A minor technicality in the way her father spelled his name—as opposed to the way the U.S. Army thought he should spell it—was the catalyst that prompted Adrienne Evans-Quickley to join the military.
When she was just a teenager, her father died while serving in the Army. When her mother went to collect his insurance, she was told the paperwork wasn’t valid, because her father had signed his legal name as “Jr.” instead of spelling it out as “Junior,” even though that was his legal name on his birth certificate.
Adrienne’s mom suddenly was left penniless as a single mom with five children—including a newborn—and she had just 30 days to move out of their quarters. Adrienne remembers her mom was “devastated” because she didn’t know how she was going to put her children through college.
Determined to help change the rules so others wouldn’t have to face similar circumstances, Adrienne decided to join the Army.
Two brushes with death
In 1975, she got her first taste of what being in the military would be like. She was 17 and serving as a Maryland Senate page when she was invited to go on a congressional tour to Vietnam. As her USO plane flew over the country, “things went horribly wrong,” she said, and the group ended up having to be rescued.
Thankful to be alive, she came back home and finished her requirements to graduate from high school. Despite having second thoughts about joining the Army after the close call in Vietnam, she enlisted a year later.
What she thought would be a 20-year career ended up being a 27-year stint, thanks to the onset of Desert Storm and Desert Shield. During her time in the military, she was deployed 11 times all over the world to places such as Grenada, Honduras, Africa and Panama, as well as Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina hit. Her career eventually came to an end when a missile hit the helicopter she was boarding in Afghanistan.
She recalls that fateful day just like it was yesterday—seeing the missile trail coming straight for the helicopter and yelling, “Missile!” Still hanging in the doorway, she was able to jump free from the hovering craft just as the missile exploded behind her. Left with a back injury, shrapnel wounds, and brain-stem damage, she was the only survivor.
Her family had been told she hadn’t survived. They were in the process of planning her funeral when she called to tell them she was alive.
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While still in the military, she worked hard to change the protocols so families would no longer be falsely notified.
“My son still cries when he thinks about that moment, and he is 34-years-old now,” she said. “I believe that God does things for a reason. I really believe that every time there has been an incident in our lives, we are put in a place to do something, so it doesn’t happen to someone else. I found that in my life, most of the things the Lord has allowed me to do are because there is someone else who is supposed to benefit.”
During her stint in the Army, she had an opportunity to take early retirement. However, she still was working to prove her father had signed his legal name correctly so her mother could get the insurance money to which she was entitled.
“It took me 19 years to go through the paperwork needed and to learn the system enough, but in my 19th year, my mother got her backpay, her benefits and the insurance money,” she said. “It is also a requirement now that the military must tell you to sign your legal name.”
UMHB was ‘healing ground’
When Adrienne came to the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor to get a bachelor’s degree, she and her family lived just down the street from campus. Her two children walked her to school each morning since she was still recuperating from the helicopter accident and couldn’t yet drive.
“UMHB was my healing ground,” she said.
“My professors and counselors worked with me. They knew I was still shaky and fearful and didn’t like crowds, but they helped me,” she said. “There was a lot to overcome.”
She not only was able to get a bachelor’s degree in professional studies in 2008, but also went on to earn a Bachelor of Business Administration in 2010.
Since then, she has been an active proponent of veterans and served as the longest-running member of the Fort Hood Retiree Council, a veteran-based organization.
She also served as president of the Women’s Army Corps of Veteran’s Association Chapter 94. She and five other women veterans worked tirelessly to create Texas Women’s Veteran’s Day, which launched June 12, 2018. The June 12 date is significant, because that was the day in 1948 when President Harry S. Truman signed into law the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, which enabled women to serve as permanent, regular members, not only of the Army, but also the Navy, Marine Corps and the recently formed Air Force.
After Texas created the special day, nine other states followed suit and now recognize women veterans on that day.
“Women are determined, and prayer does change things,” she said.
Even though Adrienne had a long and challenging military career, she says she believes God chose her for the job and gave her the fervor to keep pressing on. Now, she says it was worth it.
“I believe God took this little country girl, who was trying to help her mother and said, ‘I can work with this.’ And he let my experience make it easier for someone else.”
This article originally appeared in UMHB Life, the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor’s alumni magazine, and is reprinted with permission.