Questions for Reflection
In each episode, we offer you a few prompts to think about how that day's conversation applies to you. You might pause the podcast and answer them right then and there, but if you keep a journal (Steph and Beth both do), feel free to download and print a PDF of the Questions for Reflection we've made just for you:
Landscape or Portrait
Beth Demme (00:03):
Welcome to the Discovering Our Scars podcast.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:05):
Where we share personal experiences so we can learn from each other.
Beth Demme (00:08):
Our mission is to talk about things you might relate to, but that you don't hear being discussed in other places.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:13):
Our hope is that you're encouraged to have honest conversations with people in your own life. I'm Steph.
Beth Demme (00:18):
And I'm Beth. On today's show, we're going to have an honest conversation titled, The Reality of Being a Female Veteran with Katrina. Katrina, thank you so much for being here with us today.
Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Beth Demme (00:30):
Yeah. We're in Florida and you're across the country. And by the wonder of technology, we're all able to be together today. I really am glad that you're here. Just to give some background, you and I actually went to high school together. We met in the marching band back in the 1900s. A few years after high school you actually enlisted. Honestly, just from even watching your Facebook posts, I've learned some things from you about the challenges that female veterans face. I thought we could talk about that today because this episode is going to release on Veterans Day. And we do want to say Veterans Day is when we honor everyone who has served in the military. It's different from Memorial Day when we honor those who lost their lives during military service. But this one is going to release on Veterans Day. You are, in fact, a veteran, right?
Yes. Anyone that served, and there's a regulation of what makes you a technical veteran. But in addition to being the technical veteran, I also deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, did some time in the Philippines. I also went to Korea.
Beth Demme (01:44):
Yeah. And you were in the Army, right?
I was in the Army.
Beth Demme (01:48):
Why the Army?
Being from Pensacola, everyone's Navy. I didn't want to be stuck on a boat. So I did not go Navy. I didn't really have ambitions of flying, so I didn't look at the Air Force that seriously. There's no way that I was going to be able to be a Marine just upfront. That was not something that appealed to me. And honestly, I never really thought about the Army until I heard about the Language, the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. And it was like learn a language, be fluent in this language, and then be in the Army. And so I was focused more on that learn a language, be fluent in the language. Be in the Army part was small print. I went in '98, but I flirted with it in '95, '96.
Beth Demme (02:42):
Just the irony of young and stupid, I thought that I was going to be in Spanish because I took Spanish in high school, but actually, I was in Korean. And so me, I was just like, "Where is Korea? What is Korea? Why am I learning Korean?" And it was just like, well, this is cool because Cynthia's mom is Korean, one of my classmates, and that was the only thing I ever knew about Korea.
Beth Demme (03:12):
Yeah. But you said you also deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, right?
Right. I was actually in Korea when 9/11 happened in 2001, which was really surreal. And then I came back stateside in the beginning of 2004 and that's when things in Iraq were kicking up. So I deployed to Iraq as a Korean linguist, why wouldn't I? I did a tour in Iraq, came back to Fort Drum, New York, which was the coldest place that I'd ever experienced in my life. And then from there, I was lucky, I switched languages from Korean to Tagalog, which is what they speak in the Philippines. Because my choices were Arabic and Tagalog. And I had just been to an Arabic-speaking country. So, one of my goals was to not ever go there again.
I went back to Monterey, California, which was not horrible. And then, because I was a Tagalog speaker after the language class, I went to Hawaii and then that's when I deployed to the Philippines. And then after Hawaii, then I came to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, which is Fort Lewis in Washington. It's near Tacoma. While I was there, I went to Afghanistan, which does not speak Arabic, so I did hang on to that goal of never going back to an Arab-speaking country. And one of the things to think about, because I don't want anyone to think like, oh, I hate Iraq, or, oh, I hate Afghanistan, both places were beautiful places, rich with culture, but those people were oppressed by, in Iraq, Saddam Hussein and that whole regime. And then also, to some extent, by the US forces because, again, the average citizen, they just want to be able to go live their lives, raise a family, do all those great things, and not worry about tanks rolling through their town or village.
Beth Demme (05:27):
Yeah. I recently embarrassed myself with that whole thing about folks from Afghanistan not speaking Arabic, because we have a number of families who have been relocated here in Tallahassee by the International Rescue Committee and they've been relocated to an apartment complex right by the church I serve. I was literally outside one day and a family stopped by and asked if we could help them with some things, which of course we did. But I asked that question, I said something about Arabic and he said, "Actually, we speak Persian." And I was like, "Oh, I'm really glad to know that, thanks." But then this week, I spent some time with a family and they're from Syria and they do speak Arabic. So I was like, okay, I'm learning.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (06:12):
You don't know how to speak any of those languages-
Beth Demme (06:13):
I don't know how to speak any of those languages.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (06:15):
... but you now know that it's different.
