Sgt. 1st Class Valerie Tucker: The Power of Resilience

WTU Force Structure Sgt. 1st Class Valerie Tucker poses with her two dogs Adrastia (L) and Brutus (R) at the Bellona Training Facility in Aberdeen, N.C. (Photo courtesy Valerie Tucker)

By Annette P. Gomes, Warrior Care and Transition

On a modest six acre plot of land in Aberdeen, N.C. sits Bellona Canine Training, a Veteran owned and operated business.

The establishment was named after the Greek goddess Bellona, the Goddess of War; a name owner Sgt. 1st Class Valerie Tucker identifies with.

“This is me and all I have been through. The Goddess of War has the power to influence all forms of conflict including mental, physical, spiritual and conceptual ones,” Tucker said. “I needed to get back to my roots and embrace conflict versus fight it. I have been deployed eight times to various parts of the world, I’ve been blown up, shot at, enduring many adventures both stateside and abroad.”

Tucker's journey in the Army began shortly after 9/11 as a light- wheeled vehicle mechanic. In 2005, she began her tenure at Fort Bragg, NC in the Special Operations Command.

“I was recruited to be the first female in Civil Affairs, this recruitment changed everything I knew about the Army and myself.”

As Tucker excelled professionally in her career, she slowly began to suffer physically. After a difficult miscarriage left her in need of a blood transfusion, the once physically fit Soldier finally began to listen to her body after participating in a ruck march with her husband’s unit.

“Something just didn’t feel right. I went and consulted with our strength and recovery coaches, this is when my life really changed,” Tucker said. “I began having bouts of memory loss, cognitive impairment, slurred speech, periodic syncope, weakness and nausea.”

In March of 2016, Tucker suffered her first mini-stroke, by January of 2017 she was diagnosed with Functional Neurological Symptom Disorder and Anxiety. The disorder can cause seizures, cognitive impairment and partial loss of vision. She recovered at the Fort Bragg Warrior Transition Battalion.

“When I was first being recommended for the WTB, I fought it, I initially thought it was a place where Soldiers go to die, where Soldiers go to be forgotten about. I was very hurt by this, because of my devotion towards the recommending unit,” Tucker recalled about being assigned to the WTB. “But in the end I realized the WTB has been a godsend to me. Prior to being accepted, I developed anxiety and panic attacks because I was trying to maintain what I thought a good Soldier looks like. The dedicated personnel and staff have helped me realize this is not the case.”

As the Montana native began to focus on her health, the Army helped her plan her future.

“The Army has taught me to take advantage of what is presented and the assets within [the WTB] are bountiful. I don’t know anywhere else a Soldier preparing for retirement or transition out of the military go and solely focus on their health and developing their passion or developing a new one, Tucker said.

This new passion included establishing Bellona Canine Training, which specializes in training large dog breeds.

“Bellona is what keeps me grounded, calm and gives me the ability to continue to give back to my community. Animals are pure, ever loving and do not judge or hate,” Tucker said about the dogs she works with. “When I wasn’t able to walk, and my mind was everywhere, there was a sense of peace that would come over me when watching and hanging out with the animals. It was an amazing feeling.”

These days, Tucker is counting her blessings and credits the WTB and the Army for helping her recover.

“The packaging of civilians, proper military personal and programs is the healing power of the WTB. They gave me the confidence and the time to focus on my business and me. They understand that we have bad days or limitations. The Army has taught me to never give up, make everything a challenge and how to be a critical thinker. I use this strategy everyday”

Tucker is looking to expand her business in the future to include training platforms and merchandise. Through her journey she has learned a lot about herself and strength. “Through conflict and stubbornness I can do anything. I might not be as fast as I once was, but I am still strong! What I would tell anybody in my position is to be proud, now on to the next adventure!”

Tucker has submitted her retirement papers and is awaiting an official date.