“Close your eyes. Imagine what a veteran looks like,” said Linda Hinkle. “Rarely would someone imagine a female.”
Hinkle, a social work master’s degree student from Bradshaw, West Virginia, is the founder of a new UT organization, Lady Vets.
More than 90 female veterans are enrolled at UT.
“I’ve always been very outspoken about being a female veteran,” said Hinkle, who attended Pellissippi State Community College and Maryville College to complete her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a focus in counseling.
Yet she knows many other female veterans quietly crave the support that comes from being with others who have a shared military experience. Lady Vets provides an atmosphere of camaraderie for female veterans to get to know each other.
While co-ed veterans groups are great, Hinkle said, she thinks the women’s group fills a special void.
“You’ll find that everything in the military is specific to men,” she said. “The uniforms are tailor-made for men. The pajamas they wear in the Veterans Affairs [hospitals] are made for men. Even though women have been serving since the American Revolution in some form or fashion, nothing has been tailored to their service.”
The group, which has been active on campus for about a year, comprises 94 female veterans covering every branch of the military. Members vary in age and major.
“I’ve been Air Force for 19 years now,” said Stacey Moore, from Clover, South Carolina, who like Hinkle is a social work master’s degree student. “So interacting with other people that have the similar background, it makes things more relatable. It’s automatic family members.”
Yuki Minami, a senior in modern foreign languages and literatures from Baltimore, Maryland, who came to UT after a stint in the Marine Corps, said the group has helped women veterans find each other.
“Before this group formed, I don’t think there was any group that helped us get to know each other,” she said. “It’s really hard to figure out if you’re a veteran or not when you’re female. If I saw you walking on Pedestrian Walkway, I would have never guessed you were a veteran. We don’t have any of that stereotype of image.”
Although their veteran status binds them together, the group doesn’t focus on rehashing their military experience. The women enjoy casual weekly meetings where they discuss school and families.
With free food and comfort dogs visiting, the women are encouraged to stop by the Veteran Resource Center at their convenience.
Hinkle also invites some speakers to address general issues of interest to veterans as well as unique issues female veterans can face. For instance, she is planning to invite a series of speakers in the coming months to talk about the changes in women’s health care benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
To learn more about the women’s veterans group, contact Linda Hinkle at 865-974-5420 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“This group is an avenue to have somebody to relate to,” said Moore, adding that women veterans often have an immediate camaraderie. “There’s an initial bond. I always encourage people to come join.”
Linda Hinkle (865-974-5420, email@example.com)