For Staff Sgt. Juliet Taylor, Trumbull feels like home. This despite the town being one of the few places the 2019 Memorial Day Parade Grand Marshal has not lived.
“The community has always been so supportive of me in everything I was doing,” Taylor said. “I feel like Trumbull sent me off, and now I’m coming back with more.”
Taylor was working as a teacher’s aid at Hillcrest in 1995 when she first experienced the community’s warmth, she said. As a single mother raising three children, Taylor said tardiness was a constant struggle.
“I was a teenaged mom, and I had three children by age 27,” Taylor said. “I had to drop them off and then come to work. It was really hard for them.”
Hillcrest Principal Rosemary Seaman noticed Taylor’s struggles.
“She sat me down in her office, and instead of firing me, she asked what they could do to help me,” she said.
Before the meeting ended, Taylor said Seaman had set in motion a plan to have Taylor’s son transfer to Hillcrest.
“I had to pay tuition, but it was minimal, and it made all the difference,” she said. “That was amazing to me.”
Improving the lives of her children was the main reason why a few years later, at age 28, Taylor enlisted in the National Guard.
“I knew it was a chance to get training, and be with my kids,” she said. “I could still work and go back to school.”
But events outside of her control thwarted that plan, and Taylor’s unit was activated just weeks after she enlisted in early 2002. By 2003, Taylor was in Iraq for a tour of duty that would keep her away for 18 months.
Coming back home in late 2004, Taylor said she began to look for options to spend more time with her children. She found it in the active duty Army.
“I talked to the recruiter, and he asked why I didn’t re-enlist for active duty,” she said.
As an active duty soldier, Taylor spent the next decade on various assignments, including squad leader in a medical brigade, facility manager, assistant chaplain, and a stint at Arlington National Cemetary. Through it all, her children came with her, living on various military bases in Washington, Virginia and Tennessee until her medical retirement in 2014 due to ongoing PTSD symptoms. In Iraq, the base where she was stationed regularly came under fire. In her job as patient administrator, she also was assigned the task of assisting soldiers who had become casualties.
“You don’t see them get hit, but you see the aftermath,” she said. “They come in, sometimes still bloody. You feel helpless.”
Connecting with fellow veterans through organizations like Trumbull’s VFW and American Legion and the Trumbull Rotary is a way to give and receive support, she said.
“The stigma of mental health is very much ingrained,” she said. “Sometimes people feel like you’ve lost your grit if you admit it. But the best advice we get is that if you’re still in fight-or-flight mode when you’re off the battefield, you need help. I try to plug in and not be embarrassed, but it takes a toll, even though I have great support.”
Since her retirement, Taylor has been working to help others in a similar situation through her work with the Disabled American Veterans and Homes for the Brave, among others. She also organizes fishing outings for disabled veterans and works with Bass Pro Shops to deliver gift cards to soldiers at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Now a full-time student at the University of Bridgeport, Taylor will graduate in a few weeks with a degree in public health. She said her experience with enlisting at age 28 has helped with her feel comfortable being college student with grandchildren.
Once she completes her degree, Taylor said she intends to stay involved in Trumbull.
“Trumbull has been a part of my life since before I joined the military,” she said. In fact, though she doesn’t live in town, she feels a part of the community every day when she comes home. Taylor is the first Connecticut recipient of a Habitat for Heroes home. Her house may be in Bridgeport, but Trumbull helped make it possible, she said.
“A huge part of the money, work, and time came from Trumbull,” she said.