National Military Appreciation Month: 3 Georgians share their stories

On August 2, 1990, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein annexed the sovereign nation of Kuwait. That action eventually led to the Gulf War ... which began with Operation Desert Shield, from August 2 to January 17, 1991 ... and culminated with Operation Desert Storm, which began on that same day. U.S. President George Bush organized a coalition of 35 nations to combat Hussein's aggressive actions. Operation Desert Storm was also marked by live battlefield reporting from CNN. Military leaders such as Gens. Colin P

Editor’s note: In a May 1 story in the Aging in Atlanta special section, Cassandra Randolph spent 21.5  years of 30 years on active duty, was not an officer, but retired as a Sergeant First Class (E-7) and spent the first 12 years as a military police officer. This information was incorrect in the original story.

The sacrifices and contributions military servicemen and women have made do not go unnoticed.

For National Military Appreciation Month, three retired veterans talk about their service and the experiences that transformed them made them the people they are today.

Navy Lt. Amy Stevens, Ed.D., served 15 years on active duty and in the reserves.

Credit: Provided by Amy Stevens

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Credit: Provided by Amy Stevens

Lt. Amy Stevens advocates for women in service

Navy Lt. Amy Stevens, Ed.D., served 15 years on active duty and in the reserves. She served as director of education and training for the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Command in Washington D.C. and oversaw soldier training and development.

Stevens’ cousin was an Army nurse and served during the Vietnam War, which inspired her to join the military. Stevens, 68, found a camaraderie in the military that laid the foundation for her future. Her service changed her outlook on life and created a passion to give back to her community and country.

“When you join the military, you gain a whole different perspective of America and what our country stands for,” Stevens told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“What you left behind as a young person in high school, is totally different coming back because you have now that expanded knowledge.”

As the Director of Psychological Health for the Georgia National Guard, Stevens counseled many other women veterans and found that the hardships they faced had not changed since she had served. This fueled a passion for gender equality in the military. Stevens founded the nonprofit Georgia Military Women, an organization that assists women with resources after service and gives them a safe space and community to connect with each other.

“As a woman veteran, I do see that women service members are not treated the same as the men, oftentimes (they were) on active duty and did not have the same opportunities,” Stevens said.

“And we were subjected, sometimes — not all the time — to adverse conditions as women. And in a more current environment, I see that some of the same things still go on. So, part of my passion is raising awareness of the needs of women, veterans or women’s service members.”

Stevens believes veterans’ willingness to serve should be universally celebrated. No matter the position, rank or tasks, all service members served their country.

Cassandra Randolph sees her service as a blessing that she could be a part of something bigger than herself.

Credit: Provided by Cassandra Randolph

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Credit: Provided by Cassandra Randolph

Sgt. Cassandra Randolph found a sisterhood in the military

Sgt. Cassandra Randolph, 57, served 21.5 years — out of 30 years total service, including 12 years as a military police officer — on active duty in the Army. Originally from a small town in North Carolina, Randolph joined the military, where she served in combat, to see the world. She wanted to provide for her son while traveling and received a college education without relying on her parents.

Randolph credits her military career for giving her independence and making her a global citizen. Her travels exposed her to different cultures and diverse backgrounds where she grew to be a more tolerant person.

As a woman in service, she faced a lot of mistreatment from other service members. In a male-oriented field, she was constantly challenged and often dealt with sexual harassment and teasing. However, she found a strong sisterhood and female companionship in the military. She said that the relationships and camaraderie she experienced were unmatched. Even after her duty, she finds that the service of women is often discounted by civilians.

“Even in this day and age, it’s really hard for (civilians) to understand that women served too,” Randolph said.

“And we’re constantly asked, ‘Is this your husband’s tag,’ or ‘Why did you park in that parking space? That is for a military or combat veteran,’ which I am — I served in Iraq. We served in Kuwait also, but I just wish they would understand that. We’ve made a lot of sacrifices. We should be appreciated and we should be celebrated.”

As soon as Randolph arrived in Iraq, she attended a memorial service for a soldier who had been killed by a rocket-propelled grenade. She recounts it as the most heartbreaking day of her life. She realized that life is precious, and that every day she lives is a blessing.

Despite the hardships, Randolph sees her service as a blessing that she could be a part of something bigger than herself. She’s retired as a Sergeant First Class (E-7) and resides in McDonough.

Col. Tom Torrance had a 30-year career in the Army.

Credit: Provided by Tom Torrance

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Credit: Provided by Tom Torrance

Col. Tom Torrance’s service creates a lasting impact

Over his 30-year Army career, Col. Tom Torrance, 65, recognizes that his service instilled in him a sense of leadership, organization and a desire to give back to his community. Even after retirement, Torrance continues this service, volunteering his time every day and taking part in numerous volunteer activities.

A Milledgeville native, Torrance started his service as a way to fund his education when he joined the junior ROTC program at Georgia Military College. After three years, he found that he didn’t want to leave.

“I like to joke and say, I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up,” Torrance said. “So, I joined the Army. I was enjoying that, so I sort of took the attitude that I’m just going to keep on doing this until it’s not fun anymore.”

“The first instance that I ran into where it wasn’t fun anymore was (when) I had about 14 or 15 years in. And at that point, I was so close to retirement. The beauty about the military is that normally the things that make a particular job unpleasant don’t last. Next thing I know, 30 years had come and gone.”

Torrance worked all over the world. His roles included an assistant deputy director for the Bureau of the Political-Military Affairs Middle East at the Pentagon, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division Artillery in Fort Stewart and Iraq, chief of staff in the Army in Bosnia, and a deputy commandant for the U.S. Army War College, among others. Additionally, Torrance performed combat duty twice from 1991 to 1992 for Operations Desert Shield and Storm, and in 2003 for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“What you’re doing today is going to impact 5, 10 or 15 years from now,” Torrance said. “I think it’s also transformed me. (By) living in as many places, we have been exposed to different people, different cultures, different attitudes … and that has made me better as a person all-around.”

“It’s made me now — in my post-service life — more willing and created a sort of a desire to give back to the community,” he said.

“Despite living in a number of different places, I wasn’t particularly involved in community activities and volunteer activities, and now I do quite a bit of that. It could track back to a sense of duty, a desire to serve others and help others and be a part of something bigger than just yourself.”

Takeaways for current service members

For those currently in the service, these veterans have some advice to offer.

“It’s extremely hard on the families you know,” Torrance said. “My advice to people is you’ve got to decide what are your priorities in life, is it your career, your family? Is it something else? And if you can’t balance those priorities in a way that you can live with or that’s acceptable both to you and to your families, you probably want to do something else.”

Persistence is also key.

“I would just say you know, do the hard job, do the job that’s gonna make you gain rank, just stay the course,” Randolph said. “Get all the education you can while you are in, that way you’re not saddled with debt. And just take those chances.”

Stevens said the support she received from the military, and the relationships she found with others truly helped her develop into the person she is today.

“The camaraderie and the duty to serve combination is what’s important and defined a group of people that have the same desire to serve,” she said “The military is like a family. And no matter what, you know, that’s what we do — we stand together.”

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