Life of a Female Veteran: U.S. Army Combat Veteran Erica Courtney (Part 4 of 6)

With my EMBA close to completion, I was offered a senior level job at a logistics company in Miami. They needed me to lead and grow the government market. Even though I kicked and screamed about being pigeon-holed in logistics and contracting, it sure was a marketable skill. I used to buy everything, from BBQs and sunglasses to furniture and aircraft armor. I worked with the contracting officers and comptrollers who handle the big budgets routinely when I had to equip my units in the U.S. or abroad. Now companies wanted to know how to get to the person I used to be.

It was obvious people had no clue how to deal with federal buyers. I could build a section and plan out their approach. Sure, sign me up. I will take the job. For the first time, I had to think about what I was going to wear. It had been uniforms day in and day out forever. Not a big shopper, I found outfits on mannequins that looked good and showed up early, because if you are not early in the Army you are late. 

No one was there when I got there. The boss pulled up, happy to see me and said I was looking sharp. I thought nothing of it. I had to be very guarded; you never give off signals in the Army. My boundaries were disciplined. In Miami, flirtatiousness abounded. I wanted to be taken seriously and flirting would have destroyed that. I worked hard and the boss loved me, but I was in my own bubble. No one knew what I was doing or had any idea about government. I was not connecting with the workers. It was not a good fit. 

I left after a year. Corporate America was not my thing. However, during this time, Oprah and The White House Project named me, along with 50 other women around the country, a woman with the background and drive to change the world. We were all sponsored and flown to New York to collaborate with community, government and private leaders who inspired me to continue to serve. 

Degree in hand, I decided to go it alone. My family was now moving to Jacksonville, Florida. The need for government business development was there. I researched the market and found many unqualified people charging a fortune to break into this space. People just don’t know what they don’t know. You can’t just jump in. You have to understand the buyer’s language. I knew within 30 seconds if I would work with a vendor or not while serving. Why not prepare people correctly, especially if they were willing to pay for my expertise?
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Life of a Female Veteran: U.S. Army Combat Veteran Erica Courtney (part 3 of 6)

Chris and I finally got married and a few years later came our first son. We planned it so I would be pregnant in a non-operational position during an eight-month leadership course. Noah was born upon arriving to my next assignment at the 10th Mountain Division in upstate New York. My mother decided to help since Chris and I were both serving and someone needed to be with the new baby; it really takes a village to raise a family.

I left Ecuador, where I worked on some amazing projects with international organizations to help save the original watersheds, the rainforest and its indigenous people. I was selected to become the first female cavalry commander while I worked as the senior logistician for the unit, but it kept getting pushed back due to logistical needs. The commander I was to replace had already been shot down three times, and survived each. I was told the command was going to be delayed a year, and then I became pregnant with my second son Ayden.
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Life of a Female Veteran: U.S. Army Combat Veteran Erica Courtney

I am proudly part of the 1.4 percent of American women who served in the military. The day I signed the paperwork to join as a teenager the Gulf War kicked off and I watched tanks fire through the night on TV thinking, “What in the world did I do?” Having grown up in surf city USA (Huntington Beach, CA), I was never exposed to the military. To emphasize this point, the first time I walked into an Army recruiting office I had sand in my hair and sun-kissed skin; I was with a friend of mine and said, “Hi, I am thinking about joining the Marines,” not even understanding the difference in services. The recruiter took a few looks at us, confused, and had to be thinking, “Sucker!” Having always been athletic and adventurous, I thought why not. I would rather try something and hate it than wonder what it would have been like. College was a bore and I was ready for the unknown.

“Get off the bus, you maggots!” Welcome to Military Police Basic Training. What was wrong with these people? Why so much yelling? Okay, bag in hand off the bus I went into the barracks. This is actually where Hollywood gets it right. There’s lots of yelling, climbing, learning, bonding and trying to stay under the radar. Except, I learned early on that was pretty hard for me. I was a runner breaking six-minute miles, and one particular drill sergeant could not stand that there was a female in his fast group and did whatever he could to break me. He was an infantry man where they did not work with women. There were many days of unnecessary hazing to the point he was counseled by the officers. He tried to make me cry, but failed. Many more attempts would follow. I learned early, never let them see you sweat and there is no crying in uniform.

Congratulations. First assignment, Germany. Away from everything I knew. I showed up and was nicknamed Private Benjamin. I was tasked with 12 to 15-hour patrol days and nights responsible for enforcing the Post Commander’s rules and regulations. I was 19 carrying a side arm and had authority most 19-year-olds couldn’t fathom. For any accident that involved an American within 200 miles I would drive out in my VW van with no heater and a blanket draped over me. I’d get out, wipe snow off signs, and arrive to some horrific scenes thanks to the autobahn and no speed limits. The Polezi refused to show up so I had to handle the situations; my first taste of being a first responder and having to show calm and exude control of situations. Our wartime mission dealt with POWs, security and convoy assistance. As the lowest ranking, I got assigned an M60 machine gun then a SAW and had to sleep with this metal thing in my sleeping bag. I was so cold at times I could barely get my fingers to work to shoot, but it’s amazing how warm it gets once in use. After winning over my superiors they assigned me to work with the Criminal Investigation Division infiltrating drug rings and other rackets. This was not my thing. I had a hard time lying about my identity and it did not help that I never touched drugs so I was very uncomfortable. They needed females but I could be put to use better somewhere else.

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