I remember the moment I decided to change my life: I sat in a stuffy small Ford Ranger with my ex-boyfriend I lived with, on a rainy Sunday night. I sobbed into my hands, desperate for answers, because I was broke as hell and with a GED, I didn’t have a lot of employment prospects. My ex-boyfriend quietly suggested, “Maybe you should join the military…” And for the first time, I didn’t hate the idea.
Monday morning I walked into the recruiters office and by Friday, I was sworn in. It was May 2005 and I had no clue what I was doing, at the young age of 18. When I shipped out August 15th, 2005, however, I suddenly realized perhaps I had made a mistake. I’ve never been one to fit in and boot camp was HARD for me, because I laughed at my instructors, I couldn’t handle six hours of sleep a night (at the most) and then my poor body gave out on me, saddling me with stress fractures in my feet that resulted in needing crutches for a month.
In the military, I learned a lot. I learned how to manage my time wisely, how to listen and respect people from different backgrounds, how to keep my mouth shut when I want to do is pummel someone. It was an easy life and yet, it wasn’t. I couldn’t live wherever I wanted, I couldn’t even vacation when/where I wanted. I had bosses that would do 180 degree attitude changes overnight, I had bosses that treated me like I was a dog, I had bosses that encouraged me to do and be better. The military, long term, is only for certain people.
Fast forward six years, I was tired. I was tired of not being in control, I was over the rampant sexism from coworkers, I was completely done with never being treated like a human. So in March 2011, I decided that I wanted to be free again, free to move, have piercings, and to sleep in.
To be frank, the transition to photography sucked. To go from having steady paychecks to not knowing how I was going to make a living was a massive shock. I went broke, racked up $20k in debt and struggled to find the creativity direly needed in the photography industry. Every session I did, I would come home and have breakdowns. I didn’t like ANYTHING I was creating. I remember calling my ex-husband, crying after a session and doubting whether or not this was for me. I watched movies, I read books and I photographed anything and everything I could, then I would come home, rip apart my own work and try 1-2 new things EVERY session. This is something I still do, by the way. I’m never satisfied, always yearning for more and better.
Don’t get me wrong- the military has given me two benefits for every downside I have. My degree is paid for, I get free food on Veterans Day, I receive basic health care for the rest of my life, but I truly believe veterans who come into the photography world may find themselves struggling to create and provide art for clients. Probably more than most. It’s hard to go from being told what to do, to becoming the shot caller. I struggle with posing, lighting, unique perspectives. I’ve been out of the military for three years, that have been filled with wonderful moments and people, but in the end, I’ll always be a veteran. I’ll always probably struggle a little bit, so if you know a veteran, photographer or not, give them a hug. They’ve had a long journey.
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