Cassandra Dodge glad to be back home

DeWayne Bartels
Taken from the back of a MC-130 while in Southeast Asia 2009.

When Air Force Staff Sgt. Cassandra Dodge landed in Nepal she knew she was on hostile ground.

She just did not know how hostile or in what way.

As Dodge stepped off the plane — armed to provide security — she took her post on one side of the plane.

A male member of a civilian security team upon seeing her started running toward her at full speed.

Dodge’s male counterpart guarding the other side of the plane noticed and moved toward Dodge getting between her and the civilian.

“What,” the civilian said, derisively, “did you bring THAT here for and why did you let her off the plane?”

Globe trotter

Dodge, 25, laughed as she recounted the encounter while sitting in Mika’s Coffee House July 5.

She encountered similar situations in Iraq. It was part of what made military life interesting for her. But, not interesting enough to keep her.

Dodge officially became a civilian on Monday and Eureka is home once again.

The military was a natural choice for Dodge. She followed her father and two older sisters into the military.

A younger sister is now serving in the Navy.

Dodge started her military career in December 2006.

She spent two years at the Royal Air Force base in Mildenhall in the United Kingdom and two years at Okadena Air Base in Okinawa.

She joined the Security Services team and then went into Special Operations, which provides security for Air Force planes flying into locations considered hostile to American interests.

Her work took her to many exotic locales such as Cambodia, Thailand, the Phillipines, Nepal, Bangladesh, Malaysia, South Korea and Indonesia.

She was involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and the Joint Task Force Horn of Africa.

Dodge helped in humanitarian missions earthquake relief in Java and Japan.

Easy decision

Dodge said it was not a hard decision going into the military.

“I went to college for two years and got a degree in nothing. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,” she said. “I said to myself, ‘I need some direction.’”

She said going into the military was a good decision. She said it was better than she expected.

“I went overseas. It got handed to me. I was actually very blessed,” she said.  

Dodge said while the experience was good it was not easy.

“It’s a regimented life. It’s difficult. It’s the military,” she said. “The physical part was my biggest challenge. I needed the challenge.”

The challenges she faced changed her, Dodge said.

“I’m a much more confident person than I used to be. I’d always second guess myself in the past. I pushed myself and proved myself.”

The best part of military life, she said, was the people she met and the places she visited.

The worse part, she said, was the politics.

Not an issue

Addressing the controversy about women in the military and sexism, Dodge said she never encountered it in the personnel around her.

“I only experienced it in other nations. I wasn’t really surprised. It wasn’t a problem,” Dodge said.

“I was raised by a strong woman. If I would have experienced it from my Air Force counterparts it would have just motivated me to try harder. Women were valued in the Air Force. I never saw anyone from my unit treat females any differently. I was never treated differently because of my gender. The way you were treated was based on your ability. It was skills that mattered, not your gender.”

Dodge said she would recommend the military to any young woman.

“I would tell them it is mentally challenging,” she said. “You can get past the physical. What got me through was my sense of humor. I also kept a positive attitude.”

New plans

Now she plans to go to Illinois State University and study criminal justice and theater production.

“Security Forces was a jack-of-all-trades job. I enjoyed my time in the military but it wasn’t what was going to make me happy,” Dodge said.

Dodge said she now has more control of her destiny.

Her dream job is doing light and sound design for a major theater or a touring theater group.

She will have her criminal justice degree to fall back on, as well.

But, for now, she is still in fighting mode.

Her fight now is with boredom.

“I need to get to school. It will give me something to do day-to-day,” she said. “In school I will have a routine. Now, I have too little to do and too much time to do it. Now that I’m no longer a globe trotter I will get antsy.”