Walk into the Veterans Resource Center on the University of Tennessee campus and you may bump into the changing face of America’s military.
“I feel like a mom, it’s that mom pride, I don’t know how to explain it,” said former Army combat medic Linda Hinkle preparing with 15 other women to graduate with new degrees this spring. Back in 2016 Ms. Hinkle started a group devoted to connecting female veterans on campus. At the first meeting, two people showed up. Now, the “regulars” include anywhere from 15 to 30 women depending on the meeting or about one third of the female veteran population on Rocky Top.
“To be there with a group of women who would understand even silently that you had served and experienced some of the same (or) similar things is a tremendous deal,” said Ms. Hinkle recalls during her Army years in the early to mid-nineties for every three hundred soldiers there was one was a woman.
“There were times where there were people around me who felt pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to do the job because I was a woman,” said Ms. Hinkle.
The Department of Veterans Affairs says over the next three decades experts predict the number of women in the military will double. In recent years they make up a little less than 10 percent across all the Armed Forces.
“Too often the women were pushed aside to sit at a computer or sit at dispatch or things of that nature. And they are really starting to incorporate (women),” recalled Stacey Moore who will wrap up 20 years of service in the Air Force at the end of this year.
When she started her military career in 1998 she took on what was long considered a “man’s field” working a job that called for loading anything that goes on a cargo plane. From the time she started that career at the age of 18 she held onto some advice that came from another women, her mom.
“She always told me, she said Stacey, when you go to it, it’s fine you are in a man’s career filed but you always carry your own tool box so to speak. You don’t let the man do it for you. You have to pull your own weight,” recalled Ms. Moore who graduates this week with a master’s in social work. A mom herself Ms. Moore says she is encouraging her 12 year old daughter to follow in her military footsteps, “I am absolutely. I think it is a great way to go.”