Meet Leandra Hernandez
Air Force Veteran 2006-2012
WoVeN Peer Leader & Trainer
San Angelo, TX
Tell us about your military background.
Why did I chose to join? I wanted a better life. I wanted to experience life. My dad is a Marine Veteran and I remember growing up, he would yell “Semper Fi” and “bark” at anyone he saw with a Marine Corp hat or shirt. I wanted that! I wanted to be something better and do better. After a year of failing college and a failed and toxic relationship, I decided it was time to figure out exactly what I was capable of. I served in the Air Force from June 2006-July 2012 as a photo journalist, spending two years in Japan and four years in Oklahoma at Altus AFB. I traveled a lot for my job including a tour in Baghdad in 2008.
What was the most rewarding aspect of your service?
I had the opportunity to be part of a mission transporting dolphins from Norfolk VA to San Diego CA in a C-17. We were assisting the Navy to transport the dolphins who had been trained as mine detectors. I was able to document the journey through photos and share the story of the teamwork it takes to transport dolphins on an aircraft! Check out the article!
What was one of the challenges you faced in your transition from military to civilian life?
I had a hard time connecting to people after I left the military. I think it’s important to note that I had a general discharge. Having that general discharge is what hurt me the most. I was at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. For a long time, I was so ashamed. It was one of the major reasons why I stayed away from Veterans after I got out of the military. I also found that the work ethic was much different in the civilian world, and that authority was regularly questioned. I couldn’t relate to the people I worked with in my job. My friendships were completely different as well. My interactions with other women in the military had always challenging. At first, we felt we had to be in competition with each other, who could do better, get there first, etc., until eventually we learned to build comradery. I mostly had male friends who understood me better and sort of took care of me. I stayed to myself for a very long time after I separated from the military.
What inspired you to become involved in WoVeN?
I met a friend. He was the first friend who took the time to get to know me after my separation from the military. He helped me overcome my fears and hurts and encouraged me to reach out, and I did. I started a claim with the VA, over 5 years after leaving military service. I then happened to see that there was something in San Angelo for women veterans. My friend encouraged me to try it and I did. I immediately I felt like I belonged. When I heard about WoVeN, I realized there were a lot of women who felt like I had … struggling to connect. My goal now is to find other women who have felt the same way and bring them home. I went to Houston (to Peer Leader training) and while there I told my story to strangers for the first time. That was very emotional for me. Leaving Houston, I felt like this was what I was supposed to do. Since then my journey has thrived!! Now I can do for others what others have done for me!
What advice do you have for women who are transitioning out of the military?
Connect … connect with someone … find someone you have common ground with. You would be surprised how many women have walked in your shoes. Whatever happened in the past doesn’t define you … know you don’t have to go through this journey alone!
What would you like to tell women who are thinking of joining WoVeN?
Do it!! At your first meeting you may sit there and look around and automatically prejudge, but the moment the conversation starts flowing, you feel this ease and know that you have something in common with these women that you don’t have in common with other women!