Elizabeth Harmon-Craig is a 2011 Western alumna who served as an active-duty officer in the U.S. Army. Her experiences speak to the role women have in the U.S. military as well as to the experiences of veterans within education.
Harmon-Craig was joined by four women veterans in Fraser Hall for a panel organized by the Veterans Services office to speak about their lives and experiences in the military on Tuesday, March 1.
The panel was officially called “Women in Service: A Panel of Students, Faculty and Alumnae.”
The event was suggested by Brandon Quackenbush, the Associated Students Veteran Outreach Center coordinator. Ann Beck, assistant director of Veteran Services wants to help women who have served in the military get their voices heard through the panel, she said.
“They make up a much smaller percentage of the military, so their voice gets lost, but I think their contributions are pretty huge for successful experiences,” Beck said.
The panel was comprised of women who have served in different branches of the military. Panelists included Harmon-Craig, Western students Brittany Dymond, Heather Mueller and Cortni Alexander as well as Western anthropology professor Judy Pine. The panel was moderated by Western communications professor Tara Perry.
Western student Norix Mangual, a Coast Guard veteran, attended the panel. Mangual said she wanted to attend because even though she has her own experiences from being a woman in the military, she wanted to be exposed to other experiences and perspectives.
A major portion of the panel was spent discussing the role of women while in the military and the way they are treated. Mueller said they weren’t allowed any products while away, including having to go four or five months without feminine hygiene products while enduring extensive work days.
The panelists discussed the many trials they faced while in the military, from dealing with sexual harassment, to being categorized as “a bitch, a slut or a dyke” for being in the military and to the lack of women in power positions.
“A lot of minorities, a lot of people of color and a lot of females do not have power in the Navy. I had no female chiefs, no female officers,” Mueller said. “There’s no limit to what [your superiors] are able to call you or say if you are not doing what they expect.”
The panelists joined the military for a number of reasons, ranging from a history of service in their families to looking for different experiences outside of their home towns. Pine said she always knew she wanted to serve.
“My argument to myself at the time, which still makes sense to me today, was that I really like using my free speech and it’s handy to know that I have paid for it personally and individually,” Pine said.
Panelists also discussed re-entering the education system after completing their military service.
Harmon-Craig said her experience going back to school was much different from the ones students who go to college at the age of 18 look for.
“I went there to learn the most I could to be the best at what I was doing,” Harmon-Craig said.
Through the sharing of experiences with this panel, Harmon-Craig hopes people will realize that all kinds of people can be veterans, including women.
“I think in a lot of cases, [when] we in America picture the veteran, I think we see the 6-foot, crew cut male. There are 15 percent women serving on active-duty and it keeps increasing. Women’s roles are vital in the military,” Harmon-Craig said. “So I think it was just good to see the faces of these gals and know we’re here. We’re in the community.”
Beck also hopes to shift how people see veterans.
“My hope is that… people don’t just picture one type of veteran when they hear the word veteran — to understand that there’s a lot of different identities that veteran holds. They might be people of color, they might be women, men, identify in a different gender, whatever it might be.”
The Veterans Services office puts on events every quarter. In the spring they will be hosting an event for veterans to come together and tell stories from their deployments.