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Wilkes County Veterans History Project: Ann Craighead

Veteran Top Box

Ann's Photos

Saudi Arabia - 312th Field Hospital - 1990

Ann & Edmund April 2023

Easter Sunday Sunrise Mass - 1990

Easter Sunday Service - 1990

USO Traveling Baseball Team 

On base outside the pharmacy box - Ann standing on right

Ann's friend Renae Wagenspack

(L to R) Barbara, Renae, Angie, and Ann in the EVAC hospital lab

Working in the pharmacy

Out for a trip to town.

A 'helicopter' view of the field hospital where Ann worked.

 Ann designed and drew a poster of the hospital's floor plan.

Ann sitting in Black Hawk

Ann posing with directional signage. 

Ann with Renae and Barbara

Desert Storm ribbon

Ann, in front on left, with fellow soldiers. 

Ann and Edmund

Ann, with daughters Jenna Allyse (L) and Jessica Diane (R)

Ann with daughters Jessica Diane (L) and Jenna Allyse (R)

Ann with M16

Mosque in Saudi Arabia

Ann in flack jacket

Laying on a laundry water bladder.

Ann with friends Renae and Barbara.

Ann and Renae sitting inside a medivac helicopter.

Ann in front of a flag, made by students at

Millers Creek Primary School - 1990

Saudi native

News Clippings and Other Memorabilia

Poem Sent to Ann from Miller's Creek Primary, written by Betty B. Church

Desert Storm Article in Patriot Newspaper

Ann's Narrative

Ann served in the Army as a Pharmacy Technician (91Q) for three years at Fort Myer, Virginia – home of the (third herd) President’s Honor Guard and the US Army Military Band. Most of her service years were in the Army Reserves.  The first Army Reserve organization she belonged to was out of Fort Belvoir, Virginia.  Here she worked as an Administrative Specialist (71L20). The next unit she belonged to was the 312th Evac Hospital out of Greensboro, North Carolina, where she served again as a Pharmacy Tech (91QY7) making IVs and intravenous medications.  While in the Army Reserves, she first traveled to Saudi Arabia for Desert Storm and Desert Shield.  During her entire career at the reserve center, she had the opportunity to travel the world.  She went to Bolivia, twice to Germany, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

Ann was born to parents Thomas Floyd Knott and Julia Scholastica Knott in Harlan, Iowa on October 22, 1953.  Her father worked a few years for the railroad in Denver, Colorado before moving back to Iowa.  There he had an opportunity to work a farm and live again in the country. Life was good, but the work was hard and when the farm owner died, the Knott family moved to town.  Floyd began subbing for his brother-in-law at the Post Office and attended Barber College where he graduated at the top of his class.  His career as a barber/rural mail carrier lasted for over twenty years.  Ann’s mother took nurses training for the Navy and graduated as a registered nurse.  She retired after fifty years in surgical nursing, a position she loved.

Ann has two brothers: Paul Douglas Knott and Robert ‘Bob’ Joseph Knott.  Paul attended the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado and retired from the United States Air Force. He lives with his family, not far from his beloved academy.  Bob attended the University of Iowa at Iowa City and graduated with a pharmacy degree. He lives in Bettendorf, Iowa with his family, and has worked in a retail pharmacy for over forty years.

Ann attended primary and secondary schools in her hometown, graduating from Harlan High School. 

Her favorite subject in school was always art, so when she graduated she wanted to be an art teacher.  Ann’s mom wanted her to be a nurse, like her.  Since Ann grew up on a farm, she worked several jobs to make money for college.  She milked cows and separated the milk to sell the cream.  She raised chickens, sold eggs, and shucked corn.  With that money, she bought calves to show at the 4-H fair. To make more money, Ann got a job as a carhop for an A&W Root Beer stand.  It was a fun job, but did not pay all that well so her mm helped her get a job in the kitchen at the hospital where she worked.  This was a fast-paced job, doing the dishes and clearing tables.  In the fall of 1972 when Ann went off to Briar Cliff College, in Sioux City, Iowa, one of her work-study jobs was in the kitchen, loading dishes like at the hospital. 

“I went to school in the summer and got jobs as a lifeguard, worked in a cookie factory, and welding circuits for TV sets. After I graduated from college, I worked at Woodbury County Home as an occupational therapy tech.  I taught patients how to clean and paint pottery, how to weave on a loom, and tool leather.  It was a fantastic job, combining teaching, art, and working in healthcare. I loved it, but I would always be a tech and not in charge, unless I got more education.  I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree, but Briar Cliff was not a teaching college, and I needed more college to be certified. Whenever I needed money for college, I used what I had saved and sold a cow.  My parents and my cows put me through college.  I graduated college debt-free in three years.”

