While the U.S. military didn’t lift the ban on women entering combat until 2013, women have played a critical part in America’s armed forces from our nation’s beginning — both on the battlefield and behind the scenes. We talked to Sandra G. Robinson, RN, BSN, a combat veteran, and founder and executive director of Combat Female Veterans Families United, about why more women should consider military careers.
Sandra G. Robinson, RN, BSN
Combat Veteran, Founder and Executive Director, Combat Female Veterans Families United
What do you believe is the biggest misconception about women in the military?
One of the biggest misconceptions I believe about women in the military is that many presume our roles are new and that we were never in combat zones until after January 24, 2013, when the ban was removed to allow women into combat roles. Women have served in the military for almost 200 years.
They were never allowed to be called soldiers, airmen, sailors, coast guards or marines. However, they were allowed to serve our military and die for our country. Women have stood up and defended this nation without question, without pay, without the national identity of even a rank or uniform.
Many associate the removal of the ban that allowed women into combat roles with meaning they were never in a combat zone. Well, that is far from the truth. Women have served in the military since the Revolutionary War as laundresses, cooks, nurses, and even entered combat disguised as men.
History confirms these facts. In 1782, Deborah Sampson was shot multiple times during combat in the American Revolution while serving with her breast bound with cloth in disguise as a man. During World War I, Chief Nurse Beatrice Mary MacDonald was working in the hospital that was bombed by German aircraft. She is the first known woman to be awarded a Purple Heart.
During World War II, 88 women were captured and held as prisoners of war. During the American Civil War, Spanish-American War, Korean War, and Vietnam, women were there. In the 1989 Panama Invasion, Linda Bray became the first female to lead troops into combat. In 1991, Operation Desert Storm became known as the largest deployment of women to war. Since 9/11, over 300,000 women have been deployed to a combat zone.
It is clear women have been in the military and combat zones since the very beginning. Women service members and veterans are the fastest growing groups in the nation. More specifically, combat female veterans are the fastest growing cohort in VA history.
Today, after 200 years, many still do not see women as true heroes. Well, we are, but more specifically, we are Sheroes!
What one piece of advice would you give a young woman interested in pursuing a career in the military?
One piece of advice, I would give a young woman looking into a career in the military is to stay on the course. You will be challenged mentally and physically, but remember you have everything within yourself to be victorious. I like to refer to what Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “A woman is like a bag of tea — you never know how strong she is until she ends up in hot water.”
Remember: value is determined by sacrifice. A career in the military strengthens your mind and body. A service member value is priceless forever. You will become a frontrunner and leader, all while being part of the largest team in the United States — the Department of Defense! Women service members have been here from the beginning and we will stay here.
What do you believe is the biggest obstacle women face in the military?
I believe military sexual trauma is the biggest obstacle women face in the military. Servicewomen continue to report sexual harassment and trauma, which in return when reported, have created roadblocks to opportunities in the military and veteran communities.
How can women overcome that obstacle?
Women can overcome this obstacle with support, guidance, and with what we hope is upcoming changes to procedures and policies around military sexual harassment and trauma. It is critical that local and national organizations get involved and do their part to ensure military women and veterans receive the opportunities and protections they deserve.
How can a career in the military benefit women later in life?
A career in the military can always benefit a woman later in life, and her learned leadership skills can be utilized in almost any civilian job, helping her to excel in the career of her choice. Your military experience shapes your life and your behavior. Positive reintegration can happen, and it is critical for success after the military. However, a woman veteran’s positive reintegration to the civilian world involves her local community’s support.
Just like the old saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It takes a community of support to ensure a service member and their family have a positive reintegration. It is a shared responsibility. It is the reason to learn about the women who fought for you to be free.
Hire women veterans! They are in your local community. Become a part of their life after service. We need your support!