Monica Meeks didn’t know it at the time, but when she was assigned by the Army to handle mail, it would be the beginning of a path that led her to a career as an investigator for the State of Tennessee.
Monica, now 45, joined the Army in 1992 in Raleigh, North Carolina, and went to boot camp and advanced individual training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. She thought she was training to be an administrative assistant but was instead one of five Soldiers sent to Postal School.
She joined the Army for the education benefits and to see the world. At the age 18, Monica was on her way.
After two stints in South Korea, a deployment to Haiti and helping run a post office at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, she was a sergeant up for promotion.
“It was a good career choice,” Monica said.
But her next assignment would be even more life-changing.
She was assigned to the Cleveland, Ohio, Military Entrance Processing Station where she worked with recruits who had just enlisted in the Army and did background checks.
“I interviewed applicants, took fingerprints, gave them their oath and made sure [recruits] never lied on their paperwork,” Monica said. “I had no idea when I was doing background investigations or talking to applicants that fast forward 19 years and I’d be using those same techniques outside the military.”
Once cleared and given their oaths, she’d ship new recruits wherever they were supposed to go next.
That’s where she met her future husband, Tramayne Meeks, a Black Hawk mechanic then on detail assignment as a recruiter.
They were married in June of 2001.
A few months later, the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, would change everything.
“I was really surprised there was an increase in those who wanted to join military service,” Monica said. “We had more people of course shipping out to their basic [training]. It says a lot of Cleveland, we didn’t have one no show. Everybody who signed actually came back to ship out to boot camp and you know you’re going to war after 9/11. They knew what they were signing up for. And they knew most of them would end up in a combat zone and everyone that signed up showed up for service. I thought that was pretty phenomenal.”
And the newlyweds would soon up be deployed too.
“The crazy thing is we both wound up going,” Monica said.
They were first sent to Wiesbaden, Germany, together in 2002.
Monica was in human resources and Tramayne was a helicopter mechanic and for the first time in her career she was not mixed in with the civilian population of the post office.
“In Germany, it was like ‘Oh my goodness. We are really on foreign soil and we are at war and we are going to deploy,’” she said. “A different mindset had to take over.”
Monica was then the secretary of the general staff for the commanding general of 3rd Corps Support Command, which meant a lot of paperwork, documentation and reviewing awards or other commendations before the general signed.
After the first year, both were deployed to Iraq.
Tramayne was sent to Bagdad for a year while Monica served in Balad, Iraq, for 10 months.
“Because he was a Black Hawk mechanic and they got to fly, we were one of the few couples to see each other when we were deployed,” she said.
Monica took work tickets for those having computer issues, would log them into the system, track progress and answer requests for computer assistance.
The couple returned to their off-post home in Germany and later that year Monica became pregnant.
“It was time to leave Germany,” she said. “I got a curtailment because I was pregnant.”
Her shortened tour meant the couple’s son would be born in the United States. But it also meant the Meekses would be assigned to different stations for a while.
Monica was stationed at Fort Lee, Virginia, as a human resources sergeant and Tramayne was a Black Hawk mechanic instructor at Fort Eustis so they lived in Richmond and commuted.
Their son, Jared, was born in Virginia August 2005.
“They decided to station us together so I moved to Fort Eustis after about a year,” Monica said.
There she was a platoon sergeant, in charge of the rest and relaxation and reintegration program. Then came another separation from her Family.
“I deployed,” Monica said. “I went to Kuwait for 15 months and left a 2-year-old behind, which was bittersweet because I missed the potty training and dad had to do that. As they call them, the terrible-2s – I missed that.”
As an instructor, Tramayne was in a non-deployable position.
Monica served as an operations sergeant in Kuwait, she helped Soldiers who needed permission to leave base.
“I managed all the operations of travel within Kuwait,” she said. “Sometimes it was for doctor’s appointments, sometimes training. It had to be official business travel.”
In those 15 months, Monica visited the United States once to see her Family, on her son’s third birthday.
But by the time she returned to Fort Eustis, her Family wasn’t there.
“My husband was sent to Fort Campbell while I was deployed,” Monica said.
He moved to Fort Campbell in November 2008 and deployed a month later to Afghanistan.
The couple’s parents took turns caring for their son until Monica returned from deployment in January 2009.
Back at Fort Eustis, Monica was sent to Inspector General’s school in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
“That’s kind of the eyes and ears of the commanding general, making sure they’re not violating any Army regulations or policies and by ‘they’ I mean commanders and first sergeants,” she said. “It was a very intense course, probably one of the most difficult military schools I’ve ever been to.”
Monica was taught to take complaints, see if they were valid and if there was a violation, she had to speak to the commanders or first sergeants about what policies or Army regulations were violated.
“You just learn you live in a glass house, so before you go and correct someone else you’ve got to make sure you are within standards so you just learn to properly investigate when required,” she said.
After graduation “Fort Campbell was waiting on me,” Monica said.
She was a sergeant first class assigned to Headquarters Company, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), as an assistant inspector general.
