Soldier reaches out to deaf parents

September 8, 2007 by Sgt. Natalie Rostek, 3rd HBCT Public Affairs, Blackanthem Military News

COMBAT OUTPOST CLEARY, Iraq - Pfc. Patti Angel faces communication barriers no amount of waiting in line or talking into a phone from Iraq can help. Her parents are deaf.

Keeping in touch back home is already tough for deployed Soldiers with friends and family members who can hear. Not being able to use conventional means of communication at her disposal makes reaching out to her parents that much harder on Angel.

The 19-year-old food service specialist from Grand Junction, Colo., Company F, 203rd Brigade Support Battalion, Angel has found a way to communicate with her hearing-impaired parents and explained how others can do the same. She uses the Sorenson Video Relay Service to "speak" visually to her mother and father.

"They have a screen with a web-cam on their phone," Angel said. "I talk to the interpreter, then the interpreter signs what I say to my parents. My parents then sign back to the interpreter and the interpreter talks to me."

Angel first started signing to her parents when she was 10-months-old, before she even learned to speak. She didn't learn to communicate vocally until her older sisters taught her English.

"We all learned to sign before we could talk," Angel said. "My older twin sisters had to go to speech school when they were 2. Then, after my brother and I were born, our sisters taught us how to talk."

Angel explained her parents are capable of speaking; however, those who do not talk to them on a daily basis find them difficult to understand.

Growing up in a deaf household was not as difficult as it would seem, Angel said. She compared the communication in her family to that of a Spanish-speaking family. Everyone talks to each other in their native language, but knows how to communicate with those outside of the home.

"It's all we knew," she said. "We knew tricks like stomping on the floor or flicking the lights to get their attention. It really wasn't difficult at all."

Her parents' house in Grand Junction is set up to facilitate their active senses. Lights are used to help identify noises, such as the phone or the doorbell, Angel said. Even the family dogs, Hunny and Toby, notify those inside when visitors knock on the door.

She explained how her mother and father used a baby monitors' flashing lights to keep tabs on her sisters as babies. As they made noise, the lights would flash. By the time she and her younger brother were born, the twins were old enough to assist the parents.

Mirrors placed around the house also help in communication.

"When you lose one (of your senses), all the others are heightened," Angel said. "Having the mirrors all around the house is like having a lot of eyes all around the house. I love the mirrors, but at the same time, my parents can always catch me if I back-talk them."

Her family has always been close and Angel attributes her successes and those of her siblings to her parents. Her mother and father both attended the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind from elementary through high school.

Her parents met as seniors in high school. Her father was a sports fanatic and her mother was a cheerleader.

"I was fortunate to go to one of their class reunions and got to watch some sporting events," Angel said. "It was interesting to see the differences. In volleyball, the referee blows the whistle, but also has to run out on the floor and stop the play. In football, they blow the whistle so the blind players hear it, but they also beat a drum so the deaf players feel the vibrations through the ground. They are actually very good players."

Angel's mother went on to Gallaudet University, a Washington, D.C., college for the hearing impaired. From there, she graduated with a degree in home economics and later excelled in taking care of her four children, Angel said.

Her father, now retired, worked as a bus driver for skiers in Aspen, and as a house construction specialist.

Angel's sister, Jamie, made the decision to use her sign language skills as a career and currently works as an interpreter with deaf children in public schools. Her brother, Rusty, is a manager at an oil company in Colorado.

Angel is following her other sister, Jamie's twin, Amy, a staff sergeant and recruiter in Grand Junction. Amy is directly responsible for recruiting Angel into the Army.

"At age 13, I went to my sister's graduation from basic training," Angel said. "After seeing what the Army was like, I told myself, 'That's what I want to do.' After my senior year in high school, my sister recruited me."

Angel said she has always liked to cook and work with her hands. She chose food service as her military occupational specialty when she found the Army had no need for her signing abilities.

"The Army doesn't consider me bilingual, because they don't allow deaf people to join," she said. "My dad said he would have joined the Army if they allowed him to."

As of right now, Angel said she plans on staying in the Army in her current job as a food service specialist.

"I know being a private is probably one of the hardest working jobs as far as manual labor," she said. "But I know once I get up there in rank, I'll be leading and training Soldiers. I'll have that pride when I see one of my Soldiers doing their job and knowing I trained them to do it."

When she does make the decision to leave military service, Angel said she wants to go into either cosmetology or into a job working with the deaf.

"I know kids who rebelled against their deaf parents and didn't accept their being deaf," Angel said. "Not us, though. We've always been a close family. Our deaf parents raised four very successful kids."

Company F, 203rd BSB is in direct support of the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment and is assigned to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007.

From Blackanthem Military News. Reprinted with permission. Back to Article List