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JMU honors Veterans Day and National Military Family month with a female military perspective

By Makenzie Walter ('12)

Military veterans speaking at JMU

Five military officers give their perspective of what it is like to be a female in today's military

By law, women are not allowed to engage in front-line combat. However, more and more women are joining the military and being deployed in war zones. Now is the time to define what a ”combat“ job is.

In honors of Veterans Day, JMU hosted a community screening of LIONESS, on Nov. 14. The film shares the story of female Army soldiers who became the first women in American history to be sent into direct ground combat.

The film follows a group of women after their deployments. It depicted how much their lives changed after serving in Iraq.

Because women on the front lines are in violation of official military policies, they entered the battlefield without the proper training, putting them in serious danger.

The thought then is why is the military putting women in some of the most dangerous areas of the world without the necessary training? The reason is because women are vital tools in communicating with the female population in these foreign countries.

The cultures — with respect to women — are vastly different in Mid-East countries than in America. ”Sometimes, women aren’t allowed to speak to men outside of their families,“ says Marine Capt. Mary Blair. This makes it difficult for male American soldiers to communicate with half of the population that type of foreign country.

The movie showed what it was like in Iraq for American female soldiers in combat areas. Now, military branches are beginning to train Female Engagement Teams that are meant to interact with women in war-torn areas.

Following the film, five female soldiers talked to students, faculty members and community members and shared stories about their Female Engagement Team experiences during their deployments.

The women represented the Army, Navy and Marines; and all shared different, yet similar, stories about what it is like to be a woman on the battlefield.

Capt. Blair was surprised by how much she had in common with Iraqi women. ”Women are women. I could talk to them about being a mother, and we could connect on that level despite them seeing me as wearing battle gear and carrying a weapon.“

The purpose of the Female Engagement Teams is to train American military women to be able to candidly speak with women in war-torn areas and to understand what makes them feel safe, and to ascertain what changes these women want to see happen in their homeland.

JMU military sciences professor Amelia Underwood organized the movie and panel discussion. ”Having served in the military myself, I understand it is basically an untold story about what women do in the service.“ She was happy to see students, faculty, and community members come out to watch the film and ask the women questions about their experiences. ”All of these women are officers, so they’re leaders. They’re leaders of men and leaders of women. They are role models for women,“ Underwood explained.

Underwood, who teaches American Military History, hopes to sponsor similar events in the future. Her goal is to share the story and the history of what women really do in the military.

Learn about JMU alumni serving in the military at the Operation Purple Pride website at Operation Purple Pride.