Leader Spotlight: Brandy Baxter
As part of United Religions Initiative North America’s #TangibleHope campaign, Veterans for American Ideals is recognizing veteran leaders who are continuing their service by building unity and standing up for American values. Through a series of interviews, we’re asking VFAI leaders to share how their service shaped them and what responsibility they feel veterans have to speak up on issues that relate to our national ideals.
Today’s interview is with Brandy Baxter, a U.S. Air Force Veteran, the Director of Attitudes and Attire’s Boots to Heels program, and an active volunteer in her community.
Tell me about your military service.
I joined the military because I needed direction in my life. After graduating from college, I had a tough time finding a job and I began hanging out with the wrong crowd. My uncle (retired Army) told me I needed to join the military to bring “order and discipline” to my life. I didn’t think the military was for me (I had visited the base when my uncle was an Army drill instructor in the ‘80’s), so I ignored his advice.
Then a few months later 9/11 happened. I remember being afraid. I also realized how short life can be and I hadn’t really accomplished anything I was proud of. Two months later I joined the U.S. Air Force in November of 2001.
My first and only duty assignment was to Malmstrom AFB, MT where I worked in the medical clinic as a Public Health Journeyman. I enjoyed the data-driven nature of my career and I especially enjoyed the leadership opportunities it afforded me. I was the Airman Representative on the Clinic Commanders Strategy Team, I was the Medical Group Airman of the Year, and I was selected to give a short brief to four-star General Lord, who later coined me at the conclusion of my presentation.
Serving in the military did bring “order and discipline” to my life and cultivated leadership qualities in me. I made lifelong friendships, I met and married my husband and I learned the value of a mission.
How did your service shape the person you are today?
Serving in the military gave me more confidence. I compare tough situations to what I experienced in the military. I often remind myself that I made it through Basic Training when I didn’t think I would. It was the most physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging thing I had done in my life to that point.
One of the best things about Basic Training was learning to work with over 20 women to accomplish our goal of graduation. I was assigned to be the Dorm Chief, which meant I was primarily responsible for making sure everyone met requirements, passed exams and didn’t get left behind. This role was my introduction to being a leader in the military.
As a veteran, what sort of responsibility do you feel to speak up on issues that relate to American ideals?
As someone who volunteered to defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic, my responsibility continues whether I’m wearing my uniform or not. The Constitution and the founding ideals of our country are what make us American. Therefore, I feel a great responsibility to speak up on issues that are in direct contrast to the fabric of what it means to be an American.
Tell me about one issue related to those ideals that is of particular importance or concern to you right now. What are you doing about it?
I must tell you about two issues that are of equal concern to me: racial and gender inequality. As an African-American woman, I live with a constant awareness of these two issues. It saddens me that some people choose to bury their heads in the sand when it comes to these issues because it may not directly affect them or it infringes upon their comfort zone. Recently, our country has become so polarized, that American ideals seem to be something of the past.
I have made it my personal mission to promote love, not hate, and to promote community, not disunity. When I encounter ignorance, I try to educate. When someone becomes malicious or stubbornly ignorant, I choose to remove myself from the situation. My grandfather would say, “Don’t argue with a fool; because people looking from the outside won’t know which one is the fool.” Therefore, I surround myself with others who choose to be ambassadors of equality, regardless of race or gender.
Denying racism doesn’t cure racism. To me, America is not a melting pot where we melt away our ethnic and cultural heritage and become some new blend of a thing. Rather, America is like a flower garden where each person represents a unique plant in that garden. Instead of asking people to deny their ethnic and cultural differences, we should challenge Americans to bloom where they are planted; embrace our differences and bring beauty to the garden of our country.
I have the unique privilege of working at Attitudes & Attire®, an organization that promotes empowerment for women. As the manager of the Boots to Heels women veterans program, I advocate for and promote the equality of women veterans.
Women who serve in the military are assimilated into a framework that promotes “we” instead of “me.” This framework requires that a woman trust those around her and especially in her unit. Gender inequality rears its ugly head when a woman is violated sexually by the very people she has been trained to trust. Then, in most cases, she is re-victimized because no one seems to believe her story. As a result, a lot of women leave the military as survivors of Military Sexual Trauma (MST), but they are just a shadow of their former selves.
At Attitudes & Attire® our Boots to Heels program restores dignity to the military service of MST survivors. I teach a seminar on self-esteem and confidence building that allows women veterans to see their military service through a new lens. Whether she is an MST survivor or not, every woman leaves a part of herself in the military when she leaves the military. It’s the very nature of the “we” framework.
Our Boots to Heels program is an invitation to all women veterans to attend our seminar and learn tools to feel more confident in any situation and to identify barriers to self-esteem. Though only three short days, our program is the first step in the direction of life change for a lot of women.
What would you say to other veterans about the role that they can play in these issues as citizens?
Veterans need to get on board with a new mission: Uniting the United States of America! We served to protect our country and now it seems our country needs us to protect it from itself. Rather than engage in cyber-bullying over our differences, veterans should be a unifying force in their circles of influence.
Recently, I engaged in an online discussion with someone regarding racial inequality in America. Soon, I realized the conversation was no longer productive and was sending a negative message. I chose to end the exchange and began posting more positive messages. That’s when my personal mission began: To promote love, not hate and to promote community, not disunity. Maya Angelou said it best when she wrote in her poem Human Family, “We are more alike my friends than we are unalike. We are more alike than we are unalike.”