The 40-Year-Old Army Recruit
"You want to do what?" That was the general reaction when Marilee Herrera-Peterson decided to join the army. Her two daughters were divided (the 15-year-old thought she'd gone crazy; the 11-year-old thought she was the coolest mom ever), and her husband was skeptical. But Herrera-Peterson had longed to be a soldier since she was a little girl, when family members would tell mesmerizing stories about her great-uncle, a decorated veteran who served in the First and Second World Wars. Her parents, however, steered her toward college; later came marriage, children, and jobs in the restaurant and real estate industries. Then she found out that the army had raised its enlistment age to 42. And last April, on her 40th birthday, she reported for basic training. (The next-oldest female recruit at boot camp was 28.)
Since then, Herrera-Peterson has learned how to march in formation, spot an improvised explosive device, and shoot an M-16; her advanced training is in geospatial engineering (examining terrain in advance of combat operations). She's also learned that leadership comes naturally with age. "My fellow soldiers come to me to ask for advice," she says. "They're missing a boyfriend, a husband, the kids, and wondering how to deal with the situation."
Herrera-Peterson knows the feeling: She's stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, far from her family in Connecticut, and could be deployed overseas at any time. "Sometimes I think, 'Am I being selfish? Am I asking too much of my family?'" she says. "Then another voice says, 'I am finally doing what I really want to do.'"