Read our second installment of our new every-other-week Joining Forces feature that will bring us the voices of women veterans telling their stories. If you are a women veteran who would like to share your story, please contact us through our Joining Forces for Women Veterans Facebook page.
What Front Line? by Tonya V. James
When we watch television or listen to stories of service members recounting the effects of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and combat stress, we often times only see and think of male service members. You may think that maybe women do not deal with these type issues because they are not a part of combat arms units. While that is technically correct, female service members cannot be assigned to combat arms units, they can be in combat service support jobs, and are often attached to combat arms units.
The myths of a “front-line” type of war like the Civil War and that women are “in the rear with gear” are a thing of the past. Women are receiving combat action ribbons and Purple Heart Medals like never before. Yet Americans today seem to have a hard time grasping the concept of their daughters on patrols in occupied cities or leading convoys on dangerous routes where improvised explosives devices (IEDs) are planted. The fact of the matter is they are, and they are doing it just as well as their male counterparts.
While I was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom to the Helmand Province, I was a part of what is called a Female Engagement Team which consisted of four female Marines and one female Navy corpsman. Our job was to go along when one of the infantry units went out to patrol. We would go out with them to talk to local women because the males were not permitted to do so. Our primary mission was to win their hearts and minds and gain valuable intelligence about insurgents. While we were out on missions, I never felt overwhelmingly afraid, although, my adrenaline did increase at times. But everything would feel normal once we returned back to our base camp. It was not until my return to the States that I started having very vivid nightmares of someone trying to kill me, and was unable to sleep. Based on questions I was asked at my required post deployment health assessment, I learned that I was dealing with combat stress. The scary part is that I answered no to most of the questions when the real answer was a big fat yes. And I honestly believe that a lot of female service members do answer no while on active duty. They may feel that their role was not as great as their male counterparts and in turn believe that what they are going through is not a big deal. Which still does not change the fact that they have a lot emotional and mental issues that need to be dealt with whether they remain on active duty or not. But the important thing to remember is that it is always easier to get help and support while on active duty, or at least get it started, before leaving the ranks.
As troops return home from war, some leave active duty soon after returning without getting the helpor dcoumentaiont of their health status. This is important if they are going to get services after leaving active duty. I cannot stress the importance of taking your mental evaluation seriously and not downplaying any emotions that you may be feeling, because your service is no different than that of your brothers-in-arms. A little known fact is that one in three service members that go to a combat zone do have some level of combat stress and that female service members are twice as likely to suffer from PTSD as males. It is also important that once you leave active duty, if you feel that you need help, seek it out immediately. These emotions do not just go away with time, as we can see from the Vietnam Era veterans. A site I recommended to those that have asked for my help after leaving active duty is www.ptsdhelp.net. There are many other organizations, including VA and non VA, that can get you the right help that you need.