Women Veterans In The Spotlight

WDVA Women Veteran Spotlight

Highlighting women veterans from across the state of Wisconsin to celebrate the strength, honesty, determination, and achievements while both in service and in civilian life. 




Command Sergeant Major Nancy Rivera, Veteran, U.S. Army 


 State of Residence: Wisconsin

In what branch of the military did you serve: US Army

Year Joined: 1976

Year Separated / Retired: 2006

The Era of Service: Global War on Terrorism (Afghanistan - Operation Enduring Freedom)

In what unit did you serve? I served in several capacities in several units including tours in Panama, New Jersey, Belgium, Germany, California, Arizona, and Afghanistan.  I worked as a Communications Specialist, Drill Sergeant, Military Instructor, Counterintelligence Agent, Platoon Sergeant, First Sergeant, Operations Sergeant/Sergeant Major, and Command Sergeant Major. 

Last Rank: Command Sergeant Major 

What was your job title? Command Sergeant Major

Why did you join the military?  I was drawn to the military by the GI Bill and the recruiting campaign of “Join the Army and See the World."  I had planned on going to college after High School, but I couldn't afford it.  So, when many of my friends headed off to college after High School graduation, I walked into the Recruiting station. 

What was your favorite assignment and why?  I enjoyed all my assignments (well, most of the time), but my favorites were those that challenged and enabled me to teach & mentor Soldiers.  Drill Sergeant & First Sergeant were my favorite assignments, both incredibly challenging and all-consuming, but very rewarding.  I was able to watch people grow not only as Soldiers but also as individuals. 

What is your favorite memory while in the service?  My favorite memories are the lifetime friendships I've made. 

Was it difficult for you to transition back to civilian life?  The transition was difficult, I went from 14–16-hour days in Afghanistan to zero in a matter of 45 days.  At that time (2006), the transition program was three days in length and seemed to be more about checking a box than helping someone transition into the civilian world.  Military skills didn't translate well into civilian skills, there was little help for resume building or Veteran job searches.  I'd been in uniform for 30 years, yet my background, skillset, and knowledge didn't seem to matter.  I also missed the camaraderie and the feeling of family that the military offered. 

Did the military influence your thinking and living after you were home? If so, how.  The military opened my eyes to hardship/unfairness in the US and around the world.  I'm very empathetic and accepting of different viewpoints and ways of life.  The military provided my start in volunteerism whether it was collecting for local food banks, helping at 5K runs, or reading in the schools.  Volunteering and community service are now an important part of my life, as they were in the military. 

What was your biggest challenge in returning to civilian life? Finding a challenging & rewarding job, being able to slow down, and finding my fit within the community.

Where did you find resources? Networking with others who had recently left the military. 

How can communities support women veterans?  I think one of the most important things a community can do is ask Women Veterans to get involved in their activities. Invite women Veterans to join community councils, service organizations, Veteran organizations, and Veteran Support groups.        

Are you the first woman in your family to serve? Yes, several of my uncles and male cousins had served in the military, but I was the first woman in my extended family to serve. One of my sisters later joined the Air Force, in part, because she learned from me that the military offers great opportunities. 

What would you tell another woman about enlisting? Approach military life with an open mind, work hard, learn as much as you can, expect to be challenged, and accept the 'hard jobs,' but ensure that you have balance in your life. Realize that it's not a question of if you will deploy, it's a matter of when and where. Don't allow others to tell you that you're not deserving of the recognition, awards, and accolades you receive.  Stand up for yourself. Military life is often difficult, but the good outweighs the bad.   

Do you use your Veteran Benefits?  I used my GI Bill and I utilize the VA for most of my medical needs now. Many Veterans benefits are not offered in the rural area where I live.  For instance, I received a certification of eligibility for the Veterans Rapid Retraining Assistance Program (VRRAP), but I haven't found a local school with an approved program.     

Please share any service organizations, community events, community engagement projects, and or employment (companies) that you feel would be worthy of sharing with Wisconsin Women Veterans.  Use this question to promote yourself/connect with other women veterans.  

It's important to find your niche.  I found mine in volunteerism and community service.  I now focus on Veteran and Veteran Support organizations, but I began volunteering with local service organizations, the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, the Lions, local golf tournaments, and with a Women's Group in Uganda.

I'm a huge proponent of the Honor Flight which flies WWII, Korean, and Vietnam Era Veterans to DC to visit their memorials.  I've been volunteering with Old Glory Honor Flight for the past four-five years to include having the honor of being a Guardian on two flights to Washington DC. 

