TOPEKA (KSNT) – Savanaha Hewitt is a native Kansan who joined the Marine Corps when she was 18 years old. She was excited about a life-long career in the military, but a traumatic event crushed all of her dreams.

She’s sharing her story in hopes of encouraging other veterans facing similar traumas to get the help they need.

“It was a culture shock,” Hewitt said.

She had never left Kansas – and was ready for wide-open spaces.

“I wanted to travel and just get out there and experience the world.”

She thought serving our country would allow her opportunities she hadn’t experienced in Kansas.

“People from New York, I had never met anybody from New York until I went to boot camp,” Hewitt said.

Admittedly difficult, the Marines were still eye-opening and exciting for the Kansas native.

“There’s just so many different political beliefs, but even like family beliefs and things like that,” Hewitt said. “It was just amazing.”

Looking back, she says her dreams were coming true; she had just gone through boot camp and felt encouraged and ready for new beginnings until it all came crashing down.

“I was actually in MCT, marine combat training and I was sexually assaulted by one of my sergeants,” Hewitt said.

In a moment, her goals of a lifelong military career were gone.

“That was really hard cause I didn’t expect it to only be a year,” Hewitt said.

After she was honorably discharged, the future was unclear; so, she embarked on another new journey working through feelings of shame after the assault.

“I was angry at myself, I was angry at everyone else…I kind of spiraled for a while,” Hewitt said.

But thanks to support from her grandma, she got life-saving therapy and now she’s encouraging other veterans out there who are dealing with any sort of mental health or physical struggles to get help.

“I’ve been in that situation where I wanted to die. I know a lot of other veterans who have been in this situation and just knowing that there’s someone there who’s pushing you to get that help, even if you feel like there’s nothing else you can do,” Hewitt said. “Just being there is so helpful.”

Savanaha now volunteers for the women’s center at the Topeka VA and is a strong advocate for women’s rights in the military. She also does public speaking and volunteer work around the state advocating for veterans who have gone through trauma.