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Female Veterans Helping Female Veterans

Photo Courtesy Nichole Alred

Female Veterans Helping Female Veterans

My name is Nichole Alred and I am competing for Ms Veteran America 2015. I served six years in the Army as a diesel mechanic. I served one tour to Kuwait; I was with the 3rd Infantry Division during the invasion of Iraq and also for OIF III. I was the first female mechanic to work in the 3/15 INF motor pool and also the only female in 2nd Brigade to be licensed on an M88A1 during OIF III. My experience in Iraq changed my life forever. 

When I came home, everything seemed so different. People asked questions I didn't want to answer; I lost touch with family and friends and separated myself from the ones I loved the most. I couldn't sleep at night without getting up to check the doors and windows multiple times during the night. I had an overwhelming feeling that my life was going to come to an end. I had no one to talk to about it. My family and friends didn't understand and I thought my battle buddies would just call me crazy or think of me as weak. I consumed myself with alcohol and distanced myself from people. 

When I returned from Iraq, I met the man who is currently my husband. He is also an Iraq veteran of three tours (we have over five years in Iraq between us). He was patient, kind, loving and understanding. He was all the things I felt I didn't deserve. We have been together for almost 10 years. It is because of him that I have learned to love again and not let Iraq define or consume me. He allowed me to show my soft side, I felt it was OK to cry around him, and I didn't feel the need to be perfect because he didn't care if I wasn’t perfect. He allowed me to be myself. By allowing me to be myself, he taught me to love myself again. If it wasn't for him, I don't think I would have made it through. He is my real life Hero. He is also the reason I had the courage to compete for Ms Veteran America 2015.

I first found out about this competition when I stumbled across the Ms Veteran America Facebook page. At first glance, I thought "Oh, great, a pageant that parades female veterans around in bathing suits." But after doing my research, I found out that not only do they not have a swimsuit portion, but that there's much, much more to this competition. I was so excited about competing and sent an email to inquire about it last year. I was put on a waiting list until registration opened up in January. Once I received my application, it sat on my desk for about a week. I told my husband I wasn't sure about it and told him how I would be competing with all these amazing women. He then said, "Baby, you are one of those amazing women and if this is something you are passionate about, then you need to do it." And I did. 

Ms Veteran America is a platform that helps raise awareness for homeless female Veterans and their children. We are judged based on advocacy, talent, and an evening gown portion. We face a panel of five judges, all of whom are veterans. Whoever is crowned Ms Veteran America receives a crown, a Ms Veteran America sash, agrees to perform 100 hours of community service over the next year. She also receives $15,000 to use toward education, a vehicle, home improvements or a new home. 

The beneficiary of MVA is Final Salute Inc., a nonprofit that helps homeless female Veterans with financial assistance, safe and suitable housing, financial education and employment opportunities. Final Salute INC was found by Cpt Jas Boothe in 2011. She found herself homeless after hurricane Katrina submerged her home in water. Five months after becoming homeless, she discovered she had cancer in her head and back. With one credit card and a grant from the government, she founded Final Salute INC to help other female veterans in difficult situations. Her story is what inspired me to compete for Ms Veteran America. Seeing her so compassionate about helping other female veterans who may be in the same situation, even at her lowest point in life, is so selfless and a reflection of what kind of women she is. I had never met this woman, yet she inspired me. 

My journey is not even halfway over and it has forced me to overcome so many obstacles. Since January, I (with the help of family, friends and strangers) have raised more than $8000 to help our female veterans. I have washed 18 boats, held a silent auction and am attending an event that Armed Forces Motorcycle Club will be hosting for me in Kentucky at the end of this month. The amount of support I have received has been very humbling. My advice to anyone thinking about competing next year would be to be ready to work hard, make sure this is something you are passionate about and be ready to overcome obstacles; because you must have passion and work hard to be successful.

To support Final Salute Inc., visit www.crowdrise.com/mva2015nicholeh or www.finalsaluteinc.org