Women military veterans at BMCC were honored in a special event, part of Women’s Herstory Month and featuring NYC Council Member Margaret Chin and guest speaker, Sergeant Solange Delmar.
“Testify on the issues you face”
First District Council Member Margaret Chin has long championed immigrant and voter education, advocated for garment industry workers, and supported low income families.
She opened the event, held in the Hudson Room at BMCC’s main campus, by presenting to the women veterans of BMCC, a framed City Council proclamation honoring their service.
“I encourage you to reach out to the City Council’s Women’s Issues and Veterans Committees, to testify on the issues you face,” she said. “Think about the services you need, as veterans coming back to school.”
Each veteran received a copy of the proclamation, signed by Chin as well as Christine Quinn, Council Speaker; Albert Vann, Council Member, 36th District and Mathieu Eugene, Council Member, 40th District and Chair of the Veterans Committee.
Engineering major and Army veteran Paula Cajiao was stationed in Baghdad, Iraq as a Licensed Practical Nurse.
“People in the worst shape—local nationals, soldiers, coalition forces, American contractors—were sent to us,” she said. “Every couple weeks or so, we got bombed.”
In Cajiao’s view, women soldiers have made huge strides. “There’s a difference between being treated differently, and having different services because of your different issues,” she says. “I believe in equality.”
Navy veteran and business management major Marketta Stewart served as a Store Keeper, stationed in Japan, then California.
“A lot of women in the military are single moms,” she says, “and it’s hard to adjust to the civilian world. Health care, day care, rent is all taken care of, in the military—and when you get out, you’re completely on your own.”
Stewart credits the GI Bill for enabling her to attend college, but adds that military culture is evolving, in its acceptance of women.
“When I got pregnant, even though I was married, I thought I would never hear the end of it,” she says. “I felt it was definitely frowned on. They’d say, ‘I wish I could get pregnant to get out of work’.”
Writing and Literature major Andrea Kreth was a Non-Communications Electronic Warfare Intelligence Interceptor and Analyst in the Army, and has a different perspective.
“Ninety-nine percent of my job was classified—all I can say is that it had to do with missile systems,” she says. “People feel that women in the military is an oddity, but personally, I’ve never been treated differently in the military than anyone else.”
Veteran counseling for women
“One area we’re working on, within the CUNY system,” says Olivia Cousins, former Chair of the BMCC Health Education Department and co-founder of the Women’s Resource Center, “is veteran counseling and therapy for women. It isn’t enough to be trained as a counselor—to provide services to these women, you need to be trained in veterans’ issues, or even be a veteran, yourself.”
CUNY Veterans News recently posted a brief from the American Council on Education, stating that sexual assaults in the military are steadily rising, with up to 80% of women experiencing some form of harassment.
In addition, it said, children of veterans can suffer separation anxiety, complicating the scheduling and day-care needs for parents who are full-time students.
Counseling, Cousins said, can help a veteran “reclaim what she gave up, to survive in a military culture that isn’t necessarily ‘woman friendly’.”
“We come out stronger”
Guest speaker Sergeant Solange Delmar is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social work at Nyack Alliance Theological College, and has served in the Army almost 12 years.
“Throughout history,” she says, “women have served on the battlefield—even back to the American Revolution, and when we had to disguise ourselves as men.”
Today, she says, “The military’s educational benefits make college a possibility for women. We face long deployments away from family and our children, challenges with different cultures—but we come out stronger.”
Delmar also credits the military for making her a better student. “When you’re on active duty, there’s always someone you call your ‘Battle Buddy’,” she says. “In college, you need a Battle Buddy, too. Mine happens to be a male student, and we’re there for each other when we’re concerned about grades or other issues.”
Finally, she encouraged women veterans to focus on their strengths. “Your experience in the military—you can bring it back home,” she says. “We learn to endure, to have courage, that we are change agents in our neighborhoods and communities.”