Playing it 'smart and tight'

Saturday January 19, 2013

DUMMERSTON -- Up the hill behind Christie Turner's Dummerston home, which she shares with her husband, Godfrey Renaud, and their teenage sons, Logan and Cooper, and Turner & Renaud, their well-regarded landscaping and tree service business ...

Up that hill, which looks out on the small, intricate mountains of Dummerston and Putney, and carries the boys down long and veering toboggan rides ...

Up that hill, which holds her family close and, as they ski its paths and snowshoe its sides, lifts them closer to the sky ...

There is a swing.

"We do tree service, so, you know, it's attached pretty high up the tree," Christie says in a voice that is equal parts smile and seriousness. "Maybe a 20-, 30-foot line, and when you swing out, the land drops away beneath you, and you're in the air, flying, and it's quite something. It can feel like you're up there forever."

She grins. She leans back in the kitchen table chair, bright winter sunlight falling precisely across her jeans and the hem of her white-flecked blue sweater. Everything about this house - the honey-colored beams, and the flagstone path, and the trucks in the driveway, and Christie, too - is suddenly touched with the grandeur of that swing: a simple thing turned special and strong because people, out of effort, skill, and imagination, made it so.

Christie glances at the papers spread on the table. "My orders came on Dec. 28," she says. "I leave Jan. 20, and I'll be gone for a year." She stands to go upstairs to change into her uniform. When she comes down, her back and shoulders are straighter, her hair thoroughly hidden beneath a blue beret. The planes of her face align with the smart angles of her insignia and the yellow stripes down the outside of each leg of her blue pants. She clasps her white-gloved hands carefully in front of her.

Christie has swung into a different world. Here, she is Lieutenant Col. Turner of the National Guard.

"It's quite a transformation, isn't it?" Even her smile is more disciplined, though the strength and good humor are there still. "The transitions between home and abroad can be interesting."

This will be Christie's longest deployment in 28 years as a reservist. She most recently served in Stuttgart, Germany, the headquarters of the United States European Command, working as a logistics officer in support of the Sixth Fleet.

"Imagine the town of Brattleboro is a fleet," she says. "10,000 or so people. Our job would be to provide clothes, vehicles, food, medical supplies, repairs and in this case, ammunition, for the entire town."

This time, Christie knows that she will serve as a logistics officer in the US Central Command, based in the Middle East. The rest she doesn't know: Where exactly she'll be based, or what exactly her assignment will be.

"Kuwait or Jordan are two good guesses," she says. "But I do know for sure that my orders state I only have to pack one pair of civilian clothes! The rest are the dress blues."

Christie, who grew up in a large family in Holliston, Mass., joined the military in 1987 in large part because her curious, rigorous, and skeptical mind wanted to understand this organization she didn't particularly like. After her original threeyear enlistment, she decided to enroll in Officer Candidate School.

"That's when my perspective on the military really opened up," she remembers. "The caliber of the people I met - their intelligence and education, their commitment to service, their character and presence - was remarkable. The military is an enormous, complex and proficient organization, and my colleagues and superiors are tremendously capable people who manage incredible responsibility. I respect them so much."

In civilian life, she and Godfrey rollicked through a number of adventures, including hiking all the major peaks in the United States, before they settled in Dummerston.

Southern Vermont was a good match for their combined skills and passions. Always an outdoors, physical person, loving everything from hiking to ice hockey, Christie earned her bachelor's degree at UMass Amherst in Botany and Coastal Ecology. Creating a landscaping and tree service business among the hills they loved was a blessed decision.

"A small business you run out of your home - it means you never stop working and you're always working hard," Christie says. "And being a small business in Vermont, you have to play everything smart and tight. But we love it. We have an extraordinary staff. We are really, really passionate about what we do."

She continued her military officer education and deployments through the 1990s, but stepped back for most of the 2000s while her sons were young.

"They are 17 and 15 now." Back in civilian clothes, she pulls up an album of photographs on the small tablet computer that serve as her main point of connection to her family while she's gone. "Here they are, with the rest of my family over Christmas."

A half-smile stays on her face while she talks about them. "They both play varsity hockey," she says. "Defense, both. We're a huge hockey family. Totally passionate about it. During the season, Coach Libardoni will see more of the boys while I'm gone than my husband will."

She nods. "I'll need to ask him to keep an eye on 'em for me. And their teachers, of course. I wish I had time to check in with everybody before I go. It's huge to leave them for a year. I'll miss all their sports, and Logan will have chosen colleges. They'll be young men by the time I get back. It will be hard to be away from my husband, my best friend and soulmate. A year is a long time. In some ways, I'll be a different person when I get back."

She smiles a little. Her bearing is calm, and intense, and sad, and excited, and thoroughly engaged.

"It's such an honor to serve my country," she says. "And I love my family so much."

She pulls in a full, strong breath. She pushes back her hair, which holds the imprint of the crisp beret hem. Holding tight to the line of her home, on Sunday she'll let the land drop away, and she'll fly.


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