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"My Invisible War" Self-Portrait at 18 yrs - Combat Military Police (MP) - 95 Bravo

Invisible wounds, invisible war.

This is a self-portrait I created - it’s based on an Army OSUT picture taken when I was on Bivouac at Ft. McClellan, AL in 1983-1984. A local newspaper (The Montgomery Journal in Maryland) was following three 1983 graduates into the real world - I was the one who opted for military duty and I did it proudly.

I was headed off to the Army a mere two hours after I had turned 18 … I can only try to imagine what my parents must have felt. Being the youngest of six and having my twin brother - we all took different paths. In my mind, mine seemed a little more radical. I didn’t HAVE to serve (in fact I had to ask my parents permission to do so because I was underage) I lived with a family that had no real strife or financial problems or pressures - we lived a great life. I didn’t have to enlist, but I wanted to - I knew I wanted to enlist from the age of 13 in the 8th grade. I had big dreams of serving as a “lifer” in the US Army where there would always be something new to strive for, a new goal to meet. It was set in my mind and nothing could sway me.

The recruiter arrived at my doorstep at 0200 to whisk me off to the MEPS station for a quick physical and a swearing in. Off to the Army I went - not by plane as originally planned, but by an Amtrak train via a sleeper car. I remember the clicking and clanking of the rails and the vision of farmland and fields I had never seen in my short lifetime to date. I was newly 18 and soon to be a freshly minted US Army Soldier (but not without a hell of a lot of work and fortitude). I didn’t choose to be just any kind of soldier, but a Combat (MP) Military Police - a 95 Bravo. This was 1983, women’s roles in the Army at that time were more limited and this was a bit of a step outside the lines. I didn’t mind living outside the lines at all and I still don’t. I’d lived so little of life up to that point and hadn’t traveled farther than points between Rockville, Maryland and Lake George, NY where Grandparents and cousins resided. Beyond those two points - the world was brand new. Traveling with me were two male recruits headed off to the Army too. They were so nervous and wouldn’t eat - either of them - I remember encouraging them to try to eat something so that they could cope with the “troubles ahead”. I think homesickness hit them hard! Not me, I was ready for the adventure that awaited and very resolute in my actions and commitment. I was nervous too - but just enough to energize me and motivate me to do what had to be done. There was a lot that had to be done and gaining mental toughness was at the top of the list.

“Invisible War” self-portrait at 18 as a Combat MP 95 Bravo

“Invisible War” self-portrait at 18 as a Combat MP 95 Bravo

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We headed off from our MEPS station in Baltimore, MD and left by train to a place we knew nothing about. I’d envisioned things a million times. I’d envisioned being in my Army uniform and visiting my high school, of seeing my friends and the pride that comes from being a part of a great organization and making it through this really tough thing. I arrived at my MP Company (Charlie 10) in 1983 and got the shock and reality that we all had coming to us. There is no preparation for what you cannot anticipate. We were stuck somewhere between Vietnam leftovers (with steel pots and equipment) and some new Army force ready to emerge. 1983 seemed to be a pivotal time in the Army, I was on the cusp of that as women’s roles began to change.

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I loved my Army service, I remember it fondly and would never want to change a thing. It sounds so odd, but it’s true. My time in helped to nurture my attitude and fortitude. I remember a personal health battle I fought after a motorcycle accident I had while on duty. I was saved by my helmet - but I hit things so hard I cracked the helmet right down the center. I ended up with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that has made itself more apparent over these past 10 years. But I’ve also ended up with Multiple Sclerosis (dx in 2001) and two autoimmune thyroid diseases due to toxicity while serving at Ft. McClellan in Alabama.

I never served in combat, I hurt myself long before the Gulf War existed and was a mere 8 years after the end of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. But I grew up awfully quick - I had to. I wore the uniform proudly and I feel like I still serve with pride. My art journey has been leading me to more Veteran art venues and that is the perfect fit for me. I’ll continue to pursue these and find a place for my art there. They are my brothers and sisters.

For the meantime, I will keep on doing what I am doing and will continue to try, fall and get back up again. To God be the glory.

Diana de Avila