Here’s the story of a Army veteran and a friend of mine. She is also a practicing Hellenic Polytheist and one of my biggest supporters. I want you to read her story and reflect on the struggles that she faced, struggles service men and women go through, and I want you to think about how they probably aren’t very different from your own. Think about the circumstances of your life and how they’ve affected you spiritually. Hopefully, you can gather insight into your own fears and challenges by stepping into another person’s shoes…
From as far back as I can remember, there was just something about a warrior that always just drew me in. I remember seeing in the state fair, the Marine band perform and I was completely mesmerized. Everyone there just saw a band, oh that’s nice, but I saw something more, the way they moved, the discipline, the strength, it was like in the moment that was all I ever saw. Every time I saw a picture of a Soldier, Marine, or any service member, it was almost like I felt as if they were reaching out a hand and calling me to join them.
My dad was in the Army during the Vietnam era; as far as I know, he never entered Vietnam itself, but do go to the surrounding countries. He wasn’t one of those angry bitter types. In fact he freely enlisted in the Army, he volunteered during a time when most people were angry about the draft, so let’s say my dad was definitely not a hippie. He would never talk about his service and certainly didn’t want me to join. Every once in a while he would say a little tidbit of his Army life and then move on to another subject. I remember as a girl, going to my parents bathroom that had tons of mirrors and mirrored closets, I would pull out my Dad’s Army jacket, full of rows of ribbons, medals, awards (that he would never tell me about), and put it on, and wish with all my heart that that is what I could earn for myself one day. I wanted it really really bad.
My home situation was really really bad….family knew, they did nothing…neighbors knew, they did nothing, community knew, they did nothing…..While I acknowledge there are others who certainly had it worse than me, mine was certainly painful. The police made numerous trips to my house, I was always scared. Always scared, alone, and hungry in a filthy home. I would hide in my closet and cry for hours and became severely depressed and even suicidal. I once almost did it, but somehow I didn’t, as weak as I thought I was, there was some tiny speck of strength and hope. I still had my dream and every time I would be in this very dark place, out of the blue, I would just start thinking of a warrior, everything about a warrior. I would be filled with fighting spirit, seemingly out of nowhere; I loved ancient weapons and everything to do with martial arts. It was like there was some God, telling me to keep fighting, that I didn’t have to succumb to despair, that I didn’t have to stay in that dark place, that I could fight my way out (which is exactly what ended up happening…a few years later…I stood up to my tormentor..and physically fought my way out of that awful house). I didn’t have to end my life; there was so much more of my life to live. To me, a warrior, with scars and all, was the most beautiful, and that is what gave me hope and something to strive for, and what helped save me.
I thought about going directly to the Army after high school. A friend of mine was going to the Navy. I did want college, but my childhood dream as well. I went to college prep, Catholic high school. It turns out I was a little too chubby for the Navy, and with a lot of pressure from family and friends, I went to college instead. Big mistake………..What happened, will take up another story entirely….I got married, dropped out of college, ended up divorced-homeless and even more overweight. I did a lot of running and swimming to try to find some way to cope. I found a job, got my first apartment by myself and took care of myself. I worked retail, so my hours were crazy but I found time after work to go running every day; since I lived towards the center of Dallas, an urban area, I would run with a little can of pepper spray in my hand, especially since I ended up running at night when it was dark. I started at 240 pounds and lost 20 pounds, I knew I still had a ways to go, but went to the Navy office my friend went to.
At first the Navy recruiter was all about helping me, then another guy went to the back, and then came back out and looked at me like I was insane and refused to speak to me. So I went to the Army recruiter, told him what happened, and pretty much told him, “Look, I know I have more weight to lose”, and before I could even finish, they were like” Oh that’s no problem. We have a diet plan, we can run with you, we’ll help you do whatever it takes to get in.” I was hooked up with a female recruiter and I did workouts with her. At work, people would eat candy bars in front of me, and tease me relentlessly. I was drilled daily, friends, family, co-workers, nobody supported me; they all thought I was making the worst decision of my life. One person even told me the military is only for those who have nothing better to do in their lives, and for people who are not smart enough to do anything else.
