Female veterans face a different journey than men when it comes to healing the wounds of war. For those who are mothers, it takes a lot of readjustment back to home life. Imagine, for months or years you just worry about work and staying alive and then you return to home life where kids aren't used to your presence and you're not used to having to balance competing demands.
I found this Parade Magazine story fascinating and wanted to share it with all of you. Happy Veteren's Day!
Stacy Keyte, with son Caleb, now 9, returned home from Iraq in 2006.(Richard Foulser for Parade)
Women Vets: A Battle All Their Own
While female service members confront the same problems as male veterans, they also face distinct struggles as women. Meet two brave women on their emotional journey from the front lines back home.
When Stacy Keyte was deployed to Iraq in 2005, her life as a young wife and mother had just begun to take shape. She had a 15-month-old son, Caleb, a happy boy who loved dancing around the living room with his mom; and Keyte and her husband, Charles, both members of the Texas Army National Guard, had started looking for a new home. But the day after closing on a house in Waxahachie, Tex., Charles was called up, too, to train other guardsmen to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. Putting their family life on hold, the young parents entrusted Caleb to his father's best friend's mother as they went off separately to serve their country.
Keyte belonged to a military that was in the process of dismantling the barriers faced by women. Today 357,000 serve in the nation's armed forces, making up 16 percent of its strength. Over the past decade, more than 280,000 women have been deployed in support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "We simply could not have accomplished the mission without them," says Pentagon spokesman Nathan Christensen.
Stationed near Tikrit, Keyte handed out mail, organized awards ceremonies, and prepared hometown news releases. It wasn't technically combat, but that didn't keep her safe. Within a few hours of her arrival, Keyte was walking from the bathroom to her living quarters when incoming artillery shook the ground around her. The attack was followed by two weeks of sustained rocket assaults on the base, with few places to take shelter. "I always felt like a sitting duck," she says. "You just didn't know where it would land if it came in."
For any young soldier, these attacks would have been stressful. What complicated Keyte's experience was that she didn't always feel respected by the men around her. "We were definitely considered the weaker gender and they had no problems with saying that," says Keyte, now 32. "There was one noncommissioned officer who would not hesitate to tell me, 'You should be barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen.'
When she returned from Iraq, Keyte realized how much had changed in 16 months. "I came home to boxes and an almost-3-year-old I didn't know anymore," she says. Caleb didn't understand his mother's disappearance and developed self-destructive tantrums and other behavioral problems. One night they went out for dinner and the host asked if Caleb needed a high chair or a booster seat. Keyte, who had missed many of his early milestones, didn't know. "I felt so guilty," she says. "You have so many expectations as a first-time mom, and sometimes life gets in the way."
Keyte also suffered from the inevitable psychic wounds of battle. "I didn't want to answer the phone," she says. "I didn't want to talk, because that took a lot of emotions." When a friend tried to hug her, she had such a strong startle response that she slapped away the woman's arm. "I was trying to make myself a hermit and stay inside my little shell," she says.
There's no foolproof formula for a successful homecoming from the battlefield. For Keyte, healing came from assisting other vets. In 2011 she became an outreach coordinator for Grace After Fire, a Texas-based nonprofit that runs peer support groups for women veterans and helps them find the resources they need. "There's nothing more rewarding than to watch these women come out of their shells," she says.