Diversity of Experience Brings Strength to the Fight

By By Catherine Lowrey, Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Army Reserve Soldier, Department of the Army Civilian, Mother and Grandmother | Sept. 26, 2017

BAGRAM, Afghanistan -- I recently had the opportunity to serve as acting Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Transatlantic Afghanistan District for a month in Bagram, Afghanistan. Having only a short time to learn who they are, what they do, why it’s important, and who needs to know, I wondered what I could accomplish in a few weeks that would matter, much less make a difference.


I am Catherine Lowrey, government civilian and Chief Public Affairs Officer for the 88th Regional Support Command. I am Staff Sgt. Lowrey for the 88th RSC Headquarters and Headquarters Company. I am also Mrs. Lowrey, Mom and Nana. Occasionally, I am just Cat. I wear a lot of hats.


In September, I put on my government civilian hat and set off for my fifth trip overseas in support of the Global War on Terrorism. USACE TAA welcomed me as one of their own, helping me get settled and connected via computer. Then they did a wondrous thing; they stepped back and trusted me to do my job.


Public Affairs Officers do more than tell the story. We educate our commands on what public affairs means. We show what public affairs can do, and what we should be doing. PAO’s learn their commands nuances and adapt their abilities to be most effective in accomplishing the overall mission. We are a tool, and commands can and must learn to use this tool effectively and safely.


U.S. Army Col. Kimberly Colloton, USACE TAA district commander gave me the opportunity to attend meetings, briefings and missions, and answered my seemingly endless questions about the organizations future goals, current projects and past accomplishments. Most importantly, she shared with me her vision of this organization.  


“Our mission is bigger than building facilities,” Colloton stated. “Throughout the entire construction process, we strive to provide opportunities to employ and mentor Afghan engineers, builders and tradesman, for they, and the facilities that they deliver, enable the security forces and are the cornerstones for building a solid future for Afghanistan,” said Colloton during an interview about the role of TAA in the turnover of a newly completed compound for the Women of the Afghan National Police in Kabul.


The USACE TAA District mission is vital to reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. I thought I had seen the big picture here in Afghanistan. I now realize there are many other big pictures, all of them are interconnected, and most of them depend greatly on a strong, stable foundation of infrastructure and facilities.


The people behind this mission are working for Afghanistan’s future in a way I never understood. They gave me a new perspective on the importance of building tangible “things” as opposed to the intangibility of winning hearts and minds. The Soldiers and staff of TAA overwhelmingly impressed me with their outstanding institutional and organizational knowledge, experience and dedication.


The USACE TAA Marmal Resident Office Construction Representative Art Kunigel is one of the many staff members I met who not only wears a government civilian hat, but has also worn a Kevlar. Kunigel served his country during the Vietnam War and continues to serve as a civilian in Afghanistan. His words to me in an email after my trip to Marmal were touching as well as a reminder that we never take off some hats once we’ve worn them into battle.


“Catherine, I also want to thank you for your service to our country for it is the noblest thing any American can do for their country, the sacrifices a mother or father make can only be fully understood by those who serve and have served. "The Kindred Spirit" that service members learn and live for the rest of their lives is truly a cherished gift,” Kunigel wrote.


I may not be here in uniform this trip, but my uniform is part of what makes me strong. Just as my role as mother, wife and Nana add to my strength as a whole.  


The outstanding support I have received from my organization for this mission is incredible. The 88th RSC adds more to the fight than they can capture in a metric.


I may not be wearing an 88th RSC patch on my sleeve, but I bring with me the standard of excellence set by my organization. As do the many 88th RSC Soldiers and staff who are deployed here and across the globe in order to support the fight in ways that don’t make it to a briefing slide.


The lines between the roles I serve are not as divided internally as they appear externally. It is hard for others to see the mother in the Soldier’s uniform, or the Soldier in the woman’s business suit. My grandchildren only see me as Nana.


I can separate my roles in action and by dress, but in belief and values, I am only just Catherine. And Catherine is strengthened by the layers of these roles. They are all who I have become through trial and error, training and growth.


Through it all the U.S. Army Reserve has been the foundation on which I have stood. I am Army Strong as well as Twice the Citizen and will always be prepared to Fight Fast. But each role in my life continues to shape me into a stronger version of myself as a whole. Diversity builds strength.


I wear many hats. But no matter what hat I’m wearing, it is always worn on the same head. Under it all, I am just Catherine. And Catherine is proud to have had another unique opportunity to learn, grow, and once again, contribute to this Global War on Terrorism. May we all find peace one day soon. 

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