Women of the Military

From Women's Army Corps to Operation Desert Storm

Episode Summary

Penny Lee Deere began her military service in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and served in Desert Storm/Desert Shield. Her career spans 20 years, from 1975 -1995. It was interesting to hear her experience having begun her service as part of the WAC and then transferring over to the US Army in 1978. She also shared a number of stories of her time during Desert Storm. The interview ended with her sharing about the work she does to give back to Veterans and how it helped her in her healing journey. Currently, she resides in Albany NY. She credits “the Arts”, as saving her life. She is a multi-media artist, writer, and photographer. You can learn more about her at mindbodysoulbypenny.com.

Episode Notes

This episode is sponsored by Blue Star Families. The Military Family Lifestyle Survey is open until June 6th, 2021. Head over to BlueStarFam.org/survey2021 to take the survey today. You could win one of five $100 gift cards. 

Penny Lee Deere began her military service in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and served in Desert Storm/Desert Shield. Her career spans 20 years, from 1975 -1995. It was interesting to hear her experience having begun her service as part of the WAC and then transferring over to the US Army in 1978. She also shared a number of stories of her time during Desert Storm. The interview ended with her sharing about the work she does to give back to Veterans and how it helped her in her healing journey.

Currently, she resides in Albany NY. She credits “the Arts”, as saving her life. She is a multi-media artist, writer, and photographer. You can learn more about her at mindbodysoulbypenny.com.

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From Women's Army Corps to Operation Desert Storm

Penny graduated from a class of thirty-six and was told she was not college material. With the other option of becoming a farmer's wife, she decided to join the military with the plan that if she joined the military she would serve for twenty years. Initially, she looked into the Marine Corps but picked the Army instead. She began her career in the Women's Army Corps and was one of the first women platoons to have a male drill instructor as integration was beginning. In 1978, the Women Army Corps disbanded and she became a member of the US Army.

She spent twelve years of her twenty-year career overseas in Germany and she started her career as a Postmaster and then transferred to become an Army Intel Analyst to help ensure she would get promoted. She ended up getting promoted from her previous job while she was at training to become an Intel Analyst but she was excited about the change in careers.

Desert Storm

She was in Germany when Iraq invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990 and they began preparing to deploy for Desert Shield. All the paperwork and arrangements were in place. She was a single mom and her children 4 and 7 were set to fly back to the states when she deployed. She ended up leaving for Desert Shield in November and came home in May. One story she told was she remembers getting to talk to her daughter once. Her daughter had seen the announcement on the television that the war was over. And she wanted to know when her mom was coming home. It was a challenge to be separated from her children but she was thankful for her parent's support.

She shared some memories from her deployment as well. She talks about a story of getting lost in the blackout Forward Operating Base and deciding to stop and sleep in the next open tent she found. It happened to be the Dining Facility and the cooks didn't understand why she was there are 4 am. She also talked about an incident in guard duty that almost led to a friendly fire incident.

After the war

The military downsized after Desert Storm and she helped her unit close up the base she was at in Germany and then went to Georgia where her unit had been reassigned. She left the military after twenty years of service in 1995 but did not identify as a veteran. She went to the VA in 2003 to get help for some of the medical/mental issues she was dealing with. And through that slowly became part of the veteran community. She used art to help her find healing and then the VA closed the programs. She went to the local American Legion asking for space to hold an art class. They gave her space and then when they saw she was doing added her program to their chapter.

Giving back through art

She continues to work to help other veterans through Art. With COVID they began working through zoom to share different stories verbally. And this summer Art from her post is going to be displayed at the Women Memorial in DC.

Connect with Penny:


Mentioned in this Episode:

Help Heal Veterans

Related Podcast Episodes:

Advocacy with MOAA

Serving during Desert Storm - Episode 57

The Challenges Faced by Single Moms - Episode 46

Check out the full transcript here.  

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Episode Transcription

Amanda Huffman00:00

Welcome to Episode 134 of the women on the military podcast. This week my guest is Penny Lee. Penny began her military service in the women Army Corps and served in Desert Storm slash Desert Shield. Her career spanned 20 years from 1975 to 1995. In this interview, we talked about her experience in the military and how it started in the woman's Army Corps and then how things change when she became part of the US Army in 1978. She talked about being a single mom during Desert Storm and living in Germany and how they had a plan for what happened when she activated to deploy and her kids flew home to stay with her parents. She also talked about her work she is doing now as a veteran. She credits the arts as saving her life. She is a multimedia artists, writer and photographer. She is a licensed massage therapists and uses alternative therapy and her own path of recovery and sharing these benefits with others on her website, mind body soul by Penny calm. This is a great interview because it covers a lot of different aspects of military history that often aren't talked about. So I really hope you enjoy this interview and 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 service members. I'm Amanda Huffman, I am an Air Force veteran military spouse and Mom, I Korean women in 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. Thanks to Blue Star Families for sponsoring this week's episode of Blue Star Families 2021 military family lifestyle survey is officially open via voice for your community help Blue Star family show what military veteran and National Guard Reserve families like yours need to thrive. The survey findings offer insight and data which will inform national leaders local communities and decision makers who have the power to advocate for you. And drive reform visit Blue Star fam.org slash survey 2021. To learn more, and take the survey. But hurry the survey closes on June 6. In addition to telling your story to bring about positive change for your family and other military connected individuals, you'll have a chance to win one of five $100 gift cards. So head over to Blue Star fam.org slash survey 2021 today to take the survey and to share your voice. And now let's get started with this week's interview with Penny Lee. Welcome to the show. Penny. I'm excited to have you here.


