I am the first female, as well as the first member of my family to join the military. I served in the U.S. Army from 2008 to 2012. Before joining, I was unsuccessfully attempting to attend college and work full time. I was not sure what to expect from the military, but I knew that I would have an opportunity to better myself and grow as a person.
I entered the Army as a 92G, Food Service Specialist because cooking has always been a passion of mine. Although I did learn a lot about cooking for an army, it was not my most memorable experience. During my deployment to Iraq, 2008-2009, I did very little cooking and instead served as 42B Machine Gun Operator on daily convoy missions. After returning from deployment, my duties changed to 42A, Human Resources Specialist, for the final two years of my service.
I was able to take some college courses during my service while I continued working towards my degree using my GI Bill. I earned my Bachelors in Business Administration and Human Resources. Recently I was accepted into the MBA program to continue my education at Brandman University. An accomplishment I never dreamed possible before entering the military.
As a Woman Veteran, I struggled to transition out of the military. Through this time in my life, I knew I wanted to continue to serve in some capacity. One of the greatest challenges I have encountered is that women are not perceived as Veterans. As a Combat Veteran, I felt the need to bring that to light and started my own business and brand; creating products that women can wear to show their military pride. In order to serve my fellow Women Veterans, I became the Chapter Director for Women Veterans Alliance of Nevada County. It gave me the opportunity to keep pushing forward and help other Women Veterans find their way to reintegration as well as success.
Yesenia Henshall Perez, a thoughtful young woman with dark hair and eyes, greeted us at a coffee shop in her hometown of Colfax. She shared her family history and the values that impacted her life and her military service. It took personal strength and determination, she told us, to go from Woman Veteran to entrepreneur and community leader. “I saw the need to make a difference by helping other women identify and celebrate their status as Veterans, especially those who were Combat Veterans, like myself.”
Yesenia asked us to photograph her at the VFW Meeting Hall in Nevada City where she serves as Director of the Women Veterans Alliance. In Yesenia’s hands are the Gold Spurs awarded to her for completing the work and challenges faced while being deployed in support of a U.S. Cavalry unit in Iraq. Spur holders are a proud part of an honored and historic tradition. On the table behind her are symbols of her service: a Certificate of Achievement marking her deployment in Iraq, military ribbons, and a belt buckle. The T-shirt on the table is one of her own designs created by her company to honor Women Veterans. Yesenia included a photograph of her 5-year-old son. “He is a constant source of light and laughter for my husband and me.”
Photo by James R. Morrison Photography