In late 2001, I joined the Air Force. I realized much later that it happened to be in the wake of 9/11, but that wasn’t why. I needed money for college.
I went to Basic Training the following spring— the toughest and most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my life. Except maybe childbirth, but that only lasted about 15 hours. Basic was 6 weeks.
I was an Airman (E-2) when I joined because of the few college courses I had already completed (as opposed to Airman Basic). Most other trainees would receive Airman First Class (E-3), but I didn’t want to sign up for more than the 4-year minimum. After months of tech school training, I was happy to get stationed in Germany for at least 2 years. In October of 2002, just less than a year after I’d joined, I left for a country who’s legal drinking age is 18… only six days after I turned 21.
My job was to sit at a desk, fill out paperwork, then file paperwork. There was nothing terribly exciting about it. It gave someone who loves to organize something productive to do, I suppose, but it made the “Chair” Force stereotype somewhat literal. Clearly it couldn’t have been that boring though, as my supervisor warned me to be careful— the last three girls who sat at my desk had gotten pregnant.
Three months after arriving at my new station at my new job, a mere 10 months after beginning my military career path, I got pregnant.
I had two choices: to stay in Germany, have a child alone, without any family around, put him in daycare at six weeks old; or separate from the Air Force and move home. And because I would have to do this before my child was born, the minimum two years of service would not be fulfilled, and I would be ineligible for the college benefits I had paid into.
My time in the Air Force was officially one year, four months. Because I did not serve my full contract, because I was a reckless young adult, because I didn’t qualify for benefits, because I let my supervisors down, because I never deployed, never finished my job, I didn’t think of myself as a real Veteran. When I would mention my military service, people asked how long I was in. I felt ashamed having to explain, just over a year. I hadn’t put in the time that others had, so I was a fraud. I wasn’t really part of the club. I didn’t have experiences of war to relate to, months spent in the sand. So my time didn’t really count.
I think as a woman, it’s easy to do that, in all kinds of circumstances. To compare our experiences with those of others. That mom did this, but I haven’t, so I’m not a “real” mom. If you gave birth to a human being, that makes you a mother. By definition, I completed Basic Training and served in the military, and despite it being for such a short time, it still makes me a Veteran. Everything else that makes us think that we cannot own these roles is just a false sense of security. It’s a story we allow others or even ourselves to be real instead of what IS real.
I am proud of the service I gave, so why should I feel ashamed to acknowledge it?
Recognition for service is often met with humility, as if we don’t deserve to be shown appreciation for our efforts. Mothers especially often feel that it is their duty to be the best parents they can be, so we don’t really believe that being proud of our accomplishments is necessary, let alone acceptable.
As soon as the comparison monster begins to creep in, our own experiences, personas, places in life, who we are may feel “not real.” We begin to look at others, then at ourselves, and say, I’m not a real Veteran/Mom/writer/whathaveyou. And we stay silent when we should own it. Own what you are, who you are. Your worth is not defined by other people’s perception of you. So just say it and be proud.
I am a Veteran. I am a Mother. I am a Writer. I am a Woman.
How about you?