Despite the lack of support, I pressed on; when I hit a plateau, I started taking diet pills, I took one too many and ended up with the shakes and unable to sleep, and when I got physically sick, I stopped. My recruiter took the diet pills away from me, and I got better and went back to my original healthy workout plan. It took just under a year and I went from 240 pounds to 173 pounds, and although I wouldn’t make the Army height and weight tables, I was able to make tape. My body fat percentage was in an acceptable range, so I could finally ship. I was ecstatic that I could finally ship, I was the only person happy about it besides my recruiter, that I didn’t pay too much attention during the picking your job part. I was told, and had on paper, that I would get a big fat bonus if I signed up to be a combat medic, at the time the army was in dire need of medics, so I happily agreed even though I had no medical experience whatsoever or even really hadn’t thought about the medical field. It was just going to be like ‘Saving Private Ryan’ right? Storming beaches and performing life-saving miracles on every soldier, patching up the wounded with one hand, and firing a semi-automatic weapon with the other, that was the dream. Oh, how I was so naive!
Well, I made it through basic training just fine, but that whole, a lack of medical experience kind of bit me in the butt in AIT. Many and most soldiers, with or without medical experience make it just fine in medic school, but I, like a few other soldiers, had a hard time getting the hang of it. I pushed myself hard, trying to study, making sure my uniforms where perfect, shining my boots for hours. I even broke down crying to my Dad because my boots weren’t shiny enough and he had to calm me down and tell me it was going to be okay, and that they were fine. I wanted everything to be perfect, I didn’t want to fail. I got sick, like a cold or flu, I tried every over-the-counter medicine but nothing was working. I could have gone to sick call but I didn’t want to be seen as one of those soldiers who go to sick-call all the time to get out of duty, I didn’t want to be a “sick-call ranger”, so I suffered in silence. I failed one too many tests, and was told I was going to be recycled. I was on week 9 or 10, of the 16 week medic course, I would have to wait 2 weeks and start all the way over from week one with a new company. I ran to the bathroom, with a friend of mine running after me, and proceeded to have a complete nervous breakdown, I collapsed on the bathroom floor and was screaming, crying, shaking, and sobbing. I felt like a complete failure, my friend held me the whole time, trying to console me. It wasn’t like I was being kicked out, I was just going to have to be in training longer; after all, when your job is to save soldier’s lives, you certainly would want the medic to know what they are doing. It felt like my whole world was crashing down; I would spend the next few weeks, waiting and watching others advance, while I waited to be moved to another company. I would stare out and felt so numb, like I was just shutting down.
There was a stigma to being recycled, many soldiers were recycled because they were problem soldiers, troublemakers, and some even failed on purpose. From my understanding at the time, if you fail on purpose, the Army decides your next job for you, and it is “needs of the Army”, which may or may not be the ideal job for you. If you fail out twice, you were re-assigned to another MOS or job. I wasn’t a troublemaker, and I genuinely wanted to be the perfect soldier, I wanted so much to pass. There was a lady that also got recycled with me for academic reasons and she had a master’s degree in psychology. She said not to feel too bad, after all she had a master’s degree and still didn’t pass the first time. One of my friends said she couldn’t explain why, but she felt like it was supposed to be this way, that something was supposed to happen, or someone I was supposed to meet, and being in this new company was how this was going to happen.
In the new company, sometimes the drill sergeants would “smoke us” (military lingo for lots & lots of extra exercises) just for being recycled. I was still very heartbroken about being recycled; I hated myself for having to repeat training. I pressed on, and I got to a point where I was either going to be completely broken, or rise up. I spoke to my drill sergeant and told him that I was recycled and just not sure if I could really do this. He told me it is not impossible, that it I can still do it. I tried even harder, and since I already repeated the first 8 weeks, in the beginning my grades were good. The new company was kind of interesting too, there were so many different soldiers from everywhere and the drill sergeants were hilarious at times. This group of guys from Ft. Knox would always make me laugh every time we got smoked, and it made me feel better about getting smoked. There were some fellow Texans, and I met some really nice Mormon soldiers. I got a lot of support from the LDS soldiers and that’s where I met my future second husband and future father of my child, Jeff.
Jeff was Catholic but was bunkmates with one of the LDS soldiers, so that is how we met. I had plenty of people to turn to now, if I didn’t understand a concept or a chapter. Jeff was more into science and really liked medicine, so he helped me with the medical stuff I had trouble with (his mother is a registered nurse). The drill sergeants would also go out on the blacktop and answer questions and made sure you really understood. My first “date” with Jeff was shining boots outside and studying!
