November 13, 2017

Ebony Meads and her daughter Genevieve.When Ebony Meads began suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after serving in the Iraq War, she had trouble finding a counselor who could relate to her experiences.

So Meads decided to do something about that and is now studying Psychology at University of Detroit Mercy.

“I was thinking about all the veterans who could use some help,” Meads said. “The veterans who can’t talk to anybody because they don’t feel comfortable talking to a doctor who is not a veteran, or a counselor who hasn’t been through what they’ve been through. Someone who hasn’t walked in his or her shoes. I feel like because I have, I could help.

“I go to the VA and see a counselor and there’s nothing wrong with it, don’t get me wrong, but everyone wants someone that they can relate to when you’re going to talk about personal things,” Meads added. “They can make you feel like if they got through it, you can get through it.”

Meads is majoring in Developmental Psychology with a minor in Women’s & Gender Studies (WGS). She is currently in her third year at Detroit Mercy and brings her unique experiences to both programs.

“I know a lot of people are like, ‘Females don’t fight wars.’ I fought a war,” said Meads, who spent a year in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. “I literally fought a war. It was very, very difficult. You have to trust people who you met yesterday, but now your life is in their hands and their life is in your hands. It was a struggle.”
Meads was able to overcome all that was thrown at her — both good and bad — during her time in the Army, and said that serving in the military changed her. She wants to help others who struggle with some of the same things she has, because there is a real need for it.

“I want to open a nonprofit for veterans,” Meads said. “I’m really into getting veterans jobs, getting veterans help. Because there are so many military members who get out of the military and they have issues they don’t want to talk about with a counselor who’s not a veteran, and they can’t find one. I want to at least be one.”

Growing up quick

Meads attended Wayne State after graduating from MacKenzie High School in Detroit. She knew an education was her best chance to be successful, but didn’t feel she was on the right path.

She admits that she was probably spending too much time partying and not enough time studying. Instead of continuing on that path, she elected to join the Army in 2002.

“I’m a girl from the inner-city, you only get a few chances to get out there and do something that’s not the norm for what’s around you,” Meads said. “My first chance was to go to college. I wasn’t doing very well at Wayne State. I wasn’t focused at 18 or 19-years-old. I just wanted to party. I was like, ‘I’m going to party, I’m going to fail out of school and I’m going to get in trouble.’ So I felt it was either join the military or go this route where I know it’s probably not the route I should take.”

She enlisted in the Army in 2002 and was sent to Germany for her first assignment.

“My first designation was Germany and I had the most fun I’ve ever had,” Meads said. “And I was doing something that was purposeful. I was learning things, I was meeting new people, and it was like I had a new family. That’s what I liked about the military—you build bonds. I have a friend, we’ve been friends for 14 years. I met her the first day I got to Germany.”

Meads said she was in the military for less than a year when U.S. troops were deployed to Iraq. It wasn’t long after that Meads learned she was being sent to Iraq.

“By the time I was in the military for a year, I was on my way to fight in a war I really didn’t understand, but that’s what I signed up for,” Meads said. “When I first signed up I didn’t really think about it. My cousin had been in the Army for 20 years, he retired and had never been in a war. When it happened for me, it was kind of like, ‘This is real.’ We had been a military that wasn’t in anything big for so long.”

Meads had to adjust to war life and also had to deal with being in a nation where women are treated differently.

“There was definitely a difference in the way men in Iraq treated women,” Meads said. “Some guy tried to buy one of the other female soldiers. He was like, ‘I have a goat.’ He was really trying to purchase her with a goat. They didn’t think that we were actual soldiers. They thought we were there for the pleasure and entertainment of the male soldiers. They didn’t realize we were actual soldiers because women aren’t allowed to be soldiers in their country.”

Meads was a member of the military police, so one of her prime objectives was to train the Iraqi police. She also worked security on convoys and base security.

“I feel like for us, we had a good mission,” Meads said. “For me, our mission was totally to help. I know it felt like we started (the conflict) initially, but once I was in country, we were there to help. We weren’t bothering anybody. They would come after us because we just blew up half of their country.

