Women of the Military

From Secret Squirrel to Wordsmith

Episode Summary

Sarah joined the military as a way to pay for college using the ROTC program. She got her degree in a foreign language and was hoping to use her skills as an Intel Officer, but found out instead there would be a lot of public speaking which she didn’t like.

Episode Notes

At her first assignment, September 11th happened. She said the changes to the military were noticeable and she went from the work she was doing to help stand up the Combat Support for the F-16s patrolling the American skies.

Next, she helped prepare for the Iraq War and deployed to Saudi Arabia for the initial invasion. She was far enough away to not be in danger but worked long hours seven days a week.

Three years later she deployed to Afghanistan and was stationed in Kabul. She talked about the growing tension and the violence that came to Kabul while she was there. She shared about SFC Meredith Howard who died in the same roundabout she had been in hours before by an IED.

It was during her deployment she decided to leave the military. The military was offering bonuses to get out of the military, she had met a guy who was in the military and wanted to start a family, and was set to deploy again shortly after arriving home since her commander had written her assignment as voluntary when she hadn’t volunteered.

We covered the struggle of transitioning and the challenge of being a woman veteran. We also covered the first-hand experience women veterans who are military spouses understand when standing next to their spouses and are discounted for their service.

She ended the interview to say, that the military changed her life in ways that made her who she is today. She had the best and worst experiences. Add quote

Connect with Sarah:



(@afterthedd214 on all platforms);


Mentioned in this episode (contains affiliate links):

Sirens: How to Pee Standing Up by Laura Colbert

A Girls Guide to the Military

Military Veteran Dad Podcast

5 Reasons it is harder to be a Military Spouse and a Veteran

Combat in Afghanistan

Our Best War Stories

Related Episodes:

Being a Counter-Intelligence Agent - Episode 53

The On-Set of Female Engagement Teams - Episode 104

Being part of the Initial Invasion of Iraq - Episode 91

Check out the full transcript here.  

Thank you to my Patreon Sponsor Col Level and above:
Kevin Barba, Adriana Keefe

Thank you Patreon members for your support. Want early access to episodes, ad-free content, and one on one mentorship advice? Become a Patreon member today! Click here.   

Episode Transcription

Amanda Huffman00:00

Welcome to Episode 111. I'm the woman on the military podcast this week. My guest is Sarah Maples. Sarah and I met when I sent her a copy of my book to review on her website after the DD 214. I didn't know anything about Sarah I just was recommended to send her a copy of my book, though I did. And then that time we have become great friends and she is such a great mentor to me. Sarah is a freelance writer and editor coach and the founder of after the DD 214. She served in the Air Force as an intelligence officer, including deployments to Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. After leaving the military. In 2007, she began serving her fellow veterans and in 2016, she became the first woman to serve as the national security and Foreign Affairs Director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Washington DC, where she advocated on behalf of 1.7 million servicemembers, veterans and their families. She left the VFW in 2018 to take a European sabbatical and work on her first novel. She recently earned her graduate degree in publishing from George Washington University, and she holds an MFA in creative writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University and a master's in strategic intelligence from American Military University. Her writing has appeared in national media outlets, including The Atlantic, Task and Purpose, and she is currently a writer for Clearance Jobs, and she was recently published in Our Best War Stories (affiliate link). I'll provide a link to that book in the show notes if you're interested in checking it out. I'm excited to share Sarah's story. I'm so thankful we connected when I sent her my book, and I can't wait to share this interview with you. So let's get started. You're listening to season three of the women on the military podcast Here you will find the real stories of female servicemembers. I'm Amanda Huffman, I am an Air Force veteran, military spouse, and Mom, I created Women of the Military podcast in 2019. As a place to share the stories of female service members past and present, with the goal of finding the heart of the story, while uncovering the triumphs and challenges women face while serving in the military. If you want to be encouraged by the stories of military women and be inspired to change the world, keep tuned for this latest episode of women on the military. shows there. I'm excited to have you here.

Sarah Maples02:34

Thanks so much for having me. I'm excited. This is such a wonderful podcast. I'm delighted that you let me come on.

Amanda Huffman02:39

Well, we've known each other for a while and you really support it in my book Women of the Military. So I was excited to have you as a guest.

Sarah Maples02:47

Oh, thank you. It's a good it's a great project. I bought multiple copies and gave them to my local library that was that excited about it?

Amanda Huffman02:53

That's so awesome to hear. So let's start with why did you decide to join the military? 

Sarah Maples02:58

So actually try to avoid joining the military. It wasn't on my to-do list. But I think like a lot of veterans, ultimately it came down to education. So I was familiar with the military a little bit. My mom enlisted in the Army after my parents divorced when I was five, she stayed only for about eight months, and then got out because they wanted to take her away from us. And so to get out. And then when I was a freshman in high school, my mom had my brother Donnie, and he started having seizures when he was about six months old. And he would have them sometimes multiple times a day, several times a week. I think at one point we knew every EMT in the county. And that put a strain on my parent's financial situation. And my mom one day said to me, if you want to go to college, you have to find someone to pay for it. And so I tried to resist I had some other scholarships, but they weren't as good as the one that the Air Force gave me. And then I went to college. And the Air Force actually only gave me a three-year scholarship, not a four-year scholarship. Because I'd been home taking care of Donnie and my siblings, they weren't sure that I could be a team player, because I didn't do sports. And so they gave me three-year scholarships that whole first year, I tried to find another option for two reasons. One, engineering was what they gave me my scholarship in and I do not get along with calculus and chemistry. And so I wanted to do something else. And then second was I quickly discovered that there's a lot of public speaking, involved in being an officer in the military. And I really hate public speaking, still hate public speaking. And so I want to do something else. And finally, my mom said, well, you have two options. You can stay and finish college at Tulane and graduate and get commissioned, or you can come home live at home and go to the tiny college that was in my small town. And I had just come back from a year in Germany as a state department, exchange student and I wanted to see the world and I did not want to go back to a little small town. So I stayed I did at least convince the Air Force let me do a different degree. I went back to them. I said What else you got? And they said, How about foreign language? And I said, Great, and they said but not German. And I said okay, what do you got? And they said, How about Russian so I became a German and Russian major.

