Tia Christopher is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts as a woman veteran.
People often ask me about my military experience. As a very vocal military sexual assault survivor and advocate, I think it is often assumed that I feel a certain way or see my experience in the military as a bad thing. It is actually the opposite. I am always going to be proud I served, even if it was only for a year. Both sides of my family have served in the Navy, as pilots, submariners, officers, and enlisted. I feel honored to be a part of that tradition.
What I tell people about my short time in the service is that it taught me my physical, mental, and emotional limits at a very young age. I would not be the woman I am today or be able to be the advocate, leader, and friend that I am. Has it been hard? Yes. On one hand I get to help clinicians learn how to work with veterans with PTSD and explain to them the difference between sexual trauma in the military versus the civilian world – work that I love and am very proud of. Yet the other side of the coin is living with PTSD. It has gotten easier, but my basic makeup has been altered by the trauma I have survived.
Over the years I have worked with veterans just getting out of the military, helping to explain their benefits and plug them into community and government resources. I have written policy papers and spoken before audiences that ranged from college students to legislators to the media about Military Sexual Trauma (MST) and the changes and reforms needed. The limits that I learned about myself as a nineteen-year-old sailor helped me see when it was time to move on and grow, and I am proud that a new generation of women veterans is now speaking about MST and the positive changes that are possible.
Today I serve as Chief of Staff for the Farmer Veteran Coalition. Our mission is to “Mobilize Veterans to Feed America.” We work with returning veterans and veterans of all eras who are starting careers in food and farming. Just like veterans need jobs, our country needs more farmers. It is exciting and rewarding to be a part of our country’s food movement while still working with the population I love: vets. Both in my current post and over my years in the veteran advocacy field, I have worked with and befriended so many amazing veterans. Our network of veterans helping veterans stretches across the country. A lesson that has stayed with me from my time in the military is how much harder I can push myself with the support and encouragement of my shipmates. That is a tradition I have been proud to continue in the veteran community.
Tia Christopher serves as Chief of Staff for the Farmer Veteran Coalition in Davis, California.