Attitude is Everything

Attitude is Everything

Susannah Barr reflects on her time as a member of the United States Army

Deborah Lew
|
November 10, 2023
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Susannah Barr reflects on her time as a member of the United States Army

Susannah Barr may spend most of her days on the pickleball court now, but believe it or not, Barr was once a member of the military. In an attempt to improve her Arabic speaking skills, she joined in the United States Army.

The date was September 9, 2001.

She may very well have been the last person to join the military in peacetime, because on September 11, 2001 she woke up to chaos on her television and in the world around her, just like millions of others.

Being 22 and just out of college, Barr had no idea what her next step was. She had a number of connections encourage her to go the military route to pursue her language aspirations simply because the Army’s Arabic school was highly-reputable, and she would gain a wealth of experience and background. As a bonus, the Army paid off her student debt. Her undergrad work was in anthropology and she was interested in getting into applied anthropology and working in the Middle East - she was fascinated by the culture.

The events of September 11th didn’t deter Barr, in fact, they motivated her. She went to South Carolina for basic training about a month later, and kept her commitment.

“It gave more meaning to what I was doing versus before where it was just more of something to do and get my bills paid for and then it definitely became more of a ‘okay, this actually matters more than I had ever really thought of before,’” says Barr about the effects of September 11th.

Basic training ended up being a fun experience for Barr - she enjoyed being active and around other young people doing the same thing she was doing. The team aspect and being able to support her training mates was also something that appealed to her.

“It was really active,” explains Barr, exuberantly. “We got to run - they paid me to go running in the morning and that was kind of fun. I used to like running but I don’t run much anymore.”

After completing basic training, Barr attended a language school for 18 months.

“That was what I wanted to do, it was great. I mean, it was challenging, Arabic is not an easy language to learn, but it was, again, same thing - you’re all there together and you’re learning this language,” reminisces Barr, now 45.

At the time, her end goal was to eventually end up with the FBI or CIA, although it didn’t quite turn out that way. After she finished up at language school, Barr was first stationed at Fort Huachuca in Arizona for a year-and-a-half. Fort Huachuca is where military intelligence officer training school took place for Barr, and she didn’t use her language skills much there, but she did have her basic instructor certification and was able to participate in training incoming officers on field equipment.

“It sounds awful because I served during wartime, but I actually had kind of a cool experience myself, and I just found it fascinating,” says Barr. “There’s so much variety in what you’re doing.”

At one point she served as the NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) officer, a position she had to study and pass an exam for, and her responsibilities included gas masks and other protective equipment. While stationed in Arizona, long hikes through the mountains on the border of Mexico were one of her favorite things, which shows the variation of situations Barr was able to experience.


Barr got to flex her leadership skills during her stint at Fort Huachuca, as the platoon sergeant. She organized the training for her entire platoon, and she would lead the physical training that took place each day.

When her time in Arizona came to an end, she was stationed at the National Security Agency on the grounds of Fort Meade in Maryland for another 18 months. She led the Arabic training necessary to maintain Arabic language skills in the basement of the NSA, and while this was the part of the military she signed up for, it was not what she enjoyed most. By that time she had realized that she much preferred the physically active parts of the job. Part of her military experience also included a trip to North Africa - a portion of it was for language training and the rest, well, that's classified.

“I was super fortunate that I never actually got deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan,” admits Barr. “I look back and realize how fortunate I really was because in the position I was in, pretty much everybody else I knew ended up getting deployed at some time or another, and there were people that we went to basic training with and to language school with that didn’t come home.”

While she can look back on her time in the military with laughter and optimism, she does concede it was a serious time in her life and in the world, and she always, especially on Veterans Day, thinks about the friends and fellow soldiers that were lost, and the many more who are still, to this day, struggling with PTSD and other illnesses.

She may not have known what she was getting herself into when she signed up for the Army two days before one of the most infamous days in American history, but she learned a lot that she may not have otherwise.

“The biggest thing it actually taught me was that any experience you go into, you can get something out of it if you choose to,” affirms Barr, who knows there were many in the military with her that hated being there. “It’s not easy, it is hard, and there are parts of it that are very challenging and there are parts that they make you do that you don’t want to do.”

One of the things Barr knew wasn’t for her was shooting a gun. She disliked firing a weapon, but being in the military, she had to not only learn but get certified.

“Anything you do there are positives and negatives you can get out of it if you go into it with that mentality,” Barr continues. “I really like just watching and observing my fellow soldiers and kind of how they would handle situations that they didn’t enjoy. That was the takeaway that I had and I’ve tried to use that in all my different experiences in my life. I can choose to be really negative about it or bitter, or I can say ‘well, what can I get from this? What can I learn from this?’”

At the end of her service, Barr held the rank of staff sergeant, an E-6 grade. She oversaw approximately 60 other soldiers and had a plethora of life lessons to take with her.

So the next time Barr is playing for gold on a Championship Sunday, and her attitude remains relatively constant whether she is holding or chasing a lead, just remember - it was her time in the service that gave her that perspective.

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