February 28, 2022
You can watch the interview HERE
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) today released the February edition of “Answering the Call: Maine’s Veteran Voices,” Senator King’s monthly series in which he shares the stories of the lives, selfless service, and sacrifice of Maine’s veteran community. In the fourth interview of the series, conducted in partnership with the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project, Senator King spoke with Brunswick resident Gretchen Evans, who spent 27 years in the Armed Services, lost her hearing while on active duty, and now champions services for injured veterans. During the interview, Gretchen shared with the Senator her story of losing her parents to cancer, joining the military to benefit from the GI Bill, and her remarkable journey to become one of the highest ranking female servicemembers of her generation.
“It was a true privilege to speak with Gretchen Evans for the fourth episode of ‘Answering the Call: Maine’s Veteran Voices.’ Throughout her life, Gretchen has continuously and selflessly served our country, demonstrated the extraordinary sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, and shown what it truly means to lead from the front,” said Senator King. “After serving at the highest levels of our military and sustaining significant injuries in the line of duty, Gretchen has channeled her leadership into incredible advocacy for fellow veterans who have faced challenges integrating into civilian life with mixed abilities. I’m deeply grateful for the years of service and sacrifices Gretchen has made, and I look forward to working with her to improve resources and support systems for our veterans and active servicemembers.”
Born into a military family in Abilene, Texas, Gretchen Evans learned early on from her father, a fellow veteran, the importance of patriotism and respect for our nation and its service members. Although she never planned on serving in the military, after tragically losing both of her parents to cancer at 16 and struggling to make ends meet in her first year of college, Gretchen saw enlisting as a practical, patriotic avenue to acquiring a college degree. She planned to serve four years, earn her degree, and shift into civilian life; however, Gretchen quickly fell in love with the camaraderie, discipline, and purpose of serving something bigger than herself that she found in the Armed Services.
After enlisting in 1979, Gretchen was stationed in Fort Huachuca and later Heidelberg, Germany where she was selected to train as a counterintelligence agent. She became fluent in German and Italian, as well as conversational in various Middle Eastern dialects. With these skills and her military training, she went on to work in counter-terrorism operations in Italy, Central America, and the Middle East. As Gretchen herself tells it, her small figure allowed her to blend in, and go unnoticed – no one ever thought a five-foot woman in the 80s was a spy. As the need for this work declined, Gretchen returned to the Army where she became a Command Sergeant Major. In this role, she became responsible for all U.S. military bases in Afghanistan and managed the logistics, security, and morale for over 30,000 servicemembers. Unfortunately, in 2006 her base came under heavy mortar fire, and Gretchen was thrown head first into a bunker while she tried to get her troops to safety. Gretchen woke up days later to a traumatic brain injury, the permanent loss of her hearing, and the end of her military career.
Gretchen, who identifies as someone with mixed abilities rather than a disability, returned to the United States where she learned to read lips. After struggling to reintegrate into civilian life, get a job, and battle her PTSD, she eventually acquired a service dog and began her new career as an advocate for injured veterans. Since 2006, she has written a book called Leading from the Front, become a board member for America’s VetDogs and Cost of Freedom, and currently serves as an ambassador for No Barriers – a veterans’ advocacy group. In addition, with the help of the 9/11 GI Bill, Gretchen went back to college and earned her degree in sociology and psychology from Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan. Now, Gretchen lives in Maine with her husband, a retired Navy veteran, and continues to seek out other veterans with similar stories to her own. Her incredible military career and continued advocacy work has led her to be inducted into both the U.S. Army Women’s Hall of Fame and the U.S. Veterans Hall of Fame in 2019 and 2021, respectively.
The Veterans History Project is an effort by the Library of Congress to collect, preserve and distribute the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war. The interviews and primary documents from the project are then used by researchers, historians, students, and filmmakers across the country. Senator King joins many other Members of Congress who’ve participated in the project.
As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator King has been a staunch advocate for America’s servicemember and veterans. He discussed the issue of veteran and servicemember suicide in last month’s Answering the Call interview – presenting the concerns he heard to a top Pentagon nominee – and recently introduced the Save Our Servicemembers (S.O.S.) Act, which would work to improve Department of Defense’s servicemember suicide prevention efforts. Last year, the Senate unanimously passed legislation cosponsored by Senator King that will designate 9-8-8 as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Veterans Crisis line. Senator King has also worked to create a first-of-its-kind Senate fellowship program for wounded American veterans, and has worked to improve the services for Maine veterans across the state, including at the Togus campus in Augusta.