By Aryanna Berringer, volunteer

No one’s story should be suppressed or ignored, but all too often, that is the case for women veterans. We strive to empower women veterans to be leaders in and through our programs. We want to highlight one such story in anticipation of our 4th annual Women Veterans Leadership Summit and in celebration of International Women’s Day.

Aryanna Berringer is a Women Veterans Leadership Summit attendee and an active volunteer with our Pittsburgh service platoons. Here is her story as told by her. If you’re as inspired by these stories as we are, consider donating. Your support empowers women veterans to realize their full potential as civic leaders.

I wasn’t going to let them leave me behind

It was two months after 9/11 that I stood on the worn brown carpet of the MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) with my right hand raised, swearing to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

But at 18, what did I really know about any of that? I joined the United States Army thinking that in some small way I could give back to my community that had done so much for me and my family while earning money for college.

Aryanna Berringer while in the military

I was the first in my family to enlist in the military. There was no one that I could turn to for advice or ask questions of to calm my fears. And I had so many. I quickly realized that I was just going to have to learn by doing.

Upon arriving to my unit for the first time there were preconceived ideas about what a woman in the military was there for. So when we went on our first platoon run, no one waited for me, they took off and left me in a cloud of dust. I remember working out twice as hard, running all the time. I wasn’t going to let them leave me behind again.

They didn’t.

I grabbed a marker and made our presence known

This wasn’t an isolated incident of feeling second class (even though as a private you really are). I can remember being some of the first boots on the ground in February of 2003 when my unit went overseas to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.

After we landed, a small contingent of women set out to find a bathroom, only to be met with two “Mens” rooms next to each other, I grabbed a marker and placed “Wo” in front of Men and made our presence known.

It wasn’t always acknowledged.

Yes, I am a wartime veteran

The week after getting out of the military I had my appointment at the VA. Walking through those doors I was first directed to the spouse’s side of care, after explaining that I am the servicemember (repeatedly) I finally sat down in a chair to only have to explain that yes, I am a wartime veteran. Yes, I did get deployed overseas. And no, there was no OB/GYN on staff.

Aryanna Berringer with other volunteers with The Mission Continues, some of them women veterans.

Transitioning back into civilian life isn’t something that takes a week or a couple of months – to be honest, I don’t know if we ever fully transition. There is a part of us that is forever changed. It’s why when you see a bunch of veterans together they are a part of a conversation that a civilian will never know, the inside jokes span generations of veterans, and the love is immediate.

So while I faced some challenges in and out of the service, I am grateful and honored to have been a part of it. The friends I made are lifelong, the experiences had have only made me a stronger person, and today, I am a part of something bigger than myself.

Our stories all get at the heart of what it means to be a woman veteran

Finding The Mission Continues filled a need for reconnecting with veterans at home. Together, through service, we are continuing to build upon what we started when we joined, no matter when that was.

The desire to serve wasn’t something that was instilled in me at a young age, that my parents cultivated, but something I learned through doing in the Army. And when I got out it was something that I wanted to continue.

A service project in Pittsburgh, including Aryanna Berringer and her daughter.

The women of the Pittsburgh Service Platoons come together in and out of service projects to lift each other up, support our careers, our passions, and our families. We all have faced different challenges in our service but at the same time, our stories all get at the heart of what it means to be a woman veteran.

These women are part of the reason why I started my podcast “What A Veteran Looks Like.” For far too long the stories of service haven’t included women, women of color, gay and lesbian women, all of us. We are what makes military service so great. Our diversity, our work ethic, our passion makes the military better.

Being a woman who served makes you strong

And now as veterans, we are making our communities better.

We’ve spent Martin Luther King, Jr Day renovating classrooms in Hazelwood, laying wreaths for our fallen veterans during the holidays and will be renovating vacant lots in Homewood for International Women’s Day as a part of HerMission, a woman centered project lead by women veterans in Pittsburgh.

Aryanna Berringer volunteering with The Mission Continues

This is why I decided to apply to be a part of the Women Veterans Leadership Summit. There are women all across the country that are doing the same thing in their communities. I am looking forward to connecting with them, learning from them, and growing these new relationships into a network of remarkable veterans across the country and maybe even sharing their stories on the podcast.

We are proving that we are building up our communities back home, proving that being a veteran doesn’t mean you are broken, and proving that being a woman who served makes you strong.

For more women veteran stories of service, check out our Her Mission page.