After her first deployment ended, Genevieve Chase fought another kind of battle.
Chase was deployed to Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army in 2006. But months after she returned to U.S. soil, she found herself in Alexandria, Va., waiting to start a job. And it was as if finally, everything had stopped moving.
“It wasn’t until I came home that I couldn’t hide my issues anymore,” Chase said. “I didn’t have soldiers to take care of, and I didn’t have a mission.”
She couldn’t ignore the nausea, anxiety, disorientation, vertigo and depression: symptoms of a brain injury and post-traumatic stress from her deployment. One night, she found herself contemplating suicide and typing the word “breathe” over and over again on her laptop. She was hyperventilating and passed out.
Upon waking, Chase knew she had to do something. She reached out to other veterans and eventually formed American Women Veterans, a group with the goal of supporting, honoring and empowering women veterans. The group is now based in Sun Valley.
This week, Chase was named as one of 10 honorees for the 2018 L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth program. L’Oréal Paris will donate $10,000 to the American Women Veterans, and one of the honorees will receive an additional $25,000 for her cause.
This is the first time in the Women of Worth program’s 13-year history that an honoree from Idaho has been selected. The nominees are judged based on their ability to meet a previously unmet community need or concern; the extent to which their activities are innovative or an interesting approach to meeting needs or solving problems; and the success of their work in epitomizing the statement “Because you’re worth it.” The Women of Worth program aims to honor exceptional women who make a difference through their volunteer work.
Chase was an army brat. Her father served at different military bases during her childhood and she graduated high school in South Korea. She also has Korean heritage; her mother grew up in South Korea. Chase said she’s grateful for those who served in the Korean War.
She was brought up with a sense of duty and of patriotism. But deciding she’d spent enough time in the military, she graduated, went to college and into the real estate business. She got her license just before Sept. 11, 2001.
“I knew we were going to war — you just know as a military brat,” Chase recalled.
And she’d known she would probably join the armed forces if America ever went to war. It was just a matter of when.
By April 2003, Chase enlisted in the Army. She learned the Pashto language spoken in Afghanistan and was deployed as an intelligence soldier, leveraging her language skills to work with local Afghans. As a woman, Chase could talk to Afghan women and go to places men soldiers could not. Her job was to thwart insider threat and green-on-blue attacks.
During her service, Chase was sexually harassed by Afghans and dealt with a “severe amount of bullying” from her superiors. In April 2006, she was in the Helmand Province when a suicide bomber struck the vehicle she was in. The resulting explosion disintegrated the Toyota Corolla used in the attack.
“All of us had brain injuries from the blast impact,” Chase said.
But pumped full of adrenaline, the soldiers didn’t feel the results of the explosion until later. They fought to stay with the division until the deployment ended in December 2006. Chase stayed with the division for another 10 months.
Her choice to deal with her anxiety and depression led Chase to join a nonprofit for veterans. She felt guilt over the feeling she’d abandoned the other soldiers, and she wanted those who came back to not have to go through the same thing.
‘Not every GI is a Joe’
The veterans group she joined was unwilling to focus on women veterans’ issues, Chase said. She felt minimized, and outsiders would often direct their attention to men because they assumed women weren’t combat veterans. Chase began wearing her Purple Heart and combat action badge.
In December 2008, Chase hosted a breakfast to listen to women veterans. She started her non-profit the following year. American Women Veterans has focused on awareness and advocacy — sharing stories, taking part in parades, answering questions from legislators and helping connect women veterans to other groups.
“What we do is try to leverage the resources that are already out there,” Chase said.
The group advocated repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, worked to lift the policy excluding women from combat and has worked to improve treatment offered to women at veterans hospitals.
Chase’s decision to move to Idaho came after her second deployment in 2013, which she’d gone on with her younger sister Virginia George. Once again, upon her return, Chase found herself in a bad spot, fighting a battle she’d never completely dealt with.
She set down to write a memoir while house-sitting for a family in Idaho.
“Idaho became home,” Chase said. “It was the first place in my life where I felt like I was home.”
At 40 years old, she is a first sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserve as an intelligence soldier.
American Women Veterans is an all-volunteer organization with about 85,000 email subscribers. But Chase would like to see a more grassroots movement, with chapters around the nation. The group plans to become a fully staffed veterans service organization.
If she wins the $25,000 grand prize money, Chase will use it to kick-start her plan to get five chapters going around the country. Yet her initial reaction to even being an honoree was a mix of fear and a strong sense of responsibility to represent women veterans.
“I’m really humbled and honored that somebody had even thought enough about me to nominate me,” Chase said.