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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Angie Oliver at her home in Flat Rock, Ala., on Oct. 22, 2021.

When Angie Oliver joined the National Guard, she did it because she wanted a way to pay for college. It was right before her 18th birthday. Because of her age, her mother had to go with her to enlist.

She said she chose the National Guard over other branches of the military because it allowed her to stay close to home and attend the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where she was pursuing a degree in early childhood education.

Once she completed basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, she moved on to advanced individual training at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. Oliver decided she wanted to be trained in rocket launcher repair.

"I like to get my hands dirty, and it just sounded interesting to me," Oliver said.

(READ MORE: Vietnam veteran's life defined by 'sense of service')

She was one of the first women in her unit — the Tennessee National Guard's 1st Battalion, 181st Artillery Regiment, based in Chattanooga.

"It was a field artillery unit, and that was one of the units women were not part of because it was considered frontline," Oliver said. "I'm kind of a tomboy, so I kind of fit in, but at times it was odd."

BIO

Name: Angie Oliver

Age: 39

Years of service: 2000-2008

Branch of military: Tennessee National Guard

Her GI Bill education benefits did not cover her entire tuition, but combined with what she earned through her full-time job, she was able to get by financially without a student loan, Oliver said.

(READ MORE: At 98, World War II veteran Harlan Harvey keeps his independence)

She went to Iraq at the end of her eight years of service, and she moved her wedding up three months in order to get married before she left. After the wedding in April, she graduated in early May from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in early childhood education and left for Iraq later that month.

Oliver worked as a guard at a detaining facility, where she took the opportunity to practice her teaching skills by setting up a school where she taught detainees, most of whom were uneducated, to read and write.

"So many of them were so grateful for the fact that they could finally write their name and their children's names," she said. "It's just a really neat thing to be able to say that I did, something that I was a part of."

After eight years in the National Guard, she taught in Hamilton County Schools for 12 years. Oliver, 39, now teaches at Cornerstone Academy in Rainsville, Alabama.

She said that if either of her two children wanted to join the National Guard, she would support their decision.

(READ MORE: 'One big adventure:' World War II veteran recalls largest Navy battle in history)

"It'd be a hard decision to make, but I would love them for it, and I'd support them if that's what they chose to do in the end after we talked about it and discussed it and talked about the pros and cons," she said.

The cons are not always definite or deadly, but Oliver knows the risk of being sent to a conflict overseas is always there.

Contact Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6508. Follow her on Twitter @emcrisman.

Veteran Salute will be published daily through Veterans Day on Nov. 11. Read about more Chattanooga-area veterans at timesfreepress.com/veterans/2021.

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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Angie Oliver at her home in Flat Rock, Ala. on Friday, October 22, 2021.
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