LIVERMORE -- Women veterans gave an insider look at life in the military from a uniquely female perspective at Las Positas College's "Honoring Women Veterans" event in honor of Women's Military History Week.
The event was held March 19 in the campus Little Theatre and was sponsored through the college's Veterans First program, which provides veterans with resources such as priority registration, scholarships and a veterans' resource center to help them achieve academic goals.
"This spring term, we have nearly 400 veterans enrolled at the college, including 50 female veterans," said Todd Steffan, Veterans First coordinator. "The number of veterans at LPC has quadrupled since 9/11."
The day's events got under way with a presentation of colors by an all-female Elite Honor Guard from Travis Air Force Base. LPC student and U.S. Air Force veteran Darlene Arrigo sang a stirring national anthem.
The keynote speaker was Mary King, a U.S. Army veteran and current chief of staff to the president of PG&E, one of the event sponsors. King spoke of her transition from six years of life in the Army to working in corporate America and how she bridged the gap between two very different worlds.
"I decided to infiltrate corporate America as I would an Army mission, by first doing some reconnaissance," said King. "The first thing I discovered is that you don't need to start work at 05:00 hours in corporate America!"
King drew laughter from the audience with her tale of how she followed three women to a coffee shop on her reconnaissance mission and overheard one say she had a 9 a.m. meeting.
"'But it's 9:15 already,' said her friend. 'It's OK, it's just the boss man.'" "That's when I realized that the chain of command in corporate America was a little different," said King.
On a more serious note, she recalled feeling very alone and wasn't sure if she could fit in to this different world.
King talked about her job with PG&E and the company's mission to hire vets and promote veteran-run businesses.
"Just as I was reaching out to corporate America when I left the Army, they are reaching back," said King. "Seven percent of PG&E workers hired last year were veterans. PG&E also has a program called Power Pathways, which helps veterans transition into corporate life."
King posed, then answered, the question, "Why hire vets?"
"Veterans understand the meaning of 'service' and the duty to serve," she said. "They also understand the importance of proper training and following the rules." She said in the military you don't get to pick and choose with whom you work, which builds the ability to work as a team.
King said veterans, especially female veterans, often adopt the strategy of trying to blend in when they leave the military.
"That is wrong. Vets need to stand out and bring to the table experiences that corporate America needs," said King. "Women veterans don't like to self-identify. But you are a veteran and you should be proud of it."
King's lively presentation was followed by a panel discussion run by Navy veteran Kelly McFarland, also an LPC alumni. She invited the six female panelists -- all veterans and LPC students or alumni -- to introduce themselves and field questions.
Asked about the most positive aspect of her service, U.S. Army veteran Kristin Akers responded "camaraderie." "Nothing can compare to it," said Akers. "I'm glad I found the LPC Veterans First program -- it's that same sense of camaraderie."
Army veteran Stephanie Justice said after serving in desert regions, she was just glad to see grass again.
"I feel so blessed to have shoes, paved roads, schools for females," said Justice, adding that seeing how people live in countries where she served changed her world view.
Responding to a question about the challenges of transitioning from military to civilian life, Vickie Hudson, who retired from the Army and Army Reserve after 33 years, said support services for veterans are very different today from when she signed up in the 1970s. Things on the "inside" are very different too.
"In 1979, I was on patrol with another woman, when they split us up and paired each of us with a man," said Hudson. "The thought was, 'What would happen if something actually happened?' In 2005 when I was in Iraq, nobody cared if you were a man or a woman."
She said it took her twice as long to assimilate back into civilian life as the time she spent on each deployment.
"For many years I slept with a gun under my pillow," said Hudson, who battled sexual harassment in the military and suffered from PTSD. "If it wasn't for my dog I'd be dead -- but I had to get out of bed every day to walk him. Now I do the kind of reaching out that I needed then."
Army vet and panelist Frankie Stoneham said when she left the military, she found it hard to talk to people and get a job.
"I definitely got lost for a bit, but I'm making my way back," she said.
"Knowing what you know now, how would you have prepared for service differently?" McFarland asked the panel. McFarland said she would "stand her ground -- I gave a lot of ground in (what was then) a man's world."
Following the panel discussion, McFarland said the six panelists -- of diverse race and age -- represent the face of women veterans today.
"It's not just G.I. Joe anymore; it's all of us," she said.
For more information on the Las Positas College Veterans First program, visit http://www.laspositascollege.edu/veterans/index.php or call 925-424-1000.