They fought for our country, and they fought for our freedom, and tonight we continue to share their stories in our special series, Veterans Voices.
A path etched in her mind from early on, Brandi Hardy, formerly Brandi Jude, served in the United States Army.
There are still many poignant reminders of what she endured, but from it all, she drew strength, which drives her in all she does today.
Alysia Huck has her story in tonight’s Veterans Voices.
It’s common for a child to dream of what they will be when they grow up, but it’s more common for those dreams to change and evolve over time … that wasn’t the case for Brandi Hardy.
After drill training and trying out some MRE’s with her uncle who was in the military, she knew.
“I was like ‘SOLD’ I was going to be in the infantry, I was like hardcore about it from 9 years old and on,” exclaims Brandi Hardy, U.S. Army Specialist.
Brandi fast-tracked her way to the army, graduating from high school in December of her senior year, then off to advanced individual training.
From there, it was training for deployment.
“I knew I was going to be deployed and so being at Fort Stewart and actively doing that, it didn’t feel abnormal to be training for being deployed,” Hardy explains.
While many soldiers deal with trauma from war, the trauma started during training for Brandi.
She was attacked by a male soldier in her barrack-room, then she received a tougher reprimand than her attacker.
This and other incidents changed how Brandi carried herself.
“After a while, I just tried to blend in and be as masculine as possible so that the comments and suggestions that were made, and this was throughout the rest of my military career from every rank,” Hardy recalls.
Brandi was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq in 2005, just 2 weeks after her 19th birthday, and she was ready.
“I always make the joke that for my birthday gift I got to fly in a blackhawk,” exclaims Hardy.
She says she learned a lot about herself in Iraq … there were good memories with great friends, but there was also tragedy.
“An IED had killed one of our lieutenants and one of the sergeants. I remember sitting next to my battle and the lieutenant’s blood was on his frag vest and just sitting there and consoling him,” says Hardy. “This wasn’t a serene, beautiful filled setting, it was the middle of the night, like 2 or 3 in the morning, super odd, and we just sat on this picnic table and that was it, we just sat there and absorbed the moment and absorbed the shock because it really was like ‘he’s gone’ and you just sit there.”
Returning from war was a battle of a different kind.
Brandi says she grappled with what it was she was supposed to share as a soldier, as a female soldier, and as a woman who had kept her identity as a lesbian hidden while in the army.
“I do hold a lot of honor, you know no matter what the political climate is now I’m very proud of being an American and serving my country and I’m very proud to represent that flag,” says Hardy. “One party does not represent that flag. That flag represents everyone in the US, and I’m queer and I represent that flag and I fought for that flag.”
And Brandi says it’s not only the soldiers we should honor, but the soldiers’ loved ones who support them day in and day out.
“You are handling someone who just came back a completely different person after Iraq,” Hardy explains. “She pulls out these amazing pieces of who I used to be, like truly genuinely used to be before my time in the service.”
And who she is now … is a veteran who discovered a whole new level of compassion while fighting for her county.
Reporting in Bismarck for KX News, I’m Alysia Huck.