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Wounded warrior shares story

Posted: April 5, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 5, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Sgt. Leshonda Gill, left, a member of the “Tempered Steel”, Wounder Warrior Speaker Program gets a hug from Jasmine Rose, 17, at the podium as Gill speaks about her troubled youth and career in the military to a group of local young people at the Santa Clarita Activities Center in Santa Clarita on Wednesday.

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Leshonda Gill, then a chemical operations specialist for the Army, was 26 years old in 2003 when her convoy was hit by an explosion in Iraq.

But the former sergeant told a group of foster and at-risk youth Wednesday that the hardest decision of her life did not come during the attack. It came years later, when she had to ask for help getting herself off the streets of Washington, D.C.

Gill was traveling in Iraq in 2003 with a convoy of vehicles when the Humvee in front of her was struck by an explosion.

She wound up driving her Humvee into the side of a building in an attempt to protect the rest of the troops, but the explosion killed eight of the 24 troops she was traveling with.

Gill lost most of her teeth, a kidney, part of her intestines and her spleen in the attack, but her hardest moments came in the years after the attack, when she found herself suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

At first, Gill didn’t know what was wrong with her, but she eventually realized that she had PTSD.

“It took a long time for me to get it,” Gill said.

By then, she said, she had lost everything and been homeless twice after leaving the Army.

Last November, when Gill was facing eviction, she said she came dangerously close to throwing herself out a window. But instead she pulled herself together and called for help.

She is now living in a transitional home for women veterans in Los Angeles and is telling her story as a member of the “Tempered Steel” Wounded Warriors Speaker Program.

Gill spoke to about 50 youngsters Wednesday at the Santa Clarita Activities Center in an effort to inspire and motivate them to follow their dreams and stay out of trouble.

Despite the physical and emotional wounds Gill experienced during her time in Iraq, she said, the Army helped turn her life around.

Both her parents had died by the time she was in high school, and she found herself shuttled from one home to another. She started hanging out with the “wrong crowd” and was shot twice when she was 16.

People told her she wouldn’t make it to her 18th birthday, she said.

“I joined the military for a reason, and that was to prove everyone wrong,” Gill said.

Gill wanted to make sure each child knew he or she was important and each had the courage to believe in himself or herself.

“I want you to leave out this door knowing that tomorrow you’re still important,” Gill said.

Her story seemed to resonate with many of the youth — ranging in age from 9 years to 19 years old — with more than one asking for tissues to stem their tears during her speech.

“(The speech) taught me a lot about my self-worth and how to positively impact other people,” said Daisy Galvez, a 17-year-old student at Academy of the Canyons.

Juan Beristain, 11, said Gill taught him to believe in himself.

“You should always trust yourself and you should never give up on yourself,” Beristain said.

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