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Woman general says 'Shift Happens' on the road to success

Becky Halstead's “success” diagram has as many lows as highs — a coach's fatal skydiving accident, her appointment to West Point and soon after, marriage, divorce and rising to general.

There's a word to describe the scraggly hand-drawn graph that illustrates her life, but not the one some of the women veterans hearing her speech Saturday in San Antonio might have been thinking.

“When shift happens in our life it's about the response more than it is about the shift,” Halstead, who led 20,000 GIs in Iraq in 2005, told a veterans support group for women. “And so I give most of my speeches on leadership with the premise that the first person you must lead is you.”

Fort Worth-based Grace After Fire is geared to helping women in the military and those who have left it. The group's president, retired Air Force Col. Kimberly Olson, noted that 1.8 million women have served in the armed forces and that all of them volunteered.

“We opened the doors for these young women to go into combat. We did that and the unintended consequences of that was if we forgot that there needed to be a safety net to make sure that they're going to get on the pointy end of the spear, that somebody or something is going to take care of them,” said Olson, a tanker pilot who was in the Pentagon on 9/11.

Halstead's greatest crisis came late in her career, when she fell ill with fibromyalgia, a malady in which people suffer from chronic joint and muscle pain, fatigue and lost sleep. Likening herself to many women in the audience, she said that females in the armed services are the worst at asking for help.

“We wait until our organs have rotted and need to be surgically taken out before we tell anybody we feel badly,” she told a mostly female audience. “Really most of us, men and women, we're not going to a doctor until we absolutely have to because we don't want to be perceived as weak.”

Halstead went on a standard treatment for fibromyalgia — drugs. Two of them were anti-depressants, prompting her to ask a doctor why he had prescribed them.

She was, after all, not depressed.

“He said, ‘no, but you will be,'” Halstead recalled, sparking laughter in the crowd.

Four years later, her retirement papers in, she had indeed become depressed. Doctors were giving her 15 different prescriptions. They had told her she had a disease that was so debilitating she'd never have a good day again.

“So I started to become the disease,” Halstead said. “I let the disease control me.”

Today, she credits chiropractic care and far better nutrition with transforming her life. The medications are gone. While she didn't want to retire from the Army, Halstead has reinvented herself as a motivational speaker.

“So a major shift in my life was getting ill,” she said, “but the more important major shift was getting well.”

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