By Amanda Huffman, United States Air Force Veteran – I had a simple idea. I wanted to hear more deployment stories. I had been writing about my deployment experience for years, but when I did a quick google search it was hard to find stories of the men and women who had deployed. Maybe it was an overcrowded space… or maybe I was using the wrong keywords… or maybe I was about to embark on a journey that would change the course of everything I did.
I started asking those who I had deployed with to tell their deployment stories. Then I asked those I knew who had deployed and I also put a random call out on social media. And people slowly started signing up to share their stories. But there was an odd connection between almost all of the responses. Nine-five percent of the people who responded were women.
Even having served in the military, even having deployed on a unique mission, I was still surprised that women were sharing their deployment stories. I quickly realized that the only stories I had heard of war were always focused on the men who had deployed, not women. The experience of hearing women’s stories not only was inspiring, but it made me realize I wasn’t alone in having a story to share. I wrapped up each interview with a final question. What do people say when they find out you have deployed? Over and over women responded with the same answer, “No one asks, so no one knows.”
It was a lightbulb moment. I realized the only reason people knew about my military experience was because of my blogging platform or when I was asked to speak and share my story. My deployment didn’t come up in random conversations. No one expected me to be a veteran. And if you added the word combat to veteran, they would have shaken their heads in disbelief. Women were not allowed on the front lines of war. Didn’t everything change in 2016 years after you had left the military? How could your story be true?
But my story was true and my experience of being attached to an infantry unit, being out on the front lines was not as unique as I expected it to be. People needed to know our stories. People needed to understand the work that women have been doing not just for the most recent conflicts, but for hundreds of years.
We have touched on so many important issues, ranging from sexual assault, rape and discrimination. We have talked about the struggle of transitioning, post-traumatic stress disorder, and feeling so alone.
Military women join the military and sign the same dotted line that they are willing to give up their life in the ultimate sacrifice. And as each woman has been faced with a challenge or ran up to limitation by a rule; they proved themselves not only worthy to meet the mission required, but did it without complaining or making a spectacle. We did what we were asked because we knew that our role was vital to the war. And then when our service was over most of us went back to our normal lives likely without the recognition we had earned.
People needed to know our stories. So, I started collecting them. I wanted to hear the stories of women who had served in the military from all eras. I wanted to give women a space to share their experiences. I wanted women to tell the good, the bad and the in-between. I dug deep into each interview asking the tough questions. Searching for answers about what it really meant to be a military woman… The challenge. The sacrifice. The honor and pride.
I wanted to hear it all. And each story I heard only drove my passion for hearing stories to continue. With almost thirty stories collected via written interview and more stories lost somewhere in the back and forth email exchange I decided to try a new avenue for collecting stories. Verbal interviews set up over the internet that would then go on my newest adventure of podcasting. I had hoped the women who I had interviewed via written form would reach out to be my first guest for the podcast. But many of them had wanted their privacy protected and a public forum was not the right spot for them.
But my passion drove me forward. I created a google form to give women the opportunity to sign up and I shared it on every platform I could find. And women started signing up. Women started sharing a piece of their military story with me. In October of 2018, I did my first interview for my Women of the Military podcast and by the time I launched the podcast in January of 2019 I had collected over 15 women’s stories. But that was only the beginning. As the podcast grew episode by episode so did my list of women who wanted to share their story.
And now just over a year after starting this journey I have released 47 episodes, including the 23rd Secretary of the Air Force, with over 7,300 downloads and interviews scheduled through August of next year. And those 28 stories I collected via written interview, I have shared those too in my first published book, Women of the Military. Through the podcast and book, we have touched on so many important issues, ranging from sexual assault, rape and discrimination. We have talked about the struggle of transitioning, post-traumatic stress disorder, and feeling so alone. And the stories keep coming.
We are building a community. We are sharing our experiences together and not feeling so alone. There is power in telling your story. For generations, we could tell our experiences through storytelling. But society has changed and we have forgotten the value of telling a story. These stories are needed not only for the ones sharing their experience but for those listeners who never served. For those who don’t understand what women have faced, for those who want to follow in our footsteps, we need to embrace the power of storytelling and continue to share our experiences if we hope to change the world.
People ask me how I find such amazing guests for my show. But the truth is I don’t discriminate past being a woman and a veteran. If you are a woman veteran you have a story to tell and my mission is to tell these stories through my podcast or via written interviews in books. People need to know what women have done and continue to do for the military. Because if we don’t speak up and share our experiences they will never know.
Want to hear the stories of military women? Check out these five Women of the Military episodes:
Air Force: Grace Tiscareno-Sato – her story/episode
Army: Annette Whittenberger – her story/episode
Navy: Natalie Olivero – her story/episode
Marine Corps: Susie Wilcox – her story/episode
Coast Guard: Tammy Barlet – her story/episode
All photos credit to Amanda Huffman and published here with her express permission.
About The Author
Amanda Huffman is an United States Air Force veteran who served for six years as a Civil Engineer including a combat deployment to Afghanistan with the Army. Her mission is to share the stories of military women through her Airman To Mom blog and Women of the Military podcast. Her new book, Women of the Military, is a complication of 26 stories of women who have started their path to military life, are currently serving, separated or retired.