The Women’s Center and The Pride Center co-hosted another Rock Talk, “Women in the Military” during Veteran’s Appreciation Week.
The discussion consisted of a panel of four women who talked about their experiences with military life. Dr. Katherine Massey, Alyssa Craig, Nicole Tolliver and LTC Martin were all part of the panel.
Massey served six years in the US Airforce as a personnel specialist. She entered basic training in 1984 and left in 1990. Massey’s job was working with people to make sure that their dependents were taken care of if they were deployed and to work with promotions and demotions.
Overall, Massey said that her experience in the Airforce was excellent and that she enjoyed her time, but at the same time, also saw her fair share of injustices in the military.
“As a women, there was definitely misogyny and sexism,” Massey said. “I was sexually harassed by military members.”
Massey remembers one instance where she was running back to her dorm in the early morning, and there was a guy waiting by the back of the building. He called her over and he asked if her private area hair color was the same as her eyebrow area hair color.
“I said that this conversation ends right now,” Massey said. “I was kind of scared.”
According to Massey there seems to be a culture of men and women marrying women in the army and then getting separated.
Although, Massey said that when she first arrived on base she met a lot of nice people, including a guy she worked with who told her that when she first came to base there were guys betting on who would sleep with her first.
At the time, Massey was not out to herself yet as a lesbian, and she said that at the time, if it was found out that you were gay, you would be discharged.
“There are some instances I recognize as social injustices, but I also had so many people that were wonderful,” Massey said. “The fact that that one guy came up to me and told me [about the betting] was a testament to some of the good people.”
Similar to Massey, a fellow panelist, Alyssa Craig was a US sergeant in the Air Force reserve, operating as pest control.
Craig entered at 24 years-old and thought that there were times where she couldn’t get through it because of the emotional stress of being in a group of women she didn’t know for eight weeks.
“I was the older person in the group,” Craig said. “I was 24 and turned 25 in basic training. I was their moral support and their anchor.”
Craig said that her experiences had been great and that she has many friends and connection all over the states and the world from travelling to different bases.
Although, Craig also experienced some misogyny, although not a lot.
“The job I am in is a male-dominated career field,” Craig said. “When I go on jobs and it’s just me, they say ‘oh, they sent a little girl to pick it up’. Number one, I am not a little girl, I am a women. And number two, those comments aren’t needed.”
However, as a black women in the military, Craig noticed a small difference between dress and appearance. She said that she would get called out for her bun or her nail polish.
“The professional appearance for nail polish is that it can be worn if it looks good on your skin tone,” Craig said. “Being a black women, I side eye a little bit, like, ‘oh that wasn’t what you said to me prior’ or ‘that’s not what you said to such and such’.”
Women in general are unprotected when it comes to sexual harassment or sexual assault in nature. Craig said that she had many friends who told her about inappropriate situations that got swept under the rug.
In regards to sexual harassment, Craig said that mental health in the military is not talked about.
“It’s a scary thing to talk about,” Craig said. “In the military you have to be strong, but if you go to get help from mental health [on base] it gets in your record and it will be something hung over your career. You may even be discharged for it.”
At the moment, Craig wants to transition to active duty or become a drill sergeant to be the one yelling at people for a change.
The third member of the panel, Nicole Tolliver is the Graduate Assistant for Campus Wide Diversity Planning, and unlike the other panelists, she herself was not involved in the military.
Recently, Tolliver’s father retired from the US Army after 25 years. When Tolliver was in elementary school her father was on the reserves and after entering active duty was deployed.
“In elementary school, it was what it was, it was all I really knew,” Tolliver said. “There were a lot of fun activities for young kids, but when you are younger, we would go to the base and see Santa.”
When Tolliver’s dad wasn’t deployed, he worked far from home and she didn’t see him that much. After elementary school, Tolliver said that middle school and high school became difficult because her dad was moving from base to base and the family didn’t travel with him.
“My dad would come home on the weekends as much as he could, and my dad became kind of controlling,” Tolliver said. “In highschool, I told myself that I am never marrying anyone in the military because I saw how hard it was on my parents and their life.”
During Tolliver’s first two years of college, she was financially supported through the GI Bill, and said that after her dad retired, he is trying to make up for lost time with her.
“[My dad] just got a job as a park ranger, which he loves… that’s why I like to go on walks with trails he created in his backyard.”
The final panelist was LTC Martin, an army professor of military science. LTC Martin joined when she was 17 and entered the National Guard for a while before holding numerous other positions. During her time in the Guard she was a signal officer by trade and worked on the tactical side on the ground at the operational base.
“The army I was in when I first started was a little different, but it has changed for the better,” LTC Martin said.
At the time, LTC Martin said she did run into sexual harassment and most of it wasn’t taken care of, but she didn’t let it define her and carried on.
Nowadays, LTC Martin said that the military in general is doing a lot to mitigate the issues of sexual harassment and other situations.
“I have travelled all over the world and have worked with multiple national armies, we are still having work to do, but we are changing the way the army treats everyone,” LTC Martin said.
The Army provided LTC Martin with many opportunities where she learned that the tight knit communities were formed because of the work everyone does.
“Overall, my experiences have been extremely positive and I have been in the Army almost thirty years now and it’s a totally different and better place,” LTC Martin said.
Editor’s note: Nicole Tolliver is a former staff member of The Rocket, previously serving as assistant advertising manager and advertising manager during three semesters of her undergraduate program.