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Air Force veteran strives to help others by sharing personal experience with domestic abuse

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Kacie Campbell, an United States Air Force veteran, poses for a portrait at Metropolitan Community College on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, in Omaha, Nebraska.
Photo by Mia Everding

When asked, Kacie Campbell would say she experienced the typical military relationship. Within six weeks of meeting, they married, one month later, they had a child and the following month, he deployed overseas.

However, her story is not merely the typical tale of a military spouse. She was not only a wife and a mother but a veteran herself.

In 2000, 20-year-old Campbell joined the United State Air Force after and completed basic training in San Antonio, Texas. In 2001, she moved to her first duty station in Arizona and worked as a maintenance scheduler on A-10s and C-130s. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, she was ordered to work with Security Forces for three months but later returned to her maintenance specialty on aircraft.

“Basically, you’re wanting to make sure that they’re ready for flying. And then, if they do get deployed, they’re deployment-ready,” she said. “I never saw service overseas. But at the time, of course, Afghanistan came first and Iraq came second. So I was in at the start of both and during both [wars].”

However, it was during her short time with Security Forces when she met her husband at the time, who was a dog handler in the service. A few months into their marriage, after discovering she was pregnant with her son, he was ordered to deploy to Saudi Arabia. The majority of pregnancy, she said, was alone. After each deployment, she said he seemed like a different person when he came home –– angrier.

“As a mother, I could never do anything right with my children. I was always the one who had to do everything around the house. I was the one who always had to clean, always had to get up with the children, use the diapers,” she said. “I was always called names. Some weren’t too bad, but when you’re screamed at every day, it really affects your self-esteem.”

Her husband at the time was home for the entirety of her second pregnancy with her daughter. However, she said his anger remained and quickly changed to jealousy when he accused her of having an affair with her doctor. It was at that point, she said, that the verbal abuse turned physical. For the first time, they chose to separate.

“It was okay for him to have women, but it was not okay for me to potentially try to go on a date when we were separated. It’s perfectly acceptable if I wanted to meet somebody else, but there was a double standard in this marriage,” she said. “I was 100% certain that I was not taking this man back. But like most women I did, because I forgave him.”

The core reasoning for this forgiveness came from the diagnosis of her son’s autism in 2006, she said. At 4 years old, her son had limited speech and required assistance. In 2007, Campbell was honorably discharged from the Air Force and became a stay-at-home mom –– a decision her husband at the time was not happy with, she said.

“He used that as an excuse for why we now couldn’t pay our bills. But when he would be overseas, he would spend all our money buying things on eBay or anything else he could get his hands on, which means I couldn’t pay the bills at home,” Campbell said. “I’d be forced to take money through loans, so I carried all the debt in the house. He carried no debt whatsoever, which is typical of financial abuse in the home.”

In 2007, Campbell received a Myspace message from a woman her husband had secretly been seeing. Despite the brokenness she said she felt, Campbell chose to stay, but all intimacy was gone.

“It wasn’t until 2013 that I realized I could tell him ‘no,’ but he would still do it. He was like ‘you’re my wife and nobody’s gonna believe you,’” she said. “It wasn’t until then that I realized husbands could rape their wives. It took that long for me to realize what was going on in my marriage.”

This behavior led to a new form of control, she said, as he used his positional power in the military to impact her life on base. In 2008, he deployed to Iraq, but before leaving, she said he ordered his service members to limit her access to help on base –– a tactic of which she said completely ostracized her.

This was the grey area in which Campbell said she fell under. There are women who are solely military spouses and women who are solely in the military, but as a service-member-turned-military-spouse, Campbell said it became more difficult.

“I no longer was seen as a veteran. All that mattered was that I was a spouse,” she said. “It’s like my prior service meant nothing.”

In 2009, when her husband returned from Iraq, Campbell said she could no longer take the abuse, so she packed up and moved her and her children to Rhode Island. After struggling with homelessness and loneliness, she left for Nebraska. It was this part of her journey, she said, where her healing began.

In 2013, Campbell attended veterans support groups and publically shared her story. Through this, she found work as the Healing Warriors Case manager at the Women’s Center for Advancement and later as a veteran certifying official through Metropolitan Community Colleges’ Military and Veteran Services, where she currently works with veterans today.

“I can’t take back what has happened to me, and I can’t try to pretend that part of me doesn’t exist,” she said. “What I can do is take it; I can mold it; I can use it and say, ‘Okay, here’s what we do. We learn from it, we educate people on it and now we try to help others.’”