I have become increasingly involved with the American Legion, initially participating in military honors at the funerals of Veterans.  Now I serve in various leadership positions at the Post and District levels, and I am a member of a Department Committee.

A year ago, I began working with Dogs2Dogtags (D2DT) which matches Veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress and/or military sexual trauma with an emotional support dog, at no cost.  I reach out to Veterans and Veteran Organizations educating them about the D2DT mission.   

Earlier this year, I became certified to participate in the We Honor Veterans program through the Sharon S. Richardson Community Hospice (SSRCH) in Manitowoc.  This program ensures that Veterans in the final stage of their life are recognized for their military service.  During the Final Pinning ceremony, we honor the Veteran by presenting a certificate of appreciation, US Flag and We Honor Veterans pins, a branch-specific lap quilt, and a final salute. This is a very somber and powerful ceremony that offers closure to the Veteran and his/her family.    

I'm very proud to be a part of the group bringing the “I Am Not Invisible" campaign to NE Wisconsin.  The campaign aims to increase awareness and dialogue about women Veterans and open viewers' eyes to the contributions, needs, and experiences of women who have served in the military.  Our photographer is coming from the DC area and the Oral History Team at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum interview will interview the Veterans. Locally, it's a team endeavor with Manitowoc County Veterans and American Legion Post 477 – St Nazianz taking lead.   All women Veterans are invited to participate, online preregistration is available, and the photo session and short interview will take about 20 minutes in total.  The event is on Saturday 28 January 2023 at the Sharon S. Richardson Community Hospice in Manitowoc, and we want to make it a fun day!


Staff Sergeant Ashley Smits, Veteran U.S. Air Force  


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State of Residence: Wisconsin

In what branch of the military did you serve:  Air Force

Year Joined: 2005

Year Separated / Retired: 2014

The era of Service: OEF

In what unit did you serve? I served at Ramstein at USAFE CSS (AF Helpdesk), Lackland at CPSD (a crypto unit), and MacDill at CENTCOM HQ

Last Rank: Staff Sergeant

What was your job title?  3D171 – Client Systems

Why did you join the military? I joined after 9/11 to follow in my brother's and Grandpa's footsteps, specifically my Grandpa joining the Air Force.

What was your favorite assignment and why? I absolutely loved Ramstein – meeting the locals, trying the food, and traveling.  I plan to make a trip back in a few years to experience it all again.

What is your favorite memory while in the service? My most honorable memory was lining the streets along the flight line to give a final salute to the fallen as their families were bringing them to rest.  It was such an emotional experience seeing so many people come out to honor them.  I also volunteered at the USO while at Ramstein and met a lot of amazing troops returning home.

Was it difficult for you to transition back to civilian life? It was a really hard transition for me – there were so many changes and I didn't feel like I had anyone in my life whom I could talk or relate to.

Did the military influence your thinking and living after you were home? If so, how. I am definitely in a structured mindset. While the military teaches you to be resilient, however, it also taught me to respect others and how to lead and help others. As a result, I am very passionate about helping other Veterans and it is my way of continuing to serve after the military.

What was your biggest challenge in returning to civilian life? I think the biggest challenge was realizing that not everyone was in the military and they didn't think as I did.  I missed being around others that understood me.  I also missed the structure, rules, and respect for others.

Where did you find resources? Once I created the Manitowoc County Veterans group and started meeting more people in the community I found out about more programs and events happening in the area. Now I am able to use the Facebook group to spread those resources to even more Veterans.

How can communities support women veterans? The biggest thing is recognizing that women served too.  Don't automatically assume she is the spouse.

Are you the first woman in your family to serve? Yes!

What would you tell another woman about enlisting? First, ask yourself why you want to enlist.  Then be ready for your life to change for the better.  You will make friendships that will last a lifetime.  You will experience things that you wouldn't do outside the military. Travel when you can.  Volunteer and make the most of your enlistment.  When times get challenging remember your why to keep pushing and most importantly have fun!

Do you use your Veteran Benefits? Yes, I encourage all Veterans to use the benefits that they have earned.  I have used the VA Home Loan and part of the GI Bill.  I also receive medical care at the VA.

