(KXNET) — “It was kind of a lonely world. There were a lot of battles we fought.”
Her tears are not tears of sadness, but rather tears of strength.
Meg Vanderlaan graduated high school from Armor, South Dakota in 1988. From there, she decided to join the army reserve to help her pay for college. She would spend six months after graduation in Alabama where she would train for nuclear and biological warfare.
After her training, she would go on to Mount Marty University where she would study respiratory therapy. However, after she transferred to South Dakota State University, she realized respiratory therapy was not her calling and went on to be a science teacher instead.
That is where she would meet her husband, Chad. They would both eventually land teaching jobs in Mohall, North Dakota where they would raise their three children; Anna, Cole, and Brooke.
However, teaching was not the only job Vanderlaan was taking on.
“The full time I was going to Army Reserve Training on weekends and doing my two-week training. After 2001, after 9/11 happened, everything kind of changed for that, and that’s when I started doing more military things. So I started teaching. I was flying to Denver or Missouri on the weekends,” Vanderlaan explained.
In 2004, Vanderlaan would be transferred as a transportation specialist to Iraq for a year. There she would act as a liaison between the Kuwait police and convoy commanders.
However, Vanderlaan’s experience in the Army as a woman was not a pleasant experience.
“It’s different for females. I was housed differently. I was separated. After hours, they did their thing. But I couldn’t be with them they would have to be in their own tent and I’m in mine, and there’s that separation,” Vanderlaan said.
When she returned a year later, she found it hard to readjust to normal living circumstances. Vanderlaan and her family decided to move to Pollock, South Dakota for a new beginning where she would also begin her journey of healing.
She would teach in Linton and Hazelton for several years then moved on to teach at the State Penitentiary where she said she learned more from the students there than they learned from her.
“I met some of the most incredible people that I worked with there and some incredible people that were incarcerated. I grew and healed with being able to experience their experience going through therapy and learning and growing. So I really enjoyed working and teaching at the State Penitentiary,” Vanderlaan said.
After two years at the State Pen, Vanderlaan would then land her current role as a science teacher at the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch.
Vanderlaan said her own traumatic life experiences have helped her be more understanding of the students at the ranch.
“I think that we overlook the importance of children beginning life in a trauma-free environment and giving them a chance for their brains to develop without trauma. Let’s do better for children is something that is really important to me,” said Vanderlaan.
Vanderlaan says she wouldn’t have made it through if it weren’t for her band of strong women that are her support.
This remarkable woman has a message for all the other strong women out there.
“Just to be able to talk to and support other women has been a saving grace for me,” said Vanderlaan. “We have to be strong, but we have to be strong with each other and support each other and I don’t need a man’s approval to know I’m worth something.”