Erica Walsh wrote -
I always knew from a young age that I wanted to join the military. Until then, my life before the army, my childhood, was that of a "typical" American child, for the most part. Unfortunately, my parents divorced when I was very young, but my mother and father were always both active in my life and showed me love and support. I grew up in a household with three sisters as well as a large stepfamily. We were loud, funny, active, healthy and loved. We also fought and got in trouble plenty, but looking back, some of the memories that bring the biggest smiles to my face were fighting with my sisters over clothes and who would take a shower first.
Leading up to enlisting in the Army, I can comfortably say, my teenage years were tumultuous. I had experienced death firsthand, for the first time, with the abrupt passing of my PopPop and a couple years later my stepbrother was tragically killed in a car accident. I, subsequently, became a very angry and sad young woman. I did not express my anger in a healthy way, despite the support of my parents and their insistence on my attending counseling and talking about my pain. I felt as though I had become powerless and that life could end in an instant, which was both devastating and life changing. My perspective as a 16 year old did a 180-degree turn; I no longer felt invincible. It was then I realized that I wanted to make a difference, because my life could end anyway, any day. In the midst off all of this, September 11, 2001 happened, and it became a solid fact that I would become part of the armed forces and fight for our country upon high school graduation. I knew I had strength and intelligence to offer and I felt a deep sense of obligation to stand up and defend the freedom of our great country amidst the turmoil of the early 2000's.
I spent eight years on active duty. My first overseas tour, just so happened to be my first tour upon completion of Army Basic Combat Training One Station Unit Training (OSUT), was to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Leaving home was hard enough for bootcamp, but moving to another country at 18 was a wall that I had no choice but to leap over. I adapted and adjusted, it was not smooth sailing, but I made it work. Since then I spent time at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Camp Humphrey’s, Korea and Iraq. Always returning to Fort Leavenworth Kansas. While in the Army I was afforded the opportunity to play All Army Softball, one year I even got to meet up with my sister, Captain Weinstein. It was really something special to act like kids again while serving my country with my baby sister. I fulfilled my contract and left the Army feeling torn. I ached to get home to my blood family; and could not help but feel as though I was betraying my Army family. To this day seeing pictures and following my friends and their deployments tugs at my heartstrings.
I had my share of trials and tribulations during my service to my country. Through all of this, it made me appreciate the role of my parents in my life, and how supportive and loving they and my family are and have always been. I leaned heavily on them. It would have been easy to roll over and become a statistic and dwell on the bad people that I have known and their bad choices, but I choose to better. I applied my military training to my daily life and I never give up. I have started a business dedicated to helping people harness their personal power and realize their own potential. I am a student working my way toward building a professional career that will help to educate and inform kids and adults about how to treat themselves with respect and find their inner warrior.
My involvement in my local community is one of the greatest joys in my life. My life takes me to different places every day, as I am a student, an employee and an employer. In many ways, I spend my days finding ways to help people better themselves and I get more out of it than I would have ever thought possible. As a student at West Chester University, I was the Vice-President, and the term following I became the President of the Student Veterans Group. I acted as a liaison between our veteran students and the university itself. In addition, I am currently employed as a fitness instructor to young adults/pre teens, at the request of Whitemarsh township, where I was raised and currently reside, teaching them the basics about strength training and fitness. I love working with this generations youth and empowering them with health and wellness knowledge required to live a healthy happy life. I am also employed by the Greater Plymouth Township Community Center and instruct adults and seniors in fitness classes weekly. Last but not least, I am the Head Coach and owner at Dub Fitness, LLC., a personal fitness facility. I am proud to say that a large part of what I do, beyond personal training and fitness, is charity driven. I feel compelled to help educate the community about the some of the issues my fellow veterans battle and bringing awareness about the odds people fight against to live a healthy and full life. Dub Fitness raises awareness about illnesses and problems plaguing our community and world through its involvement with a plethora of charity organizations. We have just recently been asked to be a part of the The American Warriors' Watch Coalition. I hold charity bootcamps to raise awareness and funds. Dub Fitness invites its members as well as the local community at large to participate in our charity bootcamps and races in our area that support worthy causes such as: Veteran Suicide, Lung Cancer, Breast Cancer Awareness, Veteran Homelessness (male and female) and around the holidays we team up for donations to Philabundance. Our next couple of race events as a large group are for Lung Cancer in April and Stand up 2 CANCER in May. Every Memorial Day we proudly participate in the grueling workout titled “the murph” in memory of Navy Seal Lt. Michael Murphy.
Above and beyond being a student, a gym owner and an employee, I feel I am a dedicated leader to those who get to know me. My gym members and students ask me about my service, and I share my personal story with them. I am proud to use my life as an example of how inner strength can be used to produce physical and emotional strength and can help sustain you in dark times. I never just help out, I get involved, and I want to help people make a difference in their own lives and then pay it forward and help to make a difference in the lives of others. I want to live my life in service to others and I strive to be the physical embodiment of the strength and valor people associate with someone who has served in our armed forces. I feel with Ms. Veteran America, I will be able to accomplish all of my goals, and I may even pick a few more up along the way!