We asked you to tell us about a veteran who continues to serve and inspire. From hundreds of compelling entries, we chose to tell the stories of eight veterans. The first-ever Veterans Community Showcase is presented in partnership with United Rentals.
A singing, gold medal-winning, unicorn powerlifter who is half of a key that opens a portal to the universe. That’s a very accurate sentence describing the featured veteran for today’s Veterans Community Showcase.
Meet Coast Guard Operation Specialist, radarman and veteran Tammy Barlet. She’ll be the first to tell you that Coast Guard vets are rare.
“We’re called a unicorn,” she said with a laugh. “When two or more Coasties are in a room, it’s said that a portal will open up.” It doesn’t take long to realize that Barlet has a sharp sense of humor.
Right now, Tammy is a Charlie 2017 Mission Continues Fellow at Student Veterans of America (SVA), but her military career started in 1995 when she joined the Coast Guard just out of high school. Her reasons for joining were typical; earn money for college and help people. She picked the Coast Guard because she wanted to stay stateside.
“The whole stateside thing didn’t last very long,” chuckled Barlet. Soon, she found herself in the Persian Gulf, followed by Thailand, where she helped train the Thai navy. After three trips to Alaska, she finally landed at a base in Houston, where she could apply for temporary assigned duty (TAD) as often as possible.
The stories she tells about her time on TAD are incredible. She spent a summer on the only American active commissioned sailing vessel, the USCGC Eagle. And, if you’ve ever been to Mardi Gras, there’s a fair chance Tammy threw you some beads: she spent two seasons in New Orleans, singing on the Coast Guard’s Cutter float with the SAR Cats.
But, Tammy’s adventure eventually took an eventful turn. She decided to use some of her free time volunteering at a horse ranch, working with abused and neglected horses. One day at the ranch, she was on a go-cart when she was hit by a four-wheeler. She suffered a compound fracture in her leg, broken bones in her hand, a concussion and dental damage. A two-week hospital stay and four months medical leave left her with a rod in her tibia and both a muscle and skin graft.
Fast forward to today, and her health is okay. She still has issues with her leg; her hand is tolerable. She believes that her life took a positive turn once she found out about Team River Runner (TRR).
“They gave me the opportunity to go back and do what I missed most about being in the Coast Guard, which is being on the water,” she said. Most recently, she spent time with her “water family” learning whitewater rafting on the San Juan River in Utah.
After she got active with TRR, Tammy learned about the Valor Games about a year ago while visiting a friend from the Coast Guard. He was participating in the archery program – something that Barlet had been doing with her family since she was 13.
“What are you doing and how can I get involved!?” was her response when she found out about the VA sponsored program. “It provides veterans with the tools and skills they need to be a better them,” she said.
She won gold in women’s kayak this year at her first-ever Valor Games.
“I was two seconds behind the male winner,” she said, not trying to hide the combination of disappointment and drive in her voice.
In addition to her kayak gold, she won silver in women’s powerlifting too. It was her first time powerlifting and had no idea how the process even went. She plans on doing it again, and has her sights set on going to the Invictus Games in the future.
Looking at her success today, you wouldn’t realize that she struggled with depression after getting out of the military. In 2013, she sought mental health help at the VA. Talking to a therapist lead to talking to a social worker, who saw untapped potential in her.
“This social worker pushed me to start the process to go back to school,” Barlet said. “My hope is to assist veterans, especially women veterans, to seek the help they need in the VA and understand the benefits they are entitled to.”
Tammy only has a few more weeks left as a Policy Associate at Student Veterans of America. After that?
“I don’t know…” she said, her voice trailing off with a tinge of excitement. Right now, she’s a student at George Washington University in Washington, DC. She’s not sure if she will go back to school full-time once she’s done at SVA or go home and get involved with veterans and politics.
She has already taken steps towards the political side of things. She’s had her first session with the New Politics Leadership Academy’s “Answering the Call” program.
“I’ve been doing my homework,” Barlet said, her voice cracking with a mysterious excitement. “If and when I become a congresswoman, I would be the first female Coast Guard vet in Congress.”
With her resume, we think you can look forward to Tammy Barlet becoming the first singing, gold-medal-winning-unicorn powerlifter, Coast Guard-veteran, female President of the United States.
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