Imagine knowing that you are about to accomplish an incredible feat, so incredible that roughly 99.6% of the population doesn’t even try, and even fewer women attempt.
I remember stepping onto the yellow footprints, my heart was pounding — I was terrified. “Marine Corps Bootcamp, seriously? What did I get myself into?!” Maybe I can change my mind and the bus driver will take me back to the airport; a dark and disorienting drive through long and winding roads will not be so suspenseful if I know that I am going back home.
Too late — they are already yelling and we are all confused, sweating in the South Carolina humidity, and terrified — yet, I feel this overwhelming sense of pride that I am about to take the journey of a lifetime. That was my first experience as a barely-eighteen-year-old young woman from Ohio. Within weeks I knew that I was right where I wanted to be. The physical rigor, attention to detail, and hard-corps structure was what I had always craved.
I thought my drill instructors were some of the scariest and most beautiful women that I had ever seen. I emulated them and could not wait to wear the uniform and the proud title of United States Marine just like they did. Other than a few memories there is so much that I forgot after Bootcamp; but, I will never forget the smell: the swamp, the sweaty cammies—the smell of recruit, recruits sweating even at 2am when we wished for relief from the humidity. Our bodies ached, cramped, and some even broke before training concluded.
Bootcamp was only a fraction of my Marine Corps experience; I had a whole life and career ahead of me. I loved my job—I was an intelligence analyst (pretty much a glorified reporter). The skills that the Marine Corps taught me in the intelligence field are so valuable: research, analysis, dissemination, instruction, public speaking skills, and many more. I was molded into a chiseled professional by the age of 19.
A Proud Marine Corps Veteran
I spent almost 32 months (accumulatively) in the Middle East during combat operations; I have acquired wounds both invisible and visible. The aforementioned are substantial sacrifices. But I do not regret enlisting at all. In fact, it is the first thing that I tell people about myself when I meet them. I am a Marine Corps veteran.
The title Marine speaks for itself; it has helped me get internships, jobs, and positions because my employers expect a disciplined professional—a hard worker. I do face differential treatment sometimes when dealing with other people or other veterans because I identify as a veteran.
Every once in a while, I get a “thank you for your service” but usually they address my husband, assuming that I am not a veteran, let alone a Marine Corps veteran. I did not serve for a “thank you” but it still hurts to be dismissed so easily for such a considerable sacrifice.
The Marine experience as a whole was only part of my life–one that did not prepare me to be a female veteran.
A Progressive Veteran
Now that Bootcamp and my Marine Corps career are distant memories, I serve my country in a different way: through community activism, education, and volunteer work. I am a progressive veteran.
It can be difficult to find an appropriate forum to help others, so I am lucky to have found Protect Our Defenders (POD): they are active in addressing legislation and active in reforming policy to assist survivors of Military Sexual Trauma (MST).
Not many people understand the inner workings and workplace climate of the Marine Corps, but in short, survivors of sexual assault very rarely get any justice or fair treatment and they are forced to continue to work with or for their attacker.
Imagine a workplace where one or two people were in charge of your every move—they controlled what you learned, how much training you received, and what people thought of you because they were in influential positions of power. Your personal life and work life are often one-in-the-same.
Now, imagine being sexually assaulted by your boss, or by your co-worker and not being able to be transferred or not being able to tell anyone for fear of reprisal. POD helps address these issues by attempting to take away the commanding officer’s power in an investigation and by giving more power to the victim. POD wants to remove the bias and the power of the commanding officer. Many commanding officers skew the investigation, hide facts, or grossly mishandle the entire process in an attempt to put mission before troop welfare.
Survivors often lack the ability to obtain a fair trial or are not aware of their legal rights and processes. This is similar to losing basic freedoms that are granted by our constitution. Service members often experience this if they are survivors of sexual assault, while they are actually serving to protect the rights and freedoms of others.
A Female Veteran
I sacrificed almost ten years so that others could have freedom; yet I find myself losing that same freedom that I thought was paid for—free speech, basic human rights, and bodily autonomy as a female.
I mean, let’s be real, I can freely speak and write, but I am not treated the same and I am rarely taken seriously. Real, tough issues in my life — women’s issues — are not even considered important nor do women have any say over legislation that affects women’s issues. The VA is just now getting women’s centers set up and women have been serving for decades.
I am still proud that I fought for others’ freedoms, but I increasingly see policy that dictates to a majority of the population while leaving most disadvantaged groups behind. The Marine Corps taught us that we are only as strong as our weakest Marine, yet our society is leaving behind the weak instead of helping them and then lashing out at anyone that tries to help others by labeling them as a “libtard” or a bleeding heart.
Here is something to ponder: few people can look me in the eye when I proudly proclaim, “I am a Marine Corps combat veteran.” People look away, other women look down, and men smirk or just look past me. It is very rare that anyone thanks me for my service or shakes my hand.
It seems as if I should be ashamed to be a female veteran; like I don’t belong. But I am not ashamed. The things that I accomplished were subhuman: the physical pain, pushing my body and mind to the limit, and combat environments where gunfire and mortars/rockets were prevalent were part of my day. I survived and thrived in one of America’s most elite military forces.
The life of a proud, progressive, female Marine Corps veteran is not for the faint of heart — my perspectives go against the grain but in the end, I just want our country to be better for all of us. The next time you see a female service member or veteran, shake her hand, thank her for her service and for her sacrifice that is often not recognized.