Women in the military often face two fronts. They fight the enemy and prejudice from male enlistees. Navy veteran Dawn Bellinger of Beavercreek who tells her friend Connie Jackson of Kettering about the discrimination she faced during her service.
Connie Jackson (CJ): What made you decide to go into the service and how did you choose what branch of service?
Dawn Bellinger (DB): I came from a military family. My father had been a fighter pilot in the Air Force, and you always have to say fighter pilot, it's just something that they make you do. So, he was in for 20 years. My sister was in the Air Force as an air traffic controller. My younger brother was in the Navy as a machinist. And I chose the Navy because the uniforms for females were much better than the other services. I also thought, it's the Navy! They are only in wonderful, wonderful port cities all over the world. And so, dad and sister in the Air Force, brother in the Navy, so, I will even out the scale.
CJ: So, where did you go after boot camp?
DB: After boot camp, I went to San Diego to go to computer school. When I first joined, you have to understand, women weren't allowed on ships. I qualified for some of the nuclear fields, but because I was a female, I couldn't be in those nuclear fields. So, this is the type of discrimination we were up against. However, we weren't discriminated against when it came to computers. Although, I will say most of the women stayed as being a computer operator longer and didn't get to go into the technical side as much because they would they would promote the men before they would promote the women. One reason is because of when they're doing your scores, they also take into account, you get so many points for being on a ship. Well, women weren't allowed on ships. So, we were automatically lower down on the total number of points we could accumulate. Yeah.
CJ: So, can you give any other examples, or do you want to give other examples of how things were different for a woman or your experience as a woman in the military, or in the Navy?
DB: There were just other.., oh, another instance was when I was on the technical assistance team. Unfortunately, my good supervisor, Dennis, who was still a friend today, Dennis left. He and his wife Donna got stationed back in California. We got this new guy. So, this new guy is a supervisor who never did a damn thing. Literally, he would put his feet up on the desk and have coffee. So, one day the coffee pot was out. We had our own in my area. And he said, “Oh, Don, make me some coffee.” I'm like, “No, I'm not making you any coffee. I'm not drinking the damn coffee. You are. You get up and you make yourself some coffee.” So, he said, “Well, I'm going to go tell the Chief.” So, he goes and tells the Chief. The Chief comes back to me and says, “Make the coffee.” And I said, “Chief, I don't drink the coffee. Why should I have to make it?” “Because you're a woman.”
DB: Oh, I, you know what, I forget what I did, but I never ended up making coffee that day. I forget what happened. And you know what? He never asked me again, or he never commanded me again. And that was one thing… Because I was strong, I fought back. I had some men actually get in my face and tell me I did not belong in the Navy because I was a woman. I had no place. They would be cussing me out now and I would just stand there, let them finish, I'd cussed them out back and say, you know what? You just better get used to it because we are here to stay. “You don't belong in the Navy! No women should be in the Navy!” And it’s like just get over it because I'm not going anywhere.
Navy veteran Dawn Bellinger and her friend Connie Jackson spoke at WYSO as part of StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative which visited the Miami Valley last summer. Veterans’ Voices on WYSO is presented by Wright-Patt Credit Union with additional support from CareSource. This story was edited by Will Davis and Seth Gordon and created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.