When was the first time that you seriously considered military service?
I had come from a chaotic and traumatic childhood. So I quit school. And when I had an opportunity to go back, I took 11th and 12 grade at the same time while working. But when I graduated, college was not an option. I wanted practical experience for my record. And if I joined I would have something to eat, a place to sleep, and clothes on my back. I walked into a recruitment office, and within days I was signed up. I did so well on my MEPS that recruiters were clamoring for me. I didn’t want to go into the marines, or the army, and I had conquered my fear of flying. And my biggest fear is drowning, so figured I would join the Navy.
How did it feel to enlist in the armed services?
Actually, my enlistment was more practical. When I signed up, I enlisted on delayed entry. As I was waiting I found a good job, and I decided that I no longer needed to join the military. Navy personnel came to my house and threatened legal action if I didn’t follow through. They got me in the middle of the night, then they took me to Florida to join the rest of my unit. When we woke up the next morning, I was introduced as the last person to join. I decided to make the best of my four year assignment, and became fully engaged in pursuing my military career.
What’s the best memory you have of your service?
I have two. The first happened during a week of survival techniques. They put us in a huge training area, and dived us up by swimming ability. Then they marched everyone who couldn’t swim off the diving board. And I didn’t jump. So I got in trouble, and was ordered to stand at parade rest facing the sun. In Florida. In August. The next day they put me back up on the diving board. I hesitated, but I finally stepped off the board. They made me stay in the water for 7 minutes. But when I left the pool that day, I had conquered my worst fear.
The second memory was during an adjustment period in boot camp. I went through culture shock being cooped up with a group of strangers. There were a lot of fights, and a lot of harassment, a lot of time I was ordered to go to IT. (Intensive Training.) I kept saying “I’m not a troublemaker, they just need to leave me alone!” But despite being the worst unit on the base, we gelled. And eventually I got a chance to be in leadership. The responsibility in that position really helped me to excel.
How did you feel when you learned you would be returning to civilian life?
I don’t have this great story. What happened for me was I was stationed in Washington DC. I worked on a security station across from American University. The responsibility was massive, but the base was small. I experienced a trauma, and I reported it. The brass was more content to let the old boys club stay unchallenged. After three and a half years of loyal service they simply gave me a honorable discharge and sent me back home.
What was the hardest thing to adapt to in civilian life?
Even though you’re still trained in leadership, you’re trained to be in a structure and follow orders. When you come out, you don’t have that structure. You have no clear defined steps or a certain goal. There’s no chain of command, or respect for authority. You are trained in a unit that is supposed to function as one mind. Your entire mindset is focused on the mission. Outside of the service there’s nothing bigger than yourself. Going back into your family and your job, you end up feeling lost. And worse still, people need to make an adjustment to their perceived sense of who you are. People ask too many questions, or leave you alone because they think you’re self-sufficient. They don’t know how to treat you. When you experience a trauma there are physical and emotional effects. And that changes you. You essentially turn into a different person. I went back to the good job I found, but I didn’t last. I wasn’t the same person that they had hired.
How did you hear about Women of Hope?
I needed to get help. So I start reaching out to programs like Women of Hope. But I kept getting dropped through the cracks. My daughter was an intern for Women of Hope, and they asked me to come in for an interview. We had coffee, talked for hours, and found our paths kept crossing. I kept running into Sheila (Women Of Hope’s Executive Director) at this event, or that event. I realized I could help them, and they could help me. When we met at a graduation ceremony at Tri-C, I pledged my assistance to Women of Hope. For only 10 hours. And now I’m a board member.
What’s the one service you feel that female veterans need?
VA benefits in general. After I got out, I went to the VA because of some medical issues. I had a really bad experience. Without examining me, they told me that I was fine based on my previous records. Another example of the old boy’s club. At that point women were not a priority of medical care, and their services had little to no funding. And with the VA, that can make a huge difference.
To get service connected, you must prove that your injury came from your military service. Men can get approved for service connected disability for a minor injury – such as a injury incurred while shaving. But women need to jump through hoops just to get things recorded as happening during their military service. Even if you can prove it, you will get turned down. So you must keep fighting over and over again to get the right services. Even if the hospital agrees you were hurt, the administration can shoot it down because the records show you’re fine.
It is still difficult to navigate, even with extra funding. Things have gotten better. In some areas. But male and female veterans have access to very different opportunities.
Male veterans seeking help for a drug addiction have multiple options. Female vets might have one. Maybe. And there’s typically a waiting list. And the same thing happens with PTSD, housing options. I was going through a domestic issue and needed to get out. But because I had a small textile studio, they told me to live there. Despite the studio not having a bathroom or a kitchen. The person who was threatening me also knew where the studio was. It felt like they would only help you if you had no dignity left. If a female vet has multiple issues, she has a better chance. But someone who is simply about to be evicted has to fight for basic assistance.
If you could choose one word to describe your future, what would that word be?
Restoration. I want to be an agent of restoration and healing for women. Women who go through trauma, service, and domestic violence need advocates. And I believe I can be an agent in the restoration of women who are ready to rise again.