Tammy describes her service in the Marine Corps as a calling – she wore the uniform proudly and served her country faithfully. Enlisting in 1985, the military fulfilled a deep-seated need for stability and order, both of which were lacking during her impoverished childhood. She entered a male-dominated world that taught respect for others, a code of conduct, and a strict way of life. “I’m so grateful for the training I received. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without that military training.” While she’s grateful for much of her experience, Tammy’s military foundation came at a staggering cost.
Marine Corps training taught Tammy many good lessons, such as to always have your fellow Marine’s back, take care of each other and service to country above all. She learned some of the harder lessons, too. It was ingrained that regardless of what you see or hear, just lock your feelings deep inside. “I signed up for this life, and I’m beyond proud to be a Marine. But, it’s also a hard life. Whether it’s good or bad, you learn to stuff your feelings.”
Tammy, a mom to three girls, brought the strict training home where she ran a regimented household – long on tough love, short on grace. “My girls learned how to make their beds using military corners when they were very little.” At one point, both Tammy and her first husband deployed at the same time, leaving their oldest daughter Sydney to be raised by family. This demanding grind cost Tammy the opportunity to work on relationships and ultimately left her a single mom after two failed marriages. “I was the primary breadwinner for my three girls. I kept asking God when I was going to get a break.” Remembering the hard lesson from her Marine training, Tammy stuffed the disappointments, fear, and shame, ultimately withholding love from herself and her girls.
After leaving the Marines, Tammy entered another rigid and systematic institution when she became a federal agent. In 1999 she became a Special Agent for HUD OIG, serving most of her career as the only female field agent in her office. Another job in a typically male-dominated world, another opportunity to keep her heart closed off. Most poignantly, it was yet another job that put Tammy’s career before her family. It took a decade and a half before Tammy would find her way home.
The opportunity to heal began in 2014, when Sydney (class 312) moved in with Tammy and began sharing about Pathways Core Training. “Sydney bugged me for six months before I finally agreed to enter June’s training. Her persistence got me in the room.” In the safety of the program, Tammy found the capacity to reconcile her military training, life’s hard times and her heart. Within those training walls she found peace and learned how to feel again – really feel. While Tammy built up an arsenal of tools in Pathways, the one she values the most is knowing how to teach others to treat her with dignity and respect. While still estranged from two of her daughters, Tammy and Sydney forged a strong bond because of their shared Pathways experience and learned to forgive each other. “Before my training, I was not kind or compassionate. I was all about tough love.” Through her Pathways training, Tammy learned to just be all about love. “My heart is different now because, first and foremost, I have acceptance for myself.” Her Pathways journey taught her how to live an authentic life and love wholeheartedly.
Tammy wishes the same for others, especially those from the military. “There is a way to find peace, love and understanding for yourself and others. What I learned through Pathways Core Training could not erase the things I have seen or done, nor could it excise the things that have been done to me, some of which almost broke me. But, it has allowed me to choose how I let those things affect me.”
Today, Tammy’s heart leads the way. She’s open, honest and vulnerable, knowing that seeking happiness is worth the risk of being hurt. “Pathways Core Training helped me learn to react to things differently and deal with them differently. It also helped me restore relationships with those in my life who matter. I am becoming the woman I always knew was inside me.”
Ownership is the part of H.O.P.E. that resonates most with Tammy. “I have learned how to take ownership of my life and my feelings, and live from my heart.” Tammy Hernandez, a veteran, loving mom and good friend, is now building a life she once could only dream about.