Tiffany Lujan, Navy Veteran

TiffanyLujan - Tiffany Lujan, Navy VeteranMy name is Tiffany Lujan and I am 30 years old.  I am married with two children ages 6 and 1. I am pregnant with my third child.  I served in the United States Navy for 9 years from 2004-2013.  I joined the Navy on a whim a year after graduating high school. I had been living in a transitional living home after aging out of the foster care system and I felt aimless in life.  I simply joined to “get away” from my situation.  I didn’t really understand what it even meant to join the military.  I left for basic training fairly quickly and when I was given a choice of orders I immediately chose to spend my first three years in Sasebo, Japan since I am part Japanese and I thought it would give me some insight into my culture.  I was sent to Japan where I spent the next three years forward deployed as an engineer on two different ships (The USS Fort McHenry and the USS Tortuga).  This allowed me the opportunity to see not only Japan but at least a dozen other countries as well.

After Japan I chose orders to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where I would be a detainee guard since I wanted a change from the ship life.   I spent 8 months in Cuba working as a detainee guard.  After leaving Cuba I went to Virginia for a year where I had my daughter.  Then, when my daughter was only 11 months old I left again on carrier the USS Carl Vinson. The Carl Vinson was doing a home-port change from Virginia to California and I desired to go home to California. The Carl Vinson was my only way to go home.

Shortly after arriving in California I received Individual Augmentee orders to Afghanistan (an Individual Augmentee is a Navy or Air Force person who deploys with the Army as a supplement to their mission).  I completed training and then deployed to Uruzgan Province Afghanistan as a supplement to an Army unit.

I worked as an MATV driver while in Afghanistan and I drove on missions often.  The constant underlying feeling of isolation affected me a lot on Afghanistan and I always felt like I was blocked out from the real world.  After a year in Afghanistan I returned to my ship (the USS Carl Vinson) and I began to feel very disconnected and seemingly unable to function normally.  I didn’t want to be there, I didn’t want to be anywhere.  Due to the depression and stress in my personal life as well as my career life, I made the decision to put in a request to separate from the Navy early.  My request was approved, but at the very last minute, I got cold feet and changed my mind and asked to stay.  It was a miracle that the Navy approved for me to stay after being approved to separate.  Thankfully, I had a positive record as a sailor.

After being approved to stay in the Navy, I was sent to another ship, the USS Rushmore out of San Diego, California.  Upon arriving at the USS Rushmore I felt excited and grateful for the Navy allowing me to stay and I thought that my depression and anxiety had subsided.  I had been careful not to tell many people about my mental struggles because I didn’t want the Navy to have any reason to separate me.  After the ship left port for deployment, I quickly began to feel isolated, depressed and anxious again.  I initially tried to cover the feelings and push through, I even met and fell in love with my wonderful husband and had a couple of great friends on the ship.  No one was able to help me to cope with the increasing feelings though. Eventually I began to feel as if the ship walls were closing in on me and I felt trapped to the point that I became suicidal.  I couldn’t even enter the mess decks or wait in a line without panicking.  It was scary and I wasn’t sure how to cope, who to talk to or even why I was having the reactions I was having.  Unfortunately, many people in the military can take issues like depression with a grain of salt since it is often assumed that sailors are “faking”.  My panic attacks were increasing to daily occurrences though and I could not even attempt to do my job.  I ended up confessing to the chaplain and the ship doctor how I was feeling and this eventually caused me to be flown off of the ship back to the United States so that I could heal.  I wanted to stay in the Navy and complete a shore duty rotation, but this time the Navy chose to honorably discharge me due to not being deployable.

The adjustment from military to civilian has been a journey. I still feel isolated and out of touch with my new reality and I have found it difficult to make new friends as a civilian.  I am now doing far better than I was two years ago though and I am continually growing.  My faith in Jesus Christ has been the foundation of my healing.  I am still in counseling at the VA, I attend church regularly and I am a full-time Accounting and Entrepreneurship major at Sierra College in Rocklin, CA.  I am happy and grateful for how far I have come and I am looking forward to the future!