Content Warning: Points of Light is proud to share the following uplifting and inspiring story. However, we acknowledge that a small portion below may be difficult for some readers. We encourage you to please care for your own wellbeing above all.
Lianna Garcia is originally from Robstown, Texas, a small town near Corpus Christi. After graduating from high school, Lianna went to college but by her second semester, she found herself heading down a path she didn’t like. One day, while driving down the freeway, she spotted an Air Force recruitment sign. She made an impulsive decision and felt joining the military would be a great way to turn her life around. She drove up to the recruiter’s office and walked in. A few hours later, she walked out, enlisted in the United States Air Force.
Lianna served as an Air Force Security Forces Officer for four years. After she completed her enlistment, she found herself wishing she had stayed. She happened to run into a friend who was in the Air Force Reserves. Something resonated, and she rejoined the Air Force, this time serving in the Reserves for thirty-three years. She recently retired as a First Sergeant/Senior Master Sergeant.
For nearly the last decade, Lianna has brought her history of service to her volunteerism with The Pink Berets, an organization founded to support female veterans suffering from invisible injuries such as PTSD, Military Sexual Trauma, and Combat Trauma Stress. Read on to learn how Lianna is working to find innovative solutions to challenges facing female veterans.
What inspires you to volunteer?
I wanted to give back to my fellow veterans and use my experiences, both good and bad, as a way to provide support and resources. I’ve always had a sense of wanting to give back. I’ve had plenty of volunteer opportunities throughout my life beyond the Pink Berets. I have volunteered at food banks and Habitat for Humanity for years.
The heartfelt emotions I witness and the genuine gratitude in people’s eyes inspire me deeply. Even the smallest gestures I make can hold immense significance for the individuals they touch.
Describe your volunteer role with the Pink Berets.
The Pink Berets were created for female veterans who are suffering from invisible injuries including military sexual trauma (MST), traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many women have had negative experiences and carry emotional wounds for the rest of our lives whether they were in a combat situation or not. There aren’t many outlets for our women veterans. Some are homeless, some have mental health issues, some are single moms, some are suffering from physical and emotional trauma, and we help them all. Everything the Pink Berets offer is at no cost to the veterans. We offer personal and group therapy, culinary therapy, equine therapy, service dogs, events, retreats and a variety of resources. We help on a local level but also advocate for change.
My role as a board member and 9-year volunteer is to help with operations and to continue to develop our vision and goals on an annual basis. I help coordinate events and support our CEO.
During the time that I have volunteered with TPB, I have had the opportunity to work with our veteran community in many different capacities, most importantly in MST survivor care and support. In my current role, I have been uniquely equipped to understand the lived experiences of those who have served our great nation as I recently retired from a 33 year commitment to my country as an Air Force First Sergeant. The knowledge I provide is invaluable as you challenge everyone to dig deeper for solutions that will work at all levels of healing. I have the heart, passion, lived experience and mind to be able to truly support those efforts to ensure all who engage with TPB feel safe, supported and welcomed.
What has been the most rewarding part of your work?
Believing that we make a positive impact on the people we touch. Food drives, school supply drives and more. The women who come to us have legitimate and pressing needs. They are incredibly grateful for the help and support we provide. It’s a sisterhood belonging. We help to heal and empower our veterans to reintegrate them back into society and move forward.
In 2015 I had just come back from deployment, so I know what many of our clients are going through. I have personally used the Pink Beret resources to help myself heal. I’ve used counseling, retreats, equine therapy and various tools and resources, and now I’m in a position to help facilitate a safe space to acknowledge feelings, emotions and experiences and help women heal and move forward.
I strongly believe in pushing the narrative to develop innovative solutions to a decades-old problem of addressing PTSD and MST in women veterans. We have effected change and that is very important to me.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
You never know what the person who is coming to you for help has experienced. If you can help them heal, offer support, empower them and help them, you have done a good thing. It doesn’t matter if what they need is “small” or “big,” for them it’s exactly what they need.
Are there any future partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about?
I’m looking forward to a Texas hill country ranch retreat for female veterans in October and November where we’ll have equine therapy and tons of opportunities to help each other.
We are planning a 2024 Women Veterans Cruise, June 10-14, 2024. Our lady vets can register for $175 per person and pay the remaining balance in early 2024. Registration and pricing information can be found on The Pink Berets website. I’m really excited and looking forward to this event. We do so many things. If anyone is interested they can go to our website and sign up for support, our newsletter, volunteer opportunities and membership.
Why is it important for people to get involved with causes they care about?
Volunteering teaches you the value of compassion. It teaches you to be nonjudgmental because you never know where people have been. I try to get my 14-year-old son involved. To me, community is people helping people.
For me, it’s important to bring awareness of what our women and men veterans go through and get people involved in helping them heal and overcome challenges.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
You don’t have to go through it alone. There are people who honestly want to help and support you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t fight your battles alone. Regardless of what you’re going through, there are always people who want to help.
If you or someone you know may be struggling with invisible injuries such as PTSD, Military Sexual Trauma or Combat Trauma Stress, reach out to The Pink Berets. For specialized support with a variety of mental and physical health the VA Department of the U.S. offers Make the Connection, a website with resources for veterans and their loved ones.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Lianna? Find local volunteer opportunities.