9 Nov 2023: *This year, I am happy to report that there were 4 other female veterans at today's assembly. I believe there were roughly 20 veterans there today. My father-in-law was able to join me today! He's an Army veteran. *2023
10 Nov 2022: Today I went to a Veteran’s Day program that was held at my son’s high school. (They’re off school tomorrow, for Veteran’s Day) It was a student ran assembly and they did a great job! I was one of 8 veterans that were there; the only female veteran. (2022)
After the assembly, the students had set up a little reception area outside of the gym. We, veterans, were standing out in the entry way, and some students were thanking us for our service and shaking our hands. I should say, I had maybe 5 kids and 3 teachers approach me. The majority of the students and staff steered right for the men.
Why am I seemingly pointing this out?
Well, even though I was at the assembly, in front of all the students and even had my name announced as a veteran, the majority of the students, and teachers included, overlooked thanking me or shaking my hand afterwards. I was standing next to some of the gentlemen that were wearing their VFW uniforms, conversing with them and was still overlooked.
Now, mind you, I was in civilian clothes as I had to work today. (I did have my Air Force veteran pin on though). Last year, when I attended it, it was on Veteran’s Day and I had the day off, so I was wearing one of my veteran shirts and jeans. I wasn’t wearing a VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) uniform or anything really designating that I’m a veteran today. (Even though I was introduced as one)
Normally, I just kind of shrug my shoulders and move on. But for some reason it really hit me hard and differently this year! I think what really did it for me was when I was standing next to another gentleman that is a WWII veteran and a male teacher shook his hand, thanked him for his service, then asked me if I was with him as his escort. I just smiled and said, ” No, I’m a veteran. I’m used to being overlooked as a veteran. It’s stereotypical for the men to get the recognition.” That may have come across as rude, but it was the truth.
He sort of paused and stated that he didn’t want to be included in that group of people that overlooks the women veterans. He also said I should not have to be used to it, but sadly, I am.
A lot of women veterans are.
A lot of women veterans don’t consider themselves veterans. Some do not want to remember their time in the service as it was not a good time in their life. Some do not want the recognition because they believe they either don’t deserve it or just don’t want it, period.
Fun Fact: Women have been serving in the military since the Revolutionary War! According to the VA (Veterans Affairs) there are 2 million women veterans that live in the United States! The Department of Labor states:
Women who have served in the U.S. military are often referred to as “invisible Veterans” because their service contributions until the 1970s went largely unrecognized by politicians, the media, academia, and the general public. Women have formally been a part of the U.S. Armed Forces since the inception of the Army Nurse Corps in 1901, but have informally served since the inception of our nation’s military.
Women make up about 10% of the overall veteran population. Another interesting fact is that to meet just 1 woman veteran, you’d have to meet 69 women in total to get to that 1 woman veteran! Crazy!
So why do a lot of women veterans not celebrate the fact that they are indeed a veteran? Well, we had to prove ourselves at Basic Training, at Technical School, and while on Active Duty. It’s a hard transition from military life back to civilian life. We feel we need to prove ourselves all over again.
A lot of friends and family members expect you to just be able to go back to who you were before you joined, regardless of the amount of time served. But that’s just not the case. For years, we’re trained to do our jobs, be on alert, be aware of our surroundings and always be “on” regardless if you’re on duty or not. We are used to rules and regulations, schedules and feel like we’re doing something worthwhile.
When I separated from the Air Force in 1999, I was one of the lucky ones that was able to find a job pretty quickly after I became a civilian again. But, I won’t lie, when I saw my first paycheck, I cried! I even said “Who the HELL is FICO!” But all joking aside, knowing that you can count on a set dollar amount every 2 weeks, for 4 years is comforting. But when you see that first civilian paycheck and all these weird fees and taxes of all kinds are taken out, it’s a big shock!
Even though I only served 4 years, I saw and did and heard things that most people never would imagine. I was never deployed overseas, but I have friends and family that were and they were all changed in one way or another. Sometimes the changes are good, but sometimes they are not. This leads veterans to feel isolated, judged or misunderstood. Which in turn leads to anxiety, depression, anger; just a massive amount of different emotions. It’s a vicious cycle.
While in the military, we were expected to be able to “carry the load” and not complain. I remember quite a few times hearing or even being told to “suck it up Airman”. And, that’s what we did.
I remember that the uniforms or our BDU’s (Battle Dress Uniforms) were not made for women! They were made for men and we couldn’t get them altered. Luckily, our dress uniforms or “blues” were made for women. And later on, my whites were tailored for women. (My Medical Services Journeyman uniform)
Unfortunately, a lot of women (and men) experience MST (Military Sexual Trauma). This can range from sexual harassment to sexual assault, which in turn leads to PTSD. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It also leads to a lot of veterans having mental health issues as well as trust issues. A lot of the mental health issues like anxiety and depression stem from not reporting the harassment or assaults for fear of not being believed or being told we’re blowing something out of proportion. So, we keep it bottled up.
I was sexually harassed at basic training and then again while on active duty. I reported the first time, but not the second time. Why?, because I was made to feel like I was not believed nor taken seriously by the Training Instructors. The ironic thing was that the day before, we had literally just had beaten into our heads that sexual harassment would not be tolerated.
Some women feel that if they didn’t see combat or were never deployed, that in some way negates the fact that they served our country. Nope! You signed your name on the dotted line, you took the oath of enlistment, you said you would defend our country against enemies, foreign and domestic. You put on that uniform and you marched in those combat boots.
You, my friend, are a veteran! Whether you served on active duty, in the National Guard or Reserves, were enlisted or an officer, you made sacrifices that a lot of people won’t or don’t and some that can’t.
We need to show our youth that women can and are and will be military service members or veterans! We need to show that veterans come in all different ages, and that we are a diverse group! We need to show our youth that women, whether active duty, reserves or veterans, are resilient, strong and determined! We need to break the stereotype that the man is the one who served.
It happens a lot and for me it happens all the time. My husband gets mail from veterans organizations and/or gets asked if he’s the veteran all the time. His reply, ” Nope, she’s the veteran!”
I, for one, am a proud United States Air Force veteran! I am proud of my family history in regards to the Armed Forces! I made a huge, life decision at the age of 18 to serve and protect our country. I made a lot of great friends, that I still keep in touch with today- 27 years later! I learned a lot of great things and not so great things. I experienced some good and not so good things.
But, ultimately, if I had not joined the Air Force back on 14 Jun 1995, I would not be the woman I am today. I would not have met my husband nor would I have my son. For that, I am grateful!
I hope that we can continue to help break down those stereotypes. I hope that we can help those women realize that what they did was a brave decision. I hope that any veteran can find some good in the time they were in the military. I hope that we can continue to break down those barriers and show how badass women can truly be!