Please share any service organizations, community events, community engagement projects, and or employment (companies) that you feel would be worthy of sharing with Wisconsin Women Veterans.  Use this question to promote yourself/connect with other women veterans.
I created the Manitowoc County Veterans (Facebook) group (open to all Veterans) to bring Veterans together for camaraderie after military life.  It is an informal social group with no pressure or fees.  I think a lot of people like the idea of this group because it is just getting together and hanging out with other veterans – people that you can relate to and many of which understand similar things you went through.  We meet regularly once a month, bring in guest speakers, and have vet night outs, and outings that include families as well.  The group has been around for 3 years and a lot of friendships have been formed.  We meet in Manitowoc at the Sharon S Richardson Community Hospice Building (4411 Calumet Ave) on the 4th Tuesday of every month (except Nov and Dec we meet on the 2nd Tuesday) from 5-7 pm.  All Veterans are welcome to join us.

Manitowoc County is also having an I Am Not Invisible Campaign photoshoot and short interview session on Saturday, January 28th from 9 am-1 pm at the Sharon S Richardson Community Hospice Building (4411 Calumet Ave in Manitowoc).  All Women Veterans are welcome to sign up and be a part of being a voice among Women Veterans in Wisconsin.  This is a joint partnership between Manitowoc County Veterans and American Legion Post 477 – St Nazianz.


Corporal Dona Drew, Veteran U.S. Marine Corps 


State of Residence: WI

In what branch of the military did you serve: United States Marine Corps

Year Joined: 1989

Year Separated / Retired: 1993

The Era of Service: Persian Gulf War Era

In what unit did you serve? H&S Battalion 3rd FSSG (Okinawa)  and Headquarters Marine Corps (Washington DC)

Last Rank: E-4

What was your job title?  Field Communication Operator

Why did you join the military? I needed to find a purpose in my life. College did not appeal to me after high school and I wanted to be exposed to new people and places. The Marine Corps seemed to be the best choice for me as I was looking for a challenge in my life.

What was your favorite assignment and why? I was detailed to guard the Iwo Jima Memorial when President George H. Bush came to visit. Although I did not get to meet the President, I was still excited to be part of this event and felt honored that the Marines were chosen to secure the area for him.

What is your favorite memory while in the service? One of my favorite memories while in the service was when I was assigned to Humvee school while stationed in Okinawa. This small group of Marines became family to me while I was thousands of miles away from mine.

Was it difficult for you to transition back to civilian life  Yes, I had some difficulties transitioning back to civilian life.

Did the military influence your thinking and living after you were home? If so, how. Yes, I have never let go of the disciplined I learned in the Marine Corps. I always make sure I am ready for the unexpected. I constantly live by the Marine Corps mantra: “improvise, overcome, and adapt." The Marine Corps Motto “Semper Fidelis" (Always Faithful) rings true in my life.

What was your biggest challenge in returning to civilian life? Learning how to connect with civilians- especially when I entered college. It was hard to relate to young adults whose experiences were so different than mine.

Where did you find resources? Unfortunately, I never learned about Veteran resources until I was employed by the VA in 2013. I was never referred to a VA or Veteran organization when I separated from the Marines in 1993.

How can communities support women veterans? I think the communities can start supporting Women Veterans by acknowledging us. I have seen too many posters, ads, or commercials of male Veterans. I would like to see pictures of female Veterans- showing our dedication and motivation to serve our Country. I would like to see more events to celebrate the diversity of Women Veterans. It is so important to remember that Women served too.

Are you the first woman in your family to serve?  Yes

What would you tell another woman about enlisting? I would tell her to take one day at a time, especially in boot camp. It is not easy, but remember- it's not worth doing if it's easy. I also would tell her not to give up. She will endure many physical and emotional challenges while serving- more challenges than she ever expected. She can persevere and overcome these challenges, which leads me to my last point- I would tell her that it's okay to ask for help. You don't have to do everything on your own. There are always people out there wanting to help and support you. You need to find those people and allow them to help. Then you need to become one of those people and help your sisters.

Do you use your Veteran Benefits? Yes, I have in the past

Specialist 4 Yia Yias Wischki, Veteran U.S. Army


State of Residence: I am a resident of the State of Wisconsin, entered the Service in Michigan and I'm from Florida.

In what branch of the military did you serve? US ARMY

Year Joined: 1977

Year Separated / Retired: 1980

The era of Service: The between era, after Vietnam, and was in service when Iran took the 53 US hostages. We stayed on high alert in Europe

In what unit did you serve? Served in Headquarters VII Corp, Stuttgart Germany, Kelly Barrack

Last Rank: HA, we didn't have titles. Specialist 4. That was it.

