Meet Sandra Bermudez
U.S. Army Veteran 1979-2015
WoVeN Peer Leader
Tell us about your military background.
Since I was a child, I wanted to be a soldier. I always had an attraction for the military and I wanted to serve my country. Instead of playing with Barbies, I was playing GI Joe! My first career after college was as a teacher, but the salary and politics drove me to join the Army. The only thing I regret is not signing up sooner! It made me so happy to join because it meant reaching a goal and filling a desire I had in my heart. I started the U.S. Army as a clinical laboratory specialist and eventually went back to college under the simultaneous membership program where you can continue drilling as a reservist and attend college as ROTC. I completed my second degree in business administration while I earned my commission in the Army. I was commissioned as a Medical Device Corps officer and remained in the same unit where I eventually became the hospital commander. After 9/11 I was called into active duty to serve at the Pentagon as a member of the U.S. Army Crisis Action Team. I served in different positions at U.S. Central Command and traveled to different areas such as Qatar, Iraq, and Afghanistan. I later worked with Joint Staff at the Pentagon. I was awarded a Bronze Star for the missions conducted in Afghanistan where I served as the Deputy for RC-East Joint Visitor’s Bureau. Among the key missions was a visit from the visit of U.S President Obama to Afghanistan. I was also in responsible for coordinating the visit and meeting of 23 NATO Ambassadors to Afghanistan as part of the coordination of the “way forward”. We were also responsible for coordinating and executing the visit of many distinguished leaders such as Senator John McCain. Another important yet painful duty was escorting the remains of fallen service members to make sure they had a proper farewell ceremony.
What was the most rewarding aspect of your service?
During my tour at the Pentagon with the Joint Staff I was part of the team that helped mobilize personnel and equipment around the world to provide resources needed in Afghanistan and Iraq. I was the Battle Captain at the National Military Operations Center during the 2006 Lebanon NEO (Non-combatant Evacuation) Operation. The opportunity to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan also was very rewarding. The ability to see the big picture of how our military works from the Pentagon to the front lines is mind-blowing. It was so rewarding to be on the ground. Even though it was the most difficult, I felt like I had to do that. I couldn’t have continued serving my country without going to the front of the fight, which was in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What was one of the challenges you faced in your transition from military to civilian life?
The hardest thing was knowing that I couldn’t wear the uniform again and do what I had been doing. The military is a family, a culture by itself that is so different to the “real world.” There’s the sisterhood, the brotherhood, the camaraderie, and the discipline. I miss that. The good thing is that many employers are looking for people like us that have that discipline. I was able to use that experience to work as a Medical Center Administrator for Humana. Everything I had learned in the military, including how to run a hospital and work with medical professionals came into play, and I was able to utilize those skills in my new job. That military experience did not go to waste and has helped me in so many ways.
What inspired you to become involved in WoVeN?
After I retired, I was looking for ways to keep serving. Through my work with organizations like WoVeN, I’ve been able to stay in that world where I’m sharing experiences with other Veterans and helping them deal with the same types of difficulties that I had been through and am going through. Helping other fellow Veterans adjust to life is important and is part of my own healing process. There is so much information out there that it’s cumbersome to navigate the resources and benefits that are available. I’m convinced this is something women Veterans are looking for. It’s overdue to have an organization specific to women Veterans. We have unique needs, and the way we process things is different than our male counterparts. We need something like WoVeN where Veterans can come together to share their experiences and support each other. It helps to fill that void that many people feel when they leave the service. Connecting with other fellow Veterans and sharing stories is an essential part of the healing and adjustment process. I can connect to people who understand what I’ve been going through. I believe that the majority of Veterans are looking for something like this. We’ve been lacking bringing female women Veterans together. WoVeN is helping me in my healing process. It’s fantastic, I feel blessed and I’m happy.
What would you like to tell women who are thinking of joining WoVeN?
Here’s an opportunity for what you might be looking for—a place, an organization, a group where you can share your experience. You can take that shield down and have a place in a group of individuals who have been there, done that, gone through what you have gone through. You can share and feel free to express your concerns and worries and make it better for yourself.