Penny Deere03:12

Hello there. I'm glad to be here this morning.


Amanda Huffman03:14

So let's start with why did you decide to join the military?


Penny Deere03:19

Well, there's actually a couple of reasons. I grew up in upstate New York. And it was a very small town, I was actually told that I wasn't really college material. So I was going to business school. That was the only two options at the time in 1975. The other thing was say if during that time frame, if you were actually there was a lot of farming communities. And perhaps if I was to stay there, I might end up married to a farmer. And a selection was 36 people in our graduating class. And I didn't necessarily see any potential in those people to marry and have 10 children and look like an old lady by the time I'm 39. But the other thing is I kind of wanted to join the Peace Corps, and not sure why I didn't. So I looked into the Marine Corps, basically, because I liked their uniforms, you know, very smart looking and whatever. Then I said, You're not strong enough to be a Marine, you better go in the Army. So I do I still do this talking to myself and talking myself out of it all the time. Anyways, I was hoping that there was something more other than my little town. So I wanted to see the world basically, and do some traveling. And the only thing once I decided that this would be my choice. I knew when I left at 19 that I would not be back for 20 years. That's what I set out to do. And that's what I really did. I retired at 39.


Amanda Huffman04:39

So you knew from the beginning that you were going to stay in for the 20 years. Yes, correct. So you ended up joining the army and what was basic training like


Penny Deere04:48

My army was the Women's Army Corps. So during that timeframe, it was completely segregated. We were women only and I went to Fort Jackson, South Carolina. So back During that time period, right at the end of the Vietnam era, you were not allowed to be married. If you had children, you actually had to relinquish their guardianship while you were gone at least. And you weren't allowed to be pregnant for sure. That would be a dishonorable discharge. And you were allowed to have children. So back to basic training, Fort Jackson, South Carolina. And so we were Women's Army Corps, and we were one of the first women to have a male drill sergeant, they were trying to transition us into the regular army. And the way they started was having our drill sergeant be a male, and it worked out good. It was totally different than, like, we could see other platoons that had the women Jo sergeants, and they looked mean to me, you know what I mean? I didn't, I was glad I had Sergeant gates that shirt. So I tell a cute little story that if we were doing well, we were sweet piece. And if we weren't doing our best, or we had to do push ups or whatever, we were hamburger heads, so you know all a person and going on it. But people have since done, we didn't have to put up with. It's also a very different atmosphere. We were basically young ladies, we were either in the admin field or nurses, we dret we were always in dress uniform. Yes, we went to the range. Yes, we fired our weapons, we did all those kinds of things. Only there was like etiquette classes, there was standard high standards. And you were a young lady. I think the basic training was eight weeks, we did women's pushups, meaning we were on our knees, and then we only did the other. Now that would all change. The Women's Army Corps was disbanded in 1978. So three years I was Women's Army Corps. And then they actually gave me the option of getting out because my contract was for a Women's Army Corps. And I became part of the United States Army. And so they gave me an option of changing my contract or getting out, if any, if I wanted to. And this will come into play again. When I get married. They offered to let me out they offered again. Because because they didn't know what to do with us truthfully, we weren't allowed to be married. Now we are we weren't allowed to have children. Now we are. So every time they had to change the contract or give me an option of getting out. I said, What's the matter with you people? Don't you want me here?


Amanda Huffman07:17

So the first three years you were in the Women's Army Corps, and then they disbanded that and then you decided to join the army? and extend your time? What was the main difference between being in the Women's Army Corps and being an army? Or was it just a title thing that made a difference?


