They were dressed in fatigues. Three men and one woman chatted casually while their bags were checked in the Military Personnel Line at Will Rogers Airport. The private bringing up the rear was short; his dark buzz cut looked nice against his brown skin, and his posture was more swagger than resolute. The third in line was digging into her bag. My eyebrows raised when, from the depths of all manner of military supplies came a laminated zebra print bag trimmed in hot pink. She found what she was looking for, zipped the zebra print, then zipped the duffle.
When she stood up, my eye immediately focused on two small braids, one at either side of her face, approximately ½” in width, pulled up with the rest of her hair into a bun. The interaction between she and the other three was one of camaraderie. In fact, had I not seen the braids and bun, I’m not sure I would have noticed there were two sexes represented in the line for deployment.
She made a joke, walked through the metal detector, and then she and her zebra print bag were gone.
I spied, however, three more women and six more men on my walk to the gate, all dressed in fatigues and for the most part interacting much like the first group I had seen. I began to really focus in on the women and think of stories I had heard where female soldiers had to pull fellow comrades twice their body weight out of harm’s way during heavy fire. Where females who were normally sent to the Middle East on one kind of mission, by necessity, got put on another and ended up going head to head in a battle they never thought they’d fight.
I decided that my first post would be about them. I approached the last group of mixed-sex soldiers I saw and asked if I could take their picture for this post. Three men immediately said yes. Their words were still hanging in the air when the girl with them said, “I’d rather not be in the photo.” I agreed, and asked, ‘would it be okay if the back of her head were showing?’ She waited one-half second longer than would have been a normal response and said, “Yeah, that’s okay. I’m okay with that.”
Female soldiers also have a history of having to learn firm boundary setting.
I thanked them and approached the gate to wait on my flight to San Francisco. I noticed a young cowboy who walked with an absolutely fearless gait. He threw his “Rodeo Team Finals” duffle bag on the floor, sat in a chair, and turned the parked bag into a footstool for his boots. His boots were absolutely the most rugged, cool boots I had seen in a great long while.
“What type of boots are those?” I asked.
“You mean, what brand?” His response wasn’t cautious, rather it was conversational.
“No, I mean the hide. What IS that?” I tried to clarify my question. “Oh…” he smiled, “they’re elephant hide. I don’t really know where you can get them anymore.”
I quickly made a mental note to check on elephant hide boots, and also to never tell my PETA friends about my quest. And then, I thought, “Talking about boots sure is easier than thinking about females in the military.”
I’m a scientist at heart. That day I counted four female and nine male soldiers deploying. I wonder how much higher a 4:9 ratio is than twenty years ago? I wonder what the male to female ratio is for the current Afghanistan work? And, I wonder how many oh-so-stylish make-up bags fill the duffles of the females who are deployed?
The speaker announced my flight. I got up and left those thoughts hovering over my empty seat. It was too much to think about on my trip to Beijing. Rather, I tried to remember my conversational Chinese, and boarded the plane.