In February, we're told that our minds should revolve around foil-wrapped chocolates, bouquets of flowers and celebrating how much our loved ones mean to us. But this February, we should also remember the military women struggling to return to their civilian lives as mothers, wives and friends. Here are a few of their stories.
Sue was riding through the dusty Afghanistan terrain with her fellow military police when their Humvee hit a trio of landmines. The unexpected, life-shattering blast left her two fellow soldiers dead as they helped her to safety. Sue became the Afghanistan War's first female double amputee that day. Years later, she still carries the burden of the tragedy. Sue is just beginning to master the use of her prosthetic legs, and she is still overcome with trauma whenever she is reminded of the day her fellow soldiers perished. Struggling with PTSD, Sue turns to her service dog, Lyla, to help her learn to trust and love again.
When Lashonna returned home from dual tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, she could hardly contain her excitement. She was going to see her family for the first time in months, and was craving the comforts of home. It wasn't the happy reunion she had been hoping for. As Lashonna spiraled deeper into PTSD, her behavior became more erratic, her family less patient. Faced with loved ones who could not relate to her suffering, Lashonna found herself homeless on the street. It's only through the help of a nonprofit for homeless female Veterans that Lashonna is now moving into an apartment -- her first true home since returning from war.
Alicia spent every spare moment away from combat helping the Afghanistan villagers have better lives. One of her proudest moments was building an all-girls school to provide Afghan children with the resources needed to have a stronger community. But once Alicia returned to Rochester, N.Y., community became a foreign word. She rarely left her apartment, grocery shopping in the middle of the night simply to avoid crowds. After months of avoiding the world, Alicia underwent PTSD therapy and embarked upon the difficult task of reclaiming her civilian life.
A marine gunner in Iraq, Mariette was calm, collected and sharp under the amount of pressure most of us could never imagine. When she returned home, the littlest things began to rattle her. Backfiring cars brought back painful flashbacks of her hardest battle days. Once fearless, she found herself afraid of crowds, hyper vigilant and paralyzed by memories of war. She turned to writing and therapy to regain her confidence and courageous spirit.
BriGette is a victim of military sexual trauma. After being raped in the army, she developed a deep mistrust of her male supervisors. This emotional pain didn't dissipate when she left the battlefield, instead throwing her into a cycle of homelessness and joblessness when she returned to American shores. A single mother, BriGette struggled to provide love and warmth for her child even as her own challenges were becoming insurmountable. Through support groups, BriGette was empowered by the stories of other women. She's now an advocate for women Veterans.
What do all these powerful women have in common? They each took the courageous step of seeking treatment for their trauma. And if that's not an act of love to be remembered I don't know what is.
I invite you to join me in showing these female Veterans and our other military servicewomen warmth and support by attending the March 7 premiere of SERVICE: When Women Come Marching Home in Hot Springs, AR. The film, by Marcia Rock and Patricia Lee Stotter, highlights the special challenges disabled female Veterans face as they transition from the battlefield to civilian life.
The premiere coincides with a new effort by my nonprofit, Harvesting Happiness for Heroes, and our partner, Committed to Freedom. We're joining forces to provide a four-day retreat to help female Veterans overcome military sexual trauma and PTSD. By supporting SERVICE, you'll be making it possible for 20 women to attend this Regroup & Reclaim retreat in October in central Arkansas.