Former Army medical evacuation pilot, now a soldier a part of the Wounded Warrior Program at Walter Reed Hospital, Captain Mary Hubbard sat in full camouflage garb at Edgewood Chemical Biological Center.
“They trained all the women by themselves, so all the women were segregated, which I actually thought was better for training,” said Hubbard.
“It is a huge, huge wall between males and females,” Hubbard said. “Even more so now with the highlighting of the sexual assault and sexual harassment.”
Hubbard’s easygoing demeanor made light of darker stories of these differences and even some anecdotes of past harassment directed toward her and her fellow soldiers.
One of Hubbard’s soldiers, a combat medic in a cavalry unit, was one of three women among many men.
“They took the door off of her living quarters so she was completely exposed.” Hubbard said. “I find out later that she woke up one day and she felt like she had been drugged and she had been assaulted by her own people.”
But is sexual harassment a big enough deterrent for women deciding whether or not to enter the military?
“I can definitely see that,” Hubbard said.
* * *
There are many negative aspects of the military, according to Sgt. Emily Valentine, a seven year Army Veteran.
“Quite frankly, I felt a lot of emotional distress after my two deployments,” said Valentine.
Valentine joined the Army in hopes of breaking away from what was expected of her by society and to see what else was out there, but after seven years she’d had enough of the negative aspects of the military.
“People don’t like to think about it, but sexual harassment is really big in the military,” said Valentine. “It really gets to you. It toughened me up and gave me thicker skin, but in the moment you’re just really upset.”
When Valentine was deployed she said there was a ratio of about 200 women to 3,000 men. This made security as a woman a constant concern.
“You just learn to be more protective of yourself and where you are at what time,” Valentine said. She had to think about things like, “Is it going to be dark at that time? Who’s going to walk me back to my room?”
She said that it’s not just a woman’s safety that’s in jeopardy; it’s the lack of respect from their peers.
“How do I still be feminine, but masculine enough to get promoted? Then once you get into a leadership position you have a hard time gaining respect from men,” Valentine said.
From a male’s perspective and experience, discrimination against women wasn’t a common occurrence.
“I never saw any discrimination against women,” said Sgt. Felix Rodriguez, also a seven year Army Veteran. “In fact, the majority of the soldiers in my unit were women.”
Although Rodriguez had never encountered a sexual assault, he said the increase in sexual assaults is the reason there are less women enlisting in the military. That, and aspects of the military that aren’t exclusive to any gender, like constant fear of deployment, the physical toll the military takes on your body and being so far from your family. Valentine agrees.
“As we were getting on the buses on the way to leave there are all of these moms leaving their kids and hysterically crying,” Valentine said. “Like, you just had a baby and you leave, you come back and you’ve missed all of their ‘firsts.’ You have to adjust to coming back and seeing your kids grown up into a different person.”
The feeling isn’t just for those with children, it’s for anyone with loved ones that they’re leaving behind.
“You come home and you’re a stranger in your own house,” Valentine said. “The first time it hit me really hard was when I came back home and my brother was dating a girl around my age and my family was like, ‘Danielle this’ or ‘Danielle that,’ and ‘we did this’ and ‘we did that’ and I was like, that was supposed to be me with my family and I lost all of this time to be with them.”
Time isn’t the only thing lost in the military; it’s the idea of personal identity too.
“You don’t escape from the military mentality. It’s everything,” Valentine said. She went on to explain the struggle to be a girl by society’s standards once she arrived home.
“It’s a struggle to feel more feminine and it’s taken a really long time to be socialized back to being around women and feeling comfortable and having conversations that you normally wouldn’t have with guys anymore,” Valentine said. “For a while I didn’t feel comfortable being around girls since I’ve been around guys for such a long time.”
* * *
Even with all the negative connotations associated with the military, there are obvious reasons people enlist and stay a part of it.
“You get to explore a little more than going to your ‘real’ job,” Hubbard smiled as she opened up about some of the positive aspects of joining the military.
Hubbard doesn’t consider being a soldier her real job, but says that soldiers, including herself, should. They have to show up, do the work and treat it as though you’re in the professional world.
“You get a lot of professional development if you take it as professional development,” Hubbard said.
Getting to do what you love to do and getting paid for it is awesome, Hubbard said, and the Army is a great platform for that. Hubbard said that another part of the job she enjoys is developing supportive and lifelong relationships over the course of her career in both the Marine Corps and Army.
