Marine, wife, mother: Cathie Ennis has seen military service from many perspectives
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — The sense of adventure and hard work runs deep in the veins of the Ennis family from Glenwood Springs.
Kirstie Ennis is well known in the Roaring Fork Valley and around the world for her never-ending determination to conquer all that she can, even after a helicopter crash left her severely injured while serving with the United States Marines in Afghanistan.
But where does that drive come from?
Kirstie’s mother, Cathie Ennis, did not know she had an interest in joining the U.S. Marine Corps until after she met and married her husband, Geoff, in 1988. Geoff was in service from 1988-1996 as a Fire Direction Controlman, spending time in Okinawa and serving in the Gulf War.
“I was always proud of my husband for doing what he did and just being around all the other service men and women,” Ennis said.
“I was looking for a challenge, so I decided to enlist,” she added. Though most people run to a crafts or home improvements store when struck with the desire to start a new hobby, Ennis went further.
Being 26 at the time (the cutoff age to join the Marine Corps) and married to a Marine with a dependent child, she was initially turned down by the first two recruiters she went to. The third time was a charm, though, and in January of 1995 she was off to boot camp at Parris Island, S.C. — the only military base that trains female Marines.
“I loved it,” Ennis said. “There were days where we would wake up and I was completely miserable. We were covered in mud, crawling through barbed wire. Then I would think to myself, ‘where else can you get paid to do this?'”
Her daughter, Kirstie, who was 4 years old at the time and being taken care of by Geoff while he was non-deployable, also began an obsession with the Marine Corps at an early age.
“Forget the Disney movies, all Kirstie wanted to watch were training videos,” her mom said.
After basic training, Ennis was transferred to Camp Johnson, North Carolina to attend MOS school (Military Occupational Specialty) before being assigned to Marine Corps Communication and Electronics School at the Air Ground Combat Center in TwentyNine Palms, California. She was in active duty until January of 1999, two years after her second daughter Kaylee was born.
“I just wanted to be a mom growing up. That’s all I wanted to do,” she said. She did in-home childcare for six years before switching and getting a degree in healthcare administration.
“I’m just very adventurous, I guess. I’m always wanting to do something different and new,” Ennis said.
She now works in real estate after moving to the valley last May to live closer to Kirstie, who received a home from the Homes for Heroes program in the Ironbridge subdivision near Glenwood Springs.
“When I enlisted and was at Parris Island it made it easier for me, knowing that my husband walked the same grounds that I was on,” Cathie said. “So, I hope that it was for her [Kirstie] as well, just knowing that her mom and dad had both been there before.”
VETS’ SUPPORT NETWORK
Cathie Ennis started utilizing the Veterans Resource Center in downtown Glenwood recently to get to know new people and hear the stories of other veterans in the valley.
“She started coming here about a month ago with Kirstie and she’s been back every week since,” said John Pettit, co-founder of the Jesse Beckius-Casey Owens Veterans Resource Center.
“It doesn’t matter that she didn’t serve in combat, her daughter did,” Pettit added. “And, she’s had to deal with her daughter having 40 surgeries and the turmoil. Her daughter’s a changed person.”
Kirstie Ennis enlisted in the Marines just after high school and was in active duty as an Airframes Mechanic and Aerial Gunner from August 2008 to May 2014. She was severely injured in a helicopter crash in June of 2012.
“When she was deployed, I really wasn’t too worried,” Cathie Ennis said. “We were able to follow things on the news and she was able to keep in touch pretty regularly.”
The initial information about Kirstie’s injury was downplayed simply for the fact that there was a lack of information. It wasn’t until her parents spoke with Kirstie on the phone that they realized just how bad the injury really was.
“We couldn’t understand what she was saying,” Cathie Ennis said. “Her friend got on the phone and let us know she couldn’t talk, because she had lost numerous teeth and bone in her mouth. That scared me.”
Several major surgeries and hardships later, Kirstie was able to begin the process of regaining the independence she always strived for. The first major milestone came when she received her prosthetic leg and began the process of learning to do simple tasks all over again.
“It just brought me to tears,” Kirstie’s mother said. “To see her have that independence back again, it’s like when she was a child and she took her first step.”
When she goes out in public, people don’t see the whole thing. When she gets home and kicks off the prosthetic and gets in her wheelchair is when she can really relax, she said.
“I think people take for granted how much effort it takes to do simple things,” Ennis said.
“I do think I have a unique perspective on things because I was the military spouse first, then active duty, then the mom of an active daughter,” Ennis said. “I think I had a deeper understanding of what really happens.”