Penny Deere07:34

No, it makes a big difference. Well, like I said, Now you can have children, you can get married, you're you're treated equally. No more women push ups, there were men push ups. So you had the same exact standards. We actually when they first did this, we were in CO Ed dorms. So for instance, my first duty station will go back to it. But my first duty station was first Armored Division. That's tanks. Okay, so women, and that that period, you we weren't by it. We weren't driving tanks. But I worked for the post office and the first time or division. So there was one wing of our building. So there was 20 females, for however many I really should look this up, I tell the story about 10,000 men, okay, but there was only 20 of 20 of us in in one wing. But we were really COVID the whole barracks was all men, literally, like we were walking down the hall to take the showers. And there right there to you know, the it's totally different from what I signed up for it. So I just became one of the team, just as you would talk to any other you know, the reason soldiers or whatever and they progress. Everything's steadily you know, you more fields are opening up now. So when I first joined, I was in the post office. So my advanced training was at for Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, and that's where my postal school was. And so the interesting thing about that is if I was overseas, and I spent a lot of time overseas out of my 2012 out of 20 years was overseas. If I was overseas, I worked at the post office, because they have their own army post offices. But if I was stateside, I became an admin kind of person admin specialist. And but I had an identifier as the postal clerk. So you know, you had your regular job, and then you took care of the mail. So that kind of breaks it up so that you're not doing the same thing over and over again. And I did that for 10 years, and then I switch to military intelligence.


Amanda Huffman09:30

So let's talk about the 10 years that you were doing the post office duties and were there any memories or challenges from that first 10 years? I think it's really interesting that you were there during the switch.


Penny Deere09:43

Not only that I was there during the it my my career. I went from the end of Vietnam during the Cold War I watched the all the Soviet us disbanded. I'm kind of like a living fossil and then I went to Desert Storm and yeah, so I think I have Have an interesting story. Okay, so back to the post office. So the first one is Germany, it was the headquarters for first Armored Division. The interesting thing about being in the post office was, by the time I was done with my first 10 years, I had the same designation as a postmaster. By the time I could run every aspect of a post office, back then in Germany, everything was paid by money order, and you went to pay call, like, you had to actually go and see the the officer to get paid that day. And then they all came to the post office to pay their bills, the JC Penney, Bill, every everything there rent, everything. And so I did 1000s and 1000s of money orders like $10,000 a day during the payday, I don't know if they still do it, but we got paid twice a month, some people could do mid mid month. And anyway, so that's a very busy time of the year. The other thing is the Germany, it's very popular, but they you can get back then it was very cheap to buy electronic equipment, like Bose speakers are huge that would normally cost you 1000s and 1000s of dollars, you could buy them tax free in the PX and they would ship them home. So that was you know, a lot of stuff like that. And then the cuckoo clocks, things like that. So the basically is the post office is very important, at least back then to get communications back and forth to folks. And my mind really works in a very strange way. I could probably tell you the zip codes of the things I used to pitch mail in 1975 is strange, like, who cares, right? But anyway.


Amanda Huffman11:34

But, it was your job. And you you just you memorize it, and you know it. And so yeah, that's really interesting. I think sometimes we forget, like how much technology's changed in such a short period of time and how the post office was critical, especially when you were overseas. And now you have I think the post office still critical when you're overseas more than like stateside, but you have like electronic banking and a lot of different things that make it a really a different, a different experience.



Yeah, if you got care packages that would take like three or four weeks to get there because it came by boat, that kind of thing. Your cookies are stale by the time you get them.


Amanda Huffman12:12

Technology has changed so much. It's so crazy. Why did you decide to switch from being a postman, to doing Intel?



Basically, I couldn't get promoted. So I was at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, which is the home of the Intel school. And there, I was much older, and I was putting together their promotion packets for these intelligence folks. And I was getting them promoted, because I knew how to, you know, put everything together for them. And I said, this is pretty stupid. And the reason I wasn't getting promoted is it has to do with supply and demand. You know, they had enough post office before they had enough admin people. And so you had to wait for scores to drop. And they really did. So the idea was for me to transfer and then I would automatically get promoted, because I changed to intelligence. Interesting enough, the score is dropped while I was in the intelligence school, and I actually got promoted as a admin specialist. But it did it needed to be done. Because you would come to a point in in the army that if you didn't make a certain rank, they would kick you out. And it was it was my fault. It was it was almost like a forced, you better do this, you're not gonna be able to stay in kind of thing. And I was right at Fort Huachuca. So I just went to school right there.


Amanda Huffman13:24

Yeah. So you're like, I'm already here, this job. Sounds interesting. And I'll get promoted.


Penny Deere13:31

The hardest part I have the switching over was the folks that I was in charge of, because of my rank knew more than I did, because they had been in the field for say, three or four years, as long as I was doing management stuff. But if I had to figure out what was on the battlefield, I was little, you know, I had to catch up fast.


Amanda Huffman13:47

Yeah, that makes sense. So you knew the like management side, because that's what you have been doing. But then like all the Intel ins and outs of the job, you didn't have that time to learn the hands on and you were kind of put, yeah, that makes sense. So you worked really hard and were able to get caught up to speed and what were you doing as a military intelligence operatives, is it operative?


