April 02, 2014 - While G.I. Joe is what many Americans grew up with, the reality is G.I. Jane is becoming more and more common.
Oxford resident Kate Logan, who served in Iraq and is currently a sergeant in the Michigan National Guard, is co-chairing a May 16 networking event for female veterans like herself. When she's not busy helping others or going to school, Logan is mom to Jack (left), 4, and Samuel, 9 months. Jack will start kindergarten at Daniel Axford Elementary School in the fall. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
By 2040, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs projects there will be more than 2.2 million living female military veterans.
Oxford Village resident Kate Logan is determined to make sure female veterans like herself get all the support and access to the resources they need to make the most of the opportunities afforded by civilian life.
"Female veterans, all of them that I've met, feel extremely isolated after leaving the service," said the 2000 Oxford High School graduate who served with the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division in Iraq and is currently a sergeant in the Michigan National Guard.
"You're leaving a male-dominated career field and you're coming back (home) trying to become a woman again and learn who you are. That's a very difficult thing to do alone."
To show female veterans they're not alone, Logan is co-chairing a networking event designed exclusively for them dubbed "Operation: Success."
Sponsored by the Oakland County Women's Advisory Board, for which Logan is a veterans representative, the event will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday, May 16 at the Oakland Community College Auburn Hills campus (2900 Featherstone Rd., Building G).
The event will feature a selection of keynote speakers, all of whom are female veterans.
"I really wanted to bring together a strong group of female veterans that had stories to share and that could relate to a population that is transitioning and/or struggling to find resources," Logan said.
The event will focus on five key areas – housing/money management, health and wellness, career opportunities, education and peer support. Logan said peer support is the area that's "lacking" the most.
"You never really get a large group of female veterans together to share their stories and to really learn about each other's experiences," she said.
Representatives from organizations and agencies such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Oakland County Veterans' Services will be there.
Female veterans who attend will be asked to "really figure out what their next step is," so they can be connected that day with a resource that can assist them in their journey.
"We wanted to get away from the typical job fair or education resource fair (format) that's usually offered for veterans," Logan explained. "Two people at a table, get a brochure, walk around, then leave – you really don't get much out of that."
"The goal (of this networking event) is to help them take that next step, so they can get over any hurdles that they're dealing with and really learn how to create personal success," she noted.
The event is free to those who preregister at http://business.auburnhillschamber.com/events/details/operation-success-1103 or by calling (248) 853-7862.
Those who don't preregister will be charged $25 at the door. "We're really trying to persuade people to preregister so we can get a correct head count," Logan said.
Challenges faced by female veterans
Logan explained that one of the biggest challenges is that women tend not to identify themselves as veterans.
"I think that they've been kind of trained to do so because there's still that societal stereotype that when you picture an individual coming back from war, you typically don't picture a woman. Most people think of a man," she said.
Some women don't associate themselves with anything veteran-related because they experienced a sexual trauma, discrimination or some other negative issue during their service.
"They have a distrust of anything connected to the military, so they don't seek out Veteran Affairs or help," Logan said.
Logan said the rates for female veterans are "much higher" than male veterans when it comes to not seeking help to deal with problems like homelessness or mental health issues.
"It's not that women suffer any differently," she said. "They face the same hardships coming back – no jobs, different forms of post-traumatic stress. It's kind of a unique circumstance (though) because they're not seeking the help where a lot of the men are. I don't know if it's fear or pride, or a little bit of both, that kicks in."
Logan said the problem is only "going to continue to grow, especially as more and more people return home."
She noted the one issue that many female veterans have to deal with that men don't is children. "A lot of women are single mothers and raising families," she said. That creates financial hardships such as finding affordable daycare for working mothers.
Logan can hardly believe her transition to civilian life is now considered a "success story" as evidenced by the fact that she recently participated as a panelist in the Governor's Economic Summit in Grand Rapids.
"When people meet me, they think I've got it all together and I'm thinking, 'Yeah, right. If they only knew half of it,'" she said.
Logan served in Iraq from February 2007 through April 2008 during the surge operations. There she did "a little bit of everything."
She started off attached to a team of infantry soldiers that was conducting surge operations and clearing cities. She would follow them around and search Iraqi female civilians if they were suspected of concealing something inside or beneath their clothing such as a weapon or explosive device.
"It's against their culture to have another man touch their woman," Logan explained.
Logan noted she was part of a team that captured a local terrorist, whom she described as a "high value target."
"That was intense," she said.
Logan also engaged in security work and did a stint in public affairs.
When she first moved back to Oxford in 2009, Logan's biggest challenge was "finding a spot" in civilian life.
When she left, all of her friends were in college. When she returned, "everybody's moved on and started families."
"Your original support system is gone."
Adding to the difficulty of her transition was the fact that she was now a single mother.
At first, Logan said she wasn't aware of all the veterans benefits she was entitled to and as a result, she "really struggled to figure out how (she) was going to make it work."
"Luckily for me, I really honed in on using my education benefits," she said. "For years, I survived off of the post-9/11 G.I. Bill. That came with a housing stipend that was enough for me and my son to live off of."
She earned her bachelor's degree and is now close to obtaining her master's degree in administration from Central Michigan University. Her focus is on healthcare.
"I love learning," Logan said. "It's going to be a lifelong journey for me."
Logan wants to work for either U.S. Veteran Affairs or a service organization that assists veterans. She wants to focus on female veterans. "That's really all I'd like to do is help out the veteran community," she said.
She considers it a success whenever she feels as though she's contributing and giving something back "to a group of people that are like family to me."
"To me, that's what being in the military was about," Logan said. "You never really do lose that camaraderie."
Logan's education has gone well, her career prospects seem good and her family life is rich and full thanks to her sons, Jack, 4, and Samuel, 9 months, and her live-in boyfriend Andy Forte.
But she admitted she still struggles with the "support aspect" of being a female veteran.
"I try to get out as much as I can in the community and network with veterans as much as possible," she said. "It's hard to find those other female veterans, but when I do, it's such an amazing connection. It's another woman that shares something that very few have (experienced) and that really understands what you're going through. I do enjoy that aspect of connecting with veterans. I think that's extremely beneficial for me and other veterans."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.