“Mainly we’d do briefings for incoming Soldiers about what services we can and can’t provide, and instruct them how to handle some complaints within the chain of command and also provide them with location and phone numbers if they needed to file a complaint,” Monica said.
She also investigated complaints.
“Unfortunately, there were some valid complaints,” Monica said.
One investigation involved a brigade accused of being condescending to pregnant Soldiers. Monica went to the pregnancy physical training, interviewed Soldiers and observed how PT was conducted.
“We made adjustments from there as to what is appropriate and what’s inappropriate toward Soldiers who happen to be pregnant,” Monica said. “A lot of times it’s more teach and train. You’re not trying to get anybody in trouble or damage their careers. Just tell them what is and isn’t appropriate.”
She was in that role for three years before retiring in 2012 after 20 years of service.
“That was a great place,” Monica said. “I wish everybody had the opportunity to retire as an assistant inspector general because I think it prepares you for being a civilian and I didn’t have any Soldiers. All I had to do was work the cases I was assigned and focus on my Family and reintegrate to being a civilian after being in the military for so long.”
She found even more help transitioning into the civilian world through what was then known as Army Career and Alumni Program at Fort Campbell, and today is Soldier for Life-Transition Assistance Program.
“It really changed my life because it offers classes and resume writing and I was able to take full advantage of being an assistant inspector general so when they had those classes, I would go,” Monica said.
She said counselors helped with everything from giving personality tests to see which work would best suit her to how to dress professionally as a civilian.
There also were job fairs.
“They do on-the-spot interviews and lucky for me, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was there and I was the only female in the initial brief,” Monica said. “Everyone else was a Ranger and I was IG and met the assistant director for the TBI and he offered me the opportunity to come tour the facility in Nashville.”
Although TBI was recruiting for a special agent, they had uniformed spots available and she took a job providing support for special agents and security for the Nashville facility.
“I had to go to the police academy at age 38,” Monica said.
One of her jobs was performing background investigations for people appointed to certain government positions and judicial appointments and TBI gun toters. That required Monica to go into neighborhoods, ask about the person in question, see if anything worrisome might come up.
An even better opportunity as a plain clothes investigator for the Tennessee Comptrollers Office caught her attention and she decided to give up her uniform while working as a fraud investigator for Tennessee from 2014 to 2016.
“At the comptroller’s office, we mainly investigate those in public offices, such as mayors, for any misappropriation of funds,” Monica said.
Since July 2016, she has been a financial services investigator for the Tennessee Department of Commerce, investigating insurance fraud.
“I love my job,” Monica said. “We are an administrative agency and we investigate those who should be licensed to sell insurance in the state of Tennessee. Or those that are registered in the state of Tennessee to sell securities. Sometimes you get a complaint or termination of cause from an insurance company and we go in to investigate if there is actual fraud.”
Monica’s work takes her all over the state. But her Army career has prepared her for traveling, for doing background checks, for interviewing suspects and for dealing with people of all backgrounds and ranks.
“The great part of my job is we are afforded the opportunity to spend additional time for those vulnerable citizens so those over a certain age and, thankfully, veterans also fall in that category,” she said.
One such case involved a licensed insurance agent telling veterans the insurance company could help them get a 100% permanent disability rating even though the insurance company representatives were not certified veteran service officers.
“That’s not accurate at all,” Monica said. “An insurance producer can’t help you with your disability rate unless they also happen to be a certified veteran [service] officer and this guy was not.”
Two years after retiring from the Army, Monica received her master’s degree in criminal justice from Troy University, without a penny of student debt thanks to the Army, she said.
Monica credits her Army experiences with putting her in a position to do the important work she loves.
“I think it makes me the investigator I am,” she said. “I always say I’m the MVP of the office. I have the experience and the commonality of you have to be able to talk to everybody as an inspector general. You can’t let rank intimidate you and I’m the same way out doing investigative work.”
That’s most apparent when Monica is interviewing someone.
“An interview is nothing but a conversation, so the fact I was in the military and met people from all walks of life, different states, different countries,” she said. “You have to have a conversation where you can’t let fear stop you from engaging.”
Tramayne retired as a sergeant first class in 2010 and is now an education counselor at the Staff Sgt. Glenn H. English Jr. Army Education Center at Fort Campbell.
Monica said she chose to retire from the Army so the couple’s now 14-year-old son, a freshman at Rossview High School, would have stability and not have to change schools. Although he is in the JROTC program at Rossview, Jared has no military aspirations, she said.
The JROTC Program teaches him discipline and experiences he’ll need for whatever path he chooses, Monica said.
“I just want him to become a productive citizen,” she said.
Monica also draws on her military background to help other women.
“I am part of the Women Veterans of America,” she said. “We have a huge footprint here in Clarksville and I’m very proud of that because we reach back to those women who are transitioning. A lot of time people think they’re not veterans if they don’t retire. No, if you served your country in any capacity, even three or four years, you are a veteran, so we do a lot.”