For Kristin Beck, who is returning to St. Petersburg this weekend to take part in St. Pete Pride and events at the Veterans Art Center of Tampa Bay, life has brought a series of huge changes.
The former member of SEAL Team 6 who earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for valor during 20 years of service is now a transgender woman and no longer in uniform. After serving at U.S. Special Operations Command, Beck — a onetime St. Petersburg resident — entered politics, mounting an unsuccessful challenge last year to U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland. And two years ago she remarried, to a woman in the Air Force.
But some things have remained the same.
Toward the end of her military career, Beck worked at the Pentagon's Rapid Reaction Technology Office as a conduit between operators and the people who design weapons systems and other special operations tools of the trade. During her time with the SEALs, she invented a mission-planning tool still being used by SOCom.
As a civilian, she is still working as a consultant on systems like plasma weapons and underwater drones.
"People call me for advice," Beck said. "I come into a company, consult for a week or two, they suck my brain dry and leave me alone."
Still, the transition to life as Kristin hasn't been easy, she said. Calls and emails to the Pentagon go unanswered. There are death threats and stalkers. And that's on top of being on a jihadi hit list thanks to her many deployments to combat zones.
Beck said she is concerned that Defense Secretary James Mattis will decide not to allow transgender people to serve in the military and may even rescind the actions taken by President Barack Obama to allow gays to openly serve.
Efforts to talk to the Trump administration about the issue have been unsuccessful, Beck said.
"I got nothing back," she said. "Crickets."
The foray into politics left much to be desired, said Beck, who said the run for Congress would be her last such effort. Instead, she wants to continue consulting and, more importantly, working to help other veterans.
Which brings her back to St. Petersburg.
In addition to a showing of a documentary about her called Lady Valor: The Kristin Story, she will be the star attraction at an artist reception and book signing at the Veterans Art Center Tampa Bay gallery.
An artist in her own right working with oils and acrylics — "I paint a lot of angry warrior stuff" — Beck said the center helps veterans transition into civilian society.
"The reason I am coming down here is for the veterans art center," she said. "It is a really big deal. Anything you can do, write in a journal, paint, do pottery, break glass and glue it back together, is better than sitting around your house."
Veteran suicides remain an epidemic, Beck said, which spurs her continued interest.
"You do that many deployments, see that much stuff, have that many friends die on the battlefield, it is not easy to forget," she said.
Despite all the changes, Beck said she is "100 percent the same person" she always was.
"Odin hung himself from the Great Tree for nine days to gain wisdom,'' she said. "I walk this journey searching for the same spiritual wisdom."
There will be a reception tonight hosted by the veterans arts center at the FreeFall Theater, 6099 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg, from 6 to 7 p.m., followed by a screening of the documentary.
The artist reception and book signing takes place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Veterans Art Center Tampa Bay Gallery, Gaslight Square, 6798 Crosswinds Drive N, St. Petersburg.
Both events are free. For more information, contact Scott Macksam at (813) 504-3092 or email [email protected]
Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.