Women in the military - Two share stories of their service

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Tammy Sylvester

Gerri Torkelson

By Pat McTaggart

Freelance Writer

As a senior in high school, Tammy (Peake) Sylvester had already decided to join the Navy by enrolling their delayed entry program. Her father, Ronald, had served in the Navy for four years while her oldest brother, Jeff, enlisted right out of high school and served for 16 years in submarines. Another brother, Craig, served for six years in the Navy as a cryptologist technician.

“That kind of set out my path,” Tammy said. “I tested out as a radioman and spent my boot camp in Orlando, Florida.”

After boot camp, Tammy attended schooling in San Diego. Being one of the top two in her class, she was offered a choice of bases and chose Pearl Harbor.

“I was at Pearl for 3½ years and was stationed at COMSUBPAC,” she said.  “While I was there I was named junior sailor of the quarter. I stayed there until my enlistment was over and then returned home.”

Tammy and her husband, Dan, live in Elkader, where she is employed by Alpine Communications. Daughter Nicole is in college, and three other daughters—Madison, Tessa and Tori—are at home.

 “I think my service in the Navy molded me,” Tammy said.  “It made me into a respectful, morally sound American citizen. I’m grateful for the opportunities the Navy gave to me and it made me very patriotic. The Navy also gave me a good work ethic. Being from northeast Iowa, my service broadened my horizons and taught me to work and communicate with people of different ethnic backgrounds.”

 “Having a family that has served their country is very important to me,” she added.  “I learned never to take anything for granted.”

Gerri Torkelson lives in Elkader with her husband Roger. She grew up in Waukon and then moved to Webster City. Like Tammy Sylvester, Gerri joined the military right out of high school. Her father served in the Navy during World War II.

“I wanted to serve my country, too, so I decided to join the Army,” she said.

Gerri spent her basic training and advanced schooling at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. From there, she was transferred to Fort Carson, Colorado, where she worked as a clerk/typist before being transferred to personnel. She stayed there until her enlistment ran out on October 22, 1977. Gerri now works at the Clayton County Office Building in the Visiting Nurses Association Office.

Torkelson’s have two daughters, Ann and Gail. Ann is in LaCrosse, Wisconsin and Gail is a 12-year veteran in the Air Force and is currently serving in England.

“Gail joined the Air Force exactly 30 years to the day that I got out of the Army,” Gerri said.

Reflecting on her years in the Army, Gerri said that her training gave her a lot of organizational skills and helped her in the jobs that she has had.  “It also taught me respect for authority and taught me how to be a good soldier,” she said. “I appreciate a lot more what our veterans and serving military do and the freedoms they protect for us.”

Gerri is also active in the American Legion. “I think that it is a good organization,” she said.  “It’s good to participate in an organization that has helped protect and defend our country.  As far as military service goes, I would recommend it.  It opens up so many doors to opportunities and it finds you an occupation you can use in the future and lets you grow, while at the same time you know that you are defending your family, neighbors, friends and your country.”

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