Beth Demme (06:16):
I don't, it's true. I speak none of those.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (06:19):
Were you an interpreter? Is that what you were doing?
Not really an interpreter, so much as ... It's weird. Because to do interpretations, that is just one of those really specialized skills that you have to almost be a native speaker to do. Although some people have been able to immerse their selves in the language and do interpretations successfully. We were more of those almost like an early warning system where we catch out phrases and we knew what we were listening for, and then just having that cultural knowledge and being able to speak basic so that we could triage to one of those more fluent people.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:07):
So, were you walking the streets and just listening to random people?
No, no, no. Nothing that cool.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:14):
Okay. I'm thinking like Star Wars, you were like, "I'm undercover." I'm picturing you in a big room wearing headphones.
Yes. With no windows.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:25):
That's cool too.
Beth Demme (07:25):
With no windows.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:25):
Wow. It's like a casino. It's like a casino. There are no windows and no clocks. That's amazing.
Oh no, there's clocks. There's clocks everywhere.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:35):
Well, when did you leave? When did you separate from the Army?
I got out in 2014. I didn't retire out of the Army. I'd never regretted not doing my 20. Because I was close. I was 15 years. My parents were like, "Why don't you just do that other five so that you'll be set for life," blah, blah, blah. And then it's just like, okay, well, one's set for life, that's not a thing anymore. Some folks up at Congress decided that 20 years and then getting retirement was BS. We'll leave the irony of that on the table. It used to be where you retire and you got a pension, you got healthcare, you got all these things. And that's something that they've been slowly chipping away at. It's never been enough to really make a big splash in the news where it's like, oh, they're taking our everything. But it's been enough to where they're trying to transition to 401(k)s and then with the healthcare, it's more like a supplement than legit healthcare. And I was done.
I always say that just being in the military ages you in dog years. My feet are busted, my knees are busted, my hips make weird sounds. I had a doctor look at the X-ray of my spine and asked me if I got dropped on my head, which I thought was hilarious because that's what we say in the South, "Did you get dropped on your head as a baby?" But no, I got dropped on my head in the Army. It wasn't horrible, but again, I was ready to do something else and just trying to stay in for five more years. I don't know. It was almost like get out now and retain my soul or try to stay in for five more years and then see what was left.
Beth Demme (09:41):
So when you came back to the US, you said your last posting was Fort Lewis, I think, were you doing the same kind of work there, the listening, or was it a different kind of job?
I was doing similar work. Mostly, my intel analysis was a lot of background, putting pieces together, trying to see what the puzzle looks like. Part of that is-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (10:04):
You described the job as being in a room with no windows and listening, but then you also described that you've had a lot of physical demand, it sounds like, on your body. So, how does that work? Because I know, I've heard of basic training where you have to go through lots physical things. Did you have to do physical fitness?
Oh yeah, every morning. Monday through Friday, every morning, we did PT from 6:30 to 7:30. That was another kind of paradox of the Army. I don't know how much the Army invested in getting all of these physical therapists and nutritional whoever to write these manuals for how to do exercise in a way that won't completely wreck your body. And I'm sure those were fine pieces of work. No one, no, I never experienced any unit that ever used it. So we're just doing whatever. And usually, whatever was like, oh, we're just going to run for 5, 6, 7 miles, or we're just going to do these crab walks or bear, just these ridiculous exercises that are just like, who is this helping? And so, to stay on top of my PT, because we did take regular PT tests that were, at the time, it was two minutes of pushups, two minutes of sit-ups, and then a two-mile run.
So after PT, I was always trying to do more real PT now. And again, it's a love-hate relationship at times because I love my time in the Army, I love the people that I served with, and I still have some pretty strong bonds with most of the people that I served with. But then at the same time, I remember things. Like in Korea, they told us we had to get all the rust off of this big monster trailer because it's getting shipped back to the US. So it was so important that it had no rust, no anything on it. And then we're like, "Okay, well, what are we using?" And there were no cleaning supplies. And it's just like, how is this so important that we don't have any cleaning supplies? They were like, "Well, here's some brown paper towels," the ones that you find in a public bathroom?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (12:22):
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
And sticks. And I'm just like-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (12:26):
Beth Demme (12:27):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (12:28):
Well, why were you doing that? That's not your job. Would they just have you do anything even though you were specialized in one specific thing?
