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Stereotypes common for female veterans, but slow and steady progress continues

Stephanie Zarb in the interior of a plane
Courtesy of Stephanie Zarb
Stephanie Zarb (R) served in the U.S. Air Force from 2006 to 2011.


Governor Gretchen Whitmer has declared June 12 Women Veterans Recognition Day.

“Michigan women have been stepping up to serve our country for generations, and it’s time they get the respect and recognition they earned," Whitmer was quoted as saying in a press release about the declaration. 


Stephanie Zarb is one of the nearly 44,000 female veterans living in Michigan. She served in the U.S. Air Force from 2006 to 2011. Zarb joined Stateside to talk about the unique challenges women from the service have when they return to civilian life.

“I was really surprised when I came home and learned that the veteran community, and maybe society at large, was still not aware that women serve in the military,” Zarb said.


Zarb says as a woman, she experienced the same challenges common to all returning veterans. She struggled to fit in, find a job, and access veteran benefits. But Zarb says she also had to work harder to be taken seriously by service officers and others in the veteran community.


When she visits places exclusive to veterans, Zarb says other veterans often ask her if she’s there because her father served in the military. She's been invited to speak at events and had people ask if she’s there to sing the national anthem. The assumptions people make about her because of her gender can be demoralizing.


“When you hear it day in and day out, you start to internalize it. It can really make you question why this is happening,” Zarb said. 


Zarb says she's excited about Gov. Whitmer's recognition of women veterans in the state. However, she would like to see the administration put more focus on veteran support. For instance, Michigan is still lacking a director for its Veteran Affairs Agency six months into the new administration. Still, Zarb believes Whitmer will do right by Michigan veterans, and she thinks Women Veterans Recognition Day is a good start.


“We’re hopeful that this is a step in the right direction and a signal of great things to come,” Zarb said.


UPDATE: On June 12, Gov. Whitmer appointed Zaneta Adams as the new director of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency. This segment was recorded before that announcement. 


This post was written by Stateside digital production assistant Anna Schlutt. 


Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 9 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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