Graduating from Kingwood High School as a four-year member of the varsity swim team, Kimberly DeFiori excitedly awaited a call from West Point University to tell her she had been accepted into one of the most prestigious universities in the United States.
Although she was a great swimmer, DeFiori’s patriotism and love for her country drew her toward the military. She recollected the day that changed the course of her own life.
“I watched the Twin Towers fall and I chose to go to West Point because I knew I would never reach my potential as a swimmer. After watching the towers fall, I knew there were a lot more important things in life. My focus was to lead the greatest army in the world and defend our freedoms. Swimming was always a second priority to me starting Sept. 12, 2001,” said DeFiori.
DeFiori started her education at West Point in 2004, and as she described, “was in one of the first classes to enter the academy knowing that it would be deploying to Afghanistan or Iraq.” She decided to become a military police officer because it was as close to combat as was possible for her. Infantry was not open to women at the time of her deployment, but had it been, she would have joined.
After graduating from West Point, DeFiori was stationed in Germany and began her service years.
“My first duty station was in Grafenwoehr, Germany. When I arrived, I was 22 and knew no German but was excited to start my journey as an Army officer. We knew we would be deploying in the summer of 2010, and for the first 18 months in Germany, we focused on training to prepare for our deployment to Afghanistan.”
DeFiori described her deployment in Afghanistan as tumultuous.
“We had an important mission in Afghanistan but were aware of the issues with corruption. In the back of my mind, I was always aware that Afghanistan forces would never be able to fight the Taliban alone. Each time the Taliban attacked our bases and convoys, we fought them off. Even when the attack was at 2 a.m., we would wake up and defend our base.” Nights were filled with gunfire, explosions and relentless attacks by the Taliban forces.
Soon after her return to Germany, DeFiori’s circumstances deteriorated. The aftereffects of active duty took a toll on her mental health. She described her sleepless nights.
“The Army trained me to go to war but not how to come back to it. My apartment was so quiet and the silence was deafening. I always had to put the TV on or play music. I relied on alcohol to suppress these emotions and to find calm. I figured these feelings would eventually go away. They never did.”
It was here in Germany, after she returned from her deployment in Afghanistan, that DeFiori suffered a horrific assault at the hands of a fellow officer.
“I was assaulted by another officer in the Army after going to a nightclub in Germany. I went out with some friends and we drank to celebrate being alive. He followed me home and I was too drunk to fight him off.”
Eventually, DeFiori began rehearsing her suicide; the only thing stopping her from committing suicide was her dog, Yardim, who “would always come up to me, comfort me and help me find a reason to live.”
“Soon, I landed at the Pentagon and knew I needed to get help. I got sober Jan. 1, 2016 and started mental health treatment. I was medically retired in December 2017 for PTSD, TBIs and a back injury.”
DeFiori has found ways to continue to have a meaningful life by attending a fellowship through Dog Tag Bakery, completing an MBA from Cornell University, starting a nonprofit and publishing “Lessons from Thor,” which is described below.
“I have a difficult time talking about myself and my story. I know sharing it helps others to not feel so alone. I wanted to find a fun way to share my story, share my service dog, Thor, and everything I learned in therapy,” she said.
“Lessons from Thor” will soon be available through publisher Tactical 16 through the website tactical16.com/kim-defiori-author/.