The Pentagon’s decision to lift the ban on women serving on the frontlines will open thousands of new elite military jobs previously barred to women. While the order re-energized a heated debate in the media last month, the truth is women have been serving valiantly in ground combat for more than a decade.
Michelle Wilmot, Excelsior College graduate and Massachusetts’ 2009 Outstanding Women Veteran, knows this better than most. She enlisted in the military at 17 years old, following in the footsteps of several members of her family. She trained as a medic, earned the rank of Sergeant, learned Arabic and was deployed to the Middle East in 2004 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
As part of Team Lioness in Iraq in 2004-2005, Michelle experienced combat firsthand while attached to a company of Marines. There she conducted checkpoint operations, nighttime house raids, and performed searches on women and children for weapons and explosives.
“I wasn’t baking cookies and waiting for the men, I was with them in some of the bloodiest counter-insurgency battles in the Iraq war,” said Wilmot. “The Marines I worked with were professional and we had great camaraderie.”
Michelle says she became disheartened on her return home however. That’s when she learned that most Americans and the media were unaware of the contributions women have been making for than a decade in ground combat.
“The process of coming home was far more difficult than facing direct combat in my view.”
In response, Michelle is trying to raise awareness as best she can – by telling her story. She was approached by Colonel Katherine Theresa Platoni to contribute to her upcoming book (co-authored with Dr. Raymond Monsour Scurfield) “War Trauma and Its Wake: Expanding the Circle of Healing (August 2012).”
Platoni, a colleague of Wilmot’s in Ar Ramadi, Iraq, asked the veteran to speak out candidly on issues surrounding women veterans, including bigotry and veteran services. Wilmot’s contribution eventually became the chapter “Women Warriors: From Making Milestones in the Military to Community Reintegration.”
Wilmot continues to give back to her fellow veterans. She was also a Retention non-commissioned officer(NCO) in the U.S. Army, which aided her transition to the nonprofit sector upon her return. She now works in career services for an IT college in Las Vegas, Nevada, helping transitioning military personnel with their resumes and securing employment.
And her advice for a young women aspiring for a career on the frontlines?
“You’re braver, stronger, and smarter than you know.”