Only 13 cadets of the 53 enrolled in the Air Force ROTC program at Ohio University are women, but that doesn’t make them any less respected than their male equivalents.

Regardless of the gender bias women may still face in the service today, many positive changes for women in the military have been made in the past several decades. Today, there are newly accessible jobs, specialties and skills that women are able to accomplish just as efficiently as men in the same position.

The OU Women’s Center is partnering with the Air Force ROTC program to host a workshop Monday honoring female veterans through art and examining the hardships they face in the line of duty. The goal of the workshop is to bring together female veterans in the area for a time to meet and share their experiences with one another while creating paper mache dog tags.

If You Go:

What: Honoring Female Veterans Through Art

When: 2 p.m., Mon.

Where: Baker Center 230

Admission: Free

Danielle Valaitis, a graduate student studying public administration and the Cadet Wing Commander of the Air Force ROTC, recognizes how the part women play in the service has grown, and it’s a cause she believes someone with a true passion to serve should consider joining.

“I would encourage any women to join the military as long as they know exactly why they want to do it, especially something that asks a lot of you,” Valaitis said. “So as long as they go in knowing that, I think women can do anything that they wanna do at the end of the day.”

Valaitis joined the Air Force ROTC as a graduate student so she could eventually work for the federal government. In her time with the Air Force ROTC, she has learned that women can do almost any job, including being a pilot.

“Most of the jobs in the Air Force support our overall mission of achieving superiority in air space and cyberspace, so in all of that, we have women ranging from scientists in research all the way to medical caregivers,” Valaitis said.

Valaitis sees the upcoming workshop as a chance to honor women who did a lot of the behind-the-scenes work during war time, because those women are sometimes the ones who are most forgotten.

“Even though women weren’t always able to serve, or weren’t allowed in combat positions, they were still definitely able to contribute to the success of our country in achieving its missions,” Valaitis said. “Women weren’t always allowed on the front lines, so their behind-the-scenes work is just as important as the people who were firing the weapons.”

Honoring the women who served before is something Abby Ludwig, a sophomore studying journalism and a cadet in the Army ROTC, believes is important for people to know, especially because women who served in history aren’t as easily recognized.

“I just think it’s important to honor the women that served a long time ago, because they created a legacy that allows the women of today to be a part of the service,” Ludwig said. “There are females that have done extraordinary things in the military and who have died for the country.”

In Ludwig’s own experience, being in the Army ROTC program at OU has been extremely inclusive.

“Honestly, I’ve never felt discriminated against or that there wasn’t anything I couldn’t achieve if I worked hard enough,” Ludwig said. “I love it, if I’m being honest.”

Much of Ludwig’s leadership has been male, but she’s had several female drill sergeants who were equally as respected as she felt. If there is any challenge Ludwig believes women may face while in the service, it’s the physical obstacles every person enrolled must overcome. But steps are being taken in the right direction to make it more equal for women physically.

“PT tests are weighted differently for females, so the program has tried to accommodate for that. They’re making a new one for a more even playing field,” Ludwig said.  

Joining the Army ROTC program at OU has given Ludwig a purpose, and an idea of what she wants to do with her career. She encourages any woman interested in joining the service to go for it, regardless of any horror stories they might have heard.

“Here in ROTC, our leadership is all male, but they don’t respect you any less because of your gender, so that shouldn’t make other women afraid of serving their country if that’s what they want to do,” Ludwig said.

Lieutenant Colonel Layla Sweet, Detachment Commander of the OU Air Force ROTC, has not experienced any discrimination since joining the Air Force 25 years ago.

“That’s one of the great things I love about the Air Force, that there’s really no glass ceiling,” Sweet said. “Every single career force is open to women, and we have equal pay. Every lieutenant colonel makes the same amount regardless of their gender, because a woman in the Air Force can do anything a man can do.”

The workshop is an event Sweet hopes will bring female veterans around Athens together to talk about the experiences they’ve each been through.

“Part of what we’re trying to accomplish is to really reach out to the other female vets and bring them together as a community,” Sweet said. “I love the unique opportunities that I’ve gotten to experience, and if my daughters want to join the Air Force, I’m all for it.”