Veteran's Day Salute: Bekah La Due
Meet Bekah La Due: a mother, Air Force veteran and all around bad-ass.
Tell us about yourself.
I enlisted in the Air Force when I was 22, as an Airfield Management Operations Coordinator. I completed my 4-year enlistment and then shortly after was diagnosed with PTSD (over a year after I returned from my deployment, it took that long to go through Veteran Affairs and finally get a diagnosis). Around that same time, I had dropped out of college and had quit 3 jobs. I was mentally struggling and didn’t understand why. In 2010, people weren’t talking about PTSD like they do now, so I had a lot of shame and guilt that surrounded my diagnoses, which only made everything worse. In 2012, my son was born and I had filed for divorce 3 months later. I found myself at 28 years old, a single mom, without a job, living back with my mom and not understanding how to deal with PTSD. I felt like such a failure.
In 2014, my mom found an article about a nonprofit called Team Rubicon and forwarded it to me. It was a turning point that helped me get through the hardest time in my life.
What is Team Rubicon?
They deploy volunteers after a natural disaster devastates a community. It’s made up of Veterans, First Responders, and kickass civilians. The unique part about this structure is that it enables you to be around other people that understand what you’re going through. While you’re with these like-minded people, you’re sent out to help others who have lost everything due to natural disasters. Being involved with this organization gave me a “job” when I had failed at trying to find employment after the military and it brought me friends when I had broken so many relationships after I got out of the Air Force. Now I have a few volunteer “jobs” with Team Rubicon. I am a Regional Chainsaw Instructor, I am the Regional Administrator’s Intern and I recently took on the Deputy Regional Communications Manager. I am in a great relationship with my boyfriend, Tim, who’s currently deployed with the Army. My son is excelling at preschool and I will graduate from college this year with a Bachelors in Cultural Anthropology.
What made you decide to join the Military?
I enlisted in the Air Force because I wanted to do something important. I wanted to be apart of something that was making a difference. I had gone to college and I had had great jobs, but none of that was meaningful to me.
Where have you served?
I went to Basic Training in San Antonio Texas. Then I went on to Technical Training in Biloxi, Mississippi. After that I was stationed at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii on the island of Oahu (the base is now called Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam). I was deployed to Joint Base Balad in Iraq from 2008-2009, located 40 miles north of Baghdad. That base was handed back to the Iraqi Air Force in 2011.
What has been your experience being a woman in the Armed Forces?
Being a woman in the military was a challenge. I felt I needed to compete with the men both physically and mentally. But I did not feel like I had to compete with the women. I enlisted during the “Don’t ask don’t tell” time. I am overjoyed that this policy has since been eliminated. I think that a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity should have nothing to do with their military service. I hope that all service members, despite their sexual orientation or gender identity, feel as though they are treated equal.
The military has a long way to go in order for women to have equal rights in the Armed Forces. I hope that in the future there will be policy that enables nursing mothers to not be deployed or relocated away from their babies for a specified time. I wish that the military had a policy stating that both parents cannot be deployed at the same time. One of the reasons I chose to not reenlist is I didn’t want my future children to have their parents deployed at the same time. I also didn’t want my future children to have the possibility of their parents being stationed away from where they were.
What has been your proudest moment in uniform?
My proudest moment while in uniform was during my deployment. I was injured and medevaced to Landstrom Air Base in Germany towards the end of my deployment. I fought the medical professionals to allow me to return to Iraq and finish my deployment. I felt empowered to be able to return to the war zone and finish the work I had started.
Twenty-two Veterans commit suicide a day, a staggering statistic. How do we as a nation help combat this?
I think there should be better transition resources and training for Veterans once they complete their service. I see one of the largest struggles Veterans face is not understanding how to cope or even just how to live as a civilian. It is such a huge transition to go from being in the military to being a civilian. I think the military needs to do a better job at health and wellness checks when service members come back from deployment.