The last week has been a challenging one for me. Mom and I have made it to Port Clinton, PA. We got off trail for a couple of days so that I could meet with Dr. Matthew Bowen in Charlottesville, VA and record my combat experiences to be used as part of his Combat Veterans Oral History Project.
While having my combat experiences recorded for history was a great experience, it has also stirred up a lot of different emotions and thoughts about myself.
The morning of my interview with Dr Bowen I stumbled upon the following video of Gayle Lemmon,
In her presentation, Gayle talks about how in 2011 the CST females were the first females to serve in combat. I was outraged, are you serious. I did what the CSTs did and more way back in 2003 in Afghanistan, long before the "Good Idea Fairy" came up with the great idea. And while I know my experiences are not that common amongst female combat veterans, I am certain that I am not the only female to have successfully served alongside men in combat prior to the CSTs in 2011. I was and still am utterly insulted, especially since I have not been able to receive my CAB for Afghanistan, as a result of bureaucratic bullshit. And so began my downward turn to feeling shitty for the last few days.
I have loved the last 21 years I have spent in the Army. And up until I was MEDEVACd back from Iraq, I was very successful and confident, as a soldier in the Army. However, since being MEDEVACd, I have struggled to make height/weight and pass my PT test and as a result, in the eyes of the Army, am a failure, loser, POG, UNSAT, NOGO, etc.
When it comes to being a woman I have always been very self-conscious, a failure, lacking in confidence. I have never been skinny, have never been able to wear a bikini, I haven't had a boyfriend in years, I am not married, I don't have a career, I don't own a home, I don't have a college degree, I don't have kids, I am overweight and out of shape and am 41 years old. So in both major aspects of my life, being a soldier and being a woman, I have completely struck out.
I have been repeatedly asked why I am hiking and how has it changed me. Most books you read about individuals hiking the trail talk about how the hikers had such amazing epiphanies, figured out the meaning of life, solved the world's problems, etc. Well, just like not everyone who claims to have thru-hiked the AT has actually hiked the whole trail, I don't believe all these hikers had these amazing epiphanies while hiking. I think more often than not that they may have just made up something to placate the questioners and sell books. You want to know what I have been thinking about for the last 1500 miles...how my feet hurt, where is the next water source, how much further until we are done for the day, what a pretty plant animal tree bug flower etc, when are these rocks going to stop, shit another uphill, oh god my feet and knees are killing me on this downhill, what a great water source, what a shitty water source, great another day in the rain, oh my god I am hungry, I would love a shower, etc. That is what I think about each day. What am I going to do when I get done, I have no idea, I have to get done first. How has this hike changed me, my feet hurt, I have lost weight, I can successfully hike long distances. That's it, so I guess as an AT hiker I am a failure as well, because I haven't been able to complete the trail in 6-8 months, I haven't had an epiphany and I don't know what I want to do when I finish. So why am I hiking, well that isn't a big fancy answer....why, because I want to. I want to do something hard to show/prove that I can...that is what we paratroopers do...hard shit, just because.
My time in the Army may be coming to an end and my last deployment was 8 years ago, but no matter how much time goes by I will never just let it go, forget about it and move on. Having been in the Army 21 years, having been a paratrooper and being a combat veteran is something that I will never move on from, it is who I am to my core. Asking or expecting me to just move on is like telling a writer to never put words to paper again, or a nurse to never nurture again, or a mechanic to never fix anything again. And besides, time and time again those attributes and skills I have as a result of my time in the army or deployed have come in handy time and time again here in the crazy civilian world. When Dr. Bowen's video camera broke during my interview I was able to Improvise, Adapt and Overcome by figuring out how to record my interview using his laptop; when our trail angel's lawn mower wouldn't run today I was able to take it apart, trouble shoot it, clean it, put it back together and get it running, just like my weapons in the Army; when I have been hurting, tired, cold, wet or sore I have trudged onward, because we paratroopers don't quit.
I am who I am, a damaged female combat veteran paratrooper long distance hiker, who is hiking from Georgia to Maine and won't quit until I have hiked the entire trail, and I encourage and challenge any and all to get out here and do the same. I probably won't ever be a squared away soldier again and I don't know if I will ever be what society expects me to be as a woman, but so far I am doing ok with this hiker thing, so I will stick to this at the moment and decide what to do next once this 50 meter target is neutralized.
There you go, my great words oh wisdom. Tuesday 14 July we will be back on trail at Port Clinton, PA heading north to finish the AT.