Edmond Campbell, Senior Staff Reporter
YOUNG, AMBITIOUS, and eyeing an occupation in the glitzy world of fashion modelling, Jamaica-born Esther Simpson Thompson did not envisage a career in the United States (US) military; however, she eventually ended up in the US Army and was later thrust into the bitter and merciless Iraqi war.
Simpson Thompson's deployment to Iraq in 2006 was a defining moment in her fledgling military career after news came that two of her close friends died and others sustained serious injuries in an attack a day after she returned to Jamaica on vacation.
Indicative of the root meaning of Esther in Hebrew, the young Jamaican was seemingly "hidden" from what could have been her graveyard where an explosion dealt a devastating blow to her battalion.
At a time when suicide bombers drove fear into the hearts of many in Iraq, Simpson Thompson and her company were on the ground preparing living quarters for the US Marines.
"Before we go on any mission, we pray," said Simpson Thompson, whose religious roots are connected to the Apostolic Church. She said the deafening sounds of bombs going off during the Iraqi conflict were nerve-wracking.
"It shakes us up, but then, as a leader, you have to cope not just for you, but your soldiers. And if you show weakness, it will affect them. You have to be strong for them."
Simpson Thompson had earmarked mid-June 2006 for her two-week vacation and notified her superior officers that she wanted to return to Jamaica during that period to spend her birthday on June 19.
"When it got closer to the time, they were pushing so many people through, so that at the end of May, they started fast-tracking persons for leave. I got bumped forward and went on vacation early June. I tried to fight it, but they wouldn't listen, so they sent me on vacation," she explained. When I was in Jamaica, indirect fire hit the area where our construction site was located, and a lot of people were injured, and two of my close friends passed away during that incident."
Asked what she believed accounted for her "forced" return to Jamaica, Simpson Thompson replied: "The only thing I can say is that the mercy of God pulled me out of that situation. I think He didn't even want me to experience anything like that, so He snatched me up. I came home June 5, 2006, and it happened June 6. If my vacation did not get pushed forward, I would have been on that construction site with everybody else," Simpson Thompson shared with The Gleaner.
A past student of the JosÚ MartÝ Technical High School in St Catherine, Excelsior Community College in Kingston, and Lincoln's Technical Institute in the United States, the young soldier, who now has a supervisory role in the Army, was raised almost single-handedly by her mother, Daisy Simpson, in New Haven, St Andrew.
The fifth of six siblings, Simpson Thompson migrated to the US in 2002 and lived with her father. She pointed out that even though she did not meet her dad until she was about 19 years old, he played a supportive role in her formative years.
After landing her first job at McDonald's in the US, Simpson Thompson and her colleagues were approached by a US Army recruiter, who encouraged them to join the military.
Despite repeated coaxing from the military recruiter, the young Jamaican said a career in the Army was not for her.
"Back then, you couldn't tell me anything, I was going to be a model," she said with a broad smile, which quickly gave way to laughter.
"I used to dress up in my big sister's heels and thing, and I always wanted to go to America so I could become a model, but when I got there, I started out at McDonald's."
CHANGE OF HEART
In 2003, Simpson Thompson had a change of heart after turning down several offers to join the Army. "I walked into the recruiting office, went to the same person (Army recruiter) and asked questions about the Army. I signed up and did not tell anybody at first," she revealed, adding that her parents would have expressed grave reservations.
In October 2003, the young Army recruit started training, which she described as "very complex".
"When I started training, I could only do three push-ups; I wanted to cry."
However, after several attempts, her mental toughness propelled her to accomplish things that her physical capabilities would not usually allow her to do.
Asked if she harboured thoughts of quitting during the training, Simpson Thompson said there were times when the thundering voices of the drill sergeants belting out instructions made her wonder whether she would be able to complete the exercise. However, she said, her strength of character and unswerving drive to achieve kept her going.
Currently holding the position of staff sergeant, Simpson Thompson said she was enlisted as an E2, which was a private second-class soldier.
Discussing her plans for the future, Simpson Thompson has her eyes set on making the sergeant first-class list, which will be published in June. This will give the staff sergeant an opportunity to be promoted to the next rank.