In personal endeavors and her military career, Teresa Shaw has overcome many obstacles. Forged in the cauldron of difficulties, there have been lessons born of hardship inspiring her volunteerism with the Veterans of Foreign Wars and providing a connection to her fellow veterans who might need resources to face any post-military challenges.
The daughter of a career U.S. Air Force veteran, Shaw said her family moved around frequently during her youth and that she eventually graduated in 1980 from Douglas High School near Ellis Air Force Base in South Dakota.
"I decided to enlist in the South Dakota National Guard because I wanted to go to college and my parents didn't have the extra money to send me," she said.
"Also," she chuckled, "I didn't really have a clear idea as to what I wanted to do after high school."
During the summer of 1980, she completed her basic training at Fort Gordon, Georgia, and remained at the base for several weeks of additional training to become a radio operator. She then returned to South Dakota, where she began drilling with her unit while attending college and working full time for the print shop at the state National Guard headquarters.
"I was pursuing a degree in journalism, but in the end it took me 15 years to get my degree," she said. "There were just a lot of things going on that took precedence."
In the ensuing years, Shaw married and gave birth to a daughter in 1987. The following year, wishing to achieve promotion to sergeant, she changed her military occupational specialty (MOS) to public affairs and completed the necessary training at the Defense Information School at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana.
"When I got back from the school, I was hired full time by a local newspaper and worked on putting together the community calendar and obituaries in addition to editing press releases," she said.
By 1990, she had returned to college but the following year was mobilized for the Gulf War, deploying overseas in mid-January 1991. Assigned to the 109th Engineer Command, she was stationed in Saudi Arabia.
"My job was to ensure the communications were sustained between our command and the higher headquarters," she said.
Returning to the U.S. in mid-June 1991, Shaw and her husband soon parted ways and she spent the next three years working on military orders at the state headquarters. When the orders ended in 1994, she moved to Bismark, North Dakota, where she was employed as a military personnel clerk with the North Dakota National Guard.
"I decided to begin working toward my degree again and graduated with a bachelor's in social and behavioral science in 1997," she said. "I remarried the same year, and we moved to southern Utah, where I began working in HR for a manufacturing plant."
Shaw went on to earn her master's degree in human resources in 2000 and continued her service as a member of the Utah National Guard. However, in 2001, after growing weary from driving five hours each direction to attend drill with her National Guard unit, she made the decision to retire.
The next several years were quite challenging since Shaw struggled with issues related to post-traumatic stress coupled with uncontrolled diabetes. Her difficulties were magnified, she said, by the move her family made to rural Nebraska in 2003, located far from a VA hospital or clinic.
"I was lost after I left the military and struggling with all of these issues just trying to figure out how to move forward," she said. "My daughter graduated high school in 2005 and then left home, and in August 2007, my father, who was my greatest supporter, passed away. It was truly a horrible period in my life."
Her second marriage soon fell apart; however, she was connected with appropriate medical treatment and, through medication and counseling, began to recover hope in her life. Picking up the broken pieces, she moved to Missouri in 2009 and was hired by the Daily Star Journal in Warrensburg. While there, she met some people who encouraged her to join the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
"The VFW has been great for me and gave me a new mission of supporting veterans — it changed my life," she said.
The veteran has since remarried and is cheerfully employed at a hospital in the Warrensburg area. Since joining the VFW in 2009, her passion of supporting veterans has resulted in volunteer service in several capacities with the organization, including stints as a post commander and District 6 commander.
"Today, I fight for vets and their families," she stated. "One of the most satisfying aspects of this mission has been supporting our women veterans who many people don't view as veterans because they don't have high-and-tight haircuts or look like what is the common perception of a veteran.
"As women, we may be suffering from our service, but we also tend to rationalize things a bit more — we believe we can just exercise more, get a little more sleep or find a better job, and everything will be all right. But oftentimes, it isn't, and it's fine to ask for help from the VA or other organizations.
"I have been through a lot in my life, and I'm still standing, so I like to think that my experiences might serve as a means to allow me to connect with other women veterans who may be suffering."
Jeremy P. mick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.