Thursday, August 17, 2017

“At the NYC Veterans Day Parade with American Women Veterans.”

November 11, 2011 by  
Filed under Bras & Boots, Most Recent Posts

In September of 2010, I was up late as usual and typed the following words into google: US + veterans + organizations + women. This was a search that I had done off and on over a period of six years. Previously, it had led me to fabulous groups such as the Army Women’s Foundation, Grace After Fire, the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, and the Women’s Army Corps Veterans’ Association, just to name a few. As incredible as all these groups are and as much as I learned from each of them what their purpose was, they weren’t quite what I was looking for. I was looking for a Veterans Service Organization that I could join, share my Army experiences with, volunteer, and simply bond with others who get it.

It. What was the it I was looking for? As much as I tried to forget, as much as I tried not to bring it up, as much as I tried not to talk about it, as much as I tried to bury my pains and not think about my regrets, as much as I would tell my parents to take down the pictures, as much as I made my own family uncomfortable which in turn forced them not talk about or ask questions about my years of service, as much as I tried telling myself, “You’re a civilian now,” the reality was I wasn’t nor had I been since September 1996. For those who believe in a supreme being, you can say what happened that night occurred because of Divine intervention. For those who are still serving and have had the honor of serving in the best Army in the world, you can call it being a Soldier. That’s who I was and it was a part of me yearning to breathe free.

The Army changes you into a different person…and one for the better. It’s a different world that only a few and proud would ever understand. How many people can relate to arriving at Basic Training at 0100 and the moment you step one foot off the bus a burly Drill Sergeant “greets” you by yelling in your face, “Welcome to Hell. Grab your bags and head for the opened door!! I don’t see you moving!! You have two minutes, Private, and my timer started one minute ago!!” You have zero time to think about jet lag and sleep. Your only thought is, “WTF did I get myself into?”  But later down the road, moments such as these will become some of the best memories of your life.

The word family changes for you, too. That’s right; you become a part of the biggest family you could ever imagine. Your family becomes thousands of brothers and sisters, and thousands of fathers and mothers some of whom are glad to pass down the lessons they learned, and if you’re fortunate enough to be assigned with some of them, will help mentor and guide you down your path. I was one of the fortunate ones. I’ll never forget being a young Private First Class and as I was exiting the classroom of mandatory AA/EEO training my unit was attending I was immediately pulled to the side by a female Master Sergeant.

She was very tall and my attention was quickly drawn to the Drill Sergeant patch on her right pocket. It was clear to me that I had done something wrong and was about to find out exactly what that was. “PFC, do know what AR 670-1 states about how females should wear their hair?” I was so scared so details are a little bit of a blur, but what she said was something along those lines and I quickly learned that as much as I tried to bun my long hair, some of the strands were falling below my collar. “Yes, Sergeant,” I replied while standing at parade rest. “Good. I expect you’ll correct that by the time we’re back here after lunch. HOOAH!” I replied, “HOOAH, Sergeant.”

I’ll never forget running full speed to the latrine (aka bathroom) and fixing my hair. I’ll also never forget thinking at that moment that I wanted to be like her. I later learned that she was new to my unit and had just arrived from Korea. She wasn’t in my detachment, but she would become a mentor to me and would be one of the best First Sergeants that I ever had the privilege and the honor of working under. She wasn’t alone. There were many NCOs and Officers, both good and bad, who I had learned from.

“Always have a short term and long term goal…It doesn’t stop at one promotion, you have to keep driving on and competing…Celebrate your accomplishments…Know the standards and enforce them…Be Know Do…Everything won’t always be a success but after every failure you take from it what you can learn from it and drive on, HOOAH.” Some of these lessons reminded me of lessons my parents tried to teach me when I was younger. The only difference was I was now older and I was listening; they were all sinking in and making sense to me.

You are told by your Drill Sergeants that you will be broken down and built back up. And for me, the Army did just that. Of all the decisions that I ever made in my life, of all the times that I failed and wanted to do at least one thing to make my parents proud of me, I can say with pride serving in the Army of our great country was one of those things.

My parents did not have the opportunity to attend my basic training graduation ceremony, attend the Welcome Home ceremony when I returned from Bosnia, or attend any of my promotion ceremonies while I served, but in the spring of 2002 my father drove down to Columbia, SC to witness my graduation from the Adjutant General Corps’ Basic Noncommissioned Officer’s Course. I had already pinned on E6 by that time so he didn’t get to witness my pinning on, which is probably a good thing; seeing his daughter get pounded in the collar bone probably would have shocked him and bewildered him just the same.

However, my dad did get the opportunity to meet my cadre and speak with the Command Sergeant Major of the school. After the ceremony and after saying good-byes to my comrades, I met up with my dad who was patiently waiting for me to begin our drive up to New Jersey since I was on leave. There were no words at first, just silence. I could see his eyes were red so I didn’t have to ask if he had been crying, I just knew. Before we got in the car he gave me the tightest hug I had ever felt and I didn’t have to ask, “Dad, did I finally do something good?” I just knew.

