Florence resident has decades of military experience
FLORENCE, S.C. -- Noemi Tassios of Florence joined the United States Navy in 1990. She said there were many reasons why she considered the military. She wanted to have money to go to school. She needed health, dental and life insurance coverage. And Tassios had a young daughter.
“I talked to a recruiter, and he told me, ‘You’re very energetic and creative. And you would do pretty well in the military,’” Tassios said. “And I’ve always been pretty disciplined. Like other people call it OCD, but I call it discipline.”
Tassios said she was also very fit. The recruiter told her she had what it took to be successful in the military. She was set to receive the medical and dental coverage she desired, plus a steady paycheck, housing and funding for school.
Tassios considered that news a “dream come true.”
“Once you get in, it’s like opening up a treasure chest,” Tassios said. “It’s like, oh, my gosh. I didn’t realize it would meet all my needs and so much more. And that’s what keeps you in.”
She joined the Navy in Florida. Tassios was living in Miami at the time.
“And lo and behold, I got stationed in Charleston back in 1990,” she said.
That’s what brought her to South Carolina.
“Then from there, I got out,” Tassios said. “I used my G.I. Bill to go to Coker College, and then from there I went to USC to get a master’s. By then I was real Southern. I didn’t go anywhere that didn’t have grits: shrimp and grits.”
Tassios met her husband, who is from Florence, while she was a student at Coker College in Hartsville. And during her time at the University of South Carolina, Tassios served in the Navy Reserves.
“So I started to drill again. And he (her husband) had the bright idea of saying, ‘You know, the National Guard has a great military police unit here in Florence. Why don’t you join it?’ So I switched to the National Guard in 2000 as a military police, enlisted, and lo and behold, 9/11 happens one year later.”
She was set to re-enlist on Monday, Sept. 10, 2001, but was instructed to try the next day, instead.
“So I wake up Tuesday ready to go back and re-enlist, all hell’s breaking loose,” she said. “And I told my husband, ’You know what? We’re going to war. What do I do?”
After deciding to re-enlist on 9/11, Tassios realized she was pregnant. Her unit was later activated, but she stayed behind because of the pregnancy. A year later, the unit returned and was immediately sent to Iraq. Tassios went, too, leaving her 7-month-old baby.
“That was probably the hardest thing I had to do in my life was leave her,” Tassios said.
Iraq was a completely different culture, she said. Tassios prayed every day. She was surrounded by Iraqi children. Tassios said she knew her baby was safe in Florence with her husband and their support system, including her colleagues at the McLeod Fitness Center, while she was helping the children in Iraq who do not have everything Americans do.
The yearlong tour in Iraq ended in 2003. When she got back to the United States, Tassios completed officer candidate school through the National Guard at Palmetto Military Academy.
Tassios has done a few things since finishing officer candidate school. She took commands and served in South Korea for a few weeks, has been activated for various hurricanes and even served time at the southern and northern borders, among other things.
“That’s one of the things I really like about being in the guard,” Tassios said. “There’s a lot of missions that are available, and many times if you can support it, you tell them, and they send you. So it’s not like you have to go here. ... Now if it’s a deployment, if you get federal orders, then you have no choice.”
Just last year, Tassios accepted an opportunity to serve in Bogota, Colombia. She worked as a bilateral affairs officer while representing South Carolina and mainly managing a Traditional Commander’s Activities program. The program is part of the Southern Command, which is responsible for all countries below Mexico, Tassios said.
“And they’re doing great things in Colombia,” she said. “I was assigned to the embassy, but I worked at the Colombia pentagon. I worked with all of the Colombian military. It was a very neat experience along with all of the U.S. military that were assigned to the different missions like the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, Coast Guard.”
Tassios was in Bogota for 14 months and returned in September. She said everybody there was working together for a “good, safe American continent.”
“The Colombians, and especially the Colombian army, holds in very high regard the South Carolina National Guard,” Tassios said. “They have developed a very strong relationship and do not think twice to request assistance. And the South Carolina National Guard has been working with the Colombian military through the U.S. government.”
Tassios is still in the Army National Guard and works at the McLeod Fitness Center. She said she joined the military for one reason and stayed for several other reasons, including the stability, teamwork and camaraderie.