Tammie remembers the 10 hours of eerie radio silence inside the KC-135 as she refueled combat air patrols over Houston on Sept. 11, 2001.
An instructor navigator, Tammie had joined the Air Force in 1996, following a family tradition that went back three centuries. “I wanted to serve my country and do my bit,” she says. “It was the best job ever. You had the camaraderie of a crew. Even though the job was always the same, it wasn’t.”
A year after the terrorist attacks, “I hit a rough patch,” Tammie says, when she suffered mental abuse by two fellow officers. “I was abused as a child. I thought I had packed that all away because others had suffered and survived.” Now she was having nightmares and flashbacks and struggling with feelings of extreme anger.
When she confided in a fellow officer and sought the help of her flight surgeon, she was ultimately diagnosed with PTSD. It felt like a betrayal by both the officers and her service. “I was told I couldn’t fly. I was grounded. I was sent before a medical board. The military deemed me unfit for service. This job that I loved and was willing to give my life for saw me as unfit.” Her marriage fell apart.
“My PTSD is not fireworks and backfires and gunshots. It’s a judging look, a tone of voice, a side eye. It’s an innocent critique … it’s when who I am at my core feels attacked,” she says.
In 2016, the military was forced to pay Tammie and more than 1,000 veterans lifetime disability benefits after the veterans were deemed unfit for active duty service due to PTSD. Though grateful, “I didn’t get recognition for my service. A judge had to give that to me.”
Tammie found her second calling as a middle school math and science teacher, but she continued to struggle with PTSD and feelings of unworthiness. This spring, she was paired with service dog Flint during LOV’s first all-female class. “I didn’t even think I was worthy to come here. I wasn’t suicidal, but I couldn’t have kitchen knives in the house. I felt useless.”
With Flint, “I’ve got a chance to live life a little. I want to feel more empowered. I want to be stronger without faking it. I want the next person’s path to be smoother than mine.”