I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to me to be a veteran.
I have never hidden how proud I am to have followed in my fathers’ footsteps when I decided to enlist. Military service in my family is almost expected. My father, my husband, two uncles, four male cousins, my grandfather and most of the men in my grandparents’ generation of the family tree all served in one branch or another.
To say we are a patriotic family would be an understatement.
But this year is the first Veterans Day where I can add my name to the list of family veterans and it has me questioning how after all this time people still seem surprised to find out that I, or any other woman, could be the veteran in the family.
When I started the enlistment process, of course I talked to my dad about it. I might have been in my late 20’s and not needed his approval, but I wanted to see how he felt about his daughter joining the Navy.
To be honest he thought I was crazy.
Not because it was his daughter, a girl, enlisting, but because I am sorta a prissy girl and he knew that I had no idea what I was really getting into. The girl part of the equation never even crossed his mind when he was giving me pointers on how to survive boot camp and the best ways to get extra freedom while in Chicago.
And while I do not always value my mother’s opinion as much as I she would like, I did want to know what she thought about the whole thing. Granted I waited until after I finished my enlistment to see what she thought about her oldest daughter being a Sailor. She told me she didn’t want me to be in harms way when we were still fighting a war 15 years after it started…
Because the whole female Sailor thing was fresh in my mind, I asked if she would feel the same way if I had been a guy. The in harms way part she said would have been the same. But the female part, well, she told me that she was actually a little jealous because I was going to be able to do and see so much more than she ever had the courage to do when she was my age. She never thought of me as a girl in the military, she just thought of me as a Sailor getting to take risks and see the world.
Of course my curious mind wouldn’t let the subject go.
I wanted to know how other female service members feel about enlisting and how their families felt about them leaving to serve their country.
When I posted the question, I did get that one response I knew would be there. A male friend wanted to know why I felt the need to ask specifically for women’s input on the subject.
Why I wasn’t asking everyone how they felt about their time in the military.
Don’t get me wrong. I do want to know how all people reflect on their time in the military, but I wanted to know if I was the only female that wondered about the perception their families had and what they were thinking once their time in uniform came to an end.
I was thrilled to see how many women said they were proud of what they did and how they loved being a part of something bigger than themselves. I was surprised by how many of these women had been told that they should not enlist, that it was not a woman’s place to be in the military, and by the negative things they have had said and done to them as a result of being a female in a still very male-dominated profession.
In the past year or so, women have been given the green light to pursue any job in the military they want, yet they are hardly be accepted into those positions with a warm welcome.
Women veterans are still walking to their cars and finding “how dare you park here” notes if they use the Veterans Only parking spots that some retailers offer. And when I wear anything military-related I am still asked, “Oh what did your husband do in the Navy?” instead of being asked if I had been in myself. Heck, when my husband got out of the Marines and we went to get his dependent ID, they still asked me for my sponsors’ social security number!
I know I cannot change the perception that the nation as a whole seems to have still about female veterans existing. And as I trudge through the whole VA medical process, I’m seeing that the block in understanding is not just a media problem. But I am trying to keep in mind that it takes time for any change to happen.
Being given an outlet to write and express my views on what it is like to be a female in the military means at least one voice is heard. And this week seeing commercials for the WalMart Green Light a Veteran project having women veterans represented certainly made me happy. I can only hope that as time marches forward it will become far less surprising when someone finds out that the veteran license plate I have is for me, and not for my husband.