The company was divided up into 3 platoons, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd and was organized by last name. My maiden name began with “F” so I was in first platoon, and Jeff’s last name, beginning with “T”, was in 3rd platoon. I don’t remember what week it was, but my drill sergeant got fed up with one of the squad leaders in my platoon, called him “Booboo the fool” and said he was picking a new one. I was so obsessed about having my uniform just perfect that I paid to have it dry cleaned so that it would be perfectly ironed and cleaned and the creases were pressed just right. I also paid the boot-man, to have my boots shined. I loved that boot-man! I stood as perfectly at attention as I possibly could, trying to have the best military bearing as possible. The drill sergeant went all the way down the line, paused at me, then went back down the line, and went back to me, and picked me! OH HAPPY DAY!! I was thrilled, and would remain the leader of my little squad for the remainder of the training. Jeff also got to be a squad leader in his little squad.
I passed the National Registry for EMT-Basic and passed all my training. During the final field exercise there was rope that divided the male and female side. There was another couple there and she got her boyfriend to get Jeff. We were both in full battle rattle, camouflage paint all over the face, my hair a mess, and wearing those awful BCG glasses (birth control glasses-thick ugly brown glasses), we kissed over the rope and he told me he loved me.
We both headed to Germany. Initially we were separated but ended up only an hour apart from one another in different units. I was assigned to a hospital unit in Germany and went to the OB/GYN clinic, which did not please me at all. While it was great being in Germany, and not a lot of people get the chance to live overseas, the unit I was assigned to didn’t exactly meet my expectations. Some of the people, I wonder what their motivation was for being in the Army; it was like they woke up and rolled out of bed and decided they were going to join. The atmosphere was very relaxed, which I guess for being outside the training environment was understandable, but it was a little too relaxed. So many people walked around like they just didn’t care.
I was assigned to a sergeant in my clinic who, although was well-meaning, was very frazzled, not a very organized person and was more concerned about playing pool than anything else. The single soldier barracks room had no dresser and no rod in the armoires to hang my clothes. My frazzled sergeant’s solution– buy a bath curtain rod. Needless to say, it didn’t hold up and no one cared. All this money the military spends, and they can’t afford to have the proper furniture in a soldier’s room. Oh, and they refused to move me to another room. Eventually a small issue like furniture ended up making its way to the First Sergeant. Sad, how a First Sergeant has to get involved and do the job of the Supply Sergeant. So I got my new armories but no dresser. Though I was the only soldier to not have a dresser, whatever, I ended up buying plastic bins to keep my foldable clothes in. You can’t exactly hang up underwear! I shared a bathroom with a fellow soldier from my clinic, and she wasn’t happy about that. Apparently she had a falling-out with the last girl that was in my room, who was also in the same clinic.
I didn’t exactly get a warm reception from the head nurse of the OB/GYN clinic; she eyed me with suspicion like everyone else there. No one was happy about my presence there. You would think they would be happy to get a new soldier, more help, but these were some hateful, gossiping, spiteful, backstabbing bitches. Every other section of the hospital was running just fine, everyone get along. I got along with every other clinic and section except my own. I even volunteered to do guard duty, doing long hours just to get away from them. I loved guard duty and being everywhere else. The nurses at the clinic would seem like your friend, and be friendly, but like sooooooo many women, GOSSIP GOSSIP GOSSIP.
I was young and in love and on Valentine’s Day Jeff and I decided to get engaged. I was the talk of the clinic; apparently these women had no real lives of their own. When I got my first brand-new car, instead of being happy for me, they made comments like, “What did you get THAT for?” and would roll their eyes at me and huff and puff and walk away. I tried so hard to get transferred but was continually denied. Apparently I was the problem, for not being best buddies with the civilian nurse ladies from hell. The actual soldiers and NCO’s in the clinic didn’t like me either. Well, it is possible to work together, even if you don’t like one another, but it wasn’t much fun. The actual soldiers were the party type, which is fine, but they were like a tight little clique and there was no way I was getting in. I was never invited to any outings, and when pretty every weekend rolled around, I went to see Jeff.
Heidelberg Germany really is a very beautiful city; I just wished I could have been there without having to deal with such unpleasant people. The doctors of the clinic were Army officers, with the exception of the one civilian doctor, who was really nice. All the doctors were nice; they were my saving grace. Instead of being in the clinic office with all the hateful women, I would clean the doctors’ exam rooms thoroughly and spend time in the doctor’s office. A Lieutenant Colonel I worked for said she has been deployed and would gladly take me to war with her any day. That meant a lot to me, and I got along great with the doctors; and many of them thought like I did, and were very organized. You would think between a Private and a Colonel, there would be someone intermediary who would help, but many of the NCO’s in my unit in certain leadership positions were more concerned about themselves and their own career rather than helping soldiers. The Colonel would let me retreat to her office and it was a great escape. To this day, I have a harder time trusting women and making friends with women. Whole bunch of women working together is never a good idea.
