By Staff Writer Sandra Molina
Army Capt. Diana Arnold of Hacienda Heights never thought she was going to be deployed overseas. She was 46 at the time of her enlistment and was told repeatedly that “reservists don’t get deployed,”
Arnold, of Hacienda Heights, was not on the roster for her company’s first deployment in 2011, six years after enlisting. The second time around, she explained to a packed room Thursday at the Whittier Central Library’s kickoff of the annual Whittier Reads program, Arnold was told, “Ma’am, you’re on the roster.”
Her story — deployment to the Middle East as a dietician for 30,000 American civilians and military personnel — fit in with the armed services theme of this year’s reading.
The monthlong programming is based around the book “Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Dog Who Saved Him,” by Luis Carlos Montalvan.
Although no canines showed up in her story, Arnold, now 54, called her experience “the most rewarding chapter in my life.” After a “whole lot of training,” she “took off a dress and put on the combat boots.”
Arnold talked of her deployment from July 2012 to May 2013 along with a slide presentation of photos of her time in Kuwait, Qatar, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Germany and France as a soldier with the 349th Combat Support Hospital.
She was stationed at Camp Arifjan, known as AJ, as one of a 160-member staff, which was designated a combat zone, and where the hot water was cooler than the cold water.
Although Arnold didn’t have much space in her 6-foot-by-8-foot living quarters, she made room for a voodoo doll given to her by her daughter.
“A voodoo doll could be for bad or good,” she explained.
“My daughter went to the famous Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo in New Orleans and got a doll specially for the protection from combat.”
Another prized possession she carried was a star cut from an American flag, which was given to her by a student.
The audience followed her tales of 130-plus degree weather, having to always travel with a “battle buddy”, strict dress codes on and off base, as well as the fun activities including dancing, yoga, karaoke, bowling and others.
Arnold’s duties included patient education, teaching up to 10 nutritional classes a month, fitness and nutrition training for those with post traumatic stress disorder and being one of only five people who decide what personnel eat.
“My soldiers got what they wanted,” she confidently said.