Stand up for women warriors

A few weeks ago, this paper published an editorial encouraging the community to embrace its veterans. This week, we’d like to talk about a specific subset of those veterans—women.

On Veterans Day this year, NPR listeners of the program All Things Considered heard about Anne Meree Craig, who served eight years in the intelligence community and—after leaving the service—started an organization called COMMIT, which runs workshops for women focusing on a successful transition out of the military. In October, the organization hosted a conference for female veterans in Anaheim.

Veterans like Craig know that leaving the military and transitioning to civilian life can be a challenge for any soldier, but listening to the stories of female veterans shared during the conference makes it clear how much harder it can be for them—from dealing with little annoyances to big life hurdles like securing a new career.

Take, for example, U.S. Army veteran Meaghan Mobbs, who spoke at the Anaheim event about an experience she had parking her vehicle in a space reserved for veterans when a man in a pickup truck passed by.

“He leans out his window,” Mobbs recalled. “He's like, you know those are for veterans, right? … I wish I could tell you I had, like, some, like, pithy quick response and said something snappy, but I just stood there dumbfounded.”

When people think of veterans, they often think of men. They don't consider that women have served alongside their male counterparts in the nation's military for generations now—and do so in increasingly active, often dangerous roles. There are, of course, challenges that affect all veterans—finding housing, a job a sense of community among civilians, but cultural stereotypes and things like the gender pay gap compound these issues for women.

Consider things like the average soldier's conditioning to engage in direct, sometimes curt communication—and most would agree that the societal costs for directness is higher for women than for men.

For another real-life example, consider the story of Jodie M. Grenier, a former Marine Corps intelligence analyst, who testified on July 10 before the Committee on Veteran's Affairs' Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity.

“You see, I went from briefing unit commanders on potential courses of action to mitigate imminent threats to our troops to waiting tables,” she said. “My transition support consisted of a lack luster transition class. I navigated college, employment and undiagnosed PTSD alone. I enrolled full-time in a community college under the Montgomery GI bill, balanced two jobs as a waitress and bartender, and lived with my mother because I couldn't afford rent.”

According to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are 2 million female veterans in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. More than 30,000 women leave the military each year. And by 2040, the VA expects women to comprise 18 percent of the veteran population. We owe it to them to make sure they have the resources they need to live happy, healthy lives after serving our country.