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How Many Female Cadets Really Want to be an Infantry Platoon Leader? Turns Out, Quite a Few

By Shelly Burgoyne

0_1_2_nd_lieutenant_army_dress_bl_shoul_board_rk_male_infantry_11103_1Roughly four months have passed since the “ban” was lifted; women can now officially serve in combat units. They can, in theory, enter the Holy Grail of equality in the military – the Infantry.  The days that followed Panetta’s announcement were filled with many men and a few women who, barring any facts and little first-hand experience, declared that the inclusion of women in combat arms would be devastating to our Armed Forces.  Thankfully, there were more women and men who declared with the compliment of facts and first-hand experience that the change in policy was much overdue and would greatly improve our nation’s Armed Forces.  But even with nearly all of our military leaders and soldiers supporting the policy change, I sense a few hold-outs who have dug themselves in, readying for round two.

Almost all General Officers, mid-level officers, non-commissioned officers, as well as the current Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel support the new policy.  However, it seems that recently and somewhat quietly there has emerged a small group of male General Officers who have begun to assert that there are simply not enough women that have or will volunteer for combat jobs. Their hope is of course, that if there are not enough women who want to be combat soldiers they will be able to justify to DOD that the changes to units and training facilities needed to accommodate women, would simply be too expensive to justify, for so few.  To this, Marine Commandant General Amos recently stated: “that if too few women were able, or willing, to join the infantry, I might ask the Secretary of Defense to keep the infantry closed to women.” His deadline for his request is January 2016.

Is General Amos right?  Are there hardly any women in the military who actually want to serve in combat units? Is this a myth or is it reality?  The two female Marines, who began the Marine Officer Infantry Course at Camp Pendleton before the ban was lifted, dropped out of the course due to injury.  However, two more have volunteered to attempt it and are currently slogging their way through it.  As a former Army Officer and veteran who is very involved in the veteran community and who still maintains friendships with many active duty officers and soldiers, I have directly observed that there are many (not few) women currently in the Army that wish to transfer to combat arms, many (not few) senior female West Point, ROTC, and OCS Cadets, who wish to officially “branch” into combat arms, and  many (not few) of my fellow female officers and soldiers who fought in the same war I did, who would have chosen a combat arms branch as their first choice if it were available to them.  So this “myth” that few women in the military actually wish to be combat soldiers is just that – a myth.  Many women do, and many are quietly in the process of applying to be part of the first generation of women officially assigned to combat units.

Fortunately for women seeking combat career fields and unfortunately for the few hold-outs who secretly oppose the change in policy, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta laid out a very specific and very hefty legal hurdle that must be breached in order for DOD to even remotely consider banning women from a specific combat field.  It seems that this “there are not enough” argument is just not going to cut it.  There are enough, but even if there were only one woman who wanted to be an Infantry Platoon Leader, that one soldier should be able to apply, and attempt equal progression in her career and thus an assignment into combat arms.

The Official Ethnic Cheerleader

Submitted Anonymously

multiculturalI have a friend who jokingly named my collateral work duty The Official Ethnic Cheerleader. I have always been an active member of a myriad of ‘diversity awareness’ councils during my commission. I’ve sent out the informational emails on heritage months, arranged 15 minute lectures on entire cultures to fit into All Hands presentations, coordinated base visits from ‘minority’ populated schools, and stood as gatekeeper to the annual DEOMI* survey.

I cannot tell you how many times I have stood in front of my base’s colorful Diversity Awareness bulletin board,  push pin in hand, facing the faint smile of Sojourner Truth (or respective heritage month star)  in picture form and thought, What is the point of this?

Sure, some of the members will pause for two minutes in the hallway and scan the historic timelines. Some will be beyond excited for the galley’s attempt at tostones and flan between September and October 15th.  And undoubtedly, there may even be some people with a genuine passion for learning about those different than themselves,

But what else will they learn about how racism manifests in ways personal and institutional? Will most be able to draw a connecting line from past discriminatory acts to present inequities? Or do most truly belief the myth that following the nomination of our first black president, we are living in post-racial times? Maybe conversations concerning the aforementioned issues are happening in other military services, but they are definitely not happening in my own. Making the conversation more difficult is the military’s standing, alongside professional sports, as an institution that led the way with racial equality.  (However, a present cursory look at promotion rates, career retention, educational achievements, and senior leadership can tell quite a different story.)

