Gardner represents a fresh start for Jayni Dice. Following nine months of active duty in Afghanistan, the sergeant arrived home on Sept. 2 and moved to Gardner on Sept. 17.
Gardner, she said, reminds her of home, Pittsburg, Kan.
“It’s a small farm town, but still close enough to the city,” Dice explained.
Dice’s uniform isn’t quite as bright as the typical soldiers. It’s faded and slightly worn from several months in the desert.
Returning from Afghanistan has been an adjustment, the 24-year-old said. It isn’t just that she moved to Gardner with her two-year-old daughter shortly after coming home. “The first month was kind of difficult,” Dice explained. “They tell you that. They prepare you for that.”
The slower pace of civilian life also presents a challenge.
“Overseas, it’s such a fast pace. It’s just go,go,go,” she said. “I was used to getting a mission, and getting it done. Here, at the grocery store, I’m trying to get a bag of rice and get out, and I’ve got people in front of me.”
Her missions in Afghanistan weren’t quite as mundane as grabbing rice at the grocery store. Dice served as a military police officer. Her squad did 130 missions outside the wire. Their primary goal was to train and assist Afghanistan police. That meant assisting when the police found improvised explosive devices (IEDs), recovering stolen government equipment, and helped with security details and patrols.
Her work in the military mirrors her civilian life. Dice is an officer with the Leavenworth Police Department. While the jobs may appear similar on paper, Dice said they’re not the same.
“As a civilian police officer, you can do more,” she said. “In the military, it’s a little more stressed. You don’t want to do anything to cause an international incident. You have to respect their customs and beliefs.”
Dice doesn’t look like she could take down a large man, but that’s exactly what she’s been trained to do as a member of the military. Dice doesn’t want to feed into stereotypes, but she does think women in the service work twice as hard to prove themselves.
However, she said, that’s a good thing.
“The military prepares you. It pushes you to do things you didn’t think you could do,” she said.
When Dice joined, she wasn’t sure she could do some of the things required of her. They wanted her to sleep on a cot and run a mile.
“Now I run marathons,” she said. “It’s definitely empowering, and I think it gives other females that, too.”
In the desert, she carried a 17-pound rifle. That was without the bullets.
Women can get the job done in the military. “My team leader overseas, she was a little thing, and she was fierce,” Dice said. “She made grown men cry. She was a great role model for women.”
Female soldiers do face special challenges, Dice admits.
“It hasn’t been all good, and it all hasn’t been bad. It’s not all sunshine and roses,” she said.
Being away from her child for nine months was especially difficult.
“We’re moms, too,” she said. “We have to have so much time off if we want to have kids, and our bodies have to recover from that.”
Now that she’s home, Dice is transitioning from her role as a military police officer. She is training to be a drill sergeant and is now based at New Century AirCenter.
“I thought it would be really cool to be in a leadership role,” she said.
She’s also getting used to her new surroundings in Gardner.
“When I was picking a location, I wanted to pick somewhere safe. The people here are really friendly,” she said. “I love all of my neighbors. Anyone would help anybody out.”
As an added bonus, the topography reminds Dice of home. She can see fields from her windows from her Gardner residence.
“That’s my favorite thing about Gardner,” she said. “I look out my window and see a corn field. It really is nice.”
Soldier adjusts to small town following 9 month Afghanistan deployment