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I think it’s appropriate timing that this Memorial Day weekend started with the reporting of two female military officers suing the Department of Defense to overturn the ban on woman in combat.
This weekend is about remembering and honoring those citizens that have put on a uniform and offered their lives in defense of our nation’s Constitution. Our president goes to Arlington National Cemetery and places a wreath on The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to honor those who died unidentified. Just a few yards away is a memorial honoring the service and sacrifice of the thousands of woman who have given to this country. We know many of their names, yet they are still unidentified. I walked through this memorial a few years ago, as a female veteran of Desert Storm. I was relieved that finally there was a place for me and all of the other women throughout this nation’s history that volunteered ourselves for the protection of the ideals of this nation.
As I reflect back on my visit to this memorial my emotions are conflicted. Like I said, I am relieved that our country is finally acknowledging women’s participation in the wars of our country; but I can’t help but also see blacks and whites only water fountains. The “separate but equal” oxymoron ideal of the 1950’s and 1960’s prior to the Civil Rights Movement. It is symbolic of this nation’s attitude about women in combat. The article I linked discusses our military policy of “attaching” women rather than “assigning” them to combat units. In what other job is it okay to allow someone to do all of the work yet get none of the credit or benefits of doing a job?
When I joined the Navy in October of 1989, I was a naive 19 year old who was enamored by the picture of my father in his formal dress white uniform, and of the movie “An Officer and a Gentleman”. I had no clue what I was getting myself into when I raised my right hand and swore to lay down my life for this country. After I swore my oath I was handed a booklet about preparing for bootcamp. On the cover was a picture of three girls sitting in their barracks in their blue dungaree uniforms. I called my mother and shouted into the phone, “Momma! They wear prison uniforms!” Between the various services there is ribbing about the various levels of difficulty from one armed forces bootcamp to another. I have come to realize that it doesn’t matter. If you are pushed to do things you never thought you could, to learn things you never pictured yourself learning, and you come out a stronger and more confident you, then the challenge and difficulty is equal across the armed services.
While I was in bootcamp the U.S. invaded Panama. I remember thinking that I hadn’t joined the Navy to go to war! I joined because I wanted more for myself than living at home and working for Walmart! I wanted to travel and have adventures…what the hell had I gotten myself into!?! A year later my father was thinking the same thing as the ammunition ship I was assigned to sailed around the Gulf of Oman in Operation Desert Shield, and later in the Persian Gulf in Operation Desert Storm. He wrote me a letter during that time reflecting on my birth in 1970 while the Vietnam War was still ongoing, and how he had been grateful that he didn’t have to worry about sending a son off to war. Whether or not he agreed with the invasion of Iraq is irrelevant, he was damn proud of his little girl serving on an ammunition ship in the middle of a war.
I never served on the “front lines” or found myself in the middle of a firefight as so many of our women and men have in these most recent wars. But I did learn a lot about myself during my time in the Navy. I learned that I was capable of much more than I thought possible. I learned that I was more than a set of boobs despite how I might have been treated at times. I learned that ethics and integrity and honesty had meaning. I came to understand the sanctity of the oath that I took and to have pride in myself and in the job that I do, whatever that job might be. I learned to be proud to be a woman and that emotions and empathy and compassion are not weaknesses. I even learned to shoot many types of weapons and that sometimes, unfortunately, war is necessary.
Most importantly I learned that I AM A PATRIOT.. I am proud of what this country has accomplished over the last 236 years. Despite our politically wars, we are still standing as a nation! We have had ONE civil war in our history and our constitution has become a model and inspiration for so many countries across this planet. So this Memorial Day, as you gather with friends to BBQ and play in the sun, and hopefully remember why this day is important, and honor those that have served and those that have fallen . . . remember that gender has nothing to do with it.