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Phoenix Forward

Army is family for new AUSA chapter president

Sarah Oury, AUSA San Diego Chapter president

With her own family more than 2,000 miles away in Chicago, Sarah Oury — the new president of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), San Diego Chapter — is busy building her Army family in this coastal region.

“I want to get my military family intact,” says the retired Army captain, who recently earned her master’s in counseling degree in marriage, family and child therapy at University of Phoenix. “It’s a very important piece of my life.”

As president, Oury, 35, serves as the proud voice on Capitol Hill for her local Army community. AUSA’s mission is to support everyone in that community — active duty, National Guard, Reserve, veterans, retirees, families and civilian employees — through service programs, education and information.

Oury’s ascent to the presidency seems unlikely in a chapter with many older retirees. But several longtime board members, recognizing the need for a new generation of leaders, urged her to pursue the position.

She's reaching out to younger current and prospective members while preserving the legacy of the older veterans on her board. Oury also wants to find those who may feel lost after leaving the Army, though she admits they may need convincing to join the organization. “You can feel separated, especially after combat. But I’ve seen how healthy participating is. It’s a shared experience.”

It’s all about having the camaraderie of the military family. It’s what most people miss when they leave the military.

Oury knows this firsthand, having served in Afghanistan in Mortuary Affairs. Witnessing the carnage — and especially processing the casualties — drained her mentally and emotionally, making readjustment to civilian life difficult. She sought counseling after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Through counseling, she began recognizing the hope in her life. Inspired by her own recovery, she returned to college to become a therapist to help other veterans see the possibilities in their lives. “My Army experience had everything to do with my degree,” Oury says.

Now a volunteer mental health therapist at San Marcos Vet Center, she’s helping war veterans from all military branches slowly integrate back into civilian life.

She says having her master’s degree gives her more confidence in her ability to help others. In fact, rather than prescribing medications, she’s taken the novel approach of prescribing experiences to inspire veterans to seek out simple ways to enjoy life, like taking moonlit walks.

This is what fuels Oury’s passion for her role in AUSA — providing support to local Army members while incorporating fun activities, such as luncheons, golf tournaments, homecoming celebrations, concerts and Army birthday balls. She sees this as the therapeutic side of joining the organization.

And she wants fellow University of Phoenix students and alumni with Army backgrounds to join. Oury says she’d like to double the number of chapter members — currently nearly 500 — which will be a challenge in a Navy neighborhood that’s home to one of the largest U.S. naval bases in the country.

“It’s all about having the camaraderie of the military family,” she says. “It’s what most people miss when they leave the military, and also what keeps them in.”

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