This is a speech I gave in March of 2007 at the VA Hospital in West Haven, CT on Womens Veterans Day.
Esterina Messeder, U.S. Coast Guard
Question to Address: Why did you become involved in the U.S. Military
My first introduction into military life was in 10th grade when I decided to join the NJROTC (aka “ROTC” for the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps) program at my high school. ROTC was for the super geeky kids. I joined because my boyfriend at the time was in ROTC and I wanted to spend more time with him after school.
However, over the next few years the military grew on me. I had the pleasure of experiencing 2 mini-boot camps and many other trips to navy bases in different states. My family was poor and I didn’t have the opportunity to leave the small town of Mastic Beach, NY very often. When we went on trips it was so exciting to see different places. I also really liked the structure, discipline, and uniformity of the military.
When it came time to make a decision about what to do after high school I was faced with some harsh realities:
- I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life
- I didn’t have money to go to college
- My life at home with my parents was very poor, unhappy, and dysfunctional – and I didn’t have the capability of living on my own
- I wanted to experience life outside of Mastic Beach and see the world
My decision to become a part of the military was easy because it seemed to absolve all my problematic issues. I could gain some real life experience while earning money for college, live on my own, and travel on ships to see the world free of charge. I would also have the type of job my parents never had… one that provided health care benefits and sick days. There seemed to be so many benefits. I decided to join the Coast Guard. I chose the Coast Guard for two reasons. The first was because the Coast Guard’s mission was to help protect the environment, and I have always cared about keeping the environment clean. My second reason was because I thought the Coast Guard’s uniforms were the cutest of all the services.
The only drawback was the risk of the U.S. going to war. But the U.S. did not get to be in the position it is today without thousands of brave soldiers before me fighting for the freedom we take for granted, so while the thought of this risk was scary… it would have been an honor to be part of such an event.
And so, in the summer of 1994 right after high school I went off to boot camp and enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard. I was on active duty for 4 years. I went to “A” school to become a cook. I was on ships and on land, in port and on the high seas, in the heat of the Caribbean and in the cold waters of the Bering strait in Alaska. It was the most exciting, yet hardest four years of my life. When it came time to decide to re-enlist, I was already married and had my son. My first priority was my new family. So as much as I would have liked to stay in and live the exciting life, it was time to move on and use the GI Bill to start college. I stayed in the Reserves for another four years while working on my bachelor degree – which I received in 2001 in business administration. 2 days before my reserve enlistment was up, I interviewed at the VA and have been working here ever since. Now I have just completed the requirements to receive my Masters in Business Administration J
I never had to face what I imagined was my biggest risk, which was going to war. I salute anyone who has ever been put in that situation because I understand that these men and women have their own stories and own reasons for risking their lives for our country, so as that Toby Keith song goes “we can sleep in peace at night when we lay down our head”. There were so many nights I was up on watch, freezing and tired – wishing I was on land, not rocking, and sleeping in a warm bed, operating for weeks on just four or so hours of sleep a day. And I was not in harms way. I can only imagine that the men and women overseas today are feeling the same things I did, but amplified by 100.
In honor of Women’s Day, women in the military are still very much a minority. As of September 30, 2004, the ratio of men-women in the military was 7:1 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006). So it takes just a little more guts to enter a realm where the ladies will be more than outnumbered. It is not just a man’s world, and the military is extremely accommodating to women while treating us the same way the men are treated. I hope I’m not alone when I say that I would like to see the ratio of women 1:1 in the near future.
I’d like to leave off by saying that I am very proud to work in an organization that serves and honors the veterans of our armed forces.
U.S. Census Bureau (2006). Women by the numbers. Retrieved on Friday, January 26, 2007 @ http://www.infoplease.com/spot/womencensus1.html.