Veteran’s Day from a Female Soldier’s Perspective


Erica Salazar

“Their mother went to war and came back a different woman.” Spoken with raw honesty, former Military Police Sergeant Kimberly Longsoldier shared this with me as we talked recently about the significance of Veteran’s Day.

While the support and recognition of female veterans is gradually increasing, it is our dual role as a mother that is often overlooked. Although humbled by free meals and appreciation, Veteran’s Day is a time when I truly feel the impact of the eight years that I balanced active duty military life with motherhood.

I first became a mother on May 3, 2007 while stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas. Alone, at just 20 years old, I gave birth to my first child whose father was deployed as part of the Baghdad Surge. Struggling through marital issues due to our long-term separation, as well as suffering from postpartum depression, those 12 months of raising my daughter alone laid the foundation for my resilience as a soldier and a mother. Three years later, this resiliency was tested as I faced my first deployment to Afghanistan.

In 2010, the 2D Stryker Cavalry Regiment out of Germany was ordered to deploy to Southern Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. Four months after giving birth to fraternal twins Bella and Kloie, I found myself faced with the reality of war. As an intelligence analyst, I understood that my role was vital to the mission, and so I enacted my family care plan in order to deploy. While not ideal, I was forced to separate my children between families in Texas and Louisiana so that both their father and I could fulfill our deployment duties.

As part of the operations cell in Afghanistan, I was responsible for relaying real-time intelligence data and directing unmanned aerial vehicles over enemy targets and locations. In a day’s work, I went from creating intelligence briefs to assisting bombing missions against improvised explosive devices (which were attempts at destroying our convoys). What was once a grieving mother longing to hold her three babies, evolved into a hardened soldier. I found myself becoming distant from my own children. The long hours and emotions from a day in Afghanistan were hard to relinquish so I thought it best to keep communication with my children to a minimum. Unfortunately, no one trains a female soldier on how to balance motherhood and active duty life. Most of all, no one warns you on how to cope with motherhood after a deployment.

The day I came home from Afghanistan, I had to bribe my 1-year-old twins with Oreos so that they would stop crying at the sight of this stranger in camouflage. I was their mother and yet, they had no idea who I was and how to feel about me. This took a toll on me emotionally as I tried to repair our broken bond. The deployment not only affected my relationship with my children, but it also took a toll on an already fragile marriage due to both of us developing post-traumatic stress disorder. In 2013, after years of mental and physical abuse, I divorced my ex-husband and exited the military. Lacking financial help, I made the difficult decision to leave my children once again and deploy for a second time to Afghanistan as a civilian contractor. A committed veteran and mother, I chose to simultaneously support my children and defend my country to the best of my ability.

The hard choices I made and the sacrifices my family has endured are experiences shared by many of my female battle buddies. On Veteran’s Day, we not only reflect upon our combat experience but also the war we fought in our own homes: the times our children didn’t remember us, the broken relationships, and the abuse resulting from war. As the backbone of the family, a female veteran carries the weight of war and motherhood. Yet, she will never regret her years of service to her country, for they made her resilient in the face of any obstacle pitted against her.

Erica Salazar is an NJCU student working towards a B.S. in National Security Studies. She transferred to NJCU from Texas and plans on graduating in Fall 2017.