A former refugee’s dream of helping others feel safe while serving the country she now calls home became reality through her Army service.
Captain Filanza Starmack, a military police and operations officer for the Fort Campbell Provost Marshal Office, said the Army has changed her life.
“I could never imagine serving any other country,” Starmack said. “Being a refugee, everything I was given was because the United States gave me the opportunity. My dream has always been to be a police officer and a Soldier, and it’s a dream come true because I get to do both.”
Starmack was born in Kosovo and lived there until she was 7 years old. Starmack and her Family came to the United States as refugees, first living in New Jersey and New York before moving to California. While in high school, she met her husband, Robert, who also serves in the Army at Fort Campbell.
“I joined the Army right out of high school at 18, which also helped me to gain citizenship,” Starmack said. “There were only two jobs I could take at the time – a cook or a mechanic. I chose to become a mechanic and went through the process of becoming a citizen of the United States while being stationed in Germany.”
After the birth of her second daughter, Starmack decided to leave the Army. She attended Austin Peay State University through the ROTC program and after earning a bachelor’s degree in public management was commissioned into the Military Police Corps in 2005.
“I was an MP on Fort Campbell with the 716th Military Police Battalion, and then I was moved to CID before (permanent change of station) from Fort Campbell for a career course in Missouri to get my master’s degree in business and organizational security,” Starmack said. “I thought this was a really cool opportunity. I had never planned on getting a college degree, that wasn’t why I joined the Army. College was a huge game changer, it’s something I always wanted to do, I just didn’t know if I would do it.”
Starmack deployed in 2014 to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, where she worked with the Office of Security Cooperation. She said the deployment was an incredible learning opportunity, because she worked as the force protection officer for the Army post in collaboration with other security entities.
“That was a fantastic experience, I really enjoyed being deployed and doing my job, because I got to do a lot of hands on work in my field,” Starmack said. “I then PCSed to Washington, D.C., where I worked at the Washington Battalion CID (Criminal Investigation Division). I was still working through my master’s degree classes while I was there as well. After that, I went to Savannah, Georgia, to Hunter Army Airfield where I served as the HHD (headquarters and headquarters detachment) company commander with CID. I really enjoy the CID field, so I try to stay with CID as much as possible.”
Starmack earned a second master’s degree in business administration at Georgia Southern University, Savannah, during her time in Georgia. She returned to Fort Campbell and is now assigned to the Provost Marshal Office where she oversees the policing aspect for the garrison.
“Just the opportunities I’ve been provided alone have been really amazing,” Starmack said. “I’ve been so fortunate to work in policing, become a Soldier and get three degrees. It’s really been an amazing experience. I love being able to help people. We can give every person involved in any scenario a voice and listen to both sides of the story toward the judicial process.”
Her goal to be a source of safety for others is based on her early life experiences in Kosovo and her journey in the United States.
“As a child in Kosovo, police relations weren’t the greatest,” Starmack said. “When I was in middle school here in the United States, I met my first American police officer. I remember feeling a sense of safety. I want to be able to give someone else that feeling as a police officer … it’s hard to put into words the feeling it gave me. It was a feeling I wanted to help give to another little girl out there one day.”
Starmack is part of the “Celebrating Women Who Serve” exhibit at the Customs House Museum and Cultural Center where her dream will now be preserved in history. She was nominated to be a part of the exhibit, where her recorded interview and photos will be on display for all to see.
“I think it’s important for women to be heard and for women to share their story of why they serve,” Starmack said. “There are a lot of positive things happening in the military for women aside from some of the negative, and I think it’s important to highlight that. It’s a really breathtaking feeling to know some little girl might see my story and be inspired to take the same opportunities. Hopefully she’ll see a little bit of herself in my story. I think it’s been a really inspiring thing to do, to help inspire future generations.”
Looking ahead, Starmack said she is excited to see where her career takes her.
“I don’t think there is anything I can’t tackle,” she said. “I think my biggest challenge is overcoming my own fears or perceived limitations. The world is my oyster, I’ve not limited myself to any one thing, and I don’t have a picture in my mind of what I want to do. I’m fortunate enough to say I live my dream every single day, and not many people get to say they can do that. I don’t know what the future holds, and I don’t want to limit myself to it, because I’m very happy with where I’m at.”
To other women in the military, Starmack hopes they never try to limit themselves in anything they do.
“Don’t stand in your own way, don’t get in your own head and say you can’t,” she said. “The biggest obstacle is you are going to agree with saying you can’t do something. Going through basic training was one of the most liberating experiences I’ve ever had, because I realized I could do anything if I just put my mind to it. So I encourage anyone to never get in your own way.”