Discussing racial issues in the military can be taxing enough that all I can do emit a sort of incredulous laugh. I have decided that it is a form of self-love to not enter into most of these discussions at all. While there are some who truly wish to ‘learn more about those they are leading’, there usually comes a place where the discussion stalls. One cannot talk about diversity, unless one talks about equity, privilege, inclusion, and history. To do any less is to encourage the continuance of shallow interpretation and feeble policy regarding ‘diversity’ today in the military.

I cannot help but draw a connection between the military’s address of racism and the current focus on military sexual assault/sexual harassment cases. While groups like SWAN and MRCC (Military Rape Crisis Center) have identified and advocated for real changes the military can make to address these systemic problems, unless the military can also dialogue on sexism, misogyny, and homophobia, any policy changes the ‘higher ups’ attempt will surely be cosmetic  at best. But of course, one must choose her battles wisely.

I am a woman of color and an officer. There are real issues I face because of these identities in the military (and by extension, the world).  I have learned the hard way that intersectional analysis is not a military strong point. In fact, most people don’t even know what intersectional** means and why I am not overjoyed when I see our Women’s History Month display only features the successes of white women. In fact, most military members will usually name me overly sensitive or racist myself when I express my views.

While celebrating cultures and marching in heritage parades is a meaningful aspect of embracing diversity, it is only that, an aspect. These cannot be the sole efforts that military services make at addressing issues of equity and inclusion. Maybe I am a too idealistic and naive in even thinking the military, an institution built on hierarchy and a distinct respect of uniformity, can even have these conversations. But, I guess I can’t help being a tad optimistic…I am a Cheerleader after all.

*DEOMI: Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute

**Intersectionality: The exploration of the intersections that occur among and between cross-cultural constructs such as race, class, gender, age, and sexual orientation, etc. Intersectionality theory purports that all oppressions are interconnected…and to eradicate oppression, we must have an integrated approach that challenges the systems that maintain oppression.

(Definition taken from work of Keisha Edwards and Interchange Consulting)



A Military Victim Advocate Talks about Lauren

Troian Bellisario

Troian Bellisario, Actress from Web Series Lauren

(Submitted to SWAN Anonymously)

As a woman who has been in some kind of military environment for close to ten years (prep school, active duty, academy), I have become quite the scrutinizer of any sort of military centered media. I am that annoying critic laughing at the Private First Class with red fingernails, and the improbability of boot camp ending with a boy-meets-sexy-girl romance. (Obviously, I am also a huge nerd.) When I saw that WIGS, the online channel promoting dramatic series/short films centered around women, was dedicating three full episodes to military sexual assault, I had to take a look. Complex and real representations of women in uniform are in short supply, but when they do arrive, they assist with beginning many an important conversation.

Due to the nature of this particular production, I could critique it from two levels: one as a feminist in uniform and the other as a victim advocate. In case the term is unfamiliar to some, a military victim advocate is a support person for any service member reporting sexual assault. The
victim advocate role is pretty flexible and can include outreach such as emotional support, setting up medical appointments, crisis intervention, and informing victims of their rights.

Eradicating military sexual assault is an evolution across all the uniformed services needing constant dedication and courageous support. Lauren, which follows Sergeant Lauren Weil (played by Troian Bellisario) as she reports a sexual assault up her chain of command to Major Stone (played by Jennifer Beals), is a superb media resource for three important reasons:

- Nuanced Portrayals of Women in Uniform: Most of the time in Hollywood, military women are donned in form-fitting, cleavage baring uniforms (which would definitely fail during an inspection) or so preoccupied with besting the boys that audiences have no idea who these women are. In Lauren, Sergeant Weil is both the brave soldier stepping forward in integrity and a woman who is very afraid. When Major Stone berates Sergeant Weil about her “specialness,” one can loudly hear the frustration of a career heavy with trials due to sexism. Both women are true to their roles in the superior and subordinate military hierarchy relationship without erasing their individual personalities.

- Realistic Military Sexual Assault Vocabulary: I hate, hate it when military films overuse acronyms. Sure, the military is known for its ample use of TLAs (three letter acronyms), but no need to go all crazy. Hearing “unrestricted report” was music to my victim advocate ears, for restricted and unrestricted reporting are the actual terms the
uniformed services employ for reporting sexual assault. Utilizing definitions that would be found within many a manual make this story all the more real and possible to relate to.