Amanda Huffman04:50

Wow, that's kinda interesting because I took German in high school. So I speak a little bit of German which is kind of like an odd connection.

Sarah Maples 05:00

It really is, I only took one year of high school German before I went to Germany actually. And then did most of my learning sort of sink or swim when I was there.

Amanda Huffman05:09

Yeah, that was that's the best way to learn. And if you have that first year, you can at least be like, Good moring, how are you at the beginning.

Sarah Maples05:19

I'm tired, I want to eat. Yeah. And then, but I ended up picking it up with an accent. So I actually speak German, as if it's sort of the equivalent of an American from the deep south. So they kind of laugh at me. And they're like, No way an American speaks with that accent. I didn't know. That's what I was learning.

Amanda Huffman05:35

That's funny. Yeah. And you talked about you had the first year and you're trying to find something else is that because when you get an ROTC scholarship, you have a year to decide if you want to come in or not? Or how did that all work?

Sarah Maples05:47

I don't know what the rules are now. And my case it was because I did have a three-year scholarship. So the first year I didn't have any commitment to the Air Force, because they weren't paying for anything. But I also at the time, you really were committed after you went to field training after your sophomore year. So before that, you might have to pay some money back or something. But after that, you generally either had to pay all of your money back or go enlisted if you didn't complete your scholarship. So I had that first year to really think

Amanda Huffman06:12

about it makes sense. So you ended up deciding you wanted to see the world. And so you and you got your major changed. And then you did ROTC? Was there anything from ROTC that really stood out or was difficult? Or was it just a smooth ride?

Sarah Maples06:28

It was not a smooth ride now. So obviously, the public speaking was a huge challenge, whether that was leading flights and drill and ceremonies or actually having to present speeches, that was a constant struggle for me. But also, I had commanders that didn't really like. And so, you know, I had to combat that there were field training actually was when I started loving the military. I actually am one of those people who loves getting in the dirt and doing the obstacle courses and getting up early and having to do all those push-ups and stuff like that. That was when I actually fell in love with the military. And I was like, Okay, I can do this. But it was I mean, it was a great experience. It gave me a lot of structure when I was in college, which I don't think a lot of people have, and certainly not when you go to school in New Orleans. It's kind of party city. And so it was great to have all of it. I mean, I was not a drinker when I was there. So I was the anti-party person. But still, it's hard to get the structure when you're in there. And RTC really provided that.

Amanda Huffman07:21

That's great. And then you went active duty in 2000, right?

Sarah Maples07:25

Yes. I was graduated and then was immediately commissioned right afterwards, but I didn't actually join the military. So with ROTC can be strange sometimes. I was I graduated in May and was commissioned, but I didn't actually leave for active duty until July.

Amanda Huffman07:39

Yeah, that makes sense. I was lucky or unlucky. I don't know. I went, I commissioned June 1. And then I was already like, on my way to Alabama like 16 days later, which is really crazy. Because usually there is a 30 to like, six-month window of when you don't go on active duty. But my husband was already a duty and I wanted to go see him. So I was like, I don't want to go to work. You're going to Alabama.

Sarah Maples08:04

That was fast.

Amanda Huffman08:06

So yeah, it was a little crazy. But it all worked out. So where was your first assignment?

Sarah Maples08:12

It was Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas, I went to Intel school. It was also another not ideal situation for me. So I actually got kind of tricked into being an intelligence officer, not maliciously it was more poor information from my ROTC cadre, they told me that that was the career field where I would be able to use my language the most, which isn't actually true. Especially not for officers. That's not really what you do. As an Intel officer. There are some opportunities, but it's not the main thing. And I showed up at Intel school and found out that it actually is a whole lot more public speaking. And so I think I actually went home every day for the first two weeks and just cried that that's what my life was gonna look like, for the next four years. Yeah. So it was not based on my favorite thing, but it turned out to be okay. That

Amanda Huffman08:54

is true, because we can use that I don't like public speaking. And I'm like, but you are an Intel officer. And the only thing I remember about Intel officers is that they are in front of a crowd giving an entire day. So it's kind of funny.

Sarah Maples09:07

Yes, I had to do I did do a lot of those was

Amanda Huffman09:09

Goodfellow was that where you were stationed or was that where your tech school, you know, whatever they call it is

Sarah Maples09:14

that was my tech school. My Intel school, it was 10. I spent 10 months there before I went to my first duty station. I spent all of that time in buildings with no windows learning about all the different kinds of things that you can do as an intelligence officer. So it's such a broad field.

Amanda Huffman09:28

Wow, that's a long time. Mm hmm.

Sarah Maples09:31

Yes. Yeah. There's a lot to learn in Intel. 

