This month's Woman Warrior nomination goes to Kimberly DeFiori (and her adorable sidekick, PTSD service dog, Thor!) When asked what it means to be a Woman Warrior, Kim responded, "Being a Woman Warrior means to face the world courageously and take risks to accomplish your goals. To find the energy from failures and keep striving and driving forward." Kim has certainly faced her adversities with unimaginable courage and strength.
In 2001, Kim watched the World Trade Centers fall. She was a sophomore in high school trying to decide what she wanted to do in her life. After that day, Kim felt a calling to service to her country, so she applied and was accepted to West Point. During her four years at West Point, she learned an enormous amount about balance, leadership and courage. Kim's goal was to branch infantry, but at the time, it wasn't open to women. Her mentors advised her that the Military Police Corps would be the closest she would be able to get to the infantry, so she commissioned as a Military Police Officer and was stationed in Germany.
In May 2010, Kim's unit deployed to Afghanistan and was responsible for 11 Afghan Police Stations in addition to the town of Gardez. They conducted missions to help the Afghans and to protect their cities during the day. At night, they would conduct joint missions with specialized units to help capture the Taliban. They were attacked by gunfire, mortars and roadside bombs, as the Taliban presence was extremely strong at the Pakistan border. Kim recalls, "I went there thinking I was fighting for freedom, and after the first firefight, realized I was just fighting for the soldier next to me."
The twelve months Kim spent in Afghanistan changed her and the way she saw the world. The adjustment back to Germany was an extremely difficult one greeted by sleepless nights and anxiety. Kim felt herself on high alert at all times, always ready to react to an attack. Three months after returning from Afghanistan, Kim was raped by another service member after a Saturday night out dancing and having fun with friends in Germany. Kim recalls, "I felt empty inside and just laid in bed for hours. All of my internal and external safety had been taken from me in the most offensive way. The next five years, I tried to run from my pain. I stayed busy in the Army. I thought, maybe if I accomplish and become the best officer I could, the pain would eventually go away. It didn’t." It was while Kim held a top position in the Pentagon as captain in the Army that she realized she needed to seek professional help to cope with her PTSD.
For two years, Kim attended therapy, groups, treatment centers and followed the guidance of her doctor's recommendations. Looking back on her journey with battling PTSD, Kim recalls, "It was the most difficult journey I had ever taken, but the one most worth taking. I faced my demons head-on in therapy and found healing all over the country from the mountains of Vail to the dolphins in Florida." Kim recognizes that healing was all around her, but that it just took a team of professionals to help her get there.
Kim retired from the Army in 2017, but knew that her journey was far from finished. She was paired with her service dog, Thor from This Able Veteran. They trained Thor specifically to wake Kim up from nightmares and to be alert on her anxiety triggers. He has continued to aide Kim on her healing journey by keeping her "in the moment" and helping her work through her triggers. Kim knew she wanted to continue to help people with PTSD find healing, so she began on a journey to starting a nonprofit organization. She applied and was accepted into a fellowship through Dog Tag Inc., which helps wounded Veterans, caregivers and spouses kickstart their entrepreneurial dreams.
Kim (& Thor!) took classes through Georgetown University and graduated with a Certificate in Business Administration. More importantly, she developed a business plan to start her own nonprofit organization. Kim's goal was to have the biggest impact possible on the First Responder community through her nonprofit, so she applied and was accepted to the Cornell University Executive MBA Program of Americas. Kim is currently enrolled in the program with an expected graduation of May 2020. Once she receives her business license, Kim has plans to launch her business called Badges United Foundation. She has also started a blog, www.lessonsfromthor.com to share her story and help others with battling similar struggles. In the next few years, Kim plans to publish a book called Lessons from Thor, to help others struggling with PTSD.
Looking back on how much she has overcome, Kim recalls, "I never thought my struggles would become such an intense positive energy to give to the world. The greatest thing I learned was that through the worst and most horrifying struggles, such amazing things can come from it. Everyone has their struggle, no matter how young or old. We are here to support each other through it all and try to create a goodness that can echo through people’s lives."
Kim, it has been an honor featuring you as this month's Woman Warrior. Your strength, courage, and ability to turn your unimaginable hardships into positive healing tools for others is both admirable and awe-inspiring. We can't wait for the launch of the Badges United Foundation, and it's clear that in the meantime, you will continue to make the world a better place, one "lesson from Thor" at a time.
Read Kimberly's pledge here:
How can you be featured as a Woman Warrior?
We want YOU to show us what makes you a Woman Warrior. Each month, we will select a Woman Warrior to be featured on our social media and email blasts. Submit your story through our Woman Warrior Wednesday page on the Stella Valle website!
By purchasing the I AM A WOMAN WARRIOR bracelets you are joining our movement to give back. Currently, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the National Breast Cancer Foundation and The Headstrong Project.
Lots of Love + Success,
Ashley + Paige