To look at Mya P.*, you’d never know she was a U.S. Army veteran, let alone a combat medic who once spent her days tending to Iraqi detainees while under the threat of attack. The soft-spoken 29 year old barely clears five feet in height and exudes a quiet, gentle demeanor as she interacts with the other veterans and store patrons around her. “As a soldier, you don’t want people to see your soft side,” she said.
You would also never know by looking at Mya’s bright smile and ease in front of the camera that only months earlier she was spending most days isolated in her room, that she hated having her picture taken, and that she couldn’t bear to be around large crowds of people without the buffer of—literally—a mask: During her hometown’s Veteran’s Day parade this year, she donned a lion mascot costume as a layer of protection in order to attend. “Military holidays are harder than others,” she said. “I was scared to be around people; [the costume] made me feel more comfortable to be there.”