Jeff and I decided to get married. Paperwork-wise, it would be a nightmare to get married overseas, so we flew to Vegas. When we got back we worked as hard as we could to get moved together. Surely, just an hour apart, we could do that right? If one of us couldn’t be transferred to the other unit, then maybe they would allow us to live together in between. Wrong. It was very stressful and the clinic hated me even more. How dare I want to live with my own husband? I am supposed to be married to the Army! His unit wasn’t budging either, and no one would help us. All I wanted was a successful Army career, and to be with my husband. The married Army’s couples program is a joke. When you are a soldier, you are government property, to hell with family, that was the view of my unit. We would have so many arguments about whose unit was doing what about our situation. We tried to enjoy the time in Germany and met every weekend.
After about a year of marriage I became pregnant, and painfully decided enough was enough. I remember making the decision in my mind, and it was like someone stabbed me with a sword right through my heart. When you are pregnant, you can choose to leave, so I told my commander I wanted to go. She respected my decision, but in order for me to receive the Montgomery G.I. bill benefits, I had to stay in at least 30 months. I was going to finish my degree, so I told my clinic NCO that I was going to stay in long enough to get my G.I. bill, which would put me at about 8 months pregnant, which is the furthest-along you may be and still fly.
As a pregnant female solider you have the right to choose the date, so it’s not that big of a deal. Some leave early, some leave late, and I choose to leave late so I could qualify for my Montgomery G.I. bill. My clinic NCO, a male who at this point had a terrible reputation with females in his prior unit, having shown me topless photos of women, and having an intimate relationship with another soldier in the clinic, proceeded to scream, yell and berate me, with pregnant patients in all the exam rooms. He tried to hit me, but I was quick and ran to the next in command. He was then required to have another female sergeant in the room with me at all times. It was an awful few days, and I was pregnant and alone.
An hour away, Jeff’s supervisor talked to me and coached me over the phone, telling me to keep my military bearing, and not give them an excuse to say anything about me. I did the required thing and informed each person along the chain of command and took my case to an officer who was over all them, but was before the sergeant major. All the time, I was terrified about what all those stress was doing to my unborn child and I was starting to lose weight, which in pregnancy you don’t want. It was so hard not to scream or yell or be emotional, but I maintained complete composure and fought to get out of the clinic. I had actually trained all the current soldiers in the clinic and trained the sergeant who would be the supervisor. I was also the HAZMAT coordinator for the clinic, but this was all conveniently forgotten.
I was temporarily moved to be a secretary to the head nurses’ forth entire hospital. I was there for a month and loved it, and they were very satisfied with my work and with me. The clinic NCO, who had tried to hit me, attempted to press disciplinary action against me but was shot down by the command. There were also other NCO’s in the unit, who knew me and knew my work ethic, who stood up for me. Even a former clinic NCO, whom I had disliked at first, and had a difficult relationship with, stood up for me too. Even if we didn’t have the greatest relationship, she knew what he was doing was wrong and that I was a good soldier. I was preparing myself for a fight, and then they finally let me go.
I was being moved to the Emergency Room, which had the reputation for being the “hard ass” section. The NCOs in the Emergency Room all came from field units; they were leaders, NCO’s who actually have deployed and went to war. They were very squared away, they knew their stuff and were very strict. Much to the chagrin of my former clinic, the so-called “Hard-Ass” “War-hardened” NCO’s and I got along fabulously. They were awesome. I never had to ask about my paperwork, they gave me updates every day. In the ER I gained a lot more useful and valuable experience, rather than just looking at vaginas all day. The registered nurses and doctors were always teaching us whether we had patients or not. Some of the patients were not very pleasant, but having such pleasant co-workers made it much easier. The ER NCO’s, made sure everyone had all of the uniforms squared away, that everything was organized, and everything was 110% better, a thousand times better. I spent the last 6 months working in the ER and it was peaceful. The soldiers and NCO’s I worked with where absolutely awesome. I wish I would have had them from the beginning, but I cherish the time I did get to spend with them. The right leadership can make such a huge difference.