Penny Deere14:11

It was an intelligence analysts. And so I took all the information and put it like a puzzle together. So different different forms of intelligence, provide information to me, and then based on that, I figure out what's really going on. So in my case, I told you I was part of the Cold War. So I was located in Stuttgart, Germany, and we would watch the Soviets were actually stationed in in Czechoslovakia at the time, East Germany, Poland, they were all the Soviets were still there from World War Two where they occupied it and they stayed there, right. But anyway, so with solidarity, and they first took Poland was the first to declare democracy and particularly the rights so the Soviets finally moved out of there and then it was like a domino effect where all these the Warsaw packs, you know, ended up disbanding. And then it was back to this is part of your history for the little people, right? USSR, so it was Mother Russia, but there was 19 other satellites, Bella Bruce and Ukraine. there was all kinds of other countries, USSR united Soviet Socialist Republic. So they're all communists, but anyway, they would steadily break off to. So now you we talk about Russia, but Russia is only one country of what it used to be. So my job was to watch them disband. And when they said that they were going to dismantle like, nuclear weapons or or all these delivery systems. For instance, a perfect example was a tank, they took off the turret of the tank and made it a tractor. So one of our jobs was, at some point, do they put the turrets back on and now you have a tank again? So it was our job to watch make sure or if they're playing war games are they're really playing war games, are they trying to build up? And so what what I find very interesting now is, it's hard to turn off. I've been retired for like, 25 years. And when I see things happening, I would say something like, we really need to be looking at this little train and exercise here. You know, things like that. So it was interesting time.


Amanda Huffman16:23

Yeah, cuz you were programmed to think that way. And


Penny Deere16:26

I was there when the fall of the wall in 1989. And then they switch the enemy just like that. Rather, it all happened. But in 1998, Iraq invaded Kuwait. And then we went to Desert Storm and Desert Shield. So interesting story. The hip and a hind is of Soviet helicopter. Okay, so that's full, you got friendly and foes, right. So we're taught that a hip is a bad helicopter. Well, I'm over in Desert Storm Desert Shield, and we have these big berms these pile of dirt, and I hit comes across the berm. Well, the Soviets had sold it to the Egyptians, so don't shoot down that hit. They really literally chased everything IV and the terrain, for instance, I'm living in upstate New York, and Germany has a lot of like that, that you know, very green, where you go to the desert, there's nothing there. It's sand. There's, there's no terrain, it's like, you have to shoot it asmus just to know where you're going and hope that you get there to include the toilet, you shouldn't ask.


Amanda Huffman17:28

There is nothing out there. It's hot. They're saying everywhere. So let's talk about your deployment. How did you get activated to the port not activated as in like National Guard, but like, how did that process go? When you found out you were gonna go to Iraq and and all that stuff that happened? Well, the


Penny Deere17:47

first thing we did was being an intelligence, we knew immediately that Kuwait had been invaded. And I want to say August, basically, we got notification that we would be deploying or get ready to deploy. So we will go to a briefing, and then we had to learn all about how their culture is different. When we first got there. We weren't allowed to drive they wanted us to wear that. I don't know, covering, I forget what it's called. But anyway, they literally wanted the female soldiers to be covered up and not for us to drive our own vehicles. And the military, God had to tell him, this is their soldiers. You know, there was a lot of prep. But one of the things in training is you prepare for it all the time. Like you really have a go bag at any time. So you might go to work one day, and we did alerts in Germany, where literally, when you dropped your kids off at the babysitter, you really didn't know if you were getting on a plane or not. They we prepped for it, I guess. So the kinds of things that were already in place was we had privately owned vehicles, so they knew that it was supposed to be shipped back to the states or your children. There was already power of attorney is in place and what was supposed to happen to those children. So we basically were trained for it all and it all got implemented. So my two children, four and seven years old, went to my mother's house in upstate New York from November till I left in May, and then they finished their school year and then we got them back to a system. And after Desert Storm. It turned out that seventh corps headquarters is where I worked in Stuttgart and because they were starting to downsize so we we literally closed up the barracks. That was my job before we left and just wipe it all out and gave it back to the Germans that were taken from them back in 1945. So it's it's circle. Huge circle.


Amanda Huffman19:35

Yeah, that's crazy. So you guys were you found out in like August the invasion happened. And then


Penny Deere19:43

by Thanksgiving,


Amanda Huffman19:44

and you guys started to like practice, which is what the military does. You had all the paperwork and all the were you married at the time, a single parent,


Penny Deere19:53

which was it that's really tough to do on a service. You know, dropping the kids off at daycare at all costs. All kinds of hours. And that's actually how I I don't know at what point you want to talk about that. But I actually opened a daycare for military folks. Because when you drop off the children on post six o'clock in the morning zero Leah said, you have to pick them up by 6pm. Well, the army doesn't work like that. So I literally when I got out of the service, I opened a daycare 24 hours to accommodate them.


