Aside from my aunt, my knowledge of women in the military has been sheltered. I recognize that women in the military exist, however, I haven’t encountered many woman in the military in my day-to-day life. One woman whom I have met is Valerie. She and I work at the same company and I’ve watched her determination and hard work bring her success. With Veterans Day this Wednesday, and as part of the Suffragette Tour, I invited Valerie to share her experience as a woman in the military.
Here is here experience, in her words:
I am a woman, a mother and a wife. I was a cheerleader and Field hockey player in High School. I like to dress up and look beautiful. Many people cannot believe that I was ever in the military.
Joining the Pennsylvania Army National Guard is a decision I made at the age of 17. I was one of two females who joined in high school. I knew, when the recruiters came and spoke to us, that the military was something I wanted to a part of; I wanted to do something to help and make a difference.
I started in an Engineer Battalion as an Administration Clerk. I completed Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Basic Training was an amazing experience. I enjoyed working as a team, building bonds, developing leadership and confidence within myself.
I became a squad leader and was always challenging myself to do better. As a female, I learned you are picked on a lot, especially being in a military composed of men as a majority, but if you go into the experience with a mental note, that you are being picked on for them to break you down and build you up to be a better person, you will do amazing things. I left Basic Training feeling very proud of myself and what I had just completed.
Out of Basic Training, I entered a Calvary unit. Cavalry units are mainly for men, because of this there was a lot of talking about moving women out of the Calvary unit, which eventually happened and I was transferred to a Support Battalion.
I have so much respect for men and women in our military. Nothing can compare to what it does to you mentally and physically.
I spent the majority of my drill weekends with this support battalion. We did many field missions, medic classes, and range practice. On one particular occasion in this Support Battalion, we were out in the field for three days. On the second night, we were all so exhausted and heading back from the range at one in the morning, when we came across a log in the middle of the road. The log was obviously staged by our Lieutenants and NCO’s as part of our drill. I was the 1st Sergeant’s driver and the first vehicle in the convoy. We stopped all vehicles; the 1st Sergeant jumped out of the vehicle and ran through the convoy line to discuss a plan with other NCO’s. While he was in the convoy line, we were ambushed, and returned fire.
The Sergeant behind me had everyone jump back in the vehicles and told me to go forward, but of course, there was a log in the middle of the road. I had to drive over it. I floored it and continued until we came to a good spot for all vehicles to stop. As a unit, we all got together to discuss what had happened and what could have been done better. I, then, realized my mistake, I drove off with out the return of my First Sergeant I appreciated his leadership. It’s so hard to explain what the men and women go through in the military, and when I found myself in a situation of chaos, my mind couldn’t focus. It’s not easy; you have to be well-trained for unexpected situations.
During my time in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, I was deployed to Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina. We drove three days from Pennsylvania to Louisiana and stayed overnight in school parking lots and inside a church gymnasium. The whole trip to Louisiana, we were being beeped at from people behind car horns, thanked and waved to. It was an amazing feeling to be able to help and be so appreciated. My unit stayed in central Louisiana where we facilitated all other military units and give them their mission while there. While I did not get to see New Orléans and what the devastating hurricane did first hand, I was a part of helping the community there. I was also sent to Lake Charles, Louisiana where I did see the destruction of Hurricane Rita. I helped the medics deliver supplies to other units that were stationed in nearby towns delivering water and food to the communities.
It’s amazing what women can do when a task is put in front of her. It’s amazing what your mind can do if you just believe in yourself and overcome the challenges.
When I was at drill with my unit I was SPC Cocco, and home I was Val. Two different hats and mentality, neither would I change for anything. I live life as a civilian now. I miss the military and the camaraderie that is formed. I feel that the everyday work force and schools should all be put to a challenge complete team leadership courses. Everyone is battling something, but we all need to stick together.
I am proud to say that I am a woman who has served my country as part of the military. I may not have been deployed overseas, but just being part of this nation’s military makes me proud. I wish that everyone could experience it in some way or put time into knowing and learning about what the men and women go through in the military. Please support your American Legions and VFW’s. Stay involved.