When Rebecca Tomsyck was 53, she joined the Army. Now, six years later, she has been awarded a Bronze Star.
A Charlotte psychiatrist who is board certified in pediatrics, psychiatry and child psychiatry, Tomsyck had a successful practice in the Arboretum area, where her home is, but wanted something more.
When Army recruiters started expressing an interest in her son, Jay, she saw an opportunity. Her son didn't join the Army, but Tomsyck did.
"I wanted to serve and I wanted a change, and I wanted an adventure before I died," said Tomsyck, now 59.
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When Tomsyck was in medical school, she had thought about serving in the military after she finished her residency; but her parents had strong objections. She married before her residency was over, and the idea was laid to rest.
Her goal was realized decades later when she was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the Army in July 2005. She went on active duty that September, stationed in Heidelberg, Germany, as Chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Services, where she served soldiers' children.
Her first deployment came in December 2006, when she was sent to an operating base in Rustimayah, Iraq, where she started working with a combat-stress-control unit.
"I was so naïve, I didn't know anything," she said.
Tomsyck learned quickly and was promoted to colonel in October 2009.
In July 2010, she deployed with another combat-stress-control unit and was sent to a hospital in Bagram, Afghanistan, where she would stay until January 2011.
Tomsyck and her small team worked seven days a week. "We were very busy," she said.
She helped soldiers deal with a variety of issues, ranging from a few cases of post traumatic stress disorder to depression to stress over problems back home. She also taught stress management to help soldiers manage the stress of being deployed.
She was notified in June that her work earned her a Bronze Star for exceptionally meritorious service. The medal can be awarded for bravery, acts of merit or exceptionally meritorious service. Tomsyck received the medal for continuously performing well with the combat-stress unit. Although she struggled with a small staff and a busy base, her unit had good results, causing Tomsyck's work to be recognized.
It's a high honor, but Tomsyck doesn't make a big deal out of it.
"I was doing my job, in my opinion," she said.
Tomsyck says she enjoyed her work, calling it an honor to serve. But she struggled with being away from her family for so long.
"You go alone," she said. "You miss everything."
Birthdays and anniversaries and holidays passed while she was deployed. She relied on Skype and phone calls, but those didn't make up for being able to hug her family and friends.
But her team helped her cope.
"I had absolutely great people," she said. "They were hardworking; they were team players."
Celebrating holidays together made them close.
"On Thanksgiving, you have to be a family," said Tomsyck.
Her own family has stuck by her every day of her service. "My family and friends have been very supportive all the way," she said. "I thank everyone for their support and patriotism."
Tomsyck is back in Heidelberg after a week's leave in Charlotte, where she was able to hug and visit friends and family, including her husband, John. She has two more years on her eight-year contract with the Army. She doesn't know what she'll do after her contract ends, and she doesn't know what will happen in the next two years. She expects to remain in Germany, but she could be deployed again.
Regardless of what the future holds, Tomsyck said, she isn't worried.
"It has been a wonderful experience, and I've never looked back," she said.