Meet Lois Withers
North Chesterfield, VA Peer Leader
U.S. Army 1979-1982
Lois is a WoVeN peer leader and U.S. Army Veteran who embodies the spirit of WoVeN by giving back to her community. Lois was featured in a local ABC News piece about the “Blessings Box” food pantry she created for people in need. She spoke with us about her own military experience, challenges transitioning to civilian life, and what inspired her to become involved with WoVeN.
Tell us about your military background.
I originally enlisted into the FL National Guard through the delayed enlistment program with expectations and hopes of improving my life while still in high school. I was in ROTC in high school and part of the color guard team that performed at games, ceremonies and competitions. I wore my ROTC uniform when I enlisted which gave me a great sense of accomplishment and pride when I took the oath. I trained with the FL National guard for 1 ½ years which gave me a positive outlet from a home life where emotional and sexual abuse was intentional and ignored. I was a petroleum lab technician, and then a diesel mechanic using the skills I had acquired from my stepfather. The regular Army was very different from the National Guard, and after I completed training, I went to my home base at Fort Dix. I continued there for a while as a Petroleum Lab Tech but soon was able to transfer after becoming a sergeant to the Special Guard division. I loved the camaraderie and the sense of accomplishment while being part of a team and learning discipline. Joining the military was the best decision I ever made which has led to one milestone after another.
What was the most rewarding aspect of your service?
Working with the Special Guard performing ceremonies, wedding salutes, funerals and other honors gave me great pride to serve and a feeling that I was contributing to something bigger than myself. Coming from a place where nothing had value, learning the military honor code, discipline and team building character skills was a life changing time for me. I did my best to uphold my enlistment creed and honor thy self and country. The Army taught me leadership and self-worth skills that I severely lacked. I have carried those skills with me through my life and built on them as my life changed and eventually brought me to where I am today. As a result of this training and self-growth, I have made it my life’s mission to pay forward the blessings and leadership that was given to me so that I can facilitate and teach with my peers and give back to the community I live in even in small ways that make a big difference.
What were some of the challenges you faced in your transition from military to civilian life?
I experienced sexual trauma while in the military and found no support or accountability within the military community. Upon discharge, I found places that would talk to me about my experience but they had no mindset of the military or understanding of the military culture, and therefore offered little help. I also was the mother of an infant daughter when I was discharged into a state where I had no family, and that made it even harder to find the help and support necessary to succeed. I needed a job immediately to support my family, but found no job placement help available from the military. There were no organizations like WoVeN who had the sisterhood, resources, and training to help women veterans through the trauma and transition into the civilian world with tangible skills and support. I found my own way like many others before me, one step at a time, and sometimes falling only to get back up stronger and more determined to make my life the best I could.
What inspired you to become involved in WoVeN?
When I heard about WoVeN, I was doing an internship towards becoming a Military-Peer Recovery Specialist that required specialized training specifically for military personnel and their families with a military organization that specialized in Peer Recovery. After reading about WoVeN and their mission, I knew immediately that was where I belonged and wanted to pursue it further. I applied for the training and was accepted and trained in San Diego with like-minded women who had the heart of a lion and the will to accomplish whatever they set their mind to. These women had been in the civilian world for a number of years like me, but were still firmly planted in the military mindset and still engaged with the military in many ways. The training was well thought out and executed and the leadership was phenomenal. WoVeN encourages community involvement and self-growth by providing an outlet to facilitate and train.
What would you like to tell women who are thinking of joining WoVeN?
I would tell any woman who is considering WoVeN to absolutely apply. There you will find the sisterhood, support, love, and belonging that you have been longing for. I certainly felt by the end of the training that I belonged to and connected with each one of those WoVeN women. The training program continues to evolve with the input from the peer trainers and WoVeN women. Our voices are heard, input and suggestions considered, and changes made when needed. I feel the mutual love and respect within WoVeN and feel a valued member.