Four women who served our country in Iraq, Korea, Turkey and beyond shared their stories on Veterans Day at the monthly Hot Topics luncheon of the League of Women Voters of Orange County.
Former U.S Rep. Patricia Schroeder, the first woman to serve on the House Armed Services Committee, led the discussion and shared her own stories of fighting for active military and veterans’ rights during her years in Congress.
Common themes of how their service changed them, challenged them and ultimately strengthened them ran through each veteran’s story, as did the difficulty of readjusting to life at home.
Army Specialist Elizabeth Jackson talked in part about the challenge of walking the line between “acting too girly and acting too manly” while serving as a truck driver in Iraq, something she said was necessary to be accepted and to succeed. Once home, she worked hard to learn how to be herself again and reconnect. Jackson, who served from 2001-2005, now works as an outreach specialist for the Veterans Administration.
Writing the book Moving Past Broken: Memoirs of a Wounded Warrior has helped Air Force Sgt. Lorraina Nyanza begin to recover from the physical and emotional abuse she described while serving in the military and the frustrations of trying to get help. Nyanza, who served as a Ground Radio Operator from 1982-1990, completing tours in Turkey, England, Spain and Texas, shared those difficult memories during the discussion.
Air Force Technical Sgt. Antonette Reeves joined the service at age 17 and was serving at Landstuhl Air Base in Germany on Sept. 11, 2001. After that fateful day, her job as a passport agent became much more rigorous as security tightened, and she spent 17-hour days processing men and women going home. “I saw them coming through injured, with missing limbs,” she said, which spurred her to ultimately get her master’s degree when she returned home so she could help others. She now does social work for the Veterans Administration.
Army Major Vanessa Rivera-Vazquez spent 22 years in the military, serving in Iraq and Korea. She was part of a 10-person team embedded with Iraqis as part of a military transition program. Vanessa recalled the difficulty of telling her children goodbye before her deployment and the terrifying things she experienced while in Iraq. She said she learned to become detached, to turn off her emotions. “That’s what war does to a human being, even a mother.” She also shared her road to recovery once back with her family.
The audience was riveted by each story and gave the women a standing ovation. The League appreciates their service and their willingness to shed light on their experiences.
— Nov. 11, 2015