FOB Hope: One Vet’s Story of Finding Purpose After Service
By: Monique Brown
In 1987, I was literally sitting on my bed contemplating the next move I would make in my life. I was about to start my fourth year in a two-year college and I just could not see myself doing that! At that moment, the phone rang. It was a recruiter from the United States Army. She asked what I was planning to do with my life and wondered if I was interested in seeing what the Army had to offer.
On September 19, 1987 I signed into basic training at Fort Jackson, SC. as a new Army recruit, I was a good recruit. Being a soldier came easy to me. I served on active duty for three years at Fort Lewis, WA. Those years were quite an experience.
The thought had never occurred to me that I was a lesbian signing up for a job that did not allow that life style; and the hiding began! I was naïve; thinking I could trust people, but I was a victim of Military Sexual Trauma (MST). I was raped (yes, I said it – #metoo) by a leader who was supposed to take care of me and my well-being. Those years made me decide the military was not for me. As soon as the contract was up, I was out!
However, the military sometimes has a funny way of getting you hooked. I could not shake the fact that I needed to serve. So, I joined the Army Reserves in California. There, I served for five years. When the contract was up, I still hadn’t learned my lesson and joined the California Army National Guard. During my tenth year of serving in the National Guard, my unit was deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and it was a great tour. I worked as a Rotations NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer). The job entailed a lot of logistic coordination for units coming to and leaving from the island. I loved it! It was then I decided to go back to active duty. In February 2006, I signed in to Fort Lewis, WA once again.
There was one major issue I did not consider when I re-enlisted for active duty; troops were being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan on tour after tour. Four months after I re-enlisted I was on a plane headed to Iraq. I can remember being the only female on the team I was deployed with. The NCOIC made it very clear he did not want women on his team and I found myself trying to convince him that I was not “one of those” women. I wanted him to know that I was “hard charging” and mission focused. At this time, I was 39 years old and the only female member of a team with men half my age. I wanted to prove that I could handle anything. I pushed myself so hard that I experienced injuries to my feet and back during my first tour. Those injuries only got worse during my second tour to Iraq.
After all I had done to prove that I was a strong soldier, no matter what my gender, I was medically retired in 2013! I can remember being so disappointed because I wanted to do twenty active duty years, but at 46 years old my body could not take any more of the stress I was putting on it.
November 2013, I was out! I was depressed, and I was without my brothers and sisters. I had no mission. My body was in pain and my mind was no longer functioning the way it should. PTSD! No way, I don’t have PTSD. Major Depressive Disorder – you’ve got to be kidding! That’s what I kept telling myself, but I was wrong. I decided to get help with my mental and physical ailments. However, it was not until I went back to work that I felt like I was becoming whole again. I had a real mission and was able to serve again.
I landed a job I didn’t even know existed – a Veterans Outreach Specialist. It’s the best job I’ve had since I was a Platoon Sergeant in the Army! My job is to go out and find veterans who need help. I get to help connect these veterans to resources for housing, benefits, and much more. However, while conducting outreach, I found a gap in services when it comes to homeless veterans.
Some veterans who live on the street, under the freeway, and in tent cities do not want to go to shelters so they decide to brave the elements we are so accustomed to in Washington State. However, many do not have good sleeping bags, tents, cold and wet weather gear, socks, shoes, and toiletries. They are getting sick and some even die. When a veteran I was working with died of hypothermia, I knew I had to do something about it.
My answer was to collect the items they needed and deliver them to every homeless veteran I could find that needed help. In 2015, I decided to make it a business and FOB Hope (Forward Operating Base Hope) was born. FOB Hope is now a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. We are helping homeless veterans survive, but we are also building trust with these veterans so that maybe they will eventually want to make a change in their lives. FOB Hope is in it’s infancy stage, but we hope to be a national leader in veteran’s outreach and advocacy.
If nothing else, the military taught me to never leave a comrade behind. It is a lesson I will never forget!
Monique Brown joined the United States Army out of Los Angeles, California in 1987. Monique served a total of 26 years with a combination of Active Army, Army National Guard, and the Army Reserves until she was medically retired in 2013. In 2016, Monique created FOB Hope. The organization collects and distributes personal care items to homeless veterans who live in places not meant for human habitation. She distributes tents, sleeping bags, wet and cold weather gear, toiletries, and more. Monique wants ensure no other veterans die cold and alone on the street.