Face Time: Suzanne Fournier — after 7 kids, adventure called

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At age 40, after having seven children, Suzanne Fournier took a civilian job in the Army.

At 60, she volunteered to go to Iraq.

In between, she had plenty of adventures, including a few years in Lewiston, and she’s written about them all in her new book, “Life After Diapers.”

Name: Suzanne Fournier

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Age: 72

Lives: Kenosha, Wisconsin

If you could set the scene a little: You had been a stay-at-home mom for 16 years and had seven kids. What inspired you to apply for a job as an Army clerk? Gil (her husband, a Lewiston native) joined the Air Force after graduating from St. Dom’s. We met at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha. We always wanted six children and we got one more bonus baby. I loved being a stay-at-home mom, but Gil’s health and finances were the major forces that pushed me back into the workforce. 

All the children were in school except the youngest, and bills were piling up. I suggested perhaps I should apply to get another government job. We lived more than an hour from Offutt at that time, so when I got a call to interview for a job with the Army Recruiting Battalion in West Omaha, 20 minutes from our home, it was an answer to our prayers.

What brought you to Maine? We talked about moving to Maine off and on through the years, but moving a family of nine seemed impossible. Then I saw an article in the national Army recruiting magazine about the Army Recruiting Battalion from Manchester, New Hampshire, moving to Topsham at the Brunswick Naval Air Station. I talked to Gil, sent my resume to the Brunswick Battalion and arranged an appointment to visit the office when we planned to visit Lewiston that summer for a family reunion.

Anything stand out about your years in Lewiston? Our whole family loves Maine and treasure our years in Lewiston. The people of Lewiston are most memorable. We were able to connect to Gil’s French-Canadian heritage from both the Fournier and Dutil sides of the family. The high-schoolers loved going to Gil’s alma mater, St. Dominic’s high school, and the grade-schoolers appreciated their schoolmates at St. Joseph’s grade school. Gil was working at city hall and became very involved as the MC at the Franco American Festival and with Franco American veterans groups.

At the time, I was working and going to college full time at the University of Southern New Hampshire at Brunswick Naval Air Station, so I truly appreciated the generous, loving family who helped care for my children in my absence. The culture, history, food, beaches and festivities were all part of the wonderful Lewiston experiences.

What led you to volunteer to serve in Iraq as an Army civilian? Your kids’ and husband’s reaction at the time? I was working as an Army civilian for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Cincinnati, Ohio, during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The corps was responsible for building hospitals, schools, water treatment, power plants and security installations throughout Iraq. They needed people with my skills to communicate what was going on there. 

I talked to Gil about volunteering and he was very supportive. As an Air Force veteran, he understood the commitment to serve. Our three sons served in the Army and our four daughters understood my years of service to the Army. I explained that God has given us so much; this was an opportunity for me to give something back for all the blessings we’ve received in our lives. My sons asked me to cut and dye my hair. They felt I would be too noticeable as a blonde. It was a small concession on my part, and if it made them feel better, I could enjoy life as a brunette!

What sort of work did you do there? My career is communication. I traveled to dozens of constructions sites in the southern provinces of Iraq, basically everything south of Baghdad. I traveled with military and civilian construction engineers and our six to nine private security guards in armored vehicles. I took pictures, interviewed Iraqi, American and coalition forces, wrote press releases, articles and escorted media and dignitaries to explain our mission in Iraq. I also wrote a blog on the Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper website called “Grandma in Iraq,” which was intended to give American audiences a glimpse into the landscape, the people of Iraq and our deployed military forces.

Any close calls? Yes. I lived on military bases with coalition forces and traveled to other forward-operating bases where I stayed overnight in their camp accommodations. Insurgents often attacked these bases at night, and when the sirens sounded, I rushed into the safety of concrete bunkers where I heard rockets and machine gun fire. 

The most dangerous situation was when a terrorist targeted our three-vehicle caravan near the Basrah Airport and waited in his van to detonate an IED or improvised explosive device. Fortunately, I had very alert security guards who identified the threat, managed to deter the bomber and we passed home safely. Unfortunately, the next caravan was hit.

The highlight of that experience: Working with dedicated military and civilians at the military bases across Iraq and meeting the Iraqi people at schools, hospitals and construction sites. The people were so appreciative of our American presence and grateful for the small things in life that we take for granted. I loved my time with the Iraqi school children, giving them school supplies and having the privilege of seeing their beautiful smiles.

What do you hope readers take away from “Life After Diapers”? I hope readers of my book are inspired to take on their challenges, overcome fear and get outside their comfort zone. I am probably the extreme example with having seven children and facing fear on the battlefield, but I want readers to know that you are never too old to go back to school, try a new career or volunteer to serve in another country

Seek opportunities, adapt, take risks and venture into uncharted waters. You can have a family and a career. If I can do it, you can do it! Just pray, trust in God and believe in yourself.

Anything left on your to-do or to-conquer list? Well, I had babies in my 20s, went back to work at 40 and volunteered to serve in Iraq when I was 60.  I told my husband to buckle his seat belt when I get to be 80.

I want to start speaking and sharing my story in order to encourage others to overcome their fear and reach for their dreams. I love life and live it to the fullest. I am traveling to the Holy Land this December to fulfill a lifelong dream. And my youngest daughter lives in Singapore, so I’ll be traveling there in the near future. Beyond that, I always have a positive attitude, an up-to-date resume and my bags are always packed.

kskelton@sunjournal.com

Suzanne Fournier

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