Smashing stereotypes on Veteran’s Day

Cynthia Clark, Reporter

On Nov. 11, America celebrated Veteran’s Day. As a veteran, life is different and interesting. Being a woman veteran – well, it is even more different. Park University has a variety of women veterans on campus, from retirees to ROTC, students to staff, and everything in between.
Veteran’s Day is quite the experience for those who have been blessed to come home from the battlefield with their lives. As a veteran, I particularly enjoy experiencing the benefits of the 11th day of the 11th month, bouncing around from one restaurant to another, enjoying a free or discounted meal.
However, as a woman, publicly identifying yourself as a military member or veteran can lead to misconceptions and frustrating misidentifications. Heather Cole, a junior business management and finance major, also said she struggles with this. Cole joined the U.S. Army reserves in May of 2015, before becoming a ROTC cadet at Park two years ago.
“I have been told I don’t look like I would be in the Army,” Cole said. “If I mention the military many people automatically assume I’m a dependent.”
I retired from the U.S. Navy almost six years ago, and I still deal with the same thing. People think my husband was the one who was retired, not me. Even when my husband makes a medical appointment, the staff at the doctor’s office get confused when his “sponsor” – that’s military-speak for the person whose benefits you fall under – isn’t him.
I get strange looks at the grocery store when asking for the military discount. It’s like they can’t understand a suburban mom with a teenage daughter could be, herself, a veteran! It can be comical at times.
Cole has the same type of experiences, and, like me, uses them as her reason to push harder.
“I have run into some sexist people who did not believe in me … actions speak louder than words,” she said. “Once I show that I am capable of completing a mission just like any male could, I am treated like family, too.”
When I left my small town in New Jersey on Oct. 24, 1995, for the Naval Recruit Training Center, in Great Lakes, Ill., I hoped the next generation of women service members would have it a bit easier 24 years later. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like that is the case.
Any time I see a surprise homecoming video pop up on social media platforms, it seems it is always a man surprising his wife, his daughter or his son. It can get very discouraging. Women veterans are a minority, but we still exist, and we deserve as much visualization in this niche marketing as our male counterparts.
For Cole, it’s not the “male vs. female” so much, as changes in run-of-the-mill, everyday activities in the life of a service member on the verge of changing for the better.
“I personally believe the new Army physical training (PT) test will help allow me to get promoted on my skills and abilities,” Cole continued. “The new PT test will have six events with the same grading scale no matter your age or gender. This will help push females to show that they are capable to do the same as their male peers. They may have to train more, but a bullet doesn’t care if you are male or female.”
When a woman veteran hears those words: “Thank you for your service,” they take it in just a little bit more, because it means a little bit more. Hearing the words, “thank you for your service,” are so much preferred to: “what did your husband do in the military?”