Feature photo credit: Salem-News.com, Arizona Department of Veteran Services
On Saturday, I attended the Houston Association of Hispanic Media Professionals Gala in head-to-toe 80’s attire. I was able to go due to my video submission in their travel journalism contest.
I didn’t win, but one thing I kept thinking about is a little girl I met that night. She was there with another student with their advisor of an after school program.
They have a little journalism program where they broadcast the news in the morning. I thought it was pretty cool and asked the kids if that was what they wanted to do when they grow up.
The boy said maybe. The little girl shook her head no.
“I’m going to join the Army,” she said.
Her advisor was surprised. “Really?” she said to her.
The little girl nodded her head as she chewed on a piece of bread.
I asked her “Why the Army?” inquiring about her choice of branch.
“Because I want to fight for my country,” the little girl said.
“Wow!” I said. Then I told the little girl that I served my country, too, as a Marine.
The advisor was surprised at this, too.
I wanted to speak with the girl. I wanted to give her advice, the way an NCO (non-commissioned officer) would when a private or PFC arrives to his/her duty station, fresh from boot camp.
I never did, though. I felt she probably wouldn’t understand, or that her mind will change in the next few years.
Today, the school’s Veteran Services and Wellness Center teamed up to screen clips from the documentary, The Invisible War accompanied with a panel.
If you don’t know about this film here is a synopsis: men and women who were sexually assaulted or raped in the service speak about their experience. The film also takes a closer look at how the military handles these cases.
It made me think about the time I spoke with my cousin, who’s married to a Marine vet, but was still active when I joined.
“Aye yai yai,” my cousin tells me over the phone. “I wish you told me you were joining. I know women who said a woman shouldn’t join the Marines.”
It didn’t made sense to me. I wanted to join, I wanted to do something with substance, and was the most difficult. The Marines was it. Nevermind what the naysayers say, I’m joining.
Of course, it’s while I was in that I see what could concern love ones. It wasn’t just the risk of going to war, it was also the risk of just walking to your barracks room and have your male cohorts sniff you because you are the “new meat.” It’s constantly hearing from comrades how women shouldn’t be in the military because one woman fell back on the run, nevermind the majority of their sisters kicking ass and leading. It’s all on one woman.
I started thinking about the little girl again, the little freedom fighter.
I started imagining the girl grown up, with her hair in a slicked, tight sock bun. Then I started wondering what her choices will be when she joins, how different the military will be for women. It made me wonder if I had said something to her that night, if maybe, just maybe, she would take it to heart. Maybe, just maybe, she will tattoo these words in the back of her mind, and remember my advice.
Dear Little Freedom Fighter, I wish I got to tell you that it’s beautiful that you want to fight for your country. But right before you raise your right hand and swear in seven or eight years from now, let me give you some advice.
First of all, don’t let anybody tell you what you can or cannot do. There will be people –men especially –who will discredit you as soon as you arrive to your first duty station, checking in with your service uniform and hair neatly set.
Some will try to come at you. Some will ask you politely, and depending on your answer, may or may still treat you with respect.
If someone hurts you in any way, don’t let that keep you from making noise, raising your voice. If you cry, who cares! You’re human. Let it out.
Then wipe those tears, and fight. Because you’re not only fighting for your country, you’re fighting for your brother and sisters-in-arms. You will be a leader, and how you handle situations will inspire your junior service members to be just as great, if not greater than you. Otherwise, they will learn from your mistakes and use it for good or evil.
Little Freedom Fighter, if you continue to pursue fighting for your country, I hope the best for you. Don’t rush to get married, and don’t rush to have babies. Take your time; enjoy life and your duty station, especially if the duty station is somewhere overseas like Japan.
Stay strong and keep your head up, Little Freedom Fighter. And perhaps by the time your start seeking out military branches to enlist, hopefully somebody –if not me –will tell you something similar.
Hopefully, you’ll be attached to a unit with phenomenal leadership, and take care of you.
And maybe, you’ll change your mind on service branches. The Marines are always in need of a few good women to join.