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What we deal with every day in the face of adversity is very little compared to the men and women who fight on our behalf for freedom in the United States. Most of us either have a veteran or we’re connected to someone who’s a member of the armed services in our family or extended circle. In this day and age, the survivors of World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War and the Afghanistan War on terrorism have left us with mixed emotions on protecting our rights yet protecting our loved one’s safety.

In the last three decades, for our women and men who served, joining has become more of a choice leading to more benefits and opportunities through a technical skill or higher education in professional and law enforcement fields. But, having these goals in mind can be diminished once a soldier is on the frontline in a foreign country. The days of innocence gradually diminish as the days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months and the tour of duty can roll into years. Families left back home in daily anxiety, praying and hoping for the return of their loved one in one piece—body, mind and soul—can be asking for a lot.

Yet, we quietly support their decision—fearful for them. Ask any veteran who safely returns back home from serving in combat war—it leaves psychological wounds that cut deeper than the physical bodily damage. When they return, many are not the same.  Suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), treatment is necessary and sometimes the aftermath can breakdown households and families. We honor them for their service but do we help them in their darkest period?

Since the Vietnam War, the U.S. has not enforced a draft allowing servicemen and women who voluntarily enlist to make up the country’s four branches of the military—Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force for combat. Also, those who serve in the National Reserve can be called upon duty of service when being deployed.

According to statistical data gathered, we have approximately 2.4 million active and reserved U.S. military force personnel since 2015. The latest numbers conducted by the Pew Research find overall 15 percent of DOD active-duty military personnel are women, up from 11 percent in 1990. In 2015, 17 percent of active-duty officers were female – up from their share of 11 percent in 1990. And 15 percent of enlisted personnel were female in 2015, up from 11 percent in 1990. The share of women in the ranks varies significantly by service branch. Women comprise nearly one-in-five active-duty personnel in the Air Force (19 percent) but only 8 percent of all Marines. Women make up 18 percent of the Navy and 14 percent of the Army.

U.S. Navy Damage Controlman 2nd Class Sophia Atkinson prepares to test the Long Range Acoustic Device April 24, 2009, during a force protection watch on the flight deck aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) as the ship transits Singapore harbor. Stennis is in Singapore as part of a scheduled port visit during a six-month deployment to the western Pacific Ocean. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Walter M. Wayman/Released)

Outside of the workplace, young Blacks and Latino high school graduates have chosen a path to the military as opposed to attending a traditional college path. Research has shown Blacks have consistently been represented in greater shares among enlisted personnel (19 percent in 2015) than among the commissioned officers (9 percent). 

The face of our military has changed with more people of color enlisting and slowly moving up in the ranks, but the historical discrimination is still very real for people of color, women and members from the LGBTQ community. The effects of combat in addition to the stress of dealing with an often-White male dominated military can have lasting scars for veterans being discharged from service.

In our special Veteran’s Day issue, the Defender went deeper into the lives of active and retired servicemen and women and explored the challenges of organizations seeking to serve those who have served us, including the Veteran’s Administration.

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