Since 1782 when Debra Samson disguised herself a man in order to serve under General Washington, women have served honorably in our Armed Forces. These same women have had and continue to have their service marginalized, by the VA, fellow service members, and the very citizens in which they fought so bravely to defend. This is not always the case. However, one is too many. This is not like trying to find the cure for cancer. This is something we can end immediately with a simple change in attitude. It starts with a conversation and the willingness to understand someone else’s perspective. Let’s get this conversation started.
So,when we were in Afghanistan I remember you wanted to be an animal doc right? What happened with that?
A: Correct. Ive wanted to be a veterinarian since I was about 5 years old and could understand what that meant. Growing up, and going through school, I always kind of thought I was too dumb to make it through vet school… After joining the Army and being put through some of the most mentally challenging courses and situations in my life, I realized that if I could learn to fly one of the most complex airframes in the world, I was smart enough to make it through vet school. When I got out of the Army I decided I was going to go back to school and persue veterinary medicine. However, I had to have an honest talk with myself about my abilities to work with sick, injured or dying animals everyday. I realized that that would take a huge emotional toll on me and it just wasn’t something I could do. I knew I would have a hard time working through that and compartmentalizing those situations. Even as a police officer, I sometimes get called to put animals down that have been hit in a roadway or are gravely injured which always reaffirms my decision to go into policing rather than veterinary medicine.
Any parallels from you Army service to SWAT service?
A: I think the mindset is the biggest factor that has transitioned from my military service to my service as a Police Officer and as a SWAT Operator. The concept of violence of action and split-second decision making has carried over and helped me greatly in training and during call outs. I served in predominately male dominated environments during my time as an Apache pilot and the same goes for my time as a SWAT operator. I made history as the first female SWAT operator for our team, and I take great pride in ensuring I meet the standards set before me by my brothers.
Have you experienced any difficulties in being a female veteran?
A: I haven’t personally experienced any issues related to being a female Veteran more so just being a veteran in general. I live in a fairly remote area and the nearest VA Center is 3.5 hours away. My community does have a VA outreach clinic which helps for small issues. I live in a small town, with small town values. We have an extremely strong support system for Veterans, through the VFW, the VA Outreach Center as well as programs set forth by our community college.
After answering this question Cassie was quiet then opened up about some the REAL issues she has faced. This was very difficult for her to speak about. As is often the case, Cassie did not want to bring attention to her situation, but felt strongly that women as a whole deserve to be treated equally and with dignity and respect.
A: I think one of the biggest problems is fighting to be relevant. I think a lot of society finds it hard to believe that females veterans can have issues related to combat stress or stress from their service. More and more female veterans are exiting their service and dealing with issues that have taken an emotional toll on them during their time in and its bleeding over to their civilian life. That can make it difficult to relate to others and move forward in their personal lives and careers. I think male veterans also have difficulties transitioning at times but I think the issues they deal with are different. If you ask any female service member or veteran, chances are, they have suffered sexual harassment, maybe even assault, while serving their country. Thats a hard concept to grasp- that the bravest women, who raised their hand to serve and protect their nation can suffer some of the most degrading and deplorable actions by their counterparts. Sometimes its taken care of. but in my experience, and in speaking with female veterans, more often than not, they are failed by their chain of command or those leaders who were supposed to take care of them. That failure of leadership can make it hard to build relationships and trust with those in the civilian world, it can be extremely isolating. I think the VA is working to get a handle on the epidemic and more and more Veteran resource groups are addressing the issue, but staying relevant and continuing to shed light on the issues seems to be one of the toughest aspects about being a female veteran, at least from my standpoint.
Any tips for transitioning vets?
A: Education is key, use your GI Bill if you have it. Market yourself and ensure your resume is on point. After over a decade of war, there are a lot of Veteran’s who are seeking employment, make yourself standout from the rest. Ensure everything that you can control, i.e. attitude, skill set, appearance, etc. is on par with the profession you’re seeking.
Thank you for you time.