Meet Lauren Friedman

U.S. Navy Veteran 1998-2007 
WoVeN Peer Leader and Trainer
Canton, OH

Tell us about your military background.

I came from a family with a lot of people who served in the military, so I always knew that it was an option. My father served in the Air Force during the Korean War, my older brother was a Marine, and now my younger brother and sister both served in the Army. I always felt patriotic being around Veterans in the family, and they were all very proud of their service. I also was looking for a challenge and wanted to be part of something bigger than myself. I attended the U.S. Naval Academy from 1998-2002 and was commissioned as an Officer in the Navy when I graduated. September 11th happened while I was there, so there was a lot of change happening. I decided to become an Intelligence Officer because there was a great need for that work, and I thought it would be a good use of my skill set. It was an interesting job, but also very demanding. I served on an aircraft carrier, the USS John F. Kennedy, and worked with the air wing as part of a squadron deployed in 2004. After deployment I moved to San Diego for shore duty but was deployed to Guantanamo Bay to oversee intelligence analysis. Once I returned from that deployment, I decided to separate from the Navy. I knew that there was more I wanted to do and explore in my life.

What was the most rewarding aspect of your service?

I would say the most rewarding part was the amazing people that I met. I got to meet people from all different parts of our country and all different places in the world. I was able to learn about different cultures and it allowed me to see a lot of different perspectives. Now in my work as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor I have a better understanding of where people come from and how it informs how they live their lives.

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

There were a lot of challenges, but I think that one of them was that I didn’t realize how much different my life was from my civilian peers. I joined the Navy at 17 and when I got out I was 26, and I had a very different experience for that very formative period of my life. I didn’t realize how much I had been affected by my experiences. Another challenge was that a lot of the qualities I expected of myself, such as being hardworking, responsible, and ambitious, were not necessarily appreciated like I thought they would be when I got out. I thought that somebody would see that I had proven myself, and that I was reliable and had a strong work ethic and integrity, but it wasn’t like that. It took a long time to get a job and I wasn’t prepared. I knew that I wanted to help people, but didn’t know what was available or how I would pay for school. Before I got out of the Navy, someone came to talk to us about the VA benefit of vocational rehabilitation. During the process of seeking those services, I had to interview people about their work and got to talk to people in the helping professions. I realized that I really liked talking to people about their jobs! I received a master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling in 2011 and worked in a number of vocational rehabilitation jobs in the community. Then in 2018 I ran for office and got to meet so many Veterans. I felt a lot more understood when I talked to people who served in the military. That experience made me want to work with Veterans. I now work at the VA in the PTSD program with Veterans finishing treatment and looking to transition into work. It’s been great helping people with their transitions, since I went through my own transition and I feel like I can relate to them.

What inspired you to become involved in WoVeN?

I was one of the women who didn’t talk about being a Veteran for a long time. It wasn’t until the end of 2017, ten years after I left the Navy, that I went to my first Veteran’s event.  I don’t know what inspired me but thought I should explore this side of myself, and I was just going to go to see what it was like. After that I started participating in some local Veteran activities and found out that I had really been ignoring a huge part of my life.  I connected with some other women Veterans during that year and was able to become part of the Veteran community here which was really special to me. I was told about WoVeN when one of the local Veteran’s groups received information about it. I applied right away and attended the Peer Leader training. The timing was amazing because I had been wanting to connect with more women Veterans but didn’t know how to make that happen. I didn’t know how to make that idea into a reality, so when I heard it was already happening, I was very happy and relieved.

What would you like to tell women who are thinking of joining WoVeN?

I think that for anybody who’s considering trying WoVeN, I would say that you just need to try it! WoVeN is an experience, and it may be hard to understand the benefits of being part of a WoVeN group until you’re able to reunite with women Veterans and support each other in a way that you’ve never been supported before. Until you experience it, you don’t realize how much you were missing that.

After leading several online groups, I would want women Veterans to know that you can absolutely make connections with people in an online group just like you could in person. In fact, I think it’s been easier for some people to open up because they are in the comfort of their own homes and have a greater sense of safety.  I think it also takes away some of the barriers (transportation, childcare, etc.) and makes it a lot more accessible to make WoVeN available to everyone.

It’s also important for people to know that they aren’t just part of their small WoVeN group but also part of a national community of women Veterans. As WoVeN continues to grow there will be opportunities for us to connect in different ways. We are in the process of building that community and you are an important part of it!