- Realities of Reporting Rape in the Military: Reporting sexual assault in the military ( like anywhere else) is no simple choice. In addition to the traumatic upheaval common in every sexual assault occurrence, there are the added military pressures: reporting a rape while standing at the position of attention, low chances of actual conviction for the
accused, added stresses of a military environment, being surrounded by hearsay 24/7, etc.

Though I am not a member of the US Army, as the characters in Lauren are, I can attest to the fact that military sexual assault policies across the branches of service are very similar. Eighty to ninety percent of the story in Lauren would unfold in the same manner no matter what the branch of service. As resources like Lauren and the military sexual assault documentary The Invisible War appear, it is my sincere hope that conversations regarding sexual assault also address instances of sexism and other forms of harassment in the ranks like those faced by members with intersectional identities (women of color, members formerly denied by Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell). When the media gets a story right in the same vein as Lauren, service members become human and not the pie-charted statistics usually reported. Whether I am in uniform or not, I will be forever on the lookout for resources like Lauren that can truly expand the dialogue surrounding military sexual assault and the experiences of women in uniform.

MST Survivors Still Encounter Significant Barriers to VA Claims Adjudication, VA Compensation and VA Treatment

Submitted Anonymously to Service Women’s Action Network in December 2012

Easier access to treatment is a good first step for the VA to help MST
survivors.  The VA has come a long way in getting the word out to
veterans who have experienced MST.  However, VA still has barriers in
place for healing to take place for MST survivors, particularly in
regard to VA claims, compensation and medical treatment.  I am
approaching 2 years of being in the VA claims process and this is what
I have personally experienced at a very high cost.
VA Claims process

My initial VA claim for PTSD compensation benefits, filed in 2010 with the encouragement of my treating VA providers, was recently denied. It took 23 months to get an initial decision from the VA Regional Office in Wichita, Kansas.  I contend a serious error was made by the VA rating officer.  The VA knows this is a problem. According to a September 2012 VA Office of the Inspector General report regarding the VA Regional Office in Wichita, Kansas, “Overall, VARO staff did not accurately process 36 (51 percent) of the 70 disability claims.” (more…)

Superior Betrayal

By Elisha Morrow

(Some names are not disclosed for safety reasons.)

“These recruits are entrusted to my care. I will train them to the best of my ability. I will develop them into smartly disciplined, physically fit, basically trained Coast Guard men and women. I will demand of them, and demonstrate by my own example, the highest standards of personal conduct, morality, and professional skill.”

–        United States Coast Guard Company Commander Oath

The hardest truth I still face – I had the duty to speak and I was silent. As a result, one of my shipmates was raped and two others were subjected to extreme sexual harassment and verbal abuse. Now that I have made that confession, I can set about the task of telling our story. It’s not one that can be told briefly, so if you are reading this I hope you will forgive its length. I have condensed it as much as possible.

It was Memorial Day, 2009, and it was time to go. Cape May was waiting on the men and women of the company. Waiting to make them into the protectors of the coasts and waters of the United States of America.  Waiting to make them Guardians.

Petty Officer “R” was waiting too. Waiting to change the lives of two women in that company and forever change their outlook on not only the Coast Guard, but also life in general. I was one of those women.

Arriving at the Military Entrance & Processing Station (MEPS) on Memorial Day, Monday, I experienced the usual jitters and nerves that any recruit experiences. I knew it was going to be a wild few weeks, but I was confident that I would handle it. The following day, I flew to Philadelphia and met up with my future shipmates at the airport. From there we took the nearly two hour bus ride to Cape May. We were greeted by the usual chaos a newly arrived recruit meets and began the process of being stripped of our old civilian selves and broken down. It was there I met ”T.” Both blonde haired and 5’3, we probably could have passed for sisters. Sisters were quickly what we became, and we relied heavily on each other for support. She was a few years older than me and I found myself thinking of her as a big sister figure.


My Secret Struggle

(Submitted anonymously.)

