I don’t talk much about my time in the military.
I honestly think it’s because, as much as I want to relive the glory days, it seems like a whole other life that someone else lived. It wasn’t glamorous or particularly difficult. I don’t have any major PTSD from my experiences, though I know many that do. I wasn’t the best leader but I worked my butt off. I guess I can touch on a couple of these things.
War and Coffee (HERE) was one of my earlier posts. One of my favorites too. I’ve read it out loud in public at a writing conference even. I spent the entire 23rd year of my life working in Baghdad ER. I was young, single and focused. I had no distractions of home. We worked 6 12 hour shifts a week with one day off. I went to work, and I slept. Repeated that for 15 months.
When I came home I drank a lot. Not necessarily as a coping mechanism, but for the social interaction of peers. I was a different person. I was pretty and thin and that got me quite far. I remember a female superior diming me out in front of my entire squad. She told me I did not deserve a waiver for further promotions because it took more than just smiling and being pretty to be a leader. From that day on, I worked as hard as I could to be respected.
When I became a leader of soldiers, I was assigned as the temporary manager of an outpatient clinic. We were in Southern Iraq and it was my second deployment. The job I held was meant for someone two ranks higher than mine. My replacement had been named and even had orders to come take over for me. It never happened and I held that leadership role until I fell ill and was sent home a month earlier than my team. Before I left, I had trained my soldiers how to do my job. They completed that mission successfully.
I was given orders to move to Colorado. I applied for a position that was, again, for a higher rank than mine. I received endorsements from my boss’s boss and a former colleague and was accepted to be a leader of wounded, ill, and injured soldier transitioning from the military. I was the lowest ranking in the battalion most of my tenure and the only female staff member in my company for a long time. This was by far the most challenging thing I have ever done, to include working in the world’s busiest trauma center. The things I had to do as a leader in this role will stay with me forever.
After my son was born, I had one year left on my military contract. The toll that my job took on my family and my son made it an easy decision to not renew my contract.
It’s been 4 years today since I separated from the military.
For those reading this who are still in, I was successful in civilian life without a degree and without any handouts. I navigated my way to a promotion within 6 months of hire. My husband also got out of the military and makes nice living driving trains. We were both successful in and out of the military. With diligence and a lot of work, veterans can make it in the “real world”. I tell my friends this all the time. We are very happy with our life outside of the military.
Today I was asked if I my military experiences made its way into my book, Apparent Power. The truth is, yes. Though early on, I decided to NOT make my main character a veteran because 1. Veterans both male and female only make up about 1% of the US population. 2. The ratio of female to male veterans is 1 to 50 (this is not an exact number, just a guess. Many more dudes than chicks). So, if my main character was a veteran, she would be less relatable to the majority of readers and subsequently narrow my target audience to female veterans.
My main character is a military brat, though. She is also a nurse and a railroad wife. Most importantly, and relatably, she is a mother. At the end of the day, if I held no other title in this world, including author, I would be a mom. Many female veterans can call themselves a soldier and a mother. I am just not strong enough to be both simultaneously.
I left much behind but I still hold on to a few things I learned from my military experience.
- I have a clear conscience. Aside from once, when I was young and didn’t even realize until the end, I worked hard for everything I had, and never at the expense of others.
- My medical training will mostly stay with me. It’s hard to break from the muscle memory of reacting in emergency situations.
- I have discipline when it comes to reaching my goals. I know how to get from A to B and I won’t stop until I get there.
- I still cuss. Not much in my writing, but most definitely while speaking. I’ve heard other women cuss as much as I do and there’s nothing cute about it.
- I am insecure about my abilities as a women in any setting. You will probably laugh and think I am lying, but this is another reason why I continue to work hard to meet those goals.
- My husband, I did in fact meet in the military. But not because we worked together. We met through a mutual friend playing softball (We won).
- I will always share my success with others. I will teach and mentor until I cannot adequately communicate. Others should be able to do what I do when I’m gone. So, to all you new writers out there, ask away. I swear you’re not bothering me.
- If you can’t help someone in need, point them where they can get help. Every time. If you ask me a question that I don’t know the answer to, I’ll at least try to get you where you need to go for the information. If I ever tell anyone to google something it is because 1. I don’t know and 2. I’m genuinely too busy to look it up myself.
I am sure there is much more of my military up-bringing deep down in my being, but I think that’s enough for tonight. Please share your experiences. Or your questions if you have any.
Dacia M Arnold
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