Veterans Day – A Special Salute to Female Veterans

This is a time to reflect and honor those who have answered the call. As a site that encourages and supports mothers, we would be remiss if we didn’t do a special salute to female veterans.

You may or may not know that I served 6.5 years in the United States Air Force. And it was a big deal to me. It was an incredible time. I joined in April 2001. I never for one second believed I’d ever see war. Wars were done. We didn’t do war anymore. That was so 1992.

And then, halfway through my intelligence officer training school, September 11th happened. And everything changed.

Our nation has now been involved in war for 17 years. We continue to suffer losses, although it has slowed down since the worst of the fighting in 2203-2006. But Afghanistan remains hot. Even though it’s often forgotten.

I served with some incredible women during 2001 – 2008. I saw some amazing things and some terrible things. I had unimaginable adventures. I laughed, I cried. And I went places I would have never gone, were it not for the USAF. Colombia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and so on. But women also face challenges while serving that I think the general population often overlooks. This is an area of policy I hope to get more involved with. But first…

Thank you to our veterans.

A Special Recognition to Mamas Who Serve/d

This Veterans Day, I wanted to give a shout out to the women in our Lose the Cape community, in my community of badass women, who have served. Some of them were mothers during service, some of them became mothers while serving, some of them had children after leaving Active Duty. And there are many thousands of women currently serving on Active Duty while raising children.

I had my first child while on Active Duty. He was born at Landstuhl American Hospital, in Germany. The night he was born, my entire medical team rushed out to meet the busload of injured and dying service members that had just been airlifted in from the war zone. The day we left the hospital, we saw more than one gurney covered in a white sheet. It was a very “real” experience, delivering a baby in the hospital where our wounded are evacuated.

It was largely because of my son that I decided to leave Active Duty. You see, before I became pregnant, I had a young Airman who worked for me. She was a single mom. When her baby was about 6 months old, she received word that it was her turn to deploy. Out of a unit of hundreds of people, only 4 people from our unit were deploying to support the efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I begged my commander to see if there was any way we could postpone her deployment. There were plenty of young, single people who were anxious to get their turn in the “sandbox” and we could have sent her 6 months or a year later.

They refused. The answer was simply, “when your number is called, you’ve got to go”. There was no flexibility, no outside of the box thinking.

But how useful is a woman who is more stressed out about leaving her infant behind – missing all of the development that happens in that first year of life – crying over the fact that she was away from her baby? That’s not the person I want to have my back in a war zone. I was not advocating that she NEVER deploy. I just thought we could give her at least a year before going.

So, when I found out I was pregnant, my husband and I had a very long talk about my future. I had always planned on serving a full 20 years. I was doing very well. I had just received a very prestigious award – out of thousands of Company Grade Officers in my Air Force Wing, I won Company Grade Officer of the Year. I had a promising future as a leader in the Air Force.

But it was not worth having to leave my baby for 6 months to a year.

Not everyone has the option though. I was at a place in my service commitment that I could leave. I had served my time. Had I not fulfilled my time yet, I would not have had a choice.

Some people don’t know what else they would do, either. The military IS their career. It is their life. They want to serve. Even if it means great sacrifice.

It broke my heart to leave. Because serving in the military was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.

Women Who Serve Make Tremendous Sacrifices

We can argue all day about whether or not men miss their children as much as women when they are away, but I think we can all agree that small children – infants and toddlers, need their mothers. Yes, it hurts for fathers to be away. My dad missed a huge chunk of my life due to military deployments and trainings and war. But I don’t think it impacted him nearly the way it would a mother. That’s my opinion, but I’m pretty sure there is research to back that up.

My Airman wasn’t the first experience I had with a mother having to leave her baby.

My first duty station was Pope Air Force Base. I loved being in a C-130 Cargo plane unit. But we deployed a LOT. Our mission was to transport the 82nd Airborne out of Fort Bragg, but also, cargo and other people, most importantly, the Medevac crews, all over the middle east.

We were always deployed. I left in October of 2002 for my first deployment, and I was supposed to come home just before Christmas. And then I found out that my co-worker, Jennifer, who had an infant son, was to be my replacement. Her husband was in the Army and was in Afghanistan. He was supposed to return from Afghanistan, meet his baby, who, if I remember correctly, was born while he was in Afghanistan, and they would have about a week together before Jennifer deployed.

Say what?

You’ve got a man returning from a very hot war zone and not only has to adjust to being home, but he also has to care for an infant while his wife is deployed? And they only get ONE WEEK to prepare? No.

I put up a fight. There was no reason for me to return. I wasn’t married, I had no kids, my fiance was still Active Duty in the Marine Corps and we were stationed hours apart so I didn’t see him often anyway… It had been a short deployment for me – only 60 days. I fought with my Flight Commander and begged to stay, at least one more month, so that Jennifer and her husband could have time to adjust before she had to leave. I couldn’t believe I had to fight so hard. I remember him yelling at me, “You can’t save the entire world Lieutenant Haddock!” And my response was, “No, but I can make a difference in this family.”

So I stayed in Oman. And it made a huge difference for Jennifer. She still had to leave her infant son for 90 days, but the circumstances were quite different by the time she deployed. We’ve remained friends ever since. Thank you, Jennifer, for allowing me to share your story.

Maybe we can't change the whole world. But sometimes a small action can change someone else's world. Women in the miltiary make giant sacrifices every day. #femaleveterans #veteransday #sacrifice @katbiggie Click To Tweet

Jennifer and her son Christian.