Yes. Exactly. It was always a joke because, let's see, I went through DLI for Korean in 1999, 2000, that timeframe.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (12:47):
The Defense Language Institute. That's the language place in Monterey. And they would always tell us you're getting this premium education. For civilians to get this education, it'd be more than $40,000 a year, blah, blah, blah. And then afterwards, I would be in the middle of a field somewhere doing a chow hall thing where I'm scooping beef stew into people's bowls and stuff.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (13:14):
Oh no. So it doesn't matter what you're specialized in, you pretty much can do anything.
Beth Demme (13:19):
You do what they tell you to do, I guess.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (13:20):
Yeah, you do what they tell. When I first got to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, JBLM, most of our job is done inside of that windowless building. It's called a SCIF. I think I went a year and a half without ever seeing the inside of a SCIF when I was at my first year at JBLM. Because our first sergeant, he was this guy that really wished that he was an infantry guy. So, we were out doing field movements, like patrols where you'd get in these things called the wedge and whatever. But the funny thing is, most of the manuals are based off of the war before. So a lot of those, Iraq was slowly starting to get on the books, but we were doing a lot of Vietnam era training. And it was just like, yeah, I'm really glad that Iraq and Vietnam are so close to each other as far as topography and climate.
And it got even worse when after Iraq was Afghanistan because, again, the infrastructure was different. The topography, the climate was different to the point where ... So they have this vehicle, it's called a Stryker. And in Iraq, they had it where if you rolled over an IED or a thing that exploded, they got it where it wouldn't just straight up kill you like it used to. So then they take this thing over to Afghanistan, which had more mountains, not as many flat roads. And then it was just like, oh crap, this isn't going to work. And I think they were called the Kevlar coffin over in Iraq or in Afghanistan because, again, it wasn't built for that environment. And so, a lot of it was a learning curve like, oh wait, now let's make sure that we're ... I don't know. It's just like we were always playing catch up.
Beth Demme (15:17):
Yeah. But also it seems like, just as someone from outside the military, almost a sense of hubris about it too, we're the US Armed Forces, the way that we do it is the right way, when maybe it's not. I know that big institutions are hard. It's hard to make changes in big institutions and the military is a big institution. I get that.
It is a big institution. But then if you also look, I mean there's a reason it's called the military industrial complex. So when I went to Iraq, and the Army has its own cooks, we're supposed to train for all of those jobs, as you could tell with my scraping rust with a stick off a trailer story, that doesn't mean that we were always proficient in those jobs. So in Iraq, they paid, I don't even know how, they paid contractors to do a lot of that specialized work that the Army was supposed to do, like the cooks were supposed to be able to do. General Dynamics, KBR, Casey, there's just a big contractor-
Beth Demme (16:23):
... I don't know, almost like smorgasbord out... And you can tie it back to see who's investing in who. With KBR, Halliburton, that was all Cheney, Bush. But that's one of the things that's not divided along party lines. So the gray areas is definitely a bipartisan effort. When I went over there, I would get roughly 2,000 a month. And then I think I got an extra 250 for combat pay. Meanwhile, the contractors, they wouldn't even roll out of bed for that much money. When I was in Afghanistan, my husband, he was a contractor for General Dynamics. He was making six figures. Well, when we did our taxes, I wanted to flip a table because, again, he was making six figures and I was rocking that extra 250 a month being in the same place.
Beth Demme (17:29):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (17:30):
Wow. So, it's really best to be a contractor for the military than actually in the military if you're going to-
Beth Demme (17:36):
Yeah, but how disheartening, because the money that the contractors are being paid is coming from US taxpayers. So, why would we pay that money to somebody who's not committed to being in the service at the expense of those who have? That's disheartening.
It is. And it's one of those follow the money, who's invested in those corporations, who owns their stock.
Beth Demme (17:56):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (17:58):
Did you get married while you were still in the military? I actually don't know that.
Yes. I got married in 2011. I didn't ever think I was going to get married especially I was still in the military because it's not a two-person relationship if you're with somebody that's in the military. It's like you, partner, and Uncle Sam. And Uncle Sam's pretty much calling all the shots.
Beth Demme (18:21):
Yeah. Including where you live, what job you do, what you earn-
Oh yeah. All of that. But no, I lucked out. I met my husband. He was a contractor working on base. And it was weird because I didn't meet him on base, but because we were in such close proximity, it was like we ran into each other a lot. He didn't know I was military. And so he's telling me about his tour in Iraq. The funny thing is he's describing this to me and he doesn't know that I've done this a couple of times and he had so many areas to try to make it sound a lot cooler than it really is or try to play it up. And I remember he never did that. He never tried to exaggerate it or make himself sound cooler. And I think that's when I was just like, all right, this might be the guy.
