A week away from Iraq and 1st Lt. Christy Hales looks world weary and is hesitant to smile. But she could also still be recovering from an active day up at Lake Tahoe kneeboarding with her husband.
She's a little sunburned. Hales said she wanted to rebel and not apply sunscreen. The clear blue lake nestled in the mountains is a dream compared to stifling dry heat in a desert just above sea level.
Hales, 35, has one week left of freedom from war. She plans to take another day up at Tahoe, watch television and drink a few beers. She got her hair cut to just under her chin. But she also feels at a loss for what to do with herself. For her first six months in Iraq, Hales led equipment convoys, which are not the most comfortable places to be. They're hot and stuffy, especially when the soldiers are wearing full gear.
Then there's also the fear of roadside bombs and insurgency. She said 75 percent of the convoys are composed of civilians, and the drivers often are contracted from other countries and don't speak English.
"For the first six months I led convoys from Kuwait to Iraq and back," she said. "My job now is battle captain for the 106th Transportation Battalion."
She joined the Army National Guard in 1988 to pay for her education at the University of Utah, where she graduated in 1996. This has been her longest deployment. Her last was four months during Desert Storm.
She was friends with the first Nevada Army National Guard soldier to die in U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, Spc. Anthony Cometa of the 1864th Transportation Company.
"They're good soldiers, the ones from Nevada," Hales said. "Every day they're out there and they don't complain. It's hot and miserable and they get shot at and bombs thrown at them. And they just get back into the convoy."
While back home in Carson City, Hales, an investigations agent at the Gaming Control Board, also took the time to thank her employers for giving her a year-and-a-half off for deployment.
The large number of National Guard service members deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan has compelled the military to reward those employers who return them to their jobs upon completion of their deployment.
On Tuesday, Hales went back to her office wearing her Army fatigues and thanked her supervisors: Shawn Reid, James Martin and Randall Sayre.
"Fortunately we have Randall here, who happens to be the chief of our investigations division and also in charge of the Nevada Army side of the National Guard," said Dennis Neilander, chairman of the Gaming Control Board. "So, we work closely with the military to determine what's best for our employees."
The Gaming Control Board has two other employees deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan: Victor Ingram and Jared Hoopes, both of Las Vegas. After returning from duty, they all will have the same amount of benefits as if they had been at work for the year.
Hales is hoping to be home by Thanksgiving. If she'll be deployed again - that's a question she doesn't want to be asked.
"I have two-and-a-half years left and hopefully I don't get deployed again."
But Hales said it's all worth it. Her service has given her a sense of responsibility, something she thinks young people need, whether its in the military or some other long-term service organization.
n Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at email@example.com or 881-1212.