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It’s Up To Us

Logo for Veteran Voices

I came home from picking up my two-year-old daughter from daycare. It was Veterans Day. My neighbor approached me while I was getting out of the car. “Elaine, thank you for your service,” she said, thoughtfully.

I remember looking at her like, “Huh? Oh, that’s right, I am a veteran.”

I didn’t recognize myself as a veteran, and it occurred to me that a lot of other female veterans probably have the same mindset.

I have noticed, however, that more recently—especially now that women soldiers, pilots, etc. can go into combat—more servicewomen are beginning to embrace their identities as veterans at the end of their service.

What is important to remember is that even if we worked behind the lines in an office or other non-combatant MOS, we are still part of the wheel that makes it all work; we are still veterans.

For me, I nearly got blown up. Not in active combat but serving behind the lines. Terrorism was alive and well in Germany in the eighties.

In 1984, I enlisted in the Air Force, serving at Hahn Airbase, Germany, until mid-1987. I was stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota.

My last duty station was at Graham Air Force Base in Indiana. I left the service when I was 33 years old.

Basic training was a good experience for me. Men and women were sorted into “Brother Flights” and “Sister Flights,” which were housed in different dormitories. Our “Brother Flight” dormitory was across the hall from us. I was paired with a Brother Flight airman. Together we all endured the same chow line and the same training. We got along and quickly developed a deep respect for each other.

During my time in the military, I recognized instances of sexism and discrimination. But I was always one of those people who, if you look down on me because of what I am, I will come back to you and prove that I am even better than you.

I worked in warehousing, and my leadership quickly realized I had no problem hauling around the big stuff, so I was tasked to work the large item warehouse.

In Germany, I drove trucks and learned to operate everything from a quarter-ton pickup truck to a five-ton with a 35-foot trailer attached.

There was a time when women didn’t join the military; it was kind of frowned upon. Remember the attitudes only a few decades ago? “These women don’t act right! They’re supposed to be in the kitchen with an apron on!”

Most women who did join the service were nurses back then, which is a hard job. Those women had to have strong personalities and witnessed horrible stuff.

About twenty years ago, my husband, who is also a veteran, and I were looking to participate in some veteran events and were considering joining either the American Legion or VFW. We both qualified for Legionnaire status, but the gentlemen I spoke to at the American Legion kept trying to get me to join the Auxiliary. They wouldn’t let women veterans into the American Legion for the longest time.

Fast forward, and I am now a Legionnaire and a member of the Auxiliary. The American Legion has had a reputation for being somewhat of a Boys’ Club, and it has been difficult to get female veterans to join.

At our current Post, Post 108, we (female veterans) never had that problem. When my husband and I contacted Post 108 to join, they said, “Come on over, Sister!” I have never felt different at our Post because I am a lady vet.

Guys who served in the same era as I did, and who had the same experiences I had, were very welcoming to me. They recognized that I had done my job in the service just like the rest of them, that I am part of that team.

Institutions like the American Legion will only change if we women veterans make the change.

On Aug. 24, 2017, the American Legion elected its first female National Commander, Denise Rohan, a U.S. Army veteran from Wisconsin. Rohan once shared the story of being relegated to the Auxiliary when she initially tried to become a Legionnaire. Looking back, she lovingly pokes fun at the Post who rejected the (then future) National Commander.

Here is the key: we (female veterans) need to remember that we did serve our country. Even though we may have gotten out of the military to raise families or for other reasons, we must embrace the impact that time in service has had on us.

With many female veterans, we bury the fact our service may have affected us. We may even suppress the fact that we served. In our minds, we think, “Okay, I did that, now it’s over. Time to move on.”

Some of the lady vets I’ve known are the strongest people I’ve ever met, and they don’t want to show any weakness. They become their family’s backbone. We feel we have to always be strong. But that doesn’t diminish the need for inclusion and camaraderie. We must continue to make our presence known, and continue to raise awareness.

The challenges and hardships women face in service, now that we too are on the front lines, is the same as the men. We can have PTSD just as easily. There are women who are being injured in service alongside their male counterparts. I encourage any female veterans out there today to join me at the American Legion Post 108, and let’s work together to make a difference.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Elaine Stoots is a U.S. Air Force veteran and member of American Legion Post 108 in Land O’ Lakes, Florida.

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