First, I want to preface this by saying I wrote this originally as a part of therapy wrote this original, and decided to share this with other young military women (and men).  I am sharing this because I want young military women to understand what they are about to embark on, and to look out for themselves.  This is hard for me to write, and as I do this, I am struggling to hold back tears.  Even after all this time, it’s been difficult to face my past.  Here’s my story.

Eleven years ago I enlisted in the Army as a young seventeen year old.  I was hopeful about my future and always pushed myself.  I graduated from Basic Training as one of only three soldiers in my company who had “tabbed” my physical fitness test (ninety percent in each event).   I went through my Advanced Individual Training (AIT) and continued to score high on physical fitness, finally earning the maximum score on my APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test).  I never drank, didn’t party, and I had planned on waiting until I got married to have sex.

It wasn’t until I got to Germany that everything started to fall apart.  I still did well physically and excelled in my unit.  I was one of the top soldiers and pushed myself constantly.  I was also pushed by my chain of command to excel because they knew I had a bright future ahead of me, and knew I was capable of doing well.  I began taking college courses where I was close to a 4.0, even while working 12-18 hour days – sometimes staying until two a.m. to finish work that came up at the last minute.   I took classes four nights a week after work, and sometimes added in online courses.  I was serious about my future and wanted to take what I could from my situation.

It was not a surprise to anyone that I partied on the weekends.  I kept my partying to Friday and Saturday nights when I didn’t have to show up for PT in the mornings.  Unfortunately, while my partying didn’t affect my work life, it (more…)

The Freedom of Finally Letting Go

My name is John Swank. When I was in the USMC in 1978 I was drugged then raped repeatedly by three men. For some reason (actually there are many, anyone who has been raped knows them all), I didn’t tell anyone for thirty years. It took me having to go to prison because of the drugs that I started abusing almost immediately after the rape to finally tell someone about it. It was a life change for the second time when I did. There are still times when I absolutely hate myself for something that I could do nothing about. I filed for VA PTSD benefits in February of this year, but have not heard any ruling on my submission for benefits. I realize this site may be primarily for women, but I feel better for having written here.

Train to One Standard, One Tab

Ranger school was something we joked about my first summer attending cadet basic training. The guys would say, “You’re going to be the first female ranger” – as a joke. Well, of course. We all knew that there was no way women were ever going to Ranger school.  When I saw a ranger tab (a decoration that shows the completion of a military school and is worn on the left sleeve of the Army Combat Uniform), I felt automatic respect for the person wearing it. He went through a grueling 60 days of physical and mental stress. Pushing himself to the limit. According to the Ranger Training Brigade, the overall graduation rate for the past 6 years has been 50.13%. That means 1 out of every 2 people do not even make it through, and they’re supposed to be some of the top soldiers in the infantry. The Rangers that I have had the privilege of meeting during my short time in the Army have all been incredible people. Now, however, many are talking about ditching their ranger tabs the moment the first women enter Ranger school in 2013.


Time to Heal

By “Jane Doe,” Former Staff Sergeant

Seven years later, I believe that I am starting the healing process. I still have the dreams, I am still triggered, and there are still sleepless nights. Sadly, my assault and subsequent treatment by my superiors after reporting still haunt me – but again, I am healing.

My assault happened six years into my nine years of service in the Army. On the last day of my contract I moved to New York City. I finally felt I was not being watched. I had a new start. I started working for a large organization and was doing well. I worked hard, and I also partied hard. I went to lavish parties, I spent loads of money on things, and I traveled to foreign countries. I thought the shopping, parties and travel would get me away from myself. They never did – I always ended up alone, by myself, dealing with my demons.

Over time I developed a cocaine and alcohol problem. Subconsciously, I was putting a temporary Band-aid over my wounds. I became reckless, physically attacking any man who I felt looked at me in a sexual manner. Over a four year period, I lost three jobs due to my outbursts at work, always involving a man. I became unemployed and checked myself into the Veterans Affairs hospital more than ten times. I decided to hop back on a plane and left the country for six months. No matter how far away I was, I could not run away for the shame and guilt I carried.


