Written by Kerri Jeter
What started as a one dinner to connect with other women Veterans has proven to meet the number one need women Veterans seek post-service – Community. The bridge from connection to community is collaboration. Women Veteran Alliance has answered the call to be the bridge and meet the needs of Women Veterans across the nation.
Leaving the military presents a slew of issues and concerns that need addressing for every individual, women are not immune to the transitional motions that must occur. We have to grieve the loss of the dream, step into a new system of rules and constraints that are foreign, we must rebuild a sense of purpose and belonging. The three C’s that I found to be the building blocks to succeeding beyond the uniform are:
- Finding connections;
- Exploring collaborations;
- Building community.
To my knowledge all grassroot led movements begin with a need of an individual. When seeking a connection which is a need for a relationship with a person, network related to a thing or idea; the person begins to seek out someone who looks like them, understands what they are going through and are relatable. Transitions occur all throughout our life and each time we transform, a healthy response is to seek out others who understand what you might be experiencing. We have a heart for connection.
Since women Veterans have certain similarities we can offer our sisters-in-service a true heart connection. We understand service-related jokes and banter (Go Army, Beat Navy for example), we share the same language (MOS, PCS, TDY, DD214), we empathize with the hardships we have suffered (MST, PTSD, being invisible) and we know the strength of a warrior because we are warriors (frontline battles, breaking glass ceilings, mastering motherhood and military commitments), and the list goes on.
So when we leave the military, we long to be connected with others that only those who served understand and even more so, women Veterans want to connect with other women Veterans.
I know Melissa Washington founded Women Veterans Alliance to meet a need she was desiring and fill a service that was lacking for women who valiantly served this country. Likewise, I started Freedom Sisters to meet a spiritual need for women Veterans, a sacred place to share our stories and to inspire other women Veterans and instill hope for our community. Both of our organizations were birthed from a need of connection.
When women Veterans connect, there is an intrinsic knowing of one another. This kind of connection sparks energy, creativity and is extremely beneficial in order to change the narrative and impact the world. How do we change the world? One Collaboration at a time.
I sincerely, hope you sang the 1989’s, musical hit, Ice Ice Baby when you read that last line….
But in all seriousness, when women Veterans come together to collaborate instead of compete it is a force to be reckoned with. The single most important tip, tool or trick to success in every woman Veteran organization has been collaborations. Top Women Veteran CEOs to new enterprises praise collaborations as being vital to their success. A collaboration is working with a fellow woman Veteran to produce or create something.
The nemesis to collaboration is competition.
There are 1.6 million living Women Veterans that means there is approximately 1.28 trillion (1,279,999,200,000 to be exact) potential connections within our community of women Veterans. Yet we only make up 9.4% of the total Veteran population, which means we already are competing against a large force to have adequate care, funding, resources for our unique needs. Who can better identify with you than a fellow woman Veteran? And really what could hurt from teaming up with a fellow badass woman to create something amazing that can be mutually beneficial?
Women veteran-owned businesses (WVOBs) made up 15.2% of all veteran-owned businesses in 2015, according to Census Bureau statistics. About 97% of those businesses have no employees, that shows us as WVOBs we should be partnering with a fellow WVOB in order to diversify and grow with one another. Women have been coerced for far too long in believing that other women are our enemies and it’s time we stop working against one another.
When we fail to effectively engage in collaborations with other women Veterans, we lose the added value to our society of this highly diverse population that represents nearly every ethnicity, race, gender orientation and age group.
Imagine if two (or more) powerhouse women Veterans got together, combined their genius instead of barely surviving or worse never able to implement her creativity to the world because she was too stressed, or too restricted to go at it alone – the world would be transformed.
This past year, Shellie Willis, a fellow Woman Veteran and I created Shero Talk, an all-woman event that highlights what we lovingly call Sheroes. We are offering a platform for all women to share her embolden story. The event affords eight women to give an 8-minute speech on our annual theme that sparks conversation and ignites change in our world.
As women Veterans we wanted to expand the impact for women Veterans and services available to reach the fastest growing Veteran population. So, each year we select a Women Veteran-led nonprofit to receive a portion of the ticket sales. This year we were able to donate $625.00 to Final Salute, Inc.
Our inaugural event was a wild success, not only were we able to celebrate ideas and showcase diversity in multiple areas of expertise, we were able to give back to our sisters, in the community we love.
Women are naturally relational and need to be part of a community, and this is especially true for women Veterans who are no longer in the military. Becoming a productive member of a women Veterans community can help foster self-esteem, confidence, and a social network that can be invaluable.
After leaving the military many women struggle with loneliness, PTSD from exposure to past combat or sexual trauma as a result of their military service, raising a child as a single parent, and many other challenges. Once she finds her people, gets plugged into services, finds a support group, is able to give back and help fellow sisters – it makes an enormous difference in her sense of belonging.
The call to service is in us, there is no escaping it and although there are a plethora of organizations to get involved with many Veterans tend to feel more comfortable with other Veterans in their own community.
The women Veterans community tends to experience greater challenges than their male counterparts do when they leave military service and they are more likely to need more support in order to be successful after this transition. Whether a female veteran needs help or they want to help others in a similar situation, there are many ways to do this.
So many programs and resources that are available for women Veterans are often underutilized. Collectively, the mindset of a woman Veteran is often used to suffering in silence and therefore overlooks opportunity that is available.
If we come together and a unified group, a girl gang, a sisterhood, call it what you want — then we will start to see an uptick in successful women Veterans making a difference, leaving a legacy and building a dynasty.
Women Veteran Alliance is the premier network source that is impacting and empowering the community of women Veterans. This is the place to find connections, explore collaborations and build a lasting community. Sister, come join a community that was made for you!
Kerri Jeter is the founder of Freedom Sisters, a faith-based multimedia company that addresses political, social and spiritual issues with a woman veteran perspective. Her company is a perfect combination of media and ministry that amplifies women Veteran voices. She holds the titles of mom, wife, daughter, sister, Army Veteran, Ms. Veteran America 2015, believer and friend. She enjoys a strong cup of coffee, a good book and endless creativity. Connect with her for media services, sponsorship, or to be a guest on the highly successful Freedom Sisters Podcast.
firstname.lastname@example.org | FB/IG: @freedomsisterspodcast