Michelle Prince was 29 years old and in a dead-end job when she decided to join the Army National Guard in Missouri.
“I was like, OK, I can do the National Guard,” she said. “It won’t be full time, just one weekend a month and a couple of weeks a year.”
She wanted to learn a new skill set in communications — something that would lead to more fulfilling work in her civilian life as well. After her basic and advanced training, Prince was deployed to Qatar on the Arabian peninsula. She was gone from home for two years.
“It was rough,” she said. “I was married at the time. My marriage didn’t survive.”
She trained to work in communications, just as she planned, but once in Qatar, she was assigned to the military police.
“I was then trained to do military police work,” she said. “I learned what they do, but once I started having back issues, I got lighter duty and started doing my actual job.”
Since her stint with the National Guard, Prince has had three back surgeries, the result of troubles that began in basic training.
“A lot of female soldiers have injuries similar to this,” she said. “I was 110 pounds carrying around a 150-pound pack. It starts to crush you.”
The problem intensified in Qatar, where she participated in Commander Games, including helping her unit pull 8,000-pound Humvees by rope. She also jammed her arm in a Humvee door.
“That was the breaking point for the discs in my back,” she said. “I’ve had nerve issues ever since.”
Injuries have kept Prince from realizing her dream of a long-term military career in communications or even working as a civilian at a place such as Fort Hood training soldiers. She has found a new home, however, at the Kingsland American Legion Post 437, where she is one of the few female members.
“I’m not in the Auxiliary,” she clarified. “I’m an American Legion member.”
In her position as assistant service officer at the American Legion, she specifically works with female veterans who need help, something she understands from her own experience, which was not all about the injuries.
“It made me a better leader,” she said of her time in the National Guard. “It gave me more confidence. And, I learned a lot about myself and what I can mentally and physically handle. It was an eye opener for me to learn what I could take. Things I thought I never would never be able to do I did well and with a calm head.”