CAMP ADDER, Iraq – For Sgt. Kelly Carlin, her deployment in Iraq is not just a chance to serve her country and make a difference. It's also a chance to use her many skills — like her passion for Arabic, her expertise in fitness and training, and her prowess at the helm of 40-wheel trucks.
Fox News hitched a ride with Carlin, 25, as she attended a night-time meeting with an Iraqi Army unit at Camp Adder in southeastern Iraq. As we rode toward our destination, the petite native of Houston, Texas, explains tonight's game plan — in Arabic.
“Before my first deployment I decided it would be a good idea to learn Arabic, so I studied with a good friend of mine from Baghdad for about six months. He taught me grammar, reading, writing, all my pronunciation," Carlin told Fox News.
The military has a shortage of Arabic speakers, and Carlin qualified for Army language programs, but she chose to learn Arabic on her own. Instead of sitting in language class, Carlin wanted the adventure of a truck-driving job.
“I drove HETs — which is the Heavy Equipment Transporter — the trailer has 40 wheels,” Carlin told Fox News.
“We'd get calls, 'Pick up downed aircraft, downed tanks,'” she explained. “We'd be in all of our gear, getting shot at sometimes, sweating underneath the truck.”
On her current deployment, Carlin serves as a go-between for joint U.S. and Iraqi patrols, and she manages a staff of civilian interpreters. Her ease in dealing with male soldiers could be — according to Carlin — a by-product of growing up with three brothers in Texas.
But Carlin's drive to excel goes far beyond languages. She's a pathfinder — a member of the exclusive unit that sets up aircraft drop zones in war zones — and an avid skydiver in civilian life. As a certified fitness trainer, Carlin leads exercise classes on the base. She's also a champion ballroom dancer.
Happily married to another soldier, Carlin is now working toward a college degree in French and Arabic. Languages are her passion, but she says it's being a soldier that has changed her life.
“It gives you a sense of pride you know, that you didn't have to join the Army you didn't have to come, but you feel like you're actually doing something important,” Carlin told Fox News. "You're working hard, you're sweating. Kind of like you're paying your dues."