Women make up 14 percent of the U.S. military as well as a full quarter of the veterans who are pursuing a college education upon returning home from service. In the St. Louis area alone, evidence of their significant presence isn’t hard to come by.
On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked with three local Army veterans about that growing force and about how St. Louis’ student veterans are collaborating as they plan for this year’s Student Veterans Week festivities set to begin March 17.
Joining the discussion were Jim Craig, chair of the University of Missouri–St. Louis’ Department of Military and Veteran Studies; Angie Peacock, a graduate student at Washington University’s Brown School of Social Work; and Emily Staden, a biology and biochemistry major at UMSL.
“I think there’s a movement afoot in our society with women in general right now, and women veterans are no different in that movement,” said Craig, noting that Peacock and Staden have both stepped into leadership roles among student veterans on their respective campuses. “They’ve been doing well all along, but there’s something going on in our society.”
Staden said that her years in the Army have proven useful as she pursues a double major in the sciences – another traditionally male-dominated field. She added that she sometimes feels perceived as a “representative” for women in her circles, and it’s prompted her to “reach above” expectations and aim to excel.
“Especially being president of the Student Veterans Association at UMSL, I know that having male predecessors before me, what I really wanted to do was show that I can definitely lead the same or better,” Staden said. “Not because I wanted to show them up but simply because I wanted to lead it in a positive direction from here.”
Peacock noted that while she often felt scrutinized and “hyper-visible” in the military, she has sometimes felt the opposite – “invisible” – as a female veteran.
“I have license plates on my car that say I’m a veteran,” she explained. “But people assume, ‘Tell your husband thank you for his service.’ And you’re like, ‘No, wait, I’m not married – it’s my service.’ So you kind of fly under the radar a little bit when you get home.”
Returning from combat brought additional challenges for Peacock.
“I was sexually assaulted, and then I went to combat, and then when I came home my transition was very rough,” she said. “I had an addiction to opiates. I’m not the norm – my story’s my story, it’s not what a lot of women go through. But because of those experiences I had to reach deep down and heal from that and get a new community.”
These days, she said, she derives a lot of satisfaction from watching other veterans find their ways forward as well.
“There’s nothing that brings me more joy than to see other veterans, the light go back on in their eyes,” Peacock said, “and for them to find a new community and for them to succeed and graduate from college and to serve their community the same way they were serving while they were in service.”
The events that she, Staden, Craig and others are spearheading as part of next week’s Student Veterans Week range from an evening of “vetworking,” to a day of community service, to a film screening. All of the events are open to the public.
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.