Women have served in active duty unofficially since the Revolutionary War and officially since 1901. The history of those first women – including Deborah Sampson who dressed as a man to enter the Continental Army to 2008 when Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody became the first female four–star general in the U.S. armed forces – is one of grit, determination and fortitude, but also hardships, stress and violence. Today, on this Veteran’s Day, Rock What You Got is honoring and celebrating the accomplishments of all those women who have served and are still serving our country. But we are also making a commitment in the rest of 2020 and beyond to elevate their voices and advocate for their mental and physical health.
1. Women are making a BIG impact! More than 210,000 women are active duty in the armed forces with another 158,000 in the reserves. Of those, 61% of enlisted women are BPOIC but only 38% of BPOIC are officers.
2. In the early 1980’s women made up a very small number of officers, but their ranks continue to grow and now women make up between 11%-14% of officers in all branches except the Marines where only 2..3% are officers.
3. Sexual Assault and Harassment (MST-military sexual trauma) are serious and pervasive issues. In 2018 more than 20,500 military personnel were sexually assaulted – 13,000 of them women. Rape was most likely to be committed by someone of a higher rank (nearly 60%) or in their current chain of command (24%). More than 75% go unreported, making this the biggest health crisis in the military for women.
4. Mental Health, PTSD/MST, Suicide and Discharges are extremely high. In addition to the increased chance of sexual assault, women are more likely to experience stress related to combat and violent military operations, family demands and being away from children, as well as loneliness and isolation. For many reasons, the VA has not been great at identifying and treating PTSD in general, but struggle more when dealing with their female vets. Part of this is the protocol for identification and the decades of working primarily with men. Women just have different health needs that have not been traditionally implemented in the military.
Why we Support more women in the Military
But while the stress & pressure of being part of the military and the increased likelihood she and other women who serve with her will be sexually assaulted is high, having a critical mass of women participate, especially at higher levels as officers, is essential to change the culture and effect real change. Women are the great equalizers. Culture is developed over decades by the people who are a part of that culture and women change the dynamics and create a more balanced and less corrosive environment.
Women deserve to have access to some of the most prestigious opportunities, advanced technologies, resources and centers of power that exist in the military. There are few places like it in the world.
Every veteran women needs more than our once a year “thank you for your service.” They need to know that all of us will hold elected officials accountable. They need us to keep advocating for them, making safe spaces to tell their stories, to ensure that accurate and regular data is shared with the world so that space can be made for change, and they need to know that they ROCK! They also need us to step outside our comfort zone to advocate for them throughout the year, not just when it’s convenient.
Time to get to work.
Written by Buffie Blesi – Chief Inspiration Officer Rock What You Got