We all have different reasons for leaving the service and about a year after my graduation I decided that it was my time and would leave the service when my contract expired. I loved the Army, and she had given me so much besides the benefits of travel, Tuition Assistance, etc. The places where I lived and all the places I’ve seen would not have happened had I not joined the Army. My one hope was that during my service I had given her just as much as she had given me. She transformed me into the woman I am now and for that I will always be eternally grateful to her for that gift. Have I had moments of regret since? Yes, and it was that regret that would become the chains that would bind me for six years.

That is until that night in 2010 when American Women Veterans was the first organization to appear in my google search. This was a new organization that hadn’t appeared in any of my searches before. I was surprised and inquisitive so of course I clicked on the link and arrived at their webpage. What I found was the it I had been searching for on my other late night perusing of the internet.

After reading their mission and vision statement, as well as some of the blogs posted under, Bras and Boots, I was literally in tears. I continued my way around the site, and then learned about the phenomenal founder of this organization, Genevieve Chase, and what motivated her to start this organization. Immediately and without hesitation, I liked their Facebook page and saw an event posted for the 2010 NYC Veterans Day Parade. I decided that night that marching with them would be my personal “coming out” ceremony.

On the day of the parade I headed to the staging area donning my red scarf and red gloves, signature traits of Team AWV. Before I knew it I was seeing women from all eras and branches of service in red. I saw a fellow female Army veteran in full uniform approach the meeting area in a wheelchair. There was so much to take in and introductions to make. As we waited for the go ahead from parade organizers, we chatted and learned almost everything about one another. By the time we stepped off and marched up 5th Avenue we were a quasi family. Imagine that, total strangers that had only known each other for a few short hours, yet shared a common bond: duty, honor, and service to country.

As I mentioned earlier, I had told my parents to take down the Army picture of me that they had proudly displaying in our house. I never talked about my service so I’m quite sure my dad was surprised to receive a photo text of me holding the American Women Veterans guidon. The text stated, “At the NYC Veterans Day Parade with American Women Veterans.” He replied immediately and quite simply, “So much pride.”

That would begin what has now been a year of volunteering with this incredible organization. I’ve met so many wonderful sisters and brothers in service through this organization and they have no idea how grateful I am for their friendship and camaraderie. I’ve reconnected with a part of my life that I never really wanted to be separated from. I just needed the right bridge to connect the soldier in me to the civilian I am now.

I’m not sure Genevieve had any idea how important American Women Veterans would be to so many women nationwide, especially me. Without her knowing it, she created something that all of us had been waiting and searching a long time for: a place where we could reconnect with an important part of our being and bond with our fellow sisters in arms who would understand all that we have gone through while serving our great nation, no matter the branch or era of service.

So on the eve of my second march with this extremely wonderful group of women, I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you who are a part of AWV. I know my parents and grandfather would thank all of you as well because they have seen firsthand what this organization has done in my life since becoming a part of it one year ago. Not to mention, supporting our men and women in uniform is one of the few issues we agree on and I can discuss with them – lol.

Seriously though, all of my years serving in the Army were the best of my life thus far and I’m not quite sure how I can top them. I have never worked with or gotten to know a more professional and dedicated group of people, and that includes the family members of our Army men and women, Air Force, Navy, Marines, NATO, UN, Allied Forces, and civilian DoD personnel that I was fortunate to have been assigned with. I want to say a heartfelt thank you to all of you, as well.

To my biological Mom, my most wonderful Mom & Dad, and family, had it not been for the values that you taught me and your prayers I would not have succeeded in the Army. Your support and unconditional love was what gave me strength and motiviation during my years of service. Thank you, for those gifts. I know that I am very fortunate to have them in my life, and I love all of you more than you know.

To my friends, sisters and brothers who are smiling down from above, you are not forgotten and you never will be. I promise I will strive to live each day with you in mind and appreciate the small things that we often times can take for granted. And don’t worry dear friends, we will meet again and sing cadences, joke and laugh together as we once did before.

To everyone, Happy Veterans Day! “A Veteran – whether active duty, retired, National Guard or Reserve – is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to “The United States of America” for an amount “up to, and including my life.”

On this day and every day, may we be more loving, more tolerant of one another, and put our differences aside and honor all those who have kept our nation free. May we always remember and live in such a way that honors the sacrifices that our nation’s men and women in uniform, and their families, make for us 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

 

First to fight for the right,

And to build the Nation’s might,

And The Army Goes Rolling Along

Proud of all we have done,

Fighting till the battle’s won,

And the Army Goes Rolling Along.

 

Then it’s Hi! Hi! Hey!

The Army’s on its way.

Count off the cadence loud and strong (TWO! THREE!)

For where e’er we go,

You will always know

That The Army Goes Rolling Along.”

HOOAH!!!!!!

-Stella S.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!