I Lost More

Submitted Anonymously by an Airman First Class

I was with friends. People I trusted. Being a normal 21 year old girl, I made a mistake. Drank too much. Lost control. But it was alright, I was with people I trusted. I passed out – my night should have been done. Wake up. I can’t move, something or someone is on top of me. I can’t move. Can’t speak something is in my mouth. I can’t move. Unwanted kisses go down my body. I can’t move. Open my eyes; everything goes in and out of focus. I can’t move. It’s you! I trusted, confided! Why! I can’t move. My legs are spread for me. I can’t move. My body betrays my mind. I can’t move. No I don’t want this, I never wanted this. Please let him stop. Someone wake up! Someone stop him! I can’t move. Everything goes black…… I can’t move.

You may have lost control for a moment, but I lost more. You may have lost trust in people, but I lost more. You may lose a career, but I still lost more. I lost trust in people, in humanity. I lost my dignity not only at your hands, but to a nurse, a camera and some cotton swabs. I lost sleep, because I see not only you in my dreams, but nameless and faceless people. I lost so much. You didn’t care. You didn’t care who you hurt. You didn’t care how this would affect me.  I am the one who has to pick up the broken pieces and try and glue them back together. I can’t move. I can’t move forward, don’t want to move backward. I am stuck. Because of you there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about it, and how I lost more.

The Day to Day

by Christine S.

I’ll admit that for a while right after it happened I went a little crazy. I haunted the local grocery store in the early morning hours, caressing fruit and squeezing bags of bagels at 2 am. It was the only place nearby that was open 24 hours. I shuffled the aisles in my stained sweatshirts and baggy sweatpants, stopping every once in a while to examine a random food item, read its nutritional value and put it back down. They had just opened a new Starbucks in the corner of the store. Usually I would end up squeezed into a booth with a Diet Coke and a magazine that I’d bought so they wouldn’t kick me out. Then I’d wait for the sun to rise. I knew I was slowly but surely losing my mind, and there was nothing and no one to stop it from happening.

I wanted to reach out to the man buffing the floors, the woman behind the cash register, the night manager who eyed me suspiciously and thought I was a homeless person, grab their sleeve and demand they listen. “Do you see what he did to me? Do you see it?!!” I wanted to shout, take satisfaction in their embarrassment if they turned away, grab them, shake them, make them look, make them see it. But when I opened my mouth all that came out was a raspy thank you when I got the change for my soda. I knew the struggle was my own. I was alone in the world. I could tell no one. They wouldn’t understand. They would turn away. They would grow tired and pass me off to another person when their sympathy was exhausted. They would betray me.

During the day, I wandered around work like a zombie.  I became a ghost, a nonentity. PT. Chow. Work. Rinse. Repeat. I just had to hang in there until it was time to PCS. And then I would be okay.

Finally I got my orders. Thank God.  I crammed everything into the back of my hatchback, leaving dust bunnies, memories, and thumbtacks. No one saw me off. I didn’t care. It was the first of several “new beginnings”, places where it was going to be different, better. California, Korea, Germany, Alaska.

For the most part I’d been able to keep a handle on it other than the nightmares with rituals I adopted to make my life “safer” – it started with avoiding parties with alcohol, then parties with people. I  then avoided going out at night alone, then going out with people, then drinking in front of people. I steered clear of dark alleys, avoiding men, then all people. My nocturnal wanderings were reduced to watching TV all night with a kitchen knife on one side and a baseball bat on the other. During the day, when I was tired, nonresponsive and curt, people just assumed I was a bitch and left me alone. (more…)

Question 21: The Urgent Right to Heal

By Christine S.

Christine S. has spent 16 years on Active Duty and is a veteran of OIF and a Bronze Star recipient. She is currently serving in the Washington, DC area.

I read with exasperation Secretary Panetta’s announcement a few weeks ago regarding changes in the prosecution and handling of sexual assault cases. Though efforts to end sexual assault in the ranks are laudable, the route they take reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the perspective of a sexual assault victim in uniform.

Not every victim in uniform wants to go through a criminal prosecution, start to finish. It is invasive, it is traumatic, and there is no guarantee of the outcome. Oftentimes prosecutions in courts martial turn to displays of “he-said, she said,” where the victim is portrayed as having been assaulted while she was vulnerable, isolated, and often intoxicated. It is to the defense’s advantage to assassinate a victim’s character, and – unlike a civilian court martial – the defense is  allowed to submit “good soldier” evidence. This means that the defense attorney can assert that because the accused is a “good soldier,” good worker, good troop, he would be fundamentally unable to commit the heinous crime of which he is accused. Where but the military would this even be considered as persuasive evidence? If the accused was a good garbage man, for example, would that make him incapable of rape?

