Job Envy: This Army Vet Launched Her Own Clothing Company For Servicewomen And Veterans

Army veteran Nadine Noky shows off one of the tank tops from her collection.
Photo courtesy of Nadine Noky

Name: Nadine Noky

Location: Venice, Florida

Job: Founder of Lady Brigade

Branch of Service: U.S. Army

Nadine Noky, pictured here in Iraq in 2005.

When Nadine Noky was in middle school, she announced her goal to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Today, the 29-year-old Army veteran and FIT graduate helms the new clothing design firm, Lady Brigade, providing stylish emblems of service specifically designed for female veterans.

Nadine Noky shared her story with Task & Purpose contributor Rachel Brune.

From Army brat to Army soldier

Growing up as the daughter of a soldier, Noky traveled with her family from post to post. Her father encouraged her to join the Air Force, but “one thing led to another,” and she enlisted in the Army in 2002 as an air traffic controller and sub-system repair specialist.

“I was basically a radar tech,” said Noky, who recounted her time in the service, working with old Navy equipment, as one of the best. “It’s like having a whole new family.”

Noky stays in touch with her friends from the service, adding that during her time in the ranks she learned a lot. “It was one of the most challenging, but most rewarding times,” said Noky.

In addition to learning her job and making friends, Noky also learned the value of discipline --- being focused and getting things done. She did her best to live by the Army values.

“I try to live by those --- integrity, honesty, and being disciplined,” explained Noky. “Doing the right thing and seeing it through.”

Transitioning at “the worst time”

Noky served five years, leaving the service in 2007. Shortly afterward, the economy took a turn for the worse. She started attending community college in upstate New York, and applied to her dream school, the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.

After graduating from FIT in 2012 with a bachelor’s of science in graphic design, Noky received several job offers from firms located in Manhattan. While she enjoyed the excitement that comes with living in the city, she needed to prioritize her family life and take care of her young son. She had another reason, as well: she wanted to move down south.

“I tasted the sun, and I [was] going back,” said Noky, whose last duty station, at Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia, left her with a taste for warmer weather.

Starting her own clothing line

When she first came up with idea of starting a clothing line for women veterans, Noky was working full time as a web designer. She left that job in the summer of 2014 in order to concentrate on standing up the company.

“I decided I would do Lady Brigade 100%,” said Noky. At first, she spent the majority of her time searching for American manufacturers that could provide good-quality items, as well as ensuring that she was not replicating designs or phrases that other designers had trademarked. “It took four months to get everything off the ground.”

She started selling her designs in November 2014, and by January she would spend most of her time filling orders at night, thinking up designs, and balancing her other work as a freelance web designer.

“I knew what I was doing was different, but I didn’t realize it would be so well received,” said Noky, adding that after an article appeared in Buzzfeed earlier this month, she received hundreds of emails from fellow veterans. “I didn’t realize how much it would impact people.”

“I am on a mission now,” Noky said, adding that she is planning on hiring an assistant to help her with order fulfillment. “Right now, the orders are crazy.”

One unpleasant side effect of the business has been that Noky has seen her carefully researched, original designs appear on other websites, with only one or two details changed. In one case, she saw one of her pirated designs appear within 48 hours of launching it on her site. As a result, she is waiting to release some of her newer designs, which include Air Force and military support graphics.

Still, the business has its own rewards. Having transitioned from the military as a junior enlisted soldier, Noky spoke of how thrilled she was to find women veterans of all ranks and sizes purchasing her designs.

“I wasn’t a high-ranking person, but a colonel just ordered my shirt!” Noky said.

Life as a woman veteran

While creating feminine clothing for servicewomen and veterans is one of Noky’s goals, she is also trying to broaden the conversation about women in the military. One of the emails Noky received accused her of making the graphic designs in order to attract attention to her military service from strangers. She explained, she didn’t start the company to get thanks, but rather to start a conversation. Another time in an airport, a stranger stopped her and told her she didn’t look like she was in the military.

Women are not always immediately perceived as veterans, and some women don’t necessarily identify as veterans, Noky has found. By providing a fashionable opportunity for women to sport their service, she explained, “It does create an awareness that you don’t normally have.”

Noky related an anecdote in which a woman who had served in the peacetime Army wrote to her asking permission to purchase one of the veterans’ shirts, even if she hadn’t been deployed.

“Of course,” Noky answered. Service is service. “You’re still a veteran.”

In addition to her work with Lady Brigade, Noky is organizing the first Florida Women Veterans Conference, which will occur April 17–19 in Sarasota, Florida. The purpose of the conference is to bring female veterans together and inspire and educate them through the work of other women in the military.

Advice for transitioning service members

“If you don’t like something, fix it.”

This is Noky’s advice for transitioning soldiers, as well as veterans who might be interested in starting their own companies. “I didn’t like what was not available for women, so I decided to change it.”

Photo illustration by Paul Szoldra

Navy Lt. Jonny Kim went viral last week when NASA announced that he and 10 other candidates (including six other service members) became the newest members of the agency's hallowed astronaut corps. A decorated Navy SEAL and graduate of Harvard Medical School, Kim in particular seems to have a penchant for achieving people's childhood dreams.

However, Kim shared with Task & Purpose that his motivation for living life the way he has stems not so much from starry-eyed ambition, but from the pain and loss he suffered both on the battlefields of Iraq and from childhood instability while growing up in Los Angeles. Kim tells his story in the following Q&A, which was lightly edited for length and clarity:

Read More

Todd Robinson's upcoming Vietnam War drama, The Last Full Measure, is a story of two battles: One takes place during an ambush in the jungles of Vietnam in 1966, while the other unfolds more than three decades later as the survivors fight to see one pararescueman's valor posthumously recognized.

