By Susan M. Sipprelle
Englewood, NJ, USA
[Soldier On: Life After Deployment, my documentary about three post-9/11 female veterans, is currently being shown on public television. Screenings followed by panel discussions about topics related to women veterans are also being held around the country. Adria Horn, profiled below, moderated at the March 1 screening in Rockland, Maine hosted by the Knox Museum. Horn is State Director for the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services. Please check your local listings and the Soldier On Facebook page for more information.]
“You can be in the service for one day, or you will be in the service for 35 years, and you all start at zero to become a veteran,” said Major Adria Horn, a West Point
graduate, who deployed five times in her 14-year career. She currently
serves as a U.S. Army Reservist and the State Director for the Maine Bureau of
|Susan M. Sipprelle|
After graduating from West Point in June 2001, Horn commissioned into the military police corps. By August, she was training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. One month later, 9/11 happened.
In the prior West Point class, there was one person going to Bosnia and that was a big deal, Horn recalled. “Everything changed for us,” Horn said about her class.
In January 2002, she deployed to Washington, D.C. as part of Operation Noble Eagle, the domestic force protection mission sent to protect the U.S. locations that had been attacked on 9/11. In March 2003, she deployed to Iraq, where her company provided VIP security for organization and humanitarian assistance during the Iraq invasion. She returned from Iraq in 2004, but by December 2005, she was deployed again – this time to Afghanistan for another year.
|Major Adria Horn|
“Good Lord, it was just nonstop,” Horn said. “When I was in Afghanistan, I actually thought to myself, I’m going to break. I literally remember thinking, I am going to break. I want to start a family; I want to see my husband. [Horn married a former service member in October 2005]. I knew I needed a break and I didn’t want to be military police anymore.”
Horn applied to become a psychological operations officer, was accepted and then underwent training before she was deployed for her last two missions, the most dangerous and important of her military career: In 2008, she deployed with in support of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in the Philippines and, in 2010, she was part of a special operations team in Indonesia, which included being in charge of a scheduled visit by President Obama to the Indonesia national cemetery. [Ultimately, this visit was canceled, due to the Affordable Care Act vote.]
After Horn left active duty in 2011, she took a year off. She was mentally, emotionally and physically spent. “I had been deployed five times in eight years, and I was exhausted, angry, frustrated – you name it,” Horn wrote in an email.
She moved to Maine with her husband, got an MBA, had a baby and began applying for jobs. Not one employer responded. She did not get a single return phone call – a shocking outcome for a West Point graduate with a stellar military career.“It was a lesson in humility, for sure,” Horn wrote – a lesson she hopes helps other understand that the military-civilian transition favors no one.
|Adria and Juliette|
Horn’s experience is not uncommon; many veterans struggle with the transition back to civilian employment. Employers often harbor negative stereotypes about the mental health of veterans, do not understand their skills and worry that veterans will deploy again, leaving them short-staffed.In fact, a small minority of veterans, only about seven percent, experience long-term, persistent post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Additionally, military values such as discipline, leadership and problem solving are all skills that civilian employers say they want in employees. Lastly, most veterans have ended their military career when they begin job hunting in the civilian sector.
The most recent labor reports showed significant progress for post-9/11 veterans. Their unemployment rate dropped to 5.1 percent in 2016 from 5.8 percent in 2015, the lowest rate of unemployment for this group since September 2001. Also, the overall unemployment rate among male veterans (4.2 percent) and female (5.0 percent) veterans in 2016 was not statistically different for the fourth consecutive year.
Despite these positive trends, the country’s newest generation of veterans continue to experience a higher jobless rate than veterans of all eras whose unemployment rate was 4.3 percent in 2016.
After the dearth of responses to her job applications, Horn reassessed. She guessed that she looked intimidating on paper and that she had to figure out how to tell her story better. She also wondered if her resume was being seen by the right people – individuals who were looking to hire rather than only the human resources department.
Still jobless, she applied for an internship in the office of Senator Susan Collins of Maine. A staffer called and said, “We don’t often get applications for internships that look like yours.”
She interned for three months before she was offered a full-time position in Senator Collins’s office. Eventually, she became the State Director for the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services, a job she has now held for two years.
|Adria Horn - State Director of Maine BVS|
Early in her new role as State Director, a veteran service officer position opened in Maine. Horn blasted the job notice out widely, hoping for a large number of applicants. When the applications were received, human resources divided them into keep and discard piles. Horn asked to review all applications with human resources; she wanted to consider the applications that had been rejected.
“I would have flip-flopped the piles,” Horn said.
Based on that experience, Horn spoke to the Governor and was able to initiate a change in the state of Maine. Legislation was passed that requires every Maine veteran who applies for a state job and who possesses the minimal job requirements to receive an interview.
“I feel very, very blessed that I’ve had these all experiences,” Horn said about her life, “because I have a sign in my house that says – Bloom where you’re planted – and it’s so true.”
As State Director of Veterans’ Services, she has found that others often look at her as an authority on all female veterans. What she has learned is that she should not squander these opportunities. She educates herself on every issue that could possibly affect women veterans, and she recommends other women veterans as resources when she is not knowledgeable on the subject in question.
“It’s still uncomfortable at times personally,” Horn wrote, “but when I can connect to someone else and take myself out of the mix, I feel like I’ve empowered a veteran who also has a voice and not just dominated a field with my voice.”
Women currently account for over 15 percent of active-duty service members and almost 10 percent of the veteran population in the United States. Female veterans are the fastest growing segment of the veteran population. Nevertheless, three-quarters of female service members feel the public fails to recognize or value their service. Horn’s approach to her work is targeted directly at correcting the misperceptions about the role of women in the U.S. military and their expanding place in its veteran community.
Susan M. Sipprelle is a documentary filmmaker and founder of Tree of Life Productions, producer of the award-winning documentary Set for Life and the online project Over 50 and Out of Work. Her most recent documentary is Soldier On: Life After Deployment.