Meet YoLonda Pickens
WoVeN Peer Leader & Trainer
San Angelo, TX
U.S. Navy 1982-2006
YoLonda spoke to us about her military experience, her challenges in transitioning to civilian life, and her inspiration for becoming involved with WoVeN.
Tell us about your military background.
I decided in the 8th grade that I wanted to serve my country either in the Air Force or Navy. There was less of a wait to join the Navy, so I decided to enlist. I didn’t have any family members that had served, so I was the first. I shocked my mother and everyone in my family when I told them I’d be leaving in 2 weeks! I was excited to serve and I loved every minute of it. I served as a Cryptologic Technician (Intelligence) which gave me an opportunity to be stationed overseas the majority of my career. I headed to Orlando, Florida for boot camp, then on to Pensacola, Florida for my initial technical training. My state side tours included Homestead, FL, Fort Meade, MD, and San Angelo, TX. My overseas tour included Galeta Island, Panama, Rota Spain, Stuttgart, Germany, Pyongteak, Korea, Italy (where I deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm), and Hawaii (Pearl Harbor and Ford Island). In Pearl Harbor, I was stationed aboard the guided missile cruiser USS Port Royal (CG 73), where I deployed in support of the Global War on Terrorism. I was part of the Afloat Training Group while at Ford Island, where I was part of a team responsible for ensuring that specific afloat units were battle ready. Our mantra while in boot camp was “Join the Navy to sail the seven seas”, and that’s what I did! I absolutely loved being overseas and experiencing different cultures but what I enjoyed most about the Navy was being stationed onboard the ship. I had the opportunity to work with all branches of military both U.S. and foreign. Overall it was a wonderful experience. Although I loved the Navy, since I couldn’t pack my family into my sea bag I decided that it was time to retire to be with them in Texas. Currently I work for the DoD, where I am a training evaluator.
What was the most rewarding aspect of your service?
I loved being on the ship. It was a 24-hour a day job. There was truly no rest for the weary. I liked that we were constantly working in support of whatever world event was going on. One of my many memorable experiences was 9/11. I remember pulling into home port, going home, I may have slept for an hour or two and then being called back to the ship. We were underway before anyone knew what had happened. I volunteered to serve my country in whatever capacity the Navy needed me to do. As a service member I was proud to represent the United States in both foreign and domestic events. It was my honor to serve the United States.
What was one of the challenges you faced in your transition from military to civilian life?
Sitting still! I went in when I was 18, so the military was where most of my formative years were spent. It was very structured and regimented, things were this way or that way. So to transition from the military mindset to the civilian mindset was challenging. I’m still in transition! It took me about eight years to find a position where travelling was part of the job. I now work in an environment that is similar to what I did in the military. I think that being in a military environment is less stressful. Being around people with similar experiences and personalities is my comfort zone.
What inspired you to become involved in WoVeN?
I had joined the Concho Valley Women Veterans’ Association in San Angelo. Laura Serrano is one of the founding members of that organization. She reached out to me to see if I would be interested in attending the training to become a peer leader, and I was. In reading the description that it was a group of women veterans, I was eager to connect with likeminded people. I wasn’t sure what it would be like at first, but I’ll tell you it was great! I loved the experience of doing the training and leading the group. I like that it helps connect women veterans to resources. There are a lot of women veterans out here and a lot of them don’t know that women’s veteran’s organizations exist. I thought it was a good time for us to be recognized, and why not start with WoVeN?
What would you like to tell women who are thinking of joining WoVeN?
I was just speaking with a friend of mine who’s planning to attend the next training in Washington, DC. I explained that the sessions build on each other, and that it’s not a therapy session but it’s very therapeutic. We share similarities, we talk, we share things we thought only impacted us as an individual but it turns out impacts masses. We learn from each other how to deal with the current situation or learn there are resources that might help the situations impacting you. She could tell how passionate I was about it. The more you do it, the more you get the word out, and the women understand the group is valuable. I just absolutely love it! People share things they may have never shared but decide to share at that point. We can point you in the right direction or give you a resource where you can find assistance. Our WoVeN group continues to meet for lunch and we plan to stay connected!