The live rounds whizzed over Vanessa Medrano’s head, a nearly 50-yard crawl of a muddy, barbed-wire trench being the only means to escape. Failure or quit was not an option.
She lie there contemplating the choices that brought her to this point.
“That was the day where I was like, forget this…Why are we doing this?” Vanessa said. “I got booted in the face, the barrel of someone’s rifle hit me in the face…It was a lot, but I got through it.”
This boot camp exercise, or “Nick-at-Night” as her drill instructors dubbed it, was one of many grueling tasks she was required to complete during her basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina.
Her perseverance and adaptability are what got her through. They’re traits she has called upon her whole life.
Initially, Vanessa aimed to serve active duty and parlay that into a college education.
Her top choice was the Coast Guard, inspired by the Kevin Costner film “The Guardian.” They turned her away due to their rigid tattoo policy.
The Marines, the Navy, and the Air Force were also on the radar until she ultimately landed on the Army as an alternative.
To start, she needed to complete two months of boot camp before moving to her MOS, or Military Occupational Specialty. There she would serve the role of 92 Alpha, essentially the supply manager of the warehouse on base.
She ordered uniforms, boots, and other gear for the first six years of her eight-year contract until things changed.
Vanessa was going to be a mom.
It was a perspective-altering event in her life. Her dreams of active duty service and a college degree needed to be put on hold.
“My focus shifted to being a mom,” she said. “With the military, whether reserves or active duty, it goes God, the military, and then your family. I don’t believe in that.”
Vanessa’s appearances on base were more infrequent after becoming pregnant, especially after the birth of her first child, son Mateo.
She maintains no mistreatment or falling out of favor with contemporaries and higher-ranking officers during the pregnancy. Mateo was even allowed to visit the base with Mom and play on the Humvees.
Plans change sometimes. While Vanessa, now mother to Mateo and Mayleigh, would have liked to see her initial vision through, she received a blessing having not.
“Yes,” she said when asked if she would do it over again. “Because I got my two babies out of it.”