This is the first in an ongoing series about the veterans of Atlanta, in which current and former servicemen and servicewomen recount their experiences in the military.
BriGette Mccoy — the daughter and granddaughter of veterans of the Vietnam War and World War II, respectively — grew up in South Central Los Angeles and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1987. With a top-secret clearance, Mccoy served in the Signal Corps from 1988-1991 in Zweibrücken, Germany. After living with undiagnosed PTSD for more than 15 years, Mccoy acknowledged in 2007 that she had suffered Military Sexual Trauma (MST). Since then, she has worked as an advocate for female veterans, veterans and the arts, and victims of MST. An estimated 19,000 people a year are sexually assaulted in the military, according to a 2010 report by the Department of Defense.
In 2006, Mccoy founded Women Veterans for Social Justice, an organization that supports female veterans with entrepreneurial and business resources. She also works for the ArtReach Foundation and Warrior Songs Women Project and is a graduate of the V-WISE (Women Veterans Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship) program. She was featured in Service: When Women Come Marching Home, a 2011 film about the challenges facing disabled female veterans. In March 2013, Mccoy, 43, testified before the U.S. Senate and the U.S. Surgeon General's task force about the sexual assault she experienced while serving.
She has lived in Atlanta with her daughter for 10 years.
I was an African-American female growing up in South Central Los Angeles. I was a computer kid, a geeky girl. I also wanted to do singing and dancing and music. Ninety-seven percent of the things I was interested in didn't fit in any format that was inside of my community, so what I wanted, I had to get from outside.
[My parents] wanted me to be a nurse. I tried the office work thing. I did an executive secretary program in high school, and in the MOS [Military Occupational Specialty] I got into, it actually helped me. But sitting at a desk? I just couldn't see that. I ended up doing that, but it was with computers, not dictation.
My mother pretty much didn't want me to go [into the military] and my father, he just tried to give other options. I don't think they thought I could do it. I was Private Benjamin to them. I liked to get my hair done. I liked to go to the nail shop. I signed up my senior year of high school under the Delayed Entry Program. I'd just turned 18.
I loved drill and ceremony. We're marching, we're singing, we're doing all these fancy movements. We're doing it all together at the same time. It was the closest I could get to acting, singing, and dancing. Our drill sergeant, he would call cadence. And a male step is a little bit longer than a women's step, and so we would always get out of sync with him. He'd make us push [do push-ups] and then we'd start again.
I would just get so tickled by that. So one day, I'm just marching and laughing, and he pulled me out: "You can do better!" He made me sing cadence and that's just right up my alley. They could hear me all the way from one end of Fort Jackson to the other end. Literally, sergeants were coming to see who was singing cadence. So, they made me march the battalion, all of our units together. I guess they wanted to embarrass me. Again, that wasn't going to [work]. I marched our whole battalion from mess to the barracks area. And I was good. Before they dismissed everybody, they put me in front-leaning rest while everybody was gathered around, and they made me push. So I wouldn't get a big head, you know. I loved it.
When [my parents] came to my graduation, my mom was like, "You made it!" I could tell she was really happy for me, but she was really shocked. My dad, he was just excited to see me in uniform, neat and squared away. I saw it in his eyes. Proud. They were both proud, but my dad, because he is a Vietnam veteran, he understood the process I had to go through.
I went in as a Data Telecommunications Specialist. I started training on Valentine's Day of 1988, and I got to Germany in May of 1988. We ran a communication center in Zweibrücken. I had to get a top-secret clearance. We were in a big vault, with magnetic tape readers, high-speed printers, optical readers, old-time modems, where you put the phone in them — that's how long ago this was. Any types of documentation that had to go from the United States to any other countries came through our communication center. Some non-classified, but any classified up through top-secret messaging. Twenty-four hours, seven days a week.
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