Are You Even a Veteran?!

The question in the subject line was honestly asked of me today:

Are you even a veteran?!

It is inappropriate to give the entire context of the conversation, but a fellow veteran made this statement–asked this question of me–quite condescendingly.  At the tail end of an insanely busy week, it was the last question I expected/wanted to hear in my day.  I understand it was a rhetorical question and he didn’t quite expect me to answer in fact that I am. (The anger/frustration/hurt in my voice was not concealed.  At what point did our society give up on teaching and reinforcing good manners?!  When did insolent behavior become so commonplace?!  And is anyone else paying attention to how eager people are to act this way over the internet and on the phone?!)

I do not know this person well enough to understand how much his comments were part male privilege and/or veteran entitlement.  Let’s give this person the “benefit” of the doubt and take male privilege off the table for a moment–let us assume he wasn’t making two digs at me, but just the one:

His veteran status is more important (in his eyes/mind) than my personhood, my assumed non-veteran status.

This issue infuriates me greatly.  While I may crack jokes about Marines being better than Airmen, for example, I leave many of these comments in-house, with fellow veterans whose camaraderie I enjoy.  Some will playfully chide in return that Marines are crazy, just look at the crap we put up with compared with our sister service branches.  We do earn each other’s respect.  I don’t put down my peers who did not deploy; the more I learn about my peer group the more I understand how luck/leadership/health/various other factors contributed to my ability to deploy and their inability to deploy.  My infantry peers also respect me and don’t derogatorily called me a POG (person other than grunt).

Years ago, I made the natural assumption almost everyone who was in the military during my 4 years of active duty would equally deploy.  This notion made sense to me.  We were (and are) in a post-9/11 where terrorism occurs in expected and unexpected places.  I expected everyone who served after 9/11 would serve overseas in places like Afghanistan and Iraq and it was a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ they would deploy.  I am learning more now–as a veteran–military life and service experiences are more diverse than my naive expectations.

Veteran entitlement though is an issue that eats our veteran community from the inside out and ruins our collective relationship with our civilian communities and other veterans.  I didn’t expect to come across this attitude. It runs counter to another veteran type I see–veterans who are placed in the most dangerous environments, who do the best with their resources, and care highly for their teams.  Most veterans will fall along the spectrum from highly entitled to highly altruistic, just like their non civilian counterparts.  Today was just my encounter with a highly entitled person who thought it was appropriate to bring me down and there are many more like him in the world.

This attitude is not how veterans should behave.  I’m sorry for anyone who experiences this person on a daily basis or in a casual encounter like I did.  No one should behave this way as part of their daily interactions.  Veterans are trained to be our nation’s best and some, unfortunately, never (or rarely) take that message to heart.

My goal is to not act like this veteran namely because I know better.  I am a Post-9/11 veteran.  I am a Marine veteran.  I am an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran.  I earned my veteran status but I did not forget my status still comes with expectations.  I am a representative of my service branch and I have an equal burden and responsibility to behave appropriately in public.

Operation Iraqi Freedom 2-2
Operation Iraqi Freedom 2-2
Operation 5-7
Operation 5-7

Taken-for-Granted Notion: America’s Veterans

Homefront Girl?!
Homefront Girl?!  Really?!

I want to believe our society is coming close to equally treating female veterans as it does male veterans. I really do. However, I constantly find reminders that support the taken-for-granted notion veterans (and service members) are men.

I am even more embarrassed at some of the products coming out, particularly the ones that encourage the “girl” who stays behind supporting her man. These things seem to sell a notion military wives and girlfriends do not have an identity all their own.  Would you see something of this label for same sex couples?!  No, but it’s perfectly normal for heteronormative marketing.

I honestly couldn’t buy any of these Yankee Candles even if I loved the scents available through their Homefront Girl line. Thankfully, I found some information that a dollar from each sale goes to Homes for Our Troops.  However, the proceeds are limited to $75,000 or date, April 30th, 2016 per the image below:

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I don’t wish to alienate other women, but I see over and over again how society values the “military wife” and her fulfillment of a traditional gender role.  She is placed on a pedestal for raising the kid(s), keeping the house, and staying loyal as her man serves his country.  Yet, female service members (and veterans) are forgotten persons.  We are remembered for mothering (as applicable), but our military service…it’s an invisible achievement.

