At only 17 years old, as a senior in high school, I joined the National Guard and spent my senior year performing monthly drills at my assigned guard unit. Two years later, my unit closed and relocated two hours away, so I joined the Air National Guard and attended basic training in the summer of 1999, continuing my service until 2003.
Like many women, I juggle multiple roles. I am a Veteran, a military spouse and a senior at Liberty University online. I will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science in psychology and military resilience. I am also a mom of two energetic young boys and a fellow in the Focus Forward Fellowship program created by the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University.
I found the Focus Forward Fellowship in the spring semester of 2016. I immediately was drawn to the program. After acceptance, I attended the residency portion in Indiana. Honestly, I felt inadequate next to these heroes of women. I had not been in the military in over 14 years and sitting next to me were amazing women who served in combat and were doing amazing things.
However, the first night, I realized that I was selling myself and my experiences as a woman Servicemember short. That night, I regained my composure and remembered that a woman serving in the military in any capacity is an honor. We hold our heads high and talk proudly of our service, no matter how long ago that was. I, too, have paved the way for other women to serve.
The residency provided us intense time of reflection, goal setting, mock interviews, team building, and a sense of community that we each have longed for since our military days. Upon returning home from that weekend, I have continued that community of support as we connect online with each other and with our mentors. I have recognized barriers to my effectiveness in both professional and personal life. I have learned skills to better brand myself as well as résumé skills that I know has helped me in my graduate applications.
As the only online student fellow, I have had to find ways to ensure my connection to my university. I have learned from other fellows things that their campuses offer and have been more deliberate about seeking those in my community and online campus. This fellowship has encouraged me to gain confidence in problem solving, beginning with the residency as we focused on team building as well as reflecting within. I have learned to develop my skills in both my academic and career goals. Because of the assignments we have completed over the past four months, I was better equipped to write out my academic and career goal statement for graduate school applications.
Now, I am waiting a response to applications to graduate school. My goal is to work in the mental health field with our military veterans specializing in PTSD, traumatic brain injury and military sexual trauma. This sector of mental health has come so far since 9/11, but there are still strides to be made and I plan to be a part of the healing community for our Servicemembers.
The Focus Forward Fellowship has provided me with confidence in my story as a woman military Servicemember, as a military spouse, as a student, as a fellow, and as a future mental health professional within the military community. I highly recommend this fellowship for women seeking to be connected with other military servicewomen. Applications for the 2017 programs open on Feb. 20, and I really hope that you apply.
Reposted from VA Blog.
About the author: Tish Rothenbach served in both the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard and is a military spouse.