Amanda Huffman20:23

That is a an important aspect that I don't think people realize, especially with exercises, and ramping and all that stuff, there is no nine to five. And I recently talked to someone and she was talking about how now that she's a mom, she has a lot more empathy for the parents that she had when she was young lieutenant. And she was like, Why? What do you mean, you have to go get your kids, a lot of dual military or single parent families and like how they have to try and work around the limitations of the childcare,


Penny Deere20:54

I paid an astronomical amount of money on daycare, you know, not that they didn't deserve it, but you have a child for 24 hours. So anyway, that's what I did.


Amanda Huffman21:03

So your kids went back home, back to the States, how did they get to the states from Germany?


Penny Deere21:10

At the time, you could fly unacompanied, so when she was four, she must have just made they might have made special arrangements because of the war. But my my son had been flying back. We used to spend the summers, so it was kind of like just another week, we just stayed longer, but so they did on a company. I would be scared to death to do that now to send your kid unaccompanied on an aeroplane. But they did. Yep. So like the stewardess is kind of keep track of them. And, and they picked him up from, yeah.


Amanda Huffman21:38

That's crazy. That's crazy. But that's, I mean, that's so cool. Like everything was planned out even to the like detail of like, Mom doesn't get you you're going to the airport and go into grandma and grandpa's.


Penny Deere21:52

Right. Right. Right. So an interesting story that I remember from my daughter's Now remember, we don't have cell phones. My son and daughter are watching on the TV that the war is over in February. Right? It was it was six weeks long. And then they are strike three days from ground war. And then it was all over. So my daughter finally got to it was a Mar system like some kind of electronic, you got on a radio and they connected you somehow like a CB radio kind of thing. But anyway, I talked to her. And she said, Mom, the war is over. When are you coming home? Well, I never came home until May. So it was first in first out, you know? So the Marines were there first, they got to get home first things like that. So how do you tell a 44 year old she didn't understand that one of the neat things I have is my mother made them at the time write in journals. That's how they wrote to me. They wrote in a journal where the letter really didn't come to me at the time, but I have it now I have their little handwriting's and I have their stories of everyday stuff. One of the things they did do is, we both did those little cassette players that kind of looks like a phone now. But their little cassette players, and so they could talk to me, like it might be three or four weeks old, but I hear their little voices and vice versa, I would send it back. And the neat thing about that is my parents would share these tapes with other like the people in hometown, so they knew what it was like sitting in a berm at night with guard duty and, and living it with me.


Amanda Huffman 23:23

That's really cool history, especially the letters from your children and a journal that is so cool. And I don't know if you know that April is the month of military child, you should totally write about that or share it. 


Penny Deere23:37

That's a good idea. That's a good I'm, I also have so I I would write people back and forth friends and stuff. They saved my letters, and gave them back to me. Like 2025 years later, I was like, Who would have thought, right?


Amanda Huffman23:51

That's interesting. I have all my letters that I got when I was supplied. But no one's ever given me. Except for my husband. I have all the letters I sent him. So I actually have one on my desk right now.


Penny Deere24:02

Yep. So So I have the postcards that I sent my kids. You know, my parents have since died, and I got them all.


Amanda Huffman24:09

Very cool. That is really cool. That's really cool history. That's amazing. It would be so cool to hear from like a foreign seven year old whose mom's overseas and what they think and I think there's a lot of stuff that adults do for the month of the military child. And sometimes we forget about like, the kids have stories too.


Penny Deere24:30

Well, my daughter is 34 and born in 84 whatever that makes her. She just has a three year old now. But she was in the army she and she married an Air Force and she got out because she wanted to have children and she didn't want to leave them behind. So it does affect them. And but it's it's interesting to hear her perspective, what she thought or her perception of how things were or my perceptions and they definitely don't match it, you know, like or she'll tell me how something hurt her and I didn't even get the idea. It was even a concern, or I'm thoroughly exhausted, right from work, and then I just want to collapse. And so who's really playing mommy here? You know? 


Amanda Huffman25:08

Yeah, that sounds really interesting. So you guys finally got reunited. And you were closing up the base because the army was downsizing at the end of the war. And then did you come back to the states to finish out your last few years?


Penny Deere25:23

Yes. So I did 12 years in Germany out of 20 and four different locations. So it wasn't all at once. And the four different places in the states and Desert Storm was Saudi Arabia. So basically, when I came back, by that time, I'd already been to Fort Belvoir, Virginia. That's where I had my first son, and then I went to Germany and then back to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. And then this is interesting that so it was the 515 5/13 EMI brigade and the whole brigade packed up. So 1000 people moved to Fort Gordon, Georgia, we and we kind of invaded Augusta, Georgia, the whole brigade. So all these people were to find housing and, and you know, all the family members and stuff like that. So that's unusual for the whole unit to go. 


Amanda Huffman26:14

Yeah, talk about a housing crisis. There's no houses all these people.


Penny Deere26:20

They had to build a lot. Let me see. So I've been at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, Fort Belvoir, Virginia. And I lived right outside of Monaco, in Dumfries and then Stuttgart, perma sauce, why broken and azabache Germany, the desert and the desert, close to half are bought.


