T here you are.
I stand in line behind you at the Post Office.
You walk by me everywhere in this little America world. This US Military Base across the ocean.
Whispers about you confuse me.
I see you wearing the uniform I clean and know so well, for all it’s pieces and parts, but never wear myself.
I wonder to myself, “what must that be like?”
The boys only add to the noise of the rumors.
All I hear are mixed messages. Some praise you; others claim indifference stating a good job done is all that matters; others resort to biting humor perceived as excusable by the comfortable majority; and sadly a vocal few champion the good old days of exclusion, double standards, and sexist expectations.
The girls in my shoes don’t help me figure you out either. Sides? We have sides? Apparently.
Voices have told me that you are dangerous. Voices have told me that you discount me as insignificant, as weak, as controlling, as materialistically dependent.
But that version of you I have never actually met.
The voices that speak to me about you mask emotions I know all too well.
Fear. Jealousy. Insecurity.
So maybe they don’t know you well enough either?
Who are you really? Woman in a uniform. What’s your story?
When I first joined this military world, it was confusing to learn about all the many sides and unspoken expectations. Lines are drawn and many expect you to just naturally conform.
Rank. Position. Salary. Years of experience. Branch of Service. Invisible lines are everywhere. I quickly learned there is much that divides us, despite all that holds us together.
Frank conversations that try to get past the cobwebs are few and far between. So many prefer silent acceptance. That comforting pull to join the mentality — us versus them — is so pervasively deceptive.
Being a boundary crosser brings with it, its own inherent fears and insecurities — you never know quite where you belong.
It’s not what people say when you are with them, it’s what they say when you leave the room.
With time, I have seen where the distance between us and the outside world of civilians only grows greater. We often feel so limited in our connection with them, whether by the reality of geographical separation or the unusual dedication demanded by this lifestyle that is hard for anyone on the outside to understand. The lifestyle and the career make our families perfect marketing material for American fervor and patriotism. Buzz words like sacrifice, service, honor, circle around us and become a familiar vocabulary. Red-White-and Blue. Yellow Ribbons. America. Freedom. Homecomings. Deployments. War. Lives given and lives taken.
In reality, these words only give tiny glimpses into our world.
We are a special community that’s for sure.
We are a family forged through familiar absence, commiseration, shared heartache, hard work, and deep loyalty.
And yet as a family we have our secrets. Our humanity gives itself away in our own quirks, peculiarities, and yes, even our weaknesses.
One of those weaknesses for me, for a long time was not knowing you. I never considered the fact that you might have a history of being forgotten.
I was too busy trying to not be forgotten myself.
Spouse. Dependent. Professional Volunteer. Lazy. Mooch. “Dependapotamus.” Housewife. Stay-at-home mom. Controlling. Paranoid. Gossip. The accusations come at all of us fast and unwavering, as I saw so many of us get stuck fighting to be seen in the shadows of celebrated heroes. The official voices, the vocational realities and demands of those we love and support, the lack of individual opportunity for us — all of them scream at you that you as an individual are often forgotten and are needed more for who you support.
Nevermind my own identity. Nevermind my own will and desire to work. Nevermind my personal journey. Nevermind what I gave up to come here. Nevermind, that I am all of these roles and more, not just one.
So pulled by a strange mixture of love, loyalty, and frustration we attach.
We learn our support role perfectly, and in order not to get lost completely we morph to be everything both the system and our families need us to be. Anyone who doesn’t fit that mold or magically finds a hidden door out of it, who dares to be more, immediately becomes suspect.
How did you do it?
How did you get to be a frontrunner?
What makes you so brave?
How are you both us and them?
What did you have to go through to get here?
What is it like to be among the few? To be so outnumbered?
Yes, your numbers grow every year. The system fights for you more. Its getting better, but I am not so ignorant that I don’t know it wasn’t always like this. There is enough work still to be done that it speaks of a broken past. A past whispering a story of struggle, of rejection, of failure before victory.
Questions like these run through my head, as I wonder who you are.
Earlier this spring I was given a unique invitation. I was currently serving as the President of the Officer’s Spouses Club on base — a community organization that works along with our sister organization, the Enlisted Spouses Club to provide connection, cultural experience, friendship, support, community service, and financial assistance for the spouses and families of this military base. In the midst of my one-year term, I was approached by a committee composed largely of active-duty military members assigned to plan the celebration of Women’s History Month for this base. This committee had some unique women leading at its helm. Special women who had a vision of creating a celebration above and beyond anything this base had ever seen. Instead of merely noting what women in the military had accomplished on this base, they approached me and other women on the base about wanting to reach a wider audience of both women and girls in our community.
