Dicy McCullough: Military career started a lifetime of service
Last year during Memorial Day weekend, I heard Sandra Hache’ give a speech about the role of women in the military. Intrigued, I wanted to find out more about her and why she joined the Army. I’m glad I did because I discovered there’s more to Sandi than meets the eye.
During her adolescent years living at what is now the American Children’s Home in Lexington, Sandi never imagined she would join the Army at 18 and travel the world, but that’s exactly what she did.
When Sandi’s mother, Janie Rimer, became ill with cancer and no longer could care for her six children, Sandi, at the age of 14, went to live at the children’s home. Initially, Sandi went into the foster home system. But, separated from her younger five brothers, she resented and resisted the foster homes.
“I never gave them a chance, so off to the children’s home I went,” Sandy says. “I wasn’t crazy about it, either, but the children’s home did have caring, compassionate people who I grew to trust and admire. As I look back now, I know I would not be where I am today without them.”
By the time Sandi’s mother was well enough to take care of her children again, Sandi had graduated from high school, joined the Army and was in basic training at Fort McClellan in Anniston, Ala.
The adjustment to Army life was not a hard one for Sandi because she was used to following rules, having learned that lesson at the children’s home. The hardest part was culture shock from the military’s diversity and being away from family and friends. She often would write home, saying, “Mama, you won’t believe what I saw today.”
Sometimes Sandi wondered if she had made the right decision by joining the military, but apparently she did, because she served in the U.S. Army for more than 24 years.
Training as a personnel specialist in Alabama, Sandi later transferred to Fort Dix, N.J., which was, in her words, “the coldest place on earth.” As in Alabama, she experienced culture shock again in New Jersey, but in a different way. She said it took her a little while to get used to the fast pace.
Thinking for a minute, she added, “I don’t think I ever really did get used to the pace.”
Even so, she must have adjusted well because Fort Dix became a turning point in her career. It was there she trained to become an MP (Military Police). Since women didn’t normally hold that position during the ‘70s, Sandi often drew stares as she went about her duties.
Serving in Germany from 1975-1980, Sandi moved up the ranks, eventually assigned to Military Police Investigations or MPI. This division investigated cases such as larcenies, drugs and assaults. Later, when stationed at Fort Bragg, she applied for and was accepted into a unit considered the FBI of the Army, the Criminal Investigation Division Command (CID).
One of the accomplishments Sandi is most proud of happened while stationed in Hawaii in the late ‘80s. Assigned to anything to do with women or children, Sandi had the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with the government of Honolulu to open the first child advocacy center. With her experiences growing up, what better person than Sandi to have been a part of laying the groundwork? Child advocacy centers can be found in communities across the nation today.
Sandi had other duties and responsibilities as well while in Hawaii, one of which I discovered quite by accident from a mutual friend. Questioned about it, Sandi answered, “Oh, yes, when Colin Powell came to Hawaii, I was his wife’s bodyguard.” I don’t know about you, but I’m impressed.
After her tour of duty in Hawaii, Sandi was transferred to Fort Hood, Texas, where she was promoted to the rank of sergeant major. From there she went to Fort Bliss, Texas, attending the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy. Upon graduation, she was reassigned as the command sergeant major for the 6th MP Group (CID) at Fort Lewis, Wash., retiring in 1996.
Moving to Salisbury after retirement, Sandi hadn’t planned on staying in the area long. That plan changed when she made a promise to her daughter, Kathi, that she could graduate from the same high school where she started as a freshman. That fall Kathi became a freshman at North Rowan. Four years later, true to her mom’s word, Kathi graduated from North.
The year Kathi started high school, Sandi became a substitute teacher in the Rowan-Salisbury Schools. Noticing her rapport with students, the administration at North Rowan Middle School offered her a position as a teacher’s assistant. Now, years later, Sandi is still bringing understanding and compassion into the classroom as a teacher assistant at North Rowan Middle School. Never dreaming as an adolescent someday she would be the one making a difference in the lives of children, that’s the path she has traveled.
Harriet Goodlett, a teacher at North Middle, has witnessed that difference.
“The students Sandi works with love her because they know she loves them,” Harriet says. “She goes above and beyond what is expected, working with students individually on assignments, encouraging them to take responsibility for their behavior. Sandi has even given me ideas about how to help students in my classroom.”
Things could have turned out differently for Sandi, but she was one of the lucky ones. She found not only her career, but also herself in the Army, learning self-respect, discipline and a love of country.
She has a somber respect and admiration for those who have served and sacrificed, as well as for those who are still serving in order to keep us free. Although she understands it’s not everyone’s calling, she believes most young people could benefit from a tour in the military.
This Memorial Day, as we honor those who gave their lives serving their country, let’s not forget the contributions made by women. We may never know the scope of their contributions, but like Sandy, many went above and beyond the call of duty, serving in a quiet and unassuming way. Those lucky enough to return home and back to civilian life continue to serve their communities in that same unselfish way.
We as a nation owe a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid, but let’s keep trying.
Dicy McCullough’s books are available at local bookstores, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Call her at 704-278-4377