Teresa Hand

Teresa Hand with her 50-caliber gun. Submitted photo.

Military service has always been portrayed as the ultimate team where a group of men and women once distinguished by their differences are, in the end, recognized for their singular devotion to duty and to each other.

When we ask even more of a soldier in addition to honoring their oath, to deal with abuse and injustice from fellow soldiers, the truth is more complicated. 

Teresa Hand served with the 506th, 332nd and 532nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadrons (ESFS) while doing three tours in Iraq between 2007 - 2011. She lives with her husband and two children in New Richmond.

Hand enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in April 2006. She served in the security forces, which are the ground combat force and military police service of the Air Force.  

Hand deployed from Holloman AFB in Alamogordo, New Mexico, to Kirkuk (Iraq) in 2007 (8 months), Balad (Iraq) in 2009 (10 months), and back to Balad (Iraq) in 2010-2011 (7 months). She applied for a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) to Kadena AFB in Okinawa, Japan in 2012, and Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton Ohio in 2014.  

Hand held various duty titles while in service including security forces patrol member, police services NCO, security forces investigator, and while deployed  M249 gunner, 50-caliber gunner and fire team leader.

“My second deployment (Balad 2009) was outside the wire," she said. "We were a counter-terrorism patrol sweeping for IEDs, interviewing locals for information, acting on leads we were given by locals and searching for and confiscating weapons caches, etc. It was my favorite deployment. I was a .50-cal gunner, so I was usually in the top of the truck, but sometimes I would swap out and do dismounted patrols if they needed a female to talk to a local. It was also the deployment that I was in the most danger, and the only deployment I had to actually use my weapon.”

Hand was court martialed for drug use in 2014, administratively separated and discharged in 2015. 

“I struggled with mental and physical health issues toward the end of my service," Hand said. "The military had been prescribing me medication for various issues and I became dependent on some of them, leading to a cycle of substance abuse. I entered treatment in 2014 and have since been clean." 

Why did you become a soldier? Honestly, I did not join the military because of a strong sense of service or duty. I joined because I didn’t really have any other options. I was 22, I didn’t have any skills, I hadn’t gone to college, I didn’t come from a great home life. I joined to get away from my circumstances.

Please describe a moment or specific experience that made you proud to serve? Eventually, I gained a sense of duty and purpose upon joining the military. I found family in the military, brothers and sisters. I learned what it meant to be a part of something bigger than myself. I was proud of my service because it felt like the most worthy thing I had done with my life up until that point.

If you had or have a daughter, what would you tell her, how would you advise her if she were considering serving her country in the military? I have a 5-year-old daughter. This one is hard for me. While I do think the military helped me in some ways, it also hurt me in a lot of ways. I experienced sexual assault and harassment constantly throughout my career. There is also a certain type of brain washing (for lack of a better word) that comes when you join the military. If my daughter truly was adamant about joining, I think I would tell her to go to college first and go in as an officer if she can. And definitely don’t go in as security forces.

The culture is toxic, more so for women. If she only wanted to join because she wanted to travel, I would suggest she simply travel as a civilian. She will have more options than I had, so hopefully she has a better sense of what she really wants to do. And if that is the military, I will tell her my experience, her father can tell her his experience, and she can make her own decision with our cautious support.

If there were one lesson you learned from your service what would that be? I learned to lean on the people that love me and have my best interest at heart. I learned to be honest about what was going on with me and to ask for help when I needed it. But honestly, the military didn’t encourage that. I only learned that after I separated. The military sort of taught me what not to do.

I know that some of my answers may not be what you are looking for, and that’s OK. My experience is my experience, and I don’t mean to sound negative if it comes off that way. I do appreciate my experience in the military. I did have leadership at certain points that had my best interest at heart and really did do everything they could to help me. But it wasn’t all positive and I don’t pretend it was. There was a point in my life where my whole identity was the military, because that’s how they want you to be. As I got older, I realized that’s how they created some of the toxicity that the military has. They talk a lot about taking care of their people, but that is seldom actually being done.

I will say this. I’m thankful that the military helped me overcome some of my circumstances in the beginning. I’m thankful for all of the wonderful friends (family, really) I’ve made, and I’m thankful that I am able to go to school now with the benefits I earned. I don’t think I would be the person I am today without my time in the service. And good or bad, that’s the truth.

Tom Lindfors is a western Wisconsin freelance journalist and former Star-Observer reporter. Contact him at tom@lindforsphoto.com

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