April 12, 2008 Galesburg woman stationed in Kuwait manages to attend Great Lakes graduation
By Deborah Horan, Tribune staff reporter
Army Maj. Michele Pulley hopscotched the globe for three days to get from her base in Kuwait to Chicago. When the exhausted reservist arrived, she contemplated sneaking home to Galesburg, Ill., a three-hour drive, to change into a snappier uniform that would display her military medals.
But she didn't dare risk the trip to her hometown, where someone would likely recognize her.
Instead, the proud mother of a newly minted sailor wore her Army fatigues to a graduation ceremony Friday at Naval Station Great Lakes to secretly watch her daughter, La Shantae' Anderson, stand at attention with 708 other graduates. Then she walked through a sea of navy blue to surprise her.
"Ahoy, sailor!" she said.
"Oh, my God," her daughter said and burst into tears. "How did you get here?"
Stationed in Kuwait since November, Pulley, a single mom, isn't due to finish her tour of duty in Kuwait for seven months. Pulley hadn't spoken to her daughter since sometime in January, when Anderson told Pulley she wanted to enlist in the Navy, Pulley said. Since then, there had been a flurry of text messages, mostly to clarify military procedures, and there had been frequent exchanges of letters, which Pulley often filled with inspirational quotes.
No one expected the soldier to show up in North Chicago.
"I was standing [at graduation] thinking, 'I wish my mom was here. I wish she could see this,' " Anderson said. "And here she is. This is beautiful."
Pulley's trip home began March 20 when she requested temporary leave from her base at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, where she is a logistics officer assigned to the Army Materiel Command, based at the Rock Island Arsenal in Rock Island, Ill.
"Her chain of command was very supportive of this," said Todd Willebrand, deputy public affairs officer at the naval station. "The Army knew her daughter was graduating boot camp. They said, 'Hey, that's a big deal in your daughter's life. Get on a plane and get out there.' "
She left Arifjan on Tuesday, flying first to Camp Ali as-Saleem in Kuwait, then to Germany, then Atlanta before boarding the flight to Chicago. She missed four connections and spent many hours waiting on layovers, she said. In three days she got about 10 hours of sleep.
Landing in Chicago on Thursday, she briefly considered the drive to Galesburg. "Then I thought, 'There's no way to do it without being detected,' " she said. "If I go into town, someone will see me."
That someone might include her own parents, who still live in Galesburg and who were equally surprised to see her.
Pulley, who in her civilian life works as an assistant prison warden in Galesburg, will return to Kuwait on April 26.