Amanda Huffman26:39

So that's so crazy. That's such a cool, I just think it's so cool, because I don't get to talk to a lot of Desert Storm veterans about their experience and the fact that your time went from the whap to the regular army through the Cold War, and then desert stores. That's a really cool history of time, where a lot of people think it's like, oh, it's just peacetime but it wasn't like close to peace time.


Penny Deere27:06

It was just different types of got out in 95. So 75 to 95. Do you want to hear a little bit more about the desert or?


Amanda Huffman27:13

Yeah, let's talk more about your deployment.


Penny Deere27:15

It's really hard to explain these berms that it's I want to say they're about 40 feet high, it's a pile of sand. And then you would put one berm inside of another berm inside of another berm. So it's kind of like, and then you had this great big berm on the outside. So I would live in a tent in one of these facilities, but like a and when one of the berms, but you had to find this hole to go through, okay. And then if you didn't find, and then you'd have to go to my workstation, wherever that is, and I had a shift from noon to midnight. And like I told you the back, like when you went to the bathroom, you had to shoot in asmus and find what you're looking for the latrines where we we actually burned our own feces, that kind of thing. But anyway, and like discipline, you can't use any light, you just have to, you know, hope that you find where you're going to include going home. And so I spent one of the one of the things that story that I tell is when I got something went wrong, I didn't find the right place to get into the next berm and I would wander around and it was getting to be like four o'clock in the morning, I got off at midnight and I couldn't find my way home. And then I came across artillery. So I'm on the outside of the barn. They're the ones protecting us. I went oh, this is this is nuts. I'm gonna get myself killed out here because I'm they're gonna think I'm the enemy. But anyway, so I finally came to this tent and I finally said, I'm just gonna wait today like cuz I'm, I'm lost in my own facilities, right? So it wasn't until the cook came into the mess hall is where I ended up. I didn't know it, like turn the light on. And it's my own dining facility. I was like a stone's throw where I'm supposed to be. But like, what's this lady do it. You know, they're ready to cook breakfast at four o'clock in the morning, I had another incident where I'm on guard duty. And so we're waiting for the bad guys. If there was a bad guy, we're waiting for them. So like discipline is a real issue. And so we see these lights coming directly at us in this. We're in our foxholes that are in these great big burn. And so then you have Constantino wire on it, but these lights are coming towards us. And that doesn't even make sense. If these is the enemy, they wouldn't have lights on either. Right? They're going to attack itself. Well, anyway, luckily, I heard English because I didn't wake them up. But what they they've gotten diverted. And they had no idea that they were about to cross into the constantina wire. And I was about to have, you know, fire on them. And it all worked out. We realized that they're you know, they were born. They figured out what they were doing but it could you know, friendly fire could have been disasters.


Amanda Huffman29:51

That's crazy. So you guys have like giant berms to like protect from shrapnel and then these little tiny holes to get through in different places and It was like, a maze.


Penny Deere30:01

It was like a maze. Right? Right. And in the daytime, it's no big deal.


Amanda Huffman30:05

But, yeah, and doing it in total darkness where you can't see anything and and then you make a wrong turn. And then you're like, totally off.


Penny Deere30:13

The sand gets into everything to include your lungs, and your you're basically sleeping where camels slight sleep, right? Very, very unhealthy. And are you familiar with the Gulf War syndrome, 1/3 of us are sick from the deployments with all kinds of different things. And I have done a number of research projects document to get not only for my own purposes, but to help other people. Social media has been fantastic, because we all compare notes, you know, and then, but they have a research facility down in New Jersey, and I volunteer to be they figure out different lung capacities and sleeping. And it's a whole gamut of chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and then what we can do about it, a lot of alternative therapies seem to be the best instead of medication, things like that.


Amanda Huffman31:01

So is that something that you've been involved in since you left the military? Or was it in recent years?


Penny Deere31:08

It was no, well, after I saw I got out in 95. And I never went to the VA until 2003. I wanted nothing to do with abilites. I didn't even identify as a veteran, which is fairly common, but the only reason I did was I wasn't feeling well, things were I was having terrible nightmares, and it was affecting me. And so I reached out for assistance. We never go on sick call, never pay attention, you know, just suck it up kind of thing. Well, I finally was paying attention to all that was going on with my body. And then I actually went to school for massage to help me to, for me to help other veterans and for me to better understand my body and what was going on with it. And that was very beneficial. And since then, I know a lot more about wellness and, and the alternatives. And I highly recommended that kind of thing. So but it was basically to help myself get well because I didn't want to be on a bunch of medications that only masks the problem. And of course suicide, you know, what can what can we do to help that whole situation?


