Standing at attention during pregame of an Oct. 17 Blaine High School home football game, Molly Black found out along with everyone else in the stadium that she is the first woman to be on the color guard for the Sgt. John Rice VFW.
“I was definitely proud after the initial shock,” Black said. She later found out that she is the third female color guard member in the state.
The Coon Rapids resident of two years had got to know Gary Exley, the vice commander of the Blaine VFW post, through a friend, Joel Frank, a Gulf War veteran. Black joined the VFW on Veterans Day 2011 and not long after that, Exley was recruiting her to be on the color guard.
Mary Lou Michaels, the auxiliary president for the VFW, thinks it is wonderful when female veterans like Black are comfortable joining the VFW when it is male-dominated.
Michaels said the VFW has been trying to recruit women and the younger generation to join.
With Black becoming a member, the VFW took a step toward trying to accomplish both goals. Black graduated from White Bear Lake Area High School in 1999 and is 31 years old.
“It’s a huge honor to have her representing the Sgt. John Rice VFW,” Michaels said.
To date, Black has just been a color guard member at the Oct. 17 Blaine High School football pregame. She and other veterans were able to attend a Nov. 9 Minnesota Timberwolves home game.
The summer season with all the parades is the peak time of the year, veteran color guard members have informed her. “It’s been great so far,” she said.
Black served as a military police (MP) officer with the Army Reserves from 2003 through 2010. She wanted to be a police officer and heard that starting as an MP would be a good learning experience.
Black was in Iraq from November 2006 through November 2007 where she helped train the future Iraqi police force.
This was not always easy for a myriad of reasons. Women have many fewer rights in Iraq and are looked down on. There were times when Black had to communicate with Iraqi police officers through her male MP colleagues, she said.
Some of the Iraqis had to be taught the basic responsibilities of a police officer. There were some that were set in their ways or were corrupt.
Because Black was attached to a combat support company, she saw the effect that war has on the troops. Soldiers died. Others lost limbs or had mental scars.
“I don’t think that anybody that goes to war comes back the same,” Black said.
Helping veterans cope with post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems that crop up is Black’s new mission. She changed her career path from police work to counseling and psychology and has since received a master’s degree in this field.
Having served in the military herself, Black understands that it can be difficult for veterans who were in a war to talk to counselors who may not have even served in the armed forces, she said.
Black is now a readjustment therapist at the Brooklyn Park Vet Center. While talking with the veteran is important, this center seeks family involvement because they are as part of the reintegration process as the soldier.
Black does couple’s counseling and talks with people who have begun abusing alcohol or drugs.
They have seen an increasing number of couples coming in, according to Black.
This vets center is associated with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), but patient records are confidential, Black said.
Although her experience as an MP led her to not want to be a police officer because she does not want to carry a weapon, Black would not completely close the door on returning to the military police field, she said.
It is hard for her to explain to someone who has never served in the military, but more understandable to those who have, Black said.
The easiest way to explain it is the people she served with in Iraq are like family, she said.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]