Growing up a tomboy, Randee Farrell played soccer, football and basketball with the boys. So it's not surprising she chose a career in the military, where she's still surrounded by males.
But this time, she's all grown up and she's no longer playing games. Instead, this Army second lieutenant is right in the thick of things with the Third Infantry Division in Iraq. Just 22, she's a communications officer who, as of last Friday, was in Najaf, north of Kuwait.
"She's the only woman with her infantry group," said her mother, Rickye Durbin-Farrell of Clifton's Little Rocky Run community. "She was the first woman into Iraq, and she felt wonderful about that. She knew it because the infantry and cavalry were the first units to cross the border, and there were no [other] women with them."
Randee has two sisters, Robbi, 33, a pediatric nurse, and Ronee, 17, a Centreville High senior who'll enter West Point in June. Dad Patrick Farrell, a retired Army officer, was an airborne infantry ranger.
And her uncle Bob Durbin, her mom's brother, is an Army general who just left Fort Hood, Texas, for Iraq with 30,000 troops. "I know he'll be kept safe," said Durbin-Farrell. "They don't let generals up too close."
Randee, who loves John Grisham novels and pro football and hockey, was recruited by both the Navy and Air Force. But, impressed with the Army tradition, she told her mother, "So many leaders have come from West Point, and I want to be part of that Long, Gray Line."
A 1998 graduate of Centreville High, where she was president of the National Honor Society in her senior year, Randee was captain of the Wildcat soccer team and of her soccer team at West Point, from which she graduated in June. She then completed Signal Basic School at Fort Gordon, Ga., spent a couple weeks with her family at Christmas and headed for her new duty station in Kitzingen, Germany.
"Randee is a very energetic, determined young woman who doesn't have the word 'can't' in her vocabulary," said Durbin-Farrell. "She believes she can do anything she sets her mind to do and that there is no obstacle she cannot hurdle over."
Her tour in Germany is for three years but, for now, world events have intervened. In mid-February, her unit deployed to Kuwait, where she was in charge of moving the convoys of men and supplies. Then on March 19, she and her fellow soldiers left for Iraq.
An excellent writer, she was assigned to do public relations. She then joined the infantry and became responsible for the safety of a Newsweek reporter embedded in an Army unit. So far, it's worked out well.
"She's been able to use his phone and give us a 40-second phone call," said Durbin-Farrell. "She even called us during a battle, March 23 — when we could hear everything — and said, 'I know you're watching it on TV, and I just want you to know, Mother, that everything's fine.'"
Although concerned for her daughter's safety, Durbin-Farrell knows that Randee's doing what she wants to do and "you have to live for today. She's looking forward to a shower, but she said every day's a new adventure."
Randee relays orders and calls out signals to her unit. Said her mother: "She'll tell them, for example, 'Enemy fire is coming; move over there.' She's in one of the Bradley fighting vehicles — they're like tanks and are one of the vehicles in the front. They have guns all around them and, knowing Randee, she's probably fired off a few rounds."
Still, Durbin-Farrell said her daughter never dreamed she'd someday be in a Bradley with the infantry. But she's made lots of new friends and generously shares the care packages her parents send her filled with juice boxes, energy bars, gum, moistened wipes, vitamins and cookies.
Randee also told her mom about something that wasn't shown on TV, and it definitely pleased her. "She said that, when the Bradleys and tanks were going down the streets from the Kuwait border, north toward Baghdad, all the local people were cheering for them," said Durbin-Farrell. "She said she felt as if she were in a parade."
And Randee's attitude affects her obviously proud mom. "I have such confidence in her," she said. "Whenever there's a challenge, she's there to grab it. She feels good about herself and, if she's happy, I'm happy. I just know she's going to be fine. But I pray for all of them — I honestly do."