Amanda Huffman09:34

Yeah, that's crazy. So then after you finish school, then did you go to your first assignment?

Sarah Maples09:40

Yes, I went to my first duty station. It was actually shot Air Force Base. So that was not what I wanted. So when I was I actually entered school. I was like, This is not what I want to do, but at least I could travel and at the time if you graduated at the top of your class with a call distinguished graduate you could you were supposed to be able to pick your assignment. So I decided I was going to get distinguished graduate and I did I earned it. And then they did not give me what I wanted. I wanted to go Europe and they said, Yes. So we're gonna send you to South Carolina. And I was like, What? And then on assignment night, they like it was terrible. They showed everybody what your top five choices were. And then they showed where you were going. And the major who was there, they announced it. I was in shock standing there. And she came up to me and she was like, Don't worry, you'll still get to travel. And I was like deployments to the desert. Were not what I was looking for. But it turned out to be like most things in the military, not what I wanted, but a really great opportunity anyway, and so I arrived in May of 2001. At shot Air Force Base, I was assigned to the 20th Fighter Wing, which was then was home to four squadrons of F 16. Wild Weasels, and was there six months before an 11 happened.

Amanda Huffman10:46

Yeah, so let's talk about 9/11. Because I just find it fascinating because I'm, I didn't know the military existed and then 9/11 happened. And I was like, Oh, the military, they're still around. Okay. And so what was that like and what was the environment? And did you notice any changes? 

Sarah Maples11:07

Oh, there were instant changes. I mean, before that, we were pretty much a steady-state military and they were deployments to Incirlik airbase in Turkey and princeling airbase in Saudi and they were 90-day deployments. I mean, the pilots went for 45 days, and then came home and the other half of the squadron went for 45 days. And, and so it was really short deployments, and they weren't really intense. And the day after 911, trying to get on base, suddenly, there were stacks of sandbags, and a young individual pointing a very large caliber weapon at me as I was going through the checkpoints, and you had to weave through the checkpoints, and you couldn't park near any of the buildings because they put up all these barricades. And then there are extra things to get into the buildings. And then I actually as a still fairly new Lieutenant was actually assigned to help set up the alert cell for the F 16, who were flying combat air patrol over the White House and other key locations. And so I immediately got sent over there and was working crazy hours for a couple of months trying to support the pilots. And I think it was something I didn't really have a lot of a full understanding of what I was, I mean, it was I knew it was a big deal, and I knew was something we'd never seen before. And I also knew that we were going to go to war over it. But I didn't know like, I didn't have the concept of how much gravity there was for those pilots when they were going up. Because it wasn't just that they were flying over these key areas. But they had to contemplate actually shooting down a US airliner should that happen or another plane. And that was really something they'd never had to think about before. And I didn't it was a long time before I actually really understood the sort of gravity of what they were dealing with every day when they went up into the sky,

Amanda Huffman12:43

It changed everything. And I think looking back, it's really easy to see like how pivotal September 11th was, I mean, considering we're still at war, almost 20 years later. And I think at the time, we all Didn't we just knew there was something going on, it was a really big deal. And it like had a big impact. But we didn't realize how big of an impact it was.

Sarah Maples13:05

Yeah, I mean, before 911, the concept of war was still this sort of vague thing. I mean, even the last war in, you know, the first time we went into Iraq was not the same thing as what would happen after 911. And it changed not just what happened for the military. But what happened for all of our society before 911 people could still walk you to the gate at the airport. I mean, you didn't have to take off your shoes and everything else and, and all that. And so it just changed. And one of the things that I did see that that was interesting was sort of like what you talked about about people sort of woke up to the fact that the military was there, and that there were national security risks that they just hadn't been seen for years. And I would drive to work and there would be signs everywhere supporting the troops that just hadn't been there. And that was a military town. That was how the town survived was a military base. And they still didn't get that sort of level of what it meant to actually wear the uniform. And yeah, as an Intel person, especially, my mom was really stressed out about the possibility of going to war and, and I couldn't tell her anything. I mean, there were things that I knew that I wasn't allowed to talk about. It's still the case as an Intel officer, you know, they can always arrest me and send me to jail if I talk about some of the secrets and so it's it was hard to balance trying to calm her down and knowing things that were that were coming and also doing my job every day it was it was difficult balance there.

Amanda Huffman14:21

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You work a bunch of hours and doing all that stuff to figure out like the response and then what happened Did you the life go back to normal or did you deploy or what happened

Sarah Maples14:33

So I did not deploy then Afghanistan didn't have a lot of surface to air missile so it wasn't it didn't really need our aircraft. So we became part of Operation noble legal defending the homeland and they went from flying combat air patrols to being on strip alert so that they were available and could get the aircraft off the ground in a few minutes if they needed it. And we were able to Intel Squadron we were able to start lowering our support a little bit not having to work such long hours and things went back to to kind The new normal after that point, and then in 2002, things were slow enough that the Air Force actually let me go live in Russia for a month to learn Russian, they sent me to the St. Petersburg on the language and skills immersion program, which was awesome. And then I came back from that and actually switched to a new unit, I went over to 9th Air Force, the 69th Air Intelligence Squadron where I worked as a Collection Manager. So basically all the different vehicles that we have to collect imagery and beeps, and squeaks and all that kind of stuff, and then got into planning the war in Iraq.

Amanda Huffman15:28

So what was it like to go to Russia and to do that program, the culture and the language? What was that, like?

