DES MOINES, Iowa — Alyssa Flood has never served in the armed forces, but she's been surrounded by veterans her entire life.
"I come from a family of veterans; my husband is a veteran," said Flood.
But she became particularly interested in the experiences of women who serve after her childhood friend, Lori, enlisted in the US military. In 2015, Lori passed away. Flood became interested in learning more about her friend's lived experiences while in uniform.
She also noticed not many women showed up to veterans events that she and her husband attended.
"That always made me think back on my friend that I had lost," she said.
Driven to gain understanding about Lori's life and create a network of women veterans, Flood messaged six women veterans in a group on Facebook, asking them a few, simple questions about their time in the service. She went to bed.
The next day, the group had 300 members.
"On day nine, I had one thousand women veterans worldwide," she said.
That was the birth of Bombshell Patriots, which began as a members-only, private Facebook community where women veterans could be open about their unique, shared experiences.
In September, they're hosting a conference to provide an opportunity for women veterans and their spouses to meet up, in-person, and learn about important veteran resources. Attendees will learn how to file for service-connected disabilities. They'll also attend the Bombshells and Boots dance.
"Wear your favorite party dress and your combat boots!" Flood said.
Flood says at first, she felt "imposter syndrome" for creating a network for veterans, when she herself has never served.
"I know I will never one hundred percent be able to understand," said Flood.
But after hearing stories from women who have been helped by this tribe, she was emboldened to charge forward with the non-profit.
"[I had a woman tell me], 'I want you to know, over two decades, I never confonted my assaults that happened in service. And just knowing that I have this group, I finally filed my claim for my assaults."
Above all, Flood wants all women veterans, including her friend Lori, to be seen as not victims of trauma, but brave women who continue to make sacrifices for the community.
"They're survivors. They're fighters. They're warriors."
Bombshell Patriots also is hosting a motorcycle ride for eastern Iowans, taking place Saturday, June 26. Register here.