On April 11, 1966, Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger (played by Jeremy Irvine) responded to a call to evacuate casualties belonging to a company with the Army's 1st Infantry Division near Cam My during a deadly ambush, the result of a search and destroy mission dubbed Operation Abilene.

In the ensuing battle, the unit suffered more than 80 percent casualties as their perimeter was breached. Despite the dangers on the ground, Pitsenbarger refused to leave the soldiers trapped in the jungle and waved off the medevac chopper, choosing to fight, and ultimately die, alongside men he'd never met before that day.

Decades later, those men fought to see Pitsenbarger's Air Force Cross upgraded to the Medal of Honor. On Dec. 8, 2000, they won, when Pitsenbarger was posthumously awarded the nation's highest decoration for valor.

The Last Full Measure painstakingly chronicles that long desperate struggle, and the details of the battle are told in flashbacks by the soldiers who survived the ambush, played by a star-studded cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, and William Hurt.

After Operation Abilene, some of the men involved moved on with their lives, or tried to, and the film touches on the many ways they struggled with their grief, trauma, and in the case of some, feelings of guilt. For the characters in The Last Full Measure, seeing Pitsenbarger awarded the Medal of Honor might be the one decent thing they pull out of that war, remarks Jackson's character, Lt. Billy Takoda, one of the soldier's whose life Pitsenbarger saved.

There are a lot of threads to follow in The Last Full Measure, individual strands of a larger story that feel misplaced, redacted, or cut short — at times, violently. But this is not a criticism, quite the opposite in fact. This tangled web is part of the larger narrative at play as Scott Huffman, a fictitious modern-day Pentagon bureaucrat played by Sebastian Stan, tries to piece together what actually happened that fateful day so many years ago.

At the start, Huffman — the person who ultimately becomes Pitsenbarger's champion in Washington — wants nothing to do with the airman's story, the medal, or the Vietnam veterans who want to see his sacrifice recognized. For Huffman, it's a burdensome assignment, just one more box to check before he can move on to brighter and better career prospects. Not surprising then that Pentagon bureaucrats and Washington political operators are regarded with skepticism throughout the movie.

When Takoda first meets Huffman, the Army vet grills the overdressed and out-of-his-depth government flack about his intentions, calls him an FNG (fucking new guy) and tosses Huffman's recorder into the nearby river where he's fishing with his grandkids.

Sebastian Stan stars as Scott Huffman alongside Samuel Jackson as Billy Takoda in "The Last Full Measure."(IMDB)

As Huffman spends more time with the grunts who fought alongside Pitsenbarger, and the Air Force PJs who flew with him that day, he, and the audience, come to see their campaign, and their frustration over the lack of progress, in a different light.

In one of the movie's later moments, The Last Full Measure offers an explanation for why Pitsenbarger's award languished for so long. The theory? Pitsenbarger's Medal of Honor citation was downgraded to a service cross, not because his actions didn't meet the standard associated with the nation's highest award for valor, but because his rank didn't.

"The conjecture among the Mud Soldiers and Bien Hoa Eagles is that Pitsenbarger was passed over because he was enlisted," Robinson, who wrote and directed The Last Full Measure, told Task & Purpose.

"As for the events in the film, Pitsenbarger's upgrade was clearly ignored for decades and items had been lost — whether that was deliberate is up for discussion but we feel we captured the spirit of the issues at hand either way," he said. "Some of these questions are simply impossible to answer with 100% certainty as no one really knows."

The cynicism in The Last Full Measure is overt, but to be entirely honest, it feels warranted. While watching the film, I couldn't help but think back to recent stories of battlefield bravery, like that of Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who ran into a burning Bradley three times in Iraq to pull out his wounded men — a feat of heroism that cost him his life, and inspired an ongoing campaign to see Cashe awarded the Medal of Honor.

There's no shortage of op-eds by current and former service members who see the military's awards process as slow and cumbersome at best, and biased or broken at worst, and it's refreshing to see that criticism reflected in a major war movie. And sure, like plenty of military dramas, The Last Full Measure has some sappy moments, but on the whole, it's a damn good film.

The Last Full Measure hits theaters on Jan. 24.

Protesters and militia fighters gather to condemn air strikes on bases belonging to Hashd al-Shaabi (paramilitary forces), outside the main gate of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq December 31, 2019. (Reuters/Thaier al-Sudani)

With ISIS trying to reorganize itself into an insurgency, most attacks on U.S. and allied forces in Iraq are being carried out by Shiite militias, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, the deputy commander for operations and intelligence for U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria.

"In the time that I have been in Iraq, we've taken a couple of casualties from ISIS fighting on the ground, but most of the attacks have come from those Shia militia groups, who are launching rockets at our bases and frankly just trying to kill someone to make a point," Grynkewich said Wednesday at an event hosted by the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

Read More
U.S. Army Soldiers, assigned to the East Africa Response Force (EARF), 101st Airborne Division, board a C-130J Super Hercules, assigned to the 75th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, on January 5, 2020. (U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Daniel Hernandez)

The Defense Department has remained relatively tight-lipped regarding the brazen Jan. 5 raid on a military base at Manda Bay, Kenya, but a new report from the New York Times provides a riveting account filled with new details about how the hours-long gunfight played out.

Read More

The Defense Department just took a major step towards making the dream of a flying drone carrier a reality.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's air-launched and recoverable X-61A Gremlins Air Vehicle finally conducted a maiden flight in November 2019, Gremlin contractor Dynetics announced on Friday.

Read More