Four female Georgetown student veterans conversed about prevalent women’s military and veteran issues in an event titled, “The Leaders of Tomorrow: Military Women in Transition” held Tuesday in the Bunn Intercultural Center.
Special guest Major General Linda Singh, the 29th adjutant general of Maryland, joined the panelists in conversation with moderator Barbara Mujica, the faculty adviser of the Georgetown University Student Veterans Association..
The event was sponsored by GUSVA in conjunction with the Women’s Center, the Biondi Copeland Fund and Georgetown Women in International Affairs. According to Mujica, the goal of the event was to introduce aspects of the female veteran experience to the Georgetown community in honor of March as Women’s History Month.
“I think that [the event] attracts the attention of the student body to the fact that we have veterans on campus, that women are veterans and that they have special experiences, and special needs and special sensitivities,” Mujica said.
The discussion panel covered a wide range of female military and veteran issues, with an emphasis on the transition between military and civilian life. A important point in the conversation was about the variety of skills and hard-won lessons that female veterans bring to the workforce and to their lives after concluding their service.
Singh spoke about the lesson that she learned of the importance of women being authentic leaders to achieve success.
“I think that it’s critical for women to learn how to be themselves and a strong leader, and to know that you don’t have to emulate a male to be a strong leader,” Singh said.
Panelist Theresa Hilsdon (GRD ’13), a former U.S. Navy servicewoman and 2014 Spirit of Georgetown Award recipient, said that the Navy’s strong leadership training is beneficial to her in her position within the federal government.
“I think that my military background helps me every single day, and I really feel like the heartbeat of that is from a leadership standpoint,” Hilsdon said.
Another veteran panelist, Jillian Danback McGhan (GRD ’15) said that teambuilding is one useful skill that she took from her experience in the U.S. Navy.
“I do believe that the way that the American education system is structured largely does not emphasize team-type activities,” McGhan said. “It’s predicated on the individual performance model, and what happens is, when you proceed into the workplace, you have a group of individuals who have no idea, how to work together.”
U.S. Army veteran Shari Evans (GRD ’14) said that military discipline inspired her personal financial management practices. Consequently, a business that she co-founded is focused on teaching reliable money management skills.
“How the military prepared me was, it was a disciplined environment,” Evans said. “That discipline spilled from leadership into my personal life, into my money management practices and so that in turn translated into the company today.”
However, as various panelists also noted, returning female veterans also face hardships after completing their service. According to U.S. Department of Defense statistics, the current two million female veterans in the U.S. are four times more likely to be homeless than male veterans, and many also suffer from severe mental health difficulties such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Singh spoke about her own challenging transition to domestic life after being deployed in an advisory role in Afghanistan earlier in her military career.
“For me transitioning back, I didn’t have PTSD, but I had effects,” Singh said, “It probably took me at least a year and a half before I got back to normal in my civilian job, and it probably took me about that long to get back to normal with the family.”
Panelist Tessa Poppe (GRD ’15), a former member of the U.S. Army National Guard also mentioned the difficulty returning to her education that she experienced earlier in her career upon returning home from active duty in Iraq.
“I was always very interested and always wanted to be a soldier, and so Iraq was something that I really wanted to do,” Poppe said. “I came home and I was sitting in a classroom, and it just wasn’t doing it for me. It was a hard transition.”
Poppe’s negative classroom adjustment inspired her to volunteer to a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
In light of the general struggles that military women and female veterans face, Jillian McGhan spoke about the importance of stopping lingering stereotypes regarding these servicewomen.
“I also feel that it is just as important to reach out to young men as well,” McGhan said. “Because there are so many misconceptions and misperceptions of women in the military that unless you serve as a mentor for young men as well, then those misperceptions can never be abolished, they are always going to linger and there is never going to be that image of a strong female role model for our next generation.”
U.S. Army National Guard veteran Isaura Lanuza, (GRD ’15) said that Singh’s statements and those of the other panelists regarding women claiming their own identity in their leadership style resonated with her.
“I really enjoyed the panel,” Lanuza wrote in an email to The Hoya after the event. “It solidified some of what I experienced when transitioning to the workforce, and provided tips for survival–such as know your center and be true to your center.”
Jim Perkins (GRD ’16), a current captain in the U.S. Army said that the discussion panel and its subject were significant to him.
“[The discussion panel] did resonate with me despite the fact that I’ve had a very limited experience with women in the military”, Perkins wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I am in a branch that has restrictions on women, so this discussion was particularly impactful to me because the role of women is often overlooked.”
In relation to the university’s services for student veterans, GUSVA is currently in the midst of fundraising for the establishment of a veteran’s center for increased service on campus for these servicemen and servicewomen with a stated goal of four million dollars.
Hilsdon posed a challenge to the Georgetown community in support of this cause.
“I would really like to see the veteran’s center come into being,” Hilsdon said. “One of the most important things that we need to do as a nation to support these people who have given so much is to give them a place to come when they get here, so that they don’t feel like they’re all alone.”