It is no wonder that many victims in uniform will pass on reporting. In an effort to accommodate these feelings, the DoD promulgated “restricted reporting” requirements, which allows a victim to get treatment from medical personnel without involving law enforcement. Though well-meaning, this is only a half-effort.

After your fingernails are scraped, your mouth is swabbed, your pubic hair combed, and you receive any prophylactic vaccinations and plan B against disease and pregnancy, you are still left with the consequences of what just happened to you.

Your first instinct is to withdraw. You simply want to be left alone. You don’t want your squad leader, platoon sergeant, CO, and so forth all the way up to your brigade commander, to know. Imagine if you worked at McDonald’s. Would you want your shift manager to know about how you were deeply and personally violated? All you want is for your world to be the same as it was before. You want to be able to put on your uniform, and go out, and do your job, and forget it ever happened.

But there is a catch. Because you start to have nightmares. And you start to be afraid to leave the barracks. And you walk around at night checking locks and carrying a kitchen knife the length of your arm.

You know you need help. You consider counseling. But you know if you do, you have to put it on your security clearance and expose yourself to a process over which you have no control. Question 21 on the security clearance questionnaire asks whether in the past 7 years you have sought mental health counseling. Combat trauma, grief, and family counseling are exempt from disclosure. Sexual assault counseling is not. What that means is if you seek counseling for the assault, you must disclose it under penalty of law. On a form that goes up through your chain of command. And once again you will be violated by well-meaning but invasive and intrusive questions. And you will be asked to describe your assault to an OPM investigator as part of a background check.

Here is where my exasperation comes in. I have PTSD from a sexual assault. My colleague has PTSD from combat trauma. Though we have the same diagnosis, I have to disclose my counseling, while my colleague does not.

I *don’t want* my chain of command to fix me. I *don’t want* to have my sexual history cross-examined in open court. I just want to get help, and to do my job.

Institutional changes will take years to implement. Changing Question 21 to have “sexual assault counseling” fall under the rubric of “grief counseling” (and therefore be exempt from disclosure) is a concrete, immediate, and fundamental change that can be made today to help those of us who have already been assaulted, who may or may not chose UCMJ for our own reasons. Because we do grieve.

I just want time and space and privacy to heal from my wounds. And I want to continue to serve, without the intrusion, without the violations (well-meaning though they may be) of the system. After losing control over my body and sanity, I want to have the option of who I disclose this to. Special Victims Units and enhanced enforcement are all well and good for future victims, but for the estimated 1 in 5 female veterans who have already been assaulted, this is too little, too late.

My Silent War with Bulimia

Guest Writer Theresa Hornick

“Why would you want to join the U.S. Marine Corps?”

It is a question I have been asked many times.  My reply has always been, “Why not?!”  I desired a challenge; I wanted to make a difference, to be among the elite, and to set a higher standard for women in the military. I felt I had the right stuff to be one of the few and the proud, so I pursued my dream to become a Marine Corps Officer with spirit and drive.

My career began as a Second Lieutenant platoon commander of a combat engineer platoon comprised of 54 Marines.  In 2004 as a ‘gung ho’ 23- year-old Lieutenant, my future was bright. Having played four years of Division One collegiate softball, I was used to teamwork.  Thus, that is exactly how I trained my platoon: like a team.  As a platoon, we supported one another for the duration of our grueling work on a Joint Task Force with the Border Patrol in Laredo Texas, during Mountain Warfare Training School in Bridgeport, California, and throughout our deployment to the Sunni Triangle in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom III.

Unfortunately, soon after I picked up my new platoon, I developed an illness millions of people underestimate and misunderstand: Bulimia Nervosa. Even though I was living a new lieutenant’s dream – working with demolition and construction, leading convoys and academic classes, conducting weapons and martial arts training, and, of course, engaging in daily physical training –  I was simultaneously waging a silent war with bulimia. I asked myself, “Is this really my dream?”

