Service & Sacrifice

Jill Weingarten: ‘It was definitely different than the U.P.


Journal City Editor

When Jill Weingarten sings the National Anthem, it’s about more than perfect pitch. She comes from a long line of people of service. Her father was an Army veteran.

“I was absolutely freaked out,” Weingarten said. “Here I was this little 19-year-old girl from the Upper Peninsula. I had traveled somewhat, but being thrown into a mix of people from all walks of life, all cultures, it was awakening to say the least.”

After losing a few pounds to qualify, Weingarten did her basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey.

She said the stories she had seen in the movies and heard from people who had gone through it depicted boot camp as “Hell on earth.”

“Parts of it were accurate,” Weingarten said. “I grew up a lot, I definitely was not in physical shape at the time, and they hit you mentally, physically emotionally and spiritually – especially going through basic training.”

The change was a bit of a culture shock in other ways, she said. The music of the day didn’t reach the Upper Peninsula as quickly as it reached the rest of the world, so the sounds on the East Coast were foreign.

“And meeting people — not everyone was nice,” Weingarten said. “It was definitely different than it was in the U.P. especially in the 1980’s, when it was a lot smaller and it seemed like everybody knew each other. So it was a rude awakening for me when I would say ‘Hey how’s it going?’ and the person would just look at me funny.”

Basic training itself could be physically grueling with drill sargeants yelling at the recruits all the time, she said.

“They would say we are not your friend and we are not your parent,” Weingarten said.

After basic, she went to Fort Gordon Signal School where she trained for about 9 weeks more weeks in very high temperatures and humidity – sometimes wearing mach-4 gear which was used for chemical and biological warfare.

“I would equate it with U.P. gear to be a snow suit,” Weingarten said. “With heavy boots and a gas mask in 95 to 100 degree weather and we had to run in that gear.”

She was deployed to Germany, where she was able to experience a good deal of local culture, including the bakeries.

“I have never eaten such good food as I did in Germany,” she said. “It was very rich and beautifully presented. The people were wonderful and I learned some of the language out of necessity. Some of the German nationals gave us a week-long crash course on how to speak German – basic things like, ‘Where is the train ticket station, Where is the toilet? and of course ‘Where is the bakery?’”

She found out she was pregnant while in the military, something that changed her experience. Workouts were less grueling, but Weingarten actually participated in gymnastics up until her seventh month of pregnancy.

Her daughter Angela was born during her deployment at 5th General Army Hospital at Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt Hospital.

She was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was one month old.

“So, I had to make the painful decision of leaving the military and being mom full time and taking care of her medical needs, or having someone come into my home and do that, and I decided to take care of her myself,” Weingarten said. “And so I was blessed to have her for 18 and a half years. It was a really tough decision leaving the military, but it was the correct one.”

Despite the fact that her service was cut short due to her daughter’s illness, Weingarten said the military