Beth Demme (19:12):
Right. That's awesome. That's awesome.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (19:15):
During your time in the military, did you notice any difference between how you were treated versus your male counterparts?
It depended on where I was. And it's funny too, it depended on what kind of unit I was with, but it was little things. Some of it is things that I'm sure girls experience even now, where you would play tag football or whatever. And if you drop the ball, they would never throw it to you again because you're the girl. Meanwhile, you had this one hot dude that would never ... He'd catch it maybe one out of five times, but they'd always throw it to him because that one rare chance that he did catch it was great. And then when I got out to other units, it'd be a little bit more pronounced. I remember when I got to Korea, it was a big deal because they had this phrase, it was like queen for a year. And it's basically because you were an American chick in a place where American chicks were in short supply. And so, they would talk about girls being really stuck up and blah, blah, blah. It's just casual misogyny.
Beth Demme (20:27):
Which was funny because most of the guys there, they'd want to date a Korean girl or a lot of them would date Philippine and Russian women because those ladies were there as they're called juicy girls. In Korea, there's this concept where if you go to a bar, on the up and up, you pay a pretty girl to sit with you and she hangs out with you and she acts she likes you. The American version was a little bit more tawdry, where she would basically act like she really, really, really likes you while you're buying her juice. Somebody else could buy her juice and then she'd be like, "See ya," and go somewhere else. But we would have to tell people when they're coming in, if you're having to pay someone to sit with you, they're not your real girlfriend.
Beth Demme (21:20):
But a lot of them came from ... And I mean it's sad for the girls too because there would be ads in the Philippines or in Russia saying come over, be a hostess, a party hostess. Because I think that's what they're originally called, hostesses. And they would get to Korea, the bar owner would take their passports and they're like, this is how much it costs for you to get you over here, plus a little something extra that we're tacking on for funsies. And you're here, this is what you're doing until you pay that off. And a lot of these girls, they're poor which is why they went over there to do this in the first place. So they're sending money home.
And so, it was in their best interest to find an American that would ... If you could get an American to buy you out of your contract, usually it meant you probably had to marry the guy. It's just sad all the way around for the girls because they don't know what they were getting into until they got there. For the guys, because it can be really lonely up there. I remember I spent my first Christmas in Korea and my first Christmas without my parents or being home and it was really lonely. I just remember I just cried the whole day pretty much. I don't want to paint these guys as being these horrible human beings. Although, I mean some of them were, but that was just them.
Beth Demme (22:58):
Right. That was not distinct or not related to their military service. It was just who they were.
Yeah. They were horrible people without the military service.
Beth Demme (23:07):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (23:08):
So was it legal for women to sell themselves, basically? Was that legal in the country?
No, none of that's legal.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (23:17):
How was the military allowing military men to buy these women?
When the World Cup was in Korea and Japan, that's when some of the outside world was discovering this whole juicy girl thing. It's one of those things where it's like, oh, we shouldn't do human trafficking and it was just like, well, we're not doing human trafficking, we're just going to bars. And then, some guys would even be like, "No, I'm saving her because I'm buying her out of her contract because I care about her." You would see people though, because I was in Korea when that was happening, because we watched CNN and see these huge people be like, "What? I've never heard of a juicy girl." It's like, okay. Because there's a place in Seoul called Hooker Hill. And the whole thing too was the hostess, the bar girl. It exists in Korea, it also exists in the Philippines. In Philippines, where it is, it's just a pretty girl to sit with you. In some places, you can offer a little bit more and a little bit more.
So, at one hand it was like, well, we can't really tell them what to do in their culture, but then there was this spike in like, oh no, no human trafficking. Everyone knew it was going on. It wasn't like the military condoned it because, again, we would have briefs where it's just like if you're paying for someone's companionship, they're not your friend. And we had problems with STDs, as you can imagine. Guys that would just fight over these ... They would fight over these women because it was the biggest insult if a girl was sitting with a guy and then another guy would buy her a juice because she'd have to get up and go where the juice was. That wasn't on her because the bar people, the bar owners would direct that stuff too. I don't even know where it would start to point the blame if I were to try to stamp it out.
Beth Demme (25:17):
See, my assumption is there's more men in the military than females. Would that be accurate?
Beth Demme (25:25):
That's incredibly accurate.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (25:27):
Okay. So I'm curious, when you were in the military, did you stick out like a sore thumb, being one of the only females? Or did they tend to put more females together so you felt more comfortable? How did that work?
