#MeToo Tacoma:The Military Wife Behind the Event
by kristin bentley
Born at Fort Bragg, NC, before moving to Germany during her young years, Empowerment Coach and Founder of Warrior Goddess Evolution Naomi Herrera knows all too well the ups and downs of the military life. She remembers moving to JBLM and living on-post,
"My mom worked with Army Community Services, so I was blessed with the opportunity to get involved. I started volunteering when I was eight and have continued with the EFMP program, serving as the Queen at last year's Hero Con," says Naomi.
As a young child, Naomi listened to others share their stories. Through the example her parents set, she always felt connected to giving back to the community. For her, it was just the right thing to do.
Looking back into her childhood living on-post, she remembers playing at the parks, dance lessons through youth services, and a deep sense of acceptance and understanding. As strongly as she felt the presence of a military community growing up, she says it was much different as a spouse. Her experience wasn't what she had expected.
She felt alone, even though there was a strong FRG and support system. When a group of women are being triggered by deployments and trainings, and are going through some of the most stressful times of their lives, Naomi believes everyone experiences it differently.
"I wish I could've had the FRG experience I thought I was going to have, that sisterhood and sense of community. I don't believe it was because there was a lack of love. We just didn't talk about our struggles with trying to get through the deployment. It felt like there was an expectation to not share the darkness that can happen when you love a Soldier. I believe sharing authentically could've provided a positive and healing impact."
Only four months after Naomi was married to her Soldier, she found herself moving back to Germany. After some time, her husband deployed for combat. Finding it difficult to laugh and enjoy herself when her husband was away fighting a war, she struggled with finding balance in her new role as a military wife. Experiencing any kind of happiness made her feel as though she was betraying him in some way.
Her husband's phone calls were moments she held onto, as the red messages came of others in his unit being injured or killed.
One thing that helped Naomi was sending herself on her own "deployment." Going back to Washington state, she set out on her own personal journey.
A close friend's husband had been nearly killed and underwent over 20 surgeries and a few blood transfusions at Walter Reed before making a recovery. Offering help where she could, Naomi felt there had to be a way for her to better support the troops and raise awareness about the unit and casualties it was suffering.
It was then that Naomi decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa at 19,341 feet. Her friend made a flag out of her husband's old uniforms that read, "Support our troops," and Naomi packed it into her travel bag, clinging onto its sentiment as she left for Tanzania.
"I, too, wanted to put myself in a really uncomfortable situation in a developing country. It's nothing compared to a deployment and being in war. But I wanted to experience something challenging, not knowing what was going to happen, to try to put myself in their shoes as much as I could."
Naomi chose an eight day route to help herself acclimate, as she made the climb. Having never been at such a high altitude before, she says it was grueling. It was snowing, she wasn't sleeping well, was getting bloody noses, vomiting, and had lost her appetite; her body was just exhausted.
The only thing that kept her going was thinking about our service members, as she told herself that she had to do it for them, her husband, and her friend's husband. Through her positive self talk, she was able to make it to the top.
Her trip to Tanzania turned into a longer stay, as she began volunteering at the Moshi juvenile detention center. "It was such a profound experience, seeing children living in conditions I wouldn't even have my dog live in," she says. "There were men with machine guns on the side of the road as I walked youth to court. I'd never experienced that kind of poverty, that kind of violence, that kind of life. And, again, it was nothing compared to what my husband was going through, but I wanted to try to understand. Seeing all of that was just devastating."
Even though her "deployment" was quite different than the one her husband was serving, she suffered deep loss of her own. Her vehicle rolled one afternoon, when the tire blew, as they were traveling to the Maasai village to go on a safari. Her dear friend and roommate died in the accident, and it left Naomi and others stranded on the side of the road for hours wondering whether help would find them.
"I didn't know if I was going to live or die," she says. "I just knew there was a lot of blood and stuff from my body on the outside. Random strangers came up, but I was in a fog."
Naomi had large pieces of glass in her hips and didn't know how deep the damage was. "I remember pulling some glass out, tying pajama pants around me, and just waiting on the side of the road for help."
Naomi says the experience changed her life, and even though it created a bond with her husband when he returned from deployment, their marriage was not able to survive. And only months ago, he took his life.
"There was this disconnect, because for security purposes he couldn't share his full truth, and I felt like I couldn't share mine. I had to be strong, even when I was feeling broken."
Being a survivor is something Naomi has come to master, and even as much trauma as she's experienced she continues to make it her life focus to help others heal.
"Those who sacrifice privilege and comfort to support people with layers of oppression are my role models," she says. "They represent my value system and model what I believe to be part of my calling."
After climbing a mountain, losing a friend in a tragic accident, and experiencing a heartbreaking divorce, Naomi also survived a kidnapping in Peru, where she was beaten and sexually assaulted. Her healing from that experience began as she shared her story in the book she co-authored, Simply Woman.
"I knew that by being vulnerable and sharing my truth, it can help other people heal, take away the shame, share their story, and normalize the symptoms of being a survivor."
#MeToo Tacoma, was held on August 19, 2018, designed to allow sexual abuse survivors the opportunity to share their stories with a small group of survivors and receive a little pampering. It was the first of its kind in the state of Washington.