A family affair

Published Thu, Mar 8, 2007

MEGAN LOVETT | The Gazette

Sisters Danielle and Lakesha Quimbley, privates first class in the U.S. Army, are reunited during Danielle's two-week leave after a tour in Iraq. Lakesha heads to Fort Bragg, N.C. at the end of the month after serving in Korea, and their oldest sister, Tiffany, is in Army training.


After a year apart, Danielle and Lakesha Quimbley had a lot to catch up on -- like their tattoos.

Danielle, 20, had the names of her parents and two sisters, who, like Danielle, are enlisted in the Army, tattooed on her right arm before she left for a deployment in Iraq. When she returned for two-week leave on Feb. 27, the ink was hidden beneath her camouflage sleeve.

"I wanted to take everyone to Iraq with me," said Danielle, who has five months left in her tour.

But Lakesha's additional tattoo of "Tiffany" on her left biceps, in honor of her 24-year-old big sister who started basic training late last year, was clearly visible in her little black T-shirt. The last time Danielle saw Lakesha, 22, only her name was permanently inked on. "Mine's bigger, obviously," Danielle said, giggling.

Though they took different paths, these three Beaufort sisters and Battery Creek High School graduates raised by a Marine father somehow ended up in the same place -- in the Army.

Brothers enlisting from the same recruiting station happens occasionally, but it's rare for sisters, especially three, to do so, Beaufort-based recruiter Sgt. Holly Black said.

"Not as a whole family," Black said from a couch in the Army recruiting office on Boundary Street. "Maybe a brother or a sister but not a whole set of siblings at one time."

Danielle, a high school athlete who wanted to follow in her father's footsteps with a military career, was the first to think about enlisting in the Army, but Lakesha said she was the first to follow through by enlisting in September 2005.

"I was originally in college in Columbia when I decided going into my junior year ... why pay for school when you can get paid and go for free?" Lakesha wrote in October in an e-mail from South Korea, where she was stationed as a cook at the time. Now she is on leave before she heads to her next duty station of Fort Bragg, N.C., at the end of the month.

Danielle enlisted shortly after and she left last summer for Iraq, where she fuels aircraft. Though the "baby girl" growing up, Danielle was a devoted JROTC cadet in high school and her sisters and mother, Melonie Quimbley, refer to her as the Army "lifer."

Seeing her daughters enter the Army has taught her a lot about them, Melonie said, although she's admittedly a nervous wreck when Danielle experiences "blackout" days in Iraq and the Internet and phones aren't working.

"At first, I thought Danielle was weak, but Danielle is a strong person," Melonie said, speaking somewhat softly as not to wake the children who are taking a nap in the day care she runs. "Danielle is the feisty one. She just needed a reality check -- discipline."

The surprise: Tiffany, the oldest, enlisting in October.

"It was a shock because she had just graduated from USC in Columbia," Lakesha said. "She was supposed to be going to an internship in New York. The next thing I know she's in the Army, so that was a surprise!"

After receiving a degree in criminal justice in 2005, Tiffany said she came home to Beaufort and was unable to find a job she wanted and did some "soul searching" before joining the Army, in part because of the benefits and in part to get out of town.

"I've changed my mind a million times," Tiffany said while preparing to leave for boot camp in Columbia in November. "It sucks to be the only child in my house. I don't want to be the one left behind."

Plus, with a Marine father, she felt a sense of duty.

"I was very political when I was in college," Tiffany said. "It's not whether you agree with the administration -- it's about supporting the troops."

Their father doesn't have any problem with his daughters joining the Army because he only told them specifically "just don't join the Marines," the sisters said.

Tiffany had an extra hurdle her sisters didn't in joining the Army because she had to lose almost 50 pounds before even enlisting.

"She probably could've run on 'The Biggest Loser,'" said Black, who saw Tiffany through two work-outs a day and serious lessons in portion control for eight months. "The job is already hard enough. She's dedicated to the cause."

Tiffany finished boot camp at Fort Jackson in Columbia earlier this year and is planning to undergo almost another year of healthcare and airborne training to become a flight nurse. With her education level, Tiffany said she hopes to attend Officer Candidate School at some point.

Melonie, whose own sister was in the Army, revealed she had ambitions to join the military when she was young.

"My goal was to go in the Army," she said. "I never told (my daughters). But then I got pregnant with Tiffany and my husband said no, and we got married. ... I didn't really get to enjoy life. I told them 'I want you to be able to enjoy life.'"

That's why even though she fusses over their safety and the danger they face, Melonie said she is proud of all three of her daughters and the opportunities they're taking.

"I boo hooed and cried in the beginning," she said. "But they've got a life of their own and will be able to take care of themselves -- and they're doing a good job of it."