So usually, they would try ... Okay, so in the Army, you always had a battle buddy. So, even it started basic where you were never by yourself. You always had someone with you. It wouldn't necessarily be someone of your own gender all the time. But you never went places alone. You always had your battle buddy. So in the barracks or whatever, my battle buddy was a female. Or if I went off post, I had pretty strong female friends, but then also a lot of male friends because there's a whole bunch of dudes in the army. No one talked to me without my guy friends knowing about it. I know that sounds creepy as hell. And sometimes it was because I would have guy friends that were like, "Hey, why were you hanging out with so and so yesterday?"
And some of the girls that didn't know people that had shorter AITs or they were going to a unit where they didn't know people, you had to be really careful because the camaraderie was a lot around drinking, especially in Korea. Because again, we're all away from home. There's not a lot of families there. If you were able to get your family there, then you were there for three years. So some people were like, "Okay, well, I'm just not going to bring my family." So you tough it out a year and go back. Yeah. So somebody that would go there shorter. So you come onto the post, especially if you were a young girl, and people would already know that you were coming. And then like, "Hey, you want to come out drinking with us?" Yeah. And so now you've got somebody going with a whole bunch of people shouldn't really know that well. You're in a country where, again, even something as simple as using the phone isn't straightforward.
And then you would just go out drinking. These poor soldiers that would go out and just get inebriated on like a rockstar level. And then they would have to be somewhere at 6:00 a.m. in the next day. And then sometimes those buddies would just leave them. So now you're just in a foreign country with a phone you don't know how to use. Because not everyone had cell phones then either. There were times where it definitely wasn't safe for women because, again, a lot of the activities centered around drinking. I remember when my roommate, one of my first roommates came, she was really young. She was just coming out of AIT. I knew she was coming, but I wasn't the only one that knew she was coming because I would see these dudes walking up and down our halls, just casually walking around. And me being me, I'd be like, "Hey guys, what you doing? You're just walking around the hall? So what are you trying to find?" But I also had that reputation too where it was like, oh crap, she's going to be your roommate. So it's just like, yep, you better start sniffing somewhere else, buddy.
Beth Demme (28:31):
Right. She's protected, yeah. There have been a lot of stories in the last few years, just in the news where we've learned more about female soldiers being the victims of sexual assault and then the military covering it up. But then you hear stories like what you're sharing and it's like, yeah, I mean there were conditions that were created where maybe assault was more likely to happen.
Oh, for sure. But then also just the attitude about it too. I had a roommate, it was my first roommate when I was in Korea. She left our room and I was passed out in the room because I was drunk because Korea, drinking. And she left. She didn't lock our door. And so I woke up and there was this dude in bed with me.
Beth Demme (29:15):
I was fully clothed because I just came from ... Which is embarrassing because yeah, I just went to bed in my clothes because that's how drunk I was. And I remember waking up and I'm just like, why is there someone in bed with me? He was fully clothed too. And I'm just like, do I know this person? Because in my head I'm like, obviously, I know this person because a stranger wouldn't just come into my room and get into bed with me. So I'm like, I think it's one of my friends because, again, I'm half asleep, I might still be half-drunk, I don't even know. And I'm just like, "Hey, what are you doing, dude?" And then, he was just like, "Well, I saw you at the bar and I was thinking about you." And I was just like, okay, this is not how my friend would talk to me so that's not my friend. Because, again, it's dark too. I was just like, "Okay, well, I got to go to work early so you got to go." And he's just like, "Okay." And he left and I was just like, that was really ...
Beth Demme (30:24):
That was really weird.
Beth Demme (30:26):
Because at the same time, I think I was 22, but I was still that girl that just been in Pensacola where ...
Beth Demme (30:37):
Yeah. It wasn't until he came back. He came back again and then that's when it freaked me out because I was like, wait, I don't know you, you don't know me.
Beth Demme (30:48):
Right. And also, you were not invited here. When I invite you, you'll know.
Exactly. But part of it too was there was this one building in the area where my unit was that was just all females. So, everyone knew where all the females were because there was one female building. And we had to have our names on our doors so that our platoon sergeants could find us. Because that was part of it too because he knew my name, which is that was another huge reason that I thought that he knew me. It got to be where later I was really good at knowing whether if somebody really knew me or not. Because if they came rolling up like, "Hey Meryl, what's up," then yeah, you don't know me. You've got my name from somewhere, but you don't know me.
Beth Demme (31:35):
But yeah, that guy, I think that guy, the third time that he visited, I wound up having make a police report on it and then to come to find out that guy had just been going to random people's rooms and just-
Beth Demme (31:49):
He never raped anybody, but I mean still-
Beth Demme (31:53):
... you're still coming to somebody's room.
Beth Demme (31:55):
Yeah. Unacceptable and odd behavior. That is not okay.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (31:58):
So, based on you saying there was a building of all women with their names on the door, do you feel like the military did enough to keep men and women safe, but specifically women in the military?
