Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Is It Ever Enough?

There are times when I wonder if these different hats I wear are really just hats or if they're costumes. And the scariest question is, "Who am I when the costume comes off?" Aside from the obvious image of myself naked, I truly do wonder sometimes...

I have been told this is not uncommon. As women, we tend to become what we do and define ourselves by that. Are we really that bad at compartmentalizing?

I read a quote today - it was a glaring sign to me. "I was made... not to prove myself worthy but to refine the worth I'm formed from, acknowledge it, own it, spend it on others." - Mary Karr

This was a mini-epiphany for me. I agonize far too often about whether or not I'm good enough, smart enough... strong enough. Is what I'm doing enough? Is all I've done, enough? Will it ever be? Am I, enough? My programmed response to that question is "no," and that is what fuels this costumed me. Notice I wrote, "programmed response." This is not the answer that I, the real me buried under all of these costumes, know as truth. I know that I am enough and that we all are when we put forth true effort but what rules my mind is the programming. What I have to strive to understand and relate to on more than a subconscious level, is the truth.

Overcoming the programming is almost a full-time effort and who has time to ponder themselves all day long when they're changing costumes every few hours?

What most often happens is that my programmed mind thinks, "It's not enough. Work harder, work more. Do more." So then I push myself harder and become so mired in the effort that I allow my mind to go on auto-pilot. This keeps me in a perpetual state of programmed thinking... a perpetual state of "I'm not good enough."

Just as in combat - when there is no time to think, we react. We rely on programming.

My challenge these days, has been trying to be conscious and not reactive. Being reactive makes me ill. This illness is what we call "burn out." I'm there. Burnt. Crispy. Exhausted. Often, people will get physically sick or sometimes they'll experience some sort of accident, a broken leg, a car accident or something that forces them to be still. I notice first, this instinctive feeling of wanting to run, to be outside of myself, outside of this fast-paced life I've fueled with my own insecurities. That feeling is when I know that I need to slow down or I'm going to crash.

I also know that I'm ignoring and approaching some massive transformation.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Have faith. Do what you love. Find your passion.

I tell people often that I was "knocked up by a non-profit." AWV's first founding meeting was in December of 2008. On that cold morning in New York City, a group of mostly strangers got together at Popover Cafe, brought together by a Facebook invite. My sister and I expected no one to show up, but as the brunch wore on, we knew that something BIG was coming. In August of 2009, nine months later, American Women Veterans Foundation was incorporated into a LLC, Shortly thereafter, it was granted tax-exempt status from the IRS.

Now, it's in its terrible twos.

For the last two years + nine months, it has kept me up at all hours. I've been told this is normal. It has drained my personal finances. I've borrowed money from family. I've maxed credit cards and I've taken loans on my TSP and 401k. I will soon be selling personal items on eBay. I have lost touch with friends (some willingly left and some I've (un)intentionally drifted from.) I can't keep a relationship for longer than a few weeks. And well, you get the picture but don't worry, I'm told all of that is normal, too!

It's as if I've left the fun and carefree "normal" life and joined the ranks of the "parents with non-profits." We're an anti-social bunch - often too busy or too leery of each others' intentions and territories to make best buddies of each other. Ever wonder what the word "frenemy" means? Start a veterans non-profit in DC. But again, that story is several more blog posts...

The goal for AWV, beyond what needs to be written on paper, is that it survives me. That it continues to be a viable organization that thrives and flourishes, encouraging women to advance in the services and within their communities post-service. It will continue to be a force for positive change - a legacy that each generation of servicewoman and veteran leaves for the next.

My selfish hope, is that everyone will forgive me my naivety, ignorance and lack of extensive formal education. I truly hope that my passion, drive and vision for this organization are enough to help it become all that it needs to and will be. I hope that by combining my commitment and willingness to learn, I can demonstrate ability and potential.

I am constantly humbled by the challenges and by how much I have yet to learn and do. I never dreamed I'd be doing something like this. I don't know what will happen in the years to come - or what AWV will look like as it "grows up" but just as any parent would hope for their child, I hope it will one day flourish on its own and offer women veterans an opportunity to continue to be a part of something bigger than themselves - long after they are issued their DD214s and have stowed away their military service medals.

American Women Veterans has grown to include over 15,000 servicewomen, women veterans and supporters. We've testified on Capitol Hill, pushed for the establishment of gender-specific services and facilities for women veterans at VA hospitals, worked with the Department of Veterans Affairs and continuously meet and team with members of Congress on policies affecting service women and women veterans.

We've also provided references and consultation to all of the major media outlets and shows such as The Oprah Winfrey Show and Dr. OZ, as well as international media in Japan, Korea, Germany and the UK. Just recently, our members worked virtually with TEAM AWV to assist ABC's Extreme Makeovers: Home Edition on a home for Barbara Marshall and her non-profit organization, The Steps N Stages Jubilee House in North Carolina. Our project, the key design element of the show, will be revealed when the show airs in October.