Sarah Maples15:35

Mostly exciting, I lived with this wonderful woman, my Russian is probably really bad these days. But his yakka, which is like a host lady, and she was sweet. She was a retired English teacher. And but it was, it was also very enlightening. I mean, I asked her one day if I could use the iron, and she gave it to me. And it was actually the time that you still heat on the stove and have to use a hot pad was really just a solid piece of iron. And that was sort of a wake-up call to see and I bought her some roses one day, I think they cost me like 20 bucks. They're just these beautiful silver, purple roses, and I brought them back in in the elevator coming up, this older woman was asked me how much they cost. And I told her and she almost passed out in the elevator. And when I went in to talk to my host, I was like, I don't understand. And she said that's probably what you spent on those words is probably what she gets for an entire month from the pension from the government. And it just blew my mind. I mean, I was a lieutenant, I wasn't making all that much money, but I was certainly making enough that 20 bucks on roses wasn't a big deal. So it was really eye-opening. And I loved being you know, immersed in the language. But Russia is a very complicated place. And there were times when I didn't necessarily feel safe or comfortable. I was actually there in April for Hitler's birthday. And my host would not let me go outside because a group of neo-nazis were coming to St. Petersburg, and we're going to, you know, we're going after foreigners. And so I was allowed to go outside. So lots of very interesting experiences that I won't forget.

Amanda Huffman16:57

Yeah, for sure. And that's really interesting, because I think one of the things that I really take away from like going to Afghanistan was how much of the world I was protected from or not seen, because I was in America. And I think that it made it so I want to travel more and see more and, and learn more cultures just to be exposed. And so I think those stories have like a lasting impact and change how you view the world when you come back to the States. 

Sarah Maples17:29

Absolutely. I mean, my first experience with that was when I was an exchange student in high school and lived with a German family for a year, my senior high school. And it was very different in it, it certainly exposed me to different ways of thinking from everything from education and finance to politics, and certainly something I encourage everyone to do, because it just is so valuable in helping you form your own opinions, when you can see and hear so many different things that you didn't even know, were things to be considered when you were in your own little space and surrounded by people who, who usually think and look and act like you.

Amanda Huffman18:01

So true. Okay, let's get back to the next step. And you said you were planning helping the plan the Iraq war. So what was that like?

Sarah Maples 18:11

It was kind of mind boggling. I mean, I hadn't even kind of finished processing that we were at, we're in Afghanistan. And here, we're going to war in Iraq, which is a much more contentious issue. And we'd have so many people supporting us for Enduring Freedom. And then for Iraqi Freedom, that was not the same. And so it was very different thing about how the uniform I work, what it represented, and did I actually agree with what we were doing and didn't matter because I had a contract in it. And you have to do it anyway. But also, just being able to see how that all came together. And the time and effort it took to put in that work to develop a plan and also having some experiences that other people didn't have. So I was one of only two women assigned to the combat plans unit, which schedules all the aircraft to fly and produces air tasking order. And I was the only lieutenant. And so being able to see that insight was awesome. And then I did end up deploying to Saudi Arabia for three months for the start of anarchy was pretty amazing to be part of history like that.

Amanda Huffman19:07

Yeah, that would I recently interviewed Laura Colbert, and she was one of the first and after the infantry. And she wrote a book, the titles grown on me, but it's called Sirens, How to Pee Standing Up. And it's her journal entries from her whole time during the war. And it's really interesting to read from, she was a specialist. So a really lower enlisted person and what the missions they did and like the information they got and how they felt about the war, and so, yeah, so it's just interesting to hear the experiences from the people who are actually planning it or going overseas, and being part of it. And yeah, so that's really interesting.

Sarah Maples19:49

Yeah, and I think you know, that perspective is so different than mine. I mean, being at the air operation center, I had a big, much bigger picture of what was happening where the army was where the Marine Corps was, what was actually having happening on the ground, how we were supporting it from the air. And you know, that perspective is completely different than what she would have experienced as a specialist on the ground going in after that. So there's just so many different versions of participating in the same event that it's still fascinating to hear all the stories.

Amanda Huffman20:16

Yeah, that's probably why I have a podcast. There you go. All right. When you're in Saudi Arabia, what were you still like doing the planning and just like closer to the front lines and being ready for whatever came?

Sarah Maples20:30

I mean, you know, I, my mom was super stressed out about me being there. And I told her at the time, pretty much the only thing I had to worry about was there is no fresh fruit in the dining facility. I mean, it was pretty clear that Saddam Hussein was not going to be able to reach where it were. I was at Princeton airbase in Saudi and it was really more about hours worked, I think. I mean, I was supposed to work eight at night to four in the morning planning the air tasking order every day, but I don't think I work less than 12 hours and most days, I worked 1618 hours a day, and you didn't have days off. You just kept going. And, you know, I loved what I did, though. I mean, working I worked with pilots who were at the top of their field who are experts on their airframe. And, and I got to work with Brits, Ozzy's, you know all the different branches. So it was really, it was exciting. And also yet, you know, you had to just you're just working constantly, you didn't have time to really stop and be like, what am I What am I doing here? You just were doing it, but I wasn't stressed. I mean, we had to carry your gas mess around, I think for the first couple of days. And then after that, I think everybody just kind of gave up.