Not really. And it's one of those things because, well, one, I had a whole bunch of people that were like, when that happened to me, "Why didn't you lock your door, dumbass?" And it was just like, well, when I came into my room, I did lock my door. I lock my door whenever I go in and out of a room. But my roommate leaves in the middle of the night, she doesn't have the door locked. And then of course there would be people who were like, wait a minute, why should-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (32:35):
This isn't your fault.
... the unlocked door be the deciding factor on whether or not someone gets raped.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (32:41):
I'm ashamed to say that that didn't cross my mind at the time because there was a lot of personable accountability, don't put yourself in a place where this will happen to you. So there was definitely that whole if something bad happens to you, it's your fault kind of mentality. Which is why sometimes I still have arguments with people where they're like, because I've done this with ... If I had a female soldier, I would see if she had a pocket knife. I would see if she had a whistle. And it was just me telling her that, okay, don't go out by yourself, don't do this. And then it was where people were like she shouldn't have to do that. Guys should just not rape. And I feel like that 100%, but at the same time I'm going to give her ... My intent isn't to shame this girl, but it's to let me give you everything I've gotten, my experience arsenal to keep you safe.
Beth Demme (33:50):
Both things are true, that women can be smart about their own personal safety and also men should not rape women. I mean both of those things are true.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:58):
But the fact that men don't have to have the same concerns that women do and carry the same things, that's still not okay. That men can just leave their door open and not be scared that a woman's going to come in and get in bed with them. I mean, that's still wrong within the military and within just society in general. That's a bigger conversation.
You're right. The dudes, they never locked their doors, ever. Guys would just walk into each other's rooms too. Because if a dude catches another dude shirtless, it's not that big of a deal. And then I would have guy friends that would try to ... Because I always have my door locked. But I'd have guy friends that I could hear them open the door. And ironically, once I became friends with more guys, I'd locked my door more because I knew that they would just walk in. It was more like, okay, I don't want so and so to walk in while I'm taking my shirt off so I'm going to lock the door. And there had been times too where I would be in the bathroom, because we'd have our room and the bathroom and the bathroom have a closing door where I forgot to lock my door or whatever. And then I heard a battle buddy come in, call my name and then where I could tell they figured it out that I was in the bathroom and they'd just be like, "Oh," and then they would take off. Like, "Oh, that's my bad."
But then in Korea again, a year after, this is a full year after the one guy that got in my bedroom, we had moved barracks and I was taking a college class and when I was walking back, this guy was following me back, and I don't even know when he started following me because there were other people around so I didn't realize I'm being followed until I went into my room and I walked in the room and the thing was walk in my room, set my books down and then go back and lock the door. Well, he came right in after me. And I was just talking to him because I'm like, okay. Because again, even after my first experience, people don't just walk in the room, they don't know you. But this is a little different because lights are on, I'm fully clothed and sober. And so I'm just like, "Hey." And then I was like, "Do I know you?" And he's just like, "No, you don't know me." And then I'm just like, "Why are you in my room then?" And he is just like, "Well, I just wanted to say hey," and then he left.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (36:24):
Oh my gosh.
And so I'm just like, "What the hell was that?"
Stephanie Kostopoulos (36:31):
"Do you know me?" He was like, "I don't know you, but I know Justice." Justice was the girl that lived across the hall from me. So then I was just like, "All right, well, you got to go." And he's like, "All right, okay, see you. Bye. It's nice meeting you." So I asked Justice, I was like, "Hey, your friend came over." Justice locks up, goes pale. The dude was stalking her.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (36:55):
Yikes. And that was another soldier that was somebody else who was in the service?
Yeah. And they're all soldiers that this is happening to. Because it was just so weird because then I'm just like, is this a yearly requirement that we got to get a stalker or?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (37:11):
It wasn't until later where it's just like, oh, these things aren't cool. But even then, so this is way later, this was when I was in Hawaii. So, 10 plus years after Korea, it was a unit golfing trip. And so we went golfing, it was fun, blah, blah, blah. The next couple of days, my sergeant major, and so the sergeant major is supposed to be ... If we were a corporation, he would be the COO, the Chief Operating Officer, whereas the battalion commander would be the CEO. So the sergeant major is just like, "Hey." Because me just hanging out with the sergeant major wasn't normal. Because again, you wouldn't just go hanging out with a COO. But I remember it was something, he's like, "Hey, come here, you got to see this." I go into his office and it was the pictures, just random shots for Hawaii. And basically, he called me in there so I could look at a picture of me and a group of people. Because my chest was so big and he was just like, "It's like you're smuggling midgets." And I'm just sitting there like-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (38:30):
This is at work. I'm in uniform, he's in uniform. And it's one of those like huh? I don't even know how to react except for ha-ha-ha and then walk off. Because again, it's like, oh, you don't want to torch this guy's whole career just because he made a crack about your chest. So it's that thing too where it's almost like if someone does do something inappropriate to you, it's on you to decide how far do you want to take it. It's very easy for everyone to hate you because, oh, we love sergeant major. Just because you're being a big baby, blah, blah, blah, blah. That was a very real thing.
