I qualified, trained and served as an F-14 aviator. I know what it means to fight for success in an uphill environment in a community that is less than 5% female. In 2001, I faced a series of events that ultimately took my military career goals and put them just out of reach.
But mine isn't the story of a wounded or combat traumatized military veteran. My story probably relates to a large group of the 1.8 million female veterans in the U.S. because it's more common, yet impacts how female veterans live and work within and outside the military community.
I have a special respect and empathy with female combat veterans. I certainly understand the emotional and psychological roller coaster any female veteran may be facing after leaving the service. I'm sure this group of veterans constantly uses the same coping skills I relied on in Officer Candidate School, flight training and on first flights in an F14 Tomcat or just being one of the "guys"... they learned to compartmentalize.
A completely unexpected pregnancy put my flight career on hold for what was supposed to be one year. That same year, 9/11 happened, America declared war and all of my colleagues, including my husband deployed to combat operations. My extended family could not care for a newborn, my marriage dissolved and my flight career was voluntarily terminated in order to stay in the Navy. I could continue to serve, but could not be on a ship or at war until my husband came home from deployment. I truly felt the military was the only place for me, but as a single parent I ultimately had to step out of my safety zone and integrate into civilian America, completely unsure of what my next move would be.
At times, it's hard to believe that there are 1.8 million women like me and my fellow ambassadors at F2F who have demonstrated immense capabilities in serving this country at home and at war, including the ability to conceal stress, strain, pain, fear and exhaustion so as to serve without gender as a distraction, and as self-protection from even the slightest perception of weakness.
The Society for Women's Health Research and the fashion industry have acknowledged, and brought to the nation through Fatigues to Fabulous, that women being exposed to the conditions, wounds, death, IED's and the separation from home that all our soldiers, sailors and airmen have been facing for this past 10 years of war is having an dramatic effect on them. They are asking important questions such as: What needs to be done differently to keep these mothers, spouses, sisters, daughters, friends and co-workers physically and emotionally healthy so they can keep fighting, or smoothly and successfully step into the civilian America that they have defended for all of us? My hope is that Fatigues to Fabulous and more employers like Booz Allen will raise awareness and resources to address these important questions.