Invisible Warriors: In Their Own Words

In this docuseries, women who served in our armed forces tell their stories of pride, camaraderie, challenge, struggle, and triumph while in service to our country. This series is unique because it brings us first person perspectives from a not yet fully heard portion of our Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force. They are sisters, daughters, wives, and mothers; and they are our nation’s service women.

We asked some of the over 200 women who wrote to us from across the United States, “What is your name, what was your rank, and why did you join?” When we asked, “why did you join?” we heard fascinating personal stories of life changing experiences from women who were soldiers, sailors and airmen. We learned about service women’s lives in the military and how their lives can change once they leave it. We also got first hand testimony that females in service compete and serve equally with their fellow soldiers. They fight battles outside of our borders, but sometimes they fight battles from within their own ranks as they face extra scrutiny, disregard and even physical harm from our own U.S. servicemen. They describe different ways of persevering, whether it’s achieving a successful lifetime career of service and pride or getting through the day following a sexual assault. With each story we better understand that the expectations of our men and women who join the military is equal but our treatment of, and support for our women can be very different. These are stories from our nation’s servicewomen that we have not heard or had the chance to consider along with our servicemen.

The women who contacted us are Black, white, Native American and immigrants from Eastern Europe. They come from varying backgrounds, and they served in World War II, the Vietnam War and the Middle East. These are a few of their stories:

Tonya was a truck driver who deployed to northern Iraq in 2008. After returning home she described how her behavior became more violent and how her use of alcohol escalated. She received a second DUI in 2010, and Article 15 paperwork was started by her commander. Article 15 allows a commander to resolve alleged minor misconduct against a soldier without resorting to higher forms of discipline such as a court martial. The decision to impose an Article 15 is completely up to the commander.

Tonya tells us how she, the sole female soldier among fellow soldiers who also were facing an Article 15, was the only soldier not allowed to speak to her battalion commander. Non commissioned officers in charge were willing to vouch for Tonya, but they also were not seen. Tonya was sent to the army substance abuse program, but it was determined that she did not meet the criteria for someone who needed alcohol or substance abuse counseling. No other counseling was offered to her. Tonya feels that she suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, but this was never considered as the reason for the behaviors she was disciplined for. Tonya takes responsibility for her actions but says she realizes now that she never received the treatment or support that was given to her fellow male soldiers at the time.

Kelia enlisted in the United States Army in 2011 as a Human Intelligence Collector and went to different schools to grow as a soldier. She enlisted to give her life direction and purpose, and she says she grew as a soldier and a person while she was in service. She is proud to say she loved what she did in and for the military. She says she met incredible leaders, fellow soldiers and also met the man who became her husband. While she was pregnant, her husband was moved to another duty station. Since it would have been impossible for them to be together in the same place for the remainder of her contract, she left the military in 2013. Kelia’s story is an example of some of the hard choices that are unique to dedicated female soldiers.

DeAnna’s father was a highly respected Air Force jet mechanic from Louisville, Kentucky. He was proud to have his daughter serve in the military along with her two brothers. All three were part of a military family tradition of dedication and service to their country. The first step DeAnna took when she turned 18 was to talk to a recruiter, and she enlisted the month after she graduated from High School. DeAnna’s father picked her first job in intelligence as an imagery interpreter. DeAnna thought that the reputation of her father and family in the military would protect her from the kind of harassment that she knew some female soldiers face from male soldiers. But this proved to be no protection, and DeAnna was raped by her officer in charge. DeAnna’s story shows that when our daughters are the ones to carry on their family’s dedicated military service, they can face perils that our sons might not.

Leslie trained for the gulf war and was proud to be of service. She felt a strong sense of fellowship with the other soldiers in her unit. Her first experiences with sexual harassment were with the Saudi men who approached her as if she were a prostitute. Her sexual harassment escalated, but from within her own company. She was held responsible for her own sexual harassment simply for being a woman and was told women “distracted” male soldiers.

Leslie describes how while leaving the showers one day, she was overpowered, gagged and raped by two fellow soldiers in her unit. She describes the shock and withdrawal that most women experience after being raped. Despite her trauma, Leslie reported to duty the next morning only to be chased and sexually harassed again by yet another male soldier. She describes how this assault caused her to react at that moment and made her want to reach for her weapon on her belt to shoot that soldier. She did not. Instead she withdrew into herself and was unable to seek the support, understanding or justice that a rape victim should receive. Her attackers were never charged with a crime and Leslie remained silent until now. She has at last found the strength to speak up and says she is grateful to finally tell her story.

Judy is the vice commander of a woman’s veteran organization in Pennsylvania. She writes:

“Our members are proud of their military service. We have women veterans up to 101 years old from all branches of service and who have served in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf and Iraq Wars. Our organization is interested in preserving the history and memories of women veterans within our area in Pennsylvania as well as helping women veterans in need. We all had our various reasons for joining the military, but you won’t find any in our group who are disgruntled or with negative attitudes. We are sisters at arms.

Invisible Warriors: In Their Own Words presents stories of the challenges, obstacles and hardships that female veterans experience. There is also an underlying sense of them being part of a sisterhood and serving something greater than themselves. Many are proud, many are glad that they served, and they all have stories – some good, and some bad – to tell. By letting our country’s servicewomen tell their stories, Invisible Warriors: In Their Own Words presents us with the ladies who consistently show their pride for their service to our armed forces. They are grateful to have had the opportunity to serve, forge lasting friendships and grow through surmounting the obstacles and challenges they faced in their complex experiences.

From across our country, the women who tell their stories in Invisible Warriors: In Their Own Words let us know about the group of people we sometimes don’t realize we need to think of equally when we support our troops. They are survivors of extraordinary circumstances, and their stories are diverse and authentic. With each interview, we tap into rich veins of life experiences that have not been mined. We hear, and learn from our living unknown soldiers. Their pride and strength is apparent and inspirational. They are always grateful when they have their chance to finally be heard, and our understanding of this country’s military is more complete as we hear what they have to say.

About the Artist

Wendy Shear is the daughter of the late producer and director Barry Shear and actress Sondra Roe Shear. Born in Brooklyn, New York, she moved to Beverly Hills, California when she was 6 years old. Growing up, Shear spent most of her free time following her father around on numerous productions, and learning show business first hand. After graduating from Hollywood High School, she went straight to work for KLAC and KMET radio stations and then made the leap into the music business.

It was there she met her first husband, a road manager for The Who, and moved to London for 5 years. There she worked for Universal Television. Her marriage went south, and Wendy went west back to California. There she made great leaps in her career by working as an assistant director on shows like Dynasty, Wings and Sisters, and as a second unit stunt director for several more shows; including Dukes of Hazard. She also served as assistant director for Clint Eastwood’s iconic film, Every Which way but Loose.

Shear married again to a Belgian Baron, and after 10 years, that too came to an end. In 2005, Shear felt the need for a new life and moved to New York. There her years of experience came to fruition and gave Shear the chance to produce several indie films as well as the golden opportunity to direct her first feature film, The Camera’s Eye