The Battles Are Many
Women were present on the battlefield as far back as the first known war in history, the 13,000 year-old Saharan War, according to The Independent, an online journal. The National Park Service shares that one of the few women to have served during the Civil War was Sarah Emma Edmonds, who served as a male field nurse under the alias Franklin Flint Thompson. And according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dr. Mary Edwards Walker was another woman who served briefly as a surgeon in an Ohio Regiment during the Civil War. She was the first woman to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for her work, although it was taken from her two years prior to her death, to later be restored in 1977. While women have only recently been allowed to actively participate on the battlefield, they have always been present in war, whether they were wanted there or not.
Today is an age of supposed equal standing, yet women who chose to enlist have faced obstacles in the recent past and present. Retired Navy Chief Personnel Rose Acevedo, who enlisted in 1973 and served for 26 years, faced a lack of faith in her ability to perform from “old-timers who believed a woman’s place wasn’t on a boat” to civilians telling her “you’re a female, that’s not a job for you, you won’t be able to do it, you’re taking a man’s job away”, when she became one of the first female repairmen in El Paso, Texas. Another veteran, Terry McCormick who retired as a Sergeant in the Marine Corp, shared that her father was initially upset by her choice to enlist. “He said, ‘when I was in the military… if a woman was in the military, it was for only two reasons. Either she was gay or she was what we called a patriotic prostitute,’” recounts McCormick. “However, I don’t think you could’ve seen a prouder father when I graduated from boot camp,” she says as she recalls that her father later changed his tune.
Despite their hardships, both women stated that they would both make the same choice to enlist if given the choice, and saw their service as overwhelmingly positive. These women did serve in times past, and modern servicewomen continue to advance in military careers in ways that weren’t possible in the past. Yet the theme of trivializing their work is ever present in today’s society, including within the military, where women are faced with double standards.
An example is in the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT). On GoArmy.com, there is a document listing the requirements for either gender. The document states that, “A male between 17 and 21 years old should arrive at college able to do 42 push-ups; a female 19 push-ups.” Lowering the physical requirements in training is by no means equality; if anything it creates soldiers who are less prepared to face the intensity of combat.
Double standards aside, there is an apathy that seems to surround the military, inside and out. Retired female veterans Melissa Archetti, Rose Acevedo and Terry McCormick all agreed that they would like for those who have served in pain, such as soldiers suffering from PTSD, victims of sexual assault and soldiers who return with missing limbs, to be recognized and remembered as opposed to being treated apathetically. The military is not exempt from this attitude. Terry shared that in a sexual assault education class a female officer stated simply that, “this is all part of life.” Many veterans who return home suffering, often find themselves ignored and forgotten. People shy away from what makes them uncomfortable, putting a glassy eyed wall between themselves and the object of their uncertainty. Even if this ‘object’ endured hardships like losing a limb for a right as simple as voting.
Undoubtedly, hardship is one of the core structural aspects of the military. There is an overall sense of invincibility, that a soldier is a granite cog in an unbreakable machine that never stills. Melissa Archetti recalled how once during training, her instructor ran her co-ed group until soldiers began falling over in exhaustion, while she continued running even after her fellow soldiers, men and women alike, had gone down. Ultimately her training served to turn her into a strong officer who led soldiers. While she and her team possessed great strength thanks to their military training, she did deal with a soldier under her command who committed suicide. “I think he felt uncomfortable coming to me for it,” she said. “To him, sharing that he had problems would have been a sign of weakness.” Physical and mental hardship is a key point in the military’s training, yet for some, the cost of being told to be invincible is personal sense of security and safety, and sometimes their life. Adding a softer, more feminine touch to the military could offer better emotional support to aid and comfort veterans and soldiers in need or who may be suicidal.
Soldiers carry equal pain, yet often they are not given the same distinction and honors. Women have been ever present and died in battle since the onset of the first war in history. Ultimately, when a soldier returns to home to their family and friends, they come back carrying the same injuries, the same scars. Pain and loss is not gender specific, and every soldier should be treated and evaluated with the same respect and dignity.