And this is just the beginning.

As I write this, TEAM AWV is drafting up program proposals that are going to positively impact servicewomen, women veterans and their children for decades to come. We know that when a woman vet is empowered - she will empower others. These proactive programs, once funded and implemented, will significantly lower the rate of unemployment, homelessness and sexual assault cases projected and predicted by the people who make projections and predictions. :)

Before 2008, no organization that focused on these issues and had this much outreach, existed.


Many years ago, I asked James Earl Jones, Bruce Willis, Larry King and several other notable and famous people at the American Academy of Achievements event in Sun Valley, Idaho, what it was like to know that you are on the right path to your own destiny. How do you know what you are "meant to be?" The answers I heard over and over again (in summary)?

Have faith. Do what you love. Find your passion.

I don't know if we'll succeed at the pace we need to, but I have faith. I'm doing something I love and believe in. And I don't think anyone would argue with me if I said that I've found my passion.

And so it begins again...

I've had so many signs and messages lately, telling me to get back into writing, journaling... blogging. I've avoided it this long for many reasons not to exclude the fact that I blogged anonymously for five years - and now I am pretty confident that I can't get away with that anymore unless I change the name of my blog.

But I've always been "Army Girl" and it didn't seem right to change it. Despite the fact that I feel more like a "woman" now than a "girl," a part of me doesn't want to let go of her. I've let go of enough of her...

The compromise was to start a new blog. The old one is still here but it's hidden now and someday I'll go back and read through the posts, decipher the embedded messages and code I put in for OPSEC reasons and turn it into a self-published book for family members generations from now that might want to know a little bit about their long-deceased relative. Army Girl was the legacy I thought I would leave them.

My, my, but how so much has changed.

I wouldn't say I'm all grown up. I wouldn't say that I have all of the answers. I will say that I have answers to so many of the questions I once had, many of which I shared in the first Army Girl blog. Would I know what to do when the shit hit the fan in combat? How would my Pashto language training hold up in Afghanistan? Would I return home, safe and sound, with my unit? Am I a coward? Could I hold my own with the guys? Would I kill or be killed?

So. much. has. changed. I have changed, in so many ways. Sometimes, I wake up and I don't even know who this person is or how I got here. But that - that's not a story I can tell in one blog post.

I've always been a writer but on March 17, 2005, I became a "blogger." I was a young-20-something girl, who aspired to be a Soldier and not just a leader but a great leader. A woman - a girl who wanted to serve her country and felt pride in the opportunity to do so.

I was going through quite a bit in my Pashto class at 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum, NY. As the only female in a class of nine, I had no one with which to truly confide in. No one that would understand. So the internet became my diary and fellow bloggers became my "friends." To this day, they are some of my closest friends.

It's a different world, the Milblogging community. I don't expect anyone to understand it but just as gamers "get" gaming, Milbloggers get milblogging. Crazy as they may be (and you know who you are), they were there for me when I felt a type of loneliness I had not encountered before. Blogging is still something many people don't "get" and that's okay.

So why now? I once again find myself needing the outlet. There's more to it this time. I feel that there are things happening in my daily life that I need to share, not because I'm so interesting but because I'm on a journey, an adventure, a mission.

Many people think I'm odd when I tell them that a part of me died on April 7, 2006. Many think I'm melodramatic when I say that I walked around feeling like the "living dead." I don't even know how to describe that feeling... like you're there but you could just be a wisp of smoke and be gone. You FEEL with every cell in your body - like you can just as easily not exist as exist. I felt like a ghost. I would pinch myself to feel alive. I would stand in the shower and try to feel every single drop that hit my skin. To everyone else - I was fine. I begged our LTC not to bring me back to Bagram. I told him to allow us to stay and finish our mission. I talked to people, I smoked (a lot), I went back out on the next mission they would let me go on -

Back then, they didn't know much about Traumatic Brain Injury so I guess it wouldn't have mattered if we'd gone back to Bagram or stayed in Helmand. We probably got more rest in Lashkar Gah than we would have trying to make our way back to Bagram. The problem wasn't time available to rest, it was being able to sleep.

The point? My new life is not my own.

I feel compelled and driven by some unexplainable force to take on this new mission. It is so much bigger than what I wanted for myself. And, I know I'm not the same. I know my brain, my memory, are not the same. I know that someday soon I won't remember many of the things that have happened. I know this because I have already forgotten so much.

The bigger point? American. Women. Veterans. (

I want to share, with every servicewoman and veteran, as much of the experience and amazing things that have transpired. And how the universe itself seems to conspire to make AWV what it needs to be. A majority of the time, I feel like I'm on a fast-moving river and it's all I can do to just steer around the hazards while appreciating the opportunity to have the amazing honor and incredible experience of working for and with some of America's most incredible citizens.

Fearing that I won't remember enough to write a book someday, I want people to be able to share in this adventure with me, as it's happening.

That's what a web + log = blog is. And so it begins again...