Inspired by their vision, I signed up to join the efforts.
What I saw unfold was truly beautiful.
We kicked off the month, with a color run, where families celebrated the beauty and strength found in our women with a dusty array of colors.
We saw women and girls sign up for self-defense classes, overcoming fear with strength and confidence.
We held an all-day panel event, where we gathered men and women to discuss a variety of issues women face today. We had meaningful conversations covering a range of topics from the mommy wars, to expectations women face, to feminism, to marriage, to career development, to stereotypes, to breastfeeding, to cultural differences between American and Japanese women, and more.
We saw walls come down, as we all peered at each other from our side of the line and realized perhaps there was more there in common than we had seen before.
We had a career day event, where men and women from all over the base and around Japan came and inspired girls from both on base and off with a vision of their future. It was an event that showed girls that big dreams are possible and the sky is the limits.
We concluded the month with a celebrated heroine, Japan’s newest and first female Ambassador, Caroline Kennedy. She spoke to us about what women around the world have been working hard for, and what kind of future they are building for us and our daughters.
It was a month of real beauty – inside and out – on display for all to see.
And it was a month that inspired me to see you.
To look past my battle with being forgotten to see yours.
Women in the US Military have been struggling to belong, to find their voice, and to earn a place in its history for over the last century.
Some of their first moments to officially be recognized and called upon for their service began largely in World War I and World War II. Their stories are numerous and unique in each branch of service.
Given the large number, I see around me on a daily basis, serve in the Air Force branch, I was particularly interested in learning their beginnings.
For women serving in the Air Force, it all began with the Women Air Force Service Pilots, known today as the WASPs.
These women were called up to serve as civil-service pilots in 1942, trained to fly, transport cargo, and test combat planes headed for the war fronts overseas. Largely serving stateside, these women bravely answered their countries call for a unique opportunity to serve in man’s world.
Promises of recognition and hard work put forth to earn a place at the table made these women hopeful of a future, where they would be free to join in serving a country they loved.
But, the war ended, the men came home — and they were largely forgotten.
It would not be till 1973, till women serving in the Air Force would earn official Pilot Wings.
It wasn’t till 1977, over 30 years later, that women who served as WASPs during World War II were granted military veteran status.
In 1991, Congress repealed the law that banned women from flying in combat.
In 2005, the first female pilot was selected to join the prestigious “Thunderbirds” Air Force Fighter demonstration team. The best of the best pilots.
In March of 2010, over 70 years later, WASPs participation in WWII was honored, when they were awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.
There are so many other firsts, so many stories of women of courage and bravery, that decided to answer the call to serve their country despite opposition, and made the way continually wider for women following after them.
These videos below tells their stories better than I ever could.
All we ever asked for is that our overlooked history would someday no longer be a missing chapter in the history of WWII, in the history of the Air Force, in the history of Aviation, and most especially the history of America. — Deanie Parrish – WASP
A Brief History of the Women Air Force Service Pilots
Followed by the Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony Honoring WASPs
An Interview with Lieutenant Colonel Nicole Malachowski — The First Female Thunderbird Pilot.
So who are you, woman next to me in a uniform?
You have become a treasured friend.
You have shown me that you are more than the rumors and more complex than my self-preserving fears.
You have taught me what it means to be truly brave.
For every one of you that do it all — career, mother, housewife, spouse, and more — You give me hope that its possible to be more than just my roles.
For those of you who brave this career alone, you inspire me with ambition and grit to excel and show the world we are more than the gender stereotypes we fight against.
For those of you who have served, but have chosen to step back and join those of us in the supporting ranks — you are each a beautiful bridge of connection, bringing meaning to our ranks and silencing lies that it’s somehow us versus them.
You have taught me. You have changed me.
Your history shines with women across America and around the world, who strive to make this world a better place.
Women in uniform around me, thank you for reminding me that in learning from each other, we no longer have to be forgotten.
This series has inspired me to look deeper into America’s forgotten history. I found that I wanted to start close to home, with some of the people I encounter everyday.
Who is around you that has a story, a history, a legacy you might have never thought to learn before?
I would love to hear any thoughts or stories you might have to share!