Kynnie Martin is one of the lucky ones. In 2006, the Denver resident returned from a yearlong tour in Iraq unharmed and psychologically intact—which can’t be said for the 20 percent of Iraq veterans afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder. Martin knows she’s fortunate, which is part of why the 33-year-old has dedicated her post-Army career to helping veterans transition home. We spoke to Martin about Iraq, her readjustment to civilian life, and how Coloradans can help veterans.
What were your responsibilities while you were in Iraq?
I was a platoon leader for the 3rd Infantry Division’s first Shadow Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Company. Our soldiers operated some of the first remote control spy planes used in Iraq by the Army.
How has your transition from the Army back to civilian life been?
For my husband and me, it’s been a little bit easier because we were both officers. I met my husband, Joel Martin, while serving; we actually dated in Iraq. Because we were both officers, we saw each other when we both had off days. We literally had dates to Saddam’s palaces and the Crossed Swords monument.
So that’s helped with the transition.
Yes. But after coming back, still the big question was, “What do I want to do with my life?” When my husband and I decided to move to Colorado because I have family here, we took three months off and tried to figure out what we wanted to do.
And you decided to go back to school?
I enjoyed volunteering. I enjoyed working in the nonprofit arena, but I was still pretty young. So that’s when I went back to school using the Post-9/11 GI Bill. I was just really lucky that Regis had a nonprofit management course that was so highly regarded.
How has helping veterans transition to civilian life had an impact on you?
While working with Veterans Green Jobs, I met a woman who changed my life. Elizabeth, a medical specialist in the U.S. Air Force, was a homeless veteran whom we hired in 2011. She was living in a safe house and was the kind of person everyone was just drawn to: smart, kind, and full of trivia. She eventually became a family friend, spending holidays with my family. With our help, she found a new job as a medical research technician. In the summer of 2012, she passed away in her sleep. Before she died, she told her family that she was really happy with her new life. Getting to know people like that makes it worth all the hurt and frustration involved. I probably learned way more from her than she ever did from me. I visit her at Fort Logan National Cemetery on her birthday every year.
What don’t civilians understand about military veterans that they should?
When you come across a military member, recognize the sacrifice that person and their family have made for this country. Saying thank you goes a long way when you come across a veteran of any era. Thank you is enough.
5280.com Exclusive: Read more from 5280‘s interview with Kynnie Martin below.
Would you encourage other women to join and should women worry about military sexual trauma (MST)?
Yes, I would encourage any woman who thinks that this would be a good fit for her to join the military. Yes, MST exists, but there is sexual harassment in the workplace as well. It is a very male-dominated career field, but if you’re a strong woman who knows herself, knows how to deal with those things, and isn’t afraid to speak up and represent women—I think we need more of those women in the military. Maybe I was lucky, but I never experienced sexual trauma personally in my units. I did experience severe discrimination from a higher enlisted soldier. And because of the support from leadership in my chain of command, I was able to take care of it immediately. It ended up being a positive experience.
I hate that nowadays PTSD and MST are issues, but it’s not something that every military veteran has to deal with. It is something that needs to be brought to the attention of the general public so they know what’s going on and they know what to do when they come across those veterans, but let’s not victimize the entire military population. We don’t want to be treated as victims.
You have a baby girl. Would you support your daughter in joining?
Oh, yes. We’re hoping she follows in our footsteps and chooses an academy to further her educaton. I would love nothing more for her to follow her dad’s or my example.