JUNE 18, 2021 — Two poems written by retired U.S. Air Force Col. Lisa Carrington Firmin, UTSA’s military liaison, are currently on display in a prominent exhibit at the Military Women’s Memorial at the ceremonial entrance to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.
Uniting US, an organization dedicated to uniting service members and communities through therapeutic art, put together the exhibit in Arlington, which opened on Memorial Day and will continue to be displayed through Labor Day on Monday, September 6. The Summer with the Arts exhibit features 185 works by 105 artists from all walks of life. For a frame of reference, Firmin’s poems are located next to an original sketch of service women by renowned painter and illustrator Norman Rockwell.
Firmin has been invited to read the poems in-person and speak to exhibit guests about her written works at the Military Women’s Memorial in August.
Both of Firmin’s poems are deeply personal and are each reflective of her own experiences: Into the Light with military sexual trauma (MST) and Save the Civilians with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Firmin said that the aim of these works was to convey the truly intense feelings of such events to the reader. She hopes that exhibit visitors are educated about MST and PTSD, and walk away knowing that these issues can affect anyone regardless of rank or gender. She also wants other victims to know they are not alone; that others “have walked that same road of trepidation, pain and doubt.”
“Lisa’s courage to speak out through her written art continues to demonstrate her leadership and mission-focused persistence,” said AnnMarie Halterman, executive director of Uniting US. “Into the Light has inspired other veterans to join the conversation and address their own MST experiences through art.”
As Firmin’s writing encourages others to find their voice, the former senior-most ranking Latina officer in the Air Force said that she found hers in self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. After years of writing speeches, articles, research papers, commentaries and essays from a diplomatic position of military leadership, Firmin has become more outspoken about MST, PTSD and glaring military issues over the last year. Writing with such unleashed honesty, she said, has been healing and led to immense personal growth.
“I have always shown the world a tough, hardened exterior as a commander and a leader,” Firmin explained. “These poems offer insight into a more tortured soul that is both vulnerable but powerful at the same time. I really hope and pray that my poems, this very personal window into my experiences, helps others heal in some way.”
Firmin was inspired to be more strident after reflecting on a series of difficult events in her personal life and the brutal murder of U.S. Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen in 2020. She has since voiced criticisms of the military’s handling of issues regarding sexual harassment and sexual trauma in prominent media outlets, including 2020 op-eds in the San Antonio Express-News and Military Times, and a recent interview in VFW Magazine.
In an effort to expand on her arrival to the national dialogue surrounding MST, Firmin is currently working on a book about the encounters of military sexual trauma that she and others have suffered. Describing the book as “brutally honest” and “authentic,” Firmin said she is profoundly honored to tell their stories of serving and sacrifice. She is working with Blue Ear Books on a spring 2022 release in conjunction with the second anniversary of Guillen’s death.
“She adds her eloquent voice to a growing chorus who are empowered and united to stop the predators from within,” Halterman said.
“My writing now is very indicative of where I am now in life,” Firmin added. “It is entirely too short to not make the most of each and every day. I am making up for lost time and really hope to make even more of a difference than I already have in the lives of others.”
As the founder of UTSA’s Office of Veteran and Military Affairs, Firmin’s desire to assist Roadrunners with military ties has been boundless. Under her leadership, the university established the Center for Military Affiliated Students to provide consolidated services to military-affiliated students on campus.
Targeted programming under her watch—which has included priority registration, tailored orientation, emergency funding, veteran resource fairs, professional development, wellness workshops, community partnerships, and more recently an entire virtual series of events focused on women veterans—has been thoughtfully crafted and well-received by students, faculty and staff at the university. These achievements have led to UTSA earning multiple recognitions as a Best for Vets university and a Military Friendly School.
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