Culture Military

Daphne Bye and the Women on a Mission (WAM) Project

Daphne Bye has a mission. She didn’t always. The Marine Corps gave her a mission, but after leaving the service, like many veterans she found herself lost in the civilian world. It was that experience, and the realization that she was not alone, that finally gave her the new objective she needed. Bye is now the Women On A Mission (WAM) Project Director, where she focuses on helping women veterans deal with emotional and physical trials they must negotiate after leaving the military, and to work to provide a sense of community and camaraderie that many veterans lose after they leave the service.

Bye’s own military service began in 2007 when she enlisted in the Marine Corps. After completing boot camp, she was assigned to Combat Logistics Regiment 15, a logistics unit headquartered in Camp Pendleton, California that provides material, medical, and maintenance support to the Marine Expeditionary Force and Select Marine Aviation Wings. Bye left the Marine Corps in 2011.

Following her service, Bye’s vision of the future was simple — go to college, get her degree, and make money. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Communication with a Marketing Concentration. While attending college, she felt the urge to enter the entertainment industry. In her words, she had “caught the acting bug.” She worked hard to make inroads to that industry, and also earned an associate’s degree in Fashion to work as a stylist as well as an actress.

Bye’s most enriching experience in that industry came when she found the nonprofit organization Veterans in Film and Television (VFT). This organization, serving as a networking and professional development organization for veterans in the entertainment and media industries, allowed Bye to connect with successful women who’d gone through transitions like hers and managed to find new life in the civilian world. Bye’s career began to progress, and she was able to “regain her true self.”

However, other parts of Bye’s life were not thriving post-Marine Corps. Bye and her husband, David, had both been diagnosed with PTSD. Bye had suffered sexual harassment from a superior during her enlistment, and David had fought in Fallujah in both 2004 and 2007. Despite committing to treatment together and having a young daughter, their relationship was disintegrating.

It was at this time, late 2014, that Bye heard of the Veteran Vision Project. Devin Mitchell, a student at Arizona State, had begun a photo series as a graduate school application portfolio that depicted veterans standing in front of mirrors. The mirrors reflected themselves as Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, or Airmen back at the civilian people they had begun. The project attempted to shed light on the schism many veterans feel after leaving the service, torn between their old identity a new life. Bye was inspired to reach out to Mitchell, and asked him to photograph her and her husband.

After convincing David, who did not want to participate initially, Mitchell was able to photograph the couple. The photo of the Bye’s, torn apart by PTSD, was featured in the project, and highlighted in a Washington Post article.

Bye was completely unprepared for what happened next: the photo went viral, and Bye was flooded with calls and social media outreach. Not all of this was from strangers — Bye’s family did not know that she and David were currently separated and going through a divorce. It was an overwhelming moment, she had not realized the extent to which she’d be exposing her life. Bye shut off her phone, isolated herself, and wondered what she had done.

The viral photo f Daphne and David Bye that launched their private lives into the public.

Eventually, she had to face the response. Not knowing what to expect, she turned her phone back on. What she saw stunned her. Bye had been flooded by responses from veterans, mostly women, who identified with her photo and the story it told. So many of them had similar experiences with PTSD, both from combat and sexual harassment and assault. So many of them, even the ones with successful careers and families who seemed “happy” on the surface, struggled daily with hidden wounds. Knowledge of this shared experience and the realization that what she felt and struggled with wasn’t her fault and wasn’t out of the ordinary empowered and inspired her.

Bye had found her new mission.

As she began to engage with the women who reached out to her, she began to notice important patterns. Not only were their experiences the same, but the effects on their lives, trust issues with men and erosion of confidence, were the same as well. So many women felt the same as her, and were now looking to her as a leader.

Through her connections, Bye linked up with Nick Koumalatsos, actor and Director of the Raider Project and Karl Monger, Executive Director of the GallantFew. She was looking for a way to help women like herself and the may that had reached out to her. Monger pushed her to develop a rigorous plan, like any good Ranger officer, and that led to WAM Project.

WAM Project – a community and support network for women veterans, by women veterans.

Currently, WAM Project is focused on raising awareness in the Camp Lejeune area. Bye and her team want women veterans and servicewomen nearing transition to know that there is a community and support network for them. Bye is also seeking out images and stories of successful women veterans to serve as models to others, and spread those stories with her platform.

Bye wants to grow WAM into an organization that offers advice on college and benefits to veterans, while providing a safe and comfortable environment for women like her to share fellowship. Bye is a certified yoga instructor, and sees that and mindfulness practice as being helpful tools, and would like to add those to the project’s offering as well.

Bye’s new mission has inspired her and given her the purpose and community that she missed after leaving the Marines. She is not alone. One of the most common responses to the WAM Project comes from women offering help. As the organization grows, it will need plenty of volunteers and assistance. If you’d like to get involved, contact the WAM Project. You can also visit GallantFew to learn more about other organizations building a positive veteran community through transition assistance, and get involved as a sponsor, volunteer, or fundraiser. These are also great places to connect with inspiring veterans who understand transition issues — if you need help, don’t isolate. Reach out.

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