DANBURY, Iowa -- Ten years ago, Alexis Trucke didn't know a thing about the terrorist attacks in New York, in Pennsylvania and on the Pentagon.

Her world centered on capital letters and state capitals. Painting pictures and picking teams for kickball. It's what a fourth-grader does at Maple Valley Elementary School in Castana, Iowa.

The Twin Towers crashed a world away on Sept. 11, 2001, hours before 9-year-old Alexis Trucke stepped off the school bus at her parents' farm southeast of tiny Danbury.

"My mother told me when I got off the bus," Alexis says. "She sat me and my sister down in the living room and said, 'Do you know what happened today?'"

Nearly a decade later, on Father's Day, Alexis Trucke raised a U.S. flag over her base at Zormat, in Afghanistan's Paktia Province. She flew it for nine hours, 11 minutes before taking it down and folding it just so.

"The time frame was my choice," she says. "It is something to remember."

A day millions will never forget ultimately shaped Spc. E4 Alexis Trucke, a soldier with the Iowa Army National Guard who recently spent nine months in Afghanistan, part of the largest deployment of Iowa soldiers since World War II.

She turned 18 eight days before she deployed, likely the youngest of some 3,500 Iowa soldiers activated at that time.

She carried a weapon and slogged through desert heat, toting 80 pounds of gear. She spoke with Afghani women, part of her unit's female engagement team.

"In their culture, males cannot speak to them," she says. "We also had to make sure they were female."

Security risks rose everywhere, part of the Operation Enduring Freedom fabric. Part of our daily lives the past 10 years.

Trucke lived in a truck for a week with 10 fellow soldiers, all of them men. They survived on MREs and supplies flown in by chopper. She learned the national dance of Afghanistan and handed out ink pens to shoeless children who stepped around glass and garbage to meet U.S. military convoys.

She decorated her 6-foot by 6-foot room on the base with an Iowa Hawkeye flag. Beef Sticks, EasyMac and Ramen noodles, all treats from home, remain fond memories.

At home in Danbury for Christmas, Doug and Amy Trucke's little artist (Alexis was crazy about art in school, and still is) spoke of Afghanistan's beauty, showcased in its snow-topped mountains.

Her Christmas gift to Mom and Dad? A stunning picture of December's night sky over Zormat. Her parents wept and put the picture in the kitchen.

Alexis came home safe and sound on July 20. She asked her mother to prepare a simple dish that night. "I wanted tuna and noodles," she says. "Because that's what Mom fixed when I was little. It may not sound that good, but it is to me."

Amy Trucke hugged her daughter, then followed orders.

The worries rarely cease for Amy and Doug Trucke. Their son Luke, 22, is also a soldier. He serves as a prison guard, in Iraq now.

Someday, Alexis will head overseas again. Her current military contract expires in seven years. She doesn't plan to retire from the military until she's 37.

Much changed in 10 years. Much may in the next 18. A soldier knows that. This one accepts it. She's excited by it.

"I will volunteer to go overseas," she says. "I like to see new things. I would like to do another combat deployment with extreme combat, like Afghanistan."

She'd like to return a third time, maybe serve as a physician assistant in a country such as Cambodia.

For now, there are classes. The former fourth-grader is a student again, enrolled at Des Moines Area Community College, where she studies pre-med.

Last week she took a break from the books and watched a documentary about Sept. 11, 2001. Barely 19, Alexis Trucke is a veteran of a foreign war spawned by those attacks.

Kickball at Castana seems so long ago.

 

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