As an Army veteran and the leader of the Mid-South Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America, Christie Hill-Smith is an inspiration to all veterans whose titles extend beyond their rank or call sign – those also known as “mom.”
Christie’s service dates back to 1986, when she served as a nurse’s aide and later, as a combat police officer and the only woman in her platoon. In 2004, Christie suffered a spinal cord injury while serving in Iraq. She also grappled with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of her service.
Christie returned home to her four children all under the age of 13. “The roles reversed,” she says. “I became the child. They had to cook, clean and take care of their mother.”
Eventually, Christie remarried, and she credits her husband for helping her get to a place where she could regain control of her home and her role as a mother. But as her kids grew older and entered college, Christie discovered a desire to serve beyond just her home.
“At 36, I was a little too young to not have anything to do the rest of my life,” she says. “That’s when I decided I would come volunteer for Paralyzed Veterans, and within about two years, I went from membership program manager to the president of my chapter.”
Christie is now the first female president of the Mid-South Chapter and the second-ever female president of any chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America. And Christie touts her role at Paralyzed Veterans as a family affair – her children have not only chosen career fields that give back; all of them actively volunteer for Paralyzed Veterans. “We don’t have a separate life,” Christie says. “We have our home life, and we have Paralyzed Veterans, and that’s where we are.”
Three of Christie’s four children currently attend the University of Memphis, with her youngest son, David, 18, planning to attend in the fall to pursue a degree in Sports Medicine. Tommy, 20, is attending the Tennessee Technology Center to pursue a degree in diesel mechanics, and Michael, 23, holds an associates degree in computer information technology. Michael even volunteers his IT expertise to help the Mid-South chapter maintain its computer systems, Christie says.
Christie’s only daughter, Meaghan, 22, is a college senior majoring in psychology, and she hopes to pursue a Master’s degree in counseling and clinical mental health upon graduation. Meagan is an academic peer advisor in the psychology department at the university, a volunteer with the Mid-South chapter, and a recipient of the Paralyzed Veterans educational scholarship.
When asked how she balances it all, Christie says she has an advantage now that her kids are all grown. “It’s easier because my kids are older,” says Christie, who commutes 100 miles round-trip to the chapter office. “If they were in middle school or high school, I wouldn’t be able to volunteer.”
Even having suffered the scars of war, Christie maintains an indomitable spirit and an infectious sense of humor. And she hopes that serves as an inspiration to other women veterans who are forced to balance disabilities or mental health issues with their service to their homes and families.
“It’s easy to get angered especially when you come back from a war,” Christie says. “If they’re struggling, I encourage them to seek help through the VA and Paralyzed Veterans. Raising children is hard, and it’s even more difficult when you’re disabled. But it’s not impossible.”
Read about more Paralyzed Veterans of America members
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.