Citizen-Soldiers: the Soldier behind the rank (part 3)
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait -- Citizen-Soldiers bring with them an abundance of diverse talents, skills, and education. These attributes are often reflected in transferable work skills that enrich both their military and civilian careers, and they can bring a higher level of sophistication than required by their military occupational specialty.
Some of these Soldiers enjoy the differences between their civilian and military work. Others have identified how to incorporate their civilian education, skills, and experiences to benefit their unit, and enhance their own capacity to complete a mission. Still others may do the same work on both sides and have the opportunity to enrich their ability to contribute all around.
Here are just a few of their stories.
1ST LT. LIYUE HUANG-SIGLE
Tenacity, drive, and a heartfelt appreciation for democracy have propelled 1st Lt. Liyue Huang-Sigle forward in her role as a legal assistance attorney for the Command Judge Advocate, 35th Infantry Division. An immigrant from China, Huang-Sigle is happy to have left what she describes as an oppressive regime for the blessings of experiencing true freedom.
"I am originally from Shanghai, China," said Huang-Sigle. "I came to the U.S. eight years ago. I grew up in China until I was 30 years old. As a teen, when I was just about to graduate high school, and I was accepted into college in China -- the student movement, [the] Tiananmen Square protests, of 1989 happened. I had been admitted to college, but because I participated in the protest, I was banned from ever going to college. During the Tiananmen Movement in 1989, we were asking for democracy, basic human rights, and separation of power -- the western ideals of a democratic society. In the beginning, we thought it was a good cause. But then the government declared it illegal."
Huang-Sigle went on with her life. She married and had a child. Later, a business trip led her to Malaysia, where she met her current husband. That trip was the catalyst that changed her life forever.
She moved to Malaysia in 1999, and remarried in 2005. Although she is now bilingual, Huang-Sigle did not speak English when she first immigrated to Malaysia. Rather than sit idle, she started learning English at 33 years old. During her 10 years of living in Malaysia, Huang-Sigle completed high school for a second time in English, in order to be able to go to law school and earn her law degree through the University of London.
Although she had participated in the Tiananmen Square protests, Huang-Sigle said the conceptual depth of the meaning of democracy was not clear to her until she attended law school.
"Now, these words came up again the second time, and the concepts were explained in our law school classes," said Huang-Sigle. "It really got me thinking. It opened my eyes and my mind. It opened a whole new world to me. I could not stop reading those books. I can't tell you the shock that I experienced when I started understanding those concepts."
Toward the end of 2009, Huang-Sigle and her husband, a U.S. citizen, decided it was best for their daughter to be educated in the United States. Although her husband's job kept him in Malaysia, Huang-Sigle and her daughter moved to the U.S.
Eager to embark on her legal career in the U.S., Huang-Sigle was quickly disappointed when she could not find work.
"I wanted to be a lawyer and I started looking for law firms and doing research," she said. "Then I realized nobody was going to hire me and I could not practice law unless I went back to law school a second time."
Undeterred, Huang-Sigle earned her second law degree at the University of Kansas School of Law in 2013.
In the midst of her second journey through law school, Huang-Sigle decided that she wanted to join the military. She wanted to serve the United States.
"Thinking about it was not good enough," she explained. "Doing some volunteer work -- I didn't think that was enough. I wanted to do something that was tangible and physical, and I decided to join the military. I wanted to contribute whatever I could to protect the lifestyle of the United States and its people. I am grateful to be here and to be an American citizen."
At 43 years old, Huang-Sigle went to a recruiter to join. She was turned away due to her age, and the fact that she was not a U.S. citizen. Although the average person might accept that door closing, Huang-Sigle steeled her resolve and took action. She attained her citizenship in 2013, and again went back to the recruiter. Her age was still an obstacle to overcome -- but seeing her determination, the recruiter submitted a request for an age waiver.
Now, nearly 44 years old, her age waiver was approved, and she was sent to boot camp. She reflected on her boot camp experience with a knowing grin.
"It was really hard. My husband was right," she said. "There was so much running and marching every day. It was killing me. I never ran so much in my entire life. I made it through, thank God. I finished my JAG training in February, and then they told me I was going on this deployment."
With her husband's recent work transfer, the Huang-Sigle family has relocated to Texas. The end of her current deployment will mark the beginning of a new chapter for Huang-Sigle. She has become a partner in a law firm in Texas with another female attorney, and she has attained a niche of her own in the legal profession as well. She serves the legal needs of Chinese communities and others, and has broadened her field and knowledge base to a general practice of law.
"Although I have been here for a few years, even sometimes now, when I wake up in the morning, I just feel blessed and privileged to be in the United States," said Huang-Sigle. "I am so lucky to be here."
(Editor's Note: This is part three of a four-part series on "The Soldier behind the rank.")