CoverStory: I Serve, Too -- Women’s History Month and the Coronavirus Era
“Thank you for your service.”
I can't tell you how many times I've heard those five words while out to dinner with my husband.
Well, back when we could go out to dinner. Obviously our current reality looks much different.
It's hard to know what prompts it. Sometimes, it's the haircut. Sometimes, the uniform. Sometimes, the USAA credit card. It doesn't hurt that he's a tall, fit, handsome Marine who looks especially dashing in his dress blues.
He's always a little bashful, though, when someone thanks him. And not just because he's a polite, humble man. It's because the woman right next to him . . . his wife . . . me . . .
I serve, too.
I'm not referring to my role as a military spouse, although that service is incredibly honorable and equally deserving of gratitude. I do hold down the fort when he's away—I put out the fires, kiss the boo-boos, and keep the house (mostly) standing.
But, like him, I put on a uniform. Like him, I took an oath and signed on the dotted line. I'm married to my husband, and we're both married to Uncle Sam.
"My wife serves as well. She's in the Army."
People always look genuinely surprised.
"Oh! Well thank you for your service, too," they stutter, as an afterthought.
I conclude this reaction is due to one of two reasons: I'm a woman, which is still the exception rather than the rule in the military; or I don't fit the “typical” mold of a female service member.
In the case of the former, I can't really take offense. Women still aren't well represented in the military, period. Particularly in certain branches, female service members remain somewhat of an anomaly.
Yes, we can now serve in any MOS as long as we meet the standards. But not everyone is a huge fan of this change in policy. True, we have women who have earned the elite distinction of Army Ranger, yet doubt lingers.
The motto of the Department of Veterans Affairs says it all: "To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan." Him. His. Sure, there weren't a whole lot of women in the service when Abe Lincoln gave his second Inaugural address, but I think it's high time for an update.
In the case of the latter, I'd be hard pressed to tell you what a typical woman in the Army is supposed to look like—outside of the grooming standards dictated in AR 670-1, of course—but looking feminine and serving in the armed forces are not mutually exclusive.
It would not be uncommon for me to curl my hair and wear a fancy dress on a pre-pandemic Friday night, then wake up at 0430 the next morning to throw on my uniform and head out the door with ACH and FLC in tow, ready for the rifle range.
I like makeup and looking pretty. I also like M16s and MREs (just kidding about the latter—who likes anything in an MRE other than the candy and peanut butter?).
Regardless, people can't seem to reconcile the two: I am a woman, and I am a soldier.
I've worked hard in my military career to dispel the stigma that a cute face and some feminine wiles can get me a leg up. The stigma that I can get out of doing some things because I'm a woman. The stigma that I can get away with some things because I'm a woman. Consequently, I have to work harder than many of my male counterparts just to prove myself their equal, and doubly hard to get the recognition I deserve.
But change has to happen outside the military, too. It has to start in society as a whole, and with a shift in mindset that allows for the possibility that women don't fit into perfectly shaped boxes depending on their appearance or their choice of career.
Consider right now, when our entire country has been galvanized to fight against this global pandemic.
Women are right there, standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts.
In the grocery stores and the call centers.
In the doctor’s offices and the operating rooms.
In the labs and the research facilities.
In the warehouses and the manufacturing plants.
And in military uniform, ready and willing to answer the call.
Most importantly, let’s remember to keep this in mind:
We are all in this together, and we are all on the front lines.
Editor’s Note: Emily Solberg is a Civil Affairs Specialist in the Army Reserves, currently serving in a unit out of Ft. Belvoir, Virginia. She is also a military spouse, mother to two toddlers, and fierce advocate of women supporting women. You can find more of her writing on her Facebook page Shower Arguments.