On Pride, Courage and Recovery: Queensborough Student Recounts her Remarkable Journey from the Battlefield to the Classroom
Erin Holmes beamed when she was honored on Pride Night by The New York Rangers as a military veteran, proud member of the LGBTQ community and one of the top field events competitors in the U.S. Her recognition took place in early March at Madison Square Garden during The Rangers match against the Washington Capitals.
A consummate field hockey player, Holmes was intending to compete in Queensborough Community College’s outdoor track & field event prior to the season being cancelled because of COVID-19.
The virus also necessitated Queensborough’s transition to distance learning. Holmes, a first semester Psychology major at Queensborough said, “I’m disappointed the field event season is canceled but Queensborough has made it possible to participate in classes online, to see my friends and communicate with professors.”
Holmes’ interest in psychology is personal. “After losing my best friend, and our sergeant (on the five-year anniversary of my friend, ending his own life), to suicide, I want to parlay my degree into Sports Psychology to work with disabled veterans to help reduce veteran suicide rates through adaptive sports.”
Holmes, 34, lives in Westbury, Long Island with her wife, Amy Mulligan-Holmes and their daughter, Siddalee Cecilia Holmes, who will turn two in May.
In addition to her roles as wife, mother and student, Holmes is also Specialist Erin K. Holmes U.S. Army Veteran. Her distinguished eleven-year career in the military included her service as an LGBT soldier under the former, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy banning homosexuals to serve openly, from 2003-2011.
The scope of her military training began in 2003 and in the years that followed was awarded the “2009 Combat Action Badge” for “Being engaged and actively engaging in hostile enemy action”. She also took “Advanced Individual Training, Motor Transport Operators Course” in Fort Leonard Wood, MO in 2007. She was the first female in company history to receive recognition for this course as an Honor Graduate and received the “US Army Achievement Medal for Outstanding Leadership”.
Holmes first enlisted right out of High School. “I come from a military family and always wanted to follow in their footsteps.” Those footsteps lead all the way back to her biological grandfathers, Staff Sergeant Joseph Pangborn, U.S. Airforce Korean War Veteran, and Chief Petty Officer Donald Holmes, U.S. Navy. Her step grandfather was Private First Class Edwin McLeod, U.S. Army Korean War Veteran.
Her stepfather, Colonel Doug McLeod (US Army Retired) has always been an inspiration to Holmes, as have her mother and biological father who first met at Norwich University in Vermont. There her father, Lieutenant Colonel Steven Holmes, US Army, graduated with a BA in Business Science. He passed away when Holmes was fourteen.
Her mother, Kim McLeod, was only the fourth full class of females ever admitted to the University. Although Holmes’ mother had to drop out before she graduated due to financial hardship, she returned years later to earn two Master’s degrees: Business Administration (2016), and Science in Leadership (2019).
And both of her brothers have served. Sergeant First Class Joe Felix U.S. Army is on active duty with the Rhode Island Army National Guard and served one tour each of Iraq and Afghanistan. Staff Sergeant Andrew McLeod U.S. Airforce, deployed to Kuwait in 2013.
Holmes deployed to Iraq in 2009 with the 619th transportation company. An extraordinary list of medals, ribbons and badges attests to her courage, leadership and expert marksmanship. In 2010 she received the US Army Combat Mechanics Badge for driving 30,000 miles of combat operations in armored vehicles over the course of 10 months.
However she paid the price for the grueling physical demands of her job.
“I was constantly repeating the motions of climbing into and out of an armored car wearing heavy armor. This took a toll on my body, wearing down the hamstring ligament in my right leg.”
One year after deployment to Iraq she returned home to her family.
She also returned to the hockey field, and, after attempting a split save as a goaltender, tore the ligament that anchors the hamstring vertically to the pelvis off the bone and crushed the sciatic nerve.
She underwent two and a half hours of microsurgery at Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan. In the weeks that followed Holmes wore a special device 24 hours a day that pulled her heel into her buttocks at a 65% angle. She then spent two years in physical therapy recovering her ability to walk.
“Impact sports was no longer a realistic option, so about a year ago I started playing adaptive sports like wheelchair basketball, swimming, seated shot put, discus and hand cycling.”
In March, 2019, Holmes was invited to attend the US Army Team Trials at Fort Bliss, El Paso, Texas. She won the gold medal in all seven events. Now Holmes is training for a spot on Team USA for the Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
She was recruited in November 2019 by Coach Ryan Martin to play on CUNY’s first wheelchair basketball team. It was Coach Martin who encouraged her to apply to Queensborough.
“It is amazing to be back in school, to have something positive to focus on, projects and (in the near future!) opportunities for college athletic competition. I have something new to bring to the dinner table every night. A great story about my (virtual) day at Queensborough!”