Special Forces Speedster Takes Gold, Pioneers Female Engagement Teams
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo --
For former Marine Corps Reserve Gunnery Sgt. Tiffany Hudgins, speed is the name of the game.
Representing U.S. Special Operations Command, Hudgins earned 100-meter and 200-meter gold in the women’s competition in her disability category, competed in archery yesterday and competes in swimming today at the 2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games at the U.S. Air Force Academy here.
“I love all the fast things,” she said. The last time she competed in the games was in 2015, where she earned bronze in the women’s 1,500-meter race in her disability category.
Hudgins said she couldn’t leave Spokane, Washington, fast enough as she was graduating from high school so she joined the Marine Corps. She said even though none of her family had served, they were happy to see her join.
“My parents told me they high-fived each other and said, ‘Cool, we don’t have to worry any more. She will have good benefits, good direction, a good outlet for all of her energy,’” she said, laughing.
Female Engagement Teams
For most of her 15 years in the military, Hudgins served as a telecommunications chief, but while she was deployed from 2007 to 2008 with Socom, she worked with a civil affairs team. A grassroots movement that was a precursor of what later would be called female engagement teams, it was called Iraqi Women Engagement.
“We were distinct from the Lioness team,” she said. “They served a very particular surgical purpose. We had the long-term commitment and connection with the community – that was the biggest difference.”
In 2009, the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command officials approached her through her husband, a fellow Marine, and asked her to be the chief of a new team that became known as the cultural support team. Her team went to the Shindand province in Afghanistan in 2010 to support Socom’s Operational Detachment Alpha, or ODA.
“They said, ‘The ODA needs your help. You’re going to go down there and do female engagement for them,’” she said. “We went down to very, very small towns in the Shindand province, where there were a lot of tribal struggles going on. We were helping to kind of break that up. There were a lot of misconceptions about why the ODA was there. Women were scared to even come see them.
“We need that persistent and consistent engagement; it’s critical, Hudgins continued. “You can’t just come in and do a patrol one day and hand out some stuff and move on. We’re their neighbors. It takes a long time. They are a culture that has been built on overcoming occupiers. We’re not here to do the same thing. It was good.”
Injured by IED
During a foot patrol on her Afghanistan deployment in 2010, an improvised explosive device hit directly below Hudgins. “I absorbed all of the blast, and I’m very fortunate to even be here, because it was on a foot trail around a field. The way the blast occurred, it was an up and out, and I ended up falling into a giant hole. I learned all of this second-hand, because I wasn’t conscious for it. It’s crazy what energy will do to your body,” she said.
Hudgins ended up with a traumatic brain injury because of the blast and has balance issues.
Because she and her husband have served multiple combat tours, Hudgins said, she never got to a place where she couldn’t communicate with him if she was having a hard time with doctors or with her recovery. She also continued to train others to continue the cultural support team mission.
Hudgins said her health care providers, friends at her command and her husband, Bob, encouraged her to go to the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Maryland.
“It’s the Disneyland of health care,” she said. “I had a neurologist, psychologist, an internist, pharmacologist -- you name it -- there for you and your issues. We did music therapy, art therapy, yoga meditation. And it’s in a very small group of about five to 10 individuals.”
If she ever has any issues as she works at Socom headquarters, she said, visits the care coalition program there. “They’re always very accessible and always there to help. They’re genuinely happy to be there,” she said.
A Special Operator for Life
Hudgins said Socom has made her feel as if she is part of the special operations forces family. “SOF for life -- I wasn’t an operator, but in my capacity in how I served and how I was injured, there was no question Socom was going to be my advocate once I was injured. Socom said, ‘You’re one of us. You got injured under our flag. You’re our person.’ They make you feel like you’re part of the community no matter what capacity you fell under their umbrella. I really appreciate that. It’s a great family feeling.”
As she continues to compete this week with her special operations family, she said, she’s stoked to share that love with the other branches and other countries here.
“I was talking to someone I competed with from the [United Kingdom], and they were so inspired we invited them to come over here -- ‘Heck yeah, you guys served side by side in all these different places. You guys saw the same things we did, and we all have similar issues. It doesn’t matter,’ I told them,” she said. “They are our allied partners. I love the fact that the rest of the commonwealth community is here. We’re all interested in culture [and] asking questions. It’s great.”
(Follow Shannon Collins on Twitter: @CollinsDoDNews)