The Veterans Students United Club hosted its “Women in the Military” program on Wednesday, November 9th, as part of the Veteran’s Appreciation Week. The goal of this event was to recognize women who have served or are serving in the military, to speak on the different roles women hold in the military, and to bring awareness to all that women have to deal with once they are involved with the military. VSU had the help of several clubs, such as the Latin American Women Society (LAWS), The Vikings Scandinavian Club, Men Respecting All Women/Women Appreciating Real Mean (MRAW/WARM), and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated, for this event.
“I have been working with VSU for a year now, and I really enjoy it because it touches a place close to home for me. A lot of my family join the military, and I want to be able to give back in a way,” said Samantha Vega, VSU President and moderator of the “Women in the Military” program.
VSU Vice President Laura-Lyn O’Neil and Vikings President Elina Viitasaari were guest speakers. Both women were experienced in the military. O’Neil served in the United States Navy from 2001 to 2008 in California, and Viitasaari served in the Finland Air Force for a year. O’Neil spoke about women in the military, spotlighting the history women are making and the new strides they are taking every single day.
“Women have been a part of combat since the beginning of time in basic roles of nursing injured soldiers back to health. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that women were able to hold positions just like the men [are]. Women have been making strides in the military – branching out and doing things that are not expected of them today. Women are even taking leadership roles in their sectors, which is very commendable,” said O’Neil.
Several women have received the Purple Heart medal, which symbolizes that they were wounded while in battle. One woman, Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, received the Medal of Honor for her time served during the Civil War.
Viitasaari spoke about her experience as a military police sergeant and group leader in the Finland Air Force. “I joined the military to be able to get an education as well as to show that I am as strong as the boys,” said Viitasaari. She presented a slideshow that explained the Finnish military and the Finland v. Soviet Union Winter War and its hardships in terms of physical, mental, and weather challenges. “The best ways to get through these challenges are humor and laughter, friendship, and pride in yourself, and patriotism for your country. I love my country, and I would never bring shame to it,” Viitasaari said.
Another of the event’s guest speakers was Billy Achnitz of MRAW/WARM. He spoke about the negative side of the impact of the military on women. Achnitz gave facts about women having to deal with being sexually assaulted or raped while serving the military. Women don’t get any type of “special treatment,” even though crime may be involved. Female soldiers fear being labeled as “troublemakers” within their units or being ridiculed or removed if they report any issues. Therefore, many cases are brushed under the rug and go unreported.
“I strongly believe that women should not have to deal with these fears,” stated Achnitz. Often, sex offenders in the military get off with a reduction in their pays or a lowering of their ranks, he said. 80 percent of soldiers who do get convicted still get honorably discharged, he also explained. In 2005, the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) was founded to track rapes and sexual assaults in annual reports, but, unfortunately, it is failing to actually prevent the crimes.
Many women in the armed forces have to struggle with discrimination and unfair treatment during and after their time served. To help support this cause, do simple things like becoming an advocate for victims of sexual assaults or rape. You can also visit stopmilitaryrape.org or volunteer at a Military Rape Crisis Center.