Agni Juhl

At first glance you would never guess that Angi Juhl had been a soldier in the Army. Clad in a figure flattering, floral dress, bright fuchsia lipstick and hair in a casual, yet stylish up do, she appears like many beauticians I have known. These are the outgoing, dynamic, creative types, who showcase their artistry by beautifying the masses. But for these artists, their canvas is hair. Aside from her good-humored spunk and glamour, there is an underlying no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is quality that enables me to envision Angi in combat boots and khaki camouflage fatigues as well. I see not only a hairdresser, but also a leader and a teacher too.

Born and raised in Sioux Falls, Angi has lived in Yankton for the past eleven years with her husband, Angel, and their three children. Angi worked various jobs in her youth until at age eighteen, when it was no surprise to anyone, she enlisted in the Army Reserves in 1999. In enlisting she followed the military footsteps of her mother, uncle, aunt and great grandfather, all of whom previously had careers in the army. Her mother actually conceived her while on active duty at Darmstadt; a US Army base located in Cooperstrasse, Germany. She jokes that there was one family member “who defected to the Air force and we give him a hard time when he’s over for the holidays”.

Her basic training was, “way out in the woods”, in Fort Leonard Missouri. Angi originally hoped to be a criminal profiler for the army,

but decided on training as a Nuclear Biological Chemical Specialist instead. Her MOS, or military occupational specialty code is SPC, with a rank or grade, of E4, which means specialist. She said “That was high enough for me. I was high enough to delegate, but not high enough to have to make snap life changing decisions. I didn’t want to have other people’s lives in my hands. It was perfect.”

During her eight years as a reservist, Angi’s work as an NBC specialist included creating smoke screens to protect and camouflage troops from enemy fire. Smokescreens can be deployed in a grenade or canister, or made from a moving vehicle such as a tank or battleship. While the use of smokescreens for warfare dates back hundreds of years, it became most effectively utilized early during WWII using the Patterson system. Prior to Patterson, Thomas Edison had been among those hired by the US government to help create a more effective smoke machine. Alonzo Patterson, AKA: Smoky, was an infamous rum runner that used smoke screens to evade being caught by government agents. These agents subsequently recruited him and asked him to refine his technique for military use. Because of Patterson’s advanced chemical formulas, the new smoke screen system was the best to date for controlled, large area coverage. Angi frequently used diesel fuel to create smokescreens from her truck and states, “One of my favorite things was blowing thick clouds of smoke. It was the coolest thing ever! We stunk to high heaven when we got done though.”

As the years went by she found herself moving from recon/reconnaissance to decon/decontamination. In this role her duty was to teach soldiers how to use their protective chemical warfare suits and gas masks. She had timed drills where participants were in a simulated gas chamber or critical situation. If they were too slow in using their gear, the effects of the gas would be felt physically. Symptoms include burning or prickling sensations on the skin, severe eye/nose irritation, and respiratory system.

She was taught how to utilize decontamination tents in field, and triage care for those injured by dirty bombs or chemicals. She is very proud that her 323rd. company was Homeland certified, which is no small achievement.

One of Angi’s favorite aspects of the military was the people with whom she met and worked. She smiles broadly, as she recounts how she acquired the nickname “Big Dipper” by her comrades. “The guys all had chewing tobacco and gave me some to try. It was spearmint Skoal. Well, I just kept it in my mouth and would swallow all the extra saliva. The guys said, why aren’t you spitting? You’re not supposed to swallow it!” It didn’t take long for Angi’s stomach to feel what can happen if you swallow chew juice. A hard lesson she can now look at humorously. The next morning when she went out to her Army truck,

she noticed someone had inscribed “Big Dipper” on the door, and the name stuck long after.

In 2001 Angi had her oldest daughter, Jaicia, and in 2002 she was deployed for the first time. While the rest of her unit was stationed for a year and a half overseas in Qatar, which is north of Saudi Arabia,

Angi and two others were sent to Fort Lewis, Washington. This is where they spent the majority of their time training fellow soldiers in the use of chemical warfare gear. While Angi was away, her mother, Susan Lathrop, had temporary legal custody of Jaicia. This was before the common use of Skype or FaceTime,

so Angi would frequently record herself reading stories for Jaicia on videotapes and sent them back to her mother in South Dakota. For her daughter’s second birthday party, she sent home a big box of presents, and her family videotaped the toddler opening them, so Angi wouldn’t miss special moments. It was during this crucial time away from her child that Angi finally decided not to re-enlist. “I didn’t want to miss anything else, I was so happy to be stateside and could call home regularly. I was so very lucky. When re-enlistment time came around again, I thought if I played roulette again, I might not get so lucky.” Looking back on her time in the military, she thinks she would have volunteered to go on tours overseas, and loved to have travelled more. “If I were still single, and without children, I know I would’ve stayed in the military longer.”

While still in the reserves, Angi started cosmetology school at Black Hills Beauty College in Sioux Falls in 2006, when she was 25. Unfortunately she was set back due to a broken finger on her cutting hand, and had to take a break. She praises her husband for his encouragement in getting her back to school and completing the program. He told her, “I have enough money put away I can support us for a year, you don’t have to work and can go back and focus on school. He carried the family, and allowed me my beauty school dream.” She resumed school and graduated in 2011. It was money from her GI bill that paid for her trade. When asked if she prefers haircuts to color, or perms to styling she quickly responds, “I don’t have any preferences, I like to do everything. It’s something different every day. That’s why I like it so much.” For a period of time she worked at the manufacturing company, Vishay, doing hand winding. While she liked the company and her co-workers there, the job was pretty tedious. “Everyone around me had their headphones on, and were in their own world. I’m a talker, I like to talk a lot, and I need interactions with people! I don’t like to sit for eight hours, just doing the same old thing by myself.” The only popular fad that she doesn’t really like so much, is the trend of bleaching hair in attempts to color it intentionally silver, “because it’s so damaging, and hard on the hair, unless the person is already a really light blonde which is easier to do. Most women want to cover their gray!”

Angi gained experience working in the Walmart SmartStyle Hair Salon for the first five years after completing cosmetology school, before moving to the Simply Elegant Salon where she has her own private room. Simply Elegant Salon is located with other businesses at 231 Broadway, in Yankton. According to Angi, one great thing about having a career as a beautician is that “You can’t be outsourced ever. They can’t ever send your job to India or where ever. You can’t be replaced by a robot. They will never be able to do what I do. Even if there is a recession people always get haircuts. They may not get the luxury services like mini-facials, or hair colors, but they’ll still get their hair cut.” Both of Angi’s daughters, Jaicia, aged seventeen, and Jocelyn, aged nine, are very interested in a future doing hair.

When asked what lifelong tenets were instilled while in the military, Angi immediately lists, “Being disciplined, staying on time, having personal integrity, and doing your best,” She utilizes these attributes every day with her customers. If someone asked her to do something with their hair that she knew wasn’t realistic or would be potentially damaging, she would speak up and explain to them why she wouldn’t recommend it, and offer other possibilities instead. She credits her ability to be a successful businesswoman with the military values and leadership skills she acquired during her career. Being in

the Army gave her the mindset that made it possible for her to consider bettering herself and going on to a trade school. One of the Army’s core values is “Selfless Service”. This is practiced regularly in the three or four free haircuts per month, Angi offers for Yankton people, at Pathways shelter for the homeless. Even though she’s no longer in the military Angi still loves helping others, and playing with her chemicals.