Amanda Huffman32:10

Yeah, I found that meditation and essential oils, and essential oils really helped me Someone asked me like, how do you sleep at night, and I was like, I do meditation? I definitely use essential oils. And I have different essential oils based on my anxiety level. And exactly, it helps me sleep and we make our own. I've had a couple classes where we make our own potions, so to speak, blending different ones together for whatever's going on. Yeah, so I I found meditation. My mom told me about it. And she's like, I think you need to do this. And I was like, no. And then she sent me an article and it was talking about how veterans with PTSD use meditation. And I was like, okay, maybe I'll actually do what you're suggesting. And it's been really helpful just for just for me to be able to work through different things and to stop and then essential oils. So I want to talk a little bit about what you're doing today. I mean, we talked a little bit about some of the things that you're doing.


Penny Deere33:09

So I am a licensed massage therapist. What I found was that so I graduated in 2012. With that, what I found was it was very taxing on my body, very demanding. And of course I have all these issues anyway. And so there are so I gravitated to cranial sacral massages are something that's not so taxing on me and I do very limited amount of massages currently. So but what I do is I facilitate a group called arts for vets. It's actually a committee within the American Legion, and it's support our troops committee arts for vets. And it's here in Albany, New York, the Zuloaga post, how that happened was, we used to go to different therapies at the VA. And in 2016, they said that they're going back to a medical model where you only do 12 sessions, and then you're dismissed. Well, in my case, I had been going to writing therapy, art therapy, music therapy, individual and group and then I was actually part of the vets of Albany choir and the bell choir, where are those times? Anyway, I was I would go four days a week, that was my place to be. And then all of a sudden, they stopped. It was really hard to take. In my case, I got mad a lot of people just became reclusive and didn't know what to do themselves and literally ended up on you know, psych wards, things like that. Because, you know, you had all this and then it's all gone. Well, anyway, so basically, I got met, and there was two other veterans that well, and we said, well, we're gonna just start our service just like that. So then I said, Well, we just can't Penny just can't start her own organization. You know, how realistic is that? So what I did was I went to the American Legion looking for a room to just a room that we can hang out with have coffee, right once a once a week. And so they said, by all means, You know that room something on Tuesday Come on, or Friday or whatever, then they saw what we were doing. And then people started coming. And then they said, How about this? How about you become a committee within the American Legion and it's a win win you, you have your support, you need your have your place and financial support, and then you you are filling our task, support our troops, I guess every American Legion has a support troop. So anyway, we are officially a committee and we've grown, we have an annual art every at the create community studios is that she actually is our therapist, and because we lost that it's VA so we still have a therapist, and but we have these an annual it's gonna be our fifth one in November. And this we this year, we actually branched out and we kind of did. Are you familiar with the Creative Arts at the VA, they have five categories. What we really saw this last year during ko right before COVID. Actually, we ended up doing open mics, we do a lot of writing. So we actually were on zoom. And like we would do a little dramas as nations. And anyway, we kind of like broadened our horizons a little bit all because of COVID we figured out how to do stuff on zoom. So indirectly, it's helped us and the other thing I want to tell you is the best thing that ever happened to me was getting kicked out of VA because it turned out to be what I needed. Like I've got my own little tribe, but I don't know, opportune whatever that I'm giving back. And it's obviously needed. So and now right now we are getting ready to send our art to the women's Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC uniting us is sponsoring. It's called summer of healing. And they're going to do six weeks segments. And part of our art will go there during that timeframe. And they're picking it up. They're actually coming to from Virginia, to Albany, and picking up our art. And we are thrilled.


Amanda Huffman37:04

I'm excited. I live outside of DC. So you're gonna have to tell me so I think out of the memorial, I already need to go the memorial. I'm waiting for my vaccine.


Penny Deere37:14

We we actually have art in Dulles Airport,


Amanda Huffman37:17

When I go flying. someday in the future. I'll have to look for it. Because I that's the airport, I fly out. Oh. So that's, that's really cool. I think that's really cool. And I think I just did a cross stitch for my four year old or because he was mad when he found his brothers. And so I finally did his baby cross stitch. And when I was doing it, I found such like a connection to doing this project. And I didn't really think about it until you were talking about the art and the creating and like using my hands to create something and how healing that was. And I didn't ever think about it. I just was trying to do something for my four year old because he was mad when he found his brother's.


Penny Deere38:00

They have an organization is called help help heal veterans and they send you kits in the mail.


Amanda Huffman38:06

I have to put that in the show notes and I'm going to check it out.


Penny Deere38:10

hhv.org it's called. Okay. And then uniting us is the one where we were the artists. Yes, they actually send you periodically little craft kits. 


Amanda Huffman38:20

That's awesome. So did we miss anything from your time in the military, from your career, or even as a veteran?


Penny Deere38:29

I try to be an advocate for women veterans with military sexual trauma. I speak for those people who are unable to speak for themselves at this time. One of the one of the in Dallas this currently the eyes of MST, one of those eyes are mine. They are I submitted them for somebody else. Cindy Hookers, the one that painted them. But I think it's phenomenal that my eyes are in Dulles Airport. But the other thing I just literally did was a video which it says the eyes are watching you like I'm watching the predator now. And I've taught been told it's very powerful. 


