Soldier Overcomes Difficult Childhood
(August 9, 2010)
Army Spc. Ekaterina Volsky has overcome several obstacles in her 23 years few would ever imagine. She says her difficult childhood has motivated her to use her talents and time to serve others and to share her story of hope.
HEIDELBERG, Germany, Aug. 5, 2010 – While saying Army Spc. Ekaterina Volsky's
childhood was difficult is accurate, it doesn't even begin to describe the
poverty, abuse and neglect she has overcome in her short lifetime.
The U.S. Army Europe human resources specialist was born near the Ural Mountains
in Perm, Russia, 23 years ago. Her birth mother struggled with alcoholism and
bouts of mental illness, and eventually committed suicide.
At age 2, Volsky was sent to an overcrowded orphanage where, she said, she was
raised primarily by the other residents living there - some only a few years
older than she was. And she was abused during her time at the orphanage, she
Over the next seven years of her life in Russia, Volsky poured her pain and her
passion into the performing arts to escape the hell she faced on a daily basis.
"I grew up just learning how to be focused on music and art. That's how I
learned to survive," she said. "I would study singing, poetry and history to try
to be as normal as possible."|
At age 9, Volksy met Joyce Sterkel, an American woman who later would become her
As a nurse, Sterkel spent time working with humanitarian organizations in Russia
and later founded "Ranch for Kids," a facility in rural Montana specializing in
helping children suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome, mental illness, abuse
and reactive attachment disorder.
A moratorium on Russian adoptions prevented Sterkel from adopting Volsky at the
"I really had no contact with her during that year, but she left some gifts, and
that was helpful ... when it was time to be adopted and I came to America. It was
quite a shock for me," Volsky said.
The family moved to Wyoming before setting up shop in Eureka, Mont., the future
home of “Ranch for Kids.”
As she tried to adjust to her new life in the United States, Volsky learned
English by watching American television and movies and engaging in conversations
with her new friends and family. She also picked up her U.S. citizenship,
attended Utah State University, worked as an Americorps volunteer and nurse's
aide, and helped out around the ranch.
Volsky and Sterkel returned to the orphanage in 2000 for a visit and to find out
more about Volsky's biological family, including the whereabouts of her
biological brother. She was told he worked in a factory in Siberia, but the two
were not able to connect during her visit.
"It was very heartbreaking and shocking. I couldn't stop crying," Volsky said.
"I wanted to bring everyone with me to America because it was so sad to see
children that cannot go anywhere. They do not have families, and that's pretty
sad to me, because they have to be stuck here."
In 2008, Volsky, with her family's blessing, decided to take on a new challenge
- this time as a soldier in the U.S. Army. Heidelberg is her first duty station.
"I feel very proud and very appreciative, because I can live and serve in a
normal country where I do not have to be violated or abused," Volsky said.
"The United States Army is not something that you have to do; we are volunteers
here to serve, and that is the greatest opportunity, I think, without looking at
the benefits," she added. "But just looking at trying to get out and do
something different. I feel very proud."
Volsky does admit there have been some challenges.
"Being in the Army as a soldier from where I come from it is hard, because I
have to learn to adapt in a different way from how I used to be, and I think
most people have that," she said. "A lot of soldiers who have family members in
the military can kind of grasp what it's like, because they've been around
military people, but for me I have to take an extra step, ask questions, and
find my way. "[I have to] learn much more to get to where I want to be."
Volsky's supervisor, Army Sgt. Amanda Jordan, said she's definitely on the right
"She is highly motivated. She does things with little to no guidance, and she's
a person that I would go to as my right-hand man," Jordan said.
"It's pretty amazing she is where she is now,” she continued, “knowing where she
came from and that she's had such a hard life. I just think that she is such a
great person. She's one person that you can learn from, ... and now to be so happy
and to be where she is now, she's also a person to look up to."
In her free time, Volsky enjoys singing, dancing, drawing, playing the piano,
and performing community service, which she often does as a member of
Heidelberg's Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program.
"Specialist Volsky is a person that you can truly see has a servant heart and
tries very hard to ensure others are taken care of," said BOSS president Army
Spc. William Perkins. "She sets the example for others."
Another passion Volsky has is acting, and she had the opportunity to hone her
chops with a part in a commercial for USAREUR's diversity campaign that aired on
American Forces Network. Most viewers will recognize her from her memorable
delivery of the line "I am USAREUR."
Volsky admitted she was a little surprised by the attention she has received
after the commercial began airing.
"At first I wasn't used to it, and it was a little much for me, but then I went
on autopilot and so it doesn't bother me at all. Sometimes I even laugh. It's
good that people recognize it," she said.
Despite the struggles she's overcome and the many different activities and
hobbies that now consume her schedule, Volsky said there is one thing that
remains a constant quest in her life.
"I really enjoy community service, and I really enjoy meeting people and
communicating,” she said. “I've found when I help other people, I am helping
myself. I know that I'm going to make a difference, and when I can make people
smile, that's one thing that I appreciate about the talents and the gifts that I
have. I am able to share them and to give something in return."
These days, Volsky continues to weather the stormy seas of life while helping to
raise others up to stand on the mountains she was able to conquer years ago in a
"There's always a bright side to a challenge. That's one of the things my mom
has always said. Without the bad, there could be no good," Volsky said. "We are
just human beings, and we have to strive forward no matter what, and that's why
In October, Volsky will head to Washington, D.C., to compete in the U.S. Army
10-Miler. She was one of four runners from Heidelberg to earn a spot on the U.S.
Army Europe 10-miler team last month in a qualification race in Grafenw�hr.
Article and photo by Dijon Rolle|
U.S. Army Garrison Baden-Wuerttemberg Public Affairs
American Forces Press Service
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