When Ingrid Hachmeister signed up for the U.S. Army after high school, she scored so high on the military’s aptitude test that the recruiter told her point-blank: “You can do anything you want. Your options are wide open.”
An adventurous 20-year-old woman who felt the pull of patriotism in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, Ingrid signed up for one of the military’s most dangerous jobs — explosive ordnance technician — the same work dramatized in the film “The Hurt Locker.”
She approached this new challenge with gusto. “When you come in, you have this great ideal of how life is going to be,” says Ingrid, who is now a mother and an AmeriCorps Ally serving in Central Florida. “I was like, ‘I’m a woman, and I’ll show what women are made of!'”
“But then I started to get the first experiences of not being an equal — or rather, of not being seen or treated as an equal.”
Ingrid had joined the Army’s explosive ordnance program just as it began accepting female soldiers. The job of handling unexploded bombs, land mines, and “highly classified things that can kill you” was stressful and the technical challenges were big. What’s more, she hadn’t fully developed the coping mechanisms necessary to succeed inside of what had until then been a male-only environment.
“I experienced a lot of undue negative attention,” says Ingrid, who in 2012 was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of military sexual trauma (MST) she experienced. “I was a great soldier, but [explosive ordnance technician] was not the job for me.”
Six months into the training, she asked to be transferred. Yet a new setback came when she was re-assigned by superiors to train as a truck driver.
“I went from scoring so well I could choose anything,” Ingrid says, “to doing something that anyone could do.”
She was stationed in South Korea for the remainder of her military tenure. “I look back now and can see that I didn’t have any coping mechanisms to fall back on,” Ingrid says. “I loved my co-workers, and I wouldn’t change anything because I learned a lot about myself, but I felt very isolated.”
Ingrid had joined the Army out of a sense of adventure, a willingness to serve her country, and because she saw it as an opportunity to have a steady paycheck while earning money for college. But those years left her feeling, in some important ways, more lost than before.
When she returned to the United States and reentered civilian life, Ingrid floated a while. She had a child inside of an abusive relationship that would hit bottom, and she decided to move to another state when her son was still an infant. “When my son was born, it was like a wake-up moment.”
With the help of her parents, she rebuilt her life and worked toward getting her college degree at Tidewater Community College in Virginia, then the University of South Florida in Tampa.
Ingrid’s desire to do more, and to make a greater contribution to her country and her community, led her to Team Rubicon. That’s a volunteer coalition of military veterans and emergency medical service workers who serve communities hit hard in emergency and disaster situations.
In October, Ingrid joined them in South Carolina after the severe flooding that affected thousands of homes.
“My military experience was a challenging one, but working with Team Rubicon, it’s made me realize that what I love most about the military are the people in the military,” says Ingrid, who in the last year has returned to regular therapy sessions with the U.S. Dept. of Veteran Affairs to help heal from the MST. “The community of veterans is an amazing one. They want to help the community and help make people’s lives better. In that way, these ideals align perfectly with those of Public Allies.”
Another important step in Ingrid’s leadership journey began last year when she was accepted as an AmeriCorps Ally at Public Allies Central Florida.
“I never expected to get inspired by people younger than myself,” says Ingrid, who is completing her year of service as an emergency manager for the City of Longwood. “Public Allies has really opened me up to this idea of collaborating with other people who are different than you, and understanding how these relationships can bring great reward.”
Nilmarie Zapata, Executive Director of Public Allies Central Florida, says she’s been an asset to the group of Allies. “Ingrid has been able to tie together all of her experiences and her skills and bring them into our space so effectively,” Nilmarie says. “And she got right away the value of our mission and the importance of seeing the assets that others bring to the table.”
Ingrid would love to see more veterans applying for programs like Public Allies that prioritize inclusivity and truly seeking and finding the value in everyone.
“When I imagine justice, I imagine a world where everyone is judged based on their character, not their past, their skin color, gender, or sexual orientation. I imagine a world where your abilities define you, where everyone has the same opportunities.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever get there,” she says. “But I’m hopeful.”