Coming home from war. Retiring from service. Being medically discharged. Leaving to raise a family.

All of us have our personal transition stories moving from military life to the civilian world, but one thing we have in common is the difficulty of it all. 

I remember sitting in a rented-out school bus in Lincoln, NE, overwhelmed by the overfilled parking lot of loved ones excitedly waiting to give all of us returning veterans overdue hugs. I was terrified and cemented in my seat, wanting nothing more than to go back to Iraq. The overwhelming feelings of confusion and anxiousness engulfed me. I was confused because I should want to be back in boring Nebraska, anxious because I was anything but comfortable in this safe and secure place. 

The overwhelming confusion combined with never-ending anxiousness and random attacks of flashbacks kept hold on me for years after my return home from Iraq in 2005. I sought help through fellow veteran friends, mental health specialists, group therapy classes, intensive cognitive behavior therapy, my pup Walker and the art of photojournalism to name a few. The journey is still ongoing, but the once constant claws that dug into me on a daily basis have released their stranglehold. While I’ll never be the pre-war Marla again, I’m proud to have evolved to the post-war, self-aware female veteran photographer that I am today.

This portrait exhibit examines the individual journeys of my fellow female veterans through the use of double exposure. Each photograph is comprised of two images, shot in camera and superimposed on each other to fill the frame. The first image was shot at a slow shutter speed and a light saber was used to highlight the token each female veteran brought. These tokens have a variety of meaning to each veteran. They are reminders of who they were in the military which has helped them stay true to themselves throughout their transition into civilian life. They are symbols of who they are now in the civilian world. They are badges of strength. These individual tokens were then layered in camera along a second portrait shot to make the complete image you see in the exhibit. 

Throughout this exhibit you will see how other female veterans were able to push through their personal transitions; By looking back to their military times for a frame of fearlessness, leaning on their families for never-ending support, seeking help through their furry friends, turning to journaling, or pushing themselves to their physical peaks to tear away those claws of self doubt. 

Upon returning home, photography became my personal saving grace. By trading an M16 for a camera, I was once again personally invincible and could go anywhere and tackle any situation as long as my eye was behind the lens.

We’ve all faced the demons deep inside us in our own way. And we’ve emerged a better versions of our past selves. Each portrait in this exhibit is a true Face of Force.