The original "Bug Babe" gave up fighting pests locally for a stint battling more formidable foes in Afghanistan.
In June, Pat Van Hooser resigned from Advanced Services as general manager overseeing offices in Martinez and Aiken to become a contractor for DynCorp International.
"The opportunity came up, and I just couldn't pass it up," Van Hooser said recently during a two-week trip back to her North Augusta home. "It was something different. I'm 57 years old, so it was kind of my last chance for a big adventure."
Van Hooser signed on for a year doing vector control at Camp Leatherneck, a U.S. Marine Corps base of up to 20,000 people in the desert of southern Afghanistan. She opted for the drastic career change because of the hefty paychecks that help her save for retirement and for the experience of living in a different country.
"It's not St. Louis," Van Hooser said of the living conditions on the base. "It is more like summer camp. But you'll never get a chance to get an adventure like this and meet the people from around the world. It is just fascinating."
As opposed to ants, roaches and fleas Van Hooser might have controlled while at Advanced, she said she faces off with a variety of pests on the base. Vector control is different from pest control.
"Over there, our main concern is keeping the military population safe from diseases that are transmitted, whether by animals or insects," Van Hooser said.
Flies and mice are common, she said. But there are no rats because the base is in the desert and there is not enough water to support a rat population.
"I think our biggest problem is feral animals, because there is a huge rabies situation in Afghanistan," Van Hooser said of the roaming dogs, cats, jackals and foxes near the base. "You'd be surprised what shows up in those cages sometimes when we go out and do our trapping runs."
Van Hooser, an admitted animal lover, said having the base veterinarian euthanize rabid dogs which used to be household pets is difficult but a necessary evil.
As part of a team, Van Hooser works 12-hour shifts, seven days each week.
The soldiers sometimes bring issues to her attention. One brought a small snake, which turned out to be a poisonous viper. Apparently, soldiers had been playing with it and trapped it in a small bottle.
"All of the snakes are poisonous. They have no non-poisonous snakes," Van Hooser said. "They fight scorpions to pass the time sometimes."
Though she did residential and business pest control for 20 years, Van Hooser is not new to controlling pests on a military installation.
In the mid-1970s, Van Hooser applied and was accepted into a pest control program through the Department of Defense, which was trying to place women in nontraditional jobs.
"The turning point in my entire career was this question I asked myself, ‘How hard can that be?' " Van Hooser said. "I thought I would do it for a little while until I figured out what I wanted to do and ‘find' myself.
"I was young then. I thought it'd just be a job for a little while. It turned out I liked it and I was good at it."
Van Hooser worked to control everything from ants and snakes to bats and other wildlife at a military base. She moved to the Augusta area in 1990 to be near her retired parents and started as an Advanced technician in 1991.
As her career circled back to military vector control, Van Hooser said she's interested in the other people who opted for life as a contractor in Afghanistan. It's hard to watch her comrades talk with family at home, but many took contracting jobs because they couldn't get a job in their own communities.
"You see a lot of EMTs and firefighters and people that you always thought would have jobs and they can't get jobs (in the United States), so you see them over there," Van Hooser said.
Others, like her, saw contracting as a great financial opportunity to save for retirement.
Unlike some soldiers and contractors who live in heated and air-conditioned tents, Van Hooser said she lives in a room with several other women.
Like summer camp, the bath house is down the road, but the dorm-style housing is well-heated for the cold winters and air conditioned for the summer heat.
There's not much to do on the base besides work, Van Hooser said. Movies on the computer, sleeping, going to the gym and "Skyping" with family are some of the only amusements. Because the PX is the only base shopping alternative, many turn to the Internet.
"There's really no big entertainment," she said. "Nobody goes to town. In fact, they fire you if you try to get off the base because it is very dangerous. The Taliban will kill you.
"But it is plenty safe inside the wire. I've got 15,000 Marines protecting me."
Despite the dangers and lack of many modern conveniences, Van Hooser said she'll likely sign on for another year when her current contract expires in June.
"As of now, I think I'll extend and probably stay even a couple of years," she said. "I really enjoy it. ... But it's not for everybody."