Amanda Huffman21:30

Yeah, that makes sense. That's really interesting. Because the more I've learned about like, the first Gulf War, and like, why we because I took a gas mask, like a whole MOPP gear to Afghanistan, and I shoved it under my bed. And I was like, why did they give this to me? And it wasn't until I started doing the podcast, I was like, oh, cuz that's like our history. And that's what we did. And so it's really interesting. Well, and

Sarah Maples21:51

You know, at the time, I don't want to say it was completely an unrealistic expectation. The individuals who were in Kuwait who are a little bit closer, were actually operating in full MOPP gear, and they were getting announcements that Scuds were being launched at them. So it wasn't completely unrealistic. We're just far enough away that most of us kind of figured, if it hit us, it would be pure luck and not the intent. And so our chances are pretty good, that wasn't going to happen. So I still think I carried my bag every day there and just shoved it in a corner and didn't worry about it. That's interesting. So

Amanda Huffman22:22

How much time was it between when you were in Saudi Arabia, and when you deployed to Afghanistan?

Sarah Maples22:27

Three years. So I came back from Saudi and in 2004, I went to Germany, I was assigned to the warrior preparation Center, where we did computer assisted exercises, helping prepare our troops to deploy as well as doing things like counter-narcotics exercises with NATO and other countries. And my role was to play opposing forces. So I got to play the enemy in the computer simulations, which was super fun. It was probably my favorite job on active duty. I did that for a year and a half. And then I was the commander's Executive Officer for six months, which was great, because I had a great boss, he was a 15 pilot who just like he and he, in the huge family man, he went home at six, and he would tell me, I was not allowed to leave later than seven, which is sort of unheard of as an executive officer. So it was great. And then after that, I went to the States, and was assigned to the Defense Language Institute. And I had been there maybe three weeks when they told me I was going to have to deploy to Afghanistan. And so I went to Afghanistan about a couple months after I got to, to deal I and then I was Afghanistan for six months.

Amanda Huffman23:25

Were you at DLI to learn a language?

Sarah Maples23:28

No. So they sent me to Afghanistan. And when I came back, I took over as the Associate Dean of middle school to which is one of the schools that teaches Arabic. So my job was I was second in command of the schoolhouse. And so I oversaw all the students staffing, multi-million dollar budget, facilities, discipline, I was the person that yelled at all the students and I did a good job to most of them would ask their instructors to please send them to their first sergeants instead of coming to see me. So I take a little pride in that.

Amanda Huffman23:55

That's pretty good. That's really good.

Sarah Maples23:57

Yeah, so I try not to be that all the time. But there were times when you just you know, you got to do it.

Amanda Huffman24:03

Yeah, that's so true. So let's backtrack. And then let's talk about your deployment to Afghanistan. Where were you? And what were you doing? 

Sarah Maples24:09

I was in Kabul at what was Camp Eggers, then it was shortly before they combined into ISAF. And so it was Combined Forces Command Afghanistan, I was in the J2, which is an Intel shop, I worked and produce Intel for the Three Star General who was in charge of all the forces in Afghanistan, and my role was to synthesize information and produce one or two-page notes on that information. You know, since generals are short on time, and generally short on patience, they just want to get to the point, so I got very good at getting them that information upfront.

Amanda Huffman24:40

And what year was that?

Sarah Maples24:41

2006. Yeah, it was actually at the beginning of the Taliban, actually going after Kabul pretty hard before then they hadn't really attacked it that much. And so it was pretty intense. not as intense as it would get but pretty intense there in 2006. 

Amanda Huffman24:56

I think it's interesting because if you depending on like, what time you went to Afghanistan It was really did go up and down because I was there in 2010. And I would say it was pretty safe, at least for I was ballgame got rocketed once a week, maybe. And I was at a tiny farm and we only got rocketed the one time in the nine months. And then I talked to someone who had less than three years later. And she said they got rocketed at Bagram like every single day and I was like, That's so crazy, because it's the same place and but a totally different experience.

Sarah Maples25:29

Yeah. And Kabul, I think everybody was pretty caught off guard. It was the first time they really started using suicide bombers there and planting IDs. And the IDS got really bad, certainly out by the airport and stuff. A lot of our contractors before used to enjoy that they could go places that we couldn't. And then as things went through that summer, they didn't even want to go out on the road. And there was actually I don't know if you've heard of Sergeant 1st Class, Meredith Howard. She was actually killed in Afghanistan in a traffic circle that I went through every day that I had been in shortly before the IED and she and Staff Sergeant Robert Paul were killed, as were a dozen Afghan civilians. And it was such a large explosion that left this giant crater that when our HUMINT Teams went out to look at it, they're just in shock, because it just wasn't anything that they'd really seen before and cobble.

Amanda Huffman26:16

Yeah, that's crazy. Wow. Yeah. Sounds really intense.

Sarah Maples26:21

Yeah, it was a...it's not my favorite vacation spot. Afghanistan. That's usually what I say there. 

Amanda Huffman26:26

Yeah, I mean, it's, it's the reality of war. And it's really, it's sometimes it's really, really scary. I said, we were relatively safe. But there are still times that I mean, we did get shot at. And so you know, those types of moments are scary.

Sarah Maples26:43

Yes. And I mean, we had, they tried to try to attack the base at one point. There was rioting in the streets. Then but I think actually, there were a lot of concerns, but also negligent discharges. I mean, we had some people fire 50 Cal on base accidentally. And you know, thankfully, nobody was hurt. Like you weren't safe on base you weren't safe off-base. Well, yes. So I actually made my mom promise to not watch the news. When I went to Afghanistan. I said she was so stressed out when I went to Saudi and I said I don't I'm not going to have time to contact you every single time there's an explosion somewhere in the country. I said, Unless someone comes up your front step and tells you I'm gone. Assume that I'm fine. Because, you know, it was just a realistic thing you have to do. Will you have to? You have to say no, I love you. Because you just don't know what's gonna happen.

