OAKDALE -- Heather Dillwood sees herself in a few months as an armed, 32-year-old newlywed wearing a head scarf and camouflage while planting beets and herding goats in a remote Afghan village.
It's a bit overwhelming to think about. But she's determined to make the most of this adventure.
"You get out what you put into it," Dillwood said Saturday before her bridal shower in Oakdale.
Josh Eberle didn't know when he proposed that they would be parted so soon after marrying, perhaps for a year. But he's also a national guardsman, they've both been deployed before and they both know that when Uncle Sam calls, you go. So they're keeping an April wedding on track, with plans to start a family when she returns.
"I'll always worry about her," Eberle said, "but she knows what she needs to do."
Heading to one of the least stable places on earth is softened by the nature of Dillwood's unique mission. Although she'll pack heat and always have a security detail, she's part of a special
agriculture development team sent specifically to help farmers grow more than heroin poppies.
Briefings suggest that Dillwood, the only female medic in her 60-soldier team, will mingle with local women who tend sheep and small family gardens. She believes she was chosen thanks in part to her agrarian childhood in Oakdale, where she raised 4-H cattle and did a stint on the school rodeo cutting team.
Served in Kosovo
She's the oldest in her blended family of five siblings. Livestock is big on the side of her mother, Toots Van Ruiten, and her father is Rick Dillwood.
Heather Dillwood, a 1996 Oakdale High graduate, deployed to Kosovo in 2005 with the California National Guard's 40th Infantry Division. She took a detour working for a preschool in Olivehurst, moved to the Midwest in 2007, joined the Iowa National Guard and went to work full time helping soldiers returning from deployment.
And she fell in love with Eberle.
With their April wedding date approaching, both saw writing on the wall suggesting that she would be called up with a 4,000-troop brigade.
Her boss suggested a humanitarian mission might be a better fit for a newlywed.
"I was kind of volun-told to go," Dillwood said. "I said, 'OK, I could get lost as a number among 4,000 or I could volunteer for an amazing opportunity that so few get.' How many people get to assist women in a Third World country with little electricity planting gardens, raising chickens and helping provide for their families?"
Eberle, a personnel logistics specialist, deployed to Kuwait from late 2003 to early 2005. He accepts her absence, and knows he could go again too.
"These are life choices we make," he said.
Timing is better
They might have started a family right away, but Dillwood likely would be eligible for a mission six months after giving birth.
"Deploying now puts us in a much better place," she said.
She's hoping her scarf, which women are expected to wear in many Muslim countries, "will have a little bit of 'girly,' " she said. "(Female soldiers) embrace painting toenails once in a while."
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2390.