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Rich Valencia From a SCIF to Special Forces Six years after Rich Valencia graduated from Live Oak High School, he decided to join the Army. “I wanted to be a rock star, but I had a four-year-old daughter to raise. I wanted to build a career and better my life, and I’d always been interested in the military.” Valencia began his Army service as a Cryptologic Linguist at age 24, which he said is “old by Army standards.” After basic training he attended the Defense Language Institute in Monterey. His duties were focused on intelligence gathering. “I sat in a secret room, or SCIF, translating newspapers and other communications. It wasn’t what I was looking for, so I asked to be assigned to a tactical unit.” Valencia was accepted into Airborne school and then assigned to the Seventh Special Forces Group. “I enjoyed being in the Army,” Valencia said. “I pushed myself to places I never thought I could.” Despite being “petrified of heights,” he spent lots of time jumping from airplanes, repelling from helicopters into water, and scaling buildings. Deployed to Afghanistan, he had his “greatest experience of culture shock.” “I got to know people in the local communities in Afghanistan and met 72 some really good guys in the Afghani special forces. What we Americans consider normal and right isn’t always normal and right in other parts of the world; it’s just how we were raised and what we know.” Valencia said the hardest part of being in Afghanistan was leaving his team. “They were still serving their tour of duty and I wouldn’t be there anymore to help. But we’ve kept in touch. I could show up on their doorstep ten years from now and be welcomed in. Until you’ve been in the dirt with someone, you haven’t experienced that kind of bond.” When Valencia returned home he attended support groups and accessed other veterans’ services in Hollister and Palo Alto and had a positive experience. He said the Gilroy VFW provides “a good outlet for vets to talk about their war experiences and get connections into the VA.” He has also taken his motorcycle out occasionally to ride with members of the local chapter (334) of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association. “When there’s stress, we just head out on the road together and let it go.” Mellea McLaughlin Army Sergeant Mellea McLaughlin grew up in a small town in Texas and graduated high school at 16. She joined military to serve GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2018 her country and then pursue a college degree on the GI Bill. “I chose the Marines, then my dad wouldn’t sign the paperwork,” McLaughlin said. “He wanted me to join the Air Force. We settled on the Army.” She was sent to Fort Jackson for basic training and assigned to code detection but there were no openings. She chose optics and electronics. “They had me working on firing systems—definitely a male-dominated specialty at that time.” McLaughlin said she personally never experienced much pushback. “When I went into basic training, I was ready. Having been raised on a farm I was strong and physically up to the challenge. I’d learned to shoot at the age of seven so I was good with a rifle and I loved field exercises.” “My dad and grandfather were in the military. Before I went in, my dad said, ‘There’ll be a good guy and a bad guy. Agree with the bad guy, but do what the good guy says.’ I went in ready to do things their way. People saw me as a leader, someone who was helping other people get where they needed to be.” She was made a squad leader in Texas, and a platoon leader at Fort Knox. As a specialist in firing systems, McLaughlin had to evaluate Army text- books. “I had to evaluate books describ- ing how to maintain, troubleshoot and repair all kinds of equipment, even Bradley tanks. The goal was how to explain the steps in the least amount of words with greatest amount of clarity. And if you didn’t know all the Army acronyms, you’d be lost. “I was part of a diverse popula- tion from all over the country learning how to work together and depend on each other. There was no room for, ‘I don’t want to do it’ or ‘I’m not feeling it today.’ It taught me ultimate respon- sibility, that I was part of the success or failure of the operation.” Mellea McLaughlin is married with four adult children. She serves as Publications Director for the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce, where she shares information about local veteran’s activities with the community. She served five years on active duty and one year in the Army Reserve.