Amanda Huffman27:29

Yeah, you're giving me chills? I'm like, remembering that, like conversation with my parents with my husband. And like, yeah, it's, I mean, you, I really thought when I went that I was coming back. And like, you kinda have to have that mentality to make it through the whole situation, you have to be ready for that. Because if I mean, it doesn't really matter if you're not if you die, but just like for your mental well being, you have to,

Sarah Maples27:55

Yeah, you just have to accept that that is a possibility. Because you just can't stress over it the entire time that you're there, you can't be so worried about what's going to happen because you have to do your job, and you can't get lazy about it. And you have to be able to pay attention and, but it's still this huge thing that you have to come to grips with. And I actually had a friend of mine who did something really wonderful for me before I left because I had to be strong this whole time. Like I was scared about going but my parents were scared. And I couldn't tell them. I was scared. Right? You know, I had to be strong for them. And my sister. And, you know, one of my friends who'd been deployed to Kosovo was like, Oh, you know, whatever. It's just another deployment. And it really wasn't, it was very different. And so I felt like I really couldn't talk to anyone. And one of my friends said, Sir, it's okay to be scared. And that was such a huge thing. To have somebody say it's okay. It's okay to be afraid that you might not make it home.

Amanda Huffman28:47

Yeah, I think the military is not good about letting us know that, like emotions are normal. And it's important to feel them and to have this facade like, I'm okay, everything's great. And like not actually feeling the emotion of being scared. It actually does more detriment than it does helpful. And so, yeah, that's that is really good advice, to be honest, and open. I listened to the military veteran dad podcast a lot. And it's for military dads, which is funny because I listen to a lot but he talks a lot about emotions and about how he said there's like an order for this and awkward for that. But there's no order for emotions, because the military kind of like you don't have emotions, which is the exact opposite of reality.

Sarah Maples29:34

Yeah, I think it's sort of a misinterpretation a lot of times of what you know, suck it up and drive on really means it's, you know, not that you shouldn't feel them. It's that there are going to be times where you have to do things that emotionally you're going to have to overcome before you can do it that but that's not the same as saying you don't have these emotions, and you shouldn't process these emotions. And I think as we have all seen there, that sort of emotions are bad, caused a lot of mental health issues. I mean, The veteran suicide rate, especially among women, veterans, I think is a big, that's a big part of that feeling like that's something that's, you're, you're weak to have emotions as opposed to your strong person, if you have them, and you still do what you need to do anyway. And there's value in talking about it and seeking out help to deal with these things. Because what the military puts you through is not your normal everyday and, and anybody whether it's military or otherwise, you have trauma, you should, you should talk about that those are not normal experiences. And it's perfectly fine to say, all right, I know I'm a strong person, but I can actually use some help in this instance. And I think we need to do a better job of that.

Amanda Huffman30:38

I agree. When I came home, I tried to get help. And the person who I talked to was like, you're fine. And it took years before I was brave enough to actually go back and get help again. And I just think like, What if she hadn't been? You're fine? What if she taken me seriously? And then like, let's get you set up with a counselor so that you can work through these issues. Instead, she's like, totally fine. You just got back from a deployment. And it just takes time to adjust. On one hand, yes, it does take time to adjust back to normal life. But if I'm in a counselor's office trying to get out, then there's probably more to it. And I'm probably not telling you everything at the first appointment, because I'm not, you know, I have my guard up. And so I really think there is a big people assume they assume because I was a woman that my deployment couldn't have been so bad. And it's like I was in convoys in Afghanistan. But she never found that out. She just assumed by the way I look. And it really, it took me years to deal with the PTSD and to find healing and to find hope. And it makes me sad, because I'm lucky that I was able to find that. But like so many people, like you said, they're not they're just brushed off, you're fine. And then and then suicide happens. And that's really sad.

Sarah Maples31:55

Yeah, I just, I think certainly if somebody asks for help, you should definitely give it but you also need to check in on people, even when they're not showing that they need help. I haven't actually talked about this before, but there a couple years ago, I was actually on a medication that actually was making me suicidal. And I think I have worked in the VA Office of suicide prevention before that. And so I kind of knew the statistics. And I also knew some of the things that led to it. And, and I also knew that it wasn't anything that I should be embarrassed about. And so I reached out to my network, and they were, my network was amazing, they made sure that they were always checking on me, and that they were always making sure. And eventually I figured out what it was that was causing that. And I stopped taking the medication. And within two weeks, I was back to being my emotionally resilient self. But you know, it could be medication, of course, veterans have chronic health issues, they they have pain issues, they have all these things, the loss of identity, when you transition, there are all these key pieces that actually add into that. And the number one thing is to know that that's a normal thing. And that if you have a network that cares about you, and you should, but if you don't call me, it's okay to talk about it. It's okay to reach out and say, I know I can usually handle this, but I can't today.

