good money. I am so proud of him!

In June, we’ll be having our formal wedding in Missouri. It’s been a whirlwind of planning and preparing, but luckily I have the best mother-in-the-law in the world who has been hashing out the details for us. My mom also bought me the wedding dress of my dreams and I cannot wait for Matt to see it on our special day.

Next month, I am also hitting my two year mark in the military. It’s amazing how time has been soaring by. In terms of career, I don’t want to jinx myself, but I am putting in a packet to apply for Officer Candidate School and hoping to get accepted for the September panel. I am hoping for the best!

That’s the gist of everything for now… More adventures are soon to come.

What 2017 Taught Me

I swear I was just on a plane to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, a shy little Specialist Amanda Ridder straight out of airborne school traveling to her first unit, unsure of practically everything you could imagine. I blinked and here I am: Specialist Amanda Ridder about to become Specialist Amanda Baker, a young woman open to a new chapter of her life once again.

2016 was the year I graduated basic, AIT and airborne school. Before joining the army, I was a 25-year-old college graduate living at her parent’s house waiting tables. I took the leap and joined the 1%, and no regrets ever since. And I’m just getting warmed up.

After the whirlwind of 2016, I wasn’t sure how I was going to be ready for 2017! I had conquered my biggest fear yet by volunteering to jump out of five perfectly good airplanes! I set the bar pretty high for myself.

In 2017, I grew to understand that time would open my eyes to even bigger challenges that I never predicted; that Google never told me; that a manual could not teach me. I fell in love and got engaged. I am planning not only one, but¬†two¬†weddings: one here in Washington in 18 days and another in¬† Missouri on my fiance’s family property next year. This alone goes to show how blessed I am. And yet again, I have set the bar higher.

I can only imagine what 2018 has in store.

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.

My First Book

I was too impatient to find an agent, especially for my first book. The 51 page novelette is officially live as an eBook on Amazon! My first book. I’m super excited to share my story with the world. I hope my story inspires you and sheds some light on alternative forms of psychological, emotional and spiritual recovery from a traumatic event.

If you’d like to read a sample of the first few pages and see what it’s all about,¬†here¬†you go.

 

fighting through healing

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.