What was your job title?  Offset Printer

Why did you join the military? So, I couldn't run. So that I would have to stay put and learn to cope with things and not run from life or from things that happen in a family.

What was your favorite assignment and why? Being asked by our Company Commander Walker to find knives for the cooks while out on Reforger in Germany. Evidently, they forgot to pack the knives. So Commander Walker came to me and asked, "Manutes, we need knives, can you find some?" and I said to him, "ok sir, but as long as you don't ask me where I found them."  I came back with all sorts of knives, ALL KINDS.  He looked at them and shook his head and just walked away saying. "Where did those come from, I did a health and safety check before we left?"  But he kept his word and never asked and I kept mine to the GIs and never told.

What is your favorite memory while in the service? Company parties in the summer in Germany.  The guys would bring out their stereo systems, the men grilled on these make-shift grills and the girls would make side dishes in the barracks. We were quite creative actually. If anyone wanted to dance, no one thought twice about just pulling up another GI and dancing. I was very happy and it was the safest day of my entire life, those outdoor summer parties between the barracks on the lawn.

Was it difficult for you to transition back to civilian life VERY DIFFICULT! First of all, landing in New York after the civilized way of living in Germany was a culture shock!  So rude! Then, I came home and back to the Greek world I had come from. Only NO ONE could relate to me and I felt LESS than everyone in my world. I didn't belong.  I didn't understand how to be an adult in the US as a Greek girl that had defied customs and gone into the Army.  I hadn't been an adult before the Army. Also, I had been raped on base and already didn't trust too much, only to come home and not have anyone in my own world to trust again either.

Did the military influence your thinking and living after you were home? If so, how. . Absolutely.  First, I watched and learned a LOT from being in the service. It first started in Basic, being in the 1st of a 3-part Army trial of women doing male Basic Training. I learned that I could do much more than I imagined. I LOVED the challenge! And that we needed to teach girls to do things like boys if we intend them to do them like boys when we join the service. You know, muscle training, endurance, etc.  I did well because I had grown up working on Commercial fishing boats or on construction sites with my stepdad, so I was already fit.  I never doubted my ability to do what I was determined to do again, even now.  The other BIG thing I learned was that people will act the way you treat them.  Culturally, we can be influenced to conduct ourselves and uplift ourselves when people show us respect and don't think of us otherwise. This came from how I saw Black men being treated off-base and on-base. In the US, before and then when I came home after.  There, in Germany, because so many cultures and people from other countries were around, to a German girl, a black man was simply another "culture" but still a man.  I watched transformations happen.  How a man dressed, how their choice of language usage changed, and how they carried themselves or even treated others were altered. Many stayed in Germany and married.  Some came home but how they conducted themselves on base was different.  I couldn't imagine going from that to going back home and knowing that things would be so very different. And I wondered if we treated others that were different with the same respect for our cultures, would people be different at home?  I learned that I changed too.  I was bolder about life. I made a choice to be independent.  LOL, NOT a good quality to have to be marriage material for a Greek man. Well, actually now at this age, I know it's not good for most men. But at the time, all I knew was about being Greek.

What was your biggest challenge in returning to civilian life? The change wasn't military to civilian that I had to adapt to. It was being a nonperson that I had to adapt to. Being ostracized. Criticized in my own family. Aunts, uncles, cousins, community. All thought, actually vocalized that I was a "bad" girl for going. Who did I think I was to trot off and do that? I'm telling you, they were actually still talking this sort of smack a decade later at my grandmother's funeral!  Women thought I had no female in me, the men thought I was easy or abnormal.  But for sure, they all made it difficult to live and work in a world where all I knew were Greeks. Only my Papou, my grandfather, said, " Don't look down. What is done is done. What you do from now on, that's what you must think about."   It was difficult for decades afterward. Belonging nowhere and trusting no one. Very lonely.

Where did you find resources? My two biggest resources were my faith and my child.  I HAD to make it and I KNEW I could. And I believed it was a sin to stop trying, so I just did it. Like in Basic. Once, I had gone to the VA in St Pete about a female problem. Filed a claim even, but I didn't know how or why I was having "female problems."  No one told me about where to go or whom to talk to.  And I sure as hell wasn't discussing what had happened. In fact, I never connected the nightmares, spending decades on a couch, and inability to trust a man which cost me relationships.  Not for 40 years! There were no resources back then. We were on our own.

