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'We have to talk': Veteran pushes for support of women in combat roles

Army veteran Valerie Lewis says she has experienced a lack of understanding of the role women play in the country's armed forces.
'We have to talk': Veteran pushes for support of women in combat roles
Posted at 4:07 PM, Nov 13, 2023

Now that women are not excluded from any type of combat roles in the U.S. military, we should expect to see women in all parts of the armed forces. For Army veteran Valerie Lewis, she says that recognizing this new era of the military and the role women play hasn't always been what she expected. 

Lewis says that in many areas of life during and after time served in the military, there is still a lack of recognition of the role women play in it all, and of their support needs. She is considered a wounded warrior and has experienced life in combat during tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Lewis says that the people with whom she interacted in public when she returned home after duty didn't naturally recognize that she was a wounded veteran, and said she had to take extra steps to raise awareness about it. Lewis was able to display a sticker from the military on her car recognizing women in combat roles.

"We have to talk about it," Lewis said. "I know that's the only way we're going to start improving things." 

Lewis even experienced homelessness at one point, and said she saw how there is more support for male veterans compared to support available for women veterans experiencing those hardships. 

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Women serve in all types of military roles, including as pilots, mechanics, vehicle drivers and infantry officers, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution. The U.S. military has never experienced a higher proportion of women than today, the analysis said. Women in the military make up 16% of the total armed forces. 

Brookings said it found that women represented just 1 in every 6 U.S. military service members, but that number is about double of what it was in the previous generation for all of the armed forces. 

Lewis said that while she served in combat roles in multiple war zones, she returned home and received a lack of recognition for her service, until she raised awareness about the issue.

"I'm walking through, holding my weapon, and looking for the bad guys," she said. "And, here in America, I know that we don't like to think of women doing that. Of actually being out there on those front lines like that. We like to think that our female soldiers are staying back on whatever little base we have set up. And, that's not necessarily the truth."

Brookings said that senior leadership have indicated that the issue is known, and said that work still needs to be done to help integrate women into the military in a better way. 

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