“I did not want to go into debt, so I decided I wanted to join the military and get the GI Bill.  Since my mother had started out in college, and was able to get her nursing degree through the Navy, I did all my paperwork for the Navy.  All the recruiters were in the same building, so when the Navy did not have an opening in occupational therapy, I walked down to the Air Force.  They also did not have an opening, so I went to the Army.  The Army recruiter said they did not have an opening either, but they did have one as a pharmacy tech.  He assured me I could take that and could always switch when I got to Fort Sam Houston in Texas.   In addition, because I was already a college graduate they would give me stripes for skills and I would start out as a Private First Class E-3.  Neither the Air Force or Navy would do that, but with the Army when I graduated from my school, I would be a Specialist E-4 in about six months.  The only problem was when you sign-up for one military occupational specialty (MOS) they send you to school for that job and unless your contract says you can change jobs you are locked in for that job.  Being a pharmacy tech was not what I wanted to do, so I walked out and told the Navy recruiter I had to talk to my mom about this situation.  He was mad and asked if I always did what my mother said.  I said 'YES!'”

“After discussion with my family, I found out that my younger brother, Bob, was thinking about joining the Navy . . . like my mom and two of her brothers, Frances and Hank. So, I started out as a Private First Class (PFC-E3) right off.  The pay was good.  People thought I knew all about the military because of my rank and had been in ROTC, but in reality, I had not. They put me in charge of details anyway because I outranked everyone else. It was a real pain until I learned fast what I needed to know about rank and soldiering skills. After basic, I could have gone to officer candidate school (OCS) but I wanted a medical MOS.  I did not have enough science credits to get a degree in anything like nursing, so I stayed in the pharmacy tech program where I met my husband Ron.”

Initially Ann’s folks drove her to Omaha, Nebraska and from there she flew to Fort Jackson in North Carolina for Basic Training in the Army. After basic training, she went to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, to get her MOS training as a pharmacy tech.

“I loved the firing range and the hand-to-hand combat training.  One cold night, while on the firing range, about forty soldiers refused to get in foxholes to finish the night firing. The next day all the soldiers that did not finish had to march four miles out to the range to get their firing done.  The rest of us got off-post passes and some of us went to a Japanese steak house for supper.  That was one of the coldest Decembers in years and while camping outside on bivouac, several girls got frostbite.  I had to go to sick call for the pain in my feet and it took all day for them to defrost!

Our drill instructor, Sergeant Rampey, taught us fun marching drills and cadence songs.  If you were not good at push-ups, you knew you would be doing those every time you messed up.  The hardest part of basic training was the running and physical fitness test.  In the end, his strict discipline helped everyone pass their physical fitness test. Pharmacy school was challenging with the rote memorization of all trade and generic names for the drugs, the warning statements and their usage. The math was hard for me and it seemed like only one instructor could explain it to me in a way that made sense.”

At Fort Sam Houston, I met a girl stationed at the hospital. She took me and another student out for a night on the town, down by the River Walk.  The river was green for St. Patrick’s Day and the food was fantastic!”

After three years of honorable service at Fort Myer, Virginia, Ann and Ron moved to North Carolina so that she could attend Appalachian State University, in Boone, to get her teaching certification.  They thought that would be the end of military life. However, three years later they moved back to Virginia, and Ron decided they should join an Army Reserve Unit, the 55th support unit out of Fort Belvoir, Virginia.  While in this unit, Ann went to school to be an Administrative Specialist. Later when they moved back to North Carolina to raise their family, she starting working on a Master’s degree for Autistic Education. Then the war started and she received her call to duty.  When called to service abroad, she left behind all her family, especially her husband, two small children, and in-law family.  She also left behind almost 500 art students at four different schools in Wilkes County.   Before deploying to Saudi Arabia, Ann went to Camp Shelby, Mississippi for specialized training.  There she learned how to set up a field hospital, and then back at Fort Sam Houston she was trained how to correctly measure and inject medicine into IV bags that the nurses would hang to infuse medicine in a sick soldier’s arm. 

“Pharmacy school was challenging with the rote memorization of all trade and generic names for the drugs, the warning statements, and their usage.  The math was hard for me too and it seemed like only one instructor could explain it to me in a way that made sense.” 

After Pharmacy school, Ann promoted from Private First Class (PFC E-3) to Specialist (E-4). Near the end of her enlistment, she also received a promotion to Sergeant and earned recognition as ‘Soldier of the Month.’  While in Saudi Arabia, during Desert Storm, Ann and another female soldier got a Field Grade promotion to Staff Sergeant.

