WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. (WIVB) — In honor of International Women’s Month, News 4 is recognizing remarkable women in our community. News 4’s Gabrielle Mediak introduces us to Lynn Magistrale, who dedicates her time to helping fellow veterans cope.
Lynn Magistrale spends her days advocating for those who served our country, here at Western New York Heroes Inc. She understands the challenges they face, firsthand, having served 22 years both active and reserves. “A lot of times internally there is a struggle, for sure. Finding your purpose. Knowing you fit,” she said.
Her journey of service began at just 18 years old. After graduating from Lancaster High School in 1992, she went straight to boot camp. “My father didn’t believe me until the recruiter came to the door and said ‘hey, your daughter wants to join the service,’ and my father cried,” she said. “He was an army veteran, and he knew what it was like.”
She shipped off to Washington State, where she served 13 years in the Navy, with the same core group. “We went through hell and back, if I can say that. We literally were being screamed at, we were crying, we were sick. Struggling mentally, physically, emotionally and away from home for the first time,” said Magistrale. “And we all were stationed together. And to this day, how many years later since 1992, I’m still friends with them. So, the family, the comradery, was so worth every step of the way.”
During that time, she started a family and ended up serving in the reserves, right here in Western New York. In 2006, Lynn made the move to the Air Force. She had just started training for her new job, security forces.
“And on my way there, I received a phone call asking if I needed a new uniform, what sizes, things along that nature. I said I just got all these new uniforms; I was navy and now I’m Airforce.. I don’t even know how to put these on yet! And they said, Oh, no, when you get back, you’re going to be going to Iraq. So, the floodgates opened and my whole career completely changed at that point,” she said.
Up until that point, Lynn had never been actively deployed. “I remember the first time we got off the plane in Iraq, the smell. It was just a different sense. And every now and again a wave comes over me.”
And she was now leaving behind her son and daughter. “My daughter was a teenager at the time, going through those teenage struggles. And how hard is that for a mom to receive emails on her heartbreak,” she said.
Within days of arriving, there was a rocket attack on her base. “I was in shock. I did feel a little bit scared but there was some sort of settling feeling when I was around other people. People that were there for a couple months already and they were helping us get through it.”
She served in Iraq for 8 months and was welcomed home to an emotional reunion, in January of 2009. “My daughter just crumbled. She was crying hysterically, and my son was so little, he was all smiles,” she said.
She finished out her last nine years at the Niagara Falls airbase. In addition to serving her country, Lynn battled and won the war against uterine cancer and is currently battling MS. Through it all, she still wanted to serve, but medically retired in 2015. “40 years old stating a new career, a new life. I didn’t even know what that could look like,” she said.
At a crossroads, she reached out to WNY Heroes and quickly realized her purpose was to help fellow veterans. As program director, she helps around 1500 veterans each year. Her goal is to make this transition easier with financial assistance, food assistance and a team of support for their mental and physical health.
And in the midst of the pandemic, she’s showing them how to adapt with zoom, to keep those important conversations going. “We want everyone to feel that they are welcome and that we are here to help.”
And as much as she’s helped them, she says the veterans have also helped her. “When I transitioned out, my family was there, and they were such a huge support system for me. But I still didn’t feel complete. I had a piece missing that I still couldn’t figure out. And once I started helping veterans, it became a passion,” she said.
Magistrale plans to help veterans for many years to come. If you are looking for more information head to WNYHeroes.org.
Gabrielle Mediak is a reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2019. See more of her work here.