How can communities support women veterans? They can support women veterans by treating girls in school better. Then getting those that are supposed to be helping women get better training on how to LISTEN when a woman asks for help. Or describes a condition. Even at the VA, they assume I'm the spouse of a veteran and it's 2022. Quit stereotyping women that do serve.  If they really wish to support women veterans, support women period.

Are you the first woman in your family to serve? Yes. OMG. At the time, the only other woman I knew that had served was my uncle's wife, Lois. She had been a nurse in Korea and retired as head nurse at the VA. but that didn't count because she wasn't Greek.

What would you tell another woman about enlisting? Have more honor, and loyalty, work harder, and be bolder than any man around you. And trust your gut. Always. That's our advantage as women. Use it. AND ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT YOU SERVED TOO!

Do you use your Veteran Benefits? 19. Yes, I am service-connected so I go to the VA. I bought a home twice through my VA benefits. I still get counseling through the VA and was able to have my house adapted for one of my disabilities through my VA benefits

Please share any service organizations, community events, community engagement projects, and or employment (companies) that you feel would be worthy of sharing with Wisconsin Women Veterans.  Use this question to promote yourself/connect with other women veterans.

 FIRST, remember that a woman is a VETERAN TOO! Far too many women I meet never think of themselves as veterans, especially from my generation.  I highly recommend that they join one or more Veteran organizations, such as the Marine Corps League, the American Legion, the VFW, and others. Fellow veterans will tell them what no one else will and that will help them out a lot. These organizations train veterans to serve veterans and to help veterans become informed about any benefit or help they may be able to tap into. Be sure to check in with, and meet, the County Service Officer and the WDVA officer for their area. They are able to help with obtaining records and are often working with representatives from other veteran organizations so that a veteran gets the help they may need from whom they need it faster that way.  Even if they don't believe they need to right now, because more and more veterans, men and women are having difficulty upon returning from service. It's important to be connected so that if help is needed, someone knows you to help you sort of thing.  I see women veterans that aren't always supported, properly treated medically or psychologically, and just not being listened to which can create barriers to their living a full life after service. So, that's when women veterans can use the support of any of the people I mentioned.  Often, most don't even know how to take advantage of different benefits that will set them on more solid ground so they can buy a home, get through school, or their spouse or children through college. Don't forget to go online and check out the employment advantages of being a veteran in local, state, or federal jobs, because they also exist.  And consider working for organizations that help veterans.  


Staff Sergeant Gina Paige, Veteran U.S. Air Force


State of Residence: Wisconsin

In what branch of the military did you serve: U.S. Air Force

Year Joined: 2005

Year Separated / Retired: 2013

The Era of Service: OEF/OIF

In what unit did you serve? 51st Fighter Wing, 23rd Fighter Wing, 366th Fighter Wing

Last Rank: Staff Sergeant (E-5)

What was your job title?  Photojournalist

Why did you join the military? It ultimately came down to a bet. I had been interested in joining during high school; however, my parents really wanted me to at least give college a try. During my first semester, I made a bet with a friend over the 2004 presidential election – whoever lost would join their preferred branch of service. Needless to say, I lost and joined the Air Force!

What was your favorite assignment and why? It is a toss-up between Osan Air Base, South Korea, and the Joint Combat Camera Center at The Pentagon. With both assignments, I was able to see a completely different side of the military. In South Korea, I was able to experience the frontline side as we were constantly exercising and standing at the ready. On the other hand, The Pentagon was eye-opening. I was there early in my career – as an Airman First Class – and was one of the lowest-ranking individuals in the building. It was so exciting to walk the same halls as the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and learn about how decisions are made, and strategies are implemented across the branches.

What is your favorite memory while in the service? In May 2011, I had the opportunity to fly with retired U.S. Air Force Col. Gal Halvorsen, famously known as the Candy Bomber, as he dropped candy attached to parachutes over Hailey, Idaho. At the time, he was in his early 90s and still had his pilot's license. It was amazing to relive a piece of history and hear firsthand what is what like during the Berlin Airlift.

Was it difficult for you to transition back to civilian life? The transition to civilian life was difficult. The military has become my family and my identity. I didn't feel like I could relate to anyone. It was also difficult as my husband also served and during our enlistments, we spent a lot of time apart. It almost felt like we were going through the reintegration period again and finding out how to incorporate each other back into our lives.