“It is a really big deal to get a promotion while in a war time situation. We were the only soldiers at our evac hospital to get this. I had to wait four years to get my Sergeant First Class (E-7). I had to submit a packet and get all the paperwork done just the right way. I had to travel to Fort Bragg to get a picture made of me in my dress uniform and have several people review my paperwork to make sure I had all the classes I needed for advancement. Sometimes the timeline and the class criteria kept changing and the slot filled before I could get in, so you would have to wait for another opening.

Getting used to military jargon and all the paperwork needed as you advance in rank was the hardest part of the military lifestyle. I loved the uniform and all the traveling. It was exciting to go to different countries and see how other people lived and worked.”

Ann’s unit went to Fort Bragg in November 1989 to train and get the hospital up to strength. Soldiers came from all over the United States to get the needed personnel for a full strength operating hospital.  The Greensboro unit did not have enough doctors, nurses, lab techs, trained pharmacy techs, or other specialists or surgical or respiratory techs to be working a hospital.  The Surgical Evac Hospital had four-hundred beds and some of the soldiers had not yet gone to school for their specialty.

“Later I attended IV school, which also was very demanding, and allowed for no mistakes when you are making something that goes directly into a person's arm. Training for the pharmacy included learning how to use various machines for mixing medications and how to prepack unit doses for the patients. I needed to know all the programs used in the pharmacy to order supplies, create labels and reports. I also needed to know how to fire my M16 for when I was on guard duty.

We had to recruit soldiers and it took three months to get all that were needed. We needed retraining on the firing range and running a deployable medical system.  I went to Camp Shelby, Mississippi to learn how to put up tents and how to pack containers for shipping everything overseas. We had to order all the equipment we would need for months in the desert.  We trained on how to wear mission oriented protective posture (MOPP) gear. As soon as we got into Saudi Arabia, we unpacked that gear so we would be ready to put it on if we had a chemical attack.   You did not want to fight with the tough plastic packaging trying to get the protective gear on in case of an emergency.”

Ann recalls her experiences in Saudi Arabia for Desert Shield/Storm . . .

“While flying into Saudi Arabia we watched the fireworks of tracer bullets being fired below us. If the enemy had known, we were a medical hospital we would have clearly been a target. It took over four hours to load our gear with 400+ personnel but once we were on the ground, they gave us thirty minutes to get everything off because they wanted that plane out of there. We did it!

When we arrived, we got our MOPP gear out and ready to wear in case of a scud attack or chemical weapons. We did not have long to wait. We were scudded two to three times a day while at Kobar Towers near Bahrain. The first night we were in gas masks all night. We got used to the alarms going off for a scud attack and we mostly stayed in line for meals because we had a Patriot Missile site right near our housing. They blew up anything that came our way, but if the scud was going into the Persian Gulf, or the desert where no one was, they just let it go. We were fifteen miles from the Kuwait border at the start of the war. However, as the days went on the war moved away from us and the helicopters had to fly further to bring us the wounded.

Once we took a Black Hawk helicopter to Riyadh to get some medicine we needed but could not find at any of the other posts or supply depots. We flew over some ships in the middle of the desert. Why they were there, I will never know but it was a strange site.

Our hospital became the USO (United Service Organization) for all the units around us. We had hot showers and makeshift card tables for games of Spades and Hearts. We also had chess, checkers and other board games. Every few weeks when we could get them, we would get a footlocker full of VHS movies to watch. We had movie nights and of course, you could watch whatever if everyone else was at work. After the war was over, while still in the country, we had sent most of our doctors back home to try to save their practices. Those who stayed behind started a traveling baseball team and traveled to other outposts for games. I went on a couple of these trips and it was fun to get away. A couple miles from our hospital was a PX (Post Exchange) where you could buy socks and military clothing, to replace what was worn out or lost. There were also local vendors who came to sell their jewelry or metal works.

We had prayer meetings a couple times a week and I tried to go whenever I could. Before Easter, we got a priest to come and put ashes on our forehead. We took turns carrying a large cross to put up for an Easter service. We only left it up for a couple hours because we could get in trouble for religious symbols in Saudi Arabia. Practicing any religion, other than the state religion, was frowned on.

The mail was slow and using phones at the satellite phone center was very expensive. A five-minute call could cost over twenty to thirty dollars. I didn’t want to run up a bill for my family. One day I got a Red Cross message to call home.  A neighbor boy had told my daughters I had been killed in the war.  At 2:00 a.m. I was driven to the phone center to call home.  I called my girls to tell them that I loved them and would come home soon.  Next time that boy came around the house, my youngest daughter hit him in the face with her fist and knocked him on his butt.”

