Jennifer Jensen says the military “saved my life.” It also gave her purpose beyond her time in uniform.
During her four years in the Air Force, Jensen served overseas as a combat photographer during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Her assignment was fulfilling, but also scary, so much so that she sought counseling afterward to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.
As a result, she speaks with credibility when she talks with military members, veterans and their spouses about the benefits of therapy provided through the veterans program at West Texas Counseling & Guidance, where she serves as the veterans outreach coordinator.
“I know the struggle of admitting you need some help to get through it,” Jensen said. “They need to know: You’re not alone.”
Jensen grew up in a military family; her father was a 20-year veteran of the Navy. A self-confessed wild child in her youth, Jensen credits her military training with providing her the boundaries and discipline necessary to succeed.
During her wartime deployment, Jensen captured photos that documented the need for private contractors that provided security around American bases. The assignment involved accompanying security personnel in Blackhawk helicopters and armored vehicles. Although the work was dangerous, she found comfort in helping to ensure the safety of her peers.
“But it’s still scary,” she said. “You go through emotions you’ve never gone through before.”
She credits counseling for helping her manage her ever-present PTSD. And she has found a silver-lining in the experience: It has helped her relate to her military clientele.
“When I went to counseling, my therapist had no idea what it was like to go to Iraq or be in the military,” she said. “So I kind of distanced myself from her. But the military members who come see me at West Texas Counseling & Guidance know there’s somebody there they can talk to who has been there, done that.”
The same holds true for military spouses. Jensen’s husband is a firefighter instructor stationed at Goodfellow Air Force Base.
“You don’t see this while you’re military, but (the service member’s) job is more important than yours,” she said. “And it’s hard to admit that. You want to have your own career, your own self. But in reality, country comes first for them.”
Jensen’s service to military families has branched out to include involvement with the Goodfellow Spouses Club, the Concho Valley Women Veterans’ Association, and the Daily Bread Soup Lunch program, whose patronage includes homeless veterans.
In her volunteer efforts, she seeks “people who are in need of support,” adding that such endeavors make her feel “warm and fuzzy inside, and makes my life feel worthwhile.”
Having found her calling, she is now pursuing a master’s degree in social work.
“I started this job and didn’t expect to fall in love with it as much as I did,” Jensen said. “Helping my brothers and sisters from the military get through their tough times has been a blessing. That’s my life goal now.”