UNCW student veteran leader discusses womanhood, microaggressions in the US military
NatCon is the largest annual gathering of post-9/11 US veterans in the world. Ashlie Anderson — an Air Force veteran, and president of UNCW's Student Veterans Organization — was featured as a panelist at this year’s event. She discussed the good and the bad, including the tough topic of sexual assault and discrimination in the military.
At this year’s conference, which was held virtually, Anderson spoke on a panel with three other women, and answered questions:
“It just felt – made me feel really empowered and just honored to be talking to these other women who have backgrounds in all different types of things. But we're all having that one center goal of just trying to make the world a better place, as cliche as that sounds.”
But some of the questions the panel had to answer weren’t easy ones — according to the US Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, in 2018 female military members and veterans experienced the highest rates of sexual assault and rape since 2006.
With those numbers in mind, the moderator the panel asked how organizations could get more women involved as leaders in groups like Student Veterans of America, while making potential sexual assault survivors feel more at-ease.
“That's a really hard question to answer because everybody has different experiences with sexual assault, and everybody deals with it differently. Personally I was a victim of sexual assault in the military. A lot of times, the people who you trust the most are the ones who make the assault. So it's a little bit difficult.”
Anderson says that what helped her most, personally, was having a support system, and someone to listen to her. She’s since become a certified sexual assault advocate, which means she provides that support herself now, to other survivors.
She says talking about the issue, and providing survivors with someone to talk with, are vital components to keeping them involved.
“They're doing the sexual assault presentations every year that we have to do and, while people get burned out from it, I think that's still really important to highlight it. Because it's still happening. So we don't just want to not highlight it, and then it just continues happening, and nobody thinks about it.”
Anderson originally enlisted in the Air Force so she could get financial help to pay for school. She says her experience, overall, was pretty positive. And she notes that through the years, women have gained a lot more respect and freedom in the military to pursue traditionally male roles.
But, there’s still work to be done:
“One of my biggest pet peeves as a Crew Chief, is we were looked at, as a female — ‘well, you can't do this job because you're a female.’ And I would have people try and do things for me. And I'm like, ‘let me do it until I ask you, I don't want your help until I tell you that I need your help.’”
Today, her position in UNCW's Student Veterans Organization involves creating a space for student veterans to have support, resources, and a community. And she has this advice for other women veterans — and active service members — pursuing leadership roles:
“I think one of the biggest things for women leaders, if they're wondering like, ‘okay, well how do I get to these positions?’ And it's like, just try it. Don’t sit there and let anybody tell you that you can't do it.
Don't let fear and doubt of failing, keep you from doing something because when you fail, that's when you learn. So I think that that's really important to have that mindset, even when it's hard.”