Beth Demme (39:17):
When you left the military, tell us about that. You talked about you decided that you weren't going to stay in for a full 20. But then, what's it like when you decide that you're going to bring your service to a conclusion? What's that like?
I know that one of the hardest, hardest parts for me was I had PTSD, anxiety, all the fun stuff that comes with being a soldier. And when I left the military, I had six months of a transition healthcare. So I didn't go in base for healthcare, but the Army would pay for it. But I needed to get a lot of the prescriptions refilled for the PTSD and the anxiety. So, I was trying to establish a primary care provider. And I remember I called this doctor, or I called this doctor's office, and told him I need to establish primary care, answering the questions. And then they were like, "Well, do you have any current prescriptions now?" And I was like, "Yeah, I take," and it's just Wellbutrin and the fun stuff. It wasn't anything crazy. It wasn't like I was asking for [inaudible 00:40:22] or lithium, nothing like that. But midway through, the chick was just like, "Oh, you need a psychiatrist."
And it basically just made me feel like almost an alien, where it's just like, a doctor can't do this. And then I'm just like, well, but I can't just go see a psychiatrist. Can I have to go get a referral? She was just such a jackass. At the end of it, I remember I was just stunned and I just hung up the phone and I called my mom and I just started bawling, because I didn't know what to do and then it was just like, okay, now I'm like the broken Vietnam veteran that's going to be walking around crazy on the streets. Because when I went in, that was the generation. My generation when I went in, the past war was Vietnam. And I just remember, it really rocked my ... Because normally I have a pretty good grasp where things won't ... I'll get angry or something and nothing that would really rock my foundation.
But that kind of did. And I remember I was upset. I think I cried on and off for a day and a half about it because that's how upset I was. My husband Mark, he was just like, all right, let's go get, we haven't signed up for the VA. Because I was out soon enough where I hadn't signed up for the VA hospital yet. I got signed up, whatever. I went to go see and then scheduled later to go see a behavioral health person. And then they were like, well, some of the prescriptions that you're on are really expensive, so we want to monkey with them a little. We want to play with them to see if these are what you needed. And it was just like, okay, I spent I don't know how many years monkeying around with my mental health to see exactly what special combo I needed. That's not something I was looking forward to doing some more.
Luckily, I found a doctor. But I just remember one of the things that I was so angry at that first doctor because, again, it shook me to my core and there's not a lot that will do that. I remember I called and had a meeting with that office manager where I was just like, "Do you know that this happened?" And I was like, so somebody calling, I'm asking for mental health assistance and then to just get somebody that's this rude, dismissive, not even dismissive but judgmental person. It came up that I was a veteran and they were like, "Oh, thank you for your service." And it's like, don't thank me for my service. This is not what I'm looking for. And then they're like, "Well, yeah, because you're a veteran." No. And even then, no, anyone calling for mental health assistance should not be judged. Because again, really solid foundation and I was crying for two and a half days. What if I was somebody that didn't have that? And it shouldn't matter if I was a veteran or not a veteran because I'm not going to be happy that it happened to a civilian, because it shouldn't happen to anyone. Don't thank me for my ** -service just on top of this. That's what?
Beth Demme (43:37):
All of your actions have shown that you do not appreciate my service. So you do not appreciate me as a human, you do not see me as a person of value, and so don't throw that in, yeah.
Yeah. You don't need to. And it's funny because sometimes, I'll have the people that are the right leaning, whatever, that will come after me because I'm this super left liberal, which is hilarious in itself. I lean left, but I don't think that basic healthcare or taking care of people or just not killing people because they don't fit into your box. I don't think that's a radical thought. But even then, they'll totally like whatever and then they find out I'm a veteran, "Oh, well, thank you for your service."
Stephanie Kostopoulos (44:19):
It's like, bless your heart.
Beth Demme (44:20):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (44:21):
It's like you don't actually mean anything with it.
Beth Demme (44:23):
I'm just like, don't thank me for my ... I was like, no, no.
Beth Demme (44:29):
Yeah. Well, that was one thing actually that we were curious about is after you left the military and you were integrating yourself into civilian life and since you've been in civilian life, do you find that people do question whether you're a veteran because you're a woman? It seems like there are ideas out there that when we picture who a veteran is, we don't necessarily picture a woman. And I wonder if that's been an issue for you.
