As a teenager in Baltimore, combat veteran Sergeant First Class Amanda Weber pondered the idea of going straight to college after high school. She never knew life would take an interesting and unexpected, yet welcome, turn that led her into the Army.
"I wasn't sure what I wanted to do when I finished high school," Weber said. "I applied to college, but I felt another calling in my life. I wanted to be able to take care of myself." In 2005 at the age of 18, she attended a career fair that led her to join the Army as a logistics specialist.
Now, the Army is a built-in family for life. Weber, who recently celebrated 14 years of service, said the military has allowed her to lead, inspire Soldiers, and achieve some of her personal goals such as getting an education. She earned an Associate of Arts degree in General Studies at American Public University in 2016.
To Weber, the Army has also been a place that fostered lots of love, openness, and support as she navigated the challenges of serving in combat. Weber arrived at her first duty station, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, in February 2006. By September of that same year, she was on her way to her first combat deployment.
Her year-long deployment to Iraq was followed by another tour to Iraq a few years later, and finally, a third 12-month stint in Honduras in 2011.
"On my first deployment is when I started to notice issues with my health. Mortar attacks in our area of operations resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder," Weber said. "I was manning a gun truck delivering food and other items to different forward operating bases. Me and four other Soldiers had to go to a very dangerous forward operating base that was attacked regularly. Lots of mortar attacks; they attacked our living quarters [too]. I remembered being 19 and scared to death."
In addition to her three deployments, Weber has been stationed in Hawaii, Washington State, Colorado, Maryland, and Maine. In 2013, she was selected as a recruiter. By January 2014 she was at her first duty station as a recruiter, followed by selection as a permanent career recruiter in 2017.
SFC Weber's combat deployments had taken their toll on her. She had been suffering from post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and other combat-related injuries ; and by spring 2019 her medical issues required her to be assigned to the Warrior Transition Brigade at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. as a Wounded Warrior
Leaving the Army is bittersweet for the accomplished combat veteran. "I love the Army so much," Weber said. "I have a passion for serving and leading Soldiers. I was devastated when I found out that I would possibly be medically retiring last June."
"I joined mainly because I wanted to be a hero," Weber continued. "The Army has been my 'parent,' so I think I'm having 'leaving the nest syndrome.' The Army has taken such good care of me. My leadership encouraged me to be honest about my health after I deployed, and the Deployment Health Assessment Program gave me great referrals and helped get me the proper help I needed."
She first learned about the Deployment Health Assessment Program (DHAP) during her first deployment. "I remember a lot of good training in preparation for the assessments," Weber said.
Deployment health assessments are taken at three points -- before deployment, immediately after redeployment, and 90 to 180 days after redeployment. All three involve filling out a Department of Defense self-assessment form, and each includes a one-on-one appointment with a health care provider. These appointments are "gateways" for the Soldier to receive care for deployment-related injuries or behavioral health challenges.
Throughout Weber's military career, she experienced supportive leadership that encouraged her to be sincere about any injuries or ailments she might be having, both mental and physical, as a result of combat. Weber said she wants to help Soldiers in reducing the stigma associated with obtaining behavioral health care.
"I have had leadership that fostered an environment of honesty and openness with my overall health, and we need more of this," Weber said. "Soldiers, especially our young Soldiers, may fear being honest about their mental or physical health for fear of judgment."
"The DHAP program does a good job of making Soldiers feel comfortable through this process," Weber continued. "We just have to ensure that our leaders continue to offer support. It's a serious matter."
DHAP has been an inspiration to her. "Going through the DHAP program showed me that, with the right guidance and leadership and hands-on approach, the Deployment Health Assessment Program can continue to help others the way it helped me," she said. "It led me to my degree program in social work so that I can help veterans and civilians once I am medically retired. It has led me to pursue a career as a licensed social worker."
Weber is applying to the University of Maryland Global College to earn her bachelor's degree in social work, from there she will go on to pursue her master's degree in social work at the University of Wilmington, N.C. Vocational Rehabilitation at the Warrior Transition Brigade is covering most of her expenses. The future looks bright for this courageous combat veteran.