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We need to stop glorifying and encouraging people to join the military, or at the very least, we need to tell them what they’ll really be up against. When I was 18, I joined the US Air Force because I couldn’t afford college. I wasn’t prepared for what the next few years would put me through.
Sexism is a constant experience for women in the military and around it. Active-Duty military members generally are considered to have lower crime rates than civilians in all areas, except for domestic abuse and sexual assault.
Throughout my time in the military, we were briefed constantly on preventing sexual assault. Despite this, military sexual assault is on the rise, and it is notoriously hard to have a case be taken seriously. There were times when I was the only female person in my unit who had not been sexually assaulted or harassed by someone within our own unit.
The gender gap in many jobs also left me facing sexism, homophobia, and transphobia daily. My unit was often about 90% men, and constantly I was made to feel like I didn’t belong there.
To be clear, I never told my coworkers that I was LGBT+. But it didn’t matter because they assumed since my hair was short.
Some coworkers would casually call me transgender and lesbian slurs. There were often jokes about my sexuality and casual threats of violence toward me. I would be told how unattractive and weak I was, how women didn’t belong there, how women didn’t deserve rights and didn’t think consciously.
On top of this, military fitness standards lead many to have backwards ideas about health. Many end up with disordered eating and fitness routines. I watched some of my coworkers be hazed to tears over gaining a little weight and struggling with fitness standards.
At one point, I had put on 15 pounds despite exercising regularly. A handful of my coworkers quickly noticed and would insult me whenever I ate lunch, and they made jokes about my body every day for several months.
Often, you can’t get help or get out of these situations. If you report hazing within your chain of command, you will be ostracized and called a snitch. If you try to get help outside of your chain of command, it will be dismissed. You can’t quit like in a civilian job, so many people are stuck in incredibly toxic work environments.
I got so hopelessly depressed due to my toxic work environment that I sought help, only to be told I needed to make myself less of a target if I wanted it to stop.
Many people commit suicide because of these situations. Often, military suicides are associated with deployment PTSD. I believe, though, that many people commit suicide because of being trapped in toxic work environments, long work hours, long distance relationships, and being told to “tough out” any problems they’re experiencing. But even suicide didn’t tend to get handled well.
At one point, we had three members of our squadron commit suicide within two weeks. We got a day off for mourning when the first one happened. By the third, they pretty much told us: Sorry for the loss, get back to work. We were not deployed, so there was no reason for that sense of urgency about work.
I was in a career with the second highest rate of suicide in the Air Force. Every time it happened, we were given mourning briefings, but no one wanted to seriously acknowledge or change the things that lead to suicide. So, it continued.
This worsened morale because most of us didn’t believe that our work was worth dealing with deaths like this.
There hasn’t been an equal war fought by the US since World War Two. All of our wars since then have been fought for oil, gaining markets abroad, and overthrowing governments that don’t cooperate with the US economically.
Propaganda and biased telling of historical events are repeated constantly on bases, encouraging many that we’re in the right and not to question anything. Xenophobia is employed to justify and dismiss any violence committed toward people from other countries.
However, many of us were aware of these things, so deep nihilism, alcoholism, and patriotic delusion pervaded our day-to-day work.
I came out of the military with G.I. bill benefits and a reputation as a veteran. I also came out of the military socially and emotionally crippled, unable to leave my house and unable to drive for months, with trauma and paranoia from over three years of hazing and social isolation. Honestly, I’d rather have college debt.