One of the hottest political debates regarding military service in the United States during the last thirty years is the role for women. In my previous post, Ask the Chief: veteran is gender-neutral, I explore several issues that need to be raised more often in the national conscience: how does America support the veteran; does society, particularly other women, comprehend their co-workers and peers, (as reservists or on Active Duty) left their families, civilian jobs or school behind, and went to war particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq? In popular culture, the news, movies, cable and television, veteran conjures up both the warrior, and the sometimes addicted, sometimes homeless, conflicted man. Women too, are combat veterans, and have challenges with Government benefits, health and welfare issues no different than many other veterans.
A fascinating book that I began reading, is It’s My Country Too: Women’s Military Stories from the American Revolution to Afghanistan. Editors Jerri Bell and Tray Crow, have compiled a fascinating history, a page-turner, and relevant to today’s armed forces. Women whose recollections, memoirs, and diaries of service during the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries are few. Some heroines who did pass their recollections during depositions or speeches, often were edited or marginalized via male authors and editors. Modern research in archives and historical documents subsequently discerns fact from fiction. This book retells some fascinating accounts and implies many other women served as spies, employed in military units, came under fire, and were injured or killed in battles. At the time, and up through the early Twentieth Century, women would masquerade as men, with poor or nonexistent medical screenings for enlistment, and were only detected and discharged – or reassigned – when injured.
Those who had received military pensions, honors, and military burials from past conflicts paved the way for our female warriors and veterans today. And during the last ten years, attitudes and policies on the sexual orientation of service members and recruits has also changed. But the dialogue that inflames so many military members, veterans, policy wonks and Generation Y activists, distracts from the real stories and real problems: women have been serving in the defense of the nation since the Revolutionary War. And both their contributions and sacrifice has more often than not, been minimized, glamorized, or forgotten in history. And just as has been the case for decades, the mental and physical care of injured veterans, promised by the US Government over the centuries has been slower to respond to the female veteran.
In the next chapters yet to be read, the authors, veterans of the Marines, and Army, tell the stories of women in combat from the First World War through the War in Afghanistan.