This July 4th, honor female veterans who have helped protect our independence.

·3 min read

It happened 15 years ago, but it’s a reminder that bias still exists.

I was attending a “Beat Navy” watch party with my local West Point alumni group. I sat at a small table of men and introduced myself as Class of ’93. The group barely acknowledged me and just turned back to watch the game. I tried to engage them in conversation for five minutes without much success.

Finally, I left.

The encounter brought back memories of feelings from my past – that this was a group I wasn’t really invited to be part of. I wasn’t a full member. It’s a feeling I get sometimes when I’m wearing my own West Point gear. Quite often people assume I wear it to represent my husband or son who attended, which is true. But so did I.

What does a veteran look like?

These moments stir me, and I have to ask myself, “Does the average American have a misperception of what veterans look like?”

Female soldiers on Sept. 18, 2012, in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Female soldiers on Sept. 18, 2012, in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Women have been serving in the military for more than 200 years, but they often feel their service goes unrecognized by others. We learned in a recent Wounded Warrior Project survey that female warriors were significantly more likely to report feeling lonely than males. When we consider these findings, it helps us to better understand how women veterans must feel when their service is not recognized.

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Independence Day is an opportune time to shed light on our women warriors. First, we need an open dialogue about how women veterans are often overlooked. Close your eyes and imagine a soldier coming home from a deployment. What do you see? Is it a man running to his family’s outreached arms? Or is it a woman running to hers? We must understand that the face of a veteran is both male and female. Women serve beside their male counterparts, filling the same critical roles – including combat positions.

'Check your assumptions'

Women veterans are the fastest-growing segment of the veteran population; so, there is a growing demand to understand those experiences. This is why Wounded Warriors Project created the Women Warriors Initiative – to better understand, empower and advocate for women warriors who have served our nation. One of the most common themes stemming from conversations we have with the women warriors we serve is that many feel invisible.

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A female soldier mans a machine gun on a vehicle during clashes in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in 2003.
A female soldier mans a machine gun on a vehicle during clashes in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in 2003.

Serving one’s country requires courage and sacrifice. Our country honors that service and wants to pay respect to the veteran population. But how can they recognize the woman warrior?

First, check your assumptions. For example, have you caught yourself assuming a veteran license plate on a car represented a man’s service rather than a woman’s?

Second, help women veterans feel included and recognized. Sometimes the best way is to ask questions and listen.

Jen Silva
Jen Silva

Seeking to understand paves the way for education and connection with women who serve in our armed forces. When we start to understand, we can ensure that policies and practices support women veterans and honor all veterans equally.

Jennifer Silva is chief program officer of Wounded Warrior Project. She is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and served in the Army as a logistics officer. 

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Female veterans serve the country with honor. Honor them on July 4th.

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