Vallecito, CA — “War is ugly, but there´s a whole lot of beauty in it too.” That´s the viewpoint of Sgt. First Class Penelope Alderson of Vallecito who just returned home from an 18-month stint in Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan, the 42-year-old Alderson experienced all that one would expect and more. She was involved in numerous skirmishes including one that took the life of a young team member. Stationed in the Southeast region of Afghanistan, her job was to gather intelligence to keep the soldiers around her safe.
After seeing injuries and death close up, Alderson says you learn to compartmentalize it. You deal with it, but never forget those you lost, she says. Also, it helps to believe in what you´re doing. She says most soldiers over there do.
What also helped was keeping busy.
Alderson volunteered her time at a clinic seeing women who would not have otherwise been seen. Some women in Afghanistan are not allowed to be seen by other men. Alderson served as a female buffer between the male doctors to give those women some much needed medical attention. The doctor would stand behind drapes and give Alderson direction to administer aid.
The clinic was very primitive, essentially a mud hut with no running water.
While there, Alderson delivered 7 babies and saw over 300 patients. Her first delivery was with a 13-year-old girl. Often times, the women would wait too long before getting help, creating an even dire situation.
After successfully delivering the young girl´s baby boy, the girl´s grandmother asked Alderson to name the child. She said she wanted the boy to know of the brave woman that saved his mom´s life who does not cover her face and wears pants.
Alderson declined to name the child as it was too much of an honor for her. However, she did participate in the naming ceremony.
Four times more women came to get medical attention with Alderson there. From the men, she earned the nickname Pire Gul, meaning beautiful flower.
Alderson says she felt like she gave something back to the Afghan people. Also, friends back home helped her give even more by sending goods, like clothes, that she turned around and gave away to those in need.
“To be able to give somebody who never had shoes, shoes – it was like – wow,” Alderson says.
Alderson was also known as the “bubble lady.” She would walk around town blowing bubbles and gather a following of children and some adults too. They were just amazed, she says.
While on her walks she would hand out pens, pencils and bubble gum. Not quite what you would picture a counter intelligence agent doing.
Alderson doesn´t think the folks back home get enough credit.
“They keep us tied to who we are and where we come from,” she says. “Our kids and our families – to me – they´re the true heroes.”
Alderson says, “It´s frustrating when people think they should pity us for being gone. Don´t pity us. We do it because it´s an honor and a privilege to serve our country. Those of us that have been doing it for years, it´s because we want to do it. We believe in what we´re doing and we always will. If they asked me to go back, I´d go back.”
Written by Vanessa Turner.