This past Memorial Day weekend, I was not only able to honor those who had lost their lives in military service to America, but to do so while connecting with other Desert Storm Veterans at the same time, supporting the creation of the National Desert Storm War Memorial in Arlington, Va.
I marched in the televised National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C., as a member of the National Desert Storm War Memorial group, approximately 200 strong. I was also there to make connections with and stay in touch with other Desert Storm Combat Women Veterans. To some extent, I can equate the feeling of being a member of a select group of strong, empowered women to that of the Meredith College students and alumnae. However, as I told my son, meeting up with other combat women veterans is not like going to a college reunion, as there are many more life experiences that have and are taking place than anything a college student could go through, because of the constant life and death situation. It draws us closer and sometimes further apart.
Seeing my sisters is at once welcoming and touching and warm, and at the same time difficult and sorrowful and tough. We went through so much during Desert Storm that has markedly changed us, that it is difficult for anyone other than another female veteran to understand. This is why the transition process for women from military to civilian life is so very difficult. It is difficult for both men and women, but particularly harder for women for many reasons. I urge you to take advantage of communication opportunities in the area, like art and poetry displays presented via several organizations hoping to foster better understanding between military and civilians, and particularly for women vets, who are growing ever stronger in numbers as more roles are open to them in the military, and as they cycle into civilian life from the military.
Women continue to face challenges in the military fighting not only those the U.S. is facing in conflicts, but fighting to be strong, confident, and determined in order to be successful in the career field to which they are assigned, while continually battling sexual harassment and military sexual trauma (MST). Once they leave service, they cannot let down their guard, since they still have to face many similar battles for pay, recognition, and title in the civilian sector while also dealing with caring for children, aging parents, education, and trauma from PTSD and MST.
The Veterans Administration is slowly coming to terms with the fact that their clientele is increasingly female, and their services need to match. The VA is making strides in terms of healthcare to provide better, more comprehensive care for women veterans, but the process is slow. In the meantime, the veteran suicide rate, particularly women, is on the rise, and alarming. Per the VA Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention (OMHSP), “From 2001 through 2014, the suicide rate among women Veterans increased to a greater degree (62.4 percent) than the suicide rate among male Veterans (29.7 percent).” Since 2014, it has risen 85 percent, according to WUNC North Carolina Public Radio.
Part of the problem is dropping their guard to enable themselves to show vulnerability, while accepting help that they feel is more crucial for all veterans other than themselves. They are so used to having to have a tough exterior that it permeates their lifestyle, and unfortunately causes them to resist help, many times until it is too late.
This gathering of Desert Storm veterans, and particularly, Desert Storm women veterans, allowed us to come together to share a special bond that makes us who we are, for better or worse. We come together to support one another, share experiences with one another, and just hang out and be silly together. We need down time with other women who know where we’ve been. It is important and irreplaceable. We share the memories and sorrow of those we’ve lost, and know that no matter where we go from here, we have ties and support going forward. This too is something shared in the Meredith College community, and something that should not be taken for granted. Those connections with the strong women warriors in your life will strengthen and empower you, and should be treasured.