I saw this issue play out again in my life when my husband and I picked up our car from a valet.  The man, probably slightly younger than us, noticed our veteran plate.  He turned to my husband and asked his service branch.  Thomas responded with ‘Marine Corps’ and the valet thanked him for his service.

In these moments, I better understand female veterans who place woman veteran license plates on their car, especially those whose husbands (or boyfriends) did not serve in the military.  I do not have one myself and the recent woman veteran hat is coming up increasingly in social media sites.

I am getting closer to upping the ante for my veteran recognition project.  I’ve worn my dog tags since last October with little notice.  I haven’t blatantly hung out the tags; as a veteran, I feel it would be tacky to do so.  I was hoping people would notice a dog tag chain is unlike other pieces of ‘jewelry’ and therefore make the connection.  Haha….no one notices.  Truly, no one notices.

I think a female veteran hat would be a silly addition to my project but I promise a creative approach to this problem.  Society does not need to thank its female veterans (as equally as it does not need to thank male veterans) however it does need to recognize on many levels women serve in our Armed Forces.

~Cheryl

Wearing my dog tags as part of my social experiment.
Wearing my dog tags as part of my social experiment. (May 31st at Montelucia–Scottsdale, AZ)

Sexual Harassment as a Junior Marine: My Personal Experience

I want to start off by saying, I love the Marine Corps.  Honestly, I do.  Some of the information I am sharing today will not convey this message.  I wrote the following journal entry back then in the midst of some degrading situations I encountered.  At times, I was greatly frustrated with my experiences as a Marine.  We are not without our problems as a military service branch, but I know throughout most of my experiences, the mentality of “taking care of one’s own” was drilled into us and I believe I’ve had a fair share of good leaders who valued their junior personnel.

I’ve also seen moments of downright poor leadership that I’ve talked privately about with friends and family through social media sites.  As the single female at my first unit, there were times inappropriate comments were made to or about me that never should have occurred.  Marines know better.  In fact, Americans in general know better.  Sexually harassment may not manifest itself on quite the same level or in quite the same ways as it did for past generations.  I think a significant part of that change involves equal opportunity in the workplace and also improved consequences for individuals who break the rules set in place.

In sharing my story, please pardon my language.  I’ve cut back on swearing, but back in 2006, I swore all the time.  I did leave out parts of my journal entry because the information I discussed was not relevant to the topic of sexual harassment.  I rambled on for a bit about my disappointment in American television shows, so I “cut out” the journal entry to focus more on the subject at hand.

~Cheryl

January 22, 2006

January 22, 2006 Continued

Storytelling

Every story matters.  Simple enough, right?  In 2004, I was effectively told my story didn’t matter.  His name was Corporal Harry Klein and for reasons unbeknownst to me when the opportunity came for me to deploy to Iraq, he told me in no uncertain terms to “Not write a book about it.”  He had not shared his combat experiences with me but promptly decided it was his right to tell me how to effectively live my life.

Up until that point, and still today, I do no feel the overwhelming urge to write a book about my experiences.  My storytelling encompasses a large three ring binder filled with three years’ worth of notes shared on the social media sites, MySpace and Facebook, and two handwritten journals, which I’ve shared mostly with close friends and family.  Do I want a published book about my deployments?  Not really.

I am happy enough exploring my creative t-shirt story telling idea.  Because I still find myself to be a visual artist rather than a writer, that avenue serves my social purpose better.

To Corporal Klein, I am not writing a book about my experiences but not because you told me not to do so.  Instead, I am building an empowerment community for female veterans, which is so vastly better.

Semper Fidelis, everyone.

~Cheryl

Packing up for the first deployment (August 2004).
Packing up for the first deployment (August 2004).