Kelsey Stubbendick grew up with a mother in the Nebraska National Guard.
She and her brothers became used to spending one weekend a month with extended family while mom Kimberly Lamb trained and father Gary worked.
So it wasn’t a stretch for Stubbendick to join the Guard in high school as a way to pay for college. Her mother supported her decision.
“It was always just part of our lives,” Stubbendick says.
What they weren’t expecting was for Stubbendick, who now lives in Avoca, Nebraska, to be quickly deployed to Iraq. She was 18 when she headed to that war-torn country with the 1075th Transportation Company out of York.
Stubbendick learned how to drive a truck during her advanced individual training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, which she began a week after her high school graduation. She shipped out in September 2004.
She and her company drove supplies all over Iraq. It was scary and sometimes dangerous. At the time, she thought she was invincible. But the experience quickly made her grow up.
“On Jan. 29, 2005, driving to Balad, our vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device,” Stubbendick said. “It knocked out all of our windows. Luckily I didn’t get hit by shrapnel. Everything went black, and there was a loud noise.
“It was just … I don’t even know what to say.”
The truck was fixed, and they continued their mission, only to be shot at the next day.
Stubbendick spent a year in the hot and humid conditions in Iraq, and hasn’t forgotten those terrifying moments. She has nightmares and sometimes flashbacks, especially when she’s driving at night or sees trash on the road.
That’s how IEDs were disguised by insurgents in Iraq.
“They drilled that into our heads,” she says. “Never drive over anything; drive around it.”
It’s a habit she had a hard time breaking when she returned to Nebraska.
She suffered from hearing loss from the incident and was awarded the Purple Heart.
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Stubbendick’s brother Matthew also joined the Guard and in 2007, both he and Kimberly Lamb were sent to Iraq. Kimberly worked in logistics and Matthew as a security truck driver in another location.
Stubbendick said the year that they were in Iraq was more difficult than when she was stationed there.
“Because I was already there and I knew what they were going through,” she said. “It’s harder to be at home when someone is deployed. You just worry all the time and don’t know what is going on.”
Kelsey stayed in the Nebraska Guard for nine years. She left only because she didn’t want to be away from her children, 10-year-old Izabel and 7-year-old Trent.
“I was a child of a deployed parent, and I didn’t want to do that to my kids,” she says.
But she doesn’t regret those years — she’s thankful. It set her up for success, she said, and paid for her college education. She now works for Homeland Security.
Matthew and Kimberly remain in the Guard and also work for them full time. Matthew, who lives in Otoe, works as a property accounting technician and Kimberly as a senior automated logistics NCO.
Kimberly, who lives in Elmwood, has been in the guard now for 38 years and said she’ll likely stay two more years until she’s 60. She loves her job and says she’s learned team building, discipline and to work with people from all walks of life.
She’s proud of her family’s contributions and what they’ve earned in return.
“They have great benefits, schooling,’’ she says. “You are doing something for your state and your country.”