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Stories From Women About Life in the Military

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Across the armed services, women made up 16 percent of the active-duty military as of 2017 — by branch, that number ranged from 8.4 percent within the Marine Corps to nearly 20 percent within the Air Force. Their representation is small and growing only marginally — in 2007, women in uniform made up 14.4 percent of the force — and their stories tend to be ignored in favor of legacies left by men who have shaped the narrative of service to country. Despite being overlooked, servicewomen are forging new career paths for themselves and the next generation as they enter jobs that were once closed to them. Consider pioneers like Capt. Rosemary Mariner, who was one of the first female Navy pilots in the 1970s and the first woman to lead a naval aviation squadron. She died in January from ovarian cancer, and her memory was honored last month with a flyover using all-female pilots. Or First Lt. Marina A. Hierl, who in 2018 became the first woman in the Marine Corps to command an infantry platoon.

For International Women’s Day, The Times asked servicewomen and veterans to send us the stories that defined their experiences in the military.

The Whole Office Saw a Video of Me Naked

In 2006, a male shipmate got into my barracks room and placed a camera in my bathroom and set it to record. I found it only after getting out of the shower. I took the camera to my male chief, whom I had known for only about a month. He assured me that he would get to the bottom of it. By lunchtime, the strange looks from everyone became obvious. Another shipmate told me that everyone in the company office had passed the camera around and saw the video of me naked, getting into and out of the shower.

There Was Nowhere for Me to Sleep

In 2004, I had orders to be stationed on the U.S.S. Fitzgerald, which at the time was stationed in San Diego. When my ship finally pulled in, I found out I was the first female enlisted sailor to ever be stationed onboard. They didn’t even have a place for me to sleep.

Many Days, I Contemplated Suicide

In 2015, I was sexually assaulted, and I waited until 2017 to report it because I was scared that I would not be believed or, worse, that I would be deemed a “troublemaker” in my platoon. It took about a year for the whole process to end. I was fortunate enough to go to counseling and see a psychologist and was found to have depression, anxiety disorder and PTSD — all stemming from the assault. I struggled with my self-worth more than I would like to admit. Many days, I contemplated suicide. Not because I felt like a burden but because the pain I felt every day was nearly unbearable. To this day, I still have nightmares of the assault. But I have found peace, which I have learned is all that matters.

In Puerto Rico, I Met a Woman Who Gave Birth During the Hurricane

After Hurricane Maria, I was deployed to do recovery operations in eastern and central Puerto Rico. The amazing resilience of the Puerto Rican people couldn’t compare to anything I had ever seen before. There was a woman about my age (I was 22 at the time) with a very young baby. I asked her how old she was, and she said the infant was about 4 weeks old — meaning she had been born either during or in the days after the hurricane. I can’t imagine having a baby without a doctor, running water or electricity. But there she was, showing me her beautiful baby girl.

Two Years Ago, I Finally Started Serving as My True Self

I served in the Army for nine years as someone else. About two years ago, I was able to start serving openly as a transgender woman. I’ve faced discrimination since I’ve come out and lost some friends, but it has been worth it. I’ve gained a lot personally and professionally and have become part of a community that is open and willing to embrace change. I’ve had several soldiers tell me I’ve changed their views on not only transgender service members but also female service members being in combat arms.

I’ve Been Left Behind Because I Am a Woman

On all three of my overseas deployments, I was the only woman on my team. I lived separately, usually farther away from daily meeting points. I was left behind on major movements, forgotten about and asked to form up over an hour before my male colleagues, simply because I was a woman and lived elsewhere. On one deployment, my team forgot to notify me that we were leaving the country the next day. It turned out the announcement had been made in the male barracks only. I made the flight, but it still stung that I learned the information secondhand. I chose at that moment to dedicate my career to fighting for better inclusion.

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Thanks !

Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !