By Mick Golson (as told by Mark Traylor)
True North is known as the internal compass that guides a person successfully through life. It represents who you are as a human being at the deepest level, as an orienting point that helps you stay on track as a leader. A person’s success can be influenced by the people with whom they surround themselves – at work, at home, and throughout their lives.
I first heard about Leigh Traylor’s amazing story at the ECS Holiday Party this past December. Leigh is the wife of ECS Training Specialist, Mark Traylor, and is arguably an essential element of the contributions that Mark brings to our ECS team supporting the U.S. Army North at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. I wanted to share her journey, not only with our team, but with our partners and clients, so that they would understand how the varied skills and experiences of our life partners are as essential to our team member’s ability to contribute to the company mission and maintain their own True North.
Born in Pasadena, California, Leigh grew up in Fort Worth and Arlington, Texas. Her mother was a teacher and a Girl Scout leader, while her father was literally a rocket scientist, who taught mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) after leaving the Jet Propulsion Lab. He built his own computers as a hobby, as well as singing in a barbershop quartet for decades.
Leigh inherited many of her parents’ qualities, and over time became quite the “Renaissance Woman” and “Jack-of-all-trades;” she was always willing to try new things and actually able to pull them off successfully. A Girl Scout herself, with an interest in health sciences, Leigh was also a leader on her high school dance team. She graduated high school in 1976 and attended UTA, like her dad, before enlisting in the U.S. Navy. Serving as a hospital corpsman in San Diego for two years, she earned a Naval ROTC scholarship to Texas A&M, joining the Corps of Cadets as a junior in 1980. It is there she met her future husband, Mark, and embarked on quite the journey of life!
Leigh left the Naval ROTC to have the first of their five daughters, while Mark was finishing up his senior year at Texas A&M and earning a commission as an Army field artillery officer. She followed him around the country for the next 17 years; they moved eight times during that span, having daughters every two to four years. During this period, Leigh also earned her degree in education from Mary Hardin Baylor University near Fort Hood and then taught elementary education in Texas. As a high school math teacher in Virginia, she felt the call to serve so volunteered to teach the “lower level” students in a combined geometry / algebra class which she found rewarding yet challenging. In the meantime, Mark had retired from the Army and was employed at the Quantico, Virginia Marine Corps base. Leigh felt led to change careers, so embarked on an accelerated two year nursing program at George Mason University. As she was about to graduate, Leigh was approached by an Army recruiter who asked if she had ever considered becoming an Army Nurse. Leigh told her, “No, I’m too old anyway; I’m 46.” The recruiter replied, “That’s fine. The age limit is 46 and one half!”
So Leigh became an Army Nurse second lieutenant at age 46, reporting for duty at Fort Sam Houston, Texas in 2004. It was then Mark’s turn to follow and support her. During the next 12 years, she served at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) in Texas; Fort Carson, Colorado, BAMC again; Ilesheim, Germany; and Fort Hood, Texas. She deployed with the 31st Combat Support Hospital 2006-2007 for the 15 month “surge” tour in Iraq, caring for Iraqi detainees (who would have been known as prisoners of war in another era) at Camp Victory near the Baghdad International Airport. She even traveled into the “Green Zone” via Rhino, to care for “Chemical Ali” and other prisoners awaiting trial at the High Tribunal. Rocket-fire was a regular occurrence on the base, but luckily hit closely to her only a few times.
Leigh also served with 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, transferring up to Fort Carson in 2008. On their 2009/2010 tour, Leigh led a small team attached to 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry, at Camp Garry Owen into far eastern Iraq, close to the Iranian border. She and her Soldiers constituted the capability for the unit to have “Role 2” care at the camp, meaning they would treat and care for casualties for up to 72 hours prior to evacuation. While she was there, Leigh started work towards her master’s degree in Nursing with Norwich University’s online program. One of the highlights of that tour was being evacuated to Landstuhl, Germany for a life-threatening instance of occipital neuralgia. Another memorable event occurred on September 1, 2010, the first day of Operation New Dawn (aka the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq). The enemy celebrated the occasion by rocketing Camp Garry Owen shortly after midnight. The rockets walked along the line of sleeping quarters (tents covered in hardened foam). The troops evacuated after the first strike but those from Leigh’s area then huddled on the deck outside the tent. Leigh emerged last and asked, “What are you doing here?” She then directed them to the bomb shelter a short distance away, as the last rocket scored a direct hit on their tent and burned everything up in it! Inside her “hooch” was a diamond necklace in a plastic chest. Leigh still has that blob of plastic with the necklace inside, confirmed by X-ray.
After her war tours, Leigh finished her master’s degree, worked briefly at BAMC, earned promotion to Major, and oversaw nursing operations at the helicopter base at Ilesheim. When the base was converted to a rotational unit base, she directed the shut down and redistribution of capabilities there. With no slot for her in Germany, Leigh transferred to a large clinic at Fort Hood, again supervising a complex shift of resources intra-base. In 2017, Leigh decided it was time to resign gracefully from Fort Hood.
From 1982 to the present, Leigh’s patient, persistent, and loving role of raising of her five daughters, along with being a partner, mentor, counselor, and help-mate for Mark has been a constant thread throughout this journey. Although the scene sometimes resembled a den of trapped badgers, all five girls came through the difficult adolescent/early adult phases and are well on their way to useful adult lives. Leigh and Mark now have nine grandchildren who also benefit from Leigh’s generational condition-setting.
Thinking about Leigh and Mark, some phrases come to mind: “Been there, done that” is one. Also, the character traits mentioned by Admiral James Stavridis in his book Sailing True North, Ten Admirals and the Voyage of Character, resonate too: intellectual curiosity, humility, empathy, listening, and honesty. It’s good to have a teammate like that and we’re so glad to have both Leigh and Mark as part of our ECS family/team!