Every time I walk into a vet center, a VA hospital or any other veterans’ group, I get the look – the “You’re not really a vet … are you?” look. I’m no longer surprised by it. I enter the room, and every male eye turns to assess my long hair, my skirt, my small stature. “You’re not really a vet.” Vets aren’t girls.
When my opinions were unpopular in the university vets’ group, it wasn’t necessary for the male vets to debate me. They raised themselves to their full height and glared down at me with all the intimidation they could muster; with booming voices they told me we weren’t going to discuss it anymore, and if I didn’t like it I could get the @#$@ out. “You’re not really a vet.” Vets are loud and aggressive.
I used to be a regular in the 3rd Infantry Division Alumni Facebook group. After six years in that division, I had left the military, and was finally free to speak my mind. So I spoke my mind. And when the male vets disagreed with me, it wasn’t with counter-arguments – it was with the old favorite: “You’re not really a vet.” Vets don’t disagree with their government.
So what is a vet? Is it a shaved head, a barrel chest and a deep voice, all fed by raw meat and ammunition? Is it a pair of fists, and a pair of testicles? Is it an unflinching loyalty to a government that knows it only as a number? Ask the men in the VA hospital. Ask the men in the university vets’ group. Ask the men on the veterans’ Facebook page.
But don’t ask me. I clearly wouldn’t know.
Emily Yates is a former Army Public Affairs Specialist and “Eventual Superstar.” She deployed to Iraq twice with the 3rd Infantry Division and helped spread all the positive news the Army had decided should come out of Iraq. When she got out of the military in 2008 after six years (including one year under the stop-loss policy), she drove around the country aimlessly for several months and eventually settled in the Bay Area.
She is an active member of the Bay Area chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War and is working on her bachelor’s degree in Near Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She recently recorded her first solo album of original material, which will be released in May. She lives in Oakland with her husband and dog.
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