Amanda Huffman33:04

That's such good advice. And I keep chills again. I agree. And I think for me, one of the biggest not I don't know if it's a mistake, but it was just I got my husband's still in the military. And so I transitioned to the role of military spouse, and I kind of was like, I'm a military spouse, I'm a veteran, I guess. But I didn't get involved in the veteran community, because I didn't think I was welcome there. And I didn't realize that my stereotype of what the veteran community was, was not even close to what the reality was. And like, I didn't know about women, veteran organizations, I'm not sure if they because I know about them now. But I don't know if they existed when I left. And I also know that the veteran landscape has changed a lot. But the veteran community is your biggest ally, you just have to get connected with the right people. because like you said, you need to talk about those things. And like, that's why I have podcast because I get thing with women, you know, all the time. And it's just it's so healing to like, hear your story and hear other women's stories and be like, Oh, I'm normal. I'm not the only one. Yeah,

Sarah Maples34:13

I mean, there's so many advantages. I joke and say that the military community is actually the military alumni organization, right? Like we all went through something that other people did not. And we have that connectivity. And to this day, I've been out of the military a long time. I'm an old lady, and I still meet people and we that connection of having served especially with other women veterans is instantaneous, we automatically have something in common and we're more likely to help each other out whether that's finding employment or giving them a helping hand if somebody's having a rough day, or talking about their book on the blog and then having them on the podcast, right? Like it just is this wonderful community that we have earned admission to and that we should not be afraid to take advantage of but like you I got out and I was a military spouse. I'm not married anymore, but I was a military spouse for a while and I had a really difficult With that challenge and of my identity, and where did it fit in? And how did I redefine myself and, and that was a hard stage too. So I get that.

Amanda Huffman35:08

Yeah, it's a really hard stage. And I think people are starting to talk about it. But for a long time, no one ever talked about the struggle of being a veteran who is also a military spouse and how you fit in because that's like the connection piece. You said, like between women veterans, like that is so strong. But in military spouse groups, you don't have a close enough, same experience. You have similarities, but your life is so different, because it's just so different than being deployed to Afghanistan and like, going through boot camp, like everybody does certain things in the military. And so I think that's like one of the hardest part is military spouses are a great community. I'm, I'm actively involved in there. But it's not the same kind of like, instant connection that you get between other women that are, and I think that's really hard.

Sarah Maples36:09

So there were a lot of experiences where I got out and go to events with my then husband, and I would want to talk to the other veterans, because those are the people that I had connections with. And they were I was, I was no longer that person in their perspective, like I was an attachment to him, I wasn't my own identity. And my service was often just disregarded, we actually got introduced to this older couple at one point that live next to us. And my ex husband was telling them about what he did in the military, and then mentioned that I had been in the military too. And the, like, the guy was, like, just gave me this look like I had, you know, tricked my ex husband into marrying me and whatever. And I said, No, I was an intelligence officer. And he looked at me, and he said, they let women be officers. And I was like, what rock are you living under? Yes. And I went to Afghanistan. And I actually, you know, there was gunfire, and people were blown up, like I wasn't sitting there, just, you know, and let me qualify and say, there's nothing wrong if you didn't deploy either. But the assumption that I wouldn't have done any of the same things that my ex husband did, because I was a woman is so detrimental to the identity of women who get out of the service. But that has to be mentioned, because it happens to us so frequently.

Amanda Huffman37:38

Yeah. And I think the best people to talk about it are military spouses who are veterans because we it's not in our head, like it happens if you're just not just a veteran, but you know what I mean, like if you're a woman veteran, and you're not standing next to your husband, who's getting like, all these questions asked him, and you're getting ignored. And then I think that's why I think we need to be so vocal about it, because we experience it. And it's not something where it's like, oh, well, you're just, you're just sensitive, or you're just, it's like, No, I'm like standing next to a male. And they're asking him questions. And they're not asking me because they assume they know what my story is. Because I'm a woman who served in the military, and they know what women do. And like, I don't even know how that's possible. But that is the stereotype of like, how it is. 

Sarah Maples38:27

And that just the assumption that we obviously couldn't have anything to say. And it's not even that they're just asking the man the questions, like they're asking them with, like the sense of awe, and you know, reverence for what they accomplished. And you're like, Hello, I did this, too. And I did it in a lot of cases as the only woman to do it, or the first woman to do it. And they, it's like, they can't even process that. So like, even if you say to them, you know, I did that too. There's this look of like deer in the headlights, and then they change the topic. Because rather than actually talk to you about it and learn about your experience, they just can't process that women did these things. And so they just cut off the conversation. And it's so disappointing. I think it's why it's so great that there are things like your podcast and these other avenues now for women veterans to actually be like, Hey, your service matters.

Amanda Huffman39:16

Yes, so true. Obviously, I'm passionate because I'm like a radical. But I, I really agree. I think it's so important that we talk about it, and that and I'm kind of I'm super vocal about Obviously, I'm super vocal about being a woman veteran, and it still happens to me and my husband's really good, because he'll be like, No, no, you have to listen to her. Because like, he knows I'll speak up and like, I think that's one of like, the best parts of like, my husband can be like, No, you stop asking your questions. Listen to her story. She deployed Afghanistan. She got shy, you need to hear her story and his story is so different than mine. And so I gave him a lot of credit for being like, no asking me questions, you need to talk to her because I tell him like how much it bothers me, but then he's actually taking action to help be part of the change. And that that really helps.

Sarah Maples40:10

That's a good man. That's a good man. And I think, in the last couple of years, we've seen a lot more male veterans become allies, for women veterans and do that same kind of thing and be like, No, she did this. And you really need to listen to her story. And I think that actually is so important. One of the other things that I do now is a president of the local women in defense chapter. And we get questions all the time about can you can can I, you know, well, that's for women. I'm like, it's really not, it's about women. It's focused on women, but it's not for women. And you act, we actually need men to come and help to, for us to accomplish our goals and to recognize what's happening. So I think that having male allies is certainly a critical piece, especially at this stage of getting recognition for what we did.