Amanda Huffman39:07

And send that to me, so I can put that in the show notes so that people can look at that real victim of military sexual trauma. We don't need to talk about it unless you really want to. But I just I think that's great that you're able to give back and help, especially women who can't speak up for themselves.


Penny Deere39:25

There's one last thing I would say about this is one of the problems is reporting. Right. So I would definitely encourage folks to report even if they didn't win during the time, do it now still, but one of the things I wanted to mention was, I guess a couple of things is I didn't report it at the time. Okay. All I did was I went to another service member of the same rank as me and told them about it. And this is what he said he thought he was supporting me, but this is what he said to me. He said if you don't report it, you're going to find yourself upside down in a foxhole. I was on my way to war and the enemy was Inside the wire, so he planted the seed that I wasn't even safe within my own perimeter in the inside that berm. Right. So he thought it was, you know, it kind of was wasn't very helpful thinking about it. I didn't think about it at the time. It's when things years later, you know, and I ended up reporting it. And we were because we're a military intelligence, you have to have security clearances, and the person that attacked me needed a security clearance. And when I told the story, he didn't get the security clearance. So he couldn't stay in the field. So indirectly, I got my justice years later.


Amanda Huffman40:38

Yes, that's a powerful story of reporting it years in the, in the future and, and having something happen. And just the more information that I think researchers have, and the VA has about this issue, the more that they can work to help this and try and make changes, and hopefully, hopefully, things will get better, because there's a lot that needs to be changed. So my last question is, what advice would you give to young women who are considering joining the military,


Penny Deere41:09

I would definitely recommend that they do that the biggest thing that just be aware of your surroundings, always have buddies, male or female doesn't matter. You know, who's gonna have your six. And that's everyday life to truthfully. It's a great career. Great. I've been retired for 25. I got out 95. So 25 years, 26 years, right. I have been collecting a retirement for that long, as long as I've been out. I was in for 20. And I've been retired for over 20. And so it's definitely worthwhile. And I loved it. I love the you know, I went all over my children's travel the world, that kind of thing. Yes. There's more. Yes, those deployments. But I think they are changing. And my my, my daughter was in the service, and they actually are, for instance, TBI is a real problem right now, I understand they're actually giving you an MRI before you deploy to make sure that how it compares when you come back. And so that means that the kind of expect it gets but it helps with claims, right? Things like that, where they have the sharp program where she's told me, you know, like the sergeant major would say, Are you sure nobody's you know, doing anything inappropriate with you or something like that. So I definitely think there's strength in numbers, we need more women in the military. And by all means, whatever career they want to do, do it, if they got the skills, and


Amanda Huffman42:29

I agree, there's a lot of good stuff happening for women in the military. And the more women we have, I think the more change that can take place.


Penny Deere42:37

One of the things I real quick, I think is neat, is because we ended up becoming a committee within this local post. Normally, American legions are our older gentlemen, right. And so all of a sudden, this committee, we have this sense of tration of women, because you have to you have to be a member of an American Legion in order to be part of our group. So indirectly, we've gotten they love it, the fact that all these females were joining the American Legion, so it was kind of like a backdoor a different way of getting in there. But I think that was kind of interesting.


Amanda Huffman43:10

Yeah, that's really cool.


Penny Deere43:12

I guess I would encourage people to join the American Legion or doesn't have to be that VFW. I just learned that if you are in the service, you can actually join while you're in the service. So you get credit for all the years of like, say, if you're in for four years, you're already a member of the American Legion. And that goes, I met somebody who'd been in the Legion for 75 years. And I'm looking at him like there's no way he's not like not 100. So I went over and asked him, he said, I joined in when I was 17 years old when I was in the service.


Amanda Huffman43:43

that's a good piece of advice. And yeah, I think women commonly walk away from the veteran community. And if we can get involved with the veteran community, while we're still in, it means it's more likely that we'll stay in that community.


Penny Deere44:00

And it's really important because these these organizations of fraternities or whatever, they may help lobby the numbers and help lobby in Congress in the Senate for for our rights. Right. That's important. It is


Amanda Huffman44:14

Yeah, and I did a series last year with Military Officers Association of America. And they talked about lobbying and what they do and how they work with the VFW and American Legion and the veteran organizations. So if you're interested in learning more about what the lobbyists do on Capitol Hill for veterans, you can check out that episode on I'll link to it in the show notes. Awesome. Thank


Penny Deere44:37

Awesome. Thank you.


Amanda Huffman44:38

Thank you so much for your time. I really enjoy getting to hear your story and getting to hear the different experiences over your 20 year career. And I'm just so glad that we got connected.


Penny Deere44:52

Thank you for having me. I appreciate your time.


Amanda Huffman45:00

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