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WomenOf the Month 4-07: Staff Sergeant Tina Flatebo and Tara E. Crooks, founder, Army Wife Talk Radi

This month our WomenOf the Month feature honors two women—Staff Sergeant Tina Flatebo, recently returned from a year in Iraq as a field artillery meteorologist; and Tara Crooks, founder of Army Wife Talk Radio, an internet talk radio show. Her husband, a field artillery captain, also recently returned from Iraq.

Flatebo’s duties while serving in Takrit involved assembling weather data for crewman so they could ascertain when to fire guns most accurately. She worked alone for long periods of time, intensifying the stress of her experience.

Her husband, Luke, a sergeant, served in Baghdad during nearly the same period although he traveled throughout the country, increasing her fears for his safety due to the threat of roadside bombs. They met nearly 12 years ago, when both worked in the Pentagon; they and Crooks’ family are based at Fort Stewart, Georgia, home of the 3rd Infantry Division.

During the first four months, the Flatebos’ only communication was e-mail, which was received a day later. After four months Luke obtained better Internet service, Tina could visit an Internet café, and communication became more immediate. About half-way through their tour they gained phone service; twice they also were able to meet in person.

While Tina was not always able to personally see the affect of U.S. operations due to her work in a Forward Operating Base, she says that soldiers who went out on patrols reported feeling they were making a difference. “They saw soldiers bringing in detainees after curfew, helping during the elections,apostrophe she says. “I think we’re making a difference—I certainly hope we are. My husband got to see more because they worked more with the Iraqi Army. He went to the graduation ceremony for soldiers and felt they were taking over more and accomplishing something.apostrophe

Both Tina and her husband had served in Korea but had never been to war. Handling the stress was difficult, as might be expected. “I was glad I was there serving while my husband was serving,apostrophe she says. “It occupied my time. At first the stress didn’t hit me. We drove from Kuwait into Iraq and I wasn’t scared. Then I saw a vehicle wreck, and that surprised me, and when I got to camp I knew my husband was driving to Iraq, and knowing he was on the roads—I had some nights that were hard. Nights when I would be afraid that the commander would be coming to see me to tell me bad news. It’s something you are always coping with.

“One thing my husband and I noticed is that the closer and closer it got to the time when we were scheduled to come home, the more and more we would talk about what if something happened. We would try not to think about it or talk about it—but in the last month, our conversations would always seem to get back to that.apostrophe
In the aftermath of returning home, Tina was still fatigued and found it overwhelming at times to be around a lot of people. She had been used to working by herself for 12 hours at a time.

Tina noted that as the first female in the field artillery unit, some men were unprepared to accept her presence and/or leadership. “Some of these guys have a little bit further to come,apostrophe she acknowledged.

She was 29 years old when she joined the Army and remains grateful for the opportunities it has offered for her to do “anything she wanted.apostrophe Previously she was trained and served as a combat videographer for 9 years. In changing careers, she selected the artillery in part because she wanted a promotion and scored well on the physical tests. “Where else will they train you in whatever you want to do?apostrophe she pointed out.

Tara E. Crooks, who lives across the street from the Flatebos, has directed her energy into supporting military wives by founding an internet talk show radio site ( Mother of a four-year-old daughter, she earned a degree in human resource management before stints running an Old Navy and Nine West stores. She finished her degree while her husband, a field artillery captain, was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. That’s when she was lying in bed one night –“I’m kind of ADDapostrophe she laughs--and got the idea to start Army Wife Talk Radio.

“I own, a networking and advertising resource for small and home businesses,apostrophe says Crooks. “Kelly McCausey has had me as a frequent guest and also as a co-host on her show She was my mentor in the beginnings of Army Wife Talk Radio -- now we share ideas and bounce things off of each other! My site is part of the MomCast network of sites.apostrophe

Crooks’ goal with the site was to assist with army family team building; to cater to people online; and to fill a niche for army wives through talk radio. She launched the site in April 2005 and today offers message boards, conference calls, interviews, special reports, stories, interviews, poems and songs, experts’ advice, and more. Crooks coped with her husband’s absence while he was serving in Iraq by keeping busy and relying on her “greatapostrophe friendships. “I’m an independent person,apostrophe she says. “Initially I was scared but I tried not to think about it. We talked once a week over the computer, and then we were able to e-mail all the time and call every couple of weeks.apostrophe

Crooks recorded videotapes of her husband reading books to play for her daughter after he left, and he sent webcams home. He has not talked a lot about his time in Iraq since returning. “He’ll talk when he is ready,apostrophe she says.

These and other issues are the topics that Crooks’ listeners and her experts tackle on a regular basis on her programs and podcasts. Relationships, sex, diet and exercise, coping with your significant other’s absence, and communicating are constant hot buttons. “Being in the military is twice as hard on relationships,apostrophe she says. “With the spouse coming and going, you really have to work on it.apostrophe

Podcasts have opened up a whole new venue for Crooks’ listeners. She now has 500 to 800 podcasts downloaded a week, and 200 to 300 listeners via the regular internet shows.

Crooks views her site as a link for these women, who can be very isolated within the military environment. “By linking to the site and other listeners they can understand that others out there may be lonely and having a tough time too. They can link and bond. The military lifestyle is a very different lifestyle. You can love it or you can hate it.

“You can have that day when you are the parent, the gardener, the trash man, the house cleaner, you have no emotional support, you have no spouse present, and you have to get going anyway. You can have that day and somehow you have to figure out something to do—and I hope that my site can help.apostrophe