This is a personal account written by Alyssa, a graduate of the K9s For Warriors program.

The Risk of Being a Woman in the Military

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

7 min read

My name is Alyssa. I served in the Navy for nine and a half years. I’m a mother of four and the wife to an active-duty sailor.

I joined the military because I had two small daughters that I wanted to ensure had a better life. I had uncles and male cousins that served in the military — Army, National Guard, and the Marines. I wanted to be the first female on either side of my family to serve. I was, but I chose the Navy. I mean, did you see those commercials in 2010 “America’s Navy — A global force for good”?  

In September of 2010, I went to bootcamp in Great Lakes, Chicago. We had so many classes, physical training, and so, so much marching. The only class I remember to this day is the Sexual Assault Prevention & Response class. They said one in three women will report sexual assault. That stood out because they specifically said the word “report” instead of “experience.” Before I would leave Great Lakes, I would already be one in three.

They said one in three women will report sexual assault. Before I would leave, I would already be one.

I worked as an airman, deploying multiple times before my career took an unexpected turn. In 2017, I requested an expedited transfer due to the third sexual assault in my career.

I went through the med board process, which started after a suicide attempt from all the trauma. It ended my career far earlier than I ever planned.

I was told by numerous providers that I had PTSD. My mind couldn’t wrap around the idea of having PTSD without any combat time. I didn’t see anything horrific like someone dying. I didn’t have to kill someone to protect my platoon or have an IED explode. Those were the only things in my mind that justified PTSD — not what I had gone through.

That was just part of the risk of being a woman in the military, right?

Risk of Being a Woman in the Military

My husband noticed before I did. I honestly had to look it up to finally accept that PTSD was what I was experiencing. I had to acknowledge that the nightmares, flashbacks, triggers, and hyper alertness were symptoms of this diagnosis I refused to accept.

I found out about K9s For Warriors from another Service Dog organization that had denied me because my PTSD was from military sexual trauma. As if asking isn’t hard enough.

Luckily, I kept trying, and I applied to K9s For Warriors. I was immediately accepted. I still remember that phone call when they said, “I just wanted to let you know you’ve been accepted.”

That phone call was the start to a road of hope. I am thankful for that phone call every day.

When I got to campus, my mind was blown at just how nice and welcoming everyone was as soon as I stepped out of my car — which was amazing because I cried the whole way there thinking my dog would hate me or my own symptoms would ruin this. It was overwhelming how hospitable everyone was and how they made me feel comfortable. I was meant to be there.

I was no longer alone.

This is where my story isn’t going to be like other pairing stories you hear from Warriors.

I went to campus for the quickest three weeks of my life and was paired with a dog that absolutely took me breath away.

I experienced the infamous dog day, and much like the other Warriors, that day changed my life, I became a new person — a person that lived, loved, and traveled. My dog Ace gave me purpose and my voice. He gave me strength.

Risk of Being a Woman in the Military
Alyssa and Ace

This is where my story changes. In February, Ace had to be career changed due to unforeseen circumstances through no fault of mine or K9s For Warriors. These things happen — not often, but they do. There would be another dog for me, but I’d have to wait.

I was heartbroken but didn’t want to revert back to who I was. I had gained so much confidence. I wasn’t 100% better, but even if I was 50% better than I was, that was enough for my family to have me back.

So, without my Service Dog, I tried to maintain, and it was hard. Some days, I felt like I was back in that same dark place. I felt like I was slipping back into the depression and the thoughts of hopelessness. In that moment, it’s like K9s For Warriors knew my world was collapsing around me.

 

Risk of Being a Woman in the Military
Alyssa at the K9s For Warriors graduation with her family and Ace

An opportunity arose, and I began fostering one of their lab puppies, Stitch. Wow, this little guy brightened my spirits. He helped me hang on and gave me hope to keep waiting for my perfect Service Dog. I figured I would foster him and then give him back so he would save a veteran’s life one day just like Ace did for me. I was excited for his future Warrior and what he would do for them. I was excited for what my future Service Dog would continue to do for me — to pick up where Ace left off, so I could keep going.

An opportunity arose, and I began fostering one of their lab puppies, Stitch. Wow, this little guy brightened my spirits. He helped me hang on and gave me hope to keep waiting for my perfect Service Dog. 

I figured I would foster him and then give him back so he would save a veteran’s life one day just like Ace did for me. I was excited for his future Warrior and what he would do for them. I was excited for what my future Service Dog would continue to do for me — to pick up where Ace left off, so I could keep going.

Risk of Being a Woman in the Military
Alyssa and Stitch

Two weeks before I came to K9s For Warriors, I was on the suicide hotline with the VA begging them to not let me be 22. Twenty two is roughly the number of veterans that commit suicide a day, I was in such a bad place that I had accepted suicide would eventually be my fate, despite the therapy and medications.

It wasn’t the first time I had felt suicidal, but it was so overwhelming. At one point, I wouldn’t leave my room. If I had to work, I would go to work and then back to my room. My room was my safe place, and that is where I stayed. I had made my house a jail, my room a cell and sentenced myself to solitary.

I had made my house a jail, my room a cell and sentenced myself to solitary.

After I graduated from K9s For Warriors, I started living my life in a way I hadn’t in a long time. I was more present for my kids. We did family trips and traveled. I had goals for life and finally started living with a purpose. I was living like someone who wanted a future.

One of my goals was to graduate with my bachelor’s in psychology. Despite near failures, I found strength in having my Service Dog by my side. In May of this year, I walked across the stage and accepted my degree. Before that, I was just trying to get by. Sometimes, day by day, and other times, I was living hour to hour just hoping to make it to the next.

Risk of Being a Woman in the Military
Alyssa at her graduation

Since coming to K9s For Warriors, I am in such a better place than I have been since July 22, 2017, when I was deployed and assaulted. My life is a life worth living. I still experience PTSD symptoms, but thanks to Ace — and now Stitch — I am not suffering from PTSD.  It is no longer running my life. I have purpose and a voice that I intend to use to give others hope that it can be better

For many, Service Dogs bridge that gap. They do not just save our lives when they pair us with our dogs, but they save us every single day. Every single time the dog wakes us from a nightmare, calms us from a panic attack or looks at us with love when we feel unlovable, we are being saved all over again.

Twenty-two veterans a day commit suicide. K9s For Warriors has over 745 graduates that are being saved by their dogs every single day, and the more help we get to contribute to our mission, the more lives we can continue to save each and every day. That means the world to us and to our families.

20

Roughly 20 veterans die by suicide each day.

745

K9s For Warriors has paired more than 745 veterans with Service Dogs

24/7

Our Service Dogs are saving lives around the clock — 24/7, 365 days per year.

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