I Googled Veterans Day images curious to see what pictures would turn up. Predictably, there were a lot of flags. And dozens of red, white, and blue backdrops with pictures of soldiers in lump-in-your-throat poses—raising the flag, saluting, marching and shouldering weapons.
What I didn’t see are images of women in uniform in patriotic poses. Of course there was a picture of a woman giving a snappy salute --dressed in a camouflage shirt jauntily tied up under her exposed breasts. And it would be hard to miss the two nearly naked women posing in painted on flag swimsuits. But, images of real women soldiers? Didn’t see any. Even during this week when we observe Veterans Day, military MEN are the universal image of the American veteran. The women who have served beside their fellow soldiers are still pretty much invisible in the public eye.
I think I know why. The image of a veteran is a soldier in combat. Women soldiers are not officially allowed on the front lines, even though unofficially women have been fighting and dying alongside men. And that image won’t change until women are fully integrated into combat duty. It’s long overdue, says General Ray Odierno, the recently retired Army Chief. “You can’t automatically shut out 50% of our population,” he said, “you risk losing all the many talents the army needs to be successful.'
And, clearly some women have the talent. Captain Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver made history by becoming the first women to graduate from the US Army’s Ranger School. They competed and bested men through weeks of tough training in woods and swamplands. And they met the same requirements as the men, with no adjustment for their smaller physical size.
Griest and Haver were among a group testing to determine if women could indeed meet the same standards as men. They did, but even so, both are banned from combat. That decision is still being discussed among top leaders in the military and members of Congress like Massachusetts’ own Nicki Tsongas. Tsongas dismisses the Marine Corps concerns about “unit cohesion.” “You put people in who can do the job,” Tsongas says, and the unit will work together.”
As I’ve said before combat is not something that all female soldiers are qualified for or want, but it should be open to them.
But we don’t have to wait to ensure that women veterans get equal public recognition for their service. Let’s begin by calling on Google to add real women veterans to its image page. That symbolic gesture can go a long way to making sure that both men and women represent who veterans really are. Then, maybe soon, the expression ‘Honoring all who served’ will be true.