How can we make changes for veterans without knowing what we have been through?
Each time this year I visit a post in the 1st District, Department of Georgia, as the district commander, I talk to them about my personal story of why I joined The American Legion. I feel it's important to understand why as a younger woman I joined. Because I always get asked, how do we get younger members to join? Why did I join? And for the longest time, I avoided answering it for personal reasons.
Growing up, I knew I was going to join the Army. When I joined in June 2001, I felt a sense of purpose in my life away from high school and the small town I grew up in. I watched 9/11 happen while I was in basic training. After training, I made my way to Fort Carson, Colo., where I had my son in 2002 and daughter in 2005 and got married in 2006. I deployed as a truck driver (88M) twice to Iraq, in 2003-2004 and 2005-2006. When I came home from the second deployment, I received orders to South Korea for a year without my family and left in 2007. When I came back to the United States in late 2008, I was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, and deployed again from 2009-2010. During my deployments, I earned multiple combat action badges and a Purple Heart. I lost three battle buddies throughout my deployments. My focus was on my mission, my battle buddies and my soldiers. In 2012, when I was told I would have to medically retire from the Army, I thought I could be free of the sense of responsibility of continuous war and death.
Unfortunately, I felt lost and without a purpose. I struggled internally for a couple of years; even though I had my family, I had no idea how to be a mom because of all the deployments and training exercises. I battled PTSD, depression, anger, grief, loss and a sense of not belonging anywhere. I tried working in a civilian job as soon as I got out of the Army, but my mind wasn’t ready. I wasn’t prepared for the world outside the military. In late 2015, drowning in debt, with my marriage barely hanging on and hopelessly failing at almost everything mother-related, I felt my world was worthless. I called my husband and told him what I planned to do, told him how I wanted my remains and how I would like to be remembered, and he knew I was serious. I took a bottle of medicine I had, started to write the kids letters, and laid down. Ten minutes later my husband and the paramedics rushed into the house. He saved my life that day along with the first responders. I survived suicide.
For the next two years, I gained a service dog and some serious therapy, and found a counselor who understood my story and didn’t look at me like I had four heads. She asked me if I knew what The American Legion was. I had never even heard of it until she mentioned it. She gave me information on this amazing organization. I found my post and joined in 2017. The American Legion here in the 1st District has given me a sense of purpose. We assist and help fellow veterans by serving meals during the holidays, helping recover during storms and hurricanes, sharing stories, ensuring each member has a safe place to sleep at night and meeting other women veterans like myself. Recently, Post 184 George K. Gannan Thunderbolt started a Sunday morning (third Sunday monthly) women veteran Coffee and Crumbs Chat, where we all can come together and share our stories, fears, worries, ideas and current concerns with one another. It started with just three of us and has grown to over 15 women coming. Knowing there are others out there who have similar shared experiences like mine, makes me know that Be the One will bring The American Legion even further into the future and help veterans even more. This year, as 1st District commander, I have made it my mission to give back to each of the posts in the 1st District and help them understand the struggle of back-to-back deployments on the global war on terrorism veterans with training. We have brought in a weekend district retreat for all of the American Legion Family, where the veteran and their family can come out and relax and learn about The American Legion. Together, we can bring help and assistance in different ways to the community where it is needed. If we can just help one, then we have already made a difference.