Vietnam Veteran Reflects on Service as Female Airman

Dr. Marcia Roi, professor of addiction counseling education (Sandra Maszak / The Independent )

With last week’s election of a new commander-in-chief and the celebration of Veterans’ Day, Indy Life Editor Sandra Maszak sat down with Clark professor Dr. Marcia Roi to a faculty member, to get a glimpse into the life of one veteran.  

Roi is a professor of addiction counseling education and advises the Addiction Counseling Education Club.  She joined the U.S. Air Force when she was 19 and logged 25 years in the Air Force, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve.


Tell us what it was like being a female in the Air Force in 1972. You said you were one of four women in the force at the time.  Did you feel like an outlier?

“I went in as a jet engine mechanic, but at that time all of the women were secretaries. The men did not even want us marching to school with them.  They claimed that men and women could never march together because women took a 10-inch step and men took a 12-inch step.  So marching together was never going to happen. We walked across the street, while the rest of the squad marched in formation to the classrooms.  They didn’t even want us on the same side of the street as them.”

Were you ever verbally ridiculed or harassed?

“We endured comments such as ‘Why aren’t you at home baking pies?’ Our instructors asked questions like, ‘They’re not going to actually let you touch an airplane, are they?’ The other students were fine with it; it was the instructors who had the problem.”

What led you to join the military?

“I wanted to travel, and all I had was a GED. And what the Air Force allowed me to do was get all the way to my graduate degree on the G.I. bill with no debt. I got to see Europe, I lived in Spain for two years, I’ve been to England, I’ve been to Germany, South Korea and many places in the United States.”

You mentioned the different cultures between the branches and war eras.  Can you elaborate on that?

“Vietnam was not a popular war, so those of us who were in the military at that time were not seen as very popular.  Even when I was at Oregon State University and Desert Storm started and we invaded Kuwait, I had professors who were asking me, because they knew I was in the military, ‘Well, you’re not really going to go to war, are you?’  Well, yeah.  I signed the contract.  If they tell me I have to go, I have to go.

What misconceptions do people have about the military?

“People lump all the military together; they lump all the branches.  They also lump all the wars together, and it’s a very different climate.  World War II?  They were all heros.  Vietnam?  We were not.  We were not seen as heros.  Desert Storm?  Again, heros.  And that was nice to see everybody, because I was in the Air Force Reserve.”

Do you consider yourself a hero?

“Vietnam veterans share a different background than some of the others because it was such an unpopular war.  We were not seen as heroes.  And I hope that the Iraqi and the Afghanistan veterans now do not have our experience.  Even though the war is unpopular I hope that they can separate the war from the troops, because that did not happen for us.  People were spit on, people were shot when they came home.  We were yelled at; we were called ‘baby-killers.”

Veterans are seen in a different light these days, aren’t they?  People often thank veterans for serving.

“When people say, ‘thank you for your service,’ it still takes me aback.  Because it still feels strange to actually be appreciated because we kept such a low key.”

“It never occurred to me to be thanked.  It just seemed like something that one should do. I believe that we should serve our country in one way or another, whether it is Peace Corps, VISTA [Volunteers in Service to America], something like that. I think that everyone needs to pitch in and do something.”

Twenty-five years in the military. Looking back, what stands out?

“There’s two things I did right in my life:  I moved out here from Chicago and I joined the Air Force.  It was one of the best decisions I ever made. If someone doesn’t really know what they want to do and they don’t really have a whole lot of direction, it’s not a bad choice.  I was able to see the world, I’ve got my veterans benefits, I got a free education all the way to my masters with no debt, and I have a retirement. And I bought two houses on the G.I. bill, no money down.”

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