Amanda Huffman40:51

Yeah, I heard a I went to a woman veteran talk, and she talked about how to change the culture, you have to have 30% of the people believing it. And especially in the military population, where we don't have 30%. So like, we can't change the culture, even if like every woman was on the same side, we all wanted the same thing. And we advocated together, we wouldn't be able to change the culture. So the male veteran allies are so important. And that's one of the things that I was really surprised when I started the podcast, because men do reach out to me, and they're like, I'm so glad you have this podcast. And I love hearing the stories of women and like, I served with these amazing women. So I'm so glad I was like, oh, okay, like, but it was true. Like, we need those male veterans, and they are out there. And they really are for us. And they're doing so much good. And we we really appreciate them.

Sarah Maples41:41

Absolutely, totally agree.

Amanda Huffman41:43

So I wanted to talk a little bit about your transition out of the military. We talked a little bit about what you're doing now. But and we talked about your transition a little bit about being a military spouse, but why did you decide to get out of the military? Oh, that's

Sarah Maples41:57

such a complicated question. So I made the decision when I was in Afghanistan, and it was a combination of factors. So to start with the military was offering voluntary separation pay. And initially, I was like, I'm not taking that. Like, I didn't love being an intelligence officer. But I loved being an officer, I loved helping my airman and getting them where they want it to be, and having the ability to fix things for them. But I started looking at the numbers. And I was like, we're at the height of two wars, and you're getting rid of how many Intel officers. And so I was afraid that there would be stoploss if I didn't take the money. And then on top of that, I was supposed to be listed as a non volunteer when I went to Afghanistan, because I wasn't supposed to deploy until the following year. And the deployment manager told me when I was in Afghanistan, that my commander had actually listed me as a volunteer on my deployment to Afghanistan, and already had me slotted for another deployment six months after I got back. And then I got tired of having to, to fight two wars, to fight against Taliban and Al Qaeda, and also to deal with harassment, or having to constantly prove that I was as good as my male counterparts. And then finally, I'd met a guy and I was like, You know what, I want to be a mom, which didn't happen, unfortunately. And I wanted to be a wife, which I was no not. And so I was like, there's more experiences that I want to have other than the military. And so those kinds of things all kind of combined together. And I just said, it's time to go. So I dropped my paperwork and and then came back and left in September of 2007.

Amanda Huffman43:19

Yeah, lots of factors makes a lot of sense. Especially the you're deployed, and then they were gonna deploy again. 

Sarah Maples43:28

Yeah well, and that would have even been bad if they hadn't lied to me. So like it, you know, that's their, their integrity. First is the first core value of the Air Force. And there are certain things that you believe in when you were a military member. And you know, I think at some point, if you get disillusioned, it's really hard to keep doing what you're doing. It's really hard to keep going to combat zones if you just don't believe in what you're doing. And there's just too many things coming together that just said, it's time to go do something else.

Amanda Huffman43:52

So let's talk a little bit about your blog and what you're doing today. As we wrap this up,

Sarah Maples43:57

Yeah, so it took me a while I did a lot of different things. After I left the military, including serving as national security and Foreign Affairs Director for VFW is the first woman to do that, which was an amazing experience. But then I went back to what I really want to be doing, which is helping vets and writing as well. And so I am the founder of the Veterans Resource blog after the DD 214, which offers transition tips, interviews and book reviews of books by for and about veterans. I am also a freelance writer, editor and writing coach. So I help Of course, veterans, but also others learn the skills to get their point across the way I had to learn when I was an intelligence officer. So that's what I do.

Amanda Huffman44:34

That's awesome. Yeah. Thank you so much. I really have enjoyed learning a little bit about your story. And then just hearing about your experience. I think you brought up so many good points, and you may get so many chills. So I guess it resonated with me. 

Sarah Maples44:50

Well I have a little bit of practice being a storyteller. So that's glad glad glad I've showed that I could do that. And I appreciate the opportunity. I mean, I know we've been in contact for a while and I've listened to a lot Have your podcast episodes. And I think what you're doing is so important and I am delighted you let me be a part of it. I always forget I'm so that what advice would you give to women who are joining the military, I would say, it's going to be the best of times. And the worst of times, you're going to do things that are great, you're going to do things that aren't great. But if I had to look back at my adult life and put my finger on the one thing that's had the biggest impact on shaping it, it would be the military. And I wouldn't trade it for anything, no matter what what happened, or even deployments, Afghans in it, all of it together is the most exhilarating and exciting things and showed me so much about how much I am capable of and introduced me to the most amazing women ever in my life, who were still some of my very best friends and I but I would also say just, you know, do your homework and be prepared. There are so many other women who like, you know, the two of us who've gone before and are eat now much more easy to find than they used to be and can give advice on which branch or you know, which career field or how to deal with a guy who doesn't think you should be there. And so, you know, go for it, but you know, be prepared.

Amanda Huffman46:06

Yeah. And speaking of that, I have a girl's guide to the military on my website. So if you're thinking about joining the military, and you want some advice, you can check that out and then you can always email me or you can email Sarah because we're both willing to talk to you. So thank you so much. I really appreciated your time.

Sarah Maples46:24

Thanks for having me, Amanda.

Amanda Huffman46:25

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