Female Veterans Programs

My Combat Experience: Venecia

Bullets poured out over us from the high mountain peaks where the terrorist camps were based. Alarms sounded and the recording played “alert, alert, rocket attack, rocket attack!” Enemy weapons whistled loud and struck their targets with resounding booms.

As a Navy soldier, I only thought that I would be deployed on ships. The idea of deploying to a combat zone as boots on the ground had never crossed my mind. It was a difficult pill to swallow when I found out that I was selected as an Individual Augmentee. But that was the military, and I did raise my hand, and was willing to give the ultimate sacrifice.

You feel what sacrifice means when you are selected for a mission because you are single with zero dependents. Other sailors in my division were volunteering to go overseas, but my chain of command was adamant about sending me.

I arrived at my squadron in Kandahar, Afghanistan and it was like entering a different world. All throughout our hangar, the Afghanis squatted as they worked. The sight of the dust-covered men in their deep, low posture still strikes me as odd. All of the U.S military and coalition forces carried a weapon. There were flies everywhere, and no drainage for plumbing. Pools of human waste sat stagnant in the blazing sun.

My job was to be an advisor to the Afghan Air Force. The mission was to show them the job we performed in the U.S. military and train them to protect themselves and then get out once they were self-sustaining and self-sufficient. They were not equipped with the knowledge and ground support they needed to be successful against the Taliban and their military needed to be ready to fight.

Unlike the scorching sun, we were able to find temporary relief from the rounds of exploding mortars. You know terrorists are always trying to kill you but you don’t know when and where they will strike. That is why combat is scary- the unexpected. Even though we felt the most protected while hiding in our bunkers, even our hiding places could come under attack. Everyone needs a safe haven.

My emotional hiding place was my journal. This is the one place where no enemy could come after me. I’ve never thought of myself as a writer, but it was great to be able to express my feelings. Here, my thoughts and emotions were safe. I wrote in my journal every day, and it gave me a sense of security, calm and relief.

My days were long. As U.S. advisors, we took up various jobs within the aviation field. I was an Aviation Ground Support Equipment Technician. Other advisors were hydraulic technician or Nondestructive Inspection Technician. In addition to our military job we had to service generators and re-fueled helicopters.

I don’t believe the older Afghans wanted the U.S. there. They were so set in their ways that it was challenging to tell them otherwise; they felt the old way was just as effective. We would teach them how to work the computers and use the new technology but many times they would break the equipment. It was hard to discern if they were genuinely struggling or intentionally sabotaging. The older airmen were not very interested in the new equipment and it was always just a matter of time before they returned to the old way of doing things.

As I settled in to this new job, I tried to keep the same morning routine that I had when I was in the States. It was an effort to maintain a little bit of normalcy. I woke up around 5:00 am and headed to the gym. At 6:00 am I took my shower. I brushed my hair back in to a low, tight bun and continued to put on makeup each morning. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a soldier.

At 6:30 am I headed to work. I was always on edge because I did not trust the Afghan Air Force although we worked in close proximity with them. I spent the entire day at the hanger. They stared at me, and it felt as if they were seeing right through me.

They were blatantly disrespectful to women. So often it is viewed as just a cultural difference, but it was not. I have experienced this first hand. The men would try to brush up against you in close quarters. This was one of the reasons why the rule of having a buddy was implemented. I had one advisor reveal to me that she was touched by one of the Afghans and so she filed a sexual assault case against him. He was removed from the premises and was reassigned to a different location.

We were dealing with Afghan men being disrespectful to U.S. military women because of their beliefs. As an advisor, I communicated with the locals through their interpreter. I was never without my interpreter or my buddy. Often, I felt scared, nervous and angry.

We rarely saw their women. In culture training, we were told not to look at their women and not to say hello to them. Women are men’s property. Their culture was very different from my own. But something I did understand, was that feeling of not being respected. Women in society do not always get the respect they deserve whether it is in the civilian workplace or in the military.

Female soldiers are tough and resilient. We do the same job that the men do.

We lie on the ground and shoot our rifles and our pistols alongside the men.

We drive the Humvees.

We fight verbally because we know that words work best.

We defend ourselves physically when the situation demands us to.

Not all women can do what we do.

We do our best to serve honorably.

I would not change that experience for the world. It has shaped me in many ways.

I was conformed to a soldier. I learned how to handle a rifle and a pistol in order to defend myself. I had to become familiar with these tools although I have always feared them. I am so aware of my surroundings, and I am vigilant. This venture opened my eyes to see the cultural differences that exists among nations.

I have not changed as a person but I do have some physical ailments that I am battling. My morals and values have always remained the same.Today, I am happy and blessed. Though I lost time with my family while abroad, I now have a family of my own that I love and appreciate.

Venecia is a peer mentor at Clear Path for Veterans.