Did the military influence your thinking and living after you were home? If so, how. The military definitely influenced the way I think and live. On the positive side, it has provided me with structure, attention to detail, strategic decision-making skills, and resiliency. On the other side, it has left a mark on my physical and mental health, which lead me to unhealthy coping mechanisms.

What was your biggest challenge in returning to civilian life? For me, it was finding where I fit in. As a woman in the military, I found that I had to focus on masculinity to fit in. The civilian world is quite opposite, and we still see traditional gender roles in many places. When I entered the workforce, I really had to assess myself and how I interacted because, unfortunately, women who come into the workplace and have a little bit more of that masculinity and straightforward approach can still rub people the wrong way.

Where did you find resources? When I first moved back to Wisconsin, I connected with my county's Veterans Service Officer who helped me navigate employment and the larger resources, such as the VA Hospital. However, it wasn't until the IANI Exhibit Unveiling in 2019 that I learned about the wealth of resources available for women Veterans.

How can communities support women veterans? Communities can support women Veterans by not only recognizing our contributions but by also giving us a seat at the table. We bring a diverse perspective and unique skills that can benefit Wisconsin communities, organizations, and businesses. 

Are you the first woman in your family to serve? Yes, and I hope that someday I will be joined by other women in my family!

What would you tell another woman about enlisting? The military is both challenging and rewarding in equal parts. There will be days that will be tough, but there will also be days that you will feel so much fulfillment you could explode. Take each day at a time and build a strong support system! 

Do you use your Veteran Benefits? Yes. I have used the VA Home Loan multiple times (still have that move every couple of years but from the military), healthcare, Post 9/11 GI Bill, and disability compensation.

Please share any service organizations, community events, community engagement projects, and or employment (companies) that you feel would be worthy of sharing with Wisconsin Women Veterans.  Use this question to promote yourself/connect with other women veterans. As a Veteran and lifelong Wisconsin resident, drinking culture has always been a big part of my life. After a lot of reflection, I realized that my relationship with alcohol wasn't serving me anymore. I made a commitment to myself in January 2022 to live a sober lifestyle. As part of that commitment, my goal is to help break down the stigma of being sober and help other individuals, especially Veterans, find healthier coping mechanisms and lifestyles. A big part of my success has been thanks to Athletic Brewing Company, a non-alcoholic beverage company, and I was excited when provided the opportunity to be one of their Ambassadors! I encourage anyone who is sober curious or looking to cut back to check them out – especially their Ready Front, which is a limited-edition beer brewed with and in support of Veterans.


Buck Sargent, Veteran Maria  Amaro, U.S. Army 


Maria2.jpgState of Residence: Wisconsin

In what branch of the military did you serve: 6 and half years Army Active, 13 years KYANG

Year Joined: 85 to 91 and from 2008 to 2020

Year Separated / Retired: 91 separated and retired 2020

The Era of Service: First half was the Big Red Threat and build-up to Desert Storm. Part of my service was in support of Soldiers going Operation Freedom

In what unit did you serve? Active …the 194 MT BT and in my Kentucky National Guard time, I served in a lot of units from Louisville to Lexington and Beyond, all under the same Battalion, just different units.

Last Rank: Buck Sargent (E5)

What was your job title?  I was a CBRN specialist-my expertise was working at company level NBC room, basically in charge of making sure the unit NBC room was up to specs for a GI inspection. I did such a good job I was moved to various units to ensure the NBC rooms Passed GI inspection. After the inspection, I was moved to another unit and repeated the same process.

Why did you join the military? The Military SAVED my LIFE twice!

The first time I was economically drafted back in 1985, I had partied my way out of university; under or not employed back in 1985 was incredibly stressful. So, I joined. I stayed for two enlistments, yet I was mustered out after Desert Storm with a half million other soldiers. Back in 91, in Kentucky, the Good Old Boy was in effect. So, being a 'northern' Hispanic and a woman, there was no slot available to me. Yes, they were opening yet it was held for whom they liked and wanted. It was the same with the Reserve Units. So, I went to school and worked at really low-paying wage jobs in the south. Back in the day 50 cents over the minimum, one was making the money.