Everyone was happy to see Ann when she made it home. She went back to school to show the students where she had been and traveled for the short deployments. This time troops received a warm welcome, not like the bad treatment received when Vietnam veterans returned home.

“When we first came back, any loud noise like fireworks or cars backfiring would trigger a survival instinct and you would want to hit the ground. I worked at Lowes Distribution Center when I first came back home and a metal box of plates hitting the floor would send me underneath the conveyor belt.

I was lucky to go to war with over four hundred other soldiers. I still stay in touch with some of the people I trained with and lived with for three months before we went overseas.  We still get together a couple times a year. Even though folks keep moving, I try to keep in touch. I still send and get Christmas cards from some of the people I was active duty with as far back as 1976-79.

After Saudi Arabia, I came back to find my teaching job was eliminated. They told me I could have a job as a janitor at teacher pay, if I wanted it. That did not happen, and it took five years to get another art teacher job.  Meanwhile I worked at the Wilkes Regional Medical Center as a pharmacy tech.”

Ann noted that her service time taught her a lot about how to work resourcefully and independently.

 “I learned to watch for details, keep organized and get things done. Some things you have to do on your own, but teamwork and being a team player is valuable.  As you get more responsibility and people under you, you need to learn how to delegate.  To be a leader that people will want to follow. I try to be clear in what I say and check on my buddies. As a squad leader I had as many as twenty soldiers in my group.  When I became a platoon sergeant, I had approximately eighty people I was responsible for.  After we got back from Desert Storm we were changed from 312th Evac Hospital to 312th Field Hospital.”

Reunions with the old Evac Hospital and Field Hospital ceased after decommission, but Ann stays in touch with two friends who served with her during Desert Storm.  Ann belongs to VFW Post 1142 where is the bugler on the Honor Guard.  She is an associate at the Williams/ Canter USMC Detachment 1187, and a bugler/rifle person on their Honor Guard. She also helps the American Legion Post 31 whenever she can.

Ann shares other life lessons that the military life taught her . . .

“Life is too short to live it in a bubble. Get out there, make friends, and keep learning. Everyone who can, should spend some time in the military. Thru the military, you can get job skills you can use for a lifetime. I think everyone should travel outside this country and see how good we have it here. There is so much poverty and oppression in other lands. Simple daily needs like clean fresh water, shelter, clothing and food are not easy to get in oppressive societies. Corruption is everywhere and in many countries, the simple act of speaking out, or praying together is prohibited. We have it so good and yet many people do not appreciate it.

I encourage future generations to open your horizons and see the world. Travel and get some training that will help others. Use your God given talents to make this world a better place. The military can give you that training and give you many opportunities you may not get otherwise. Traveling the world will make you see how great this country is and hopefully make you appreciate it better and give you a more worldly view of how everything we do affects all the other nations.

After reflecting on my service experience, I think we should avoid war at all costs but if it comes to us, we will meet the need. We need to make other countries pull their weight in doing more to police countries near them We can't do it all and we can't be giving all our technology away.”

When you think that only 2 to 4% of the whole population of this country ever spends any time in the military or has any idea what it takes to defend it. In Bolivia, everyone who can spends two years in the military.  I think that would be a good thing in this country too.  I have traveled to quite a few countries and can honestly say we live in the best country in the world. I especially liked visiting China and I would love to go back, but they have a watchdog society. You could be accused of most anything, even if you did nothing wrong.  How would you defend yourself? You could end up in jail and never be heard of again. We have laws and we protect people with them. Americans need to learn to love each other and be more accepting. We all need to work for what we have and not expect handouts, and to not expect the government to take care of you.

American soldiers deserve more respect, especially from politicians who are not supporting veterans’ retirement, healthcare or pay raises. We are willing to put our lives on the line to defend this country. We have earned any benefits we have been given. Ask veterans to tell you their story if they want to tell it. Being a veteran is an honor and it is worth the fight to be a member of this great nation.”

Ann Craighead is the first woman to serve in the VFW’s Post 1142 Honor Guard.  She is the bugler and served at over five hundred funerals in this position to-date.

“I wanted to be on the Honor Guard soon after getting back in the States, but my schedule would never allow for it. As the bugler on rifle detail in the Honor Guard there are sometimes several funerals a week, not to mention visiting schools and going to other events. After I retired, I knew that I would be able to join. This is the highest honor I can pay to my fellow veterans. I love being on the team. It is my privilege to serve the families and be able to help with a soldier’s final send-off.”