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Veterans Day: These Idaho women turned military service into a life of service

Women veterans reflect on life in the service to a life of service

On Veterans Day, four Idaho women veterans credit their time in the military for instilling a sense of commitment to something greater than themselves. It's something that has permeated their lives, which continue to be in service to others.
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On Veterans Day, four Idaho women veterans credit their time in the military for instilling a sense of commitment to something greater than themselves. It's something that has permeated their lives, which continue to be in service to others.

For Jean Anderson, military service is part of her family history. For Rebecca Evans, it was a way to escape an abusive home life. For Erin Askew, it was to be her career. And for Erin Martin, her impulsive enlistment was “the best worst decision she’d ever made.”

The experiences of female veterans in Idaho are as varied as their reasons for enlisting. But for each of them, their time in the military shaped the course of their lives long after they left. It gave them confidence, discipline, direction and lifelong friendships.

Most importantly, it instilled a sense of commitment to something greater than themselves that has permeated their lives. Each of them, in her own way, has chosen post-enlistment work in service of others.

Here are four of their stories.

Caring for country

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Veterans Day is personal to Jean Anderson. “When I raised my hand and I swore to serve my country — even if that included death — to me that’s a level of commitment to something far beyond ourselves. ... Bottom line: Every time I hear the Pledge of Allegiance, my eyes tear up and I pop to attention.” Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

As an air medical evacuation nurse in the Air Force Reserves and nurse practictioner in the Alaska Air National Guard, Jean Anderson’s work had always been in health care. Now it is in research at the VA Medical Center.

“The reason I’m here at the VA is because of that same idealism that brought me into the military. I continue to serve my brothers and sisters. ... Being able to take care of these ... gloriously independent men and women,” she said.

18.8 millionThe number of military veterans in the United States in 2015

Anderson’s family has a strong military history: Her great-aunt Liuthena Anderson was a World War I Army nurse who served in France. Her father was an Army lieutenant colonel and mother was in the WAVES in World War II.

“I felt the need to serve my country. Although you would never want to give me a gun — my aim is terrible,” she said. “But I knew I was a really good nurse and I wanted to make sure the soldiers, airmen and sailors who served their country got the best nursing care they possibly could.”

Paying it forward

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Erin Askew’s military career was cut short, so she’s had to reconcile her feelings. “Veterans Day is a celebration, but it’s not about me. It’s a celebration about my husband (who is active duty) and all the men and women who have given everything. And women like me who did their best.” Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

“I always knew I wanted to serve my country,” said Erin Askew, who joined the Army in 2000. “The way I look at it is I signed a blank check, payable to the United States of America, and whatever that took.”

But before she got to her first duty station, Askew was assaulted and so severely injured that it ended her military career. And her dreams. It took almost a dozen years for her to recover from that trauma, she said.

The worst came one night in 2014, when she put a pistol to her mouth. “The gun jammed. And I had to do some serious soul-searching that night,” she said.

1.6 millionThe number of female veterans in 2015

She started a Facebook group called Paying It Forward Across the Treasure Valley that has 6,000 members who have helped thousands of families. A year later she enrolled at Boise State. She graduates in the spring and will start a master’s program in social work.

Along the way, she’s started a new nonprofit called the Misty Foundation, dedicated to helping veterans who have been sexually assaulted. (Misty references the military acronym MST or “military sexual trauma.”)

“I’m going to serve veterans,” she said. “I’m going to continue to serve the people who serve our country. ... That is my focus and my goal. I didn’t get to serve my country the way that I wanted to, so I’m going to serve it in a different way.”

Empowering youth

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“I still cry at the national anthem every time I hear it play,” said Rebecca Evans. She said she remembers walking through the airport as a new 18-year-old airman. “That sense of pride that uniform carries. And I hadn’t done anything. I was still in training,” she said. “... You’re responsible for this bigger thing.” Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

Rebecca Evans left an abusive home when she was 14 and joined the Air Force after graduating from high school.

“I wanted to basically divorce my family and give myself a chance to start over,” she said. She was in the Air Force from 1985-1993, stationed in England doing flight data.

“My experience in the military is a critical cornerstone of who I’ve become in every category of my life,” she said. “Any success that I’ve had — the success was because of the military.”

It gave her the discipline to “relearn how to learn” when she returned to school in her late 40s, she said.

“The military can-do attitude — like there is just no ‘can’t.’ That impact, it changes the course of your life,” Evans said.

Evans works in an empowerment program for juvenile girls in Canyon County, using writing as a tool to help them heal.

“I felt like I had this door open with the military, and I had some great coaches in sports. But if the girls aren’t in sports, they don’t have a mentor,” she said. But they have her. “My passion work,” she calls it.

And then there are her three sons. “You have to start there,” she said. “I have to start with my home, myself and my children, and make sure they turn into amazing men.”

Problem-solving for peers

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Every day, Marine corpsman Erin Martin is reminded about what other people have done in her work at the VA Medical Center. “What they’ve sacrificed — and that people continue to do. And what people will sacrifice in the future. I think about that a lot, actually.” Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

“I will never leave the VA,” said Erin Martin, a Marine who served from 2000 to 2006 in Okinawa.

She’s the assistant chief for health administration at the VA Medical Center in Boise, which means she helps veterans navigate the medical bureaucracy. Although she wanted to be a nurse when she left the military, she has found a different way to help.

“Being able to help them ... get the care they need and that they earned and that they deserve. ... Every little thing like that helps a veteran who wasn’t sure they were going to come in, or helps that one person who wasn’t really sure what to do,” she said.

And there’s the camaraderie. “People talk to each other who don’t know each other. ... You see it every day. Everyone wants to help someone and hear stories,” she said. “... It’s amazing.”

Katherine Jones: 208-377-6414, @IDS_Photography

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