My friend Jessica served with me in the Air Force. She left on her first deployment when her son Charlie was 6 months old. He was 15-months old when she came home.

Jessica shared with me that she was gone for almost 1/2 of Charlie’s life on deployments.

We are STILL working on our connection. It’s been a tough road. That’s why I struggle with guilt when it comes to his Autism/ Aspergers.

Jessica also shared the following with me:

“Being in a male-dominated career field made it very hard because I had to always prove myself… That I wasn’t weak or I wasn’t “that girl” using her kids to get out of everything… It was the one thing at that time that I felt I was successful at… So I struggled… Little did I know how much I would struggle once I got out.”

Women make sacrifices that other women will never know or understand. And, if you saw the post I published yesterday, it leads to high levels of PTSD and a suicide rate of 140% more than our female counterparts in the civilian world. Jessica is working through these issues and doing well, now working full time as a civilian running a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator program. She’s an amazing woman and I’m so honored to have served with her. And she’s a badass.

Jessica Rodriguez Patten – Combat Trucker

Another Jessica:

This is Jessica. She retired from the Air Force. She raised her son while Active Duty. I asked her what it was like to raise a child while on Active Duty. Her reply: “Honestly, it sucked. I was gone 4 years of 17 1/2 years of his life. He and I have always been so close and I’m incredibly blessed to maintain that relationship with him. We were afforded many opportunities as a family and were able to travel the world. But it definitely came with a cost. I struggled when I came back from Afghanistan and my son has been my rock, picked me up from a crumple on the ground during a panic attack, and loved me unconditionally. That’s how amazing motherhood is!”

Even if women didn’t leave their babies to go to war while serving, they still sacrificed. Long training hours, temporary duty stations (ie, training elsewhere for a week to weeks to months), and other stresses of life in uniform make all of these women badass heroes to me.

A very Special Thank you

I want to give a very special thank you and shout out to this woman, Colonel Meg Czapiewski, who taught me that a woman can be smart, intelligent, driven, caring, warm, loving, and still rise to the top while raising children. This mother of 5, 3 still living, suffered through the loss of her oldest son in an accident, and the loss of a baby, all while serving Active Duty, married to another Active Duty member. She demonstrated to all of us the humanity behind the leader. And to this day is probably still the woman who has had the most influence on my life and career. Thank you, Meg.

Col Meg

Col Meg Czapiewski (Zap)

The Reason So Many Female Veterans Suffer from PTSD

The stats on women and PTSD are from the military are different from what you may expect. Yes, many have PTSD from combat zones, as to be expected. But many suffer from sexual assault and misconduct. 1 in 4 women in the military will be sexually assaulted or sexually mistreated.

The other day we rejoiced as my friend Debi finally won her appeal for service-related disability.

She shared her story:

I began this part of my journey 2 years ago this month when I was finally ready to file for PTSD disability due to Military Sexual Trauma and Intimate Partner Violence. I had never dug into those events until that time.

It. Was. So. Hard.

I had to write statements of the events. Then I had to be interviewed by a psychologist about it all. Twice. The second time, I was in tears before I even walked into that office. And I’d been having a constant anxiety attack since the day before the appointment in both cases. Each appointment lasted between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 hours.

I learned at a VERY young age that no one was interested in how I felt. And that emotions were only an unwanted thing I needed to control. I never was very good at that. I was often told I was “too sensitive.” When my mother disappeared from my life at age 3, I had never been allowed to feel the emotions that brought. And of course, I had no idea how to put them into words either. It was all swept away while I was told my mother must not love me since she quit coming to see me or to call me. Then I was basically trained to “keep it moving.”

Of course the military looked attractive to me because I’d already had 15 years of learning how to function within narrow, rigid, unemotional parameters in a world of rules where everything was black and white, good and bad, right and wrong. So I went. And I stayed for 20 years. Of course the trauma of my childhood I never healed from meant I made a lot of poor choices during those 20 years because I didn’t value myself as no one else had ever valued me either. Trauma followed me through relationships, marriages, even supervisors trying to hold my performance reports over my head for sex.

All this time, I NEVER let that little girl still inside me who was screaming and crying show. I mastered the charade. So well that as I began this last part of the journey, I realized I was not always believed in therapy even when I tried to get help. I did not present in a manner that was congruent with what was happening in my head.

Yes, I am broken. Yes, it will affect the rest of my life just as it’s affected all of my life since age 2 including those 20 years in the military. But I’m fighting, dammit. Fighting HARD to get to a healthier place. I’ve healed tremendously already. I now know my own worth beyond any shadow of doubt. And I KNOW, broken or not, I AM WORTHY. AND I ALWAYS HAVE BEEN.

My hope is that now that this huge burden is lifted by this disability rating, I can really dig into my journey towards healing (always towards, never a destination) and I can help others along the way. I can use the shit I experienced for good. That’s the ultimate in taking back one’s power, IMO. Cross your fingers for me as I recently applied for the Kentucky Attorney General’s Survivors Council at the invitation of another council member who knows much of my story. I’m not done. I am ready to begin sharing (beyond FB.) I have the ability to share my story of healing with the masses. And someone out there needs to hear it. And I feel obligated to share. Because I am still standing. Stronger though broken.

Debi Baldwin,
Air Force Basic Training, Dec 85-Jan 86. Age 18.

I could share so many stories… Thank you, ladies, for your service, your dedication, your sacrifices.

 

Denise Anzalone Lawrence, United States Air Force

 

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Milly Corbo, Unites States Navy

 

We Honor You and Thank You for Your Service

 

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