Since I had time left in my contract, I decided to join the Texas National Guard for a year when I returned stateside. Jeff and I were going to Fort Hood (oh blessed Lords, that’s another story!). I had a daughter named Isabelle, and spent a year in the Texas National Guard. The unit was very un-organized. It was much like a detachment unit; the main unit was deployed at the time, but everyone was very nice. Many of the soldiers were soldiers who had deployed and seen war. They were very helpful and insightful; they were very nice and dependable. I really liked them. What a difference it seems between soldiers who go to war and come from field units and soldiers who spend most of their career in “comfortable” units. Even if I never deployed, I promise you I am not a bitch! I am a lover more than anything, and probably more influenced by Aphrodite than I realize. As long as you are nice to me, I will love you forever and do just about anything within my abilities for a friend.
When the year was up, I went back into the inactive ready reserve. I was given an honorable discharge when I left active-duty service. I never received any negative or disciplinary action, I was protected. I was able to use my Montgomery G.I. bill to get a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a major in Business Economics. Because of the mistakes I made the first time I went to college, I couldn’t get my GPA up very high, even though my grades post-Army were A’s and B’s. The Montgomery G.I. bill was a huge help to me and enabled me to finish my degree.
Jeff and I’s marriage fell apart during college. He was med-evaced out of Iraq for severe mental illness and PTSD. He was medically retired from the Army and became abusive and turned to alcohol. I divorced him, and was left as a single mother and full-time college student. I would take Isabelle with me to the library and study groups when she was a toddler. I would bring her toys, dolls coloring books and would pray she would be quiet enough. It all worked out and I managed to finish. Jeff also sobered up, and after several medicinal changes, started to improve. He will always have those issues, but the right medicine makes a world of difference.
Unfortunately when I graduated in December of 2009, the economy still kind of sucked. Very few people that graduated with me had jobs waiting for them. I worked a few office temp jobs. Jeff thought I should have gone into nursing, but I don’t know. After I quit the few temp jobs I was able to get, I was told that is the kiss of death. I am supposed to stay at job and be miserable, but that is a road that I do not want to travel. No other jobs came around, even a part time job at McDonalds. I am not on speaking terms with family; let’s just say I grew up in a really bad home. So I have been on my own. Jeff and I moved in back together and have been living together ever since. He supports me and Isabelle and said that he would pay for my student loans. He has been sober and been apologizing for his actions back in the day. He even asked me to re-marry him- we will see. In the meantime I am a well-educated stay-at-home mom, and Isabelle is homeschooled. She has some special needs and had some troubles at school.
I still wonder if Ares is mad at me for leaving the military. It was the one section that was horrible but everyone else was great. Given Isabelle’s special needs and Jeff’s issues and my lack of family, the all-important question of if I had stayed in, was who would have taken care of Isabelle? There really is no one to take care of her besides me. As much as he has improved, Jeff was pretty dangerous at one point; he can’t be a sole parent while I go off to war. His family is also questionable, plus whether or not we even get re-married or completely reconcile is questionable too. We still have some things to work on.
I really have a great desire to serve Ares, I worship him in all his aspects, and to do anything otherwise would be dishonorable. I realize how truly frightening as a God; He can be, and I still love and worship Him. To give back to Him in some way, for saving me, protecting me, and giving me that fighting spirit all those years that I desperately needed it. At the moment I am trying to learn a dance to do for Him. I don’t dance, ever, I just don’t, but I thought for him I could worship Him through dance. I work hard, trying to perform a beautiful dance for him, write prayers, and I burn incense for him daily, but I feel like it is not enough. I want to do so much more and I hope my actions don’t disappoint him in any way, and I want to make Him happy and proud to be called His devotee. I feel like He wants me to work with other veterans who have lost their way. I really did like being with war veterans; maybe if I couldn’t go to war with them, then I can help love and heal them. I have to really have a passion for what I am doing, but I get criticized for not staying at the horrible office jobs. It’s funny because I wanted an office job for years and when I finally got one, I didn’t want it.
People always want you to keep your head down, and do as your told, and shut up about it. Although I love and value discipline and structure and order, I won’t be silenced. If I see something wrong, I will always say something. I will do it in a professional and civil manner, but I will always speak up, especially for those who are weak, because I know what it is like to be alone and scared and not have anyone speak up for you. Whatever I do next in life, I want it to be in service to Ares. I hope and pray that He will give a chance to serve Him.