“I Got Your Six”: A Warrior’s Pledge and Honor
Homeland Magazine Feature, November 2016-- For these female wounded veterans, coming together to bond for Project Odyssey® meant navigating not only turbulent waters in a rafting activity that unified them, it also meant navigating their emotions and their stress to find peace. Featured in the November 2016 issue of Homeland, this band of sisters took the steps they needed to trust each other...and themselves.
By Vesta M. Anderson
In her almost 200-day deployment to Logistics Support Area Anaconda in Balad, Iraq, U.S. Airman Jessica Daubenmire’s base was attacked 149 times – three were rocket attacks, and the rest were from mortars. “I remember one evening in July of 2007, I heard the sirens signaling an incoming attack while I was in my bunk,” Jessica said. “Half asleep, I immediately rolled off my bottom bunk and onto the ground. The explosion was so violent; it was as if someone was shaking me by my shoulders.”
The mortar struck the trailer directly beside the one Jessica was in.
“I mean, having it hit so close,” she said as she let the thought hang in the air. “How can anybody live in a country where – any minute – something can come out of the sky and blow you up?”
Only 22 at the time of her deployment, Jessica is one of many wounded warriors who endured physical and mental hardships to fulfill the Global War on Terrorism mission.
“At Anaconda, we had one of the best medical facilities in the area of responsibility,” Jessica said. “As a security forces airman, one of my responsibilities was to perform routine checks on the pharmacy while on patrol. To get to the pharmacy, my team had to walk through medical tents that housed severely injured patients. Many had wounds from improvised explosive devices – some were Iraqi children. It was a horrific sight. Even if you closed your eyes, you still had to hear and smell the suffering.”
Jessica returned stateside a totally changed person.
“I remember coming up the walkway heading toward the baggage claim, and I saw my mom and sisters waiting for me, crying. But I just felt numb,” she said. “The pictures my family took at the airport captured the emptiness I felt inside. A part of me was missing. I was different. I wasn’t the same baby girl my mom raised.”
To address the growing mental health needs of warriors returning from war, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) created its Combat Stress Recovery Program (CSRP). Through the generous support of donors, WWP offers wounded veterans a range of specialized mental health programs and services – all tailored to each veteran's specific needs and free of charge.
Jessica’s story is a reflection of other wounded warriors who are confronted with the same struggles once home from combat. Exposure to traumatic combat and operational experiences affects service members and veterans spiritually, psychologically, biologically, and socially.
“I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t sleep. Then, the day came that I lost my military bearing while trying to give my flight chief a briefing. I broke down and told him that I couldn’t even remember how I got to work.”
Once she sought help, it didn’t take long for military doctors to diagnose Jessica with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and more. Also, due to an elbow injury she suffered while in Iraq, Jessica underwent two surgeries. When the military found her unfit to deploy, she finished out her enlistment and returned home to her family in Ohio.
“It’s been six years since I left the military,” Jessica said. “But I had a difficult transition out of the service. My friend told me to reach out to WWP. They helped me get my benefits squared away. Then I signed up for their mental health support services.”
Soon, she found herself at her first WWP mental health workshop with approximately 20 other female veterans from across the nation. Although challenging, WWP's multi-day mental health rehabilitative opportunities provide safe, private environments for warriors to express themselves and discuss their combat action. At the end of the program, injured veterans share lessons learned from the activities that impacted their personal struggles most and set achievable goals for their recoveries.
“It’s simply amazing,” Jessica said. “I didn’t know what to expect at first. I couldn’t see this working since we didn’t know each other. But having the support of other lady warriors who are dealing with similar struggles – it turned out to be the best tool we had at the event. Sometimes, it’s hard to put something out there when you are still dealing with it inside. But trusting the process completely changed my thinking on how to cope. There were a lot of emotions and anxiety, but the experience allowed us to come together and share our journeys.”
Peer support plays an important role in the recovery process for veterans dealing with the invisible wounds of war as they rely upon each other’s learned experiences when managing day-to-day challenges. This special type of therapy reintroduces injured veterans to the unique bonds experienced during military service. Rarely duplicated in the civilian world, these relationships act as a secure bedrock that paves the road to recovery.
WWP recognizes and honors the service and sacrifice of those who have dedicated their lives to our great nation. Veterans comprise a wide range of our nation’s finest, from those who protect and serve on homeland to those who deploy to ensure the realization of freedom across the globe. Together, these brave men and women fight beside each other, enduring the same battles abroad and at home after deployment.
WWP stands ready to help warriors, their families, and caregivers with comprehensive support for mental and physical health, continuing education and employment assistance, and warrior outreach and reintegration into local communities.
Jessica said she immediately felt the impact of the multi-day mental health workshop and is excited for new opportunities to further her growth in recovery and heal the veterans around her. “I was approached by Wounded Warrior Project staff to help with future mental health workshops through a warrior support role.”
It seems only appropriate. After all, it was warrior support that gave her the boost in her own recovery.
About Wounded Warrior Project
The mission of Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) is to honor and empower Wounded Warriors. The WWP purpose is to raise awareness and to enlist the public’s aid for the needs of injured service members, to help injured servicemen and women aid and assist each other, and to provide unique, direct programs and services to meet their needs. WWP is a national, nonpartisan organization headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida. To learn more about WWP visit woundedwarriorproject.org. (Photos courtesy WWP)