PORT ORANGE — Tucked in retired Brig. Gen. Becky Halstead’s briefcase are several dog tags listing the names of men and women who “didn’t make it home.”
Halstead, 51, the first woman to command in combat at the strategic level, said Wednesday she carries the tags she had engraved of the people who died and served under her command in the U.S. Army as a reminder of “the sacrifices they made.”
“I don’t ever want to forget,” Halstead told more than 100 college students at Palmer College of Chiropractic in Port Orange.
She told the story while talking to students about leadership and principles she thinks are important to live by such as serving others, having a positive attitude, being dedicated and disciplined.
Halstead, who spent 27 years in the military and served in Iraq in 2005 and 2006 after previously serving in Afghanistan, also is the first female graduate of West Point to be promoted to general. She now heads her own consulting company.
The former brigadier general, who retired from the U.S. Army in 2008, is a spokeswoman for the Foundation of Chiropractic Progress, which raises awareness of the benefits of chiropractic care.
She was diagnosed in 2004 with fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that causes tenderness, stiffness and pain in the muscles as well as fatigue and other symptoms. After being prescribed 17 different pain and sleep medications over a five-year period, she turned to a chiropractor. She is off medication and still receives chiropractic care, which she said “gave me my quality of life back,” though she added she still has a long way to go.
Chiropractic care, Halstead said, isn’t covered in the military and she now advocates for such care to be provided and says it must be an integral part of health care.
Halstead told the students at the chiropractic college not to get discouraged and to get involved to “preserve this profession.”
She points to her own struggles of many times being the only woman in the room in military meetings and never having a female boss in the Army.
“I know what it’s like to earn your way to the table and to be on the same playing field,” Halstead said. “I know what it’s like not to be accepted.”
Student Mary Nochimson, 26, of Coral Springs said she was excited to hear Halstead speak. She said her parents are doctors in family practice and believes “all forms of health care are important.
“No way is right or wrong; it’s just a different approach,” she said.
Student Scott Self, , 34, of Ormond Beach, who is a Student Council representative and was in the U.S. Marines from 1995 to 2002, said he was inspired by Halstead’s encouragement that “every voice makes a difference.” He’d like to see jobs for chiropractors in the military one day.