View Full Version : Mom's a recruit

08-02-06, 07:49 AM
Mom's a recruit
Mother of four follows son into boot camp; first 40+ Arizona woman to join
By Carol Ann Alaimo

When Laurie-Ann Fuca told loved ones she was planning to become a soldier, some doubled over and laughed until their stomachs hurt.
They hooted that she'd never pass the physical at her age, that she'd wilt without luxuries like manicures and martinis.
No one's laughing now at the 41-year-old Tucson soccer mom, who is making history as the first Arizona woman to join the Army past her 40th birthday.
The mother of four leaves for boot camp Monday, three weeks after her eldest son, a 19-year-old soldier, was sent to Iraq.
Until recently, the scenario would have been impossible. But the Army recently raised its maximum recruiting age to 42.
Fuca is one of a handful of older women nationwide now following their sons or daughters into the service, said Douglas Smith, a spokesman for Army recruiting headquarters at Fort Knox, Ky.
In Alabama, a grandmother of two recently enlisted and is training as an explosives expert after her soldier daughter was injured by a homemade bomb in Iraq, Smith said.
And in Texas, a 41-year-old woman and her daughter are due to leave around the same time for boot camps in different states.
More than 1,000 new soldiers, male and female, have joined the Army or Army Reserve since a series of age limit changes recently went into effect, Smith said.
In Arizona, eight people 40 or older have enlisted since January.
Fuca was the first woman to do so. She plans to become the Army equivalent of a hospital paramedic and aims to help wounded troops and civilians.
"I've always wanted to be in the military for a long as I can remember, but I never had the opportunity because I was a full-time mom," she said.
A native of Canada who has been a legal U.S. resident for the past decade, Fuca said the desire is probably in her blood. Her father and sister served in the Canadian army and her brother still does.
Still, the transition from "girly-girl" to grunt has been bumpy for the Oro Valley woman, who hates dirt and loud noises and has a self-professed "aversion to violence."
"My friends laughed their heads off. They said, 'No way — not you!' " Fuca said as she prepared to pack her duffel bag for basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
Her soldier son, Pvt. Thomas Labrador, who is based at Fort Hood, Texas, and now is in Baghdad, thought his mother was kidding, Fuca said.
"My son was like 'You're crazy. Moms don't join the military,' " she said of their chat.
"I told him a lot of soldiers are somebody's mom, and he said 'Yeah, but you're MY mom!' "
He pointed out the harsh realities of boot camp.
"Nobody's going to bring you a latte in the morning," she remembers her son saying.
"You can't read books and listen to jazz, and you can't go around telling people to mind their manners. They'll be telling YOU what to do," she said he told her.
Fuca's husband, a former Tucson police officer, was initially "kind of shocked" too.
"I said, 'Honey, you can't even watch a war movie on TV. What are you going to do in the Army?' " said Vinnie Fuca, 49.
Even recruiters were surprised at the sight of a coiffed and pampered 40-something in their Northwest Side office.
"I asked her how serious she was and she said, 'Completely serious.' And from that point on, we treated her like anybody else," said Sgt. 1st Class Todd Karch, who oversees the recruiting station on North Thornydale Road near West Orange Grove.
Fuca has taken some friendly ribbing from recruiters.
When she ran laps, they made up a teasing sing-song in Army cadence: "Laurie-Ann is over the hill. She is turning like a wagon wheel."
When recruiters tried teaching her to march, Fuca's style was so stiff and mechanical that "we started calling her Mr. Roboto," joked recruiter Sgt. 1st Class Adrian Muņoz.
Getting in shape was an ordeal at first, Fuca agreed. Her husband, quickly convinced she was earnest, helped her train with daily runs.
"The first day, I thought I was going to die," she recalled. "My knees hurt and my lungs were burning so bad I had tears in my eyes.
"My husband looked me in the face and said 'You're not crying are you? You can't cry in the Army.' "
Karch, the recruiting supervisor, said Fuca now outshines many recruits half her age, with high marks on fitness tests and other entry requirements.
"She's more determined than a lot of the younger people we put in," Karch said. "She holds herself to high standards and gives 100 percent."
Despite Fuca's love of the cushy life and her squeamishness about violence, Karch thinks she'll cut it at boot camp. Many recruits find strengths they didn't know they had, he said.
"We get people who think they'll never make it through, but once they get there they find out what they're made of."
Fuca said her biggest challenge may be learning to handle a gun. While she hates seeing gratuitous bloodshed onscreen, she knows she must be able to protect herself and others if the need arises.
"There's a difference between paying $8 to see a violent movie and being a soldier who's defending somebody," she said.
After boot camp, medical training will keep her away from Tucson for the rest of the year. She has a 17-year-old son still at home, Andrew Labrador, a senior at Ironwood Ridge High School, and two younger teens who live in California with their dad.
The Army job Fuca signed up for is a high-demand career field, so she stands a good chance of being sent overseas soon after training ends.
Her husband said he isn't thrilled about the prospect of long separations and having his wife in a war zone, but he said he supports her in following her dreams and puts her fate in God's hands.
"If she goes overseas and it's her time to leave this Earth, I can't get in the way of that," said Vinnie Fuca.
"She's wanted this for a long time," he said. "She has it in her heart to help victims of violence and soldiers who are suffering, and I'm very proud of her."
● Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at 573-4138 or at caalaimo@azstarnet.com