A group of women veterans discussed the role of women in the military during a panel discussion and Q&A sponsored by Clayton State Library last Wednesday. The event is part of the library’s University continued centennial commemoration of World War I and included a screening of a documentary about women in war entitled “Lioness”.
The panel was comprised of Air Force veteran Shahayla Colson, a healthcare management major, and Kathy Stevens, a Legal Studies major who is currently serving in the Air Force reserves after 10 years of active duty service.
Tierra Byrom, a senior history and daughter of a Persian Gulf and Operation Iraqi Freedom Navy veteran shared her WWI thesis research. The panel was moderated by Dr. Carol L. White, associate professor of history.
The group of women discussed a number of challenges U.S. military face when U.S. involvement in war or conflict is imminent.
Through the lens of WWI, the group explored support for war, support for servicemembers and the lack of recognition of women’s role in the Armed Forces.
During WWI, the U.S. engaged in publicly promoting the war to drum up support for it among citizens through the Committee of Public Information (CPI).
CPI was an organization led by journalist George Creel that heavily influenced public support in the United States' participation in WWI.
The CPI often accomplished its mission using very new forms of media at that time, including its well-known Four Minute Men. The men were a group of volunteers in the CPI that gave four-minute broadcasts on war related topics during intermissions in movie theatres.
The CPI’s role in creating a narrative for WWI among the public generated differing opinions among the group of women on whether a democratic society should rally popular support for war.
"I believe it (the CPI) was propaganda," stated Byrom. "They were portraying one view and one perspective of the war without conversation or debate."
Stevens looked at the CPI from a different approach.
"It was in some case informative," she said. "Keep in mind that it wasn't until recently that the media was embedded into the military. A lot of people back then were uninformed as to what was going on."
Although Stevens acknowledged the usefulness of the CPI, she also saw the dangers of media and war.
"Not everything about the military needs to be reported," she stated.
In spite of how WWI was communicated to the public, what the panel felt was often left out of the message was the role of women in the war effort.
During WWI, women usually served in war as nurses. Currently, women play more active roles in service and even go to combat.
The panelists felt an underappreciation, then and now, for the roles women play in military. The veterans said women in the military are often underestimated and forgotten.
"We [women in the military] don't get the respect we deserve," said Colson, who earned nine medals during her service in the War on Terror. "A lot of what we do is outside of our job duties and career field."
Stevens spoke about the Lioness Soldiers, a group of American women soldiers who fought alongside with men during the War in Iraq.
"They [the Lioness soldiers] were on these same missions that the men were and they were not recognized for being there at all," she said.
All panelists agreed that we as a nation should promote the respect and recognition of women who serve and military and understand that a military serviceperson can be both a woman and effective soldier.
Beyond the lack of recognition of women in the military, the veterans felt overall enough is currently not being done to support all American soldiers.
Stevens recalled being deployed overseas and leaving her children at home. She said that their teachers weren't always supportive of her children.
"I don't think they [some school systems] are trained to be empathetic towards children with deported military parents," said Stevens. "Support like that, to me, matters more so than support from the media."
Bynum said the nation must get behind servicemembers who make the ultimate sacrifice.
"If they are risking their lives for the cause, we should support our troops," she said.