BY LINDA D. HINKLE, MSW
If you stood in a room filled with people, directed them to close their eyes and picture what a veteran is supposed to look like —few, if any, would imagine a woman. After more than one hundred years in service to our country, women are still under-recognized for their service here in the United States. The United States Census Bureau reported in 2017 that there are 1.6 million women veterans in the United States from all branches, backgrounds, religions, and ethnicities, and this number is only growing.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs: Women Veterans Report 2015, “Women have proudly served their country throughout all periods of United States history, whether disguised as male Soldiers during the American Revolution and Civil War, as nurses in World War I, or as combat helicopter pilots in Afghanistan. It is the extent of their involvement, degree of militarization, and integration into the services that have changed dramatically over time.”
The debate as to whether or not women are capable of the same kind of service to this country that their male veteran counterparts have given has remained ongoing in the minds of many, especially those in government. This debate has only increased since the release of the USA Today article on February 24, 2019, the headline proclaiming, “With Women in Combat Roles, a Federal Court Rules Male-Only Draft Unconstitutional!” United States District Judge Gray Miller ruling, “…that the time has passed for a debate on whether women belong in the military.”
The Honorable Judge Miller and I agree, as debate seems like a very moot point in a situation where women have been serving alongside men actively in the present day for a very long time and sometimes without permission in the past because they shared the same intense passion: to serve their country and to do so honorably.
As a veteran of the United States Army myself, a former Combat Medical Specialist, and an outspoken woman who served our country proudly, I have often found myself the subject of open doubts to how my service compares to men with the same job title, to my fitness for duty, and the downgrading of my service simply based on the fact that I am a woman and not a man.
As stated before, the subject of women in the military has long been a standing debate, except to the women that have served this nation proudly and continue to do so to this day. For us, the women that have served or are serving, the argument is moot. Despite the questions, studies, and opinions that have made serving harder for women, they have risen above to provide honorable and faithful service to their fellow active duty military members, veterans, and to their country.
As a Maryville College Alum, class of 2015, I received my copy of “The Focus” recently that highlighted the college’s bicentennial celebration and along with it a look at military service and how it affected MC from World War II to present day. The beautifully written article by Dr. Dan Klingensmith motivated me to wonder what service in World War I would have looked like for women on Maryville College’s campus and if there was any information to be had on that service.
As many know, World War I would have seen men at Maryville College and across this nation signing up to defend our country. But how many would know about the two women-only reserve battalions who trained just like their male counterparts or the women who volunteered to go to war as nurses and/or members of the Red Cross?
Women of Valor like H. Frances Postlethwaite, a Chattanooga native and Maryville College Alum who left Lamar Memorial Infirmary to who join the Army Nurse Corps and spent seven months overseas in 1917. These amazing women provided medical support and assistance to thousands of casualties on both sides of the lines, served all across Europe, and battled the influenza outbreak on our home shores as well. Or Lt. Viola Cawood Flowers, a student of Maryville College in 1917 who received ROTC training along with other members of the college in the all-women reserve battalions, who later went on to rank of second lieutenant in the W.A.A.C. of the United States Army as Assistant Public Relations Officer at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, and many other brave women.
With Women’s History Month in full swing, I hope to honor these amazing women for their service and for breaking open barriers that stood in their way as I, and all of the women that came after them to serve, did so standing on the shoulders of what they had accomplished. Could these amazing women know that they would be a part of the future of women in the military?
What would they have thought on January 24, 2013, when the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta removed the military’s ban on women serving in combat? How would they reply today if they were approached with questions on how they would feel about a gender equitable draft? In my time as a student veteran at Maryville College, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to work in a job where I could support other veterans to be successful.
As all Maryville College students are expected to do, I too wrote a thesis, journeying into what student veteran support looked like at Maryville College and how we could improve. As you all know, thesis requires a great deal of research and reading material related to your subject matter or study.
During this time of great focus, I read article after article describing women veterans as “invisible” or “resistant to connection with other veterans” the assumption seemed to be that women did not wish to connect with their veteran peers and simply preferred to disappear into the status quo on university campuses.
I can honestly say that the research is incorrect, women have been assumed to prefer invisibility over outspokenness, but with women joining the ranks of the military and higher education following service at an increased rate, shouldn’t the debate at this point be whether the nation is ready for women to be in the spotlight during and after service? I think we can say that women have been ready for a very long time.