Finding an Army Home

For the first time in her life, Pvt. Tamara Slusaranski has a sense of stability, a degree of certainty about her future now that she’s been in the Army for eight months.

Slusaranski, 506th Quartermaster Company, 530th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 49th QM Group, grew up in the Soviet Union, Vietnam, the Czech Republic and Cypress before taking control of her destiny as a young adult. Her father was a soldier in the dissolving Soviet army and was assigned to a military base in Vietnam when she was 10.

“It was the first trip in my life, and I was going to another country,” Slusaranski said. “Vietnam was exotic. I liked the animals, nature and the ocean.”

Slusaranski said the Vietnamese people were friendly.

“They will give you the key to their house, and they will sleep outside the house for your sake as a guest,” she said.

She made friends with Vietnamese children even though they didn’t speak each other’s language.

“We would use fingers to indicate how old we were, or we would print on the sand,” she said.

But just as soon as she had developed a relationship with local children, it was time for her father to go back to Russia. Her father had difficulties in supporting the family as a civilian, so they moved to the Czech Republic looking for opportunity.

“I was upset because I was leaving behind family, friends and my pets, but I was also excited about a new life in another country,” Slusaranski said.

She attended an academic institution for a year as part of her preparation to go to Charles University in Prague, but her father announced that they would move again after living in the Czech Republic for two years.

When they moved to Cypress, Slusaranski said she was frustrated because she couldn’t study or work due to her legal status. She was there for three years.

“I liked Cypress but I wanted to study or work and I couldn’t get a permit so I went back to Russia to go to a university,” she said.

She returned to Russia and began to study international economics. Then she applied to the student exchange program and was awarded a student visa to the United States.

“I came to New York with little money, and I didn’t know anybody,” she said. “I needed to find a place to live and I needed to find a job.”

Slusaranski said she loves to sew and she found a job sewing curtains and pillows. Eventually, she met another Russian who was naturalized and they married.

“Even though I had gotten married, I still wanted to do something,” she said.

She tried working as a bank teller in Brooklyn for a year, but she said she wasn’t satisfied.

“Something was still missing. I wanted to join the military to show that I could do something for this country. When I came to the United States, I knew that women could join the Army and I had been thinking about it, but I was married and my husband wasn’t too happy about it,” she said.

Her husband eventually agreed to let her follow her dream of joining the Army and Slusaranski was off to Fort Jackson, S.C., and Fort Lee to learn the laundry and textile services specialty.

“When I was in New York, I couldn’t predict the future, I didn’t know if was doing the right or wrong thing, and I could get fired,” she said, “it was confusing.”

But being in the Army calmed her fears, she said.

“Someone will always look out for you in the military, and it makes me proud to be part of it,” she said.

Slusaranski became a U.S. citizen in June, but she still doesn’t feel like she’s American just yet.

“I’m still learning about America, but I don’t feel like I’m Russian (either) because I traveled so much,” she said.

Growing up in several different countries during her youth has given her a sense of openness toward new environments and flexibility toward different people, she said.

“I’m a very easy and open person,” she said. “If I don’t understand something, I ask and people (Americans) are very kind, they try to help out.”

Slusaranski said she knows that being in the Army now could mean deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan in the near future, but her life experience has prepared her for any new environment.

“I know there are people who need our help in Iraq, they need us,” she said. “And whether I can’t agree if it’s right or wrong, it’s not my decision. I do what I have to do for this country. If it’s my turn to deploy, then I will go.”