Marilyn D. Gibson found a home in the military to support herself and her infant son several months after she graduated from Lafayette High School.
She was a teenage mom who wanted to provide for her baby, and the Army gave her that chance. She also had a personal incentive.
“I was abandoned when I was born. My birth parents left me at the hospital,” said Gibson, who puts a high priority on security and remains forever grateful that her long-term foster parents adopted her when she was 10 years old.
When Gibson enlisted, the United States had been at peace for an extended period, and the last thing she thought was that she would be going to war. But after Saddam Hussein’s army invaded Kuwait in 1990, going off to war became inevitable.
“I was scared, but I was ready to serve,” Gibson said, adding that she was comforted in knowing that her young son, Birnson, was safe at home with her adoptive mother, Daisy Edrington.
Gibson arrived in Saudi Arabia in 1991, part of the Desert Shield forces that later morphed into Desert Storm when coalition forces went to war against the Iraqi military.
Serving as a contract specialist, Gibson ordered and guarded pharmaceutical and other medical supplies. She served at different bases in Saudi Arabia far from the front lines, though not far enough.
“There were Scud missiles that were coming in at us. What I remember most was waking up at night to the sound of sirens and running for the underground bunker. One of those Scuds landed less than a mile from me,” Gibson said. “I basically thought I was going to die. When the missile exploded, everything shook.”
Gibson lived for six months in the desert, experiencing all that the hot and arid climate had to offer.
“Sandstorms were difficult. You’d have to be all bundled up and guarding the supplies. Some of the medicines were in buildings but we had rows and rows of supplies outside and the sand would get into them if they weren’t covered,” Gibson said.
Man-made hazards also proved challenging.
When the fleeing Iraqi forces adopted a “scorched-earth policy,” they set oil wells on fire.
“The smoke from them was black. In the daytime, it was like 12 o’clock midnight. You couldn’t see. Even now I can’t stand the smell. It’s like a freshly tarred road or when I go up to Niagara Falls by the Grand Island Bridge,” she said, referring to that city’s industrial corridor along the upper Niagara River.
But Gibson survived and made it home to continue her quest of providing security for her family, which in time would grow to a total of three children.
“I went to Medaille College on the GI bill and got a degree in business administration and accounting,” she said.
For the last 15 years, she has worked as a tax auditor with the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. And her mission to help her loved ones has expanded to help others. For a time, she volunteered with the Stop the Violence Coalition, but decided to focus more on girls and helping them to get ahead in life.
She and Tracy Cooley founded Women Against Violence Everywhere, which includes mentoring programs aimed at taking a proactive approach in working with young women.
One of WAVE’s off-shoots, Gibson said, was Pretty As a Daisy – named in honor of her adoptive mother – a mentoring program that specializes in working with girls 9 to 18 years of age.
“We work on self esteem, positive-decision making and conflict resolution. We run the program two days a week at Highgate Heights Elementary School and at the William C. Baird Clubhouse of the Boys and Girls Club on Bailey Avenue,” she said. “We also do workshops.”
In addition to this, Gibson serves on the boards of the Western New York Peace Center and the Young Miss Buffalo Pageant and Enrichment Program. She also serves as the director of Elim Community Corp. Girls 2 Women Mentoring Program.
When asked why the Army veteran remains in the trenches on the homefront, so freely giving of her time as a volunteer, Gibson said:
“I knew I had to give back. Someone had given to me. It’s my purpose.”
Marilyn D. Gibson, 47
Hometown and residence: Buffalo
Rank: Specialist E-4
War zone: First Gulf War
Years of service: November 1986 – September 1991; continued in Army Reserve until November 1996
Most prominent honors: Bronze Star, Southwest Asia Service Medal
Specialty: Contract specialist