I was raised in the small town of Gordon, Texas. I joined the Air Force when I was 17, and went to basic training two weeks after graduating from high school. I started out in law enforcement, but due to a shoulder injury in tech school, I had to cross-train into transportation.

My first duty station was Castle Air Force Base, California, nestled in the beautiful San Joaquin Valley. While at Castle, I served as the fleet analyst, and upon reenlistment, cross-trained into training management. I managed training for the 328th and 34th Bomb Squadrons. I loved seeing those big, beautiful, magnificent bombers take off and return.

As a training manager, I was not in a deployable position, but provided support at the base level. I lost friends in Desert Storm and did what I could to welcome others back home and provide support to the families left behind. While stationed at Castle, I started my little family with two children – a girl and a boy. This gave me such an appreciation and admiration for those who have had to leave their family behind.

When they closed Castle AFB, I moved on to Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, to be the base training manager, and later, became the training manager for Phillips/Air Force Research Laboratory – my final job in the Air Force. I continued to support our deployed troops, until my service ended due to injuries incurred in the military.


Rhonda’s basic training picture.

I am proud of my service and have such a deep appreciation for all those who have served. I served a total of 13 years and one day; the day I put on that uniform for the last time was one of the saddest days of my life. I am happy to have had the honor to serve. I loved my time in the military and in the greater military family.

My oldest daughter, Rachael, has carried on the tradition in a big way. She graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2010, and she and her husband – also an academy graduate, and a C130J pilot – are currently stationed at Little Rock AFB, Arkansas. He recently deployed to Afghanistan, and the couple expects their first child in June. Another daughter (my “bonus daughter,” because she is my stepdaughter) enlisted and went to basic right after graduation in 2012. She is stationed at McConnell AFB, Kansas. My son served in the Army Reserve, and my husband is retired Army. The youngest daughter, now 17, plans to carry on our Air Force representation after her graduation next year.

I never deployed, but my friends and family members did. I have heard their heartbreaking stories and have always wanted to find a special way to give back. I have been singing and playing the guitar for a while, but around two-and-a-half years ago, I started writing music. It has been such an amazing experience to share my thoughts and melodies with others.

I had been working on several ideas for a song in honor of our military, leaning toward the viewpoint of a woman – being that I am a female Veteran with two daughters serving, and another who will serve after she graduates next year. My husband’s cousin, who is on the Texas Commission for Women in the Military, reached out to me after she heard some of my songs; she asked if I had written anything about the military, and if I would send it to her to include in a presentation. My song didn’t make it in time, but only because it hadn’t fully evolved to what it is now.

The song is about the journey of a woman through her time in the military. The lyrics came to life as a story unfolded – based on my experiences, friends’ experiences, and stories told to me by others who had witnessed or heard about certain events. The original story began at around six pages long—difficult to cut down—but finally it was suitable for airplay.

The song tells the story of a young, small-town girl who is looking to the future, and trying to decide what to do with her life. She enlists in the military, just like her mom had done before her. She soon sees the reality of being in the military, “mission first”; but, regardless of the task, she takes pride in her job, standing beside the others—as they keep each other from harm while protecting the innocent, regardless of where they may be.


Rhonda in the recording studio.

The story then follows her journey home, where she has started a family and is just getting life back to normal, when she has to deploy again. I, like many others, have experienced the fearful thought of leaving my children behind and planning for who would take care of them—especially when both parents are serving.

During this second tour, she is injured by an improvised explosive device, and wakes up with no memory of the event. I addressed it this way, because of the many traumatic brain injuries experienced by Veterans. These injuries are often invisible, and the Department of Veterans Affairs is trying hard to handle large numbers of them—”numbers ranging from 50,000 (Department of Defense) to 115,000 (the Pentagon), while the Brain Injury Association of America estimates the number at 360,000; and the RAND Corporation has suggested it could be as high as 400,000.”

Not all of these are women, of course, but women do seem to experience a different trauma than their male counterparts.

The girl tries to cope with her injuries and knows that eventually things will work out, although she struggles with the demons of war in her dreams, and even in daily life. Many women suffer from more severe forms of post-traumatic stress disorder, especially those directly involved in “kills.” It is hard to determine the exact numbers affected, due to the stigma associated with complaining or mentioning their symptoms.

So many women have fought to show they can handle themselves, trying to counter the “weaker sex” stereotype. But they say nothing, because they fear that to admit something is wrong could cause a reaction like: “See, she can’t handle it.” Young women who may have suffered from some sort of trauma before going into the military – who saw their service as an escape from that trauma – might experience a more severe form of PTSD later on, from their experiences in combat situations.

My hope is that when you listen to the song, you see the story in the lyrics and understand that our women who serve, and who have served, have encountered some of the same struggles as their male counterparts; they need the same level of support.

May God bless and protect our troops.

