SANTA CLARITA (CBS) — A U.S. soldier is sharing her inspiring story of hardship and triumph with a group of kids in Santa Clarita, who need it most, as part of a program called Tempered Steel.

Former U.S. Army Sergeant Leshonda Gill stood before dozens of kids with a heart-felt message.

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“Nobody believed in me, I didn’t believe in me… You have to be there for you, stand up and want it for yourself,” she said.

Gill came from a military family, but lost her mother and father at a young age. She now shares her stories of struggle with children in foster care or in youth programs.

“I was you at one particular point in time. I didn’t have anybody to tell me that I’m better than that,” she said.

Gill’s battle started before the war. She had to survive the streets growing up, shuffled from place to place.

“When I was 16 got shot twice. I got shot in the leg and I got shot in the back,” she said.

Gill joined the Army to try to turn her life around.

She became a chemical specialist and was sent to Iraq in 2003. It was there her convoy came under fire.

Of the 24 young soldiers with her that day, eight were killed.

“I had a piece of metal, probably about that big (indicating with a pinch of her fingers) that was stuck in my leg. And that’s my femoral artery,” Gill said to the group.

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She plugged the wound with her finger.

“I jumped up with my little finger in the hole, I scooted over and I sat on top of my driver. It’s kind of a weird experience to sit on top of someone who’s dead, but didn’t have choice. I didn’t want to die,” she said.

Her words captivated every child in the room, as she gave a raw, honest look at the effects of war.

“I ended up losing my kidney, spleen parts of both of my intestines. Can I get them out (reaching into her mouth)? I lost all but seven of my reel teeth,” she said, as she removed her partial dentures.

After the war, the sergeant said she lost what was left of her life.

“I ended up in a homeless shelter,” she said, adding that posttraumatic stress disorder almost broke her spirit.

But she said that asking for help is what saved her and made this day possible.

This fighter hopes to encourage strength in kids facing their own obstacles, such as abandonment or abuse.

“Not having my parents there, she survived it and I think I can too,” one girl said.

Gill is now living in a women’s transitional shelter. She said she has now found her voice and will share her story of bravery and hope with whoever will listen.

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