Approximately 18 percent of our current generation of wounded warriors are female. Yet many female warriors prefer not to identify as veterans because of the uncomfortable confusion it can cause.
“I didn’t consider myself a veteran; I called myself ‘prior service,’” says wounded warrior Jessica Coulter. “We’re seen as women first, not veterans first. Even if we’re wearing our gear on Veteran’s Day, we are literally not seen as veterans. It’s a societal thing. It’s one of the largest issues we face; we are kind of invisible.”
It’s natural for people to create pictures in their heads when they hear the word “veteran,” but those assumptions have consequences. Imagine being a female veteran, handing your USAA credit card to a cashier at a grocery store, and having her look at your boyfriend to ask for military ID. While it may be a small misunderstanding, being consistently overlooked can be psychologically damaging. Female veterans are proud to have served; they put their lives on the line to protect our freedom. Yet it’s often their male friends – many of whom have never served – who receive the public’s misplaced accolades.
“When they look at you, they’re like, ‘you’re so girly,’” says wounded warrior Yomari Cruz. “You have makeup. You have heels. You were in the military? It would be really nice to not be looked at weird when I say I’m a veteran. You don’t know a person’s story, so don’t automatically assume. People experience a lot. Sometimes, they’re capable of much more than you think.”
There are plenty of other assumptions, too – like the common misconception that females haven’t been serving on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan. Though female warriors hadn’t been allowed to serve in certain roles (like the infantry) for many years, the policy was lifted in 2013. But even before that time, many women saw front-line combat. For example, Lisa Crutch was assigned to her unit as a truck driver, but she preferred to protect her team by manning the truck’s weapon, a .50-caliber machine gun. As the team’s sergeant, it was her decision – so she was frequently outside her base, behind the trigger of a large gun, in direct contact with enemy forces.
“No matter how many videos I made of me standing with the 50-cal, they’re still not going to get it,” says Lisa. “I don’t think our society is ready for that reality; but it’s true. I’m living proof that we do go to the front lines. I just want to make sure people know that it does happen.”
So, the next time you picture a veteran, the picture in your head should include the image of a female. If you’re at an event for warriors, you can assume females in attendance are veterans as well. Changing the way the public perceives veterans starts with each individual person. Let’s change the way we think about veterans, so all those who fought for our freedom can feel included and respected for the sacrifices they’ve made.