In training alongside my Marines, learning from them, teaching them and mentoring them, I earned their respect through literal blood, sweat and tears. However, my energies were exhausted as I helped everyone but myself.  Who was there to mentor me?  Yes, I did have a company commander and executive officer, but I would not let them see any sign of what they would consider weakness.  I was responsible for lives, hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment, and worked hard to maintain my strong female Marine demeanor and reputation I would not tarnish.  As I constantly struggled to keep it (more…)

Ms. Trotta – Did You Really Have To Go There?

Staff Sgt. Colleen Bushnell, USAF retired

By Staff Sgt. Colleen Bushnell, USAF retired

Just when her detractors were hoping for an apology, journalist Liz Trotta dished out more of the same rhetoric against women serving in the military.

In Trotta’s initial statements, aired on February 12th on Fox’s “America’s News Headquarters,” the reporter said women servicemembers should expect male servicemembers to rape them. Not surprisingly, this provoked outrage from veterans, and many of their supporters, such as the Vietnam Veterans of America.

On February 19th, Trotta’s belief that women should expect military men to rape them did not change, though she backpedaled slightly in her wording. She stated that combat zones are the “testosterone” driven frenzy of “basic instinct” that war brings. Additionally, she referenced what she considers the bigger picture – aspects of military family life that I experienced at some point as a U.S. Air Force public affairs specialist, wife, mother and military sexual assault survivor.


A Perspective on the Word “Trou”

Editor’s note: Last summer, SWAN hosted an intern from the United States Military Academy (USMA) who graciously educated our staff about the myriad issues women cadets face at the Academy, including the form of sexual harassment she describes in this blog. The cadet’s experience is her own and does not necessarily reflect the views of SWAN. Our own report about the sexual violence at the U.S. military academies can be found here.

United States Military Academy at West Point

Many people think that sexual harassment in the military is limited to the enlisted ranks. It is important to recognize that it happens at all levels of rank in the military, including the United States Military Academy (West Point). West Point is an institution comprised of people of every race and gender from around the country. This institution does not exclude sexual predators. With last year’s rape conviction at the Academy, the issue of sexual violence has come to greater light. While sexual assault is somewhat uncommon at the Academy, small infractions of sexual harassment occur daily through the use of the word “trou.”

You would think one word could not be enough to anger 600 female cadets until you look at the meaning and use of the word. The word is derived from the trouser pants in which girls’ hips would expand during their time at the Academy and have a noticeable change in their appearance in the male-fitted trousers. Many other terms have stemmed from this word to include the “trou chariot” (a woman at the gym on the elliptical machine), “t-bucket” (a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream), and “grey goggles” (a male dates a female cadet only because he has no access other females). It is also directed at females who are injured and are not able to take the physical tests and those that fail these tests.

Freshman year, it was easy to laugh at being called “trou.” The strict rules regarding fraternization between the freshman “plebe” class and the upperclassmen set an intimidating tone. Being a plebe girl, it was hard to stand up for myself because I felt that standing up would draw unwanted attention and I would be labeled and ridiculed. One experience is cemented in my memory of a Thursday night mandatory dinner. I was standing in the dining hall talking to one of my male classmates. His sports team saw this and began to bang on their plates and glasses while hollering about how he was talking to a “trou.” After that dinner, one of his teammates showed me an email with my picture next to my math partner’s picture calling me a “trou.” Being a freshman, I became embarrassed and walked away without saying anything despite the fact that I passed my physical tests and have kept the same appearance since entering the Academy. I have seen this behavior continue on Thursday nights for the past three years with few cadets getting in trouble, and fewer women standing up for themselves.

Going into my senior year, I recognize that a cadet exhibiting this behavior will not become a successful platoon leader able to treat all soldiers equally. The word “trou” is one of the many examples of a cultural issue that affects the Army and receives little attention. Many male cadets think that being in the infantry means they will no longer have to deal with women soldiers, but they are wrong. More women are attaching to combat units and fighting on the battlefield. The same issues have occurred in the past with the integration of different races and will occur in the future with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal. Acting out of fear and not speaking up can lead problems in the unit.

Small actions can lead to big change. By making the “trou” issue of importance at West Point, female cadets will no longer have to prove themselves. They can work together with the male cadets without being fearful. There are male and female cadets that struggle with fitness and overeating. The issue should not be directed at female cadets but rather at those who do not meet the standard. West Point can only do so much. It is up to the female cadets to start this change and end the sexist behavior by speaking out.

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