Life Will Happen to You
A Veteran Entrepreneur faced the backlash of returning to society with little to no needed help present.
After suffering through 38 months of chronic unemployment, Masters graduate and Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP), Erica Parks finally landed on a form of employment.
The countless organizations and support groups specifically offered to Veterans and through the Transition programs available were unable to help.
It was particularly troubling for the Veteran, who became accustomed to the life where housing, employment, logistics, and nearly everything else was taken care of.
“I went to many, many, many interviews,” Parks said. “But in the end, I didn’t get the job.”
At various interviews, Parks was even called the wrong name. Still, however, Parks maintained her unwavering optimistic attitude and dressed as though she belonged there, she told a group of Mitchell College Students.
“Always look like where you’re going!” she advised.
No matter the circumstance, Parks focused on being persistent, being a good listener, and learning quickly. This helped to have her create her own nonprofit 501c(4) organization, Camouflage Me Not, which helps Veterans throughout the transition process and even helps to arrange events during May’s mental health month including something called “cocktails and conversations” for mental health awareness.
“We didn’t want to just be an organization that sits there — we want to be an organization that makes a positive difference,” Parks explained.
Through hard work, the organization was awarded a prize by the Atlanta Business Journal.
She continued to take baby steps to create a foundation of future opportunities and relationships. Thanks to her military background, Parks was able to serve three years in South Carolina at a Fort.
Parks emphasized some of her tumultuous background from serving overseas in Afghanistan as part of the Army where she had a near-death experience.
Escaping to the bathroom for a few minutes, Parks succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning.
“They had to rush me to the hospital where I stayed 24 hours to recover,” she detailed the tough memory.
“I wouldn’t have survived if it weren’t for a kind, gentle local person named Kandahar — I’ll forever remember his name,” Parks said.
The local villager picked Parks up from unconsciousness and grabbed her limp body back to the Sergeant who was responsible for her livelihood.
“I’ll forever be grateful for the local people there — despite some stories, we had amazing relations with them and allowed us, particularly me, to survive,” Parks said.
Return to America
After spending time overseas with battle brothers and sisters, Parks returned to America and had to completely recreate her life, relationships, and role in the world.
“Going from the military to civilian life was tough,” she explained.
“I lost most or all of my social connections, my identity (rank in military), and logistics of day-to-day life since I knew what I was supposed to do each and every day,” she said.
Parks had to learn how to reinvent and recreate! The feelings of bitterness, disgust, and complacency were not part of the plan.
All of the sacrifice overseas helped Parks to have a greater appreciation for the pandemic today.
Experiencing Life as Service Members
There are countless unknowns in the middle of a pandemic, and similarly serving overseas there are times when there is no idea when someone is going to go back or return.
Service members often have to carry a fifty pound pack, heavy helmet, and face covering that makes it hard to breathe or do anything.
“It makes wearing a little mask a lot more bearable,” Parks said.
“If, for just a moment, or now a year, we could imagine all of us as service members to our country it might make things a lot easier,” Parks explained.
Some people are frustrated with the restrictions to their usual daily activities, the demands of leaders to wear masks, and socially distance. Many of these sacrifices pale in comparison to what service members have done and continue to do for America overseas.
“The simple shift in mindset might make the short-term sacrifices, knowing that we are doing this for our country rather than any political party, more acceptable,” Parks concluded.
Regardless of the circumstances, the time in the military and pandemic has forced many to confront their attitudes towards life, community, and legacies that we can pass down.
“We have to continue to be inspired — we must focus on the good — and continue to be inspired!” Parks emphasized.
The whole pandemic has helped to highlight that health sees no color; the fact that health must be considered as taking care of the entire body, mind, and spirit.
“We cannot deal with someone’s spirit without taking care of their mind and body,” Parks explained as she talked about the perhaps increasing role of spiritual leaders to help overcome the pandemic.
“We should all have equality — our country is too great to let those slip through the cracks,” she concluded.
Before we are able to take care of others, it all starts with taking care of ourselves. There are times in a pandemic