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‘Thank you for your service.’ A phrase meant to convey gratitude to the less than 1% of Americans who raised their hand to defend the Constitution against all enemies. But what about the more than 300 women who served in Cultural Support Teams (CST)? Unfortunately, women combat veterans are not extended the same recognition as their male counterparts. I know because I served as a CST and have routinely experienced complete disregard for my service.
Service members can be stripped of rank, pay, and even honor – but how we conducted ourselves on the battlefield encompasses much of our personal identity. I have been devastated by the complete denial of portions of my service and actions I took on the battlefield. I have been told, ‘women aren’t allowed in combat,’ – like what I experienced did not really happen.
But it did happen. I did serve in combat, and I am not alone. Military entitlements are continually denied to me, and hundreds like me, because we are women. It is time to help my sisters in arms and restore the identity that has been stripped from us.
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Women who served in CSTs, like me, answered the call to serve at the tip of the spear of the Global War on Terror. Operating under U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), we fought alongside our military’s elite operators during the height of the Afghan war, and we became an integral part of Special Operations and intelligence gathering. CSTs support both Village-Stability Operations and Direct Action operations, where we could engage with the women and children more effectively than the all-male teams of SEALs, Special Forces and other government agencies.
While primarily an intelligence-serving role, we frequently engaged in firefights alongside our male counterparts. Gradually, we became more involved in Direct Action (DA) operations – the kind of door-kicking Hollywood action scenes our minds envision. I loved every second of it. As a CST operator, I led DA operations and engaged in 20 combat missions. I lost dear friends along the way.
I did serve in combat, and I am not alone. Military entitlements are continually denied to me, and hundreds like me, because we are women. It is time to help my sisters in arms and restore the identity that has been stripped from us.
However, upon our return home, we started experiencing disparate treatment. Our operator brothers, with whom we fought side-by-side, received swift attention and recognition. Meanwhile, my fellow CSTs and I struggled to convince VA clinicians of our combat-related injuries.
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I did what the Army taught me to do. I kept my mouth shut and grimaced through the pain. Any instance of complaining could risk my next mission, and that would mean letting down my brothers and sisters – a cardinal sin for a soldier in wartime. CSTs suffer the same unique conditions as the rest of the Special Operations (SOF) community, including invisible wounds like Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress (PTS).
The Special Operations ethos does not permit giving up or settling for “good enough” – that is why I persisted through adversity. I turned to my SOF brothers and sisters to get the job done. I brought this issue to the Special Operations Association of America, knowing they lived by the same ethos. Together, we have worked with members of Congress to introduce the Jax Act.
The bill is bipartisan legislation with an all-veteran cast – introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-CA, and co-sponsored by Reps. Chrissy Houlahan, D-PA, Jason Crow, D-CO, and Jen Kiggans, R-VA. On Thursday, 23 March, the bill was introduced, but this is only the beginning of the journey to make the Jax Act law. It must still be shepherded through the rest of the House and Senate.
The CST program officially ended August 31, 2021 – the day the United States left Afghanistan in ruins. That day is symbolic for many in the SOF community – signifying the end of the war that demanded our best years and the best our bodies had to offer.
Our struggles came home with us. For CSTs, we vied for the same recognition as our SOF brothers to no avail. I would not trade anything for my days in uniform. They made me who I am today – a fighter.
As we reflect and atone for decades of war, we ask you to support our efforts. Please contact your local representative and support the passage of the JAX ACT.
Source: Fox News