Army Oct 2003 – March 2017
Alyssa Vasquez is a WoVeN Peer Leader and Trainer and one of the inaugural guides for the new BRIDGES program. Alyssa was also recently honored in the NY Veterans Hall of Fame! Alyssa spoke with WoVeN about her military background, her own military transition, and what inspires her to be involved with the WoVeN and BRIDGES program.
Tell us about your military background.
I joined because I had always wanted to serve. However, I did it in reverse order and had my kids and got married first, and then ended up joining the military. I joined because I had always wanted to, and I also needed a way to support my family after separating from my ex-husband. I served as a Geospatial Engineer and deployed twice to Iraq (in 2004 and 2006) and once to Afghanistan in 2012. I also served as a drill sergeant in a combat engineer unit, which was pretty much an all-male unit. In my final assignment, and one of my favorites, I was a survival instructor with the US Army SERE school. That role is to teach service members how to return with honor, in the event of an isolating incident. During my time in the military I got to see a lot of fun things, and I and enjoyed my time while I was in. I left the military when I wasn’t able to go into special forces because of a medical issue, and at the same time I felt like I needed to choose my family over the military, so I left to be with them.
What was the most rewarding aspect of your service?
It’s hard to put into words, but it’s watching that “aha” moment with soldiers. I loved it as a drill sergeant, making them fall in love with the service and transitioning them from civilian to service member. And then even in the survival school, just watching them grow. I love leading soldiers and developing soldiers, that was my favorite part. It feels like one of those “proud mom” moments. I always treated my soldiers how I would treat my own kids, with discipline and respect. It makes you feel like a proud parent!
What was one of the challenges you faced in your transition from military to civilian life?
Like a lot of soldiers, I didn’t really use the tools that were given to me to transition appropriately. Financial coaching, counseling, it was in one ear and out the other. And so because I didn’t use the tools available and also I didn’t reach out, a couple months after I was out, I hit a wall. The bills were piling up and that created immense stress. About three to six months after I got out, I felt like everything was piling on top of me. Now I know in hindsight that I could have and should have reached out a lot sooner, but I had that pride that if I was a good soldier and a good leader, then I should be good at this, and I just need to get myself together. They did have a good variety of tools available, but the system didn’t have a good process in place to make sure people took advantage of those resources.
What inspired you to become involved in WoVeN?
I found out about WoVeN through sheer luck. I work for a veteran agency, and two peer leaders who were new to the area were looking for a space to host it. I had never heard of WoVeN but I offered the space for them to use. I was initially going to be hands off and just be available to open up the building for them, but then I ended up participating. It was actually the two peer leaders talking to me about the program that made me think it would be good join. Going through that first group, I recognized how phenomenal it is, and I wanted to do whatever I could to be a part of it and keep it moving. The number one thing that inspired me to become a peer leader myself was the women in the room who were able to be vulnerable with me. There were these uniquely honest conversations that I hadn’t experienced since I was in the military, it was this elevated level of camaraderie. That’s when I realized that there is something to this! Honestly, at first I was skeptical about a program that was women-specific, since we are all soldiers just like the men were, but now I am all for it and I really came to see the value. I’m in the middle of leading my third group. I’ve learned something after every group, and every group has been amazing! Some of the people in my groups have gone on to become peer leaders themselves.
What inspired you to become a BRIDGES guide?
I work in the veteran community, and the conversation that we are constantly having is that we need an improved system for transition. Everyone says that they taught us how to be service members, but they never taught us how to be veterans. When I heard about BRIDGES, I thought it’s the missing link that everyone has been wanting.
What would you like to tell women who are thinking of joining WoVeN?
If they think it might be for them, go for it! There’s no right or wrong time to do it. I’ve seen women join who are at a successful point in their life and I’ve seen and heard about women who are struggling more. I would say that if even a little part of you says this might be for you, go for it!