“The people I met were nice people. They spoke English, they were into different types of music and popular culture. A lot of them just wanted to be able to do what they wanted to do. Freely practice whatever religion they wanted and do whatever they wanted to do on their own.”

Meads said the soldiers tried to make the most of their situation and even built a pop-up nightclub with speakers, lights and turntables. But many times they couldn’t escape the reality of being in the middle of a war.

“There were times we were scared,” Meads said. “We were running or we were ducking. There were times things blew up on the side of the road. Those are the kind of things you really don’t want to dwell on. We wanted to concentrate on if we were doing our mission or kind of the positive things.

“I know from my company, we lost one soldier, which is far better than other units did. Some units lost most of their soldiers or things like that. But we lost just one out of 300-something. Even though it was just one loss, it had a huge effect on us. And we still had a few months left, we weren’t even close to coming home. I can’t really explain it; it was a very, very different experience. I can’t say whether it was good or bad. There were good times.”

Meads spent a year in Iraq and then was stationed at Fort Myer (later renamed Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall) in Virginia near Arlington National Cemetery. She remained in the military until 2010.

Looking to the future

Quote from Ebony Meads: The thing I enjoy most is having the smaller class sizes. You get better access to the professors, you can ask more questions and they’re going to see you. As Meads began to think about her life after the military, she knew she wanted to go back to college and that it was important to pick the right school for her.

She was aware of Detroit Mercy’s reputation and felt it would be a perfect fit.

“I grew up 10 or 15 minutes from Detroit Mercy and I always wanted to come here,” Meads said. “I knew people who came here. When I came back and decided I was going back to school, I wanted to pick a smaller school. I wanted to pick a school that was close and had a good reputation. Detroit Mercy was at the top of that list.”

Meads was drawn to Detroit Mercy because of its strong academic reputation and feels she is getting the most out of college the second time around. She enjoys the relationships she has built with professors and the close-knit community of Detroit Mercy.

“The thing I enjoy most is having the smaller class sizes,” Meads said. “You get better access to the professors, you can ask more questions and they’re going to see you. It’s not a sea of students where they don’t know anybody’s name. I have a professor and she knew everybody’s name the second class. It’s very personal and I like that better.

“I would definitely recommend Detroit Mercy to other veterans,” Meads added. “Especially for those who learn like me and want a more up-close and personal approach to education.”

Meads chose to minor in Women’s & Gender Studies because of some of the things she saw in the military overseas. She enjoys sharing her life experiences during class discussions.

“As a female veteran, Ebony was able to share her first-hand experience of the ways in which the military continues to reinforce some masculine and feminine gender stereotypes and to open up others,” said Rosemary Weatherston, associate professor of English and director of the Women’s & Gender Studies program. “She also spoke to the unique challenges women face during and after their military service. Her classmates and I really benefited from her willingness to share her point of view with us, as few members of the class shared her first-hand experience with such a powerful U.S. social institution,” Weatherston added.

Meads enjoys learning about strong women throughout history, especially since she has a nine-year-old daughter, Genevieve.

“There are a lot of women who get overlooked,” Meads said. “If we study strong women, we can bring some of that out. If we don’t learn about each other, everyone is going to be so focused on themselves that they’re not going to get anywhere.”

Meads has also impressed her professors, who believe she will be a great resource for veterans once she becomes a trained counselor.

“There is a desperate need for skilled counselors who can work effectively with veterans,” Weatherston said. “I think Ebony would be a wonderful counselor for this population, not only because of her personal military experience, but because of her compassion, curiosity and ability to see things from other peoples’ perspectives. In class she was incredibly thoughtful during discussions with classmates who did not share her beliefs. She understands that human beings are complex and contradictory. The WGS program’s emphasis on the importance of educating ourselves about other people’s perspectives and on empowering students to work toward the social justice issues about which they are most passionate are right in keeping with her goal of working with returning veterans and in making the world a better place for her daughter’s generation. We are honored to have her as a WGS minor.”

— By Dave Pemberton. Follow Detroit Mercy on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.