Still Serving
Guideposts|September 2020
Still Serving
How a woman veteran is turning her struggles into positive action
SANDY BLAIR

OUR NATION DOES A LOT TO HONORmilitary veterans. But one group of veterans often gets overlooked.

Women.

I should know. I’m a woman and an Air Force veteran. I served for 12 years until a medical discharge prematurely ended my military career.

Like many veterans, I struggled to gain a foothold as a civilian. I couldn’t find work. After years of structure and camaraderie in the military, I felt alone and adrift. I endured a period of homelessness and sank deeper into despair.

Women veterans face unique challenges. They are often single parents, as I was. When they leave military service, they frequently take on caregiving roles, as I did, nursing my father after he suffered a stroke. They may encounter discrimination. I was told I was overqualified so many times in my job search, I wondered if race or gender wasn’t the real issue.

My immigrant parents taught me the value of self-sufficiency and hard work. Those values cut both ways. They were a huge help in the military, where I reveled in the discipline and opportunities for advancement. When I struggled after my discharge, I didn’t know how to ask for help. Like many veterans, I thought I should be able to take care of myself.

It was ultimately God who taught me that no one is truly self-sufficient. We all need God’s love. And we all need one another.

That’s the vision that powers the work I do now. I run a nonprofit in central California called Operation WEBS: Women Empowered Build Strong. Our mission is to help women veterans by inviting them into a community of love and mutual support.

MISSION-ORIENTED “I want to help other women veterans who have fallen on hard times,” Sandy says.

We started small, with what I call a “stability home” in a town near California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base. It’s a modest four-bedroom residence where women veterans help one another get established and launch into fulfilling lives.

We’re in the process of expanding to a small ranch outside the town. We plan to build several “tiny homes” on wheels, snug single-room residences that can be grouped together into a supportive community.

It’s the kind of place I wish I could have found in the bad old days when I felt so alone, unable to move forward. Now I give thanks for those days. My struggles back then help me understand what women veterans need now. God turned what appeared to be a dead end into a path toward love and service.

LIKE MY PARENTS, I AM AN IMMI-grant. My mom and dad, seek-ing greater opportunity, moved my five siblings and me from Jamaica to New Jersey when I was nine years old. My parents were people of faith and raised us kids that way. I remember my grandmother back in Jamaica giving away the fruit from her trees because she believed God called her to be generous. “The Lord will provide,” she said when I asked what would happen if she ran out of fruit.

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September 2020