“I have a master sergeant in the Army who works right up the street who treats me like his daughter,” Hubbard proudly stated.
Hubbard, having been in the Marine Corps and Army for a total of 14 years to date, is an example as to why it’s important to keep our soldiers happy and willing to serve.
“There are a lot of benefits. I basically got to see Europe,” she said. “Being able to experience those cultures is pretty cool.”
* * *
The positive aspects of the military can be difficult to see through the eyes of many, but through the eyes of Colonel Debra Daniels the military has much more to offer than the hardships most people hear about through the media.
Daniels was patriotic in utero as she was born into a military family and raised within the lifestyle. Daniels felt a strong urge to serve her country, so she joined the military and worked her way up to be the highly respected colonel she is today.
In her opinion, this was possible due to equal standards set for men and women.
“It’s a matter of performance,” said Daniels. “It’s your accomplishments that keep you there and don’t let you go. It’s what makes you stand out.”
According to Daniels, the number of women in combat is dropping, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t women in the military. Daniels said there are less women in combat compared to that World War ll, which she finds ironic.
“Now, everywhere is the battlefield, that’s probably why,” said Daniels. She went on to explain that even though fewer women are in direct combat the war is everywhere, “so women are still in the battlefield.”
On the flip side, “there are just as many guys doing administration work as women,” Daniels said.
The experiences soldiers, male and female alike, have in the battlefield Daniels speaks of, are just one of the reasons the military is worth joining.
“The training and life experiences. Just growing as a person,” are all things Sergeant Emily Valentine values about her time in the military. “You see things in a whole different light. You become so fortunate to have the things you do have. I would think, ‘I’m so happy I have a bathroom, I’m so happy I can go to school. I’m so happy I can wear what I want to wear.’ It’s an eye opener and very humbling.”
The general public doesn’t tend to see the positive impact the military has on our soldiers. Often, when thinking of the impact, people think of things like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or the extreme danger involved. Those are definitely risks our soldiers take, but they willingly take them in exchange for the positive payoffs.
“The person I was before was cookie cutter, but when I got out I feel like it helped define my personality and helped me deal with stress better,” Valentine said. “Things that used to freak me out are now like ‘eh.’”
Sergeant Felix Rodriguez agrees. “The military is a unique experience you won’t find anywhere else and you can gain skills that will benefit you later in life.”
Other things Valentine and Rodriguez feel will benefit soldiers later in life is the opportunity the military gives them to travel the world and get an education. Those are two of the main reasons Valentine enlisted.
“It opened more doors and opportunities for me that wouldn’t have been there had I not joined the military, such as money for school and being able to travel and see different places,” Valentine said.
But as aforementioned, it can be hard for the soldiers to travel so far and not get to see their family. Thankfully, the military steps in to fill that void.
“When they say that you make the best friends of your life, you really do,” Valentine said. “You go through so much stuff so when you’re deployed. They’re your family, they’re everything. You rely on them for emotional support and for your own protection and safety. They’re like your pseudo-family. Sisters from another mother.”
“And as it happened, you always had someone who was really motherly, one that was really crazy, one that was like a sister, so you always had someone to talk to,” said Valentine. “Even now, when I have serious problems I always have someone to turn to.”
Valentine and Rodriguez spoke of many negative aspects of the military, but both concluded by saying that they would recommend anyone, especially women, to join the military.
“I’m all about female empowerment,” Valentine said. “It’ll help you learn, grow, develop and see life in a different perspective. You get to see a different side of yourself that you didn’t think you could see. You also know how to protect yourself and carry yourself versus being like, ‘ugh I’m a helpless girl.”
“You are not a helpless girl.”
* * *
“I never felt at all like there was anything that was holding me back as being female,” Hubbard said.
Although there are obvious drawbacks, like deployment, it seems the positive parts of the military outweigh the negatives.
“I can only imagine it will eventually get a little better,” Hubbard said hopefully. “People aren’t necessarily seeing the same stuff that I’m seeing or have seen and that’s good.”
With excitement in her eyes, Hubbard talked about her many injuries. There was a helicopter crash landing giving her herniated hip discs, (“it was great,” as she described it), blowing her back out while catching a colonel who was falling off a cliff, and injuring her foot (which was when she realized that she’d been working with a broken hip for about seven months).
Despite all of this, she still has a passion for what she does. But if she had a daughter, she wouldn’t advise her to enlist?
“No. Not even close. Not in a million years,” she said with a chuckle and a shake of her head.