Motivated by the terrorist attacks of 2001, Jessamyn Sobecki-Engle of Cloverdale joined the California National Guard at age 17 and went off to war in Iraq a few years later in 2004.
A slender, 5-foot-6 woman, Sobecki-Engle served in a military intelligence unit and earned a combat action badge as a Humvee gunner, manning a .50-caliber roof-mounted machine gun.
Now in Afghanistan's Helmand Province on her second overseas deployment, Sobecki-Engle, 28, has been promoted to sergeant first class and awarded a Bronze Star for meritorious service.
The 2002 graduate from Cloverdale High School said she has found a niche in the military, serving her country, seeing the world and helping others.
"It is such an honor to wear this uniform every day, I am so grateful," Sobecki-Engle said in an email from Afghanistan.
But she's also retained the childhood lessons she learned from her parents, Skip Engle and Marybeth Sobecki, who involved their three daughters in buying Christmas presents for the needy, raising more than 50 puppies for the Canine Companions for Independence assistance dogs program and sponsoring a low-income elderly woman and her special-needs son.
"Even as young children, we got to see the fruits of our labor in giving back to the community we loved and to those in need," she said.
Sobecki-Engle, who will spend Christmas in Afghanistan, said she often reads The Press Democrat online and was inspired by a Nov. 27 story about holiday season efforts to assist the needy.
Officials at the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County were stunned by Sobecki-Engle's online gift of $100.
On the message line accompanying her donation, the soldier far from home typed: "Please thank the community that raised me."