Jeremy P. Amick is the public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America.
When speaking with veterans about their reasons for joining the military, you often receive responses related to money for college or the desire to continue a family history of service.
For Columbia resident Joy Smith, the longing to serve in a psychiatric field helped fuel her decision to enlist — and later shifted to efforts to assist her fellow female veterans.
A native of Ohio, Smith briefly attended college following her graduation from high school in 1985.
However, the following year, she made the decision to change direction when she enlisted in the Army.
“I was always interested in the psychiatric field and the Army seemed to have a good program,” Smith said.
Completing her initial training at Fort Dix, N.J., in 1986, she traveled to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, for eight months of training as a mental health specialist.
The first phase of her training consisted of classroom instruction, during which she was introduced to various medical diagnoses, treatment planning, primary care and patient restraint.
During the second phase of training, she worked in the psychiatric unit at the Audie Murphy VA Hospital in San Antonio, where she assisted patients diagnosed with such issues as post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse addictions.
“I loved it!” Smith explained. “I was always fascinated by the psychiatric field and everyday seemed like a new day in my work.”
With her training complete, Smith was assigned to Irwin Army Hospital at Fort Riley, Kan., in late 1987. In her new assignment, she not only helped teach various treatment classes, but also worked in the emergency room where she learned several aspects of trauma care.
Remaining at the fort until early 1991, she decided to join the Army Reserve and moved to Springfield to spend more time with her daughter.
Remaining a drilling reservist, she returned to college and in 1993 completed her nursing degree using her GI Bill benefits. She moved to Columbia when she was hired as a nurse with the state psychiatric hospital.
In 2002, she received her first overseas duty opportunity when she and three other members of her unit mobilized to Bosnia. She remained in the country for seven months performing classes on stress management and suicide prevention for U.S. troops and civilian personnel.
Shortly after returning from deployment, her unit was notified it would soon deploy to Iraq. In early 2003, she was participating in deployment preparation training at Fort McCoy, Wis., when an unforeseen event changed the future of both her military and civilian careers.
“We were performing land navigation exercises when I was struck by lightning,” Smith said. According to the veteran, the lightning entered the right side of her brain, exited from her right foot and essentially “fried my central nervous system.”
The extent of the injuries led to her discharge from the military in January 2006. Three years later, she had to leave her employment with the hospital.
Although she still must endure some physical challenges related to the lightning strike, Smith has become active in helping veterans and has served as commander and quartermaster for VFW Post 280 in Columbia.
She continues to serve as the women veterans chair for the state’s VFW and enjoys educating her military comrades on the unique issues faced by female veterans.
“Women often have a military experience that is quite different than those of male veterans,” she said.
This has led to an effort to increase the membership of female veterans within the VFW and establish an outlet through which to share their experiences.
“My goal is to ensure women veterans feel comfortable sharing their stories and concerns alongside men at our VFW posts,” Smith said. “We may have all encountered different experiences during our service,” she added, “but in the end, we are all still veterans.”
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