 ​You must understand, I wanted to be a teacher and I went to a regional university.  At WKU, there was no such thing as night school or e-school for departmental studies. So, getting a 'real job" was out of the question. I finally graduated, Class of 98 yeah Me! I tried to get BA, an extension of my BA degree in teaching, and well I failed miserably due to the sheer fact that I was not prepared to play politics. And I could not handle working 2/3 times and taking a full load of educational classes and attempting Student Teaching. {You got to have a support system because learning to be a teacher is a FULL-time Job!) For the first time in my life, I really really failed at my endeavor.  I moved to Louisville because well it was a bigger city and closer to the north. {Till this day, I still do not know why I didn't move up north, any northern city?! I believe I was scared and not desperate enough.}

I moved to Louisville in the fall of 2001 right after 911. I got a job with JCPS, Jefferson County Public Schools has a teacher instructor III, for the county working with low-scoring reading students. I had all the responsibilities of a teacher and was in the Teacher Retirement Fund, yet I was not Certified. I was successful and, on my way, to getting an emergency certification to teach Special Needs Students, and then NCLB was passed and my certification was rescinded, and I was out of a job! I scrambled and got a job as an aide in a middle school. I can say this, it takes a special person to teach Middle School, I was not one of them!  I bounced around and finally landed at Pleasure Ridge Park High School, as the Time Out Teacher…it was an instructor's job…yet they called us 'teachers.'

During my bouncing around, I always worked two jobs, one in school and one in the economy. The pay as an aid worked out to roughly 9$ an hour when I first started. I was barely, barely staying afloat. I gained close to 200 pounds, my max weight at this time was 302 lbs, and going north. I was stressed eating horrid food and working two low-paying jobs. Something snapped and I realized I needed to take control of my life, I joined Curves which had at the time a novel attendance policy, it was open 24 hours a day. In Louisville, at the time most gyms, major and boutique ones closed at 9 or 10 PM and were opened around 6 am. Working two jobs, I never had time to even consider joining one, add to this, the prices were really prohibitive on my budget. Enter PRP, I clicked and found my school. The majority of the A-team and staff actually liked me, and they took care of me. The various coaches, Football, Basketball, Volleyball, and Soccer wanted me to work the gate. I collected the money and according to the principal at the time, people were calling up and complaining that I was making everyone pay, and how dare I ?! The  A-team would tell them they would 'talk to me,' and then tell me to keep it up. I slowly became financially fluid enough to quit my cashier job and 'work full time for the school!'

I slowly was dropping the weight and life was okay. In fact, I had to go to Jefferson Town Mall and buy Smaller Clothes because I had dropped to 276ish

I started walking in the mall, and I saw the Honor Board of new inductees of KYNG. I stopped and looked at the pictures and I saw a lot of individuals I had help has a reading instructor. Sgt Miller at the time came out and we talked, he then asked if I wanted to join, and I stated, “Do I look Combat Ready? Sgt Miller stated I can get you in for a maximin of 6 years, you lose the weight you can extend till retirement, if you make the weight, if not it's out the door, you want in?"

I had nothing to lose, I lost weight. It took me a little over five years to lose the excess weight, in the process I became the only Female in my unit to,  (outside of the initial PFT), passed all PFT, and failed the tape; until six months before I was supposed to ETS the Guard! 

Within five months of passing my tape, I re-up for my final enlistment, became a Buck Sergeant, (E5), finished my master's degree in Special Education, and took my first real Teaching Job! An aside here, my final PFT, I was the ONLY female 59 years old in my unit to Pass the PFT, my Tape and fit into my Dress Blues, My CO as he gave me an achievement coin, in front of the unit before I moved up here, stated to the unit, the whole company had been in formation, “I wish I had a unit of with your attitude."

So, yes, The Military Save my life again, my external stress was mitigated, and I was motivated to get in shape, in turn, I believe I averted serious medical problems that come with being morbidly obese. I believe I was blessed with joining the VA because of my active national guard status which in turned lead to me meeting new and interesting individuals that have become my friends.  

What was your favorite assignment and why? 

Well, I can say being up here for my final assignment. I traveled almost all of Wisconsin to the respective Armories and assisted in setting up the new pro mask that was replacing the M92 mask. I saw a lot of Wisconsin it was a wonderful assignment!

What is your favorite memory while in the service? –Taking my last oath for my final enlistment, I got chills down my spine as I realized that it was the last time, I would take the oath!

Was it difficult for you to transition back to civilian life?

Yeah, it was difficult because my identity of being in the military was so much a part of me as an educator, and to add it, I like being in the military I felt I was defending our way of life.

