3 inspiring female veterans
Serious illness and divorce. Juggling work, parenting and studying while serving their country. None of these challenges deterred these three female veterans from pursuing their degrees at University of Phoenix. In honor of Veterans Day, they share how they overcame personal and professional obstacles and made furthering their educations a priority.
Washington describes her life as a roller coaster ride and attributes many of its high points to her military career. Although she grew up in a military family — her father served in the U.S. Army — Washington never figured she’d join up one day.
“It wasn’t until my first husband, a Marine, became disabled while fighting in the Persian Gulf that I started thinking about enlisting,” she says. A native of Altoona, Pennsylvania, Washington, who got married in high school, joined the U.S. Air Force right after graduation.
“Education was important to me,” she explains, “and the Air Force was really supportive of me enrolling in college” while in the service. That support came in handy when Washington’s young son was diagnosed with autism.
“They helped me switch my [college] training and education from communications and navigation to network administration, a career path that would allow me more time with my son,” she recalls.
Fate intervened shortly after Washington shifted academic gears. She saved a child from drowning in a swimming pool and was awarded an Air Force commendation medal for her quick thinking and bravery.
“The colonel of my division heard about [the rescue] and offered me a job,” Washington says. “A week later, I was doing top-secret work and developing new technologies to keep soldiers safe from harm.”
That career high was followed by a personal low: Diagnosed with cancer of the cervix and uterus, Washington was medically retired by the Air Force after four years of active duty. Now, despite some ongoing health problems related to her cancer treatments, she’s back in school on a Veterans Affairs scholarship.
“I have eight credits to go on a degree from the University of Phoenix Bachelor of Science in Business with a concentration in Management program,” she says. “And I’ll be graduating in the same ceremony in Phoenix as my 23-year-old daughter,” who just finished a bachelor’s in psychology degree.
Martinez attributes her success as a University academic advisor to the values she learned in the Navy: “honor, courage and commitment,” she says. “I always tell students that if they take those three principles into their lives, they’ll always succeed.”
Growing up in Mesa, Arizona, Martinez recalls being fascinated by stories her father and uncles told about their military years. “I signed up right out of high school,” she notes, “although serving in the Navy while also attending Mesa Community College was sometimes a challenge.”
Martinez occasionally traded duty days with others to make it to class. After four years of active duty, she became a reservist and earned a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from Arizona State University. Now, she’s about to begin classes in the Bachelor of Science in Psychology program at the University of Phoenix Main Campus.
“For me, being in the military has meant belonging to something bigger than myself,” says Martinez, a reservist for 18 years. “It has provided me with a lot of solid opportunities.” She and her husband, Juan, were among the grand marshals this year in the Veterans Day parade in Phoenix.
“My dad was an Army doctor for 30 years,” says Barlow, who proudly refers to herself as “an Army brat.” “I grew up all over Europe — Germany, France, Italy and Greece.”
Barlow returned to the United States as a high school senior, began college and enlisted in the Army as an undergraduate. She continued her studies, she says, because “it was clear that without an advanced degree, there was less chance of a military promotion.” She earned a master’s in education from University of Phoenix in 1998.
After 22 years of active duty, Barlow retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2006. She received the Army’s Legion of Merit award and a Bronze Star for her service during Operation Desert Storm. Her greatest reward, she says, has been the opportunity to work for those whom she describes as “wounded warriors” in her job as executive officer of the Texas Sentinels Foundation.
“We build new lives for returning injured soldiers,” she explains, “by providing them with debt-free housing, as well as everything from adaptive wheelchairs to help with planning their weddings. It’s the can-do attitude of our wounded warriors that gets me going every morning of my life.”