By Rebecca Gaunt
Retired Navy Lt. Amy Stevens will continue her tradition of participating in the Marietta Veterans Day Parade today, accompanied by members of the Georgia Military Women Facebook group, which is currently 4,300 members strong.
“We join with Disabled Veterans Chapter 6 out of Marietta and they bring classic cars, so we sometimes get to ride in [them], but some of the ladies like to walk,” Stevens said.
Dr. Stevens served active duty in the Navy for 11 years and four in the Navy Reserves between 1974 and 1995 before receiving a medical discharge.
“I served all over the world – had a great time. Then I came back stateside, and like many people, had difficulty finding a job,” Stevens said.
She went back to school, completed a master’s degree, and landed in Atlanta working for the U.S. Department of Labor with the Job Corps program. Stevens took early retirement at age 50 and started working on a doctorate in counseling. When she completed the degree in 2008, despite the economy crashing, “the stars aligned” and she got a job as the director of psychological health for the Georgia National Guard. Her experience there inspired her to create the group on Facebook when she left.
It functions as a private place for women veterans to share challenges and achievements, as well as make social connections with no financial cost. There are members ranging in age from fresh out of high school and entering boot camp to their 80s.
“A lot of stuff has not changed since I was in the military myself…it’s all stuff about having friends who understand you and have that common shared experience,” Stevens said.
It’s also, Stevens reveals, a “sneaky mental health and suicide prevention” measure.
“The most preventive factors in suicide prevention are having a friend – relationships make a difference,” she told the Courier.
“We are not a therapy group…it’s a no drama zone. If somebody has significant needs, certainly we know a lot of resources,” she said.
Homelessness, PTSD, substance abuse, and grief and loss are all issues Stevens has helped members contend with.
“But it’s mostly just being girlfriends,” she added.
The group isn’t just about creating online friendships – the women in the group meet up often. Though the COVID-19 pandemic put a hold on “official” group events, members still use it to set up local outings all over the state. They meet up for dinners, to go to the Georgia Aquarium, and do volunteer work.
The Georgia Military Women’s group is a meeting place that allows female veterans to interact by discussing military culture, sharing experiences–good and bad, networking, volunteering, traveling and addressing the many veterans issues that exist. It keeps you connected with ladies that understand what wearing a military uniform is like. -Tracy Eppinger, Marietta, Retired 2012 with 23 years active duty in the Air Force and Air Force Reserve
Members post all kinds of helpful tips – job networking, military discounts at various venues, changes to dental coverage, how to obtain military benefits for children with disabilities.
There’s also a tab where members can find mentors. Mentors are women who have expertise in a particular area and are willing to help others at no cost – Stevens has strict rules about using the group to make money.
The pandemic has been isolating for many, and these women have felt the effects just like everyone else, Stevens said. Some of the groups that meet up regularly transitioned to Zoom and some struggled with restricted services at the VA. Making masks to donate to military units, the VA, and each other was a popular activity to stay focused and in touch, early in the pandemic.
Members of the group also participated in Operation Boot Camp – an effort to reach out to young women who were just starting out in the military, offer support and invite them to the group. When one young woman was struggling at boot camp, she received motivational notes from experienced members to help her get through it.
Many also volunteer to distribute food with Soldier Angels, and, last Christmas, prior to withdrawal, members sent more than 100 care packages to soldiers deployed in Afghanistan.
While serving brings a great sense of pride to many, there is a dark side that many women have to contend with.
Sexual harassment and assault is a serious problem.
“Majority of women do face some level of sexual harassment for sure…and at least 20 percent of women face some kind of sexual assault or severe sexual harassment. And the problem is that if you report it, you get into trouble yourself,” Stevens explained.
Women in the military also face higher rates of breast cancer than the general population due to exposure to toxins and burn pits.
“When you come back, there’s not that many of us relative to the guys. So who do you talk to about this stuff? It’s very isolating,” Stevens said. “What’s good about the camaraderie is you find out very quickly you’re not the only one.”
The 17th annual Marietta Veterans Day Parade takes place on Thursday, November 11, 2021. The parade begins at 11 am at Roswell Street Baptist Church, loops up towards the Marietta Square and back down Lawrence Street with the intention of being on the Square by 11:11am.
Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.