RhondabwfrRhonda McCullough is a singer/songwriter and musician living in Weatherford, Texas, an Air Force Veteran, and the mother of two daughters currently serving.

Listen to “Freedom Fighter” here or download a large version of the song here. Freedom Fighter is available as a single or as part of the Just Say Rhonda cd currently available through most online merchants such as iTunes, Amazon.com and Google Play Music. It is also available streaming through iheartradio, spotify and more. You can also visit Rhonda on Facebook.

Share this story

Published on Jun. 13, 2014

Estimated reading time is 6.2 min.

Views to date: 216


  1. Mark Dominick June 30, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    That’s such a neat song — I love seeing women being acknowledged in the military. It doesn’t happen enough and there are so much wonderful stories to share.

  2. Lynn Bingman June 27, 2014 at 9:14 pm

    Thank you so very much for all of us who’ve served. Your beautiful song means more than you could know.

  3. Susan Rastella June 26, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    Thank you for telling our story. I enlisted in the Army in 1978. I was in the first company of women to enlist and be trained as RA (Regular Army). My first unit was HHB, Field Artillery at Ft. Carson, Colorado. Needless to say, the few of us that arrived together broke lots of ground and pushed through many boundaries. It was an interesting time to be in the Army.

    Many civilians (and some service members) still envision women in the military as accessories to the Army rather than an integral part of it. Hopefully that image will fade; it has gotten better since 1978. I am proud of my service; in fact my biggest regret was not staying in the Army. Sometimes we make decisions for the short term rather than the long term and this was one of them for me.

    Thanks to my fellow veterans and those serving and wish to serve.

  4. Jim Kanabay June 20, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    Rhonda, I was an IRN in the 328th at Castle while you were stationed here. I PCS’d at base closure and after I retired in 2003, moved back to the area, as I married a local. I’m now the Merced County Veterans Service Officer. My team and I assist veterans with their various needs due to their sevice. Your song is beautiful and touching! Women vets are among the hardest to find and assist. I wish it were not so. We also put on the annual Veterans Day Parade and if you are even in the area, we’d like to honor you as a one of our Grand Marshalls and as a guest speaker/performer. Thanks for your service, both in the military and after. God Bless you and your family. Jim.

  5. Baby June 17, 2014 at 3:41 am

    What a beautiful song! May God Bless

  6. Ana Cuebas June 14, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    Thank you for brightening my past military life with a heartfelt song. I really hope a lot of civilians read your article and listen to your song and stop and take some time to realize that US democracy is possible thanks to our sacrificed lives. I mean, lives and I mean sacrificed. Take care, and keep on trucking.

  7. Jo Ann Anders, TSgt, USAF Ret. June 14, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    Thank you! Thank you for the beautiful song, the tribute to all women veterans and for YOUR service as well.

  8. Noretta June 14, 2014 at 8:19 am

    Thank you for the beautiful song. It brought tears to my eyes and tells a story so well

  9. Rose June 13, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    Thanks for writing and recording this beautiful tribute.
    from a grateful Army Vet.

  10. Christine June 13, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    This is just beautiful. A retired Master Sergeant USAF and now a DOD Civilian that just returned from OEF Feb 2014 ~ this says it all!
    We all appreciate your work-Well Done!

  11. Loretta Burgos June 13, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    A well written and preformed tribute to our military women. Original and heart felt.

  12. Julie Viduya (Vietnam Veteran) June 13, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    May God Bless You for the most beautiful tribute to all women veterans.

  13. Judy Hoffmeister (Retired US Army, 1SG) June 13, 2014 at 11:21 am

    What a beautiful tribute to the women who have served this great nation of ours. I was deployed in OIF/OEF I – 2003-2004, and this song is very meaningful to me.

  14. Terri Ruggerie June 13, 2014 at 11:03 am

    Thank you for this beautiful and thought provoking tribute to all women who have served in our armed forces, those who made the ultimate sacrifice and those of us who would have if called upon.
    A fellow woman Veteran.

    • Rhonda McCullough June 13, 2014 at 4:23 pm

      thank you for listening and thank you for your service. I am so glad you enjoyed it.

    • Christine June 13, 2014 at 4:25 pm

      Just beautiful and thank you so very much for that most moving Tribute.
      A fellow retired Master Sgt USAF. I just returned from OEF Feb 2014 as a DOD Civilian now and this means so much to us all!
      Well done!

Comments are closed.

More Stories

  • During Sickle Cell Awareness Month in September, the American Red Cross emphasizes the importance of a diverse blood supply to help meet the needs of those with sickle cell disease – the most common inherited blood disorder in the U.S.

  • CaringBridge, a free online tool to communicate health news to family and friends, is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

  • Shahpur Pazhman flew Black Hawk missions in 27 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, resupplying and relocating Afghan ground forces and evacuating casualties to safety. Thanks to Bridge My Return, he's back in the air.