Corena Mitchell is a U.S. Army Veteran and newly trained WoVeN Peer Leader.  She also serves as the Program Director for Boots to Heels, and is competing in the upcoming Ms. Veteran America competition!  She spoke with WoVeN about her military background and her own military transition, what inspired her to be involved with the WoVeN program, and the mission of her organization.

Tell us about your military background.

I grew up a military brat. When my dad retired in Dallas, I felt like I was missing something in high school.  I was in ROTC, and a National Guard recruiter came and spoke to me. I thought it was perfect for me, so I joined. I ended up not caring for the National Guard, so I joined active duty as soon as I could. I started as 42A (Human Resources Specialist) but then I switched my MOS to 25U (Signal Support), and that’s what I ended up working in. I deployed after 9/11 and oversaw airport security. I then went into recruiting and retention for 3 years, and then deployed to Iraq in 2006 with the 89th Military Police battalion. When I got there, I was still working in Communications, but the Human Resources office needed help fixing some issues. Because of my first MOS, I know how to help, so I ended up back in HR.  I loved it because it was high tech, and I had a passion for fixing things like payroll issues and attendance reports. I eventually would do KIA and injury reports.  I met my husband while deployed and we ended up at the same duty station. I was stationed in New Jersey and stayed there for 5 years. I left the Army after 16 years because it was my time after my daughter was born.

What was the most rewarding aspect of your service?

I would say helping soldiers. I truly enjoyed a soldier having any type of problem and me solving it.  I took pride in that.

What was one of the challenges you faced in your transition from military to civilian life?

There were a lot of challenges. I thought it would be easy, but it was very difficult. I struggled to find employment. I watched my husband retire and saw that he was connected to many more services than I was. I had mental health issues as well as physical illness, but when I got out and was first experiencing these things, I didn’t understand what I was going through, so I became very depressed and suicidal. I was in a really bad place. I was very isolated, and I didn’t realize there was a Veteran community to be a part of. I was invited to attend a Boots to Heels event, and Drea Lewis (WoVeN National Trainer) came to speak. She saved my life because she helped me realize that I was not alone, that other people were going through the same things, and that there was help available. 

What inspired you to become involved working with women Veterans?

My own personal story was my inspiration. During my journey I struggled with a lot of things, and I don’t want anyone to feel the way I felt. It’s important for me to help because of all I went through. After I attended the Boots to Heels workshop and heard Drea speak, it altered my life. I joined WoVeN as a group member in 2018 with the first Dallas group. I liked the unity of the other women there and finding the Veteran community I didn’t know existed. Listening to the other women about their struggles and overcoming them was extremely beneficial for me. Before that I felt isolated and didn’t know of any solution. Once I came through Boots to Heels and WoVeN, I realized how many other female Veterans needed the same things that I needed. I felt like we could build a community together. I felt like I could help with the passion that I had. Through The Mission Continues I started volunteering at the Equest horse therapeutic park, and I realized that I was meant to be helping Veterans, and specifically female Veterans. Now I’m back in school for psychology working toward a social work degree. I’ve been with the Boots to Heels program through Attitudes to Attire for 3½ years now. Helping other women Veterans has been a savior. I couldn’t have asked for anything better in life.

Tell us about the mission of your organization.

Boots to Heels is a program to help women Veterans transition from military to civilian life. We focus on building self-esteem, establishing boundaries, and self-care. We work from the inside out to help Veterans to get back to work. We have workshops twice a week for Veterans and military spouses Then we have a second day of resources including information about LinkedIn, resume skills, and nonprofits to help Veterans. We bring in diverse organizations to help Veterans. We also have weekly classes with different content including rebranding, personal finance, etiquette, healthy eating, and mindfulness mediation. Participants nationwide can participate in online workshops. For those in the Dallas area, women in the program receive an interview outfit, and then continue shopping for outfits to wear to work in our specialized boutique on-site in Dallas. As women Veterans, we are so used to wearing uniforms that we don’t know how to dress! It’s very rewarding and amazing to see. We also do weekly meetings on zoom with Veterans who come through the program. I love referring my clients to WoVeN! 

Tell us about your involvement with Ms. Veteran America. 

I had heard about Ms. Veteran America about 7 years ago and was interested, but I didn’t think I qualified. Last year I finally looked into it and realized that I was qualified, but I was scared to participate. I had friends encourage me to do it, so I filled out the application and they interviewed me. I made it to the semi-finals, where I had to complete an interview and perform a talent, and 3 weeks later I learned that I made it to the finals! The finals will be video streamed on October 10th. Proceeds from the event will benefit their nonprofit called Final Salute, Inc., which helps homeless female Veterans and their children. That made me even more passionate about participating, because it’s not just a beauty pageant.

What advice do you have for women who are transitioning out of the military?

I would tell them to find a Veteran community, find the unity that we have, and to get involved and find their purpose.