When I enlisted in the military I was very green. I was told and also believed many things that were not true. But I should’ve known better.
Women received the same training as men and were reassured our military careers were secure. The propaganda sold to us was that our cause was about the freedom and equality of the American people. So as a faithful and patriotic American, I committed to fight and die, if need be, for my country. However, when the dust settled and my initial assignment was completed, I was sent packing with…nothing. However, my male counterparts who suffered similar injuries as I did, were discharged with compensation packages.
My experience in the U.S. Military left me with the perspective that women were not as valuable as men and that their needs and well-being were secondary to that of men.
Another perspective modeled to me by the U.S. Military was that although men and women of color fought alongside Caucasian men and women, enlisted men and women of color were only a necessary statistic to help the military achieve its goals. We were only useful until the goals were achieved and then we reverted back to being ‘nothing.’
While enlisted in the U.S. Army, I was sexually violated by a fellow officer, who was later promoted. Although I made a report, it was covered up by the military so as not to impede his progress. Their focus on his leadership to the exclusion of the crime he committed against me was an unconscionable act that re-victimized and traumatized me so much that I recoiled from the act of physical intimacy with my husband during the initial course of our marriage.
Thanks be to God, I have come a long way since then! God’s grace effected a journey towards healing and recovery that has left me stronger and more resilient than I ever was. As a result, and through the founding of my own non-profit organization – Refuge Women’s Transition Center – I have answered the call to minister to women and teenage girls who are laboring under the weight of social injustices and help them regain their view of themselves as worthy and equal image-bearers of the Almighty God.
Refuge Women’s Transition Center started in 2006 in my home, where I took in female veterans, sex industry workers, penal/detention centers and troubled teenage girls. My service to them includes teaching basic life skills, feeding them, and or just providing a listening ear. After a decade plus of providing such services, my ministry has grown to the point that we need to transition it into its own building.
Although grateful for God’s grace to heal, restore and repurpose my life after my military bout, I am nevertheless, still concerned about the ongoing abuse of women and marginalization of women/people of color in the military. I am concerned that although we are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to die for our country, that same country does not see us as equals.
So my question is: if we’re equal enough to die side by side, why aren’t we equal enough to stand side by side in all spheres of life???
If we’re equal enough to die side by side, why aren’t we equal enough to receive the same compensations for injuries sustained while on active duty???
If we’re equal enough to die side by side, why do we have to fight to obtain what should be our rightful dues???
If we’re equal enough to die side by side, why has the U.S. military under-represented and wreaked so much havoc on the many men and women of color who faithfully and loyally fight for our country’s freedom???
The freedom of the U.S. people cost those who serve in the military their lives. Therefore, the well-being of all – including men and women of color – in the military should be of primary concern to the citizens of this great nation of ours.
Civilians and military, alike, should show as much commitment to the equality of the men and women of color in the military, as these men and women of color show by their willingness to lay down their lives for America’s freedoms.
Caucasian men and women in the military must also learn to stand together with men and women of color in ensuring that men and women of color in the military get equal recognition and compensation, rather than being satisfied with just their own well-being.
If we’re equal to die together, we should be equal in compensation, justice and honor.
Now is the time to make a decision for a stronger military and a stronger nation by making a commitment to gender and racial equality inside and outside the military.
Renetta M Cheston-Thornton lives in Atlanta with her husband & her daughter who currently attends Fort Valley State University. She’s an Army Veteran and served during two major conflicts on foreign soil between 1991-92. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interior Design, a Bachelor of Science in Health Care Admin & Management, and an Associate Degree in Massage Therapy (specializing in Neuromuscular, Accupressure, Shiatzu, & Energy Massage). She is the founder of Refuge Women’s Transition Center in Atlanta. Visit her website renettacheston.com for more information.