In June at the Salute to Military Women: Her Past and Our Present in Havelock, NC the room was almost filled with veteran, retired, and active duty military women. The rest of the crowd was men of the same status and some civilians, male and female, who were there to show their enthusiastic support for military women.
It was heartening for me to be part of this event as a female veteran and to be there to honor Wendy Card (HMC, Navy-Retired) who was chosen the 2018 Woman Veteran of the Year. Since 2008, Wendy has invested her retirement time and funds in supporting small businesses and non-profit groups with New Bern Now an online publication, the New Bern & Beyond podcast and the printed quarterly Ledger Magazine.
The keynote speaker, Army Sergeant Major Danielle Corazza (Retired) presented a stunning history of women in the military noting that women started serving in the Revolutionary War, frequently hiding their gender. Of course, until 1920 female volunteers were not eligible to vote, yet they chose to serve. She reminded us that there has never been a draft for women, meaning every military woman volunteered and they did it knowing they would have little or no veteran status. The women who enlisted in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) during World War II were not eligible for veterans’ benefits until an act of Congress in the early 1980’s fully recognized their contribution and that of the women who followed on after them.
In her speech, SGM Corazza noted that each of us women chose to serve our country voluntarily whether out of patriotism, the desire for adventure, or the opportunity to better ourselves through training and education. While we served we encountered the same issues as our civilian counterparts with sexism and harassment, but at least we were entitled to compete for rank (and pay) and to be seen as an equal partner in our missions.
SGM Corazza reported that it takes over 7 years for a female veteran to adjust to civilian life after military service in part because our expectations have been raised. We come out of the service with an understanding that our contributions are equal to our male counterparts. But it is disconcerting to find that many people will mentally pat us on the head for our military service expecting that every female was in a safe supporting role, not a front line corpsman, or leading a recon mission, or designing a communications system.
I find it even more distressing that while the armed services have recently determined that approximately 99.9% of the military positions are open to both males and females, we still haven’t passed the Equal Rights Amendment for the civilian world. What are we waiting for? If you’d like to honor female veterans, support the ERA.