It hasn't been an issue. It is definitely one of those things where somebody will be like, "Oh, are you the spouse?" And it's just like, no, I'm not the spouse. Especially when I was in with my husband, which was funny because he had a goatee, but they would thank him for his service and he was just like, "Yeah, I never served but my wife did." I don't know. It's one of those weird things. And I even remember when I was in Hawaii, I remember I was there with two of my female battle buddies and we're sitting in the food court and we had this old guy started asking when they started letting women in the military and it's just like, dude.
Beth Demme (45:36):
A while ago, friend. A while ago.
Yeah. You missed a memo or two.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (45:44):
So being Veterans Day, when we release the episode, I'm curious, is Veterans Day something positive for you?
Veterans Day is kind of weird for me. Some friends, their favorite part about Veterans Day is free food and so they'll plot out-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (46:02):
... plot out their day as far as restaurants and stuff. But I don't like to be in big groups of people and standing in line is tough for me. So, that doesn't really work with me. And also, again, I'm proud of my service to my country, but I also feel weird about being put on a pedestal for being a veteran. Which is funny because then if I get dismissed, then of course I'll let you know all the stats of how many people have served and blah, blah, blah. It's always been like that, that weird ... It's almost like find a veteran that needs this more than I do. Because I have done that a couple of times. And going back to the "thank you for your service," there's been way more times that people have said that and really meant it. And even then, what do I say, like, "Oh thanks"? Oh, thanks, it's-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (47:06):
Yeah, you are welcome. And so, it's kind of weird because, again, I'm serving my country, which means like I'm serving the taxpayers. So it's weird that somebody that I'm "serving" is saying thank ... I don't know. And again, I'm also not trying to lay all of that on some poor person that's just trying to be-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (47:39):
Beth Demme (47:39):
Trying to be kind.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (47:40):
Small talk, yeah.
Beth Demme (47:40):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (47:41):
So you mentioned how it just is a little weird for you when people thank you for your service or when you get all these meals, you're like, I don't want to go all these places. So, how would you want civilians to treat veterans on Veterans Day?
So almost the best way, if you really wanted to thank a veteran, is to be an involved citizen. Know what it is to be an American and do that. Seeing, especially in this climate, how things are so divisive and people are like, "Oh, well, this is what I'm hearing so it must be true." It wasn't that bad to have the only insurrection in America's history in the damn capital. It's things like that. Because when I was in Iraq, I was there for their first election and just remembering all the security, everything that went into making sure that the Iraqi people were able to have these free and valid elections. So to be in America and having that question, I mean ask the questions, yes, because I'm not going to be happy if it's ... It's slanted either way. And with women's rights, it's the same way. Don't tell me that you care about these Afghanistan women and their rights and then systematically try to strip rights away from American women. Then you need to understand, not just your rights, but your responsibility as an American citizen. And just because something is right for you does not mean that this is what the whole country needs.
Beth Demme (49:27):
Thank you so much for taking the time out to be with us and to have this conversation. I have missed you and so it's so great to be able to connect with you and I was really glad to have an excuse. But also just this conversation itself has been really enlightening and Steph and I really appreciate you taking the time.
Thank you. And I appreciate that too. Because in this climate, it's easy to be jaded, especially in regards to religion and Christianity. I have to say with a hundred percent sincerity that one of the things I've always appreciated about you, Beth, is that you've never lost the focus that religion and God and love are, they're all together. Any time that I was ready to just ball it up and throw it all away and become an atheist, which I believe in God, so I don't even know why that would've been an avenue for me, your message has always sunk in.
Beth Demme (50:29):
Thank you for that. I appreciate that.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (50:33):
At the end of each episode, we end with Questions for Reflection. These are questions based on today's show that Beth will read and leave a little pause between for you to answer for yourself, or you can find a PDF on our website.
Beth Demme (50:44):
Number one, how do you celebrate Veterans Day? Or do you not celebrate it? Why? Number two, do you know anyone who is or was in the military? Have you ever had an in-depth conversation with them about it? Reflect on that. Number three, did Katrina's experience change or confirm your thoughts in any way on women in the military? And number four, did you or would you ever consider joining the military? Why?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (51:14):
This has been the Discovering Our Scars podcast. Thank you for joining us.
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Mental Health Advocate. Author. Podcast Host. DIYer. Greyhound Mom.
I'm a mom who laughs a lot, mainly at myself. #UMC Pastor, recent Seminary grad, public speaker, blogger, and sometimes lawyer. Learning to #LiveLoved.