My Interview with Melia Meichelbock
1.) How many years did you serve in the army?
Eight years total, six years active reserve and two years inactive
2.) How has the army changed you or affected your life?
It has given me a new appreciation for everything we as Americans have. If you visit
other countries it's much easier to see just how good we have it.
It also taught me to slow down a little. My civilian life is full of traffic and sitting in an
office where you don't get to spend much time appreciating the things around you such
as people, nature, etc. There is a lot of down time in the military and you definitely see
some sunrises and full moons--you also get to bond and interact with diverse people in
a unique way, almost like family.
3.) What kind of atmosphere was there among the soldiers in general?
It depends on the unit really. My home unit had a very positive atmosphere, helpful, fun,
professional. But I have been attached to other units that could be combative and
unsupportive--some of the guys would even come to blows.
4.) Was sexism present in the army? If yes, how could you tell?
Sexism is present in the army. We would have open discussions about it at my unit. The
men would say they felt bad watching the girls lug their equipment and would naturally
want to help. Other times females were used to get equipment we needed. For example
they would send me rather than a male to ask for things, making it harder for the supply
men to say no.
There is also the more negative sexism such as females can't do as much as men.
Some soldiers would grumble if they had to partner with a female, even higher up. I also
got stuck with female type jobs such as admin or cooking. No women were ever in the
S3 which is the operational strategy group. Same with missions, mostly the men got
them--not the women.
5.) What are some examples of sexism you experienced in the army?
Some mentioned above, I've also been told I smell nice and other things I'm sure they
wouldn't say to a male. Some photos were taken with my underwear in Iraq, they would
say gross stuff, but you learn to have thick skin or drive yourself nuts. In Iraq, I was very
frustrated because the lower enlisted men in my unit got better accommodations than
me as a superior. They stuck all the girls together in one giant room of 60 and the boys
got private accommodations with groups of 2-3. The men also got to go on missions
and they wouldn't let me go sometimes because it was deemed dangerous. I never
understood why my life would be more valuable as a woman with no kids at the time,
then a father of five. But they chose to send him instead. I spoke to my leaders about it
and they said it's also the way that society and the media react when a woman is killed
rather than a man. They have to consider that. So it's really not just the military, we're all
guilty of putting women on a higher pedestal.
6.) How do you feel sexism in the army can be prevented?
Leadership is top down. If the higher ups don't allow it--it won't happen. In the military
you follow orders. Unfortunately there are some backwards leaders. But I think there is
sexism everywhere, even outside the military. I do think the military tries to prevent it,
but it's sort of depends on the way the men are raised. I think having more open
discussion about it would help. I don't think men would understand why we get offended
if they go for a bag or tell us we smell nice. I thought the one time open dialogue we had
was very helpful in understanding both sides.
7.) What kind of training did you receive that prepared you for the army?
Basic training, advanced training, drill training, annual training, pre-deployment training--
there is always training going on. These consisted of weapons training, cultural classes,
sexual harassment, law classes, operational, etc.
8.) How would you describe the war zone?
It depended where you were. The big bases are like small cities--they even have burger
king and swimming pools, lots of girls. I was mostly on remote bases where I was one of
maybe three girls, sometimes the only girl. You feel all eyes on you and it's a little
intimidating. You walk in to eat and it feels like everything stops and all eyes are upon
9.) What was usually your job in the army?
In Iraq, I was a gunner for our civil affairs team. We traveled from town to town meeting
with leaders and helping to arrange to rebuild. At my home unit I was usually
responsible for admin or the food.
10.) How were you treated by the Iraqi people?
Most of the Iraqis I met were nice. They took awhile to warm up to you because they
aren't used to speaking directly to girls. One translator refused to sit next to me, but by
the end was giving me a hug. The interaction with the locals was positive for all.
All in all it was one of those best of times--worst of times experiences. You wouldn't
trade the experience for anything in the world, but wouldn't necessarily like to go back.
There are several videos and photos you can view of Iraqis on Facebook if you want to
get a better glimpse. The page is called In the Company of Soldiers