FERGUSON, Mo. (KMOV.com) -- Angela Peacock was once a smiling teenager from Ferguson with dreams of making an impact
“I just felt like I needed to go do something with meaning and I couldn't find anything better than serving your country,” she said.
So she enlisted in the Army, and served for nearly seven years.
Peacock was one of the first soldiers on the ground in the Iraq War after 9-11.
“I was in pretty much the first wave. Probably one of the first female combat veterans to get into Iraq,” she said.
Many of her days in Baghdad were spent on convoys, where every moment required her full attention.
“There's dead animals on the side of the road and you can’t drive by them because they have a bomb in there,” she said. “There's children that try to sell you things but sometimes the things have explosives in them.”
The constant risk meant she could never relax.
“[I thought] I'm going to die from one. I would leave for convoy and I would make up my bed and make sure my stuff was neat and clean because if I die on the way today, I don't want my unit to clean up a mess,” she said. “So that really did something to me, I was walking that line of life and death every minute.”
While fighting an outside enemy, she battled an internal one.
Peacock became very sick in Iraq Her appearance drastically changed as she lost 40 pounds in a month, withering to 100 pounds.
Additionally, she was carrying a trauma from her previous service in South Korea, where she was sexually assaulted.
That, combined with the emotional drain of facing death every moment, wore her down.
“That rape was just one night. It was a couple hours. But the war was six months, every day thinking I was going to die. Those two experiences were profoundly different, but the war is what completely shattered me,” Peacock said.
Peacock was medically evacuated out of Iraq, and was medically retired, suffering from PTSD.
“I was on 17 medications in 2006. That's what my treatment was. I didn't get any therapy really,” she said.
Over more than a decade, she weened herself off medication.
She tried other therapy, and found strength at the end of a leash from her service dog, named GI Joe.
She's also been working to fight the stigma of a veteran trying to adjust to civilian life.
“The narrative is always we're damaged, or broken, or something is wrong, but there's a lot right about the way we came back,” she said, adding that she dislikes the word disorder being attached to PTSD. “It’s that people think there is something wrong with you. And I feel like that's what’s right with me, because my brain and body adapted to help me live through that and it’s not easy to forget.”
Peacock will never forget her time in uniform, serving our country. She now mentors other veterans, and advocates for better treatment for vets when they ask for help.
“Feel it and don't be afraid of your emotions, your feelings. don't swallow them,” she said. “Learn how to feel and find connection in your community who love you and will listen to you. That is what heals.”