ON A MISSION TO HELP
Cindy Ramey was in basic training at a U.S. Army base in Missouri when the recruits were called to an unplanned assembly.
The day was Sept. 11, 2001, and the news was devastating.
“Oh crap,” Ramey remembers thinking to herself. “Now I have to go to war.”
Ramey is from Yamhill, south of Forest Grove. She said she grew up poor, and her mom encouraged her to enlist in the Army right out of high school. It seemed like “a really good idea,” she recalled.
Suddenly, after the 9/11 attacks, Ramey was a soldier in wartime.
“That wasn’t something I thought I would have to do,” Ramey said.
In the Army, Ramey was a medical laboratory technician — a job that generally entails working with a lot of bodily fluids — especially blood. It was a skill set she wanted to use, and after waiting on tenterhooks for deployment orders that never came, Ramey said she finally just volunteered to go to Iraq with the 47th Combat Support Hospital in 2005.
That was the first of two deployments for Ramey.
“I really loved being over there because I could actively see the difference I was making in the conflict situation the country was in,” Ramey said.
Ramey saw her first deployment with the 47th as more of a humanitarian mission than anything else.
“Because I was in the medical field, we did a lot of medical aid to the civilians in Iraq,” she said. “We gave them a lot of medical supplies, food.”
She added, “I know I saved lives. I know I helped save lives.”
It wasn’t always postcard perfect.
As a medical officer, Ramey had to confront the aftermath of suicide bombings, shootings, and other acts of violence. On her second deployment, she narrowly escaped injury when a roadside explosive hit the vehicle in front of hers. Throughout her Army career, she lost people she knew and cared about. Sometimes, she felt guilty about it — like it should have been her.
Ramey said some of the things she saw and experienced in Iraq still haunt her. She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and started drinking more to cope.
Shortly before leaving the Army in 2010 — she retired with the rank of corporal — Ramey decided to get sober. She has maintained that sobriety for 13 years now and attributes it to her renewed faith in God.
Ramey ended up moving back to the Forest Grove area. She worked at local wineries for a while — ironic for a recovering alcoholic, she said, but right up her alley as someone who enjoys science and biochemistry. She also took some courses at Chemeketa Community College, where she served as president of the school’s veterans club.
Civilian life hasn’t been easy, Ramey admitted. She’s considered a disabled veteran, and while she can work, she sometimes struggles psychologically. She was homeless for a few months in 2018 before she was able to save up enough money to get back on her feet. She currently lives out of a travel trailer on a friend’s property just outside Forest Grove.
“I’m still struggling with transitioning into the real world,” Ramey said. “I know that sounds crazy because it’s been over 12 years since I’ve been out of the military.”
Ramey got a new job with the Forest Grove/Cornelius Chamber of Commerce this past summer. She was immediately tasked with organizing the Corn Roast, one of Forest Grove’s biggest annual events, which took place in September. Ramey said it was a tall order, but with her team, sponsors, and partners behind her, they pulled it off.
Ramey’s work in Forest Grove has put a new spring in her step.
“My love language is helping others and making a difference, a positive difference in the world,” Ramey said. “And I just got this job with the Chamber of Commerce, and I, for the first time in 12 years, feel like I’m a part of a community. I feel appreciated. I feel seen.”
She added, “I feel the love, you know? I feel that positive energy because I am helping, and that’s what I’m meant to do in this world, is to help.”