Did the military influence your thinking and living after you were home? If so, how. Being in education, as a teacher one must have empathy. This aspect of my profession was difficult because well, I couldn't take the whining of my students it took a lot of conscious awareness to slow my role and be empathic.

What was your biggest challenge in returning to civilian life? Learning how to ask and not tell people what to do when I was a teacher and in leadership positions in my economy jobs.

Where did you find resources? Down South, I barely knew of the resources outside of the college fund program until I came to Wisconsin, it was the VA who helped out when I initially came here, two jobs, Guard and working at the VA. I was a half-step from being homeless, I was sleeping in my car and showering at Plant Fitness. It was a Female here in the VA that directed me to Social Services and the Grant money to help me find affordable housing, yes I had to drive 17 miles a day, yet I had a HOME to go to!

How can communities support women veterans?

Are you the first woman in your family to serve? As far as I know, I am the first woman to Graduate from University and join and retire from the Military.

What would you tell another woman about enlisting? 

You have to be willing to stand up for yourself, KNOW YOUR WORTH and take NO for an answer. Yet, most of all you to know that you must be twice as competent as a man to be considered “okay" by male standards. And if you're a minority a woman of color this is how the culture works, IMHO

Do you use your Veteran Benefits? YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Please share any service organizations, community events, community engagement projects, and or employment (companies) that you feel would be worthy of sharing with Wisconsin Women Veterans.  Use this question to promote yourself/connect with other women veterans.

At this time, I cannot answer this…. maybe in a year or two?

 

Lance Corporal Rachel Goldmann, Veteran U.S. Marine Corps 


State of Residence: Wisconsin

In what branch of the military did you serve: United States Marine Corps

Year Joined: 2006

Year Separated / Retired: 2007

The Era of Service: 2006

In what unit did you serve? 2nd Marine Division

Last Rank: Lance Corporal

What was your job title?  Combat Photographer

Why did you join the military? 

What was your favorite assignment and why? I loved any chance I got to support whatever unit wanted it. I knew I was helping morale and that was very important to me.

What is your favorite memory while in the service? Hmmmm…. I have many fuzzy ones, but I think my favorite would be a night hanging out with my roommates at DINFOS and just talking, eating junk food, and watching movies. That was 2006 and one of those roommates came to visit me this January – 16 years later.

Was it difficult for you to transition back to civilian life? Exceedingly. I was med-boarded out in 6 weeks. It was abrupt, jarring, and still evokes a lot of shame in me even though I'm physically permanently “broken." I found out recently the Marine Corps stopped doing the training exercise that caused my injuries because too many Marines were having the same type of injury I had.

Did the military influence your thinking and living after you were home? If so, how. My mother would tell you the “f-word" became a permanent part of my language and communication, but she would tell you that as a negative consequence – I think it's a versatile word and I enjoy using it to illustrate my points. In terms of greater, more existential thinking, yes, it absolutely changed me and subsequently, changed my social circles and how I interacted with the world then and still to this day. I am always more comfortable in situations and with people who are veterans or reflect military comradery. No one blinks twice when I speak in those situations. In a purely civilian setting, people look at me a little differently.

What was your biggest challenge in returning to civilian life? Trying to make myself “fit in" to the civilian world again when I had completely changed. Also, the VBA denied my disability claim twice and then once again when I returned for something else. It was really defeating.

Where did you find resources? I think back then, there weren't many resources for non-combat veterans, so until my benefits came through, my Mom put me back on her insurance to seek out mental health support.

How can communities support women veterans? I think companies/organizations/teams/whomever who advertise that they're “veteran-friendly" or “support veterans" then DON'T have materials (pamphlets, website, advertising materials) that are representative of all who have served – women, BIPOC, LGBTQ+, it makes me think that entity isn't prepared to support those groups.

Are you the first woman in your family to serve? Not only am I the first woman, but I'm also the first person in my family to ever have served in the US Armed Forces.

What would you tell another woman about enlisting? As much as the military culture has shifted more towards welcoming women and other diverse populations, women will always be a minority in any branch of service. In general, when that dynamic exists, as a woman, you will always work harder to prove your worth. It's an unconscious drive to be validated and accepted. And it will make you a badass.

Do you use your Veteran Benefits? Regularly. J

Please share any service organizations, community events, community engagement projects, and or employment (companies) that you feel would be worthy of sharing with Wisconsin Women Veterans.  Use this question to promote yourself/connect with other women veterans.